let’s put it ALL online: brewster kahle

IT conversations, a site that broacasts talks by leading thinkers on all things informational-technology-y, brings this (awe)-inspiring talk which argues that everything, every book and every song & movie, every recorded lecture, everything ought to be, and can feasibly (!) be put online, for anyone to access.

Brewster Kahle, currently leads the Internet Archive (and various previous successes), a repository of everything media, which, among all sorts of amazing things, offers stogage space, for free, for life, for anything published under a Creative Commons license. Among the many many great things in this very brief talk, Kahle mentions, the IA’s collection of lego movies.

If you worry about your ideals, and think the Machine is too big to fight against, listen to this and have some hope. Universal Access to All Human Knowlegde. A worthy, and you will be convinced, possible goal. The question is how many of you will help push for it? (Me included).

The amazing thing, though, is imagining how anyone could argue against this project…but I am sure the lawyers are lining up.

Kahle gets extra points for suing the US goverment to allow out-of-print (but copyrighted) books to be scanned and put online, but even without extra points, he makes it to the top of my “most exciting audio streams” list for 2005.

Categories: art, best, data, technology

the flickr photo “coincidence”

this is just one of those cool things that the universe likes to throw out at us to remind us that everything, in the end, is related to everything else: Flickr Tokyo Photo Surpise.

Update: O! Ye non-believers, with hearts of cold and minds closed to the Truth, behold: Evidence.

Says one fella in the thread, eloquently and with a hint of the pargmatic philosopher about him:

Whatever your thoughts about coincidences, there appears to be a broad consensus that they occur more frequently on Flickr than they do in our day-to-day lives. I think that says something very interesting about the structure of Flickr, the way it allows those connections to happen. And it has potentially profound implications for Flickr-like systems in general.

It may just be that flickr helps us notice coincidences more often — but that doesn’t make them any less coincidental, now, does it? and maybe it even makes flickr interesting for new and different reasons.

Categories: art, best

suffering & justin hall

I posted a while ago about nietzsche and blogging, and then after a reminder from sen no sen, I dug up some more nietzsche, all of which amounted to a few observations, summarized a bit crassly here:
1. blogging can be a way to transform ones life into something more (art)
2. seeing ones life as art is a means to transform suffering into something meaningful and positive
3. if one is driven by art, one should strive for art
and finally
4. one should equate ones life to fate, and love that fate, whatever it might be

You may have seen this intense video by Justin Hall (via i never knew). Hall has chronicled the last 11 yrs of his personal life online. The video, titled aptly, “I sort of had a breakdown in January 2005” is a cringe-inducing or gut-wrenching 10-minute peek into the soul of a blogger mid-meltdown, a very strange place to peek. Commenters are split between: “I feel your pain,” and “Wait wait wait WAIT ONE FUCKING SECOND, You’re 30 years old? What the fuck, dude!” Anyway, Justin Hall’s dilemma: his meaningful relationships are with that wide web of the internet, his writing (and his camera!); and his candid online writing about personal life taints his personal relationships. So he’s alone. Blogging and art, or or real connection; he thinks he can’t have both.

The video makes painful watching–it’s not the sort of stuff you see too often, but it’s fascinating are really weird, and you can watch real-time as Hall consciously translates this breakdown into a video. At one point Hall, with a wry chuckle, choked in tears, says something like: “If I’m going to go through this crap, I might as well make some good media with it.” I laughed out loud when I head that, but he’s right. Isn’t that, really, what art does? It transforms our lives, experience and our (possibly self-absorbed) torment into something more, something wider, something that other people can connect with? (I used to have a prof in university who constantly quoted CS Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone.”) Whatever you think of Justin Hall’s misery, he took it and transformed it into something for the rest of us to consider, and it probably did him some good. Nietzsche:

Art as the redemption of the sufferer–as the way to states in which suffering is willed, transfigured, diefied, where suffering is a form of great delight.

Blogging as problem and solution, maybe.

I was thinking about Justin Hall as I hopped into a taxi tonight. It’s rare to find a cab driver in Montreal who isn’t mid-argument, or mid-plea with some friend or lover on his mobile while driving you from place to place. A good thing, probably, at least for taxi drivers: talking makes their shifts pass faster, and you hope it helps them better develop their own relationships. But that technology cuts completely my interaction with the driver: I give my destination, and pay my bill. In the past you could count on every fouth taxi ride providing some entertaining conversation–rants about the mayor and bicycles, or just pleasant weather-talk–and sometimes some great human interaction. Now it’s one out of ten, because of mobile phone technology, which occupies the driver with other things. So the crazy taxi conversation fades from our world; what was once a social and commercial transaction becomes nothing but a commercial transaction. I don’t begrudge taxi drivers their mobile converations, but I miss the crazy-talk. I’ve lost out a bit, and I think society has lost out a bit too – though probably the taxi drivers have gained, which is fair-enough as far as trades go.

Blogging’s got some of that calculus as well: you gain in interaction with a community of like-minded individuals spread through the ether of the net, but your flesh n blood interactions can suffer. I notice this in a very small way with myself and others. The trade off. Maybe it’s a bit much to call blogging art, and maybe recording a tantrum isn’t art either; but it’s engaging, I was drawn in, fascinated, and decided to write about it, which gives it some more value, at least to me.

Categories: art, technology

nietzsche, art & blogging

I am slow to get used to blogging, where I should probably be putting out more thoughts, half-cocked if need be, rather than just letting them simmer, trying to get them right. Well, here are some neither fully-formed, nor coherent, but what follows is the begining of some thoughts on Nietzsche and Art and blogging:

Friedrich Nietzsche in Will to Power, fragment 853, outlines the importance of Art in an existence that Neitzsche calls “frightening,” where Truth (God is dead) has been toppled, and we struggle comprehend what it means to live in a world where we have no objective (God) to appeal to in questions of consequence. Says Nietzsche:

Art and nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life….
Art as the redemption of the man of knowledge–of those who see the terrifying and questionable character of existence, who want to see it, the men of tragic knowledge.
Art as the redemption of the man of action–of those who not only see the terrifying and questionable character of existence but live it, want to live it, the tragic war-like men, then hero.
Art as the redemption of the sufferer–as the way to states in which suffering is willed, transfigured, diefied, where suffering is a form of great delight.

OK now all this has something to do with blogging, I think. Nietzsche’s general gist is that with the loss of faith in anything beyond human consciousness, humans can go down two paths: one is pessimist, and sees disaster (chaos will result); the other optimist (sort of), the path of the overman (Ãœbermensch), who sees this loss of objective Truth as liberating… a realization of the creative power of humans to form truth (small-T) around principles of their making. He sees this as a sort of Art — not just artistic art, but life as art, where forming the principles of one’s own morality becomes a creative exercise, and living itself becomes Art. So if you live your own life as a kind of artistic creation, then you manage to acheive a life Nietzsche would be proud of (well probably not, since he was Nietzsche…).

This process of transforming life into art is a magical sort of thing: anyone who has written a brilliant poem after being spurned by that cute girl in calculus class–no matter how poorly the stanzas stand-up to time–can attest to the power of that creation. In producing Art we transform our own existence into something more, and somehow that enables us to turn “suffering into great delight.”

And more, we take even greater pleasure in sharing that with others. I was discussing capital-A Art with with a writer friend over coffee, and he said, more or less, “Art just is, don’t worry about whether it’s important or not. Birds sing, people paint and write and make art. We are creatures who make art, so don’t spend time humming about why that is important.” I agree, though I think Art is important for specific reasons (another post sometime) … but the relevant thing is that humans like to create, we derive benefits from creating, and we like to share our creations with the world. Anyone who has built something, anything–a bookcase, a great script to track who’s bookmarking urls in del.icio.us, a newly landscaped garden, or a novel–can attest to the pleasure not just in looking at one’s own work, but having a close friend admire it as well. Strangers are even better.

Blogging is particularly important because it allows, and encourages, anyone–as long as they have access to technology, never guaranteed–to easily transform bits of their lives into Art which they can share with others, a life-affirming sort of thing that Nietzsche might be happy about. Particularly since blogging by its nature tends to diffract the capital-T Truth that other forms of controlled media try to sell us. (The subject of a future post).

All this is just more rambling, except that it provides some context for a couple of specific projects I am developing, and I encourage any blogger to consider as well: working with groups of people who are often marginalized to help them find the pleasures, and the Nietzschean benefits of blogging, of finding Art in their lives, and finding an audience for their Art in blogging. More on these projects later.

Categories: technology, writing

how-to: mycomments feed myblog

As part of the evolution of the mycomment blogging discussions started by Mike L, here is a quick how-to post your comments on other blogs, back to your own site, using an rss feed of:

(scroll down on this page, in sidebar on the rt to see what that looks like, a dynamic blogroll of blogs you’re commenting on, and your comments).

There are probably more elegant ways to do this, but here’s how I did it:

-create del.icio.us tag mycomments
-whenever you comment on someone else’s blog, post it to del.icio.us and tag it mycomments … cut&paste a bit of it into “extended” field if you want some of the content to come up on your page in the rss feed you create
-to generate javascript of your rss feed goto rss-to-javascrip
-in the URL box put “http://del.icio.us/rss/YOURNAME/mycomments”
-if you want to show content, click “yes” to “show descriptions”
-generate javascript
-now post the script into your blog twemplate, in the sidebar section and voila, you have your comments elsewhere appearing on your own blog.

To refine the hack, you can tag all your comments mycomments, and the ones you want to post to your site mycomments + public.

Also, if you would like to help keep track of the spread of this tool, salp a commentblogger delicious tag on any blogs (including your own) that do this.

also props must go out to fling93 for being the first known species of mycomment poster found in the del.icio.us habitat.

free software, nozick, anarchy right & left

I have been thinking about Free Software as a uniquely successful anarchist project, and one which may well–through its success–have impacts beyond the tools we use on our computers.

By “anarchist” I mean of course the actual definition, rather than reference to black-masked Molotov-cocktail-throwers, namely: a project based on the voluntary cooperation of free individuals, without hierarchy or imposed authority.

What makes Free Software exciting is its ability to propagate itself: that is, if you intend to make use of Free Software, you must agree to play by the rules of Free Software. You may use it, change it, copy it and share it as you like… but whatever you do with it, you must provide to the world on the same terms. The rest of the world must be free to use, change, copy and share. This is the beauty of the GNU General Public License. The ideal of the Free Software (anarchist) project is spread each time it is used.

One of my most infuriating reads as an undergrad was Robert Nozick. His 1974 philosophical text, Anarchy, State and Utopia underpins much of the right-wing movement of the past 30 years, along with work by free-marketeering economist Milton Friedman and the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Nozick argued strenuously that redistribution of wealth (the basis of the welfare state) is fundamentally unjust: taxation and redistribution of wealth (through, for instance, social programs) is on par with forced slave labour. No one, he claimed, has the right to take from a person goods which they have acquired or produced justly through their own work.

Nozick’s main premise is that justice can be defined through three actions:

1. how things not previously possessed by anyone may be acquired;
2. how possession may be transferred from one person to another; and
3. what must be done to rectify injustices arising from violations of (1) and (2).

His argument is that as long as 1 happens justly, 2 can only be achieved justly if the owner agrees – so no forced redistribution can be just.

I was looking over some of Nozick’s work (not much is available online, by the way) for other purposes, but was struck by how pleased Nozick would have been (I think) to see the Free Software movement emerge. While I have been interested in FS mainly for reasons from the left (an alternate way of organizing innovation and collaboration, outside of the traditional commercial framework), I realized that the FS movement is classic Nozick in its definition, and provides a true, real-life “test” of the justice principle. (This is often a failing in political philosophies of distribution, since in many require thought experiments to “test” a moral hypothesis, such as Hobbes‘ imagining the “social contract” development, one must to postulate a time before any civic rigths and resposibilities existed, and see what reasonable ageements may have been made).

In any case, FS offers a starting point to watch as a free system, based on a set of ethical principles, develops in real-time. Ownership here is completely redefined, through the GPL, and one can only claim ownership of free software if one relinquishes the traditional rights associated with that ownership. No government is needed to redistribute, since FS ingeniously makes redistribution a necessary condition of any FS transaction between two “agents”: the commons, which “owns” in a sense Free Software, and someone who wants to use and or modify the FS. That is, if you wish to use FS to build something new, whatever you build, you must allow to be redistributed freely in the same way the original FS was.

Here is a commons that is unlimited, and so far looks to be very far from tragedy. The thing to watch is how nervous the big corporations get, and how our apparent freed trade-loving governments move when it becomes clear that the world of proprietary software is feeling real pressure from the proliferation of FS.

So proponents of FS must be vigilant to watch what our governments are doing to find unjust ways of limiting the growth of this most innovative, and so far enromously successful, social and technological experiment.

intellectual property, free software & the new revolution

This is the start of my thoughts on copyrigh/left, IP and free software.

My pal devlin who works on biotech/agriculture IP issues, sent me a Globe and Mail story about Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy. M$ of course is leading the charge, worried about pirate copies of Window XP funding terrorism (etc.).

My response was: “Rats scurrying on a sinking ship.”

To which Devlin, the consumate marxist, replied that one would have thought the same about corrupt capitalists in the 20th Century but look how well they’ve done. My answer to that, which is the seed to a longer (planned) article, was:

The difference is that in the beginning of the 20th C, capital was concerened mainly with producing objects (you can include food in there), and in the end the capitalist system is very rational (except that it is incompatible with physical limits of the world/environment): the objective is to make enough people rich enough to want to preserve the system. In that way, organized labour was a useful tool to keep the system going, because it ensured that enough people were content with the system. That’s why people didn’t rebel (draconian laws and police-state tactics were used in US & Canada in the teens and 20s, but it was New Deal policies that saved capitalism from itself). For the most part, for the majority of people the system seemed to give them a life comfortable enough not to rise up & overthrow the Man.

But back to the question, 20th C capitalism, and its laws, governed things which cost money for good reason: You need to produce raw materials, transport them, reshape them, and sell them again. At each stage there is work that needs to be done, and most agree that that work should be rewarded; furthere there is a built-in mechanism to keep it functioning that way — if someone fails to get paid somewhere in the line, then the system breaks down.

IP is a different kettle of fish. Music companies want to get paid for things they don’t have to do anymore (because of technology): distribution. And software companies want to protect monoplolies on their software, but what they can’t fight is BETTER, free software. Windows controls the market now because they cornered the distribion market early on, and they produced products that became the standard, and tho people complained, there was no real reason to fight it cause the other products weren’t necessarily much better (wordperfect was just as annoying as M$ word). But now it turns out that there are better opensource operating systems (GNU/Linux), and better opensource office software (openoffice.org) and better email clients and browsers (thunderbird and firefox), plus all sorts of amazing new technologies that are making the power of the internet open to all in ways it never was (wiki, blogging, collaborative bookmarking del.icio.us, php, etc.). As time goes on the tools will become more powerful and more and more accessible to the average joe.

So for the majority of work people do, there are better technologies available, free, and developed in a collaborative open format, easily available to anyone with an internet connection. How do you fight against that? Boo hoo that there are pirated versions of Wiindows XP everywhere. The product is shit, and soon there will be just as many computers with GNU/Linux instead. why priate a crappy product when a free version of a better product is available?

the beauty of the hacker culture is that it is: 1. egalitarian (quality of work is arbiter), 2. collaborative (the idea of sharing is wide-spread) 3. anti-establishment (coonstraints on 1 & 2 are viewed with hostility), and 4. superior in product to other modalities.

as for music & movies, I think as the “means of production” become cheaper and more accessible, and same with means of distribution (internet radio taking place of blogs) no one will cry if britney spears’ albums cost $50 while many new innovative bands take new approaches to making a living. again boo hoo if Sony and U2 sue everyone in sight, I think more and more people will turn to creative commons approaches to art & its distribution, and just cut out the cob-webby middle men, who do nothing but cut out a huge slice of pie, now doing an irrelevant thing: marketing stars. If the new system is separated and parallel to the Hollywood productions of Pearl Harbour and Master and Commander, well so much the better for the people who chose the other route. If people want to pay lots of money for crap that’s their perogative, but we are coming to a time when art and culture will be disseminated free by people who think that ideas should belong to the people, not the corporations that own the rights.

This means, in my view, that these companies (M$, Sony-Universal, MegaArtProduct Inc and Mega Software Giant Inc) are fighting irrelevancy, because the means of production are being put into the hands of the collective masses, and the means of free distribution already exists.

This is the kernel of the story I am planning to write on Free Software and the coming anarchist technolution.


I don’t see IP as a different kettle of fish. I don’t think capitalism has survived because it is the most efficient system or because it has distributed the world’s resources in a fair way. Look at the world– would you say that there are enough people living comfortably from capitalism? Most people are surviving despite capitalism not because of it. It was a very small minority from the working class that was able to secure some comfort for itself and this is and will always be precarious for that minority– and for the world since the model is entirely unsustainable.

Capitalism began with a brutal enclosure of the commons and the brutal destruction of alternative economic systems and cultures. There is no reason to believe that these alternative systems could not have developed to be much more comfortable for a much larger number of people than what capitalism has offered. Just look at the industrialisation of agriculture, which is still progressing and which therefore gives us a clearer sense of how things could have evolved much differently.

Capitalism has never been about “free markets” or about rewarding work. Sure there are elements of both, but this is not its essence and there could easily be more of both in other systems. Capitalism is fundamentally about property rights (ever expanding privatisation) and accumulation (ever expanding commodification). Capitalists are always trying to make more profit while doing less. This is the whole point of owning or monopolising the means of productiuon– it allows you to exploit labour (and nature) as much as possible. IPRs are a means to expand commodification and privatisation– whether its seeds, software or music.

David Harvey, in his book New Imperialism (which you really must read), explains how capitalism has really always functioned by way of accumulation by dispossession. With the system now in a crisis (that got going in the 1970s) capital will look for more ways to accumulate (i.e. Make profit) by increasingly dispossessing people of any non-capitalist forms of wealth.

I think it is very dangerous for the potential movement to try and separate what’s happening today from the more general exploitation that capitalism has wrought and continues to wreak on people everywhere (but particularly in the South). Look at the struggles of indigenous peoples. Look at the struggles of peasants. These are long-standing struggles by people against the imposition of a capitalist model that is not defeating them because it offers something better. So, while I think it is very important to foster and encourage the hacker/free software movement, I think that it is very important to see how this struggle is intimately connected to other struggles.


IP is a differenet kettle of fish in that it represents commodification, and privatization, of limitless and non-tangible “goods,” ideas. This compares with commodification of tangible “goods” such as land, sheep, oil and monkey wrenches. More on this distinction in a moment.

You are right on many points about capitalism, its approach to alternatives, and especially the North/South dichotomy, which I skirted on purpose… I am talking about mature capitalism in say North Amercia, but yes there is brutal (armed) maintenance of exploitative relationships between North and South, but this is acheived (more or less consciously) with the support of a relatively comfortable western population. while there is poverty here, most people think the system is “fair” in that the majority of people think they have access to affluence, at least enough to keep them from rising up. This does not discount the extereme poverty, and repression, of certain populations here (first nations, for example, and to a large degree the black population in the US). But generally people are happy with the system (as they imagine it). But things ARE changing (mostly for the worse not better).

Also I realize that the economist’s view of capitalism (free markets and managed employment stats) have nothing to do with the real tools used, but the concepts are not empty. Capitalism, or rather commerce, is generally a decent way to exchange goods and services; the problem is abuse of the system (which is inherent in the system itself). Yes it tends to monopoly and control and brutality, in order to maintain its unsustainable aims: constant increasing profits.

And YES the free software movement should see itself in the context of other struggles. Certainly. And, we need to put these different movements together (alternative software, alternative agriculture, alternative commerce, alternative art … need alternative energy and we’ll be all set).

The difference between IP and traditional goods is the cost of production and the means of distribution. A monopoly capitalist can control all the pineapples by buying all the orchards. But he can’t control all the ideas of the hungry pineappleless people. Writers do not need publishers to decide what to publish, musicians do not need Sony to package and sell their discs.

What I see is a ballooning movement, which is in fact held together by the success of the free-software movement, and the potential it provides for open inforamtion exchange, open exchange of goods and services OUTSIDE the mainstream. For instance: Knowledge is controlled to a certain extent by universities. why? because you had to go there to hear professors speak on a topic. were they the best speakers? the smartest people? prob not… but what if you had access to the smartest speakers on a topic, over the web? access to all thieir books free over the web? access to textbooks etc. (see wikibooks.org to imagine how it might be possible). Ditto with radio waves. Enter internet radio (yes they are getting hammered by royalty fees, but what if 5%, 10%, 50% of musicians start publishing their music on their own, outside of Sony?).

Anyway there is much work to do, and unifying these movements (say labour(?) free software, agriculture, culture, energy) is the grand anarchist project of the future, and one that to me, for the first time, seems possible due to advances, and the incredible SUCCESS of free software.