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Spamalot / This post is just because I feel like it
« on: January 15, 2017, 11:32:02 PM »
and a very fine +1 to you, sirs

General Discussion / I just found out about the saddest casualty of 2016
« on: January 04, 2017, 05:33:23 PM » is gone

how do I got obscure music?


Jacobin says we did more harm than good

Thirty years ago the international development community was ecstatic. It had found the perfect market-affirming solution to poverty in developing countries: microcredit.

The popularizer of this new strategy — which consisted of providing small loans to the poor so they could launch self-employment ventures — was the US-trained Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who portrayed microcredit as a panacea that would rapidly create an unlimited number of jobs and eradicate endemic poverty.

Yunus’s project of “bringing capitalism down to the poor” quickly turned him into the go-to-guy for advice on how best to address global poverty. In 1983, flush with funding, especially from US aid agencies and private foundations, Yunus established his own “bank for the poor” — the now-iconic Grameen Bank. Soon, Grameen clones, financed by the international donor community, sprang up across the Global South.

The microcredit movement was born. USAID and the World Bank were particularly supportive of the model, not least because they could now promote self-help and individual entrepreneurship — key components of the neoliberal capitalism both organizations were aggressively pushing at the time — on the basis of them being antidotes to poverty.

Neoclassical economists like Jeffrey Sachs also favored the microcredit model because it seemed to validate their economic development perspective, which was constructed on a foundation of individual entrepreneurship and market interaction. Sachs envisioned microcredit as a way of helping the poor escape their poverty by climbing what he termed the “ladder of development.”

By the mid-2000s, the model was being described as the most effective anti-poverty and “bottom-up” development intervention of all time. With support from across the political spectrum, the UN named 2005 the “year of microcredit.”

Microcredit also became one the few development policies known to, and supported by, ordinary people worldwide — a feat facilitated by the high-profile celebrities who supported the global effort, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, Bono, Natalie Portman, and Matt Damon.

The movement reached its apotheosis in November 2006 at the Microcredit Summit in Halifax, Canada, an event that celebrated the progress to date while also extracting pledges from participants to ramp up the microcredit supply. With delegates bathing in the warm afterglow of the announcement some months earlier that Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank would share the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, there appeared to be nothing the model could not achieve.

Presenters argued that microcredit could positively impact health care, the environment, terrorism, and a whole host of other problems. Bernd Balkenhol, then head of the International Labour Organization’s Social Finance Unit, best encapsulated the movement zeitgeist when he described microcredit as “the strategy for poverty reduction par excellence.”

With ambitious expansion plans laid out, a future in which virtually every poor individual on the planet (especially women) could easily access microcredit appeared to be near. Also seemingly on the cusp of becoming reality were Yunus’s oft-repeated claims that microcredit would “eradicate poverty in a generation” and that our children would soon have to visit a “poverty museum” to see what all the fuss was about.

And then it all began to go horribly wrong.

The catalyst for the dramatic turn against microfinance was the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Mexico’s largest microcredit bank, Banco Compartamos, in 2007. Here ordinary people learned not of microcredit’s impressive successes in reducing poverty in Mexico — there was and still is absolutely no evidence of this — but of the spectacular level of profiteering by senior managers and outside investors.

Most working in the microcredit sector were stunned by the sheer avarice of those involved. But “the Compartamos scandal” soon proved to be the tip of the iceberg. When numerous other instances of personal enrichment and unscrupulous behavior surfaced, it became clear that the microcredit model had essentially been taken over by greedy entrepreneurs, aggressive private banks, and hard-nosed investors.

At the same time, the veracity of the reports justifying the microcredit concept was increasingly being called into question. The evidence was so weak, in fact, that one major government-financed study in the United Kingdom concluded that the entire microcredit movement had been “constructed upon foundations of sand.” After a number of spectacularly destructive “boom-to-bust” episodes in all of the countries and regions where microcredit had reached critical mass, the previously rock-solid belief that microcredit helped the poor rapidly crumbled.

In little more than thirty years, the microcredit concept has gone from being equated with Zorro, the mythical Mexican hero and friend of the poor and exploited, to being widely referred to as a zombie policy, a dead and rotten idea that nevertheless keeps rising from the grave. How did it come to this?

Heightening Immiseration

The modern microcredit movement’s central problem is that it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. Yunus believed that the poor, and especially women, could establish an informal microenterprise and then sell basic goods and services to other poor people in the community.

This assumption was applied even in the poorest communities, where the poor (by definition) struggle to afford the simple items and services conducive to their basic survival. But Yunus thought that as long as the destitute could produce something, they could sell it. As he later famously put it, a “Grameen-type credit program opens up the door for limitless self-employment, and it can effectively do it in a pocket of poverty amidst prosperity, or in a massive poverty situation.”

Unfortunately, Yunus had embraced a long-disproven fallacy known as Say’s law — the idea that supply creates its own demand. As the late economist Alice Amsden explained, the core problem in developing countries is not the supply of basic items, but the sheer lack of local demand (or purchasing power) required to pay for them. Even in the poorest communities, there are generally enough retail stores, street food outlets, basket makers for people to access — if they have the financial means to do so.

A local “demand constraint” underlies two of the main shortcomings associated with microcredit: displacement and exit. Displacement occurs when new jobs and incomes registered in one microcredit-supported enterprise are cancelled out by the decline in jobs and incomes in incumbent competitor microenterprises. Exit is the process whereby both new and existing microenterprises are forced to close, due to the additional supply of informal microenterprises operating in the same sector.

As David Storey, an expert on small business policy, points out, “the single most important fact to be borne in mind when implementing measures for smaller firms is the high death rate of such businesses.” The reality behind the microcredit hype is that the vast majority of those who took out a microloan to invest in some income-generating project ended up failing or else displacing other struggling informal microenterprises operating in the same sector.

Failure leads to personal over-indebtedness, the diversion of other income flows (remittances, pensions) into repaying the loan, the loss of family assets pledged as collateral (land, housing, vehicles), and humiliation, despair, and, in far too many cases, a descent into inescapable poverty.

Taken together, displacement and exit explain why the microcredit model brings little to no net increase in employment. In microcredit-saturated Bosnia, for example, all the early claims of massive job creation were transparently false because evaluators refused to take these issues into account.

Indeed, it is difficult to find any impact evaluations that factor in displacement and exit. In all too many cases, the desire to please the client — typically a microcredit partisan — has won out over any ethical or professional imperative to report reality.

Nonetheless, these obvious shortcomings also help explain why, as even longstanding supporters now acknowledge, there is no empirical evidence showing microcredit cuts poverty. As a rule, it simply boosts the rate of informal microenterprise entry, which is then followed by an equally high rate of displacement and exit, creating nothing more than an unproductive and wasteful local dynamic known as “churn” or “turbulence.”

As Mike Davis writes, artificially stimulating hyper-competition in developing countries’ local markets is not the way out of poverty and human suffering, but an increasingly ugly manifestation of it.

Another indication of the failure of microcredit is that in many developing countries, the poor no longer avail themselves of microloans for business ventures, knowing they will likely either struggle to make money, or else quickly fail. Instead, a growing number use microcredit to pay for much-needed consumption goods.

Borrowers hope to eventually repay the microloan, perhaps through some unexpected financial windfall or a rare spurt of business success. But in practice the poor increasingly take out larger and larger microloans — and very often more than one — simply to cover repayments due on previous microloans, a Ponzi-like dynamic referred to as “loan bicycling.” This in turn has helped push up individual over-indebtedness, which in a growing number of developing countries has reached staggering levels.

Too Many Entrepreneurs

An even more fundamental problem with microcredit stems from its role in securing a long-term “bottom-up” development trajectory. Aware that there’s scant proof that microcredit has a positive short-term effect, many advocates have started insisting we look to the long term — there, they insist, is where microcredit is most effective, supporting the entry and gradual proliferation of micro-entrepreneurs in places where they are desperately needed.

Africa is the most frequently cited example of a region held back by a shortage of entrepreneurs. The international development community, aided by a number of high-profile African economists like Dambisa Moyo, have been at pains to argue that microcredit is desperately needed to create an African entrepreneurial class that can serve as the vanguard of sustainable development.

This argument is almost entirely bogus. As development economist Ha-Joon Chang points out, Africa already has more individual entrepreneurs than perhaps any other place on the planet — and many more are being constantly produced thanks to rafts of new microcredit programs and because Africa’s commercial banks are shifting into microcredit operations.

This glut of micro-entrepreneurs actually hinders long-term development. By generating superfluous “buy cheap, sell dear” trading operations, microcredit effectively precludes the emergence of a more productive, industry-based, and growth-oriented local economic structure. And the intense competition brought on by waves of new informal microenterprises militates against organic growth by better-placed formal enterprises.

The case of South Africa is illustrative. The first post-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) government encouraged the expansion of microcredit and informal microenterprise sectors as an attempt to tackle poverty and unemployment among black South Africans. But the strategy proved disastrous for South Africa’s poor.

A microcredit-driven increase in informal microenterprises in the black townships and rural areas, combined with almost no additional effective demand (due in part to a World Bank austerity program and the ANC’s neoliberal economic policies), helped depress average incomes in the informal economy — around 11 percent annually in real terms from 1997–2003. The self-employment jobs created by the expansion of the informal sector were more than offset by the fall in average informal sector incomes. As a result, poverty spiked.

The microcredit movement thus did nothing more than help plunge large numbers of black South Africans into deeper over-indebtedness, poverty, and insecurity. Meanwhile, a tiny white South African elite has become extremely rich off of supplying microcredit. Not surprisingly, many in South Africa now consider microcredit as analogous to the US’s subprime mortgage crisis, but with even more disturbing overtones of race-based exploitation.

Consider too the situation in Latin America, where since the early 1990s an increasing number of dedicated microcredit institutions and “downscaling” commercial banks have massively expanded the supply of microcredit. The bottom-up, microenterprise-driven miracle that neoliberals like Hernando de Soto long promised is nowhere to be found.

Instead there is growing evidence that channeling Latin America’s scarce financial resources (savings and remittances) into ultra-low-productivity informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures, as well as into consumer loans, has contributed to the progressive destruction of the continent’s economic base.

This negative assessment was even shared by the mainstream Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which reported in 2010 that the market-driven proliferation of informal microenterprises and self-employment ventures was the principal cause of that continent’s twenty-year (1980–2000) descent into more acute poverty, inequality, and economic weakness. The IDB’s conclusion was unequivocal: “the overwhelming presence of small companies and self-employed workers is a sign of failure, not of success.”

The microcredit-induced expansion of the informal microenterprise sector in developing countries is not one of the solutions to endemic poverty, inequality, low productivity, and general under-development, but one of the chief causes.

Neoliberalizing Microcredit

The final problem with microcredit grew out of the model’s effective neoliberalization in the 1990s.

While Muhammad Yunus and Bangladesh are most commonly associated with microcredit, the model actually first emerged in 1960s Latin America as part of the US government’s attempts to quell anticapitalist social movements and resistance to American imperialism.

The hope was that if enough of the poor could be pacified through self-help and individual entrepreneurship, they would have no need for structural solutions to poverty like an active state, trade unions, welfare systems, or worst of all, socialism.

With the global neoliberal political project in ascendance, however, the microcredit paradigm came under intense pressure to conform to even-narrower operational confines.

Initially structured as NGOs and funded by external sources (by the international donor community, private foundations, or governments), such microcredit institutions were anathema to the new generation of neoliberal policymakers. So under the direction of USAID and the World Bank, the microcredit model was extensively neoliberalized — turned into a for-profit, private sector–driven business model operating according to supposedly ultra-efficient, Wall Street-style incentive structures overseen by “light touch” regulatory bodies.

Egged on by high-profile neoliberals like Maria Otero and Elizabeth Rhyne (both then at ACCION), and Marguerite Robinson (based at Harvard), the claim began to circulate that a “new world” of massive poverty reduction and “bottom-up” development had been midwifed.

However, the neoliberalization of microcredit only succeeded in adding a disastrous new twist to an already-unfolding catastrophe for the poor. Commercialization and deregulation directly, and quite predictably, caused spectacular levels of greed, profiteering, and corruption in the microcredit sector.

Many Western banks and funds opportunistically entered the microcredit business to enrich senior managers (through high salaries and bonuses) and shareholders (high dividends and capital appreciation). In Mexico, for example, even leading microcredit advocates now accept that the major banks and corporations that jumped into the industry all achieved remarkably high returns by pushing poor Mexican women into severe debt.

Then there are the high-profile individual entrepreneurs — often termed “social entrepreneurs” — who have become “microcredit millionaires.” Perhaps the most notorious example is Vikram Akula — former McKinsey consultant, self-described “poverty activist,” and, in 2006, one of Time magazine’s one hundred most influential people.

Akula set up his own microcredit institution and, using a wide variety of manipulative and unethical practices, became one of India’s richest individuals. He was also the leading figure of the “big six” microcredit institutions in India’s Andhra Pradesh state, whose collective greed and reckless growth strategies helped bring the entire microcredit sector to its knees in 2010.

Akula is only the most extreme example, though. Even the leaders of the main microcredit advocacy bodies have joined the feeding frenzy. Rupert Scofield, CEO of the US-based FINCA microcredit advocacy and investor body, rewarded himself in 2013 with a $711,000 paycheck. This at a non-profit body that, while tempering its usurious behavior after increased scrutiny, still charges poor clients interest rates that regularly approach 100 percent.

As Philip Mader documents, the most pronounced dynamic at work in the microcredit industry over the past two decades has been the extraction of a huge amount of money from the poor, in the form of interest payments first passed back to microcredit institutions and then onto investors in developed countries. The global microcredit movement has provided nothing more than a new and, importantly, socially validated mechanism through which financial elites can extract resources from the poor.

To make matters worse, market-driven microcredit is associated with depressingly regular crises and “microcredit meltdowns,” as well as the social and economic chaos that comes from heightened over-indebtedness.

Beginning with a “microcredit meltdown” in Bolivia in 1999 — an event dismissed at the time as a “one-off”— the rot really began in 2009 when microcredit crises broke out in Bosnia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and Morocco. Bangladesh’s much-vaunted, but massively saturated, microcredit sector only survived its own meltdown in 2009–2010 after behind-the-scenes pressure was exerted on leading individuals and institutions to abandon their breakneck growth strategies and share the market.

Today, many more countries are on the verge of a “microcredit meltdown,” including Mexico, Peru, Cambodia, and, just five years after its unprecedentedly large convulsion, India.

The Sobering Reality

Despite its manifest unworkability, if not its full-blooded destructiveness to long-term development aims and sustainable poverty reduction, the microcredit model remains an icon within the international development community.

Indeed, faced with the collapse of the model under the weight of its own contradictions and failures, the World Bank is undeterred. It remains so enamored of microcredit that it recently began a deeply cynical rescue mission by reclassifying it under an almost entirely fake new agenda — “financial inclusion.”

Under this plan, the extension of microcredit is no longer enough. To be fully included in the financial system — and to supposedly create the conditions for poverty eradication — the global poor urgently need access to micro-savings, micro-insurance, and micro-leasing, as well.

The breathtaking weakness, complete lack of evidence, and obvious cynicism of this new agenda has not stopped it from becoming the new “best practice” in local finance, and infused it with the same passion and commitment that animated the microcredit movement. Predictably, it has already spawned its own set of Yunus-like “faith healers,” like Jeffrey Ashe — the one-time microcredit pioneer who admitted the error of his ways but has now been reborn to lead what he calls “the micro-savings revolution.”

Why is such nonsense and deception tolerated? What is it about microcredit that allows it, despite decades of failure, to be simply rebranded so it can continue to undermine sustainable development and harm the global poor?

The Ideology of Microcredit

The most immediate reason is that microcredit is extremely profitable.

As the case of Banco Compartamos first highlighted — and later confirmed, when in 2013 it paid out €154 million in dividends to its investors — it is possible for external investors to make enormous returns in the microcredit sector. Private commercial banks began to both lend to, and invest in, many of the largest microcredit institutions, and they have reaped spectacular rewards by charging extremely high interest rates.

In Cambodia, for example, the largest and most profitable bank, ACLEDA, which is also a microcredit bank, had investment houses falling over themselves in 2009 when it offered a share of its equity (the business conglomerate Jardine-Matheson Group won out, taking a 12.25 percent stake).

Microfinance’s high “risk-adjusted profitability” also explains why Wall Street’s hedge funds have been moving into the sector since the early 2000s, particularly in countries like India.

With so much relatively easy money on offer to savvy investors, and with the CEOs of the leading microfinance institutions now willing and able to grab a significant share of the profit themselves in the form of huge salaries and bonuses, there’s an obvious incentive to pressure the international development community to keep backing the programs.

This explains the vast resources expended by commercial banks, venture capitalists, hedge funds, and other would-be investors on promoting the microfinance industry. Even high-profile web discussion blogs are now sponsored by the financial sector (for example, the Guardian runs a financial inclusion blog sponsored by Visa).

But profitability is just one half of the explanation for the microcredit model’s widespread support among policymakers, politicians, and ordinary people. The issue of ideology is also central.

Microcredit is supremely attractive to the neoliberal development community and neoliberal politicians. Within these circles criticism of microcredit and the central role that individual entrepreneurship supposedly plays in the development process is simply not tolerated. Instead it is aggressively rebuffed, because such skepticism is, in essence, skepticism of capitalism itself.

This is the reason for the huge PR effort currently being mounted by the World Bank and others — and backed up by a range of like-minded politicians, foundations, and high-profile NGOs in the US and elsewhere — in support of “financial inclusion.” As Mader and Sabrow demonstrate, one of the financial inclusion project’s central goals is to physically rescue high-profile microcredit institutions from (deserved) obsolescence and closure.

The financial inclusion agenda is primarily designed to create the appearance that individual entrepreneurship works as the neoclassical textbooks tell us it does, stifling discussions of left alternatives in developing countries. If this sounds cynical, it is the only sensible interpretation considering the gross misrepresentation of data, the extensive use of cherry-picked case studies, and the muffling of all critical viewpoints that currently characterizes financial inclusion boosterism.

Of course, many well-meaning people and institutions recognize that poverty is not being wiped out, and they genuinely want to do something about it. Donating to a microcredit institution is seen as a simple, effective way to address the persisting scourge.

But by the same token, microcredit validates the belief in the supposed power of US-style individual entrepreneurship and free markets to eradicate poverty. Poor people just need to be entrepreneurs and they will escape immiseration — they don’t need to organize, demonstrate, strike, form a leftist political party, or agitate for radical, structural remedies to their impoverishment.

By mobilizing funds to support micro-lending programs in developing countries, microcredit acts as the perfect medium through which such pro-capitalist ideological foundations and motivations can be formed, nurtured, reinforced, and very practically expressed. Preserving the microcredit model therefore benefits the international development community — it embeds capitalist ideology in successive generations in both developed and developing countries, and it advances the long-running goal of depoliticizing international development.

One example of this depoliticization at work is the hugely popular Kiva, a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to mobilize loan funding from the rich world — especially from US college students — in order to help poor entrepreneurs in developing countries get started.

Despite using willful deception to attract initial funding and attention — the two founders falsely claimed that Kiva members gave a small loan directly to an individual they chose on the Kiva website, rather than simply to a microcredit institution — the nonprofit has nevertheless flourished by promising donors they can “empower people around the world with a $25 loan.”

However, Kiva’s emphasis on providing small microloans only semi-directly (that is, through microcredit institutions) to micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries has almost nothing to do with actually fighting poverty. The “Kiva experience” is much more about Kiva supporters seeking a form of personal gratification by donating a small sum, as well as validation that their ideology (capitalism) actually works.

As marketing expert Domen Bajde explains, Kiva’s success is based on “entrepreneurial charity” — the comforting notion that savvy entrepreneurs in countries like the US can meaningfully curtail grinding poverty in developing countries by directly supporting micro-entrepreneurs. No need for solidarity movements and active resistance to exploitation and unfair conditions imposed on developing countries — just send a donation to Kiva and the poor can take care of themselves!

A Failed Model’s Future

With microcredit having manifestly failed in terms of promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty, it is difficult to predict what comes next. Many onetime supporters like Hugh Sinclair, and even some globally recognized advocates and institutions like Catholic Relief Services, are abandoning it as unsuccessful. Effectively supporting this decision are a growing number of high-profile US-based academics and previously high-profile advocates, who now concede that the data show microcredit is a flawed antidote to poverty.

One of the most damaging effects of the microcredit movement has been its displacement of more developmentally effective, community-driven local financial institutions — like credit unions, financial cooperatives, and state development banks — from the policy agenda. But in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and growing awareness of the dangers of microcredit, alternative institutions are making a comeback, particularly in the Global South.

Nevertheless, it seems likely that the microcredit model will endure in some form before it is replaced by the similar, but much broader, financial inclusion agenda. After all, this is what the World Bank wants — and it has support from numerous corners, including powerful global financial institutions and funds.

When the financial inclusion agenda does eclipse microcredit, it will be no cause for celebration. The program suffers from the same pitfall as microfinance: it protects and enriches a narrow global elite, while offloading risk onto the poor themselves.

Democratizing finance in a radical way will require the Left to move beyond the micro-scale, and develop collective, cooperative, and state institutions to promote sustainable development and finally end poverty.

Spamalot / Feel like a boss
« on: December 22, 2016, 02:28:12 AM »
you know that feeling when you have to call the DMV or the tax collector and be on hold, and get transferred thirty times and reexplain why you're calling again and again until someone transfers you to the right place, and then you have to find some number on some document in a pile of thirty identical tomes all written in legalese to provide it, and then answer a bunch more questions from that paperwork and get a bunch of convoluted excuses for why your widget doesn't wiggle the way you wish it would or whatever you're calling about and get a bunch of riddle-like instructions for solving the problem?

Now imagine you're getting charged by the minute to have that call at 11PM slightly intoxicated and in another language and there're thousands of dollars on the line

Studying my dick off at Japanese all last year will have been worth it if this is the only time it ever comes in handy

Spamalot / Red
« on: November 09, 2016, 11:47:56 PM »
Dec 23rd-28th pal

Wish I coulda stayed longer but lemme know if you can swing a porch beer in that interval

Tech Heads / Longshot question about drivers (Maybe?)
« on: November 07, 2016, 03:53:09 PM »
in short I'm trying to find a workaround for a problem I'm having with an animation app called opentoonz on my surface pro II. I basically want to see if there's not some way I can make it ignore my finger and palm and only acknowledge the pen as the brush (or in general, since I imagine that if this is doable at all, then that would be simpler), ideally without having to just shut off touch drivers for the whole tablet whenever I wanna use that program.

I initially misremembered that the sp2 always ignores skin if the stylus is close enough to be tracked, but actually the reason I don't have this problem in PS is that photoshop, although it registers the touch afaict, just will not let your finger be used as any kind of tool, so that if you palm is resting on the canvas it's not gonna mess up what you're trying to draw or erase or whatever with the stylus.

I've perused the github issues pages and the google group for opentoonz discussion but I can't really find any indication that anyone on any kind of setup has had this problem. I dunno if it's just because I'm the only schmuck left on earth trying to use opentoonz on a surface pro from the cretacious period, the answer is just too simple to bother pointing out, or other people are better at drawing with their hand hovering.

Searyx's Board O' Art / Opentoonz
« on: November 03, 2016, 01:59:28 AM »
got all excited about this program (free, open source, used by Studio Ghibli), but on my Surface the touch input from the stylus doesn't override and block touch input from, say, my palm like it does in Photoshop, meaning I essentially can't draw at all on the touch screen.

Can't find a single thing about this problem on their forum or any other, but it's mind bending to think that no one has ever run into the same problem, being that Surfaces are one of the more popular tablets for artists and Opentoonz is such a prominent opensource app for animators


General Discussion / New Adam Curtis documentary
« on: October 26, 2016, 03:42:36 AM »
I like the guy's documentaries but there's something deeply ironic about him making one on the danger of over-simplified political narratives.

This one is a little more scattershot than Century of the Self, Power of Nightmares or even The Trap, and has a bit of the feeling of grandpa Simpson hollering at the clouds when he talks about anything tech related (made me think of that old Anonymous report Fox had back in the day with the van blowing up), but it's still interesting, especially coming around to the end.

The youtube is missing some chunks--I dunno how much because I switched to the bbc stream after the first 15 minutes or so


I never had one--I heard the really popular one people were using to watch Netflix from other countries (Hola?) got dodgy at some point.

But Adam Curtis has a new documentary and all the youtube rips are garbled, so I wanna watch that shit on

General Discussion / Costumes
« on: October 22, 2016, 11:52:49 AM »
anyone dressing up for Halloween? I wasn't gonna, but but now I'm supposed to go to a Halloween party and I feel like I need to hurry up and throw something clever together


I think it was Czer who posted some shit that came up in my newsfeed not long ago about various govts toying with our net infrastructure just to guage what it'd take to actually completely tank in the event of actual conflict. Wonder how long this goes on for before it comes to a head somehow

General Discussion / Feel good article about Storm Front founder's son
« on: October 16, 2016, 01:49:25 PM »
Also the godson of David Duke, former white nationalist talk radio sensation, and coiner of "white genocide."

I was at New College while the parts of this article that take place there played out. Fascinating to know that this was the end result. I never actually met the kid--the other dude in the article, who invited him to Shabbat every week, was a casual friend of mine since we were in a lot of the same math classes, and I never had any idea he was friends with Black. But the article doesn't quite do justice to how much of a to-do there was over this when it was discovered who he was.
The White Flight of Derek Black

Their public conference had been interrupted by a demonstration march and a bomb threat, so the white nationalists decided to meet secretly instead. They slipped past police officers and protesters into a hotel in downtown Memphis. The country had elected its first black president just a few days earlier, and now in November 2008, dozens of the world’s most prominent racists wanted to strategize for the years ahead.

“The fight to restore White America begins now,” their agenda read.

The room was filled in part by former heads of the Ku Klux Klan and prominent neo-Nazis, but one of the keynote speeches had been reserved for a Florida community college student who had just turned 19. Derek Black was already hosting his own radio show. He had launched a white nationalist website for children and won a local political election in Florida. “The leading light of our movement,” was how the conference organizer introduced him, and then Derek stepped to the lectern.

“The way ahead is through politics,” he said. “We can infiltrate. We can take the country back.”

Years before Donald Trump launched a presidential campaign based in part on the politics of race and division, a group of avowed white nationalists was working to make his rise possible by pushing its ideology from the radical fringes ever closer to the far conservative right. Many attendees in Memphis had transformed over their careers from Klansmen to white supremacists to self-described “racial realists,” and Derek Black represented another step in that evolution.

He never used racial slurs. He didn’t advocate violence or lawbreaking. He had won a Republican committee seat in Palm Beach County, Fla., where Trump also had a home, without ever mentioning white nationalism, talking instead about the ravages of political correctness, affirmative action and unchecked Hispanic immigration.

He was not only a leader of racial politics but also a product of them. His father, Don Black, had created Stormfront, the Internet’s first and largest white nationalist site, with 300,000 users and counting. His mother, Chloe, had once been married to David Duke, one of the country’s most infamous racial zealots, and Duke had become Derek’s godfather. They had raised Derek at the forefront of the movement, and some white nationalists had begun calling him “the heir.”

Now Derek spoke in Memphis about the future of their ideology. “The Republican Party has to be either demolished or taken over,” he said. “I’m kind of banking on the Republicans staking their claim as the white party.”

A few people in the audience started to clap, and then a few more began to whistle, and before long the whole group was applauding. “Our moment,” Derek said, because at least in this room there was consensus. They believed white nationalism was about to drive a political revolution. They believed, at least for the moment, that Derek would help lead it.

“Years from now, we will look back on this,” he said. “The great intellectual move to save white people started today.”


Don Black poses for a portrait earlier this month in Crossville, Tenn. Black established the white nationalist website Stormfront, which has grown to more than 300,000 users. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Eight years later, that future they envisioned in Memphis was finally being realized in the presidential election of 2016. Donald Trump was retweeting white supremacists. Hillary Clinton was making speeches about the rise of white hate and quoting David Duke, who had launched his own campaign for the U.S. Senate.

White nationalism had bullied its way toward the very center of American politics, and yet, one of the people who knew the ideology best was no longer anywhere near that center. Derek had just turned 27, and instead of leading the movement, he was trying to untangle himself not only from the national moment but also from a life he no longer understood.

From the very beginning, that life had taken place within the insular world of white nationalism, where there was never any doubt about what whiteness could mean in the United States. Derek had been taught that America was intended as a place for white Europeans and that everyone else would eventually have to leave. He was told to be suspicious of other races, of the U.S. government, of tap water and of pop culture. His parents pulled him out of public school in West Palm Beach at the end of third grade, when they heard his black teacher say the word “ain’t.” By then, Derek was one of only a few white students in a class of mostly Hispanics and Haitians, and his parents decided he would be better off at home.

“It is a shame how many White minds are wasted in that system,” Derek wrote shortly thereafter, on the Stormfront children’s website he built at age 10. “I am no longer attacked by gangs of non whites. I am learning pride in myself, my family and my people.”

Derek Black, at age 9, at a gathering in Jackson, Miss., of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens. He is pictured with then-Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice. (Courtesy of Derek Black)

Because he was home-schooled, white nationalism could become a focus of his education. It also meant he had the freedom to begin traveling with his father, who left for several weeks each year to speak at white nationalist conferences in the Deep South. Don Black had grown up in Alabama, where in the 1970s, he joined a group called the White Youth Alliance, led by David Duke, who at the time was married to Chloe. That relationship eventually dissolved, and years later, Don and Chloe reconnected, married and had Derek in 1989. They moved into Chloe’s childhood home in West Palm Beach to raise Derek along with Chloe’s two young daughters. There were Guatemalan immigrants living down the block and Jewish retirees moving into a condo nearby. “Usurpers,” Don sometimes called them, but Chloe didn’t want to move away from her aging mother in Florida, so Don settled for taking long road trips to the whitest parts of the South.

Don and Derek always stayed on those trips with Don’s friends from the white power movement, and soon Derek had heard many of their stories. There was the time his father, then 16, was shot in the chest while working on a segregationist campaign in Georgia. There was the day in 1981 when he and eight other extremists made plans to board a boat stocked with dynamite, automatic weapons and a Nazi flag. Their plan, called Operation Red Dog, was to take over the tiny Caribbean island nation of Dominica, but instead Don had been caught, arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. He learned some computer programming in federal prison and eventually launched Stormfront in 1995 under the motto: “White Pride World Wide.”

Over the years, his website attracted all kinds of extremists: skinheads, militia groups, terrorists and Holocaust deniers. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, a handful of the people who posted on Stormfront had gone on to commit hate crimes, including killings. One message board user shot and wounded three children at a Jewish day-care center in Los Angeles in 1999. Another killed his Jewish neighbor in 2000 in a town near Pittsburgh. “We attract too many sociopaths,” Don posted, and he decided that more moderation would give Stormfront greater mainstream credibility.

By then Stormfront had become his full-time job, even though he wasn’t making much money and the family was getting by on Chloe’s salary as an executive assistant. Each morning, she would go to work, and Don would go to his crowded desk in their single-story house, where he recruited authors and academics from the alternative right to post on his site.

In 2008, he banned slurs, Nazi symbols and threats of violence, even as other parts of his own language remained unchanged. He didn’t have friends so much as “comrades.” Everyone was either “with us” or “against us,” “sympathetic” or an “enemy,” so Derek strengthened his relationship with his father by becoming his greatest ideological ally.

Derek learned Web coding and designed the Stormfront site for children. He was interviewed about hate speech on Nickelodeon, daytime talk shows, HBO and in USA Today. “The devil child,” was how Don sometimes referred to him, with pride and affection.

But Don also read through nasty emails his son received from strangers who were offended by the Stormfront children’s page, and he began to worry about a 13-year-old who was becoming so familiar with the two-way transaction of prejudice and hate.

“You will rot in hell,” read one email, in 2002.

“I WISH you were in the same room as me right now,” read another. “You would have to eat through a straw, you low life scumbag.”

Don told Derek to stop checking his messages. He would later remember wondering: “Did I foist this onto him? Is he just doing this for me?” He asked Derek whether he wanted to shut down the children’s page, but Derek said the emails didn’t bother him. That was the enemy. Who cared what they thought?


Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Don Black, center, at the cross-burning climax of a Klan recruitment rally in 1982. Black would later leave the Klan and begin describing himself as a “white civil rights advocate” or a “racial realist.” (Bettmann Archive)

After that, Don began to see something different when he looked at his son: not just a child born into the movement but also an emerging leader, with drive and conviction that seemed entirely his own. Don had spent more than four decades waiting for whites to have a racial awakening in America, and now he began to think that the teenager living in his house could be a potential catalyst.

“All of my strengths without any of my weaknesses,” Don would later say about Derek back then. “He was smarter than me. He had more insight. He never held himself back.”

So many others in white nationalism had come to their conclusions out of anger and fear, but Derek tended to like most people he met, regardless of race. Instead, he sought out logic and science to confirm his worldview, reading studies from conservative think tanks about biological differences between races, IQ disparities and rates of violent crime committed by blacks against whites. He launched a daily radio show to share his views, and Don paid $275 each week to have it broadcast on the AM station in nearby Lake Worth. On the air, Derek helped popularize the idea of a white genocide, that whites were losing their culture and traditions to massive, nonwhite immigration. “If we say it a thousand times — ‘White genocide! We are losing control of our country!’ — politicians are going to start saying it, too,” he said. He repeated the idea in interviews, Stormfront posts and during his speech at the conference in Memphis, when he was at his most certain.

Derek finished high school, enrolled in community college and ran for a seat on the Republican committee, beating an incumbent with 60 percent of the vote. He decided he wanted to study medieval European history, so he applied to New College of Florida, a top-ranked liberal arts school with a strong history program.

“We want you to make history, not just study it,” Don and Chloe sometimes reminded him.

New College ranked as one of the most liberal schools in the state — “most pot-friendly, most gay-friendly,” Don explained on the radio — and to some white nationalists, it seemed a bizarre choice. Once, on the air, a friend asked Don whether he worried about sending his son to a “hotbed of multiculturalism,” and Don started to laugh.

“If anyone is going to be influenced here, it will be them,” he said. “Soon enough, the whole faculty and student body are going to know who they have in their midst.”


At first they knew nothing about him, and Derek tried to keep it that way. New College was in Sarasota, three hours across the state, and it was the first time Derek had lived away from home. He attended an introductory college meeting about diversity and concluded that the quickest way to be ostracized was to proclaim himself a racist. He decided not to mention white nationalism on campus, at least until he had made some friends.

Most of the other students in his dorm were college freshmen, and as a 21-year-old transfer student, Derek already had a car and a legal ID to buy beer. The qualities that had once made him seem quirky — shoulder-length red hair, the cowboy hat he wore, a passion for medieval re-enactment — made him a good fit for New College, where many of the 800 students were a little bit weird. He forged his own armor and dressed as a knight for Halloween. He watched zombie movies with students from his dorm, a group that included a Peruvian immigrant and an Orthodox Jew.

Maybe they were usurpers, as his father had said, but Derek also kind of liked them, and gradually he went from keeping his convictions quiet to actively disguising them. When another student mentioned that he had been reading about the racist implications of “Lord of the Rings” on a website called Stormfront, Derek pretended he had never heard of it.

Meanwhile, early each weekday morning, he would go outside and call in to his radio show. He told friends these were regular calls home to his parents, and in a way, that was true. Every morning, it was Derek and his father, cued in by music from Merle Haggard’s “I’m a White Boy.” Derek often repeated his belief that whites were being wiped out — “a genocide in our own country,” he said. He told listeners the problem was “massive, nonwhite immigration.” He said Obama was an “anti-white radical.” He said white voters were “just waiting for a politician who actually talks about all the ways whites are being stepped on.” He said it was the “critical fight of our lifetime.” Then he hung up and went back to the dorm to play Taylor Swift songs on his guitar or to take one of the college’s sailboats onto Sarasota Bay.

He left after one semester to study abroad in Germany, because he wanted to learn the language. He kept in touch with New College partly through a student message board, known as the forum, whose updates were automatically sent to his email.

One night in April 2011, Derek noticed a message posted to all students at 1:56 a.m. It was written by someone Derek didn’t know — an upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online when he stumbled across a familiar face.

“Have you seen this man?” the message read, and beneath those words was a picture that was unmistakable. The red hair. The cowboy hat.

“Derek black: white supremacist, radio host…new college student???” the post read. “How do we as a community respond?”


Derek Black speaks shortly after his election to the Republican Party’s executive committee in Palm Beach County, Fla. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

By the time Derek returned to campus for the next semester, more than a thousand responses had been written to that post. It was the biggest message thread in the history of a school that Derek now wanted badly to avoid. He returned to Sarasota, applied for permission to live outside of required student housing and rented a room a few miles away.

A few of his friends from the previous year emailed to say they felt betrayed, and strangers sometimes flipped him off from a safe distance on campus. But, for the most part, Derek avoided public spaces, and other students mostly stared or left him alone, even as their speculation about him continued on the forum.

“Maybe he’s trying to get away from a life he didn’t choose.”

“He chooses to be a racist public figure. We choose to call him a racist in public.”

“I just want this guy to die a painful death along with his entire family. Is that too much to ask?”

“I’d like to see Derek Black respond to all of this. …”

Instead of replying, Derek read the forum and used it as motivation to plan a conference for white nationalists in East Tennessee. “Victory through Argumentation: Verbal tactics for anyone white and normal,” he wrote in the invitation. He had spoken at several conferences, including the one in Memphis, but only now did he feel compelled to create another event as white nationalism continued to spread. The white genocide idea he had been championing had finally become a fixture of conservative radio. David Duke had started trying to build a relationship with “our friends and allies in the tea party.” Donald Trump had riveted the alt-right with his investigation into Obama’s birth certificate, and one Gallup poll suggested that only 38 percent of Americans “definitely” believed Obama was born in the United States.

“A critical juncture to keep increasing the profile of our movement,” Derek said on the radio, so he registered 150 attendees and scheduled speeches by his father, Duke and other separatist icons.

Another New College student learned about the conference and posted details on the forum, where gradually a new way of thinking had begun to emerge.

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”

One of Derek’s acquaintances from that first semester decided he might have an idea. He started reading Stormfront and listening to Derek’s radio show. Then, in late September, he sent Derek a text message.

“What are you doing Friday night?” he wrote.


Matthew Stevenson had started hosting weekly Shabbat dinners at his campus apartment shortly after enrolling in New College in 2010. He was the only Orthodox Jew at a school with little Jewish infrastructure, so he began cooking for a small group of students at his apartment each Friday night. Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew. Now, in the fall of 2011, Matthew invited Derek to join them.

Matthew had spent a few weeks debating whether it was a good idea. He and Derek had lived near each other in the dorm, but they hadn’t spoken since Derek was exposed on the forum. Matthew, who almost always wore a yarmulke, had experienced enough anti-Semitism in his life to be familiar with the KKK, David Duke and Stormfront. He went back and read some of Derek’s posts on the site from 2007 and 2008: “Jews are NOT white.” “Jews worm their way into power over our society.” “They must go.”

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him. “Maybe he’d never spent time with a Jewish person before,” Matthew remembered thinking.

It was the only social invitation Derek had received since returning to campus, so he agreed to go. The Shabbat meals had sometimes included eight or 10 students, but this time only a few showed up. “Let’s try to treat him like anyone else,” Matthew remembered instructing them.

Derek arrived with a bottle of wine. Nobody mentioned white nationalism or the forum, out of respect for Matthew. Derek was quiet and polite, and he came back the next week and then the next, until after a few months, nobody felt all that threatened, and the Shabbat group grew back to its original size.
Matthew Stevenson, left, and Derek Black met at New College, in Sarasota, Fla. Stevenson eventually invited Black to join a diverse group for Shabbat dinners. (Matthew Stevenson photo)

On the rare occasions when Derek directed conversation during those dinners, it was about the particulars of Arabic grammar, or marine aquatics, or the roots of Christianity in medieval times. He came across as smart and curious, and mostly he listened. He heard a Peruvian immigrant tell stories about attending a high school that was 90 percent Hispanic. He asked Matthew about his opinions on Israel and Palestine. They were both still wary of each other: Derek wondered whether Matthew was trying to get him drunk so he would say offensive things that would appear on the forum; Matthew wondered whether Derek was trying to cultivate a Jewish friend to protect himself against charges of anti-Semitism. But they also liked each other, and they started playing pool at a bar near campus.

Some members of the Shabbat group gradually began to ask Derek about his views, and he occasionally clarified them in conversations and emails throughout 2011 and 2012. He said he was pro-choice on abortion. He said he was against the death penalty. He said he didn’t believe in violence or the KKK or Nazism or even white supremacy, which he insisted was different from white nationalism. He wrote in an email that his only concern was that “massive immigration and forced integration” was going to result in a white genocide. He said he believed in the rights of all races but thought each was better off in its own homeland, living separately.

“You have never clarified, Derek,” one of his Shabbat friends wrote to him. “You’ve never said, ‘Hey all, this is what I do believe and this is what I don’t.’ It’s not the job of someone who’s potentially scared/intimidated by someone else to approach that person to see if they are in fact scary/intimidating.”

“I guess I only value the opinions of people I know,” Derek wrote back, and now he was beginning to count his Shabbat friends among those he knew and respected. “You’re naturally right that I deemphasize my own role,” he wrote to them.

He decided early in his final year at New College to finally respond on the forum. He wanted his friends on campus to feel comfortable, even if he still believed some of their homelands were elsewhere. He sat at a coffee shop and began writing his post, softening his ideology with each successive draft. He no longer thought the endpoint of white nationalism was forced deportation for nonwhites, but gradual self-deportation, in which nonwhites would leave on their own. He didn’t believe in self-deportation right now, at least not for his friends, but just eventually, in concept.

“It’s been brought to my attention that people might be scared or intimidated or even feel unsafe here because of things said about me,” he began. “I wanted to try to address these concerns publicly, as they absolutely should not exist. I do not support oppression of anyone because of his or her race, creed, religion, gender, socioeconomic status or anything similar.”

The forum post, intended only for the college, was leaked to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which kept a public “Intelligence File” on Derek and other racist leaders, and the group emailed Derek for clarification. Was he disavowing white nationalism? “Your views are now quite different from what many people thought,” the email read.

Derek received the message while vacationing in Europe during winter break. He was staying with Duke, who had started broadcasting his radio show from a part of Europe with lenient free-speech laws. “The tea party is taking some of these ideas mainstream,” Duke said on a broadcast one morning. “Whites are finally coming around to my point of view,” he said another day, and even if Derek now thought some of what Duke said sounded exaggerated or even alarming, the man was still his godfather. Derek wrote back to the SPLC from Duke’s couch.

“Everything I said (on the forum) is true,” he wrote. “I also believe in White Nationalism. My post and my racial ideology are not mutually exclusive concepts.”


Former Ku Klux Klan leader and current U.S. Senate candidate David Duke campaigns in Louisiana. Duke acted as a godfather and a mentor to Derek Black during his rise in white nationalism. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

But the unstated truth was that Derek was becoming more and more confused about exactly what he believed. Sometimes he looked through posts on Stormfront, hoping to reaffirm his ideology, but now the message threads about Obama’s birth certificate or DNA tests for citizenship just seemed bizarre and conspiratorial. He stopped posting on Stormfront. He began inventing excuses to get out of his radio show, leaving his father alone on the air each morning to explain why Derek wouldn’t be calling in. He was preparing for a test. He was giving those liberal professors hell. Except sometimes what Derek was really doing was taking his kayak to the beach, so he could be alone to think.

He had always based his opinions on fact, and lately his logic was being dismantled by emails from his Shabbat friends. They sent him links to studies showing that racial disparities in IQ could largely be explained by extenuating factors like prenatal nutrition and educational opportunities. They gave him scientific papers about the effects of discrimination on blood pressure, job performance and mental health. He read articles about white privilege and the unfair representation of minorities on television news. One friend emailed: “The geNOcide against whites is incredibly, horribly insulting and degrading to real, actual, lived and experienced genocides against Jews, against Rwandans, against Armenians, etc.”

“I don’t hate anyone because of race or religion,” Derek clarified on the forum.

“I am not a white supremacist,” he wrote.

“I don’t believe people of any race, religion or otherwise should have to leave their homes or be segregated or lose any freedom.”

“Derek,” a friend responded. “I feel like you are a representative of a movement you barely buy into. You need to identify with more than 1/50th of a belief system to consider it your belief system.”

He was taking classes in Jewish scripture and German multiculturalism during his last year at New College, but most of his research was focused on medieval Europe. He learned that Western Europe had begun not as a great society of genetically superior people but as a technologically backward place that lagged behind Islamic culture. He studied the 8th century to the 12th century, trying to trace back the modern concepts of race and whiteness, but he couldn’t find them anywhere. “We basically just invented it,” he concluded.

“Get out of this,” one of his Shabbat friends emailed a few weeks after Derek’s graduation in May 2013, urging Derek to publicly disavow white nationalism. “Get out before it ruins some part of your future more than it already irreparably has.”

Derek stayed near campus to housesit for a professor after graduation, and he began to consider making a public statement. He knew he no longer believed in white nationalism, and he had made plans to distance himself from his past by changing part of his name and moving across the country for graduate school. His instinct was to slip away quietly, but his advocacy had always been public — a legacy of radio shows, Internet posts, TV appearances, and an annual conference on racial tactics.

He was still considering what to do when he returned home to visit his parents later that summer. His father was tracking the rise of white nationalism on cable TV, and his parents were talking about “enemies” and “comrades” in the “ongoing war,” but now it sounded ridiculous to Derek. He spent the day rebuilding windows with them, which was one of Derek’s quirky hobbies that his parents had always supported. They had bought his guitar and joined in his medieval re-enactments. They had paid his tuition at the liberal arts college where he had Shabbat dinners. They had taught him, most of all, to be independent and ideological, and to speak his beliefs even when doing so resulted in backlash.

He left the house that night and went to a bar. He took out his computer and began writing a statement.

“A large section of the community I grew up in believes strongly in white nationalism, and members of my family whom I respect greatly, particularly my father, have long been resolute advocates for that cause. I was not prepared to risk driving a wedge in those relationships.

“After a great deal of thought since then, I have resolved that it is in the best interests of everyone involved to be honest about my slow but steady disaffiliation from white nationalism. I can’t support a movement that tells me I can’t be a friend to whomever I wish or that other people’s races require me to think of them in a certain way or be suspicious at their advancements.

“The things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all. I am sorry for the damage done.”

He continued to write for several more paragraphs before addressing an email to the SPLC, the group his father had considered a primary adversary for 40 years.

“Publish in full,” Derek instructed. Then he attached the letter and hit “send.”


Don Black poses for a portrait at a park Oct. 2, 2016, in Crossville, Tenn. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Don was at the computer the next afternoon searching Google when Derek’s name popped up in a headline on his screen. For a decade, Don had been typing “Stormfront” and “Derek Black” into the search bar a few times each week to track his son’s public rise in white nationalism. This particular story had been published by the SPLC, which Don had always referred to as the “Poverty Palace.”

“Activist Son of Key Racist Leader Renounces White Nationalism,” it read, and Don began to read the letter. It had phrases like “structural oppression,” “privilege,” “limited opportunity,” and “marginalized groups” — the kind of liberal-apologist language Don and Derek had often made fun of on the radio.

“You got hacked,” Don remembered telling Derek, once he reached him on the phone.

“It’s real,” Derek said, and then he heard the sound of his father hanging up.

For the next few hours, Don was in disbelief. Maybe Derek was pulling a prank on him. Maybe he still believed in white nationalism but just wanted an easier life.

Derek called back, and this time his mother answered. She said that she didn’t want to speak to him. She handed the phone to Don, and his voice was shaky and tearful. Derek had never heard him that way. “I can’t talk,” Don said, and he hung up again.

Later that night, Don logged on to the Stormfront message board. “I’m sure this will be all over the Net and our local media, so I’ll start here,” he wrote, posting a link to Derek’s letter. “I don’t want to talk to him. He says he doesn’t understand why we’d feel betrayed just because he announced his ‘personal beliefs’ to our worst enemies.”

For the next several days, Don couldn’t bring himself to post anything more. “I was a little depressed anyway, but at that point I wanted to quit everything,” he said later, remembering that time. “What’s the point? I didn’t do much of anything for probably 10 days. It was the worst event of my adult life.”

He logged back onto Stormfront a week later. “After a miserable seven days, I feel the need to vent,” he wrote. “I only know what Derek tells me, which has been baffling. I’ve decided he really believes this crap. Derek repeated his belief that family ties are separate from politics. I said that obviously wasn’t true with a family centered around political activism.”

Hundreds of posts quickly followed. Some offered Don condolences. Others said that Derek was a traitor or that Don could no longer be trusted, either. Don wrote a few posts in response, sometimes defending Derek and other times distancing himself, until after a few weeks it all hurt too much.

“I’m closing this thread,” Don wrote, finally, describing it as an “open wound.”


Derek returned home a few weeks later for his father’s birthday, even though his mother and his half-sisters had asked him not to come. “I think I might be getting disowned,” Derek had written to one college friend. But he was about to leave Florida for graduate school, and he wanted to say goodbye.

He arrived at his grandmother’s house for the party, and he would later remember how strange it felt when his half-sisters would barely acknowledge him. His mother was polite but cold. Don tried to invite Derek inside, but the rest of the family wanted him to leave. “I got uninvited to my own party,” Don later remembered. “They said if I wanted to see him, we both had to go.”

They left and went for a drive, first to the beach and then to a restaurant, where they sat at a booth near the back. Derek still had his dry sense of humor. He still made smart observations about politics and history. “Same old Derek,” Don concluded, after a few hours, and that fact surprised him. His grief had been so profound that he’d expected some physical manifestation of the loss. Instead, he found himself forgetting for several minutes at a time that Derek was now “living on the other side.”

Don asked Derek about the theories that had emerged on the Stormfront message thread. Was he just faking a change to have an easier career? Was this his way of rebelling?

When Derek denied those things, Don mentioned the theory he himself had come to believe — the one David Duke had posited in the first hours after Derek’s letter went public: Stockholm syndrome. Derek had become a hostage to liberal academia and then experienced empathy for his captors.

“That’s so patronizing,” Derek remembered saying. “How can I prove this is what I really believe?”

He tried to convince Don for a few hours at the restaurant. He told him about white privilege and repeated the scientific studies about institutionalized racism. He mentioned the great Islamic societies that had developed algebra and predicted a lunar eclipse. He said that now, as he recognized strains of white nationalism spreading into mainstream politics, he felt accountable. “It’s not just that I was wrong. It’s that it caused real damage,” he remembered saying.

“I can’t believe I’m arguing with you, of all people, about racial realities,” Don remembered telling him.

The restaurant was closing, and they were no closer to an understanding. Derek went to sleep at his grandmother’s house. Then he woke up early and started driving across the country alone.


Derek Black is pictured Sept. 25, 2016. “It’s scary to know that I helped spread this stuff, and now it’s out there,” he told a friend, alluding to the ideology he once promoted. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Every day since then, Derek had been working to put distance between himself and his past. He was still living across the country after finishing his master’s degree, and he was starting to learn Arabic to be able to study the history of early Islam. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in white nationalism since his defection, aside from occasional calls home to his parents. Instead, he’d spent his time catching up on aspects of pop culture he’d once been taught to discredit: liberal newspaper columns, rap music and Hollywood movies. He’d come to admire President Obama. He decided to trust the U.S. government. He started drinking tap water. He had taken budget trips to Barcelona, Paris, Dublin, Nicaragua and Morocco, immersing himself in as many cultures as he could.

He joined a new online message group, this one for couch surfers, and he opened up his one-bedroom apartment to strangers looking for a temporary place to stay. It felt increasingly good to trust people — to try to interact without prejudice or judgment — and after a while, Derek began to feel detached from the person he had been.

But then came the election campaign of 2016, and suddenly the white nationalism Derek had been trying to unlearn was the unavoidable subtext to national debates over refugees, immigration, Black Lives Matter and the election itself. Late in August, Derek watched in his apartment as Hillary Clinton gave a major speech about the rise of racism. She explained how white supremacists had rebranded themselves as white nationalists. She referenced Duke and mentioned the concept of a “white genocide,” which Derek had once helped popularize. She talked about how Trump had hired a campaign manager with ties to the alt-right. She said: “A fringe movement has essentially taken over the Republican Party.”

It was the very same point Derek had spent so much of his life believing in, but now it made him feel both fearful for the country and implicated. “It’s scary to know that I helped spread this stuff, and now it’s out there,” he told one of his Shabbat friends.

He also wondered whether he would ever be able to completely detach himself from his past, when so much about it remained public. He was still occasionally recognized as a former racist in graduate school; still written into the will of a man he had befriended through white nationalism; still the godson of Duke; still the son of Chloe and Don.

Late this summer, for the first time in years, he traveled to Florida to see them. At a time of increasingly contentious rhetoric, he wanted to hear what his father had to say. They sat in the house and talked about graduate school and Don’s new German shepherd. But after a while, their conversation turned back to ideology, the topic they had always preferred.

Don, who usually didn’t vote, said he was going to support Trump.

Derek said he had taken an online political quiz, and his views aligned 97 percent with Hillary Clinton’s.

Don said immigration restrictions sounded like a good start.

Derek said he actually believed in more immigration, because he had been studying the social and economic benefits of diversity.

Don thought that would result in a white genocide.

Derek thought race was a false concept anyway.

They sat across from each other, searching for ways to bridge the divide. The bay was one block away. Just across from there was Mar-a-Lago, where Trump had lived and vacationed for so many years, once installing an 80-foot pole for a gigantic American flag.

“Who would have thought he’d be the one to take it mainstream?” Don said, and in a moment of so much division, it was the one point on which they agreed.

TLDR, dude was a white nationalist celebrity doing routine talk-show spots advancing the idea of "white genocide" by immigration and race-mixing, but going to New College and getting treated like a human by (a fairly small number of) students there caused him to come around and renounce all that stuff.

The push on the NCF forum to get the kid expellei was pretty strong initially--understandably, since he was still doing the radio show at that time and was (t least publicly) completely unrepentant at that time--and it limped along to some extent pretty much until he graduated two years later. Looks like it was a good thing they didn't succeed, in the end. Kinda gotta wonder if the dude's not gonna wind up shot by a zealot or something, though.

Side note: I wish the media would stop legitimating various far-right movements' rebranding of themselves as the "alt-right." White nationalism is white nationalism. It maybe makes sense to have a word for the Milo Yiannopolises and other internet-troll-warrior rightists out there since they--at least conceivably--to some extent represent a new and distinct political trend, but letting run of the mill fascists and or racists co-opt the term in order to give themselves appeal to the hipster generation is irresponsible.

General Discussion / Hydroelectric dams create gigatons of methane
« on: September 29, 2016, 11:29:57 PM »

Some great news to accompany our permanent crossing of the CO2 threshold

General Discussion / Incorporating?
« on: September 19, 2016, 04:17:49 PM »
So I was having a drunk conversation with another JET alum who works for himself the other night, and it came up that if I plan to make a fair amount of my total income from private tutoring then it probably would be a good idea to incorporate an LLC and pay myself through it for tax/proof of income purposes.

Seems reasonable, but I don't really know anything about it. I get the impression that I don't necessarily need to incorporate where I'm living or even where most of my business is being done, and that there may be advantages to incorporating in one state vs another state.

Anyone know anything about this stuff/have any general advice?

Spamalot / Agrul (dumb math q)
« on: September 01, 2016, 03:22:55 PM »
Trying to get a quick overview of homotopy theory to read this paper on applications of topology to data analysis my former professor recommended to me and ran across this problem that doesn't make sense to me. I know topology isn't your main squeeze but this is like chapter one algebraic topology/late chapter complex analysis stuff so it's probably not totally alien to you:

For spaces X,Y let [X,Y] be the collection of homotopy equivalence classes of functions from X into Y. Let I=[0,1]

Show that if Y is path connected then [I,Y] contains a simple element

Like, I can see where this is going, but that's gotta be wrong, no? Let Y=R2-{(0,0)}, let h be the function mapping I onto the unit circle with h(0)=h(1)=(0,1), and let g: I->Y be g(x):=(0,1)

g and h are clearly not homotopic--isn't this the whole point of homotopy theory? Am I missing something?

Spamalot / Saw Ice Cube, saw Ween. V happy
« on: August 29, 2016, 01:46:22 AM »
Cube was closing down he night last on get so I was kinda hanging back like "eh, I wanna et home tonight and it's a rap show so up front ain't worth it"
And hen Ice Cube came out and I just immediately thought, "shit, wait, it's fucking Ice Cube" and plowed on up. Soundedbfuckig great. DJ Ren also showed up for some NWA stuff, and they did some WSC shit of.

Ween was fucking siiick.

Not really anything surprising to say about that, but the crowd was super nice and I hing around for a second when ppl were starting to split an caught me a drumstick

God I fucking love Ween

(One post)

Spamalot / One post a day
« on: August 22, 2016, 01:41:00 AM »
For just one post a day, you can help make TZT not suck total shit

As an added bonus we'll throw in a little niceness for your postcount

General Discussion / Justice Dept to end use of private prisons
« on: August 18, 2016, 03:00:02 PM »
After concluding that (big surprise) they are less safe for both inmates and officers and don't save much money

General Discussion / 100% clean energy couldn't save us
« on: July 20, 2016, 12:31:43 AM »

Earlier this year media outlets around the world announced that February had broken global temperature records by a shocking amount. March broke all the records, too. In June our screens were covered with surreal images of Paris flooding, the Seine bursting its banks and flowing into the streets. In London, the floods sent water pouring into the tube system right in the heart of Covent Garden. Roads in south-east London became rivers two metres deep.

With such extreme events becoming more commonplace, few deny climate change any longer. Finally, a consensus is crystallising around one all-important fact: fossil fuels are killing us. We need to switch to clean energy, and fast.

This growing awareness about the dangers of fossil fuels represents a crucial shift in our consciousness. But I can’t help but fear we’ve missed the point. As important as clean energy might be, the science is clear: it won’t save us from climate change.

What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we’re doing with fossil fuels
Let’s imagine, just for argument’s sake, that we are able to get off fossil fuels and switch to 100% clean energy. There is no question this would be a vital step in the right direction, but even this best-case scenario wouldn’t be enough to avert climate catastrophe.

Why? Because the burning of fossil fuels only accounts for about 70% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining 30% comes from a number of causes. Deforestation is a big one. So is industrial agriculture, which degrades the soils to the point where they leach CO2. Then there’s industrial livestock farming which produces 90m tonnes of methane per year and most of the world’s anthropogenic nitrous oxide. Both of these gases are vastly more potent than CO2 when it comes to global warming. Livestock farming alone contributes more to global warming than all the cars, trains, planes and ships in the world. Industrial production of cement, steel, and plastic forms another major source of greenhouse gases, and then there are our landfills, which pump out huge amounts of methane – 16% of the world’s total.

When it comes to climate change, the problem is not just the type of energy we are using, it’s what we’re doing with it. What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we are doing with fossil fuels: raze more forests, build more meat farms, expand industrial agriculture, produce more cement, and fill more landfill sites, all of which will pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gas into the air. We will do these things because our economic system demands endless compound growth, and for some reason we have not thought to question this.

Think of it this way. That 30% chunk of greenhouse gases that comes from non-fossil fuel sources isn’t static. It is adding more to the atmosphere each year. Scientists project that our tropical forests will be completely destroyed by 2050, releasing a 200bn tonne carbon bomb into the air. The world’s topsoils could be depleted within just 60 years, releasing more still. Emissions from the cement industry are growing at more than 9% per year. And our landfills are multiplying at an eye-watering pace: the by 2100 we will be producing 11m tonnes of solid waste per day, three times more than we do now. Switching to clean energy will do nothing to slow this down.

If we keep growing at 3% a year, that means that every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy
The climate movement made an enormous mistake. We focused all our attention on fossil fuels, when we should have been pointing to something much deeper: the basic logic of our economic operating system. After all, we’re only using fossil fuels in the first place to fuel the broader imperative of GDP growth.

The root problem is the fact that our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

Our more optimistic pundits claim that technological innovations will help us to decouple economic growth from material throughput. But sadly there is no evidence that this is happening. Global material extraction and consumption has grown by 94% since 1980, and is still going up. Current projections show that by 2040 we will more than double the world’s shipping miles, air miles, and trucking miles – along with all the material stuff that those vehicles transport – almost exactly in keeping with the rate of GDP growth.

Clean energy, important as it is, won’t save us from this nightmare. But rethinking our economic system might. GDP growth has been sold to us as the only way to create a better world. But we now have robust evidence that it doesn’t make us any happier, it doesn’t reduce poverty, and its “externalities” produce all sorts of social ills: debt, overwork, inequality, and climate change. We need to abandon GDP growth as our primary measure of progress, and we need to do this immediately – as part and parcel of the climate agreement that will be ratified in Morocco later this year.

It’s time to pour our creative power into imagining a new global economy – one that maximises human wellbeing while actively shrinking our ecological footprint. This is not an impossible task. A number of countries have already managed to achieve high levels of human development with very low levels of consumption. In fact Daniel O’Neill, an economist at the University of Leeds, has demonstrated that even material de-growth is not incompatible with high levels of human well-being.

Our focus on fossil fuels has lulled us into thinking we can continue with the status quo so long as we switch to clean energy, but this is a dangerously simplistic assumption. If we want to stave off the coming crisis, we need to confront its underlying cause.

This week, heads of state are gathering in New York to sign the UN’s new sustainable development goals (SDGs). The main objective is to eradicate poverty by 2030. Beyoncé, One Direction and Malala are on board. It’s set to be a monumental international celebration.

Given all the fanfare, one might think the SDGs are about to offer a fresh plan for how to save the world, but beneath all the hype, it’s business as usual. The main strategy for eradicating poverty is the same: growth.

Growth has been the main object of development for the past 70 years, despite the fact that it’s not working. Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.

Orthodox economists insist that all we need is yet more growth. More progressive types tell us that we need to shift some of the yields of growth from the richer segments of the population to the poorer ones, evening things out a bit. Neither approach is adequate. Why? Because even at current levels of average global consumption, we’re overshooting our planet’s bio-capacity by more than 50% each year.

In other words, growth isn’t an option any more – we’ve already grown too much. Scientists are now telling us that we’re blowing past planetary boundaries at breakneck speed. And the hard truth is that this global crisis is due almost entirely to overconsumption in rich countries.

Instead of pushing poor countries to 'catch up' with rich ones, we should be getting rich countries to 'catch down'
Right now, our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually – a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares – many times their fair share.

What does this mean for our theory of development? Economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to “catch up” with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to “catch down” to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.

How much do we really need to live long and happy lives? In the US, life expectancy is 79 years and GDP per capita is $53,000. But many countries have achieved similar life expectancy with a mere fraction of this income. Cuba has a comparable life expectancy to the US and one of the highest literacy rates in the world with GDP per capita of only $6,000 and consumption of only 1.9 hectares – right at the threshold of ecological sustainability. Similar claims can be made of Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Tunisia.

Yes, some of the excess income and consumption we see in the rich world yields improvements in quality of life that are not captured by life expectancy, or even literacy rates. But even if we look at measures of overall happiness and wellbeing in addition to life expectancy, a number of low- and middle-income countries rank highly. Costa Rica manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

In light of this, perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses.

70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk
The idea of “de-developing” rich countries might prove to be a strong rallying cry in the global south, but it will be tricky to sell to westerners. Tricky, but not impossible. According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.

The problem is that the pundits promoting this kind of transition are using the wrong language. They use terms such as de-growth, zero growth or – worst of all – de-development, which are technically accurate but off-putting for anyone who’s not already on board. Such terms are repulsive because they run against the deepest frames we use to think about human progress, and, indeed, the purpose of life itself. It’s like asking people to stop moving positively thorough life, to stop learning, improving, growing.

Negative formulations won’t get us anywhere. The idea of “steady-state” economics is a step in the right direction and is growing in popularity, but it still doesn’t get the framing right. We need to reorient ourselves toward a positive future, a truer form of progress. One that is geared toward quality instead of quantity. One that is more sophisticated than just accumulating ever increasing amounts of stuff, which doesn’t make anyone happier anyway. What is certain is that GDP as a measure is not going to get us there and we need to get rid of it.

Perhaps we might take a cue from Latin Americans, who are organising alternative visions around the indigenous concept of buen vivir, or good living. The west has its own tradition of reflection on the good life and it’s time we revive it. Robert and Edward Skidelsky take us down this road in his book How Much is Enough? where they lay out the possibility of interventions such as banning advertising, a shorter working week and a basic income, all of which would improve our lives while reducing consumption.

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one. If we do not act soon, all our hard-won gains against poverty will evaporate, as food systems collapse and mass famine re-emerges to an extent not seen since the 19th century.

This is not about giving anything up. And it’s certainly not about living a life of voluntary misery or imposing harsh limits on human potential. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Obviously a bit pie-in-the-sky (it's one thing to point out that people in Costa Rica are happy and another thing entirely to propose convincing the developed world to revert by that much--Costa Rica sounds like a bit of a shithole based on what I've heard from friends who've gone there), but at the same time the conclusions seem almost incontrovertible on an intuitive level (ie that whether we're willing to give it up or not, the planet literally won't continue to support infinite growth).

Spamalot / Welp
« on: July 10, 2016, 01:19:02 AM »
fucked my boss today

Now she's literally making me a sandwich



6/5 Matt Damons

General Discussion / Vote's in, England's out
« on: June 24, 2016, 12:48:38 AM »
Or so it would seem. 93.5% reporting in, 52% for the Brexit.

JPY is the only currency gaining (Pound dropping like a brick). Fucking markets in Japan are frozen so the yen doesn't gain anymore while this thing smooths out (goddammit), but this is still great news for me--100JPY=0.992USD is the best exchange rate by far that we've had since I got here. brb bouta go empty my Japanese bank account.


One of the curious features of network science is that the same networks underlie entirely different phenomena. As a result, these phenomena have deep similarities that are far from obvious at first glance. Good examples include the spread of disease, the size of forest fires, and even the distribution of earthquake magnitude, which all follow a similar pattern. This is a direct result of their sharing the same network structure.

So it’s usually no surprise that the same “laws” emerge when physicists find the same networks underlying other phenomena. Exactly this has happened repeatedly in the social sciences. Network science now allows social scientists to model societies, to study the way ideas, gossip, fashions, and so on flow through society—and even to study how this influences opinion.

To do this they’ve used the tools developed to study other disciplines. That’s why the new field of computational social science has become so powerful so quickly.

But there’s another field of endeavor that also stands to benefit: the study of history. Throughout history, humans have formed networks that have played a profound role in the way events have unfolded. Historians have recently begun to reconstruct these networks using historical sources such as correspondence and contemporary records.

Today, Johannes Preiser-Kapeller at the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna explains how this approach is casting a new light on various historical events. Indeed, the work has uncovered previously unknown patterns in the way history unfolds. In the same way that patterns in nature reveal the laws of physics, these discoveries are revealing the first laws of history.

Preiser-Kapeller has focused on medieval conflicts and particularly those relating to the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century, which was concentrated around Constantinople, a link between European and Asian trade networks. This was a period of significant conflict because of changing political forces, the plague, and climate change caused by a small ice age during the Middle Ages.

Preiser-Kapeller has reconstructed the political networks that existed at the time using surviving correspondence and other historical records. In these networks, each influential individual is a node, and links are drawn between those who share significant relationships. To be registered on the network, these links have to be recorded in correspondence with phrases such as My noble aunt or My imperial cousin.  He also records how these change over time.

Using standard algorithms to study various measures of network structure, Preiser-Kapeller found clusters within the network, identified the most important actors in a network, and examined how individuals clustered around others who were similar in some way.

How these measures change over time turns out to have an important link to the major events that unfolded later. For example, Preiser-Kapeller  says, the fragmentation of the political network created the conditions for a civil war that permanently weakened the Byzantine Empire. It ultimately collapsed in 1453.

These changes also followed some interesting patterns. “The distribution of frequencies of the number of conflict ties activated in a year tends to follow a power law,” says Preiser-Kapeller. Exactly the same power-law patterns emerge when complexity scientists study the size distribution of wars, epidemics, and religions.

An interesting question is whether the same patterns turn up elsewhere in history. To find out, he compared the Byzantium network with those from five other periods of medieval conflict in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

And the results make for interesting reading. “On average across all five polities, a change of ruler in one year increased the probability for another change in the following year threefold,” says Preiser-Kapeller. So the closer you are to an upheaval, the more likely there is to be another one soon. Or in other words, upheavals tend to cluster together.

That’s a rule that should sound familiar to geophysicists. A similar phenomenon exists in earthquake records: the more recent a big earthquake, the greater the likelihood of another big one soon. This is known as Omori’s law—that earthquakes tend to cluster together.

It’s no surprise that similar effects arise in these systems, since they are both governed by the same network science. Historians would be well within their rights to adopt this and other patterns as “laws of history.”

These laws are ripe for further study. While the complexity that arises from network theory in many areas of science has been studied for decades, there has been almost no such research in the field of history. That suggests there is low-hanging fruit to be had by the first generation of computational historians, like Preiser-Kapeller. Expect to hear more about it the near future.

Obviously super dubious of this type of thing for myriad obvious reasons, but it could still be fun to play around with as a heuristic and see what kinds of apparent patterns pop out. Even if it can't ever provide actual laws, (which I believe is beyond question,) it could still be thought provoking at least.

Imagine a spamalot in which we are all mods
Across a number of professions, bosses have been vanishing. Last year, Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe mega-retailer Zappos, announced that the company would implement Holacracy, a hierarchy-free office model with which Hsieh had become enamored after attending a conference talk by its creators. Under Holacracy—which bills itself as a system that “removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles”—Zappos employees would design their own job descriptions and work with colleagues in autonomous “circles” free from the hovering interference of “people managers.” (Former people managers were to find new roles in the company or accept buyouts.)

Hsieh hasn’t been the only boss to institute a bossless office in recent years. Somewhere between rigid corporate hierarchy and the approximately three hundred worker cooperatives that exist in the US today lies an expanding realm of manager-free workplaces. Most are white-collar and many, like Zappos, are the sorts of tech firms that have been famously predisposed to collaborative work arrangements, casual dress codes, beanbags, and other anti-corporate trappings since the beginning. But there are also industrial operations like Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processing plant, where over 2,000 employees annually sign “Colleague Letters of Understanding” that lay out each worker’s job description and output goals, in lieu of managers to oversee production. In a 2013 overview for New York Magazine on the rise of bossless workplaces, Matthew Schaer reported that even Morning Star’s internal conflicts were resolved without hierarchy: instead of management or HR handling clashes between employees, anywhere from one to ten of the feuding parties’ colleagues would be enlisted to mediate the spat.

Does the bossless office signal progress for workers? The majority of Americans still answer to supervisors, and there are scant few who haven’t grumbled—if not seethed—over incompetent, abusive, or overly controlling managers. A number of studies have unsurprisingly confirmed that bad bosses create undue amounts of stress for workers. Thus, it stands to reason that removing such meddlesome disciplinarians, as companies like Zappos and Morning Star have done, has the potential to improve worker morale vastly. “It’s a beautiful way of structuring a workplace,” Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen told Inc. magazine last year. “Management is not nearly as necessary as it thinks it is.”

Growing evidence suggests that the disappearance of management bureaucracy also makes offices more productive. In an interview with Current, Martha Little, a senior producer at Audible, praised the company’s collaborative work structure and explained that top-down management was quickly becoming an obsolete way of organizing workplaces. “In this very fast-paced, very tech-oriented media-delivery-service world, I don’t think the hierarchies can really keep up with the fast pace of change, flexibility and input of ideas that you need to compete,” she said. In the Wall Street Journal, Tim Clem, an employee at the tech outfit GitHub [ed. no relation], similarly noted of his company’s bossless setup, “It makes you want to do more.”

But if employees at bossless offices often report good spirits and high productivity, outside of true worker cooperatives there is a hard limit to the workplace democracy, and it usually takes the form of the company’s purse strings. As Schaer noted of Morning Star, “The company is privately held, and no employee, no matter how hard-performing, is entitled to a share of the profits.” And different pay grades exist at all of the aforementioned “flattened” companies, no matter whose or how many voices are “heard” at company meetings.

Not only does the bossless office camouflage longstanding monetary inequalities, it also outsources the tasks once assigned to managers to an increasing number of workers. Employees at bossless companies who have supposedly been liberated from their manager overlords are generally compelled to absorb the duties of the now-nonexistent management in addition to whatever roles they might otherwise perform. At the software company Menlo Innovations—which prides itself on its boss-free, non-hierarchical work environment—committees of employees must reach consensus on most HR matters including hiring, firing, and determining employees’ pay. The absence of management, in other words, tends merely to displace “traditional” boss responsibilities onto a new group of people rather than eliminate them entirely.

Media theorist Alexander Galloway has challenged the assumption that horizontal arrangements are inherently egalitarian. According to Galloway, over the last few decades, labor and culture alike have been increasingly organized as networks—evident in the rise of “flexible” workplaces and cultural phenomena like the rise of social media. While plenty of academics and activists alike continue to believe that the dissolution of official hierarchy (the boss, the state) is synonymous with the dissolution of power, Galloway argues that such processes may only reflect the changing nature of a post-Fordist world. He further cautions, “Centralized verticality is only one form of organization. The distributed network is simply a different form of organization, one with its own special brand of management and control.”


While Amazon’s punitive, highly-surveilled workplace indeed sounds nightmarish, it’s perhaps the new breed of bossless office that illuminates the dystopian endgame of work under neoliberalism.

The bossless, decentralized Zappos model has been proffered as a liberatory answer to the soul-crushing environments of places like Amazon. However, while Amazon’s punitive, highly-surveilled workplace indeed sounds nightmarish, it’s perhaps the new breed of bossless office that illuminates the dystopian endgame of work under neoliberalism. Imagine, in other words, a labor-extraction apparatus so well-oiled that bosses are obsolete because every worker is one; that is, willing to oversee and discipline both their own production and that of their peers in service of capital. If managers are, as economist Frédéric Lordon has described them, “strange employees, materially on the side of labor but symbolically on the side of capital,” we might also call them neoliberalism’s model worker.

Converting a population that has historically required coercion to participate in wage labor into model workers requires, above all, reconfiguring that population’s desires when it comes to work and management. In his 2014 book Willing Slaves of Capital, Lordon examines the ever-increasing alignment of employees’ desires with those of their employers, tracing the shift from workers’ gloomy toil under Fordist capitalism to the seemingly cheerful servitude of our current era. If work was once primarily a means to obtain the money necessary first for staying alive, and then, for accessing the pleasures of consumerism, these days, Lordon finds, “the desire to find employment should no longer be merely a mediated desire for the goods that wages circuitously permit buying, but an intrinsic desire for the activity for its own sake.”

We can see this in the explosion of what the critic Miya Tokumitsu has called “Do What You Love,” the pleasant-sounding but pernicious mantra that exhorts workers to seek employment that they find personally fulfilling above all other criteria (and in particular, “conventional” criteria like job security, higher pay, and employee benefits). This ideology, which muddies the division between work and leisure time and privileges certain forms of labor over others, functions as an important part of what Lordon terms “co-linearization,” or the process by which workers’ interests come to fully overlap with his or her employer’s. While creative and white-collar professions have demanded at least the appearance of employees’ co-linearization for some time (try admitting in a job interview that you’re pursuing the position for the money rather than a unique passion for the firm), this condition has expanded to even undesirable, low-wage jobs, including sandwich makers and telemarketers.

And alongside the requirement for workers to wear a happy face even in a time of stagnant real wages and soaring income inequality is the rise of new methods for enforcing this good behavior. The digital era has birthed low- or no-cost modes of monitoring workers’ activity, many of which rely on the general public to appraise a company’s employees. For instance, a report by Josh Dzieza in The Verge late last year found that ratings systems for apps such as Uber and Handy, which are meant to regulate the quality of the services provided, effectively transform customers into “unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error.”

Likewise, social media platforms and review websites such as Yelp have outsourced worker management to the public behind the veneer of improving customer service. We often hear about customer feedback mechanisms when they function in service of social justice, such as with dentist-cum-hunter Walter Palmer—whose office’s Yelp page swelled with angry comments after his unceremonious slaying of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe—or the Yelp reviews that tipped off the public to a Napa Valley wine tour that had ejected a group of black women from its train seemingly for the crime of laughing. But far more common are the clampdowns on quotidian infractions described by Joshua Sperber in his sobering New Labor Forum article on the rise of Yelp as a tool for labor discipline. Sperber notes of restaurant workers:

Yelp reviews are frequently read by restaurant owners and have been invoked to discipline, and even fire, restaurant employees who have been criticized on the site. In this way, Yelp contributors not only enrich Yelp but function as unpaid managers, or “secret shoppers,” for the restaurant industry.

These technologies not only allow actual managers to better surveil their employees, but also prime their users to assume managerial roles by encouraging them to identify and publicly discipline the behavior of workers they believe have underperformed, such as rude or slow-witted customer service reps.

The compulsion to act as a surrogate boss has also surfaced through an increasing number of more innocuous forms. One is the popular internet meme “You Had One Job,” a running catalogue of upside-down signs, ill-conceived shop displays, and other “fails” which unintentionally but inevitably implicate some worker somewhere for not having executed a task properly. While there are probably little to no repercussions aside from embarrassment for those who find their work displayed on “You Had One Job,” such practices nevertheless subtly encourage the public to scrutinize and evaluate the labor of others under the guise of a benign form of entertainment.

Modern career literature even encourages us to manage our managers. Especially within white-collar professions, work advice over the last few years has extolled the benefits of “managing up”—that is, placating moody, temperamental, or inept bosses in order to perform one’s own job better. While much of this advice is merely practical, it usually also advocates some variation of taking on the qualities absent in one’s manager. (In the event of a bumbling boss, Harvard Business Review recommends “filling the leadership void”; US News advises “thinking like a CEO.”) “Managing up” may bestow the illusion of increased power for underlings, but new reports have found that employees who feel trusted by their bosses—in other words, those who end up taking on those bosses’ burdens—suffer psychologically for it. It turns out that feeling like a boss, so to speak, isn’t entirely pleasant.

Though the blurring of the lines between worker, manager, employer, and employee may sometimes look like egalitarianism, under capitalism, it portends the further erosion of organized labor. If every union contract begins with a grievance against management, what of the shop where no managers exist, or where everyone is one? As more and more workers are primed—and in many cases forced—to become bosses-by-proxy both in and outside of their workplaces, it’s worth recalling the time-tested union-busting tactic of companies promoting employees to management in order to bar them from joining nascent unions. Our current moment of capitalism, in which the allure of horizontalism masks the slow conversion of all workers to bosses, amounts to this practice writ large.

According to Lordon, breaking the insidious co-linearization between employee and employer that defines this era will entail reconstituting our interests as workers to no longer desire work in and of itself. This, of course, is easier said than done, but a first step might include rethinking the idea that the disappearance of the traditional manager is necessarily a step forward. If it is infinitely more difficult for workers to assert our class interests when management is invisible or dispersed, let us keep our bosses. Or, more specifically, let us keep them in our sights.

Sort of parallels the recent concern over China's public karma system.

The article's not necessarily entirely convincing of the particular points it's trying to make, but I did think it was thought-provoking. In particular, it's interesting to see "follow your dreams/do what you love"esque preaching attacked from this particular perspective (that it's being co-opted to make people feel more willing [or more compelled] to do more work for less compensation). You often hear people attacking that philosophy from the other side--ie that following your dreams is impractical, improbable or selfish, or whatever, and that instilling that desire in our children has made us all *less* willing to do real work. But thinking about how long it took unpaid internships to become illegal (presumably because the bulk of the people willing to make noise over it were people who had gotten their unpaid dream internships but were well-resourced enough to be comfortable bashing them at the risk of losing them or burning the bridge they'd created by surviving it), it's not hard to see where this writer is coming from with that.

General Discussion / Barnes and Noble failing would ruin books
« on: June 21, 2016, 06:56:37 PM »

If Barnes & Noble goes out of business, it’ll be a disaster for book lovers.
June 20, 2016
Even by the standards of the ailing book publishing industry, the past year has been a bad one for Barnes & Noble. After the company spun off its profitable college textbook division, its stock plunged nearly 40 percent. Its long-term debt tripled, to $192 million, and its cash reserves dwindled. Leonard Riggio, who turned the company into a behemoth, has announced he will step down this summer after more than 40 years as chairman. At the rate it’s going, Barnes & Noble won’t be known as a bookseller at all—either because most of its floor space will be given over to games and gadgets, or, more ominously, because it won’t even exist.

There’s more than a little irony to the impending collapse of Barnes & Noble. The mega-retailer that drove many small, independent booksellers out of business is now being done in by the rise of Amazon. But while many book lovers may be tempted to gloat, the death of Barnes & Noble would be catastrophic—not just for publishing houses and the writers they publish, but for American culture as a whole.

If Barnes & Noble were to shut its doors, Amazon, independent bookstores, and big-box retailers like Target and Walmart would pick up some of the slack. But not all of it. Part of the reason is that book sales are driven by “showrooming,” the idea that most people don’t buy a book, either in print or electronically, unless they’ve seen it somewhere else—on a friend’s shelf, say, or in a bookstore. Even on the brink of closing, Barnes & Noble still accounts for as much as 30 percent of all sales for some publishing houses.

But the focus on sales masks the deeper degree to which the publishing industry relies on Barnes & Noble. The retailer provides much of the up-front cash publishers need to survive, in the form of initial orders. Most independent bookstores can’t afford to buy many books in advance; a single carton of 24 books would represent a large order. Amazon also buys few books in advance, preferring to let supplies run down so as to prompt online shoppers to “add to cart” because there are “only five left in stock.”

Barnes & Noble, by contrast, often takes very large initial orders. For books it believes will fly off the shelves, initials can reach the mid-five figures—hundreds of thousands of dollars that go to the publisher before a single book is even sold. That money, in turn, allows publishers to run ads in magazines and on Facebook, send authors on book tours, and pay for publicists. Without Barnes & Noble, it would become much harder for publishers to turn books into best-sellers.

Even if Barnes & Noble doesn’t close, publishers are already starting to suffer from the chain’s decline. “What can happen is that their number of stores can shrink, their store footprint can shrink, so that the number of titles on which they put meaningful advance orders can shrink,” says Mike Shatzkin, an industry veteran. “Publishers are going to have to adjust to a model where they print what they know will sell rather than what they hope will sell.”

Big-name authors, like Malcolm Gladwell or James Patterson, will probably be fine. So too will writers who specialize in romance, science fiction, manga, and commercial fiction—genres with devoted audiences, who have already gravitated to Amazon’s low prices. But Barnes & Noble is essential to publishers of literary fiction—the so-called “serious” works that get nominated for Pulitzers and National Book Awards. Without the initial orders Barnes & Noble places, and the visibility its shelves provide, breakout hits by relative unknowns—books like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven—will suffer.

In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits. Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all. And rigorous nonfiction books, which often require extensive research and travel, will have a tough time finding a publisher with the capital to fund such efforts.

The irony of the age of cultural abundance is that it still relies on old filters and distribution channels to highlight significant works. Barnes & Noble and corporate publishers still have enormous strides to make in fully reflecting America’s rich diversity. But without them, the kinds of books that challenge us, that spark intellectual debates, that push society to be better, will start to disappear. Without Barnes & Noble, we’ll be adrift in a sea of pulp.

Not to mention it'll make Amazon a practical monopoly. It's interesting the the film industry and the book industry seem inevitably drawn to the same issue (the bold) for such different reasons, but much sadder in the case of books. With movies there's the simple solution of simply not pirating, but in this case there's not really anyone to blame.


Police can use illegally obtained evidence in court, SCOTUS rules, sabotaging 4th Amendment

A new SCOTUS ruling poses a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights, a Supreme Court justice warns.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that police can use evidence they obtained illegally against a defendant in court.

One of the four liberal Supreme Court justices — Stephen Breyer, who was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994 — joined hands with the conservative justices in support of the ruling.

The justices voted five-to-three in favor of a lawbreaking police officer in Utah v. Strieff, a drug-related case involving a Utah man.

Police spied on a South Salt Lake City home after receiving an anonymous tip about drug activity. When Joseph Edward Strieff, the defendant in the case, walked out of the house, a police detective illegally stopped him, questioned him and checked his name in a police database.

The State of Utah conceded that this stop was illegal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the police “officer did not suspect that Strieff had done anything wrong. Strieff just happened to be the first person to leave a house that the officer thought might contain ‘drug activity.'”

Yet the police officer saw that Strieff had a “small traffic warrant.” He therefore arrested Strieff and illegally searched him, finding methamphetamine in his pocket. Utah subsequently charged Strieff with illegal drug possession.

Strieff’s attorney argued that allowing police to use these illegally obtained drugs as evidence in court would effectively permit them to continue with such illegal searches in the future. The Utah Supreme Court unanimously agreed. But the Supreme Court ruled against it.

Sotomayor warned in a scathing dissent that the ruling jeopardizes Americans’ constitutional rights, and will disproportionately hurt people of color.

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote.

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor said.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant,” she added.

“Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.”

Sotomayor’s dissent was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan also filed a dissent.

Clarence Thomas, the most right-wing Supreme Court justice, supported the ruling, arguing that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Clinton-appointed liberal justice Stephen Breyer joined Thomas and the other three conservatives on the court: John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito.

“When courts admit illegally obtained evidence as well, they reward ‘manifest neglect if not an open defiance of the prohibitions of the Constitution,'” Sotomayor said, citing a previous court ruling.

Justice Sotomayor noted that outstanding warrants for minor offenses “are surprisingly common,” and the ruling has thus “given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine” average Americans.

“When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” she added in her dissent. “We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens.”

Sotomayor warned this ruling will disproportionate impact on Americans of color. “The white defendant in this case shows that anyone’s dignity can be violated” by police, she said. “But it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.”

She cited “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness,” a book by legal scholar Michelle Alexander that exposes the structural racism in the U.S. justice system.

“For generations, black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them,” Sotomayor continued.

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere,” Sotomayor concluded.

“They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

Jesus Christ this fucking country

General Discussion / Cool music site
« on: June 17, 2016, 09:38:03 PM »

Click on a country and a decade between 1900 and now and get songs from that country at that times. Dunno how wide the selection is since I've only been listening for a little bit, but it's a wiki so it could theoretically grow (although I sadly doubt it'll really take off)

General Discussion / New Zelda looks sick
« on: June 15, 2016, 12:11:31 AM »
New Zelda looks sick

General Discussion / Birds aren't stupid you're stupid
« on: June 14, 2016, 11:49:32 PM »
Thought this was interesting. tl;dr Bird brains are more densely packed with neurons than other animals' brains, which is why they're able to become so intelligent despite having such tiny brains.

They actually have a higher percentage of neurons in the cerebral cortex than primates.

Birds are capable of extraordinary behavioral feats, from solving complex puzzles to tool making. There may be good reason for that. A new study shows that, pound for pound, birds pack more neurons into their small brains than mammals, including primates.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this study is the first to systematically measure the number of neurons in the brains of more than a dozen bird species, from tiny zebra finches to the six-foot-tall emu. By doing so, neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel and her team at Vanderbilt University discovered that avian brains contain more neurons per square inch than mammalian brains.

This means that birds pack more brain power per pound than mammals, offering an explanation for their remarkable cognitive talents. What’s more, the study shows that evolution has found more than one way to build a complex brain.

Scientists have long wondered how birds—with their teeny-tiny brains—are capable of exhibiting many complex behaviors, some of which were thought to the be exclusive domain of larger primates. Birds can manufacture tools, cache food, plan for the future, pass the mirror test, use insight to solve problems, and understand cause-and-effect. They’ve also been observed to hide food in front of other birds, and then relocate that food when the other birds aren’t looking. This suggests that birds have a “theory of mind,” which means they’re capable of inferring what other birds are thinking. Very few animals can do that.

Prior to this, scientists just figured that avian brains were simply wired in a completely different way compared to primate brains. But this theory hasn’t been borne out empirically; studies have shown that avian brains are structured quite similarly to mammalian brains.

Now the tired old notion that birds are stupid is starting to fall by the wayside. “We found that birds, especially songbirds and parrots, have surprisingly large numbers of neurons in their pallium [or forebrain]: the part of the brain that corresponds to the cerebral cortex, which supports higher cognition functions such as planning for the future or finding patterns,” said Herculano-Houzel. “That explains why they exhibit levels of cognition at least as complex as primates.

The parrot, for example, has as many neurons in its walnut-sized brain as the macaque monkey, which has a larger brain about the size of a lemon. When the functional connectivity of avian brains are mapped, it looks similar to what’s found in mammals, such as mice, cats, monkeys, and even humans.

But by packing these neurons in such a dense fashion, birds have been endowed with higher cognitive power per pound than mammals.

“In designing brains, nature has two parameters it can play with: the size and number of neurons and the distribution of neurons across different brain centers,” said Herculano-Houzel, “and in birds we find that nature has used both of them.”

This means that evolution has found more than one way to build a powerful brain. Previously, neuroscientists thought that, as brains grew larger, neurons had to grow bigger as well in order to be able to connect over large distances. The new study shows that there are other ways to add neurons, namely by keeping them small and locally connected, while allowing a small percentage to grow large enough to make longer connections. This keeps the average size of neurons down, which allows for a smaller brain.

The researchers aren’t sure which of the two brain types evolved more recently. It’s possible that the super-compact avian brains came first, and that mammals evolved a “different” kind of brain. Or perhaps birds, who are descended from dinosaurs, evolved their highly efficient brains as a requisite for flight, since birds need to be light and agile.

More conceptually, a growing number of scientists, bioethicists, and legal scholars have been making the case that highly sapient and cognitively complex animals should be awarded personhood status, which would afford them special protections. So, in addition to all great apes (a group that includes humans), whales, dolphins, and elephants, we should also include certain birds, such as corvids and parrots.

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