Wild Green Yonder
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
Pluckin' for Peace
This is pretty cool. Musicians from all over the Bay Area and in several other cities will be rocking out in public to protest the war. The jam's on Satyrday, from 1 - 2 pm. Start your own band! Make a joyful noise!
My Planet, Right or Wrong
He overstates his case (saying, for instance, that "global democracy was born" at the protests on February 15th). Still, Johnathan Schell's column in this week's Nation is worth a read:
"When terrorists attacked the Pentagon and knocked down the World Trade Center on September 11, everyone marveled that nineteen men had coordinated their actions for evil with such efficiency. On February 15, 10 million coordinated their actions for good. February 15 was the people's answer to September 11."
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Fast, Cheap and Beyond Authoritarian Control
Joichi Ito's essay on
Emergent Democracy is the latest piece in a puzzle that I've been seeing come together: a broad theory of how emergent, collaborative, distributed networks may be the most important tool we have to fix the dire problems facing the world.
This is not a perfect essay, but it's an important one:
"The world needs emergent democracy more than ever. The issues are too complex for representative governments to understand. Representatives of sovereign nations negotiating with each other in global dialog are also very limited in their ability to solve global issues. The monolithic media and its increasingly simplistic representation of the world can not provide the competition of ideas necessary to reach consensus. Emergent democracy has the potential to solve many of the problems we face in the exceedingly complex world at both the national and global scale. The community of toolmakers will build the tools necessary for an emergent democracy if the people support the effort and resist those who try to stifle this effort and destroy the commons."
Monday, February 24, 2003
The largest protests in human history. (Great photos! Thanks Sue!)
Three Books I Can't Say Enough Good Things About
In the last couple weeks I've read three books that cracked my foundation. So, so good.
The first is Geoff Dyer's Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. Dyer, who also wrote the astoundingly good Out of Sheer Rage - the best book about not writing written in my lifetime - has crafted a wry, sharp, brilliant book about the years he spent drifting around the planet in search of peak experiences. It's amazingly funny.
Robert Mailer Anderson's Boonville is the best first novel I've read since Lives of the Monster Dogs. People from the East Coast sometimes ask me if I really think there's such a thing as "Left Coast Culture" - a unique outlook that somehow springs from the ground somewhere between San Francisco and Vancouver. Yes, there is. This book proves it.
Finally, Bruce Sterling's Tomorrow Now is, simply put, the best book of futurism I've ever read. I'm not sure what its shelf-life will be, but if you're looking to understand the world we live in today and where we seem to be headed, and you haven't read Bruce's work, well, you're driving without the map, amigo.
Saturday, February 22, 2003
Your Creativity Is Punishable By Law
This is really cool: an exhibit of illegal art.
"The laws governing "intellectual property" have grown so expansive in recent years that artists need legal experts to sort them all out. Borrowing from another artwork--as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s--will now land you in court. If the current copyright laws had been in effect back in the day, whole genres such as collage, hiphop, and Pop Art might have never have existed.
"The irony here couldn't be more stark. Rooted in the U.S. Constitution, copyright was originally intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas but is now being used to stifle it.
"The Illegal Art Exhibit will celebrate what is rapidly becoming the "degenerate art" of a corporate age: art and ideas on the legal fringes of intellectual property."
Friday, February 21, 2003
The LA Weekly is running a terror piece this week: "If It Happened Here" (Nice title, editors, very reminiscent of the Red Scare). It's titilating reading, but sort of bullshit.
Let's repeat the basics: at current technologies, chemical and biological weapons are far less dangerous than nearly all of us have been lead to believe. You actually stand a very, very good chance of surviving an attack, in the extremely unlikely event that an attack happens where you live.
Everyone: settle down, take deep breathes, start taping the pieces of the Constitution back together.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
Davos Letter Starts Snowball
Omigod. This whole Laurie Garrett "smoking letter" thing is just too weird and fun.
Here's the story: Newsday journalist (and Pulitzer-prize-winning author of The Coming Plague) Laurie Garrett got invited to Davos, to the World Economic Forum. While there, she wrote a very interesting letter to her friends about how freaked the world's richest people are about our impending war, economic stagnation and growing developing world problems. Good note, by the way, and worth reading.
Of course it got forwarded. It's now bouncing all over the place. Apparently, though, Ms. Garrett is unpleased, at least unpleased enough to write a snarky letter to MeFi comparing the denizens of that fine community to the clueless Trekkies William Shatner tells to get a life in the old SNL skit.
Now there's talk of a Garrett boycott. Meanwhile, the Davos crowd is snuffling about *their* abused privacy. You can't *pay* for this kind of edutainment.
I've suddenly (in the last couple weeks) been getting a lot of requests to reprint this piece.(Go ahead, by the way). I wonder what's changed?
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Towards a Science of Cooperation
Howard Rheingold makes some terrific points here in this post on the Edge:
Because scientific propositions must be testable, and because questions of humanism versus science come down to how these ways of knowing affect our lives, I propose a test for the role of scientific understanding in human affairs: Can science improve life for most people alive today, and for our heirs, by understanding the nature of cooperation as profoundly as physicists understand matter and biologists understand the processes of life and evolution?
I suspect that if this question, above all others, is not answered soon by some method, all other questions are likely to become moot. Even if we stipulate the advent of a technological singularity in the manner of Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil several decades hence, who today does not have at least a reasonable doubt that machine intelligence will mature quickly enough to take over soon enough to prevent human intelligence from beating itself to death with its own creations?
I pose this as a scientific, not a philosophical question. Certainly the attempt to apply scientific methods to psyches, societies, markets, and civilizations has been less successful to this point than scientific probes into the nature of the cosmos, matter, and life itself. Does this mean that the atom or DNA of cooperation, the fundamental element of human collective good, is eternally elusive, perhaps in some Heisenbergian-Gödelian-Zen sense? Or does it mean that current scientific knowledge of human cooperation and conflict remains inadequate? This is a key question, because we know that science did move beyond age-old inadequate understandings of the physical world when the "new methods" of rational, empirical inquiry emerged from the work of Descartes, Newton, Galileo, and Bacon centuries ago. Is human social behavior beyond the understanding of science, or has science simply not caught up yet?
It isn't necessary to make a case to anyone who follows world events that some serious new thinking about solving the problems of genocide, warfare, terrorism, murder, assault—violent human conflict on all scales—is urgently needed. Traditionally, discourse about this aspect of human nature has been the province of the humanities. Can any scientist say with certainty, however, that such questions are forever beyond the reach of scientific inquiry? Investigations into the nature of disease meandered for centuries in unsupported theory and superstition. When optics and experimentation made possible the knowledge of the germ theory of disease, discovery and application of scientific knowledge directly alleviated human suffering.
Some general characteristics of cooperation among living organisms in general, and humans in particular, have emerged from biological and economic experiments using game theory and sociobiological theories explaining the behavior of organisms. The use of computer simulations in Prisoner's Dilemma and other public-goods games and the application of public-goods games to human subjects has begun to provide the first pieces of the puzzle of how cooperation has evolved up to the present—and, most important, small clues to how it might continue to evolve in the future. Sociological studies of the way that some groups successfully manage common resources have illuminated a few general characteristics of cooperative groups. Recent economic studies of online markets have demonstrated the power of reputation systems. Social network analysis, experimental economics, complex-adaptive-systems theory, all provide relevant evidence. The evolution of social cooperation, aided and abetted by the evolution of technologies, has been the subject of meta-theories of social evolution.
The entire puzzle of how groups of different sizes agree to cooperate, why and how cooperation breaks down, how conflicts arise, intensify, and resolve, is largely unknown. But the puzzle pieces from a dozen different disciplines are beginning to fit together to reveal larger patterns. Part of the current lack of understanding may stem from the nature of specialized scientific inquiry: Biologists, economists, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, computer scientists, game theorists, and political scientists have only recently begun to suspect that they hold parts of the same puzzle. It has taken some time for those studying cooperation, reputation, and conflict to recognize the need for interdisciplinary syntheses.
The practical chances of this proposed test of the power of science to do what the humanities have tried to do for centuries depend on whether someone marshals resources and spurs organizational motivation for a full-scale, cross-disciplinary effort to understand cooperation. Unlike knowledge that might lead to new weapons, new media, or new medicines, no organizational or economic structure currently exists to support an Apollo Program of cooperation. And even the best organized and funded effort can't guarantee that an answer exists, or that it won't take a century to discover. The consequences of failure might or might not be the end of all cultures, but if scientific inquiry does succeed in elucidating the nature and dynamics of social cooperation, it will have proved its superiority as a way of knowing that can improve the way most people live. Curing diseases was impressive. Curing conflict would be proof.
Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Solar cells in the shape of denim
Make no mistake: This new generation of solar photovoltaic materials will change the way we build and reshape our cities.
New as the News
This is wild: a bunch of German writers swarming to produce a book together in 12 hours.
Sunday, February 16, 2003
The only thing we have to fear...
Gregg Easterbrook? Not one of my favorite writers. His essay The Smart Way to Be Scared, however, is terrific, at least to the extent that he reminds us that the risk of becoming a terrorism casualty is absurdly low. We're not all in mortal peril, folks. Chill. Breathe. Go to the protests. Let's restore some sanity to our Republic:
"The British and Germans used one ton of chemical weapons per fatality caused during World War I. The 1995 release of the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subways by the Aum Shinrikyo sect killed 12 people, fewer than a small, standard bomb might have killed in that crowded, enclosed area. An estimated 5,000 Kurds died in Saddam Hussein's chemical attack on Halabja, Iraq, in 1988, but this involved dozens of fighter-bombers making repeated low passes over the town. It's hard to imagine that terrorists could pull off such a coordinated heavy military maneuver.
"A terrorist release of chemical weapons in an American city would probably have effects confined to a few blocks, making any one person's odds of harm far less than a million to one.
"Your risk of dying in a car accident while driving to buy duct tape likely exceeds your risk of dying because you lacked duct tape."
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Dyson on the End Being Near
Freeman Dyson answers Bill Joy and reviews Michael Chrichton, whole performing various other acrobatic feats involving the history of arms control and Milton's Areopagitica, in his new essay, The Future Needs Us!
Monday, February 10, 2003
The Rise and Fall of an Icon
GROVER IS BITTER, the story of Grover's hellish descent from Sesame Street stardom to the depths of alcoholism and depression. One of the funniest things I've read in ages.