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Yiddish in Jazz

Sarah sez, "BBC radio is doing a piece about the influence of Yiddish on American culture - they have a great clip describing the ways in which Yiddish songs made their way into jazz (see blurb below). My grandma - the last surviving member of my family who remembers hearing Yiddish spoken in the home - got a real kick out of it."

Hell, I get a kick out of it! My father's first language was Yiddish, and I grew up taking Sunday Yiddish classes at the secular Workman's Circle school in Toronto. It's still the language I use to communicate with my family in Russia (they don't speak English and I don't speak Russian). It's a fantastically expressive, ironic language made for joking and tummeling and kibbitzing. It's a kind of weak Sapir-Worf: it's nearly impossible to speak it without turning ironic and funny.

And of course, Yiddish jazz like Mickey Katz (brilliantly covered by Don Byron) and the Yiddishisms in Slim Gaillard's music (Matzoh Balls, anyone?) just plain kicks ass.

Yiddish - a language once spoken by more than 10 million Jews - had a profound effect on American culture in the first half of the 20th Century.

It originated in central and eastern Europe - and spread to the United States when thousand of immigrants arrived in New York.

Zalmen Mlotek is the Artistic Director of the city's last surviving professional Yiddish theatre - the Folksbiene.

With the help of his piano, he has been telling Radio 3's Dennis Marks how the language influenced jazz music - and the likes of George and Ira Gershwin.

Audio slideshow: Inspired by Yiddish (Thanks, Sarah!)

Recently at Boing Boing Gadgets

Recently at Boing Boing Gadgets, we endured Black Friday (which turned out to be Gray Friday for gadgets) and mundane gadget spam to bring you delights like humping USB M.U.S.C.L.E men. John spotted Stephen Fry's laconic review of the BlackBerry Storm, a tiny computer that screws into your monitor's VESA mounts, and new wireless earbuds from Sennheiser. With netbooks threatening to cannibalise general computer sales, Intel would prefer you bought things with profitable hi-performance chips. TechCrunch hates 'em, too: or at least 7" ones with 256MB of RAM running Vista on Via Nano processors. Lori Drew, who taunted a youngster on MySpace, was convicted of computer hacking. Boing Boing Gadgets

Scammer targets people who've been ripped off already

Here's a nice little variant on the traditional 419 scam letter that showed up in my inbox this morning:
In David W. Maurer's classic 1940 book The Big Con (the basis for the movie The Sting), he describes how con-men would put their victims on the hook again and again, fleecing them, then convincing them to go home and borrow or steal everything their could from their friends in order to get their original money back. Like a desperate gambler doubling down, the poor marks would get deeper and deeper, and at every stage, it got easier for the grifter to con them again.

So here's the modern variant of it -- fleecing people who've been burned by scammers.

The Work Week Ahead

As we're approaching the end of what is a nice four-day holiday break for some of us, I want to talk about getting back to work. This will also be my final guestblog on Boing-Boing, for now. [Blogging here has been a welcome distraction and a delight; thanks for allowing me to share this wonderful space with so many of you.]

B83B5AE3-FC54-4C10-BF1E-7E696D87CF94.jpg While traveling recently, I came upon "The 4-Hour Workweek" in paperback, prominently displayed in an airport bookstore. I started wondering how the book is selling today. (The hardback was released in 2007). Its subtitle says it all: "Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich." Author Timothy Ferriss, not to be confused with Timothy Ferris, the science writer, considers himself a "lifestyle designer." He reveals how to cut your time at work by 80% and spend more time doing things you really enjoy such as skiiing or scuba diving.

The book's title, "The 4-hour Workweek", suggests the least amount of work you could get away with. However, in this economy, I kept thinking the title might suggest the most work you're lucky to find. Ferris' pitch now seems out of tune with tough times, a bit like books that guide you to "Invest in Real Estate with No Money Down."

Ferriss promises to reveal the secrets of the "New Rich, a fast-growing subculture who have abandoned the "deferred-life plan" (aka "slave - save - retire") and create luxury lifestyles in the present." It seems like the book was written for NY investment bankers who don't enjoy what they do but they can't bring themselves to walk away from $500K salaries and seek a new lifestyle. Ferris notes that it's not the money of the millionaire that most people want; it's the freedom that it buys them. So what keeps us from being free and enjoying it? It's a valid question but I had to ask its opposite: what keeps us from enjoying work?

With the investment banking lifestyle fast disappearing, like a lot of good deals gone bad, this book might represent the apex of the boomer fantasy -- the self-absorbed vision of abundance and personal prosperity, and its pre-occupation with retiring early and leaving the work world behind.

Ferris does have good things to say, but times have changed. Most of his advice applies if you don't like what you do for a living. Ferris says that most people see their "job description as self-description". We get trapped answering the question "what do you do?" Yes, that happens but it's what you do, not what you say that defines you, and that's why work is important. Work is where you can do a lot of things that you can't do on your own. Work is where you can do something that matters, not just to you, but to others. We don't have the luxury of ignoring the problems that face us and the people around us. (The economy, education, health care, climate change, etcetera, etcetera).

Ferris writes that "the perfect job is one that takes the least time." I beg to differ. I love what I do because it demands more and more of me. So, the perfect job is one that requires the most of you -- more of your talent, more of your time and more of your will to make something happen. It challenges you to grow and learn more about yourself, often through the people you work with. I realize not everyone has a job they love and nowadays, a lot of people are happy just to have a job, even if they don't love it. Nonetheless, I feel fortunate not only to have a good job but to be in a position to make a difference in other people's lives. I want more hours, not fewer.

I like poet Frank Bidart's words in "Advice to the Players."

“The greatest luxury is to live a life in which the work that one does to earn a living, and what one has the appetite to make, coincide - by a kind of grace are the same, one.”
Here's to a full workweek ahead, not merely four hours but forty plus.

Children's welfare groups oppose Australian censorware -- petition to save Australia's Internet

Itsumishi sez, "A few weeks ago it was mentioned that the Australian Labor Government will be trying to introduce mandatory internet filtering despite promises before the election that any filtering would be on a voluntary basis. The whole insane proposal has received very little mainstream media attention despite vocal opposition from the Opposition, some smaller parties, industry experts, ISPs, consumers and even Child Welfare Groups! With trials due to start December 24th (while everyone is distracted by the holiday season) the time to speak up and let Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy as well as the Labor Government know how Australian's feel about this very important issue. GetUp! Campaign Actions (who helped abolish Work Choices and free David Hicks) have set up a campaign to Save the Net in Australia. I urge all Australian's who care about free speech, the internet and our economy to sign up now and stop this insanity before it has real impact on our daily lives."
Holly Doel-Mackaway, adviser with Save the Children, the largest independent children's rights agency in the world, said educating kids and parents was the way to empower young people to be safe internet users.

She said the filter scheme was "fundamentally flawed" because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources.

Furthermore there was no evidence to suggest that children were stumbling across child pornography when browsing the web. Doel-Mackaway believes the millions of dollars earmarked to implement the filters would be far better spent on teaching children how to use the internet safely and on law enforcement.

"Children are exposed to the abusive behaviours of adults often and we need to be preventing the causes of violence against children in the community, rather than blocking it from people's view," she said.

"The constant change of cyberspace means that a filter is going to be able to be circumvented and it's going to throw up false positives - many innocent websites, maybe even our own, will be blacklisted because we reference a lot of our work that we do with children in fighting commercial sexual exploitation."

Children's welfare groups slam net filters, Save The Net petition

How Dan Kaminsky broke and fixed DNS

Wired's Joshua A Davis has a great profile of my pal Dan Kaminsky's work on discovering and then helping to fix a net-crashing DNS bug earlier this year. Davis really captures the excitement of discovering a major security flaw and the complex web of personal, professional and technical complications that come to bear when you're trying to disclose the research in a way that minimizes harm to the net.

Dan does a lot of fun security-related stuff that doesn't get talked about in public. There's this one thing he does --

But that would be telling.

The next morning, Kaminsky strode to the front of the conference room at Microsoft headquarters before Vixie could introduce him or even welcome the assembled heavy hitters. The 16 people in the room represented Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and the most important designers of modern DNS software.

Vixie was prepared to say a few words, but Kaminsky assumed that everyone was there to hear what he had to say. After all, he'd earned the spotlight. He hadn't sold the discovery to the Russian mob. He hadn't used it to take over banks. He hadn't destroyed the Internet. He was actually losing money on the whole thing: As a freelance computer consultant, he had taken time off work to save the world. In return, he deserved to bask in the glory of discovery. Maybe his name would be heralded around the world.

Kaminsky started by laying out the timeline. He had discovered a devastating flaw in DNS and would explain the details in a moment. But first he wanted the group to know that they didn't have much time. On August 6, he was going to a hacker convention in Las Vegas, where he would stand before the world and unveil his amazing discovery. If there was a solution, they'd better figure it out by then.

But did Kaminsky have the goods? DNS attacks were nothing new and were considered difficult to execute. The most practical attack–widely known as cache poisoning–required a hacker to submit data to a DNS server at the exact moment that it updated its records. If he succeeded, he could change the records. But, like sperm swimming toward an egg, whichever packet got there first–legitimate or malicious–locked everything else out. If the attacker lost the race, he would have to wait until the server updated again, a moment that might not come for days. And even if he timed it just right, the server required a 16-bit ID number. The hacker had a 1-in-65,536 chance of guessing it correctly. It could take years to successfully compromise just one domain.

The experts watched as Kaminsky opened his laptop and connected the overhead projector. He had created a "weaponized" version of his attack on this vulnerability to demonstrate its power. A mass of data flashed onscreen and told the story. In less than 10 seconds, Kaminsky had compromised a server running BIND 9, Vixie's DNS routing software, which controls 80 percent of Internet traffic. It was undeniable proof that Kaminsky had the power to take down large swaths of the Internet.

Secret Geek A-Team Hacks Back, Defends Worldwide Web

(Photo: John Keatley)

Cognitive Therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in chronic depression

A study published today in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology concludes that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in controlling long-term depression.

I've had personal experience with MBCT. About ten years ago, my personal life hit a very low point that left me more than sad -- I was paralyzed, weepy, unable to see the bright side of anything, listless, always tired. I recognized the symptoms of depression and spoke to a psychiatrist I knew. He recommended MBCT in the form of David D Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook. Despite its cheesy title, the book was just what I needed: a series of simple exercises that used empiricism (writing down what happened around you and how it made you feel, and what alternative explanations you could think of for others' behavior) to help change the habits of thought that led to the downward spiral. It wasn't long before the depression lifted, never to return (so far -- and if it does, I know what I'll do).

I've never spoken in public about this before, but I have quietly passed on the book to many of my friends when it seemed needed, always with good results. So I'm not surprised to hear that this research ("led by Professor Willem Kuyken at the Mood Disorders Centre, University of Exeter, in collaboration with colleagues at the Centre for Economics of Mental Health (CEMH) at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, Peninsula Medical School, Devon Primary Care Trust and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit") shows that MBCT works in cases of chronic, long-term depression. This is especially good news, since chronic depression (which runs in my family) is especially hard on the person experiencing it as well as those around her or him.

The holidays are prime-time for difficult emotions. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, know that it's not a sign of weakness or personal inadequacy. Help is simple, widely available and effective.

Professor Willem Kuyken of the University of Exeter said: "Anti-depressants are widely used by people who suffer from depression and that's because they tend to work. But, while they're very effective in helping reduce the symptoms of depression, when people come off them they are particularly vulnerable to relapse. MBCT takes a different approach – it teaches people skills for life. What we have shown is that when people work at it, these skills for life help keep people well."

Professor Kuyken continues: "Our results suggest MBCT may be a viable alternative for some of the 3.5 million people in the UK known to be suffering from this debilitating condition. People who suffer depression have long asked for psychological approaches to help them recover in the long-term and MBCT is a very promising approach. I think we have the basis for offering patients and GPs an alternative to long-term anti-depressant medication. We are planning to conduct a larger trial to put these results to the test and to examine how MBCT works."

Depression Treatment: Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy As Effective As Anti-depressant Medication, Study Suggests

Police raid 79-year-old woman for pot, find tomato plants

Police officers in Scotland were disappointed to learn that the people they intended to arrest for growing marijuana were growing an equally innocuous, but unfortunately legal, plant -- tomatoes.
Uniformed officers burst into Lulu Matheson's house in the village of Shieldaig, Wester Ross, kept her son Gus in his bedroom for two hours, handcuffed her grandson Stephen, and turned the house upside down.

The high-profile afternoon raid involved three squad cars, seven officers and sniffer dogs. They told the family they were looking for cannabis, but after searching for several hours had to concede the green plants visible in the window from the roadside were tomatoes.

Naturally, the cops didn't apologize. They were just doing their job.

UPDATE: The best bit? At taxpayers' expense, "the officers insisted on sending samples of the plants to be analysed."

Police raid 79-year-old woman for pot, find tomato plants

Uke, washboard, and kazoo music from 1928

Amy Crehore found this video of Eddie Thomas and Carl Scott playing "My Ohio Home." Hokum Music on YouTube

Trains on the Brain

The holiday season brings back memories of toy trains running under the Christmas tree. My father built a six-foot-long platform for an American Flyer train set that was mine and went under the tree. My younger brother had a square platform for an HO-scale Lionel train and it sat off to the side. Each holiday season, we'd get these train-boards down and set up the track, fitting the sections together to create the oval. We'd unwrap the plastic pieces that made up the model village, and place the styrofoam train tunnel carefully around a bend. Finally, we'd wire the transformer to the track and get the train running along. Of course, we'd crank up the power and see how fast the train would go without it jumping off the tracks. It's a time when you're glad to have younger siblings distributed around the track ready to put the cars back on track. Trains were something to enjoy through the holidays and we'd complain not only that the holiday ended but that it was time to put these trains away.


when I was young growing up in LA, my favorite place to eat was a diner that had sawdust on the floor. What I remember most is that the diner had a train that ran along the u-shaped counter and made a loop back into the kitchen. Sitting at the counter, I wrote down my order and clipped the piece of paper to a boxcar and off it went to the kitchen. Soon, the train returned and stopped in front of me with my plate sitting on top of a flatbed car.

When my own son was young, we set up some trains at Christmas and enjoyed them. I don't know if they occupy the same place in his brain as they do in mine. Video games have meant more to him and honestly, race-car sets were much more fun. Nonetheless, coming upon Christmas again, I want to build a train board and get a train set. I've been looking at what's new in trains, and I see digital command systems. It's a little hard to figure it out. I'm curious how trains and computers (microcontrollers, even) might play together today.

Recently, I was re-reading Steven Levy's book, Hackers, and it begins by telling the story of the MIT Model Railroad Club. There were two groups in the student club -- one that worked on the detailed layouts and the other that worked on the switching. It was the latter that saw the possibilities for using computers to control the trains. It was this group that first defined the hacker ethic and what Levy called the "hands-on" imperative. If you couldn't get your hands on something and take it apart, you could not understand how it works and learn to use it. In those days, computer manufacturers wouldn't have thought that a model train set was an appropriate application for computers, nor could they have imagined that the future of technology would be influenced so much by hackers.


Over the weekend, I visited the Golden State Model Railway Museum in Point Richmond, California. The trains weren't running on the day I visited but I did get to see the different layouts, simulating different California scenes. The museum is a little sleepy, with old men working on the tracks. Frankly, what I imagine going on there is more interesting than what is actually going on. I want more interactivity than what's possible with the large-scale train layouts. I also recall over the years visiting men who had elaborate train yards in their garages. The layouts are meticulous and each one must have taken years to build. I don't necessarily want to the be that kind of person.

Afterwards my wife and I went on a beautiful walk in the Miller-Knox Regional Park across the street from the museum. It's the site of the Ferry Point Terminal, where, in the days before there were bridges over the Bay, trains arrived at this pier. Passengers and cargo were unloaded on to ferries and transported across the bay. Today, Ferry Point is a makeshift fishing pier but the shadowy hulk of train tracks and a rusty crane remain in place.


Boing Boing's Holiday Gift Guide part five: Nonfiction

Here's part five of the Boing Boing Holiday Gift Guide, a roundup of the bestselling items from this year's Boing Boing reviews. Today's installment is nonfiction books.

Don't miss the rest of the posts: kids' stuff, fiction, gadgets and comics. Tomorrow I'll wrap it up with DVDs and CDs.

Good Calories, Bad Calories
(Gary Taubes)
Gary Taubes, whose NYT article on Atkins rekindled the low-carb eating movement, sums up his reserarch on low-carb eating
Original Boing Boing post

Transit Maps of the World
(Mark Ovenden)
Sheer subway-porn
Original Boing Boing post

Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers
(Henning Nelm)
Classic book about conjuring has many lessons for writers
Original Boing Boing post

(Nick Abadzis)
Graphic novel tells the sweet and sad story of the first space-dog
Original Boing Boing post

Mutter Museum Historic Medical Photographs
(Laura Lindgren)
Haunting book of Victorian pathological curiosities
Original Boing Boing post

Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World
(David Koenig)
The secret history of Walt Disney World
Original Boing Boing post

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
(Michael Pollan)
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Original Boing Boing post

Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations
(Stephen M. Kosslyn)
Cognitive science vs. crappy PowerPoint slides
Original Boing Boing post

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
(Clay Shirky)
Clay Shirky's masterpiece
Original Boing Boing post

The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism
(Matt Mason)
To get rich off pirates, copy them
Original Boing Boing post

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
(Suketu Mehta)
Exhausting and beautiful love-note to Mumbai
Original Boing Boing post

Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan
(Lisa Katayama)
Make Magazine meets Hints From Heloise by way of postwar Japan
Original Boing Boing post

China Shakes the World: A Titan's Rise and Troubled Future -- and the Challenge for America
(James Kynge)
Book captures the grand sweep of changes in the most populous nation on Earth
Original Boing Boing post

Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy
(Abby Banks, Timothy Findlen, Thurston Moore)
Communal homes of the anarcho-syndicalist lifestyle
Original Boing Boing post

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need
(Daniel H. Pink)
Optimistic and iconoclastic career guide in manga form
Original Boing Boing post

Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture
(DJ Spooky)
Essays on the future of music edited by DJ Spooky
Original Boing Boing post

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights
(Bill Ivey)
How the DMCA, Clear Channel and copyright extension are killing culture
Original Boing Boing post

The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It
(Jonathan Zittrain)
How to save the Internet from the Internet
Original Boing Boing post

The Best of 2600: A Hacker Odyssey
(Emmanuel Goldstein)
Best of 2600 Magazine anthology
Original Boing Boing post

A People's History of American Empire
(Howard Zinn)
Fantastic comic-book adaptation of Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States
Original Boing Boing post

Secrets of the Mouse: An Unofficial Behind-the-Scenes Guide to Disneyland Park
(Alan Joyce)
Insider Disneyland guide
Original Boing Boing post

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
(John Medina)
Oliver Sacks meets GETTING THINGS DONE
Original Boing Boing post

My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
(Jessica Mills)
Kick-ass punk-parenting book
Original Boing Boing post

True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society
(Farhad Manjoo)
The science, history and economics of self-deception
Original Boing Boing post

The Quirks & Quarks Guide to Space: 42 Questions (and Answers) About Life, the Universe, and Everything
(Jim Lebans)
Bite-sized answers to the massive questions of inquisitive astronomical ponderers
Original Boing Boing post

Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future
(Cory Doctorow)
Collection of my infamous articles, essays, and polemics. championing free speech and universal access to information
Original Boing Boing post

The Baby Sleep Solution: A Proven Program to Teach Your Baby to Sleep Twelve Hours a Night
(Suzy Giordano)
The best parenting book I've read
Original Boing Boing post

How Children Learn
(John Holt)
Cllassic of human, kid-centered learning
Original Boing Boing post

The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies
(Patrick Buckley, Lily Binns)
Nerdy cookbook for kitchen hackers
Original Boing Boing post

Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin
(Kenny Shopsin, Carolynn Carreno)
Memoir and cookbook from Shopsin's, the best, most eclectic eatery in Greenwich Village
Original Boing Boing post

How Children Fail
(John Holt)
Angry lessons from failures to teach
Original Boing Boing post

Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope
(Emmanuel Guibert)
Extraordinary graphic novel memoir of a US GI who arrived in Europe at the end of WWII and stayed
Original Boing Boing post

Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street
(Michael Lewis)
A timely moment to revisit 20-year-old memoir of the rise and fall of a financial bubble
Original Boing Boing post

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation
(Jonathan Hennessey)
US Constitution in graphic novel form
Original Boing Boing post

Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan
(Chip Kidd)
The lost Japanese Batman comics of 1966
Original Boing Boing post

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
(Leslie T. Chang)
Amazing memoir by American-born Chinese journalist
Original Boing Boing post

Bound by Law?: Tales from the Public Domain
(Keith Aoki, James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins)
The "Understanding Comics" of copyright, in a new edition
Original Boing Boing post

The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx
(Stefan Kanfer)
A book of fine grouchovian material that contains at least five guaranteed laughs on every page
Original Boing Boing post

Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science
(John Grant)
The history, cause, effect and state of bad science
Original Boing Boing post

Peak Population: when will population growth stop, why, and how?

Worldchanging's Alex Steffen's got a good, thoughtful piece up about "peak population," the idea that we'll crest humanity's most rapid period of population growth and that it will -- and should -- slow down from here. I love this quote from Kim Stanley Robinson, speaking of birth control: "empowering women is the best climate change technology."
It would be a mistake, however, to fail to see peak population as a hugely important insight, because when we know that we are riding a wave of increasing numbers (and increasing longevity) that will crest sometime after the middle of this century, we can also see that

1) The longer population growth rates remain high, the more total people there will be on the planet when we reach peak population, so one of our biggest goals ought to be seeing to it by every ethical means possible that the wave of population growth crests sooner rather than later.

2) If we are successful in reaching peak population sooner, at a lower number of people, rather than later with more people, we will be much more able to confront the myriad interlocking crises we face -- a comparatively less crowded planet is an easier planet on which to build a bright green future.

3) Since we know the single best way of bringing down high birth rates is to empower women by giving them access to reproductive health choices (including contraception and abortion), education, economic opportunities, and legal protection of their rights, empowering women ought to be one of our highest priorities. (As Kim Stanley Robinson puts it, empowering women is the best climate change technology.)

4) Our other main task is to preserve natural systems and transform human economies in order to best withstand this wave of human beings, avoid catastrophe and leave behind as intact a world as we can -- to save the parts (including not just biodiversity but also the diversity of human cultures and histories) so that future generations have as many options as possible.

5) Our best hopes for both avoiding catastrophe and preserving our heritage all hinge on our actions over roughly the next two decades. In that time we have enormous work to do: create at least the model of a zero-carbon, zero-waste civilization; begin deep and widespread impact reduction here in the developed world; sustainably raise the prospects of those (especially women) living in the developing world; and preserve as many working parts of our planetary heritage as we possibly can. After that time, all of these jobs will grow progressively harder, trending quickly towards impossibility.

Peak Population and Generation X

James Boyle's "The Public Domain" -- a brilliant copyfighter's latest book, from a law prof who writes like a comedian

Jamie Boyle, of the Duke Center for the Public Domain, has a new book out, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. Boyle ranks with Lessig, Benkler and Zittrain as one of the most articulate, thoughtful, funny and passionate thinkers in the global fight for free speech, open access, and a humane and sane policy on patents, trademarks and copyrights. A legal scholar who can do schtick like a stand-up comedian, Boyle is entertaining as well as informative.

I've got a copy on its way to me, but while I'm waiting, I'm delighted to discover that Jamie talked his publisher, Yale University Press, into offering the book as a free, CC-licensed download. And right there, in the preface, I'm hooked:

Each person has a different breaking point. For one of my students it was United States Patent number 6,004,596 for a “Sealed Crustless Sandwich.” In the curiously mangled form of English that patent law produces, it was described this way:

A sealed crustless sandwich for providing a convenient sandwich without an outer crust which can be stored for long periods of time without a central filling from leaking outwardly. The sandwich includes a lower bread portion, an upper bread portion, an upper filling and a lower filling between the lower and upper bread portions, a center filling sealed be- tween the upper and lower fillings, and a crimped edge along an outer perimeter of the bread portions for sealing the fillings there between. The upper and lower fillings are preferably comprised of peanut butter and the center filling is comprised of at least jelly. The center filling is pre- vented from radiating outwardly into and through the bread portions from the surrounding peanut butter.

“But why does this upset you?” I asked; “you’ve seen much worse than this.” And he had. There are patents on human genes, on auctions, on algorithms. The U.S. Olympic Committee has an expansive right akin to a trademark over the word “Olympic” and will not permit gay activists to hold a “Gay Olympic Games.” The Supreme Court sees no First Amendment problem with this. Margaret Mitchell’s estate famously tried to use copyright to prevent Gone With the Wind from being told from a slave’s point of view. The copyright over the words you are now read- ing will not expire until seventy years after my death; the men die young in my family, but still you will allow me to hope that this might put it close to the year 2100. Congress periodically considers legislative proposals that would allow the ownership of facts. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives content providers a whole array of legally protected digital fences to en- close their work. In some cases it effectively removes the privilege of fair use. Each day brings some new Internet horror story about the excesses of intellectual property. Some of them are even true. The list goes on and on. (By the end of this book, I hope to have convinced you that this matters.) With all of this going on, this enclosure movement of the mind, this locking up of symbols and themes and facts and genes and ideas (and eventually people), why get excited about the patenting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? “I just thought that there were limits,” he said; “some things should be sacred.”

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, Download The Public Domain, The Public Domain on Amazon

Nerf factory riot in China

Riots are breaking out in factories in Dongguan as bankruptcies and layoffs throw thousands out of work with wages owing. South China, "the world's factory," is in chaos, faltering. After the mid-autumn festival, enormous numbers of workers simply stayed home in the provinces, rather than returning to work in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Dongguan.

This AP story talks about a riot in the factory where Nerf toys were manufactured for Hasbro -- and no, they didn't fight with Nerf bats.

Tempers began flaring Tuesday when the plant's Hong Kong owner, Kader Holdings Company Ltd., prepared to lay off 216 migrant workers at the factory that employs 6,500. About 80 senior workers claimed they were getting shortchanged on their severance pay, and they mobilized a mob of 500 – mostly other unemployed workers and friends, Guo said.

The workers battled security guards, turned over a police car, smashed the headlights of police motorcycles and forced their way through the factory's front gate, Guo said. They went on a rampage in the plant's offices, damaging 10 computers, the company said.

The account was confirmed Wednesday by several of the 200 or so jobless laborers peacefully milling around the street in front of the four-story factory complex covered in soot-stained white and green tiles. Small groups of workers inside the factory pressed against glass windows and stared at the crowd below. When their shift ended, they flooded into the streets and mixed with the angry workers.

"The factory's management and the local officials really look down on the workers," said one laid-off worker who would only give his surname, Qiao, because he feared criticizing the company might jeopardize his chance of getting any compensation.

Workers riot at Chinese toy factory (Thanks, Jennifer!)

Suketu "Maximum City" Mehta on the Mumbai attacks

Suketu Mehta, author of the Pulitzer-nominated "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found" has a wracked and impassioned op-ed in today's New York Times about the Mumbai attacks. Mehta says that the terrorists want to kill the golden dream of Mumbai, and pledges himself to improving the city and its injustices, calling on all of us to renew our commitment to one of the largest, most beautiful, most maddening cities in the world.

I spent some time in Mumbai in September, and met some of the warmest, cleverest, most driven people I've ever encountered, from the slums of Dharavi to the IT parks to the Bollywood studios, it was a bottomless well of ambitious strivers who loved their city and worked and played around the clock. The poverty was crushing, the bravery inspiring, the city beautiful and terrible at once. Like most foreigners who visit the city, I stayed in the tourist quarter in Colaba, where many of the attacks occurred -- I had dinner at Leopold's, tea at the Taj, tried to get a train at VT.

I hope that all my Mumbai friends are safe and sound. I've been avidly reading the traffic on one of the Indian mailing-lists I lurk on, watching as the Mumbai residents check in, trade stories, give thanks for being alive and, like Mehta, pledge to answer the problems of their city with love instead of hate.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi”: the sinful land...

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

What They Hate About Mumbai (via Jon Taplin)

Vintage space age illustrations

Here's a lovely little gallery of space age illustrations, perfect for collaging into Christmas cards or other crafty projects. Most of these come from the superb Modern Mechanix blog (a bottomless, never-ending, priceless trove of fantastic scans from vintage pulps), but there are a smattering from elsewhere as well.

45 Vintage ‘Space Age’ Illustrations (Thanks, Samantha!)

(Image: Traffic of the Future (1959) by Klaus Bürgle, as seen in Veloopity's Flickr stream)

George Orwell: Egg man (koo koo ka joob)

I've been riveted by the latest installments in the Orwell Diary blog, in which the Orwell Society posts one diary entry from George Orwell's 1938 journal every day as a blog-post. Since mid-October, the journal entries have been from a rented villa in Marrakech (sic), and Orwell's journals have grown increasingly obsessed with the number of eggs his hens are laying (not many). Every time I see an entry like this: "21.11.38: Two eggs," I crack up.

30.11.38: Two eggs.

29.11.38: One egg.

28.11.38: Two eggs.

27.11.38: One egg.

25.11.38: Two eggs.

24.11.38: One egg.

Cylinder of Butagaz gave out yesterday. That makes 5 weeks. It has supplied pretty regularly 3 gas-jets (one of them higher candle-power – I think 60 – than the others) & a fourth occasionally.

Where will it end? The suspense is killing me!

30.11.38: Two eggs.

See also: Orwell's diaries in blog form