When Robots Replace Workers

An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: “The “Second Economy” (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. … This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. … Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution.”

This follows the recent discussion of “Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates” citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation’s initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the “basic income” of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of “Silent Running.” So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I’d agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological “singularity” of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.

Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creative Work

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“True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible… In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.”

“One can’t write directly about the soul,” Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary. Few writers have come to write about it — and to it — more directly than the novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, who describes himself as “a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts.” In his wonderful and wonderfully titled essay collection What Are People For? (public library), Berry addresses with great elegance our neophilic tendencies and why innovation for the sake of novelty sells short the true value of creative work.

Novelty-fetishism, Berry suggests, is an act of vanity that serves neither the creator nor those created for:

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty — the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone. In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.

Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)

Berry paints pride and despair as two sides of the same coin, both equally culpable in poisoning creative work and pushing us toward loneliness rather than toward the shared belonging that true art fosters:

There is the bad work of pride. There is also the bad work of despair — done poorly out of the failure of hope or vision.

Despair is the too-little of responsibility, as pride is the too-much.

The shoddy work of despair, the pointless work of pride, equally betray Creation. They are wastes of life.

For despair there is no forgiveness, and for pride none. Who in loneliness can forgive?

Good work finds the way between pride and despair.

It graces with health. It heals with grace.

It preserves the given so that it remains a gift.

By it, we lose loneliness:

we clasp the hands of those who go before us, and the hands of those who come after us;

we enter the little circle of each other’s arms,

and the larger circle of lovers whose hands are joined in a dance,

and the larger circle of all creatures, passing in and out of life, who move also in a dance, to a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it except in fragments.

Illustration by Emily Hughes from ‘Wild,’ one of the best children’s books of the year. Click image for more.

Echoing Thoreau’s ode to the woods and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips’s assertion that cultivating a capacity for “fertile solitude” is essential for creative work, Berry extols the ennobling effects of solitude, the kind gained only by surrendering to nature’s gentle gift for quieting the mind:

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

The return from such humanizing solitude, Berry cautions, can be disorienting:

From the order of nature we return to the order — and the disorder — of humanity.

From the larger circle we must go back to the smaller, the smaller within the larger and dependent on it.

One enters the larger circle by willingness to be a creature, the smaller by choosing to be a human.

And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.

In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest.

Indeed, so deep is our pathology of human striving that even Thoreau, a century and a half ago, memorably despaired: “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” But the value of such recalibration of our connectedness in solitude, Berry suggests, is that it reminds us of the artist’s task, which is to connect us to one another. He returns to the subject of despair and pride, which serve to separate and thus betray the task of art:

The field must remember the forest, the town must remember the field, so that the wheel of life will turn, and the dying be met by the newborn.

[…]

Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?

[…]

But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.

To work at this work alone is to fail. There is no help for it. Loneliness is its failure.

It is despair that sees the work failing in one’s own failure.

This despair is the awkwardest pride of all.

But Berry’s most urgent point has to do with the immense value of “thoroughly conscious ignorance” and of keeping alive the unanswerable questions that make us human:

There is finally the pride of thinking oneself without teachers.

The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.

In ignorance is hope.

Rely on ignorance. It is ignorance the teachers will come to.

They are waiting, as they always have, beyond the edge of the light.

All of the essays in What Are People For? are imbued with precisely this kind of light-giving force. Complement it with Berry on what the poetic form teaches us about the secret of marriage, then revisit Sara Maitland on the art of solitude, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.

 

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/17/wendell-berry-pride-despair-solitude/

Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution

By Janet Biehl On December 16, 2014

Post image for Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolutionIn early December an international delegation visited Rojava’s Cezire canton where they learned about the ongoing revolution, cooperation and tolerance.

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the UK, and the US. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where we crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

The Tigris river channel was narrow, but the society we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG: the spirit of a social and political revolution was in the air. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of the revolution. The Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state whereas they serve society.

Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government in an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers — Dilar Dirik (a talented PhD student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany) — took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions.

Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.

Rojava’s Third Way

At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship.

After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.

Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

A Women’s Revolution

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.

But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.

When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

Cooperation and Education

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.

When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.

They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.

Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.

The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

A DIY Revolution

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.”

And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves.

The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled.

They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon.

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling of ethnicity and nationalism, and more. The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique. Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

Janet Biehl is an independent writer, artist, and translator living in Burlington, Vt. She previously edited The Murray Bookchin Reader and is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

We need to talk about death

Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse

It’s a universal human experience. So why do we act like we need to confront it alone?

We need to talk about death: Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse
(Credit: P_Wei via iStock)

“I don’t want to die. It’s so permanent.”

So said my terminally ill grandmother, a kick-ass woman who made life-size oil paintings and drank vermouth on the rocks every afternoon.

This isn’t an anecdote I’d be likely to mention in regular conversation with friends. Talk about ruining everyone’s good time. (“Ick, that’s so morbid,” everyone would think.) But earlier this month, the New York Times released its 100 Notable Books of 2014, and among the notables was not one but two – two! – nonfiction titles about death. This seemingly unremarkable milestone is actually one that we should celebrate with a glass of champagne. Or, better yet, with vermouth.

Right now our approach to death, as a culture, is utterly insane: We just pretend it doesn’t exist. Any mention of mortality in casual conversation is greeted with awkwardness and a subject change. That same taboo even translates into situations where the concept of death is unavoidable: After losing a loved one, the bereaved are granted a few moments of mourning, after which the world around them kicks back into motion, as if nothing at all had changed. For those not personally affected by it, the reality of death stays hidden and ignored.

For me this isn’t an abstract topic. There’s been a lot of death in my life. There was my grandmother’s recent death, which sent my whole crazy family into a tailspin; but also my dad’s sudden death when I was 20. Under such circumstances (that is, the unexpected sort), you quickly discover that no one has any clue whatsoever how to deal with human mortality.

“Get through this and we’ll get through the worst of it,” someone said to me at my dad’s funeral, as if the funeral itself was death’s greatest burden, and not the permanent absence of the only dad I’ll ever have.

Gaffes like that are common. But insensitivity is just a symptom of much deeper issues, first of which is our underlying fear of death, a fear that might only boil to the surface when we’re directly confronted by it, but stays with us even as we try our best to ignore it. It’s a fear that my grandmother summed up perfectly when she was dying — the terror of our own, permanent nonexistence. Which makes sense. After all, it’s our basic biological imperative to survive. But on top of that natural fear of death, there’s another, separate issue: our unwillingness, as a culture, to shine a light on that fear, and talk about it. And as a result, we keep this whole huge part of the human experience cloistered away.



“We’re literally lacking a vocabulary to talk about [death],” said Lennon Flowers, a co-founder of an organization called the Dinner Party, which brings together 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one to discuss “the ways in which it continues to affect our lives.”

That lack of vocabulary is a big problem, and not just for people who directly experience loss. It’s a problem for all of us, because it means we each grapple alone with the natural fear of our own expiry. We deny the fear, we bury it under an endless stream of distractions. And so it festers, making us all the more invested in keeping it buried, for how painful it would be to take it out and look at it after letting it rot for so long.

But why all the self-enforced agony? Maybe it’s because a more honest relationship with death would mean a more honest reckoning with our lives, calling into question the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve chosen to live. And damn if that isn’t uncomfortable.

Of course, if there’s one thing our culture is great at, it’s giving instruction on how to live. There are the clichés — “live each day to the fullest” and “dance like no one’s watching” — and beyond them an endless stream of messages telling us how to look better, feel better, lose weight, have better sex, get promoted, flip houses, and make a delicious nutritious dinner in 30 minutes flat. But all of it is predicated on the notion that life is long and death is some shadowy thing that comes along when we hit 100. (And definitely not one minute before then!)

To get a sense of how self-defeating each of these goals can be, consider this chestnut given to us by a Native American sage by the name of Crazy Horse:

“Today is a good day to die, for all the things of my life are present.”

No, today is not a good day to die, because most of us feel we haven’t lived our lives yet. We run around from one thing to the next. We have plans to buy a house or a new car or, someday, to pursue our wildest dreams. We rush through the day to get to the evening, and through the week to get to the weekend, but once the weekend comes, we’re already thinking ahead to Monday morning. Our lives are one deferral after another.

Naturally, then, today isn’t a good day to die. How about tomorrow? Probably not. What number of days would we need to be comfortable saying what Crazy Horse said? Probably too big a number to count. We preserve the idea of death as an abstract thing that comes in very old age, rather than a constant possibility for us as fragile humans, because we build our whole lives atop that foundation.

What would we gain from finally opening up about death? How about the golden opportunity to consider what’s really important, not to mention the chance to be less lonely as we grapple with our own mortality, and the promise of being a real friend when someone we love loses someone they love. Plus it would all come back to us tenfold whenwe’re the ones going through a loss or reeling from a terminal diagnosis.

Sounds like a worthy undertaking, doesn’t it?

And that’s where there’s good news. Coming to grips with death is, as we’ve already established, really hard. But we at least have a model for doing so. Let’s consider, for example, the Times notable books I mentioned earlier. One of them, the graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” provides an especially honest — and genuinely funny — account of author Roz Chast’s experience watching her parents grow old and die. The other book, Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” reveals just how much even our medical establishment struggles with the end of life. Doctors are trained to treat sickness, of course, but often have little or no training in what to do when sickness is no longer treatable.

What both of these books do especially well is provide a vocabulary for articulating just how difficult a subject death can be for everyone — even the strongest and brightest among us. As a universal human experience, it isn’t something we should have to deal with alone. It doesn’t make a person weak or maladjusted just because he or she struggles openly with death. And what Chast and Gawande both demonstrate is that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, because these are anxieties that all of us have in common.

It’s a common refrain that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans can understand, on a rational level, the full magnitude of our mortality. But what also distinguishes humans is the richness of our relationships and the depths of our empathy — the ability we have to communicate our experiences and support those around us. Death is a deeply unsettling prospect, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t need to be a burden you face alone.

The following is a list of resources for those looking for an organized platform to discuss the topic of death:

  • Atul Gawande serves as an advisor to the Conversation Project, a site that encourages families to talk openly about end-of-life care — and to choose, in advance, whether they want to be at home or in a hospital bed, on life support or not — in short, to say in unequivocal terms what matters most when the end is near.
  • Vivian Nunez is the 22-year-old founder of a brand-new site called Too Damn Young. Nunez lost her mom when she was 10 and her grandmother – her second mother – 11 years later. “Losing someone you love is an extraordinarily isolating experience,” she said. “This is especially significant when you’re talking about teenagers, or a young adult, who loses someone at a young age, and is forced to face how real mortality is, and then not encouraged to talk about it.” She founded Too Damn Young so that bereaved teenagers will know they’re not alone and so they’ll have a public space to talk about it.
  • The Recollectors is a groundbreaking project by writer Alysia Abbott, that tells the stories of people who lost a parent to AIDS. She’s exploding two big taboos – death and AIDS – in one clean shot.
  • Get Your Shit Together is another great one, a site launched by a young widow who learned the hard way that everyone should take some key steps to get their financial matters in order in case of an untimely death. “I (mostly) have my shit together,” the site’s founder says. “Now it’s your turn.”
  • There’s also Death Cafe, dedicated to “increasing awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” And Modern Loss, a site that’s received coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, shies away from nothing in its quest to tell stories about end of life and living with loss. “Death Cafe and Modern Loss have attracted a loyal following,” said Nicole Bélanger, author of “Grief in the Rearview: Three Motherless Years.” “They offer the safe space we crave to show up as we are, without worrying about having to polish up our grief and make it fit for public consumption.”

Perhaps these communities will start to influence the mainstream, as their emboldened members teach the rest of us that it’s OK, it’s really OK, to talk about death. If that happens, it will be a slow process – culture change always is. “Race and gender and myriad other subjects were forever taboo, but now we’re able to speak truth,” said Flowers of the Dinner Party. “And now we’re seeing that around death and dying.”

If she’s right, it’s the difference between the excruciating loneliness of hiding away our vulnerabilities and, instead, allowing them to connect us and bind us together.

These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You to Believe About Russia

  WORLD  
Our sanctions caused Russia’s downturn. They protect Big Oil and make the world more dangerous.
Vladimir Putin 

You can look at the Russian economy two ways now and you should. So let’s: It is an important moment in the destruction of something and the construction of something else, and we had better be clear just what in both cases. The world we live in changes shape as we speak.

Truth No. 1: Russians are besieged. Sanctions the West has insisted on prosecuting in response to the Ukraine crisis — Washington in the lead, the Europeans reluctant followers — are hitting hard, let there be no question. Oil prices are at astonishing lows, probably if not yet provably manipulated by top operatives in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Truth No. 2: Russians are hot. With an energetic activism just as astonishing as the oil prices, Russian officials, President Putin in the very visible lead but with platoons of technocrats behind him, are forging an extensive network of South-South relationships — East-East, if you prefer — that are something very new under the sun. Some of us were banging on about South-South trade and diplomatic unity as far back as the 1970s; I have anticipated the arriving reality since the early years of this century. But I would never have predicted the pace of events as we have them before us. Stunning.

Holiday surprise: There is a Truth No. 3 and it is this: Truth No. 1, the siege of the Russian economy, is proving a significant catalyst in the advance of Truth No. 2, the creative response of a nation under ever-mounting pressure.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale professor whose nitwittery on the Ukraine crisis is simply nonpareil (and praise heaven he has gone quiet), exclaimed some months ago that Putin is threatening to undermine the entire postwar order. I replied in this space the following week, Gee, if only it were so.

Already it seems to be. But miss this not: Russia is advancing this world-historical turn with a considerable assist from its adversaries in the West, not alone. For all the pseuds who pretend to know Schumpeter but know only one thing, the creative destruction bit, how is this as a prime example of the phenom?

Details in a sec, but this thought first: We are all bound to pay close attention to these events because they matter to everyone, whether this is yet obvious or not. Probably in our lifetimes — and I had it further out until recently — we will begin to inhabit a different planet.

And it stands to be a better one, if you accept that equilibrium, interdependence, cooperation and all those other notions Washington is frightened to death of will make for a more secure world than our lopsided primacy, incessant confrontations, drone murders, waterboarding, nuclear arsenals and the National Endowment for Democracy’s subversions will ever deliver for us.

How much more capable, equally, will be a human community that addresses its problems with the wisdom not of one civilization, which happened by historical circumstance to modernize in the material sphere before others, but with the smarts and imaginations and perspectives of many?

Those details come in flurries now and fall into two files, destruction and construction. To the former first.

The economics ministry in Moscow has just forecast a swoon in its outlook for 2015. On a dime, it shifts from a prediction of 1.2 percent growth to 0.8 percent contraction. The math is easy: This is a rip of 2 percentage points right out of Russia’s middle. No sentient American should have any difficulty understanding what these numbers will mean to many millions of ordinary Russians.

The ministry’s report is the first to anticipate the consequences of the several rounds of sanctions imposed this year, the 34 percent drop in the ruble’s value this year and the collapse in oil prices. The last are now far below what Russia needs — about $105 a barrel — if the petroleum sector is to contribute to national revenues. As detailed in this space a few weeks ago, there are ample grounds to question whether price patterns in global oil markets are the consequence of American manipulations.

As to the ruble, we saw this coming months ago as reports of “silent sanctions,” as financial services people call them, began to come through. Off-the-books sanctions is the better term. A few at a time — HSBC, Lloyd’s — banks began denying credit to Russian enterprises; as documented, these decisions were at the  Treasury Department’s informal urging.

Reflecting the creep of interdependence in the global economy, financing from Western banks is vital to Russian corporations of all sizes. At this point, my sources in the markets tell me, the spigot is off: Credit and all customary loan rollovers are virtually unavailable across the board.

This is the anatomy of much suffering that is about to get done. Is the course wise? Is there a point? Is it other than ridiculous to posit some “net-positive” justification for this?

I see nothing good in this whatsoever. I see recklessness.

Think of it this way, as an old friend from Asia days suggests. Currency speculators abandoned the Thai baht en masse in 1997 and before we knew it Thailand had dragged all of East Asia into prolonged crisis. Remember? Now consider the size of the Thai economy — tiny in the scheme of things, and heavily agricultural still.

Now consider the size of the Russian economy. It is the world’s No. 2 producer of natural gas and No. 3 producer of oil. In terms of nominal gross domestic product — standard measure — Russia’s economy, at $2.1 trillion, is slightly larger than Italy’s. Another measure, purchasing power parity, values Russia’s economy at $3.5 trillion, but never mind: Even by nominal GDP, Russia is the world’s No. 8 economic power.

Comfortable now with the sanctions regime, are we?

The cliques in Washington are because the U.S. trades very little with Russia and they have no grasp of limits of any kind. This is cynicism made flesh when you consider Europe’s vulnerabilities. The contagious economic and social crisis is already spreading to nations near Russia’s borders.

As Germans and other Europeans understand, take down this beast and the blood will spatter everywhere. Now you can see, maybe, why one consequence of the Ukraine crisis is a serious deterioration of relations between America and those known as “the allies,” a term that has masked many complications since the Cold War’s onset.

As to the point of it all, it gets bitterer the more we learn of Ukraine and its arriving future.

Long ago, an English diplomat in Tokyo wrote to his Foreign Office in London, “The Japanese can neither love the Americans nor endure being loved by them.” It is dead on the fate of Ukrainians so far as one can make out. All signs are they are in for the suffocating embrace. Here comes the neoliberal order. It will be very weird to watch.

My jaw hit the corner of my desk when I read last week that Ukraine’s new finance minister, one Natalie Jaresko, is 1) an American citizen, granted a Ukraine passport simultaneously with her cabinet appointment, 2) a former State Department officer, 3) recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in that $5 billion Victoria Nuland famously bragged of spending in State’s effort to yank Ukraine westward and 4) a participant in apparently extensive insider dealing via the investment management company she co-founded after leaving State.

Get this:

Jaresko served as president and chief executive officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development with $150 million to spur business activity in Ukraine. She also was co-founder and managing partner of Horizon Capital, which managed WNISEF’s investments at a rate of 2 percent to 2.5 percent of committed capital, fees exceeding $1 million in recent years, according to WNISEF’s 2012 annual report.

Her title at Horizon Capital must be CCIO, chief conflict of interest officer.

Full credit, given with gusto: The above passage is from the long exposé of this sordid business by Robert Parry, whose work on Ukraine is invaluable. Read this piece here: a riveting read covering a tangled web. Parry, in turn, cites John Hellmer, a former Moscow correspondent who recently explored Jaresko’s story as State Department official (and diplomat in post-Soviet Kiev) turned recipient of USAID funds.

Surely this is the right person to regulate Ukraine’s financial markets, counter corruption with archangelic purpose and negotiate with Washington, the Europeans and the IMF in behalf of Ukrainians’ interests. No wonder the parliament in Kiev erupted when Jaresko’s appointment was announced.

Footnote here: That $150 million fund State handed Jaresko has lost more than a third of its value since the Ukrainian economy tanked. As she steps into office, Kiev’s foreign reserves are down to $10 billion and shrinking, while inflation roars at 22 percent.

My jaw has been bruised, to be honest, since, as the Ukraine crisis got hot, Vice President Biden’s son, R. Hunter, was named to the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s No. 1 producer of natural gas. I cannot make out who is the chief conflict of interest officer here, Joe or the boy.

News comes of our Hunter, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that he was bounced from the U.S. Navy Reserve earlier this year after a positive drug test. If the 44-year-old were Ukrainian (or any other nationality) and had been so charged, he would not be allowed into this country. This is the kind of person America is now happy to send abroad.

More substantively, Burisma announced last month that it will now commence drilling near Slavyansk, where Ukrainian troops have been dodging bullets while installing the company’s hydraulic fracturing equipment. Slavyansk, alert readers will recall, was the object of three months’ sustained bombing and artillery shelling prior to this announcement.

Overseeing all this is Jaresko and — second of three foreigners named to a new cabinet — Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian and a partner in an asset-management firm called East Capital. He will be the incoming economy minister, such as there is an economy.

Why these foreigners? In my read, Biden is a straight-out emissary sent to shepherd American corporations into the resource game via joint ventures or what have you, we will have to see, and the others are roughly the equivalent of compradors — in effect, bought-off locals.

Here is a tableau worth a moment’s consideration: Over here, Vicky Nuland stands before a Chevron plaque as she explains to business executives how well the $5 billion was spent. Here we have Hunter Biden doing Burisma’s legal work. Over here we have a small-town mayor in Romania who is run out of town for selling Chevron a fracking lease. (This you can read of in the Times.) And over there, also in the Times report, we have the Lithuanians forcing Chevron to abandon a shale-drilling project after widespread demonstrations opposing it.

You want to know why I hold the neoliberal agenda and those who advance it in contempt? This is why. We watch a corporate shark-feed. It has nothing to do with democracy. There is nothing in this for Ukrainians. They are about to hear their first lectures on the virtues of “austerity.”

I have three remarks.

One, the greed at the cost of human life and society is so brazen here it causes me to stop typing to reread the sentences. Can market-consciousness have brought us this low?

Two, please count the number of times you have read the words “Chevron,” “Burisma” or “shale-gas interests” in any account of Ukraine by correspondents covering it. I can find no mention of any from those in the field. This is “the power of leaving out,” as I often put it, in spades. I rest the case (for now).

Three, there is a deeper tragedy. Ukrainians live between East and West. This is not only a matter of geography: There is among them a mix of Eastern consciousness and Western consciousness. Accordingly, they had a chance to stand as the very best the new century offers us, a planet whose old divisions could be erased in favor of a more fulsome idea of the successful society and its potential.

This chance is now all but lost — destroyed by those who resisted it.

What I find remarkable now is that Moscow does not seem to be taking Ukraine’s misfortune and the West’s aggressions against Russia itself passively — or even negatively, for that matter. So we pass from the destructive file to the constructive.

Neil MacFarquhar, a standout in the New York Times’ Moscow bureau for his full-frontal prejudices, gave as negative an account as he could when he covered Putin’s year-end address. I had another read. This guy is bloodied, O.K., but he is not bowed, and I would advise against waiting for it.

I did like the Times’ head, parenthetically: “Putin, Amid Stark Challenges, Says Russia’s Destiny Is at Hand.” Without going histrionic, that is likely to prove precisely what is at hand. My favorite MacFarquhar sentence: “Mr. Putin enjoyed ever-greater support from March to August, but in the months since, as sanctions began to bite with inflation, support began to erode — though his approval ratings remain in the 80s.”

You have to love a paper that will publish this. Somehow.

Look at Putin’s foreign agenda this past year: Latin America just as the sanctions came in — an intentional finger in Washington’s eye, as I read it — then China, China again recently, Turkey more recently, India just now. He has not been to Iran, but there, as in all these other places, he has forged or reiterated promising relations. The deals cut are too numerous to list.

A couple are worth mentioning. The twin gas deals with China, worth nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, are historic all by themselves. In six years’ time China will be buying more gas from Russia than the latter now sells to Europe. And do not miss this: My sources tell me that this gas can be priced such as to crowd the U.S. at least partially out of the Asian market.

Other side of the world: Putin has just canceled a planned pipeline to southeastern Europe, the South Stream. This is the defeat Western media put it over as, surely: Russia loses some customers. But two points: One, it was soon enough clear that the Europeans, having used South Stream as leverage in the sanctions game, probably overplayed their hand. The day following the announcement they were struggling for composure so far as I can make out.

Two, Putin stunned everyone with his decision from Ankara, where he stood with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to announce that South Stream would be rerouted to serve the Turkish market. Think about this: It is more than a new deal; there are significant political and diplomatic implications in this, given Turkey’s traditional alliances, its EU aspirations and so on.

This is the way the world changes shape, the way new worlds get built. Think of these new ties in terms of the old trade routes. Many things other than goods traveled along them. As then, the traffic will run in both directions, making our latest globalization the two-way street it should have been from the first.

One could say it is not the West’s world any longer, and I called it “post-Western” in a book several years ago. This is not quite so. It is ours, but only to the extent that it is destined to be everybody’s, if I read history rightly. As an American, my biggest regret on this score — apart from all the suffering caused in our names — is  that my country seems bent on doing almost everything it can to lose out on a great deal of what would be its share in the arriving era; this in the name of prolonging a time that is no longer.

 

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/these-are-lies-new-york-times-wants-you-believe-about-russia?akid=12570.265072.dvZbyy&rd=1&src=newsletter1028563&t=14&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Attorneys In Apple Antitrust Lawsuit

Must Find New Plaintiff By Tuesday

 

Justice      After slogging through years of legal tussles, the antitrust class action lawsuit against Apple Inc. encountered another hiccup this week when the presiding judge removed the last remaining “named plaintiff” from the suit. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers scolded Marianna Rosen and her attorneys on Monday (Dec. 8) for not providing more complete information about the iPods Rosen had purchased. That move came after Apple lawyers successfully argued that the devices Rosen bought were not among those affected by the lawsuit.

Judge Rogers also quickly rejected Apple’s argument that the case should be dismissed because it’s too late to name a new plaintiff. She ordered the attorneys suing Apple to identify a new lead plaintiff by Tuesday (Dec. 16).

As reported by Billboard, a class-action suit must identify at least one person as a “named plaintiff” who suffered the losses or injuries alleged in the case. Rosen had previously said she purchased several iPods that qualified, but Apple attorneys produced evidence that those devices either had the wrong software or were purchased outside the time frame of the lawsuit. Rosen and her attorneys said she had purchased two other iPods in 2008, but Apple lawyers were able to produce records that showed they were purchased with a credit card issued to her husband’s law firm. Apple attorney William Isaacson argued that meant she was not legally the purchaser. A series of pretrial rulings had narrowed the case to covering just 19 months between September 2006 and March 2009.

Both sides estimate 8 million people bought iPods that were potentially covered by the lawsuit. The plaintiffs claim Apple used restrictive software that prevented iPods from playing music purchased from competitors of Apple’s iTunes store, and maintain that amounted to unfair competition. Apple was able to sell iPods at inflated prices because the software froze makers of competing devices out of the market, plaintiffs’ attorneys argue. They also say Apple is liable for $350 million, an amount that would be tripled if a jury finds the company violated federal antitrust rules. 

Lawyers: Apple Secretly Deleted

Competitors’ Downloads From iPods

 

     Before the antitrust suit against Apple was delayed while attorneys search for a new lead plaintiff (see story, above), lawyers presented evidence that the company deleted music that some iPod owners had downloaded from competing music services without telling them. According to the Wall Street Journal, when a user who had downloaded music from a rival service in the period between 2007 and 2009 tried to sync an iPod to the user’s iTunes library, Apple would display an error message and instruct the user to restore the factory settings. Attorney Patrick Coughlin said that, when the user restored the settings, the music from rival services would disappear.

“You guys decided to give them the worst possible experience and blow up” a user’s music library, Coughlin said in U.S. District Court in Oakland.

Apple insists the moves were legitimate security measures, and Apple security director Augustin Farrugia testified the company did not offer a more detailed explanation because, “We don’t need to give users too much information. We don’t want to confuse users.” Farrugia told the court that hackers with names like “DVD Jon” and “Requiem” made Apple “very paranoid” about protecting iTunes. Updates that deleted non-Apple music files were intended to protect consumers from those system break-ins, he said, explaining, “The system was totally hacked.”

Apple declined to comment to the Journal outside of the court testimony. 

Time Spent Listening To Pure-Play

Streams Increases While AM/FM Slips

 

     Satisfaction and time-spent with digital streaming of broadcast (AM/FM) radio is slipping and soon could be overtaken by such on-demand pure-play companies as Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes. That’s the word from Bridge Ratings President Dave Van Dyke, who said in a LinkedIn post that time spent with broadcast simulcast online streams five years ago (2009) was 2-1/2 half hours a day, while pure-play time spent was just under 1-1/2 hours. Furthermore, until 2012 broadcast online listening and pure-play listening continued to increase.

That all changed in 2013, Van Dyke says, as time spent per day with online broadcast streaming dropped while pure-play time spent continued to increase. “At Bridge Ratings, our first thought was that this could be an anomaly,” he observes. “The perception was that all internet streaming behavior was increasing. [But] trends do not support this thinking.”

In fact, a new year-end analysis from Bridge Ratings suggests that, since 2012, broadcast radio online daily time spent listening (TSL) has fallen 9.4% (2.65 to 2.40 hours per day) while pure-play online listening has increased 65% (1.7 to 2.35 hours per day). “By this time next year, online pure play time spent will have surpassed broadcast radio’s online simulcast TSL,” Van Dyke says. “And if broadcast radio streaming content remains more or less the same as it is, we project this trend will continue on out to at least 2017 with a large gap favoring pure play internet listening.” 

Grooveshark Offers New Digital

Music App In Plan to “Go Legit”

 

     After suffering a string of legal setbacks over the last few years, Grooveshark has developed a new app designed to set the company on a legitimate path to digital music streaming. As CNET reports, the new Broadcasts app lets users create customized radio stations without running afoul of the record companies. The app, expected to launch next month, lets customers build and access custom radio stations and text fellow users as they listen to music. Designed for iOS and Android users, the app will cost 99 cents a month and be commercial-free. The online stations will be developed directly by users rather than generated by Grooveshark.

One of the primary objectives behind the new app is to create a business model that will keep the company out of the court system. Grooveshark currently offers websites both for PCs and mobile devices in which users can search for and stream an unlimited number of songs produced by major record labels. That system led several record labels to sue the company, arguing Grooveshark lacked the necessary rights to upload the copyrighted songs. Back in September a federal judge in New York ruled that Grooveshark’s co-founders had uploaded almost 6,000 songs for which they had no licenses, and subsequently destroyed evidence of the uploads.

Since then, Grooveshark has created dedicated iOS and Android apps for its streaming service, but both of those apps were taken down following complaints from the record labels. The new Broadcasts app means Grooveshark will pay government-mandated performance fees set by the Copyright Royalty Board rather than negotiate directly with the recorded music companies. 

Pandora Releases New User

Interface For Mobile Listening

 

Pandora Mobile      Pandora this week released a beta version of a refreshed mobile user interface that includes new station personalization features and functionality. According to a company statement, the update currently is available to only 3% of iPhone and Android smartphone users, but will roll out to all mobile and tablet listeners over the coming months.

“For more than a decade, our engineering team has worked to perfect the personalized radio listening experience and unleash the infinite power of music for our listeners,” Pandora Chief Technology Officer Chris Martin said in standard PR-speak. “With our users logging more than 1.65 billion listening hours in September alone, we were extremely mindful in the way we made adjustments to the [user interface] so as to enhance and simplify the experience.”

Major changes include enhanced station personalization capabilities and improved artist discovery. The redesigned interface also is reported to be simpler to use and clearer to the ear. “Listeners are given a different sense of place and navigation with the new transitions from the ‘station list’ to the ‘now playing’ screen, and can view comprehensive thumb history and adjust thumb feedback for old tracks listened to,” the company said. [Read more: Company statement]

 

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014