Required viewing: Michael Wesch

A big thank you today to my friend Peter Merholz for reminding me to go see more of what Michael Wesch is doing. His social commentary (and damn fine anthropology work) is some of the most incisive writing/talking/broadcasting about digital culture you can find.

“(Web 2.0:) The Machine Is Us/Ing Us"
This blew my doors off when I first saw it. If you just are baffled by it, we probably won’t be able to communicate very deeply; the Web is where I’m from.

“A Vision of Students Today”

A quick wake-up call on the impact of these changes on education.

"An anthropological introduction to YouTube"
Wow. Just wow. One hour of amazing insight on what YouTube actually means to culture.

I’m glad everybody else is catching up. Over 3 years before Gary Brolsma’s "Numa Numa", in October of 2001 I was making a connection with some random guy up in Alaska when "Polyester Lester" put up a video of himself soulfully lip-syncing "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going". Lester is still my friend and may have been in my instant messenger contacts continuously over all these years, yet as far as I can recall we’ve never met offline. Maybe I can’t remember because I just now had to choose the word "offline" since "in person" didn’t seem to exclude the conversations & shared creative efforts we have had.   

The world is fundamentally not the same as it was. User-created content + internet connectivity = as big a shift in human culture as the invention of the printing press. Maybe even close to as big as the change from nomadic hunting & gathering to settled communities & cultivation. I’m not kidding. How is my perspective different when I have people I’m connected to on every continent? When I can find pretty much any piece of information I need? And when my words can reach anywhere? What happens when an enormous percentage of the population of the planet has that perspective?

Things are getting very interesting around here…

Very cool story in the Chronicle about a woman who found a simple way to radically transform the quality of life for girls in Nepal.

In the southern Dang district, rural Tharu farming families trapped in extreme poverty – earning less than a dollar a day – were making horrible sacrifices:selling their daughters as domestic slaves to wealthy Kathmandu families for $35 to $75.

“These girls are 7, 8, 9 and 10, and no one was checking up on them,” said Murray, 83. “I was shocked.”

That was in 1989. Her solution to break the practice has since made her a philanthropic legend in the area……Murray and Paneru have since steered 3,000 girls away from slavery and all but eradicated the long-held tradition of indentured servitude in the Tharu village.

Science, public domain, conservation

My lovely long weekend is about to end so here’s a quick set of things I’ve been meaning to tell you about:

Increase science knowledge among students in Florida with this Donors Choose project.

Easily calculate public domain works in the U.S. with the American Library Association’s "Is it in Copyright?" digital slider tool.

What if America as a nation had risen to the challenge President Carter laid out for us on July 15, 1979? Solid steps to energy independence, funding from windfall profits taxes, $10 billion invested in public transportation,

"We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it
is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation’s
strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of
production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more
control over our own lives."

He said "there are no short-term solutions to our long-range problems" and he was right. Those problems didn’t go away between now and then; they just got worse and more time-critical.

Lest you think that’s all just hypothetical, compare the U.S. approach to foreign oil use to Japan’s:

In Japan, on the other hand, the government and private companies have
stayed on course since the First Oil Shock. Despite the doubling of
Japan’s gross domestic product during the 1970s and 1980s, its annual
overall levels of energy consumption have remained unchanged.
Today, Japan uses only half as much energy for every dollar’s worth of
economic activity as the European Union or the United States. In
addition, national and local authorities have continually enforced
strict energy-conservation standards for new buildings.

It is, again, Japan that has made significant progress when it comes
to renewable sources of energy. By 2006, for instance, it was
responsible for producing almost half of total global solar power, well
ahead of the U.S., even though it was an American, Russell Ohl, who
invented the silicon solar cell, the building block of solar
photovoltaic panels, which convert sunshine into electricity.

Does it take behavior change? Yes. However,

Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?
                                       –Marian Wright Edelman

The climate is changing, we need to change too.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has (finally) reported that climate change is impacting our weather and that this warming world is directly related to human activities which increase  the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. U.S. government scientists conclude that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace in the United States as we continue to increase global warming pollution in the atmosphere. [full report]

If you ever needed a reason to join the movement to solve the climate crisis, this is it. Please join me by signing up for the We Campaign, a powerful nonpartisan movement of concerned citizens, founded by someone for whom I have tremendous respect, Nobel Prize Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. We’re already almost a million and a half strong — and growing each day:

This crisis can be solved and we have the ability to do so if we all rise to the challenge.

Learn more at

Any way to back up that argument, guys?

The opponents of same-sex marriage say it will "damage" marriage, but Massachusetts has the second lowest divorce rate in the country. They seem to be doing just fine.

What are the measurable signs of the institution of marriage being damaged? Are they actually different from states and countries with same-sex marriages permitted than those where they aren’t? Yes, society has changed and there are impacts on family formation, but does that change actually correlate or is it found across states and countries on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue? In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, contrary to the usual fears, there seems to be a strong correlation between divorce rates going down and heterosexual marriage going up. How about elsewhere in the world? What, for example, has been the impact, if any, in Canada and Spain?

Let’s see something other than fears brought to the discussion on this.

Chalmers on how to make America implode economically

This is a clip from a new film, “Chalmers Johnson on American Hegemony,” in Cinema Libre Studios’ Speaking Freely

series [no info on this film available on the site yet, though] in which Johnson discusses “military Keynesianism” and imperial

bankruptcy. You can also read Johnson’s latest piece on the subject, “Going Bankrupt: The Debt Crisis Is Now the Greatest Threat to the American

Republic” at

I’m looking forward to seeing the full film.

Spending money you don’t have, on things that you destroy when you use them, which often both cause expensive ongoing damage and which reduce the desire for others to subsequently do business with you sure sounds like a recipe for economic disaster.

“Hey, honey, let’s buy ostrich eggs, watches and art glass on credit and lob them around the neighborhood with a trebuchet!”

Astonishingly, this is how the USA spends much of its money.

There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis. First, in the current

fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on “defense”

projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the

United States. Simultaneously, we are keeping the income tax burdens on

the richest segments of the American population at strikingly low


Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the

accelerating erosion of our manufacturing base and our loss of jobs to

foreign countries through massive military expenditures — so-called

“military Keynesianism,” which I discuss in detail in my book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.

By military Keynesianism, I mean the mistaken belief that public

policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and

munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy

capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited

resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and

other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are

what economists call “opportunity costs,” things not done because we

spent our money on something else. Our public education system has

deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all

our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world’s number

one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a

manufacturer for civilian needs — an infinitely more efficient use of

scarce resources than arms manufacturing.

Read How To Sink America by Chalmers Johnson for more. Here are a few things that jumped out at me:

– “This brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the

current fiscal year (2008), conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1


– “On November 7, 2007, the U.S. Treasury announced that the national debt

had breached $9 trillion for the first time ever. … When George [W.] Bush became

president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion.”

– “‘According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the

four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62

trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce

estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and

infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount

spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or

modernized and replaced its existing stock.’

The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one

of the main reasons why, by the turn of the twenty-first century, our

manufacturing base had all but evaporated.”

– “‘Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country.  In fact we are now the world’s biggest debtor country'”

Essential reading: Waving Goodbye To Hegemony

I recall being interested in this article, Waving Goodbye To Hegemony, when it appeared in The New York Times Magazine on

January 27, 2008, but it being quite long, didn’t read the whole thing at the time. I’ve done so now and have to recommend it as some of the most insightful thinking on world power shifts I’ve encountered in the past decade.

Author Parag Khanna provides – in a surprisingly small package for the density of detail and intelligence – a grand overview of the three current superpowers, the European Union, China, and the United States, and of the swing (nation) states of the "second world" whose ties to these three are going to shape the next century and beyond.

I hope this has been assigned as reading in colleges and high schools around the world as it provides an excellent new view which illustrates how very much the world has changed since the cold war and will continue to change, particularly in the next decade.

How do you feel about torture?

And what do you think constitutes torture?

Kaj Larsen’s decision to subject himself to waterboarding so that we could understand what it is certainly helps lay some clear information on the table to contemplate along with these questions.

I strongly encourage you to watch it and then to think about what it would take for you to watch it with no interruptions of other conversations, with no indicator of the progress of the video to tell you when it will be over, with the realization that the actual time he was waterboarded was much longer than this video. Then ask yourself what if it was you and you didn’t know if these guys were planning to kill you or not.

Is it torture?