News from the intellectual property division of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This whole trade liberalization thing is producing some shockingly bad results. Entire nations of small producers lose their livelihoods, consumer prices rise, environmental damage increases, consumer choice disappears, labor rights dissolve, and anyone (including your government) bold enough to object to the free reign of corporate power is overruled by a closed-door arbitration panel.

If free trade is such a good thing, why is it so afraid of democracy?


Congratulations to all the students at the Post-Graduate Centre: Human Settlements for completing a grueling series of examinations. And special congratulations to Joy for all the amazing work she did on her website while she should have been studying.


Do you think this is an outrage? And what about Pepsi?
J.S.G. Boggs is a Pittsburgh artist who draws pictures of currency and barters them for goods and services at face value. Those who agree to accept his artwork as payment and give him a receipt are often approached within a few days by an art collector who bought the receipt from Boggs and wishes to buy the drawing for many times the face value. Ira Glass calls it a con game in reverse. This in-depth article from the Indiana Law Journal explores the constitutional issues involved in attempts to charge Boggs with counterfeiting.


Here's an essay with some good points to make on the problems of intellectual property. For future discussion...


"[T]he image problem for industry is serious among the young and could ultimately have a profound effect, on the free enterprise system itself. [...]The task of improving the image of the business-industrial complex is too vast for the MCA alone and requires a well coordinated-well financed national effort.[...]We foresee that EAC could serve member companies in supplying information and recommendations on successful programs of industry/education cooperation at the grassroots of education."

- from the 1974 Annual Report of the Education Activity Committee of the Manufacturing Chemist's Association (now the American Chemistry Council)

My enthusiasm for the power of public relations is frequently transformed into terrified awe. For example, here is a history of campaigns by the chemical industry to use schools as public relations battlegrounds. On the one hand, it may be argued that there is a pro-environment "bias" in primary education, but the counter to it should not be even shoddier scholarship or opinions masking as science. Instead students should be encouraged to seek the facts of the matter and derive there conclusions therefrom. If this is too difficult a task for a fourth grader, better to teach the incontravertible facts than to pursue the premature formation of opinions.
Pol Pot was a visionary who wanted to create an agrarian utopia. He personally oversaw the killing of more than a million people.
Thomas Jefferson was also a visionary who wanted to create an agrarian utopia. He was just a slave-owner and an adulterer.
Zeno, the founder of the stoic philosophy, wasn't really a visionary but he believed in an agrarian utopia. He thought it was more creditable to operate from within society and to follow a fairly reasonable code of personal ethics that made him stand out, but didn't get him in trouble. He never killed anyone. He never owned a slave. And, he never broke a vow. (So far as we know)

See you at the stoa.


Another group encrypted the original DeCSS source code by splitting it up and hiding it in the image encoding of a picture of a cow - and then set up a service that attached alternate halves of this image to comments emailed to the U.S. Copyright Office, which will then become part of the public record, thereby enabling anyone with the encryption key to view the DeCSS source code. The DeCSS opponents would have to break the encryption to see that the 'illegal' code had been distributed, though, and their own argument is that this sort of encryption reverse-engineering is illegal copyright infringement, so although they'd rather squelch the distribution, they're in a bit of a bind.

Culture jamming is very cool. A brilliant tactic indeed, to put the bad guys at the mercy of their own machinations.
I'm always amazed at the power of publicity. A good PR campaign seems to be able to reduce reason and logic to clouds of dust effortlessly. Here is one small example from the brazen career of Harry Reichenbach. (Thanks to Flutterby)

By the way, that story is part of an online encyclopedia of "culture jamming," a field of fun and frolic into which I aim to dip my toes someday. (Some might argue that my feet are already wet.)


Twice now I've gone to the cinema on the night before a dreaded exam, and twice now I've gone on to do really well on the exam. On Wednesday night I saw "High Fidelity" with Joy. It was actually quite good. Normally I'd get tired of John Cusack talking at me for ninety minutes, but there was enough structure to the narrative (adapted from Nick Hornby's novel) that I didn't mind. I'll have to consider his statement that keeping your options open (i.e. lack of commitment) is piecemeal suicide. I appreciate that this mild epiphany didn't present a magic remedy for all his problems. Any suggestions for what I should see tomorrow night before the "Urban Sociology" exam?


I'm a little busy this week. Perhaps if you're coming here looking for something to read it would be useful to pop over to The Birminghamster and catch up on the news from Birmingham, where all the men are dense, all the women are made-up, and all the children don't know what they're missing.

P.S. - I have been told, based on the rantings below, that I may be off my rocker. If I need to be straightened out, please mail me: dystopos at yahoo dot com.


Listened to a debate today on the ethics of "transracial adoption" (Diff'rent Strokes for diff'rent folks). The fact is that children up for adoption in the U.S. are mainly non-white while prospective adopting families are predominantly white. (Some part of this reflects the middle-class standards for approving adoptions). Public adoption agencies are instructed by Federal policy to be colorblind, but many professionals see this as a policy to degrade ethnic cultures and can recount the horrors faced by children whose parents can't prepare them for a society in which racial identity is a key part of personal identity. In fact, in 1972 a national association of black sociologists proclaimed the wave of non-white children being adopted into white families to be "cultural genocide." At first glance, there is a strong point there - but I think a more principled response is to deny neither the importance of ethnic culture not equal protection. I think we should stop assigning cultural identity by color. Why can't a white child participate in and become a contributing part of african-american or korean culture? Why can't the Drummond kids just BE white? Is it because their peers won't accept their cultural identification? OK, then, THATS the problem, not the loving families that adopt these kids. Sure, parents have to be ready to deal with real issues and have to help their children make decisions about their own cultural participation. But none of these are the responsibility of an adoption agency. Maybe if it would be more difficult to make assumptions about people, we wouldn't be so tempted toward prejudice.


"Her Majesty the Queen charges and commands all persons being assembled immediately to disperse and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business upon the pain of being guilty of an offence for which, upon conviction, they may be sentenced to imprisonment for life. GOD SAVE THE QUEEN"

(I just read you the Riot Act)


Champions of Free Speech emerge in unlikely places:

"RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 12-13, 2001, object vigorously to any attempts to abridge the free speech rights of any American citizen or group" - 2001 Southern Baptist Convention, Resolution No. 8 (opposing restrictions on campaign funding)

Oh, wait a second. It appears there are conditions...

"RESOLVED, That we call on all government agencies to enact and to enforce laws that protect our homes and communities from the transmission of pornographic material over the Internet." - 2001 Southern Baptist Convention, Resolution No. 5 (opposing internet pornography)
Adding to the growing list of exceptions to the protection we thought the first amendment would give us: "Persons whose presence or acts interfere with the peaceful conduct of school activities may be asked to leave, regardless of the content of their speech." according to a Utah Law which was recently upheld by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. The interfering persons were animal rights activists protesting the display of a McDonald's flag at the school by demonstrating after classes and off of school property. It makes you wonder about the "educational process," that it must be so staunchly protected from free expression of political controversy while McDonald's and Channel One are allowed to buy as much of the same process as they need to get their own messages across.


Sometimes it's just to easy to ignore history. I learned today that the bombig of the Murrah Federal Building was not the "worst act of domestic terrorism in peacetime America" - in fact it wasn't even the worst in Oklahoma.
A Short List of Things That Have Recently Aroused My Suspicion

5. "One Minute in American History" on the Armed Forces Radio Network
4. Buying milk from an unrefrigerated section of the grocery.
3. The fact that I have yet to receive a phone bill by mail despite correcting my address for the phone company every two months.
2. A group of people wandering around in the middle of the night carrying signs that say "Dorst!"
1. Could Pearl Harbor and the recent spate of super-patriotic movies be covertly preparing Americans for something... something big?


News Flash: The protection of the First Amendment no longer applies to the entertainment media, to Puerto Ricans, to critics of religious organizations, or to anyone within eyesight of the President.

More later (I hope)


"Art is in the eye of the beholder. The American people -- not the government -- should make the judgment on which art to support."
- Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-AL

Does it strike you as odd that someone whose title is "representative" would complain that the government can not carry out the will of the American people? The whole constitution depends on the effectiveness of representational legislation. If Bachus is right and the American people should take art patronage into their own hands, then the American people should also be making the judgment on which corporations to subsidize, which treaties to scrap, which terrorists to support or sanction, and which animal habitats to drill for oil.


I saw Sonic Youth last night in Gent perform music of John Cage, Yoko Ono, Steve Reich, James Tenney, Cornelius Cardew, Takehisa Kosugi, George Maciunas and others. They ended up playing two or three of their own songs too. It was a nice, cheap, short little performance and I enjoyed spending the day wandering around in Gent with my friend Ingrid. We had a nice lunch at another friend's fantastic little house as well. All in all, a very pleasant day. Now... back to studying.


Remember when you voted to approve the use of genetic modification in all your food? Remember when your elected representatives promised during their campaigns to make sure genetically modified food would come to the market as soon as possible? Remember when the Food and Drug Administration carried out all those extensive, long-term tests to make sure that genetically modified crops were safe for human consumption? Remember when the USDA revised their guidelines to insure that the use of genetically engineered crops would serve the public interest? Remember how the companies that sold genetically modified seeds came up with a comprehensive and effective way to control their spread? Remember when we decided that labels should no longer reveal the actual content of your food in order to preserve the profits of agro-business? Remember when you had any say in the matter whatsoever?

No, me neither. (story)


Happy Birthday, Joy!


"There is some fear of the mob coming to destroy the works at Cromford, but they are well prepared to receive them should they come here. All the gentlemen in this neighbourhood being determined to defend the works, which have been of such utility to this country. 5,000 or 6,000 men can be at any time assembled in less than an hour by signals agreed upon, who are determined to defend to the very last extremity, the works, by which many hundreds of their wives and children get a decent and comfortable livelihood."

- The Derby Mercury (22 October, 1779)

The "works at Cromford" were the first cotton spinning mills built by Sir Richard Arkwright and utilizing the process he patented (but did not invent) in 1769. The success of these works in undercutting the cottage-spun output of thousands of workers throughout Britain earned him the acclaim of "Father of the Factory System" as well as the attention of those who failed to appreciate the juggernaut of industrial progress. While the disappearance of hand-work was obvious before 1794, government commissions were claiming as late as 1806 that the prevailing fear that domestic labor would disappear because of the rise of factories was unjustified. Sometimes, those in charge are the last to know what's going on.


"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."

- Thomas Jefferson

Reading Assignment: John Perry Barlow. "The Economy of Ideas: A framework for patents and copyrights in the Digital Age. (Everything you know about intellectual property is wrong.)" WIRED 2.03 (March 1994)
Do you suppose that specialization and innovation have the sort of relationship that could be graphed as a parabola? That Adam Smith was right to imagine that being able to focus on one process would allow a laborer to master and improve that process, but that at some point the law of diminishing returns hits a wall and bounces back? I'm thinking about the daunting task of becoming an expert on anything these days. It seems you can't exercise any influence until you've spent most of your life indoctrinating yourself with the enormous mass of knowledge on which your innovations are supposed to be built. I made reference earlier to the possibility that we are now able to "construct our essays from paragraphs instead of words" and then later to conversation littered with references from "The Simpsons" - Perhaps there is a way to climb the mountain of knowledge by taking bigger steps through some sort of meta-process of learning. I mean we use words like "paragraph" (para "beside" + graphein "to write") all the time without investigating their inner meanings. Perhaps the broadband revolution, the cut-and-paste, the iMovie, etc. will give us the tools to speak in a higher-level vocabulary. (You know, like artists and musicians have done for centuries)


I've been discussing the poor today. In the context of social justice and global economics on one hand, and in the context of Biblical exegesis and faith and hope on the other. The European Union is committed in their inter-European agreements on trade liberalization to channel a large percentage of their operations budget toward 'conversion' and 'cohesion' - meaning that it is in the interest of all parties to reduce discrepancies and inequalities between different regions of Europe. This is a topic which has, as far as I know, escaped the rhetoric on global free trade. The basic problem is that in an unregulated environment, the strong overtake the weak. Coca-cola, for example, gets marketed to a billion Indians before they get a chance to generate their own production and marketing apparatus. Indian products, mostly raw materials, become cheaper without export levies and so, again, Coke gets to reap the profits of buying their tea leaves for less and selling iced tea to a bigger market.

I don't think I'll get into the Biblical exegesis tonight. I did want to mention, in regards to democratic access to the global liberalization of trade, that the World Bank has cancelled its planned meeting in Barcelona. Instead, they will meet behind secure servers in cyberspace. You know, cyberspace, the great democratizer where all voices can be heard... and apparently even more can be silenced.

Good night. By the way, my email address is dystopos@yahoodotcom if anyone wants it.


Ten Things Americans Expect (no matter where they are)
10. Coke will be served in a large glass with lots of ice which will be refilled frequently with no extra charge.
9. Anyone crossing the street at a crosswalk while a car is coming is either insensate or insane.
8. Elevators will comfortably accommodate 6 to 8 people, including personal space.
7. Aspirin can be purchased almost anywhere, and many of those places are open all night.
6. Voting is a right, not a requirement. (Apparently counting votes is a pseudo-science)
5. Anyone my age will understand my frequent references to 'The Simpson's'
4. It is futile to estimate the amount of the bill before it comes. Credit Cards are ok.
3. Bacon is crisp.
2. Normally it's too far to walk.
1. Attempting to bribe a police officer will get you arrested. Shoving one out of the way will get you beaten.