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Saturday, May 10, 2003

Environmentalists = Terrorists: The New Math

From Tom

Have you ever signed a petition in support of an environmental or animal-rights issue? Do you belong to the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or Greenpeace? Have you publicly protested some environmental or animal rights outrage? If legislation crafted and promoted by the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) becomes law, these fundamental rights of American citizenship could become illegal.

Exploiting the current political climate against terrorism, ALEC has teamed up with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a pro-hunting group, to create a model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act." The legislation is part of an intense backlash against increasingly effective and vocal citizen campaigns aimed at halting -- and holding corporations accountable for -- environmental, animal-rights and public health abuses.

Forging this kind of marriage to produce anti-progressive legislation is old hat to ALEC, now in its thirtieth year of policy bending. With an annual budget of nearly $6 million, ALEC's funders read like a Who's Who of the right, and include organizations like the National Rifle Association, Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation. It counts conservative activists and politicians such as Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde among its alumni. Enron, Phillip Morris (now Altria) and several oil companies rank among ALEC's corporate sponsors. And to bring the loop full-circle, ALEC boasts 2,400 state lawmakers representing all 50 states among its current members.

Posted by Richard
5/10/2003 12:10:16 PM | PermaLink

Ecuadoreans File Suit Over Oil Cleanup

My sense is that this suit is going to get thrown out of court for legal reasons. But the damage done to this (and many other communities in the region) by large oil players like ChevronTexaco is simply terrible. I have seen videos of local indigenous populations walking through toxic petroleum sludge, forests destroyed, rivers and streams entirely polluted. The media needs to pick this story up to honor what these Ecuadorian activists are attempting to bring home to the U.S. -- that they are being crushed beneath the wheel of American corporate might. It is probably their best hope at achieving any mitigation of their circumstances...
From: The Guardian:

American lawyers representing poor Ecuadoreans who say their rainforest homeland was heavily damaged by oil drilling have filed suit, demanding that the company finance a major cleanup. The attorneys said they want California-based ChevronTexaco to clean up pollution that they allege has poisoned drinking water and led to higher rates of disease. Cristobal Bonifaz, who filed the suit Wednesday, said the action means that ChevronTexaco will be ``subjected to the laws of a small community.''  The cleanup and medical monitoring costs for the 30,000 Ecuadoreans the lawyers represent could exceed $1 billion, said Bonifaz, an Ecuadorean-born environmental lawyer who practices in Amherst, Mass.

Posted by Richard
5/10/2003 11:52:09 AM | PermaLink

Typing Monkeys Don't Write Shakespeare

The following article sent to me is too precious for demonstrating the stupidity of academic researchers. What do they think this experiment would possibly produce or mean? -- besides some media attention and a good laugh for those who believe animals to be more little more than instinctual machines. Of course, the main point here is not whether primates can type Shakespeare -- or even use a keyboard -- it has been proven that monkeys are highly educatable and capable over time of mastering a great many feats that humans prize as requiring intelligence...for that matter, there is hardly an animal known that can not meet humanity half way over time and begin to take on "human" characteristics and behaviors -- this has been demonstrated in animals as large as elephants and even as small as flatworms. But much more importantly, the question is why would anyone (especially in the academy) conflate humanity with intelligence -- what narcissism! No, a better experiment would have been the sort carried out by women like Jane Goodall or Diane Fossey, in which chimps and gorillas were engaged with the question more like "How does your intelligence manifest?" In this sense, then, there is the presumption of intelligence -- of a different kind and order than human intelligence...which doesn't make it less, it makes it "not ours" (perhaps). Thus, as I wrote to the friend who sent this to me, I would like to see the monkeys give these academics a test at swinging, jumping and flying gracefully through the tippy-top of the rain forest canopy and see how they do. I bet the monkeys would have a lot of fun watching the scientists demonstrate their intellectual superiority then...
From the AP:
Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, the theory goes, and they will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.

Give six monkeys one computer for a month, and they will make a mess.

Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported this week that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word.

"They pressed a lot of S's," researcher Mike Phillips said Friday. "Obviously, English isn't their first language."

In a project intended more as performance art than scientific experiment, faculty and students in the university's media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques.

Then, they waited.

At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it.

"Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard," added Phillips, who runs the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies.

Eventually, monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in.

The notion that monkeys typing at random will eventually produce literature is often attributed to Thomas Huxley, a 19th-century scientist who supported Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. Mathematicians have also used it to illustrate concepts of chance.

The Plymouth experiment was funded by England's Arts Council and part of the Vivaria Project, which plans to install computers in zoos across Europe to study differences between animal and artificial life.

Phillips said the results showed that monkeys "are not random generators. They're more complex than that.

"They were quite interested in the screen, and they saw that when they typed a letter, something happened. There was a level of intention there."

The monkeys' output:

Posted by Richard
5/10/2003 11:12:30 AM | PermaLink

Friday, May 09, 2003

Bhopal: Holding Corporate Terrorists Accountable

The Union Carbide disaster counts amongst one of the great recent ecological blights upon both Indian culture and nature. Never effectively accounted for, courts and governments bought off by corporate dollars w/ a few execs hung out to dry as scapegoats, the "environmental injustice" of Union is legacy. Then, in comes Dow corp. -- one of the great Greenwashers of all time -- who buys up the plant, absolves itself of any legalities (that would have to be placed upon Union), and starts up business as usual. Faced with inaction on all sides, now an heroic fast to stop the madness has begun...

From: Alternet
At press time, 72 people are signed up to fast in solidarity with the people of Bhopal. To learn more about this disaster and to support them, visit]  At noon on May 1, two Indian women, watched by a crowd of sympathizers, seated themselves on the sidewalk under the bull statue on Wall Street to begin "a fast unto death." Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi Shukla are survivors of what the people of Bhopal still refer to as "that night." On 3rd December 1984, poison gas leaked from a Union Carbide factory, killing thousands. How many people, no one knows. Carbide says 3,800. Municipal workers who picked up bodies with their own hands, loading them onto trucks for burial in mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres, reckon they shifted at least 15,000 bodies. Survivors, basing their estimates on the number of shrouds sold in the city, conservatively claim about 8,000 died in the first week. Such body counts become meaningless when you know that the dying has never stopped.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia: End of a Killer Chemical
Making Cambodia a safer place with an endosulfan ban - Environmentalists welcome the timely ban of endosulfan in Cambodia. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) applauds the Royal Government of Cambodia's decision to ban the chemical. Endosulfan is a highly dangerous pesticide, which has caused dozens of accidental deaths in Colombia, Cuba, the USA, Benin, India, Malaysia, Sudan, the Philippines and, most recently, South Africa.
And in the UN: UN Draft on Corporations and Human Rights
The latest text of the United Nations "Draft Norms on Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations & Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights" [Apr. 2003 text, to be considered by UN Sub-Commission July-Aug. 2003] (Working Group on the Working Methods and Activities of Transnational Corporations, U.N. Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Apr. 2003)
Finally, see this informative page from America's own EPA on how all this applies domestically as well as in the Third World, and about your Right to Know (which has been severely limited post-9/11) what companies are using what chemicals, etc., in your backyard and the risks associated with such.

Posted by Richard
5/09/2003 09:27:01 AM | PermaLink

Ecological Consequences of Globalization's Fist

Decent small essay here calling for a new social vision that is anti-global capitalist and militarist imperialism, which entails a utopian reimagining of the social possibilites -- new cultures, new modes of exchange, new ways of valuing life and death. I can name this tune in zero notes:
...A very significant number of citizens now know and recognize that the industrial economic age based on fossil fuels is drawing to a close. While a dominant shift in political economic world view seems at times within reach, the world has nevertheless fallen into an unfortunate and dangerous situation; a situation where billions of taxpayers' dollars, from a small coalition of Western Nations, are funding military operations seeking to gain control over the remaining fossil fuel reserves.  They are doing so in order to extend a way of life based on an unsustainable globalized growth economy, indeed empire, that is destroying the planet and millions of 'excluded' peoples at an unprecedented pace with predictable catastrophic consequences as dire as possible ecological meltdown.

The irony is that the military forces of the new global American empire are contributing in no small way to the destruction of the earth with their global reach and invasive footprint as they massively overconsume and utilize the same fossil fuel resources they are seeking to control for as long as they last...

Posted by Richard
5/09/2003 09:05:24 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Navy Sonar Incident Alarms Experts & Whales

Yet another incident with Navy sonar harming underwater life -- this time the sonar was so loud that it was audible ABOVE sea-level -- and the only people I'm so far finding covering the story (besides activist networks) is the Bremerton Sun in Washington State.

The irresponsible use of increasingly more-powerful and penetrating U.S. Naval sonars has been a major topic of discussion for the last year -- with the NRDC pushing hard for a ban, then a seeming (controversial) truce at one point, but then steps to ban any limitations have been recently dragged out again as a major theme in the "Operation End Extremism" program that the right-wing is attempting to roll through Congress, thereby granting the military complete freedom from existing or necessary environmental protections.

Here is a recent chronology of the use of naval sonar and the attempt to check it:
Sonar OK'd for Naval Use (7/18/02)
Sounding the Depths (8/6/02)
Whales Strand Themselves During NATO Exercises (10/1/02)
Help Stop Naval Sonar From Killing Whales and Destroying the Oceans (10/24/02)
US Naval Sonar System Blocked by Federal Court (11/1/02)
Navy to Limit Sonar Testing Thought to Hurt Sea Mammals (11/17/02)
It's Back: Controversial Navy Sonar Cleared for Limited Testing (11/19/02)
Dozens of porpoises and killer whales seemed to stampede all at once Monday in response to a loud electronic noise echoing through the San Juan Islands.

The noise, apparently sonar from the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup, was reported to be so loud that whale-watchers could hear it pinging through the hulls of their boats several miles away.

Ken Balcomb, longtime orca researcher in the San Juans, said the sonar appears to be the same type that killed seven beaked whales in the Bahamas in spring 2000.

No deaths or injuries of marine mammals were reported Monday, but experts said it would be difficult to measure the injury. If the animals' hearing was damaged, for example, it would be more difficult for them to hunt and navigate, because they rely on echo-location.

J Pod, a familiar group of orcas in Puget Sound, was so agitated by the noise Monday that the group split into two, some going north and others going south, Balcomb said.

"We saw a minke whale that appeared to be fleeing the area at a high speed," he said.

Other observers saw as many as 100 porpoises leaping through the water at high speed in an apparent attempt to get away.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Karen Sellers of Naval Sea Systems Command confirmed that the 511-foot USS Shoup was using its sonar as it passed the San Juan Islands going to the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range in Canada.

The operation was not believed to be in violation of Navy policy, she said, but Navy officials are investigating.

Read the entire article.

By Christopher Dunagan, Bremerton Sun

Posted by Richard
5/08/2003 08:48:54 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

When the Army Owns the Weather

This is an Alternet story from February of last year that I am seeing getting some replay in activist networks now. I posted two excellent pieces about it -- Project HAARP -- last August: Washington's New World Order Weapons Have the Ability to Trigger Climate Change by Prof. Michael Chossudovsky and US HAARP Weapon Development Concerns Russian Duma. I then had this to say:
I am posting two articles today dealing with a secret military program that is in the works for testing in a region near you (the sky). No, I'm not talking about white chem-trails streaking across from horizon to horizon -- that's merely the tip of the iceberg compared with the information that has been coming in to me lately. Apparently, the U.S. military is attempting to create space weaponry of a kind previously unknown -- weapons that would affect the near-Earth medium of the upper ionosphere for affecting the weather (!), electronic and computer networks, and any other system that is in relation to that which the military will attempt to affect. Of course, like the Manhattan Experiment before it and perhaps like cloning and related scientific ventures today, our ability to create scientific manipulations of the environment far outstretches our ability to comprehend the possible side-effects and consequences. Much of this is being learned and policy devised as the experiments unfold.

Needless to say, then, I am (and people should be) gravely concerned about the level and types of experimentation being done by the military-industrial complex during this time of warfare. In the name of protection, devices have been and will be developed that do not belong on the Earth as we now know it. This has been the lesson handed down from on high, tragically, and the history of weaponry and military experiment is unthinkably insane. From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the Persian Gulf disaster, from the bombs of radiological material dispersed throughout Kosovo to the deployment of Agent Orange throughout the jungles of South Asia, from the chemical war that has become a common place amongst ground troops of all nations to the mutant biological agents like Smallpox and Anthrax, the world is being exposed to a dangerous level of monstrous invention under the guise of necessity.

However, these tenuous lines, once crossed are not easily reversed. People have the right to know about such measures as they are being planned, devised, and implemented. Anything less is not only anti-democratic, but it is inhuman. As the lives of beings everywhere become jeopardized and the energy of the planet is itself harnassed to unknown ends, should the people not have a right to discuss, debate, and cast the final opinion on whether such activities are helpful, necessary, or safe?

Posted by Richard
5/07/2003 09:38:51 PM | PermaLink

Climate Change Central

The following is out of Alberta province -- there are a couple good pieces on how Calgary and another township are using a new variety of light bulb to reduce light emissions from street lights, thus cutting down on city glare, carbon dioxide, and energy costs by the millions of dollars. So far, many residents are happy to have their night sky back, but others are more cautious and worried about crime. The newsletter article reveals that so far there has not been an increase in crime for the area and that as educational programs about the benefits of the new lighting scheme, fears about crime will become steadily lessened:
The seventh issue of C3 Views, a Climate Change Central newsletter, is now available. This issue features a discussion on energy efficient solutions that have been implemented by Alberta's innovators. Entitled "Alberta's Municipalities Find Energy Efficient Solutions" this C3 Views issue highlights the following stories:

1. Innovators Share Their Successes and Inspire Others
2. Calgary Traffic Signal Change Gets the Green Light
3. Calgary Lights the Way
4. Frugal Wetaskiwin Saves Energy and Money
5. Cochrane Saves Its Nighttime Skies
6. Alberta's Doing What's Right For the Environment
7. Sylvan Lake Taps the Earth to Heat Swimming Pool
8. Ground-Source Heat Pumps - How the Technology Works
9. Barrhead Arena Gets Heat From the Ground
10. Lethbridge Converts Sewage

Access this issue of C3 Views.

Posted by Richard
5/07/2003 08:52:15 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Why Ecocide Is 'Good News' for the GOP

Regular readers of this blog won't be shocked to find that the neocons in office right now are plotting a course of planetary ecocide. This article by Glenn Scherer summarizes the same, but it gets really good and shocking when the Christian fundamentalist connection is brought in, as this blurb with a reborn Ford Motor Company exec makes plain...can people's zeal and ignorance be classified as "terrorism," I wonder?:
Higher Power
Nevertheless, beyond all these more obvious anti-environmental motivations there lies a more deep-seated inspiration. Difficult as it may be to believe, many of the conservatives who have great influence in the Bush administration and now in Congress are governed by a Higher Power.

In his book "The Carbon Wars," Greenpeace activist Jeremy Leggett tells how he stumbled upon this otherworldly agenda. During the Kyoto climate change negotiations, Leggett candidly asked Ford Motor Company executive John Schiller how opponents of the pact could believe there is no problem with "a world of a billion cars intent on burning all the oil and gas available on the planet?" The executive asserted first that scientists get it wrong when they say fossil fuels have been sequestered underground for eons. The Earth, he said, is just 10,000, not 4.5 billion years old, the age widely accepted by scientists.

Then Schiller confidently declared, "You know, the more I look, the more it is just as it says in the Bible." The Book of Daniel, he told Leggett, predicts that increased earthly devastation will mark the "End Time" and return of Christ. Paradoxically, Leggett notes, many fundamentalists see dying coral reefs, melting ice caps and other environmental destruction not as an urgent call to action, but as God's will. In the religious right worldview, the wreck of the Earth can be seen as Good News!

Some true believers, interpreting biblical prophecy, are sure they will be saved from the horrific destruction brought by ecosystem collapse. They'll be raptured: rescued from Earth by God, who will then rain down seven ghastly years of misery on unbelieving humanity. Jesus' return will mark the Millennium, when the Lord restores the Earth to its green pristine condition, and the faithful enjoy a thousand years of peace and prosperity.

Posted by Richard
5/06/2003 12:10:51 PM | PermaLink

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Passes Dissection Alternatives Policy

Thank you Chancellor Cantor for your wise and progressive decision. Now if we could only get UI to change its feelings about Indian mascots...
May 5, 2003:  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Senate voted today to adopt a dissection alternatives policy, the first of its kind at a major US university. The policy marks the climax of a two-year student campaign and represents a compromise between student and faculty interests.

Among the policy's provisions, general education courses that require students to engage in animal dissection must make alternatives available to all students who request them.  For other courses, instructors are required to notify students of the availability of alternatives at the time of registration.  Students who believe they have been unfairly denied an alternative may appeal under UIUC's "Grievance Procedures in Matters of Religious Beliefs, Observances, and Practices."

The policy was championed by a coalition of religious, political and animal protection groups. They argued that conscientious objectors to classroom dissection are protected under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment from being forced to harm or kill animals in their public university education.

Some faculty opposed the measure, claiming that animal methods are necessary and that any attempt to constrain classroom practices constitutes a violation of academic freedom. Proponents countered by citing over 60 peer-reviewed studies demonstrating the efficacy of dissection alternatives and arguing that traditionally, "academic freedom'" is the freedom instructors have in discussing whatever material they feel appropriate, not in requiring students to take whatever actions the instructor feels appropriate.

Matt Berry,   (630) 772-7238
Vilas Dhar, Senate    (217) 721-1036

Posted by Richard
5/06/2003 08:18:21 AM | PermaLink

Suits and Nukes -- Nuclear Weapons: What's the Deal?

From Greenpeace:

As you may not have heard, the folks who signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are meeting this week in Geneva, Switzerland. They're scratching their heads over why the treaty has utterly failed to stop non-nuclear states from going nuclear (like India and Pakistan and Israel and Korea) as well as failing to force the nuclear-capable states to disarm.

When the NPT was agreed in 1968, there were approximately 38,000 weapons in the world. Today, there are approximately 30,000. What have these guys been doing for the last 35 years, playing poker?

Well, if so, we figured we had to adopt our communication methods to the audience. So instead of putting another 30 million people out on the streets worldwide to shout for peace, we made them a special deck of playing cards.

If cards are good enough for the US military to use to educate soldiers in how to spot bad guys, we figured they were good enough for us.

Our "most wanted" pack includes pictures of some real deal-welshers -- world leaders who promised to disarm and get rid of their weapons of mass destruction, but didn't do so. Leaders who never signed the treaty, and went off to pursue nuclear weapons on their own. And one leader whose country did sign the treaty, and then went off and developed nuclear weapons anyway.

We hope these pictures will help the delegates to the NPT spot the evil doers. If they need help finding the evidence, we also published a handy map with the known locations of plenty of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

To remind the delegates of just how big a job they've got to do, and to help them with their speeches, we've also included a set of easy-to-understand nuclear factoids, with our deck, one per card.

Cut the deck and play the game.

Posted by Richard
5/06/2003 07:34:55 AM | PermaLink

Monday, May 05, 2003

The Large Powerful Nature Conservancy

It's hardly a secret, except to budding (or non) environmentalists, that the Nature Conservancy is the BEOOC (Big Environmental Organization on Campus) -- campus in this case being the nation's capital. The last 10 years have seen the Conservancy double in size, as it continues its pragmatic approach to conservation -- teaming up with governments and corporations wherever possible to shelter costs, acquire land, and promote questionable improvements in industry behavior. Its critics have claimed that it is bloated and irresponsible: you don't make a deal with the devil, unless you're willing to go to hell. Its benefactors, on the other hand, speak "reality" and say that this is what is required to make an international impact on the conservation scene these days: you don't get heard on the Senate floor by just have good intentions.

The Washington Post has been running a series highlighting the darker side of the NC, but it contains interesting facts and figures worthy of just a casual glance as well. One always wonders when a big paper like the Post has a long-standing thing out for a group like the Conservancy, though. Just to show it isn't just the Washington Post that have it out for them, see two other jibes at the Nature Conservancy -- Vegan Blog posts from: March 2003 and August 2002.

On the positive side, the Conservancy's ubiquity and plethora of resources allows it to make fairly exhaustive studies of issues like Biodiversity -- as they did in this report: "Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States," (2000) by The Nature Conservancy and NatureServe, is available at:

Posted by Richard
5/05/2003 09:09:57 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Buffalo Roam at Their Own Peril

As spring advanced on the rolling hills of the northern range, park workers on horseback herded more than 200 bison into corrals near the massive stone arch that marks Yellowstone's original entrance.

While protesters recorded the roundup on video and law enforcement officials followed in squad cars with flashing lights, 61 bulls, 116 cows and 54 10-month-old calves were loaded into livestock trailers, trucked across the Yellowstone River past the motels and gas stations of the little tourist town of Gardiner, and hauled to slaughterhouses.

The National Park Service was executing its own icon, the brawny beast it helped save from oblivion, the one that is emblazoned on Park Service uniform badges.

At the same time that Yellowstone's buffalo herd is celebrated for its wildness and genetic purity, it is maligned by cattle ranchers as a disease-carrying threat to livestock grazing next to the park.

By Bettina Boxall
Full story at Los Angeles Times

Also see last year's Vegan Blog posting on this issue.

Posted by Richard
5/04/2003 01:11:39 PM | PermaLink

A Growing Ecological Disaster in Iraq...

There are more reports of nuclear anarchy in Iraq...

This link to an Al Jazeera interview w/ Dr. Hamid Al-Bahali, an expert in nuclear engineering and a graduate of the Moscow Institute of Nuclear Engineering, and Dr. Muhammad Zeidan, a biology expert and a graduate of Damascus and Baghdad Universities, serves to underscore the dangers surveyed by the above article. For while the US "isn't sure" if radiological materials are "missing" -- it seems quite clear from this interview w/ these scientists that Iraq is once again in the midst of a radioactive and bioterror catastrophe...radioactive dust born by the wind, toxic waste containers used as milk and water barrels, and nuclear flies released into the environment...all quite as plain as the smirk on George W. Bush's face.

Posted by Richard
5/04/2003 09:18:11 AM | PermaLink

Internet Regulation: More Orwellian Control or a Much Needed Palliative for Technocapital Abuses?

On BlogLeft: TheScuIsCurious asked the following question to a story promoting Virginia's prosecution of Internet "spammers":

Why exactly do we want to have the government regulating any aspect of the internet?

Here is my answer to TheScu:
Why -- considering the amount of invasive and overly-protective measures enacted by gov't re: the Net -- would we want any aspect of the internet regulated? It's a good question, and open for debate...

While I am not personally swayed in favor of content regulations -- even when such content is clearly illegal, immoral, or generally offensive -- at this time I find it inconceivable for internet enthusiasts not to support gov'ts in the attempt to provide structural regulations. The libertarian attitude -- that runs so deep in net ethos and mythos -- may have positively contributed to some small degree of resurgent anarchism and counter-culture, but it has also contributed (mostly I would argue) to unfettered corporate tech neoliberals and a highly unsavory "tech" craze during the late '90s that was not only immature but downright selfish, hedonist, and unthinkingly oppressive.

Those involved in the fight for Internet liberation -- getting it out of the hands of big capital and back into the hands of knowledgeable communities who can use and develop it wisely and in a sustainable and democratic manner -- might rethink their positions about involving gov't regulation in their schemata of the future. The lone peripheral jockey, or virtual high-plains drifter, metaphors created a lot of cultural enthusiasm and American development -- frontier ideology has a way of doing that to Americans (see my essay: How the West Was One: The Role of the American Frontier in the Global Internet Imaginary-- but they also contributed to the unchecked growth of technocapital and the cyperpunk implosion of the corporate into the state and the national into the transnational.

The Net right now faces some major progressive problems at the structural level -- digital divide is rampant, despite occasional reports otherwise. The fact is that even domestically, the Net divides along race and class lines and to a lesser degree gender, but there also. This isn't just about the level of the "user," but must take into account the level of the producer as well. At this point, the divide on race, class, gender is total and seemingly unbreachable. This is just domestically. When we extrapolate this into the global arena -- which is the current plan by both American technocrats and the UN, under the guise of a World Sustainable Information Society -- the divide becomes ridiculously large. The liberal answer is -- as the UN proposes -- to develop the undeveloped so that they can "catch up" and get in on the digital equality. I don't have the space here now, but let me propose that there are at least reasons for being highly skeptical of this plan of action...

Another divide is what I'll call "environmental" -- which stands for the whole of the planet (our greatest indigent) -- and here again we find the Net is not a utopian answer to environmental problems but is in fact a great aggravator of such problems and a creator of entirely new divides in this regard as well. Yes, it is true that the Net has also helped to close some "species" divides -- it has promoted more efficient planning about endangered regions and animals, more knowledge and caring about non-local concerns, an ecological consciousness generally that ties the local to the global in dynamic relationship, and created the greatest avenue for environmental activism yet. It also could, in theory, do more -- people could use the Net to conserve paper, to get 100% recycled product for the paper they do use, to get specialty products and produce that is organic or sustainably-produced, etc. But the overall trajectory appears to be that indeed the Net is not now sustainable in these regards -- nor in a host of other ways either...including the amount of energy used, to the economic relationship to one's community, one's knowledge of what is required environmentally to build a computer and then "trash" it, etc.

Spam, while generally benign and not system-crashing or mind-perverting (though it does have pornographic varieties that can easily be sent into children's mailboxes), is a major problem as regards the "environmental" costs of the current internet. Overwhelmingly, the general public has decried "spam" as annoying, unnecessary, and unwanted. Regardless, its volume grows and grows and grows. The sheer numbers of it are staggering to behold. Yes, ISPs and mail software have begun implementing "spam blockers" -- this is the non-governmental answer apparently -- and so if a net consumer is wise, he/she can successfully set up his/her system so that within a week or two's time most spam is successfully deflected into the trash automatically and beyond the realm of conscious attention. But this does not affect the structural problem of the amount of energy and bandwidth eaten up by the billions of pieces of spam shot around the net's infrastructure daily. In fact, by creating one more thing that home systems have to do in order to function in a desirable way for net users, it increases the energy costs (ever so slightly by each person, but significantly when all are added together). Additionally, as bandwidth is clogged by spammers, connections slow, driving the need for speed higher as a commodity, which is then priced as such -- aggravating the digital divide along economic lines.

All this to say that one still might feel that gov't regulation is not to be trusted -- that it isn't really going to regulate the internet in an emancipatory fashion and that for every regulation that assists the underclasses of internetters generally, there will be two, three, or twenty more that support the overclasses to the detriment of all others. So, as I said, the question is up for debate. But I think the point can be made fairly in advance that the libertarian position of no gov't regulation is elitist and structurally hurtful. Further, to those who would fashion themselves hard-core anarchist net freaks, the question must be asked as to exactly how their anarchism functions with the Net. Does it simply function "on" the Net -- leaving the considerations of the infrastructure aside? If so, this is a superficial anarchism at best. Closer to true Net anarchism, I will contend, are hacktivists (and the like), who not only fight for and promote anarchistic modes of practice, but then practice those values in their very relationship to the technology proper -- developing the software, hardware, and social infrastructure towards a manner consistent with social ecological thinking.

Posted by Richard
5/04/2003 08:25:50 AM | PermaLink