"If You Don't Trust People You Know, It's Over."



On an NYU aid and development studies blog, this video of NYU Professor Leonard Wantchekon talking about a cultural challenge to development in the country where he grew up, Benin. As regular BB readers are probably sick of me mentioning in blog posts by now, I spent the last few weeks traveling and shooting video in that West African country.

So, in this clip from "What Would the Poor Say: Debates in Aid Evaluation," a recent conference held by NYU's Development Research Institute, Wantchekon talks about the lack of interpersonal trust within a community as a major challenge to economic development.

Communities in Benin where he has seen this phenomenon manifest most, he says, are the same communities where the highest amount of slave exportation took place from the 1600s to the 1900s -- villages and towns in the southern part of the country, where the huge slave ports once stood, and where massive numbers of (basically) war captives were sold into bondage. Wantchekon documents all of this in a research paper he co-authored with Nathan Nunn.

I realize the point in this video is to help aid workers think about how to quantify, define, and deal with this factor in development programs in Africa. But as I watched, I kept thinking about what this means in my own personal community back here in the US (and around the internet). How I and my friends and colleagues are, in many ways, really "banking" on that trust with each other to come up with creative ways to survive the economic crisis.

Video: "If You Don't Trust People You Know, It's Over."

You should also watch another clip by Wantchekon at this conference about the "Real Costs of Funerals in Benin." Might sound tedious and weird but it's (at least to me) fascinating. According to Wantchekon, some 30% of the monthly income of many middle-class families in Benin is spent on funerals!

(NYU Aid Watch blog, Thanks, Hugo von Tilborg!)

Re-Engineering Fundamentalism

1522 edition of Luther's 95 Theses

Guest blogger Paul Spinrad is not unacquainted with the grape. 

After our distant ancestors developed language, everyone could benefit from the experiences of others. But the bandwidth of speech is so low compared to one's own senses that it required huge compression and decompression at each end of the communication. This process of describing and interpreting was enabled by detailed world models that everyone carried in their heads.

Because these world models vary from person to person, the codec is lossy, and misunderstandings are inevitable. But the imprecision also makes words more timeless and intimate. If the impressions that some words convey to you resonate with you, it's because they are literally built out of the way you view the world.

Words can also lie, but along with interpreting words, we automatically assess the trustworthiness of their source. We can learn not to believe everything we hear, or to distrust certain people, and we can also set the Bible trust level to 100. No such counterpart exists for visual communication-- cameras, television, and Photoshop haven't been around long enough.

That's all background, and here's my point: It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant. When this happens, in the West anyway, there's inevitably a revolution of words, of back-to-basics and idealism, against the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon. Because it's based on words, people can place their trust in it fully and spread it, and it will continue to make sense over time. It doesn't propagate through image, might, or personal influence. This empowers people again-- perhaps simply by making them feel empowered.

Big examples are the formation of Christianity and Islam, and the Protestant Reformation. Today we see other fundamentalisms. But the inevitable next one doesn't have to be intolerant and destructive. If we engage with the task of developing it, rather than avoiding it and leaving it to others, it can be a nice one.

Photo of 1522 edition of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

 

Bruce Sterling: Funeral for Analog TV (video)


Above: Funeral for Analog TV, starring the lovely and talented Bruce Sterling. "The service took place at the Berkeley Art Museum Tuesday, February 17, at 7:00 PM." More:

Audiences joined author Bruce Sterling, technology pundit Paul Saffo, and other special guests on the UC Berkeley campus to mourn the loss of our long time acquaintance, the Analog Television Signal. Born in the 1920's in San Francisco, the signal has been an integral part of all our lives, bringing us news of the rich, the famous, the politicians, the wars, the Apollo landings, the thrills of victory, and the agonies of defeat. While Analog Television has not been a good friend to us all, it has been important to each and every one of us. Analog Television is survived by its wife Digital Television, and its second cousin Internet Television.

Visitors brought their Analog TV for display and recycling. We stacked the first 40 in memoriam to our life long friend and the remainder were responsibly recycled. At the ceremony Paul Saffo spelled out the sordid history of the Analog TV Signal's life, the group Author & Punisher performed the funeral dirge, and author Bruce Sterling delivered the eulogy (above) just before the analog signal winked out for the last time and the frequency wasteland was invaded by pirate TV artists. It's rare that the entire nation gets a specific date on which one major medium dies and is replaced by another. This event was a scholarly and artistic reflection on the passing of one of the dominant mediums and cultural influences of the late 20th century.

BB Video: How's Your News? Comedy/News by Disabled People, Produced by South Park's Matt + Trey.


Flash video embed above, click "full" icon inside the player to view it large. You can download the MP4 here. Our YouTube channel is here, you can subscribe to our daily video podcast on iTunes here. And here are the archives for Boing Boing Video.


About a year ago, Boing Boing's video production crew was having our weekly content pitch meeting and my colleague Jolon brought up a video project he'd been following called "How's Your News." It was a news program in which the presenters are people with physical and mental disabilities. Some have Downs Syndrome, others cerebral palsy, and so on.

We didn't get around to producing a BB feature, but then just this past weekend, I met with Matt Stone and learned that he and fellow South Park creator Trey Parker are producing a version of How's Your News as a new MTV series. It debuts this Sunday, February 8.

He kindly offered to allow us to take a sneak peek at the first few episodes, and cut together an exclusive preview. That is today's episode of Boing Boing Video.

Matt explained that he and Trey are mostly hands-off with regard to the creative and editorial process on the MTV series, they're more like "godfathers" on the television project. HYN creator and director Arthur Bradford and the correspondents are pretty much in charge. It sounds like MTV has handled the project admirably, too.

When I first saw the internet version, I remember first feeling a little guilty or awkward for laughing at people with disabilities on-screen. But when I watched the MTV episodes in entirety with the BBV crew, I started to feel like I knew these people, and was more comfortable with it the more I watched. Maybe part of the lesson here is that people with disabilities are real people. They don't need me to feel "precious" or "protective" about them. It is okay to laugh with them, and when they are being funny in a comedy series, it's okay to laugh at them, too. Not as people to be pitied, just as people.

Matt Stone tells Boing Boing,
One of the first things that Arthur Bradford said about doing How's Your News as a TV show was that he absolutely didn't want to pitch the show to Lifetime or PBS or anyplace else where you would EXPECT a show like this. He wanted to fly into the center of the sun and have the show on MTV. The How's Your News crew is about redefining expectations and the show is by far their best work. It is my favorite show on television beside South Park....
Heh. And I asked Arthur Bradford to share some words with us, too. He says:
I think the big question everyone has about our TV series goes something like this "Does this show really belong on MTV? Aren't all those kids going to laugh for all the wrong reasons?" I have so many thoughts about that I don't know where to begin, but let me just say that I think this line of questioning does a sort of disservice to both people with disabilities and the kids who watch MTV. People with disabilities don't really need a bunch of watchdogs looking out for their "best interests". They are most often able to do this themselves and I can assure you our cast is extremely proud of the work they did on this show, as are their families. And the kids who watch MTV are much smarter than we are giving them credit for. They deserve something like this, a show that doesn't assume they can't decide things for themselves.

We had a lot of fun shooting this series. Everywhere we went people would stare at the bus and come up and talk to us. For me, as the director, it was often exhausting and sometimes stressful, like when one of our reporters would have a seizure or shit their pants in the middle of shooting something important. Both of these things happened more than I'd like to recall. But it was overall a pretty magical experience and the fact this this show is now going to air on primetime and be available to so many households across America is something we should all rejoice in. It's a small miracle, really. We're like that guy on the British American Idol, Paul Potts, the car phone salesmen who got up there and shook everyone up with his passionate opera voice. He was pure genuine desire and authenticity without the annoying gloss and it was great to see him break through. That's what you'll see on How's Your News: pure, unpolished gems.

And about Jeremy, the HYN correspondent waving to you in the video frame above and in the middle of the trio below (photo), Arthur says:
Jeremy Vest is one of our greatest reporters. He is so eager to talk to everyone and he would not even know how to be a fake douchebag like so many people we see on TV. My favorite moment with him was on the red carpet at the Grammys when he blew off all the big pop stars like Rianna and Slash because really wanted to talk to the guy who did the voice for Kermit the Frog. He literally refused to talk to Slash because he was so concerned that Kermit would leave before he got the chance to say hello. For Jeremy, meeting that muppet was the biggest thrill of the night, that and meeting Wolfgang Puck.
Here's more on the MTV series, which you can catch on-air starting this Sunday, February 8. Notorious crankypants critic Tom Shales at the Washington Post gave it a good review. I'm looking forward to it.

How's Your News MTV series promo photo (I didn't shoot this)

The Funeral for Analog TV


(Photograph by Kevin Steele.) Alexander Rose of The Long Now Foundation says, "Long Now is holding an event I thought the Boing Boing crowd might enjoy: The Funeral for Analog TV with Bruce Sterling and Paul Saffo. The service will take place at the Berkeley Art Museum, Tuesday, February 17, at 7:00 PM." The website for this event explains, "In a soap-operatic melodrama fit for TV itself, Congress has debated changing the official date for the switch to digital television; however our event will proceed on Feb. 17 because we prefer to bury a fresh corpse rather than wait for the walking dead to fall over."

NYT Op-Eds: End of the Financial World As We Know It / How to Repair a Broken Financial World

Jesus, *everyone* is twittering/emailing/suggesting this 2800+ word monster op-ed in today's New York Times by Michael Lewis and David Einhorn. Here's a snip:
Americans enter the New Year in a strange new role: financial lunatics. We’ve been viewed by the wider world with mistrust and suspicion on other matters, but on the subject of money even our harshest critics have been inclined to believe that we knew what we were doing. They watched our investment bankers and emulated them: for a long time now half the planet’s college graduates seemed to want nothing more out of life than a job on Wall Street.

This is one reason the collapse of our financial system has inspired not merely a national but a global crisis of confidence. Good God, the world seems to be saying, if they don’t know what they are doing with money, who does?

Incredibly, intelligent people the world over remain willing to lend us money and even listen to our advice; they appear not to have realized the full extent of our madness. We have at least a brief chance to cure ourselves. But first we need to ask: of what?

To that end consider the strange story of Harry Markopolos. Mr. Markopolos is the former investment officer with Rampart Investment Management in Boston who, for nine years, tried to explain to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bernard L. Madoff couldn’t be anything other than a fraud. Mr. Madoff’s investment performance, given his stated strategy, was not merely improbable but mathematically impossible. And so, Mr. Markopolos reasoned, Bernard Madoff must be doing something other than what he said he was doing.

The End of the Financial World As We Know It (NYT). When you're done with that, don't miss the companion piece in the same NYT edition, How to Repair a Broken Financial World, which is another must-read, clocking in at 2,000 words. And when you're done with all that, go watch "Keeping up with the Kardashians" or "Dog The Bounty Hunter" and eat some Hot Pockets, because AFAIAC, you'll have paid your thinkin' dues for the week.

About the writers: "Michael Lewis, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of Liar’s Poker, is writing a book about the collapse of Wall Street. David Einhorn is the president of Greenlight Capital, a hedge fund, and the author of Fooling Some of the People All of the Time."

Battelle's '08 Predictions: How'd He Do?


Boing Boing partner and Federated Media founder John Battelle publishes a list of predictions every new year -- and at the end of that year (like, as in now) he revisits them, to see how he did. In short, he was pretty spot-on for 2008. His year-in-review posts are fascinating and insightful, and he's frank about even the parts that missed the mark. Snip:

Reading over my predictions for 2008, I was struck with one thing: It wasn't a list. It was more of a narrative, making decoding how I did that much more difficult. After the narrative, I focused on the biggies - Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, AOL, and Newscorp/FIM. I'll have to keep that in mind when I post my predictions for 2009 on Jan 1 next year.
Excerpts from a few of the company-specific predictions, reviewed:
Google:
1. 2008 will be the year Wall Street gets frustrated with Google. Sometimes, a picture says it best [ Image above, at top of post - XJ ]. It's clear the bloom came off the Google Wall St. rose in 2008.

2. Google will continue to struggle with its display advertising business, at least as it is traditionally understood, in part due to a culture conflict between its engineering-based roots and the thousands of media-saavy sales and marketing folks the company has hired in the past two years
I think this clearly occurred (note Armstrong's acknowledgement of this issue here, Comscore noted that Google had just 1.5% of the display market by June), but with the appointment of David Rosenblatt as President, Display, I expect the conflict to be resolved, at least temporarily. I do not believe, however, that this issue is anywhere near off the table. To do display right, you have to act like a publisher.

Yahoo:
1. Yahoo, meanwhile, will spend most of 2008 trying to figure out what to do with what it bought in 2007, and attempting to articulate a strategy that is anything but "we have 500 million users, so we must be important." By mid year, it will have succeeded.
Well, I was right about the first part, and very, very wrong about the second. I guess I was just too optimistic that Yahoo would get its shit together by mid year. Both the bear hug that was the lost Microsoft deal, and then the goat rodeo that was the lost Google deal, killed any clarity at Yahoo. But I do believe there is a comeback story to be written there. It just won't be Jerry writing it.

Predictions 08: How Did I Do? (Battellemedia)

To Publish Without Perishing (Clay Shirky guestblog post)


Ed. Note: The following is Boing Boing guestblogger Clay Shirky's first post. Clay's traveling today, so I'm posting this one on his behalf. Image above: "Don't believe the Devil, don't beLIEve his book," a CC-licensed photo by Celeste, a Flickr user in Buenos Aires - Argentina. --XJ


Every now and again, there is an essay that is so well written, so cleanly expressed, and so spectacularly wrong that it clarifies something you previously understood only dimly. James Gleick's recent advice to the publishing industry, How to Publish Without Perishing, was that for me.

Gleick's thesis is that publishers are people who sell objects, and he means this not just as a description of their past, but as strategy for their future as well. He makes much of the book as a thing, noting that we talk about "book lovers", but never "CD lovers", he writes of books in terms of possessing them, and his advice to publishers is to cede speed, relevance, and even popularity to digital businesses, and to shift publishing into reverse:

Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.

This proposed Ye Olde-ing the industry makes the choices faced by publishers suddenly seem more urgent.

There are book lovers, yes, but there are also readers, a much larger group. By Gleick's logic, all of us who are just readers, everyone who buys paperbacks or trades books after we've read them, everyone who prints PDFs or owns a Kindle, falls out of his imagined future market. Publishers should forsake mere readers, and become purveyors of Commemorative Text Objects. It's the Franklin Mint business model, now with 1000% more words!

In the same way the internet has forced newspapers into a 'news vs. paper' moment, the publishing world is in a 'readers vs. book lovers' moment. In this environment, the single most important choice anyone in publishing has to make is this: "How many generations do I want to be in business?" Because hawking Ye Olde Codices to aging connoisseurs is a one-generation business.

Businesses don't survive in the long term because old people persist in old behaviors; they survive because young people renew old behaviors, and all the behaviors young people are renewing cluster around reading, while they are adopting almost none of the behaviors tied to cherishing physical containers, whether for the written word or anything else. Can you imagine a 25-year-old telling a publisher "To get my business, you should stick to a single, analog format? Oh, and could you make it heavy, bulky, and unsearchable? Thanks."

From Aldus Manutius until recently, book lovers have been the most passionate readers. Now they are mostly just the oldest readers. Thanks to digital data, there is a fateful choice to be made between serving lovers of the text and lovers of the page; I think even Manutius would have sided with the readers over the collectors. I hope today's publishers do as well.


Clay Shirky Boing Boing Guestblog posts:

* Video from the Presidential Campaign, Republican Division
* Jeff Smith's comic RASL
* Publish Without Perishing
* Here Comes Clay Shirky (The Changing of the Guestbloggers)

Election: Is This the Beginning of America's "Fourth Republic"?


Snip from a Salon opinion piece by Michael Lind, which argues that Obama's victory marks "the beginning of a new era in American history," and that such eras are sparked by technological change.

[W]hat causes these cycles of reform and backlash in American politics? I believe they are linked indirectly to stages of technological and economic development. Lincoln's Second American Republic marked a transition from an agrarian economy to one based on the technologies of the first industrial revolution -- coal-fired steam engines and railroads. Roosevelt's Third American Republic was built with the tools of the second industrial revolution -- electricity and internal combustion engines. It remains to be seen what energy sources -- nuclear? Solar? Clean coal? -- and what technologies -- nanotechnology? Photonics? Biotech-- will be the basis of the next American economy. (Note: I'm talking about the material, real-world manufacturing and utility economy, not the illusory "information economy" beloved of globalization enthusiasts in the 1990s, who pretended that deindustrialization by outsourcing was a higher state of industrialism.)

Naturally, the Americans alive during the founding of new American republics have other issues on their minds. The Civil War was fought over slavery, not steam engines, and the New Deal, for all of FDR's commitment to nationwide electrical power fed by hydroelectric dam projects, was animated by a vision of social justice. The broad outlines of technological and economic change merely provide the frame for the picture; the details depend on the groups that emerge victorious in political battles.

That is why it is too early to predict the outline of the Fourth American Republic. Its shape depends on the outcomes of the debates and struggles of the next generation. But it is possible to speculate about its life span. If the pattern of history holds, the Fourth Republic of the United States will last for roughly 72 years, from 2004 (or, if you like, 2008) to 2076. And if the pattern of the past holds, we will see a period of Hamiltonian centralization and reform between now and 2040, followed by an approximately 36-year long Jeffersonian backlash motivated by ideals of libertarianism and decentralization.

Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic (Salon)

Why I love Wilco, part umptybillion


Fleet Foxes and Wilco covered Bob Dylan's "I Shall be Released" at a recent live show, and they're giving it away online if you promise to vote. Wilcoworld (via James Home on Twitter; photo of guitar rack on-stage at Wilco's set during Outside Lands via Crowdfire; image by John Battelle).

NASA: "We have water" on Mars.


NASA confirms, beyond any earthly doubt, that water really really really does exist on Mars.

Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Martian Water, Mission Extended (nasa.gov).

I've also been enjoying the cheerful tweets of the Mars Rover, where I first heard this news. The future is pretty terrific, you know? And it's here.

All about "Eve": Virgin Galactic mothership unveiled.


Today was an amazing day out at Mojave Spaceport.

Burt Rutan, Sir Richard Branson, and a bevy of space celebs (including Dr. Buzz Aldrin) gathered for the launch of Virgin Galactic's twin-hulled mothership, "Eve," named after Sir Richard's own mom -- who formally christened WhiteKnightTwo with the pop of a champagne bottle. Branson explained that the spaceliner was also named "Eve" because she was conceived as an historic first for humankind.

The Boing Boing tv crew was there, and we'll be airing video hijinks later this week.

For now... here are a few random iphone snaps, and I twittered until my daggone fingers fell off (first tweet in series, and last tweet in series).

Here is coverage from other blog-pals we ran into out there:

  • Mojave historian and photographer Alan Radecki has posts up at MOJAVE SKIES
  • GIZMODO's Brian Lam took some fantastic photos (including some goof-off shots I dumped on Flickr), and has a dreamy little video up.
  • Over at WIRED: Photographer Dave Bullock and astrobiologist/space evangelist Loretta Hidalgo checked in with images and first-person accounts. She's going on the maiden voyage with her husband, George T. Whitesides of the National Space Society, for their honeymoon. Dude. Tell me that's not cool. Update: More from Bullock here.
  • The fine fellas at JAUNTED.
  • More photos from Dave Malkoff of CBS News.
  • (Space-helmet-tip of thanks: Charles Ogilvie and Abby Lunardini)

    More conversations with GM's fuel cell technology director, Chris Borroni-Bird

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    Chris Borroni-Bird is the director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at GM. He's leading the effort at GM to make fuel cell vehicles, based on a "skateboard" style chassis called AUTOnomy that incorporates the fuel cell, motors and electronics control.

    GMnext kindly invited me to visit with Dr. Borroni-Bird and have a discussion with him about "innovation, technology, energy, the environment, and their impact on the future of the automobile." He's a fascinating innovator with ideas that could change transportation around the world. I hope he succeeds.

    Here are more videos from our conversation. (Note: GMnext compensated me for my video appearance.) Link Chris Borroni-Bird and Mark Frauenfelder in conversation (GM Next)

    Where the Linear Crosses the Exponential: Kevin Kelly


    Snip from an essay published by Kevin Kelly today over on his Technium blog:

    All extropic  systems -- economy, nature and technology -- are governed by self-accelerating feedback cycles. Like compounding interest, or virtuous circles, they are powered by increasing returns. Success breeds success. There is a long tail of incremental build up and then as they keep doubling every cycle, they explode out of invisibility into significance. Extropic systems can also collapse in the same self-accelerating way, one subtraction triggering many other subtractions, so in a vicious cycle the whole system implodes. Our view of the future is warped and blinded by these exponential curves.

    But while progress runs on exponential curves, our individual lives proceed in a linear fashion. We live day by day by day. While we might think time flies as we age, it really trickles out steadily. Today will always be more valuable than some day in the future, in large part because we have no guarantee we'll get that extra day. Ditto for civilizations. In linear time, the future is a loss. But because human minds and societies can improve things over time, and compound that improvement in virtuous circles, the future in this dimension is a gain. Therefore long-term thinking entails the confluence of the linear and the exponential. The linear march of our time intersects the cascading rise and fall of numerous self-amplifying exponential forces. Generations, too, proceed in a linear sequence. They advance steadily one after another while pushed by the compounding cycles of exponential change.

    Balancing that point where the linear crosses the exponential is what long-term thinking should be about.

    Where the Linear Crosses the Exponential [Kevin Kelly]

    TED 2008: Brian Cox of Large Hadron Collider at CERN

    (I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

    Presenter: Brain Cox works on the Large Hadron Collider that's about to become operational at CERN.

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    Aim of particle physics is to find out what everything is made of. As you get back to the early times of the universe, things were simpler. In the 1st billionth of a second it was very simple. Everything was made from 12 particles of matter stuck together by four forces. "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." - Ernest Rutherford

    Large Hadron collider is 27 Km in circumference and will accelerates protons to 99.99999% the speed of light (I might not have gotten the right number of 9s, sorry if this spoils your calculations if you are trying this at home). These will collide with another beam of protons going in the opposite direction.

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    Higgs gives mass to fundamental particles. Particles are massive because they are surrounded by Higgs particles. (Maggie Thatcher shown here surround by a Higgs field). The LHC will hopefully verify the existence of Higgs particles. If not, it'll find whatever is responsible for giving mass to stuff.

    What particle physics means to me: gives modern science a creation story. We know universe beAgn 13.7 billion years ago as a dot smaller than an atom. Universe underwent exponential expansion in a billionth of a second and continues to expand. AFter 400 million years, the first stars formed and other elements were cooked in them. On some planets oxygen and hydrogen formed into water, liquid water on some planets. On at least one planet, life formed.