Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Monday, January 21, 2013

In case you weren't already pissed off...

I discovered a radical blogger today who I would recommend highly to anyone interested in the intensely personal feelings of injury so many good folks are living with in the harsh world of post-New Deal America. Here's Loren Bliss at his blog, Outside Agitator's Notebook: [the] "One Percenters and their Democrat and Republican toadies want us all dead. They regard us as throw-away workers, useless junk, no different from worn-out machines, each of us a drain on their wealth, each of us an affront to their “fiscal responsibility.” Were this Nazi Germany, their all-time perfect state, they'd march us into death camps and be done with us. But death camps are an international embarrassment. (Look what happened to Hitler.) Worse, death camps reveal the core truths of capitalism: that capitalism is infinite greed elevated to maximum virtue; that capitalism is the forcible, often violent overthrow of every humanitarian principle our species ever articulated; that capitalism is (therefore) our species' closest-yet approximation of Absolute Evil. So instead of death camps, the always-diabolical One Percent conjured up a new strategy: to murder us by neglect and abandonment, to murder us also by the gut-wrenching terror evoked by the approach of our certain victimhood. How much money will be taken from us? How much health care will be denied us? How shall we survive? Verily, in the talk of a “grand bargain” to destroy the socioeconomic safety net, we see undeniable proof the Democrats and the Republicans are all the same – that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and Nancy Pelosi and Eric Cantor and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are united in a solidarity of unrelenting murderousness, against us, against anyone who is unexploitable for profit. Their tactics are now obvious. First, with all the deliberate malice, methodical viciousness and gleeful sadism they can muster, these politicians and their One Percenter overlords threaten us with termination of the life-sustaining stipends and services provided by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, food stamps, any number of other programs that keep us alive when we're old and/or disabled and/or jobless. The details of their threats sometimes differ – the Republicans want to shut down all social services immediately and use the ensuing riots to excuse far harsher measures; the Democrats want to kill us more gradually – but the long-term intent is identically homicidal. They know (and they rejoice in the fact) their threats alone are deadly: old hearts do not long tolerate the constant fear of murder by starvation and homelessness and denial of medication. Indeed no one dares say how many lives have already been ended by the climate of terror the One Percent and its Democrat and Republican henchmen have imposed on us all. Next – as the One Percent is already doing via the Democrat and Republican parties – they actually terminate those stipends and services." I don't know how I could persuade this outside agitator to moderate the harshness of his critique. There are surely some one-percenters, and those who serve their interests, who don't interpret their own behavior as murderous. "Why just last month I contributed over a thousand dollars to Oxfam... I know that I'm fortunate in material terms, but this allows me to help the less fortunate!" Yet helping a small fraction of those who desperately need help doesn't answer the charge. If I help to perpetuate a system that emiserates many, lessening the misery of a few doesn't get me off the hook. The fact is we are all morally obliged to do more than simply refrain from deliberate, violent acts of repression and injustice. We are also called to make our best efforts to learn about how people we don't see every day are doing. If they are being harmed, we can't just say "it wasn't us!" When the system we live in is unjust, it is our duty to change it. To oversimplify for a moment. Suppose you live in a prosperous little village dedicated to music and the arts. You and the other villagers live comfortable, interesting lives as writers, actors, dancers, composers and musicians. Every week you share some of your creative productions in an exhibition and performance complex in the heart of town. Each week an appreciative audience of well-dressed folks enjoys a stimulating afternoon of the village's offerings and leaves an abundance of goods behind in appreciation. All of the villagers' material and aesthetic needs are well taken care of, with the best of everything. One day, a bruised and bloody, emaciated waif is seen wandering near the village. She tells a horrifying tale of how she escaped from a salt-mine 200 miles distant. The owners of the mine, where enslaved, brutally mistreated workers die off at alarmingly high rates, are, she claims, the very same folks who come every week to patronize the cultural offerings of the village. Naturally, the kind villagers take in the waif, nurse her back to health, and worry about what to do next. She's obviously delusional, most of the villagers think, "how could her family be so irresponsible as to let a mentally ill person wander off like that?" A few argue that she might be telling the truth, and that the villagers should send an expedition to the mines to see the situation. In the end, they compromise, and agree to ask their patrons for an explanation on their next visit. The well-dressed patrons explain to you villagers that security concerns prevent them from allowing visitors in the actual mines, but fortunately they have a beautifully produced video that shows the charming conditions in which the salt-miners actually labor. You are all so relieved! The security guard on the patron's coach asks the villagers to not approach anyone else they see who may be suffering from PWS (Paranoid Worker's Syndrome.) They can sometimes be violent. All of you in the village thank the security guard for her help, put her number on their speed-dial and get back to your busy, interesting lives. This is what so many of our merly affluent (as opposed to insanely rich) fellow citizens have done. They've seen evidence of the horrific damage that global capitalism has wrought, and they don't want to see anymore. You can live for weeks at a time in Greenwich, CT., without seeing truly poor people in any other role but that of gardeners, maids, or store-clerks who seem happy to be there. Of course there's no need to see the broken neighborhoods in Bridgeport they return to at night... Recycling, composting, even bravely volunteering at the soup kitchen and confronting the reality of poverty head-on are admirable steps that many of our affluent citizens take, to, as they say, "give back." Yet in spite of their best efforts the 1% takes more and more of the planet's resources, leaving less and less for everybody else. Even here in the wealthist nation on earth, the majority of people don't enjoy anything close to the comforts and opportunities that well-off folks take for granted. A little bit of charity, and token reform won't fix what is broken. Dramatic changes, bolder than anything dreamed of in FDR's New Deal are urgently required. Our elites have lost credibility when they ask us to trust their "leadership." They aren't leading us to a land of milk and honey, they are asking us to sacrifice even more of our standard of living so that the billionaires who rule our planet can add a few more zeroes to their offshore bank balances. These plutocrats could literally stuff millions in cash into the fireplace, every day, and stil be able to buy dozens of mansions, yachts, jets and anything else they could want. Their insane greed is disgusting, yet they hold themselves up as role-models. All that it takes for the greed-heads to win is for decent people to stand apart from the class war. There is no middle-ground. Just like in fascist Germany, those who don't resist the criminals are at least partly complicit in their crimes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Open Access Hero

I'm still far too upset to share all of my feelings regarding the tragic death of young Aaron Swartz. Yet I feel it's important that folks understand his positive vision, not just his martyrdom at the hands of an insanely cruel DOJ. So here's something Aaron shared with the world in happier times, what he chose to call a "Manifesto." Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

"Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier. There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost. That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable. “I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back. Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends. Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy. Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies. There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture. We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?"
Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy