Saturday, January 28, 2012

History Needs Software Piracy (Link Round-Up 1/28/12)

The myth of American decline
"First came the belief that the tide of history was with the Soviet Union. Soviet leaders themselves believed the “correlation of forces” favored communism; the American defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam led Soviet officials, for the first time, to believe they might actually “win” in the long Cold War struggle. A decade later, in 1987, Paul Kennedy depicted both superpowers as suffering from “imperial overstretch,” but suggested that it was entirely possible that the United States would be the first to collapse, following a long historical tradition of exhausted and bankrupt empires. It had crippled itself by spending too much on defense and taking on too many far-flung global responsibilities. But within two years the Berlin Wall fell, and two years after that the Soviet Union collapsed. The decline turned out to be taking place elsewhere."
Why historians need software piracy
It may seem counterintuitive, but piracy has actually saved more software than it has destroyed. Already, pirates have spared tens of thousands of programs from extinction, proving themselves the unintentional stewards of our digital culture. 
Software pirates promote data survival through ubiquity and media independence. Like an ant that works as part of a larger system it doesn’t understand, the selfish action of each digital pirate, when taken in aggregate, has created a vast web of redundant data that ensures many digital works will live on.
Banning Salman Rushdie from speaking in India 
Outdated colonial laws need to be repealed, violent fringe groups must be stopped from holding the nation to ransom and we need a movement to stop politicians abusing religious sentiment for political gain. Only when freedom of expression can be taken for granted can India really call itself the democracy it claims so proudly to be.
The cultural gap between Western and Chinese research methods
Many of the students “haven't been trained so much in using their knowledge to generate new ideas and find new solutions”, says Danielsen. “They work extremely hard and very long hours, but I am not sure whether they are able to step back a bit and reflect on the results.” Wickham says that the science is often highly managed by professors, and researchers are not encouraged to take risks or learn from their mistakes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Katy Perry Immigration Control (Link Round-Up 1/22/12)

How to make money like Katy Perry
Take "California Gurls." It features Snoop Dogg. He's pricey. And the producers on the song — Dr. Luke and Max Martin (among others), who charge around $100,000 per song. And there are 12 tracks on the album. Then there's Katy Perry's advance. "That advance could have been perhaps a million dollars net, maybe $2 million — I can't say for certain," Tavel says. So the record company has shelled out millions of dollars before anyone has even heard the album.
Enhanced e-books—which have multimedia features such as audio, video, pop-up graphics, 3-D images and animation—are being touted as the next frontier in the digital-books landscape. The explosive growth of e-book sales, coupled with the rapid adoption of iPads, Nook Tablets and Kindle Fires, has prompted publishers to experiment with new types of interactive books. Many in the industry will be watching closely to see whether "Chopsticks" becomes a literary trailblazer that ushers in a new species of e-book, or a cautionary tale of an elaborate flop.
In short, digital storage, be it on hard drives, DVDs or solid-state memory, simply isn't on a par for anything close to the 100-plus-year lifespan of film. The life of digital media is measured in years, not decades, and file formats can go obsolete in months, not years. As the report explains, that affects movies still looking for distribution, not merely library titles. "In general," the report says, "independent films that beat the odds and secure some form of distribution do so after a much longer time period than movies produced by the major studios. This time period quite likely exceeds the 'shelf life' of any digital work; that is, by the time distribution is secured, the digital data may become inaccessible.
Still the case of Christopher Johnson beggars belief. Returning to Tokyo after a short trip on December 23rd he was ushered into an examination room, where his nightmare began. Over the next 24 hours he was imprisoned and harassed. Most of his requests to call a lawyer, the embassy or friends were denied, he says.
The secret document that transformed China
So, in the winter of 1978, after another terrible harvest, they came up with an idea: Rather than farm as a collective, each family would get to farm its own plot of land. If a family grew a lot of food, that family could keep some of the harvest. This is an old idea, of course. But in communist China of 1978, it was so dangerous that the farmers had to gather in secret to discuss it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Half-Plants, Navajo, and Copyrights (Link Round-Up 1/19/12)

Supreme Court rules 6-2 that Congress can re-patent/copyright works in public domain
Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a plaintiff’s lawyer in the case, called the decision “unfortunate” and said it “suggests Congress is not required to pay particularly close attention to the interests of the public when it passes copyright laws.” 
The majority, however, rebuffed charges that a decision in favor of Congress’ move would amount to affording lawmakers the right to legislate perpetual copyright terms.
Half-plant, half-animal?
These hybrids play merry hell with our attempts to classify organisms into neat groups. "The division between plants and animals is collapsing completely," Moestrup says. Instead, many microorganisms may be animal and plant at once, or switch between the two, like M. rubrum.
Native Americans angry over fashion world's appropriation of "traditional" imagery 
“There’s the whole economic stratification issue of it,” she writes. “These designs are expensive. The new Portland Collection ranges from $48 for a tie to over $700 for a coat. The Opening Ceremony collection was equally, if not more, costly. It almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound, when poverty is rampant in many Native communities, to say ‘Oh, we designed this collection based on your culture, but you can’t even afford it!’”
How China is courting the Islamic world with construction projects
China's push to provide its international business partners with Islamic infrastructure, Tarin said, is part of a larger strategy to win over the Muslim world. Although many foreign Muslim individuals continue to do business with the United States, America has lost much of its soft power and economic discourse with the governments of many Muslim-majority nations over the past decade, leaving China an opening.
The hidden geoglyphs under the Amazon rainforest
“If one wants to recreate pre-Columbian Amazonia, most of the forest needs to be removed, with many people and a managed, highly productive landscape replacing it,” said William Woods, a geographer at the University of Kansas who is part of a team studying the Acre geoglyphs. 
“I know that this will not sit well with ardent environmentalists,” Mr. Woods said, “but what else can one say?”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lana Del Rey and Hezbollah (Link Round-Up 1/17/12)

Warning labels for bad journalism
It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there's no similar labelling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content. 
I figured it was time to fix that, so I made some stickers. I've been putting them on copies of the free papers that I find on the London Underground. You might want to as well.
Lana Del Rey, indie blogging, and content farms
As I struggle to deal with my own periodic content farm existential crises, I wish I could have just invented Gawker. We could’ve had it all. Rolling in the deep pool of unique visitors.
Lebanese banks: the home of Hezbollah funds and drug money
As the data show, miraculously, Lebanese banks exploded in growth in the wake of Hezbollah's war with Israel in 2006 - with dollar-denominated deposits making up nearly 2/3 of the Lebanese banking system and over 50% of its growth. Until recently -- when DEA and Treasury began to crack down -- bank dollar and euro deposit growth has kept up a dramatic pace, despite Lebanon having large sovereign currency, economic, political, and security risk. This explosive growth makes no sense, unless Lebanon has become a major financial safe haven for drug trafficking organizations worldwide (and where the risk of moving so much foreign bulk cash and wire transfers is effectively offset by a highly complicit Lebanese government). As the risk of further U.S. actions has become clearer to bank depositors (bad guys included) and the Syria/Iran crisis expands, capital has started to flee Beirut en masse (see the balance of payments slide). Indeed, Lebanon is in the midst of a balance of payments crisis presently as a result.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Romney, France, and Strait of Hormuz Oil (Link Round-Up 1/15/12)


France and Turkey revive imperial rivalry over Mediterranean dominance
In the last decade, Turkey has witnessed record-breaking economic growth. It is no longer a poor country desperately seeking accession to the European Union. It has a $1.1 trillion economy, a powerful army and aspirations to shape the region in its image. As political turmoil paralyzes North Africa, Syria and Iraq, and economic meltdown devastates much of Mediterranean Europe, Turkey and France have largely been spared. And their growing rivalry is one reason France has objected to Turkey’s bid for European Union membership. 
Taken together with France’s efforts to create a European-Mediterranean Union, which Nicolas Sarkozy conceived in 2008 as a way to place France at the helm of the Mediterranean world, one thing has become obvious to the Turks: Paris won’t allow Turkey into the European Union or let it become a powerful player in a French-led Mediterranean region.
Medieval Jewish manuscripts found in Afghanistan
The documents describe a Jewish community that lived, permanently or temporarily, in a trading station between the Muslim conquest and the Mongol invasion. “We had some idea there were Jewish communities in Afghanistan, but this is the first time we have original documents written by them,” say Shaked, an expert in Judeo-Persian. 
It was a turbulent period, he says, when a sect known as the Karaite — which rejected the Talmudic or rabbinic tradition and accepted only the Torah as holy scripture — was active.
How important is the Strait of Hormuz, really?
Despite Iran's tough talk, it seems unlikely that the country would cut off what amounts to its own lifeline. Iran also relies on an open and fully operational Hormuz. As reported in the New York Times, Iran exports almost "2 million barrels of oil a day" through the Strait to countries like China. And the Iranian government, according to researchers at the U.S. Institute of Peace, receives 65% of its revenues through its oil industry; would Iran's shaky economy be able to take such a hit? Probably not.
The capitalist revolutions in Mitt Romney's lifetime
The debate will be driven by emotions, not facts. The former are easy to inflame; the latter tricky to pin down. Did Mr Romney create 100,000 jobs while at Bain Capital, as he claims, or destroy more? Without knowing what would have happened in the absence of Bain’s intervention, one can only guess. Mr Romney says he made firms more productive, thus enriching America. His rivals—even Newt Gingrich, an unlikely sans-culottes—gripe that he enriched himself.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mossad, Massacre, and Tuberculosis (Link Round-Up 1/14/12)

[via Reddit via NASA]

Mossad agents posed as CIA to recruit terrorists to attack Iran
"Our bodies are wired to love salt, fat and sugar. ... Our minds are really wired to be affirmed and be told that we're right. ... Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right? Who wants to be informed when they can be affirmed? What we do is we tell our media that that's what we want to hear, and our media responds to that by telling us what it is that we want, and sometimes that isn't what's best for us."
South Sudan's post-independence ethnic massacres
The United States and other Western countries have invested billions of dollars in South Sudan, hoping it will overcome its deeply etched history of poverty, violence and ethnic fault lines to emerge as a stable, Western-friendly nation in a volatile region. Instead, heavily armed militias the size of small armies are now marching on villages and towns with impunity, sometimes with blatantly genocidal intent.
Treatment-resistant tuberculosis cases found in Indian hospitals
Why this is bad news: TB is already one of the world’s worst killers, up there with malaria and HIV/AIDS, accounting for 9.4 million cases and 1.7 million deaths in 2009, according to the WHO. At the best of times, TB treatment is difficult, requiring at least 6 months of pill combinations that have unpleasant side effects and must be taken long after the patient begins to feel well. Because of the mismatch between treatment and symptoms, people often don’t take their full course of drugs — and from that (and some other factors I’ll talk about in a minute) we get multi-drug resistant and extensively drug-resistant, MDR and XDR, TB.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chicago SketchFest 2012 Reviews

I reviewed the first three days of the Chicago SketchFest 2012 for Gapers Block.

If you're in Chicago, you can still check out the second half this Thursday, January 12th-Sunday, January 15th.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Antarctic SOPA Freelancer Riots (Link Round-Up 1/5/12)

MPAA's own research shows that SOPA won't save any jobs
SOPA, recall, does not actually shut down foreign sites. It only requires (ineffective) blocking of foreign “rogue sites” for U.S. Internet users. It doesn’t do anything to prevent users in (say) China from downloading illicit content on a Chinese site. If we’re interested in the magnitude of the piracy harm that SOPA is aimed at addressing, then, the only relevant number is the loss attributable specifically to Internet piracy by U.S. users.
The Freelancers' Union, and the state of American "employment"
“I always thought of the FU as more entrepreneurial…than political” says Horowitz. “Today’s Left is not the Left we’re going to see in ten years. [Right now] new ideas aren’t allowed to flourish accordingly. The Left is very constrained intellectually.” “We’re progressive, but not part of the Left,” she adds, referring to partisan political membership.
Social media riots: coming to a city near you
Unlike in the US, where BlackBerrys are seen as strictly a white-collar accessory, teens and twentysomethings in the UK have embraced the platform wholeheartedly, with 37 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds using the devices nationwide; the percentage is probably much higher in urban areas like London. From early on in the rioting, BBM messages were pinging around among the participants and their friends, who were using the service for everything from sharing photos to coordinating locations. Contemplating the corporate-grade security and mass communication of the platform, Mike Butcher, a prominent British blogger who serves as a digital adviser to the London mayor, wryly remarked that BBM had become the “thug’s Gutenberg press.”
*Also, kindly republished my article about orbital space junk. Go check it out.

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