Boing Boing 

Larry Lessig explains how Mayday.US can win the fight on corruption


Slashdot recorded a must-watch video with Lawrence Lessig about the Mayday.US anti-PAC that is raising money to elect politicians who'll enact meaningful campaign finance reform.

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British Airways' "Happiness Blanket" sensor detects the totally obvious


British Airways is trialling an in-flight sensor blanket called the "Happiness Blanket" to determine what makes first class passengers happy.

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Rich get richer, faster

A research report from business school professors at Imperial College, Columbia and U of Maryland found that wealthy investors get returns on bonds and stocks that are "up to 70 per cent times greater returns on their investments than those with modest wealth." This is a point that Piketty makes strongly, backing it up by analyzing data from the Harvard endowment, which gets 10% returns on its ~$80B nest-egg, while the rest of us barely clear inflation with our savings.

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century is a bestselling economics tome whose combination of deep, careful presentation of centuries' worth of data, along with an equally careful analysis of where capitalism is headed has ignited a global conversation about inequality, tax, and policy. Cory Doctorow summarizes the conversation without making you read 696 pages (though you should). Read the rest

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants YOU to support Mayday.US and fight Congressional corruption

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has recorded this video message endorsing the Mayday.US super PAC, through which Lawrence Lessig and supporters are raising $5 million in small-money donations to elect lawmakers who will promise meaningful reforms of campaign finance law to curtail the undue influence of money on politics. The cynics say that lawmakers like getting bribes in exchange for bad policy, but the reality is that lawmakers are locked in an awful, brutal arms-race to raise funds for the next election cycle, and devote most of their days in office to sucking up to plutocrats to raise money that they don't get to keep, but will have to blow on ever-more-lavish political campaigns. Limits on campaign spending will force politicians to focus on winning votes by introducing popular, sound policies, not by being puppets of the American plutocracy.

I'm not entitled to contribute to Mayday.US (I'm a foreigner), but if you are, I would consider it a personal favor if you'd kick in a couple extra bucks for those of us who worry about American politics but don't get a direct say.

(via Lessig)

50,000 march against austerity in London, BBC doesn't notice

Joly writes, "It seems the BBC are capable of tracking down a single Scot in Brazil who cheered a goal against England but fail to notice 50,000 demonstrating on their doorstep." The Guardian noticed. There's much bigger stuff -- likely too big for the Beeb to ignore -- coming in October.

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Steve Wozniak wants you to support Mayday.US and get money out of politics

Apple co-founder, nerd legend, and all-round Good Guy Steve Wozniak has recorded an excellent video explaining why he's supporting Larry Lessig's Mayday.US super PAC, which is raising $5M to elect lawmakers who'll promise to vote to abolish super PACs and effect major campaign finance reform.

Wozniak draws the connection between big money in politics and the overall corruption that gave us SOPA, NSA surveillance, cable company fuckery, and other horribles that arise when the only way to get elected is by sucking up to a tiny elite of the zottarich.

I am not a US citizen and I can't contribute to Mayday. If you are, I hope you will consider giving to the campaign, and throw in a couple extra bucks for me.

Mayday.US

Riot control drone that fires paintballs, pepper-spray and rubber bullets at protesters

The Skunk, a drone from South African company Desert Wolf, is billed as the first riot-control drone -- it fires dye-balls, pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters, blinds them with strobes, broadcasts control messages to them, and records them. Its first customers are South African mine-owners wishing to target striking workers.

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Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

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How Hayek bred a race of elite monsters

Though he's been dead for more than 20 years, Friedrich Hayek is the darling of the free market, practically a saint. But as Bill Black explains, Hayek's predictions -- used to justify and glorify unlimited enrichment of the ruling class -- never came true, and the states that followed his prescriptions most closely ended up the barbaric situation that he warned about in re-distributive democracies.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, as the proportion of GDP that goes to "guard labor" in our militarized police forces and our bulging private prisons, as the most corrupt captains of industry grow richer while the rest of us are faced with an old age in poverty -- and a working life dominated by caring for our own sick and elderly relations -- it's worth reviewing Hayek's record, and the greedy, selfish, corrupt world it produced.

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Thai shrimp industry runs on brutal slavery and murder


A blockbuster investigative report in The Guardian reveals that the Thai shrimp/prawn fishing industry is powered by a brutal system of slavery through which trafficked workers are bought and sold by captains who starve, beat and murder them in sadistic displays intended to inspire fear in the remaining workforce. The major companies who import Thai prawns, like CP Foods, and their customers, which includes most major grocery stores, admit that there is a problem, but they do not conduct audits that go "all the way to the end of the supply chain." An anonymous Thai government spokesman claims that the problem could be easily dealt with, but there is no political will to do so.

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Piketty's inherited-wealth dystopia: private capital millionaires multiply


Thomas Piketty's much-discussed economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century prophesies a future where inherited wealth dominates the world, because the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth in the economy, meaning the money your ancestors earned will always outstrip what you could earn. A new Boston Consulting Group report confirms Piketty's hypothesis, concluding that the share of wealth due to capital increased by 14% last year

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Inherent biases warp Big Data


The theory of Big Data is that the numbers have an objective property that makes their revealed truth especially valuable; but as Kate Crawford points out, Big Data has inherent, lurking bias, because the datasets are the creation of fallible, biased humans. For example, the data-points on how people reacted to Hurricane Sandy mostly emanate from Manhattan, because that's where the highest concentration of people wealthy enough to own tweeting, data-emanating smartphones are. But more severely affected locations -- Breezy Point, Coney Island and Rockaway -- produced almost no data because they had fewer smartphones per capita, and the ones they had didn't work because their power and cellular networks failed first.

I wrote about this in 2012, when Google switched strategies for describing the way it arrived at its search-ranking. Prior to that, the company had described its ranking process as a mathematical one and told people who didn't like how they got ranked that the problem was their own, because the numbers didn't lie. After governments took this argument to heart and started ordering Google to change its search results -- on the grounds that there's no free speech question if you're just ordering post-processing on the outcome of an equation -- Google started commissioning law review articles explaining that the algorithms that determined search-rank were the outcome of an expressive, human, editorial process that deserved free speech protection.

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Network neutrality for self-driving cars


David Weinberger's Would a Google car sacrifice you for the sake of the many? explores many philosophical conundra regarding self-driving cars, including the possibility that the rich and powerful might literally buy their way into the fast-lane. This is the premise of my 2005 story "Human Readable," which appears in my collection With a Little Help (there's also a spectacular audio edition, read by Spider Robinson).

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Help raise $5M in 30 days to send anti-corruption politicians to America with Mayday.US PAC

More than 90% of Americans believe that the US government is unduly influenced by money, and the Mayday.US super PAC is raising $5M to fund the election campaigns of politicians who'll pledge to dismantle super PACs and enact other campaign finance reforms. They raised more than $1M in 30 days last month, and this month, the goal is $5M. It's the brainchild of Lawrence Lessig, who's going to prototype the project by running five electoral campaigns in 2014, and use the lessons of those projects to win enough anti-corruption seats in 2016 to effect real change.

Again, I'm not able to contribute to Mayday.US, because I'm a Canadian and Briton. But I ask my American friends to put in $10, and promise that I'll put CAD1000 into any comparable Canadian effort and/or £1000 into a comparable UK effort. We all win when countries embrace evidence-based policy guided by doing what's best for its citizens, rather than lining the pockets of corrupting multinationals.

Mayday.US (Thanks, Brian!)

Red states are most dependent on federal money


Wallethub compared the direct and indirect federal subsidy to all 50 states and DC by comparing federal taxes remitted; federal funding as a fraction of state revenue; and number of federal jobs per capita and produced a ranked list of the states with the greatest federal dependency. Unsurprisingly, the top ten are overwhelmingly Republican dominated "red" states with low state taxes and low average per-capita incomes thanks to harsh labor laws -- these states necessarily depend on federal money to make up the shortfall from their own politically expedient tax-holidays, and lack the robust middle-class who pay the largest percentage of their income in tax.

The top ten in order of dependency are Mississippi, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Tennessee, South Dakota and Arizona. The five states most independent of federal subsidy are (in order): Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

The article is good and full of interesting footnotes -- for example, Delaware's seeming independence is largely illusory, an artifact of its stock franchise tax drawn from out-of-state companies.

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American juvenile incarceration: destroying a generation to feed the prison system


Wil Wheaton writes, "Today's Fresh Air (MP3) is just heartbreaking. It's an interview about the juvenile 'justice' system in America with Nell Bernstein, author of Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison, and how prison is just destroying young lives in the name of giving prison workers jobs. No. Seriously. It's infuriating, and it dovetails perfectly with your review of Matt Taibbi's new book."

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison

'Burning Down The House' Makes The Case Against Juvenile Incarceration (Thanks, Wil!)

Riis's "How the Other Half Lives": photos of NYC slumlife in the Gilded Age

The full text and images of Jacob Riis's 1890 classic How The Other Half Lives is online (previously), featuring striking photos of the dire state of NYC poverty during the "gilded age," when wealth disparity hit levels that are eerily reminiscent of the modern age. Reading this is probably good prep for our coming future (above, "Police Station lodgers in Elizabeth Street Station").

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The more your job helps people, the less you're paid (and vice-versa)


In this spectacular, long interview with Salon, David "Debt" Graeber builds on his bullshit jobs hypothesis and points out the horror of modern American work: if your job does some good, you are paid less; jobs that actively hurt people are paid more; and no one seems to want a world where no one has to work anymore. But have no fear: it ends on a high note: a proposed "revolt of the caring classes."

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Picketty vs politics: where does the rate of profit come from?


Suresh Naidu analyzes Thomas Piketty's groundbreaking economics book Capital in the 21st Century (previously), disagreeing with one of Piketty's core assumptions: that the rate of profit is a given, not the product of things like trade union law, global treaties, and other political decisions. This is wonkier than last night's post about Piketty, but a lot more interesting, in my view.

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Brandalists replace 365 outdoor ads in 10 UK cities with hand-printed works of art

Last week, in a coordinated attack by guerrilla artists across the UK, 365 outdoor ads were replaced by hand-printed works of art. It was a project of Brandalism, and they hit 10 cities, using hi-viz vests and steely nerves as camouflage while they did their work.

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Design as parameterization: brute-forcing the manufacturing/ design problem-space

Here's something exciting: Autodesk's new computer-aided design software lets the designer specify the parameters of a solid (its volume, dimensions, physical strength, even the tools to be used in its manufacture and the amount of waste permissible in the process) and the software iterates through millions of potential designs that fit. The designer's job becomes tweaking the parameters and choosing from among the brute-forced problem-space of her object, rather than designing it from scratch.

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U of Saskatchewan fires tenured dean for speaking out against cuts

A reader writes, "Robert Buckingham, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan since 2009, was fired last Wednesday for critical comments about the university's restructuring plans. When he showed up for work Wednesday morning, two campus security guards escorted him off campus. The university not only fired him as dean, but also stripped Buckingham of his tenured faculty position. The termination letter signed by Provost and VP Academic Brett Fairbairn said that by speaking out against the school's restructuring plans, Buckingham had 'demonstrated egregious conduct and insubordination' and was in breach of contract."

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State GOPs: no benefits unless you shut up and obey your boss


Writing in the NYT, Corey Robin highlights the frightening trend in state GOP labor laws to deny unemployment benefits to workers who are fired for breaking the "behavioral norms" demanded by employers, from dating workers from rival companies to posting unhappy work-related remarks to the Internet. Conservative douchebag Ben Stein loves these rules, and wants high schools to help instill them by vigorously punishing "talking back" -- if you're subordinate, you need to learn not to be insubordinate.

For more background, see the Economic Policy Institute's 2013 report, The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012.

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Fast food workers around the world to strike on May 15


Fast-food workers in 33 countries are planning a walkout on May 15, demanding better pay and better working conditions. The action, coordinated by Fast Food Forward, will target McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. McDonald's -- which settled a $1B class-action suit over wage-theft from its American workforce in March -- has issued a shareholder warning about the possibility of having to pay a living wage to its workers. Women, especially single mothers, are disproportionately likely to work in sub-living-wage jobs in the fast food industry.

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App lets you auction your San Francisco parking spot

A new mobile app called Monkeyparking allows people in San Francisco with good parking spots to auction them off when they're ready to leave, permitting circling rich people to engage in excitingly dangerous class warfare by bidding on spaces with their phones while they drive. The app's creators defend it as providing an "incentive" to leave your space for others to use.

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Straczynski: "The New Aristocracy"

Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has posted a brilliant, inflammatory set of "rules of the new aristocracy: "We are the New Aristocracy because we were born into it. We got our money the old fashioned, Medieval way: our parents gave it to us. We were born into the wealth that we stole from you and your family over the last fifty years."

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Political TV advertising in the USA: scofflaw broadcasters hide the dark money of political influence

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation writes, "Today, Sunlight Foundation and the Campaign Legal Center, represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, filed complaints at the Federal Communications Commission against 11 broadcasters in nine markets for failing to comply with the agency's political ad disclosure rules. Broadcasters are required by law to keep information about political ads they air in their stations' public files. Sunlight and CLC found and documented several violations of these rules, and examples are included in the complaints."

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Canada in decline

The Harper regime has dealt blow after blow to the values Canada holds dear: environmental responsibility, humanitarianism, fairness, transparency, and pluralism. But when you see it all laid out in one devastating indictment, it's still jarring. The fact that this indictment appears in a sober-sided journal like The Lancet only makes the barbs sink deeper. O, Canada.

Having leisure time is now a marker for poverty, not riches


In Post-Industrious Society: Why Work Time will not Disappear for our Grandchildren, researchers from Oxford's Centre for Time Use Research argue that there has been a radical shift in the relationship between leisure, work and income. Where once leisure time was a mark of affluence, now it is a marker for poverty. The richer you are, the more likely you are to work long hours; while the poorer you are, the fewer hours you are likely to work every week.

The researchers theorise multiple causes for this. Poor people are more likely to be underemployed and unable to get the work-hours they want (and need) to support themselves. Rich people are likely to work in jobs that disproportionately advance and reward workers who put in overtime, so a 10% increase in hours worked generates more than 10% in expected career-gains.

They also claim that rich workers are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, but I'm skeptical of this -- I think that relative to unskilled workers doing at-will 0-hours temp work whose every move is constrained and scripted by their employers, this is probably true, but I don't think that the white-collar world is producing a lot of people who think that their work is meaningful and rewarding.

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