December 19, 2008
ASEAN may go ahead with once-scrapped plans to create an Asian Monetary Fund as an alternative to the IMF.
Seems to me like a redundant effort that only makes sense given the extent to which the IMF does not respond effectively to the needs of the majority of its member states.
Multilateralism falls apart if you don’t cultivate it in good faith.
December 19, 2008
Sources close to transition officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Genachowski had been recently meeting with key Democratic lawmakers to see if the role of CTO would have policy-making authority and decided against taking the job when he realized the definition of CTO would not include a strong regulatory role. Instead, Genachowski expressed interest in the FCC post.
Why do I find it hard to believe that Genachowski didn’t realize that the CTO post would not have regulatory authority?
December 18, 2008
Time for the shameless promotion of a cool project run by some of my friends in São Paulo:
PontoLivre is a very exciting new site that combines critical social theory, political engagement, information technology, and digital culture.
If you, like me, find such things totally exciting, get out your portuguese dictionary (or fire up Google Translator) and head on over.
As it happens, this is also a shameless self-promotion since, the top story on the site right now is a transcribed version of a short presentation I did at the PUC-SP back in September. I haven’t had time to translate it into English yet, but I am nonetheless somewhat proud of my gringo-tacular attempt at bringing together the work of the great Karls (Polanyi and Marx) to think about the future of free (as in freedom) and open knowledge.
Kudos to the two brains behind the pontolivre operation, Tiago Soares and Rafael Evangelista, for pulling it all off!
December 17, 2008
I’m working on a short article about this topic and was crunching some World Bank Development Index numbers today.
The payoff for you, dear reader, is the following factoid of the day:
From 2000-2008, approximately $97 out of every $100 earned internationally from licenses or royalties was paid to a high income OECD country. In contrast, Latin American and Caribbean countries combined to earn $0.005 (yes, one half of one cent) out of that same $100.
Got that? $97 vs. $0.0o5!
The moral of the story: cheap laptops and broadband are only the tip of the iceberg.
Eat your heart out ICT4D community.
December 17, 2008
Chris Soghoian describes how he bumped up against Google’s questionable ad-sense trademark enforcement policies.
Soghoian’s story is troubling and it exposes yet another way in which the structure of web traffic has positioned Google as a de-facto arbiter of all kinds of legal speech, political salience, and good taste. More broadly, it demonstrates how key actors and institutions exercise influence in the networked public sphere.
For more on that idea, check out Matthew Hindman’s research. In his new book, The Myth of Digital Democracy, Hindman makes a related argument in a number of different ways, not the least of which is his compelling notion of “Googlearchy.” I disagree with Matt on a number of substantive points, but the significance of his analysis is undeniable. His work complements more established models for thinking about how social structure circumscribes certain kinds of thought and action.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Internet is that powerful forms of social order & status originate in seemingly innocuous expressions of aggregated opinions (e.g. the PageRank algorithm). Hindman’s work takes on the notion that such aggregated opinions are somehow equivalent to a utopian radical democracy or a free market of ideas.
In this sense, his argument parallels the work of economic sociologists, many of whom have analyzed the importance of the “embeddedness” of economic markets. Simply put, the thesis behind the concept of embeddedness is that the sorts of decentralized, disaggregated behaviors that occur in market-like settings are always an extension of the social and cultural contexts in which they occur. It’s a relatively simple idea, but it violates one of the core assumptions of neo-classical economic theory: that markets are a free and accurate expression of individual actors expressing rational preferences for the enhancement of their own wealth and welfare.
Sociologists such as Viviana Zelizer have shown how the economists’ assumptions break down in markets for deeply valued cultural goods such as intimacy and adoption. More recently, a number of scholars (including Marion Fourcade – a professor of mine at Berkeley) have taken up the idea that financial markets are also expressions of (economists’) cultural preferences and not merely an aggregated form of pure rationality.
Considering Hindman’s work and the continuing emergence of experiences like Soghoian’s, I think there’s a case to be made that research on the embeddedness of search technology might be a promising topic. Granted, I don’t know if there are many “neo-classical” information theorists out there that would be willing to defend the straw-man position that search technology serves up knowledge in a pure and rational form.
December 16, 2008
President-Elect Obama’s team at Change.gov has posted their first batch of replies to a few of the most popular inquiries submitted via the bally-hooed question tool since it went live last week.
If you really want to read the responses, go ahead, knock yourself out. They’re just like the comment threads at DailyKos/LGF/Wonkette/BoingBoing/Lifehacker except they’re completely dry, soul-less, and snark-free.
Take this stirring exchange, for example:
Q: “What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?” Diane, New Jersey
A: President-elect Barack Obama does not believe an economic crisis is an excuse for wasteful and unnecessary spending. As our economic teams works with congressional leadership to put together a plan, we will put in place reforms to ensure that your money in invested well. We will also bring Americans back into government by amending executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public. In addition all appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies will be required to conduct the significant business of the agency in public so that every citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.
Can you even remember the question after all that opacity? Turns out the White House press corps might not be out of a job after all.
Be honest, though, who’s actually surprised that the Obama team is sticking to their script and refusing to engage in precisely the sort of off-the-cuff banter that makes conversations on the Internet interesting? I was at an event with a few members of their new media team last week and these folks are at least as disciplined as a Bill Belichik offense.
For all the hoopla about the many wonderful ways in which Change.gov might transform the relationship between the POTUS and the rest of us, it’s going to take more than a few Rick-rolls before somebody mistakes this site for 4chan. (Dear Mr. President Elect, I video taped myself asking you a very important question: please watch it here!)
That said, the first idiot who celebrates the fact that someone in the transition team took the time to answer the question about legalizing pot ought to have their head examined. It may be Democracy in motion, but only in the sense in which Jeffersonian “mob rule” sense. I’m not one to romanticize the high-flown days of the republic of media gatekeeping, but this is just campaigning by other means and a waste of everybody’s time.
It may not matter, though, because unless the Change.gov team loosens up a bit (and opens the door to the risk of a mini scandal or two), I suspect people will quickly forget about this site after the inauguration.
December 15, 2008
This just in, the Wall Street Journal’s story on Net Neutrality is a disaster. Google hates it, Lessig hates it, and it even appears to get a bunch of technical details wrong.
Steve Schultze (a colleague at the Berkman Center) has the details of the story on Managing Miracles (his blog) where he’ll be following it as it unfolds.