When the gods dance...

Friday, November 30, 2012


Capitalism And Class In America

Economist Richard Wolff explains the weaknesses of capitalism and the need for Americans to understand the system under which they live and work.

Hitler’s Strange Afterlife in India

Nov 30, 2012 4:45 AM EST

Hated and mocked in much of the world, the Nazi leader has developed a strange following among schoolchildren and readers of Mein Kampf in India. Dilip D’Souza on how political leader Bal Thackeray influenced Indians to admire Hitler and despise Gandhi.

My wife teaches French to tenth-grade students at a private school here in Mumbai. During one recent class, she asked these mostly upper-middle-class kids to complete the sentence “J'admire …” with the name of the historical figure they most admired.


Adolf Hitler speaks in 1936. (AP Photo)

To say she was disturbed by the results would be to understate her reaction. Of 25 students in the class, 9 picked Adolf Hitler, making him easily the highest vote-getter in this particular exercise; a certain Mohandas Gandhi was the choice of precisely one student. Discussing the idea of courage with other students once, my wife was startled by the contempt they had for Gandhi. “He was a coward!” they said. And as far back as 2002, the Times of India reported a survey that found that 17 percent of students in elite Indian colleges “favored Adolf Hitler as the kind of leader India ought to have.”

In a place where Gandhi becomes a coward, perhaps Hitler becomes a hero.

Still, why Hitler? “He was a fantastic orator,” said the 10th-grade kids. “He loved his country; he was a great patriot. He gave back to Germany a sense of pride they had lost after the Treaty of Versailles,” they said.

"And what about the millions he murdered?” asked my wife. “Oh, yes, that was bad,” said the kids. “But you know what, some of them were traitors.”

Admiring Hitler for his oratorical skills? Surreal enough. Add to that the easy condemnation of his millions of victims as traitors. Add to that the characterization of this man as a patriot. I mean, in a short dozen years, Hitler led Germany through a scarcely believable orgy of blood to utter shame and wholesale destruction. Even the mere thought of calling such a man a patriot profoundly corrupts—is violently antithetical to—the idea of patriotism.

But these are kids, you think, and kids say the darndest things. Except this is no easily written-off experience. The evidence is that Hitler has plenty of admirers in India, plenty of whom are by no means kids.

Consider Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography. Reviled it might be in the much of the world, but Indians buy thousands of copies of it every month. As a recent paper in the journal EPW tells us (PDF), there are over a dozen Indian publishers who have editions of the book on the market. Jaico, for example, printed its 55th edition in 2010, claiming to have sold 100,000 copies in the previous seven years. (Contrast this to the 3,000 copies my own 2009 book,Roadrunner, has sold). In a country where 10,000 copies sold makes a book a bestseller, these are significant numbers.

And the approval goes beyond just sales. Mein Kampf is available for sale on flipkart.com, India’s Amazon. As I write this, 51 customers have rated the book; 35 of those gave it a five-star rating. What’s more, there’s a steady trickle of reports that say it has become a must-read for business-school students; a management guide much like Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese or Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking. If this undistinguished artist could take an entire country with him, I imagine the reasoning goes, surely his book has some lessons for future captains of industry?

Much of Hitler’s Indian afterlife is the legacy of Bal Thackeray, chief of the Shiv Sena party who died on Nov. 17.

Thackeray freely, openly, and often admitted his admiration for Hitler, his book, the Nazis, and their methods. In 1993, for example, he gave an interview toTime magazine. “There is nothing wrong,” he said then, “if [Indian] Muslims are treated as Jews were in Nazi Germany.”

It’s no wonder they cling to almost comically superficial ideas of courage and patriotism, in which a megalomaniac’s every ghastly crime is forgotten so long as we can pretend that he ‘loved’ his country.

This interview came only months after the December 1992 and January 1993 riots in Mumbai, which left about a thousand Indians slaughtered, the majority of them Muslim. Thackeray was active right through those weeks, writing editorial after editorial in his party mouthpiece, “Saamna” (“Confrontation”) about how to “treat” Muslims.

On Dec. 9, 1992, for example, his editorial contained these lines: “Pakistan need not cross the borders and attack India. 250 million Muslims in India will stage an armed insurrection. They form one of Pakistan’s seven atomic bombs.”

A month later, on Jan. 8, 1993, there was this: “Muslims of Bhendi Bazar, Null Bazar, Dongri and Pydhonie, the areas [of Mumbai] we call Mini Pakistan … must be shot on the spot.”

There was plenty more too: much of it inspired by the failed artist who became Germany’s führer. After all, only weeks before the riots erupted, Thackeray said this about the führer’s famous autobiography: “If you take Mein Kampf and if you remove the word Jew and put in the word Muslim, that is what I believe in.”

With rhetoric like that, it’s no wonder the streets of my city saw the slaughter of 1992-93. It’s no wonder kids come to admire a mass-murderer, to rationalize away his massacres. It’s no wonder they cling to almost comically superficial ideas of courage and patriotism, in which a megalomaniac’s every ghastly crime is forgotten so long as we can pretend that he “loved” his country.

In his acclaimed 1997 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen writes: “Hitler, in possession of great oratorical skills, was the [Nazi] Party’s most forceful public speaker. Like Hitler, the party from its earliest days was devoted to the destruction of … democracy [and to] most especially and relentlessly, anti-Semitism. … The Nazi Party became Hitler’s Party, obsessively anti-Semitic and apocalyptic in its rhetoric about its enemies.”

Do some substitutions in those sentences along the lines Thackeray wanted to do with Mein Kampf. Indeed, what you get is a more than adequate description of … no surprise, Thackeray himself.

Yes, it’s no wonder. Thackeray too was revered as an orator. Cremated, on Nov. 18, as a patriot.

World's oldest digital computer restored to life at age 60


November 29, 2012

The Harwell computer as it appeared shortly after arrival at the National Museum of Computing (Photo: National Museum of Computing)

Image Gallery (16 images)

The Harwell Dekatron computer is a 1950s computer having roughly the weight and size of a Hummer H3 and the computing power of a four-function pocket calculator. Having been restored to its original operating condition using 95 percent original parts, it is now the oldest functioning programmable digital computer in the world. Guinness might have been onto something, when, in 1973, they named the Dekatron the Most Durable Computer in the World.

The Harwell computer was built in the early 1950s for the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Never intended to be a state-of-the-art general-purpose computer, the Harwell was developed to perform simple but repetitive calculations continuously and without error. Its computational rate is about 0.1 FLOPS, similar to that of a pocket calculator, but the computer operates for long periods of time without human intervention.


The Harwell computer in use at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (Photo: National Museum of Computing)

The computational needs of the Establishment soon outstripped the Harwell, and in 1957 Wolverhampton University was offered the machine to train students about computing. The Harwell was relaunched as the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell), and helped a generation of students learn about computing. But by 1974, Wolverhampton decided that the WITCH was obsolete. They donated the computer to the Museum of Science and Industry in Birmingham, where it was on display until the museum closed in 1997.

Then, once again evading disposal, the computer was disassembled and stored in the Birmingham City Council Museums Collection Centre. Rediscovered quite by accident in 2008 by Kevin Murrell, a trustee of the National Museum of Computing, it was moved to its current home at that museum, where it's been restored to full functionality.


Banks of logic relays within the Harwell computer (Photo: National Museum of Computing)

Conservationist Delwyn Holroyd led the restoration effort. He commented that the machine was "pretty dirty" when arrived at its new home. That's no idle complaint when one considers the logic operations of the Harwell are carried out by a circuit with 480 telephone exchange relays possessing over 7000 contacts, any of which can be disrupted by a speck of dust.

The operations of the arithmetic unit and the RAM storage (90 eight-digit plus sign decimal digits – about 340 bytes) of the Harwell are largely carried out by a set of 828 dekatron tubes. An additional double-length word is used as an accumulator in multiplication and division.


One of the dekatron tubes on the Harwell computer (Photo: Bad germ)

A dekatron was the simplest base-10 counter able to add and subtract while generating carry digits. Common dekatrons were based on decimal counting, and could switch reliably at speeds in excess of 10 kHz. Dekatrons are triggered to consecutively light a set of ten positions in a cold-cathode tube.


The paper tape readers that provide the Harwell computer with program instructions and data (Photo: Bad germ)

Input of programs and data are carried out by a pair of paper tape readers, and output is either through a printer or a paper tape punch.The paper tape readers of the day were rather rough on paper tape, so programs intended for multiple reuse had to be made of linen rather than paper.

Although the days of the Harwell computer as an active participant in science and engineering are long over, it stands as a rare and inspiring example of the enormous rate of change that characterizes our modern era.

Source: The National Museum of Computing

About the Author
From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Andy and his best friend Mearl the Squirrel

Not Liking Post-IPO Facebook As Much? The Copyright Hoax Shows Why

A segment of a social network

A segment of a social network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Facebook, we have a problem, and you’d  better deal with it before it’s too late. You used to be a social network. But since your IPO you’ve changed. Spending time with you now feels like too much network and not enough social. And the social is the reason why we’ve been coming around. Why do I say this? Just consider the latest hoax infecting news feeds, the one where users posted legalistic gobbledygook declaring self-protective personal copyright protection.

The important question to ask is why so many people so quickly posted a declaration that falls somewhere between the ineffective and the ridiculous. And when why is asked the answer emerging is that lots of people are starting to get sort of creeped-out by post-IPO Facebook. That’s right, creeped-out. Being on Facebook is starting to feel like what walking around Times Square felt like in the 70s; there is something there you want but you had best stay anxiously suspicious because someone might be trying to rip you off.

The creeped-out feeling should not be a surprise. Post-IPO Facebook is trying to monetize a feature of basic human nature: our insatiable drive to connect with other people. The drive to connect with other people, what John Bowlby, the mid-20th century psychologist, developed into “attachment theory,” helps explain much of human development and behavior.

Facebook tapped into our hunger (i.e., our fundamental need) for attachment by providing a clean interface to interactive technologies that helped us feel like we were connecting to each other, however much we may have felt so while sitting by ourselves. It was like the feeling of flying in a state-of-the-art flight simulator; you had the experience even though your feet never left the ground. We felt ourselves immersed in moments of relating even though physically alone. Though by ourselves at keyboards, emotionally we were elsewhere: back on the playground; sharing photos with the family; on a date; hanging out at the mall, bar, or coffee shop; or back at the freshmen mixer or senior year lunch table. The keyboard didn’t matter. Neither did the physical separation. We felt connected. We experienced other people, and experienced them experiencing us, even if it was just for a moment. It was social alchemy and being on Facebook used to be tremendous fun.

But that is changing. It does not feel quite so social anymore. Sponsored stories, personalized ads, a new Gifts service, and Facebook logins ubiquitously present across the web combine to change the way it feels, and not in a good way. This change in how FB lets us experience each other, a change that leave many feeling creeped-out, is what the copyright hoax reveals. You wouldn’t suddenly present your spouse with a post-nuptial agreement, or come to work and present your manager with a self-protective legal document, unless something was amiss, unless you felt there was a reason to protect your self. Same thing with the recent wave of self-protective status updates. There would be no need unless people were feeling something was off, feeling that something they needed and wanted was imperiled and in need of protection. And what we need and want is each other.

It would be easy, and wrong, to say this primarily reflects a concern over privacy (see Kashmir Hill’s excellent post about the hoax and the current status of Facebook privacy issues ). No new privacy policy is going to rebalance the increasingly off-kilter feeling of Facebook. What will help is finding a way to monetize the user base without threatening the very reason why people use FB in the first place—to feel connected.

Before the hoax I had thought my experience on FB was changing for personal, maybe even idiosyncratic, reasons. I noticed a change and thought it was just me. For example, when I read the status updates from my cousin’s kids and saw they were continuing to grow into wonderful people, I felt grateful for the information. But I felt less connected, less part of their lives. The “social” part of the “network” wasn’t working as well. So I began checking in less and less. After all, only the truly strange would want to spend lots of time hanging out in the Times Square of 1975.

So, while I take comfort from the copyright hoax and see that lots of people are also feeling the post-IPO change, and hope you do too, I also hope Facebook gets it together. And since I have not yet sold the handful of shares of Facebook I own, I guess I remain confident that they can still become a money-making SOCIAL network, and not turn into a doomed-to-fail Google-ish network that used to be social.

Special Report: Silicon Valley's dirty secret - age bias

Jeff Spirer, 61, poses for a portrait in San Francisco, California November 9, 2012. Picture taken November 9, 2012. REUTERS-Robert Galbraith

by Sarah McBride

Tue Nov 27, 2012 11:27am EST

(Reuters) - When Randy Adams, 60, was looking for a chief-executive officer job in Silicon Valley last year, he got turned down from position after position that he thought he was going to nail — only to see much younger, less-experienced men win out.

Finally, before heading into his next interview, he shaved off his gray hair and traded in his loafers for a pair of Converse sneakers. The board hired him.

"I don't think I would have been able to get this CEO job if I hadn't shaved my head," says Adams, who has founded eight venture-backed companies. He is now chairman of the company that hired him, mobile conference-call service Socialdial, and is fundraising for a new business. Adams has supplemented his makeover by trading in his button-down shirts for T-shirts, making sure he owns the latest gadgets, and getting an eyelid lift.

Such are the pressures in Silicon Valley, where the start-up ethos extols fresh ideas and young programmers willing to toil through the night. Chief executives in their 20s, led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, are lionized, in part because of their youth. Many investors state bluntly that they prefer to see people under 40 in charge.

Yet the youth worship undercuts another of Silicon Valley's cherished ideals: that anyone smart and driven can get ahead in what the industry likes to think of as an egalitarian culture. To many, it looks like simple age discrimination - and it's affecting people who wouldn't fit any normal definition of old.

"I don't think in the outside world, outside tech, anyone in their 40s would think age discrimination was happening to them," says Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment attorney who has fielded age-discrimination inquiries from people in their early 40s. But they feel it in the Bay Area, he said, and it's "100 percent due to the new, young, tech start-up mindset."

Regional data on age discrimination are hard to come by, making it hard to establish precisely how Silicon Valley stacks up against other parts of the United States.

Of the 18,335 employment cases filed in 2010 with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, one-fifth cited age. That puts age below retaliation as a discrimination claim, but above racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual orientation.

Nationally, retaliation is also the most frequently cited discrimination claim, according to the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. But age comes much lower down on the national list, below race, sex, and disability.

The federal agency says age is cited in 26 percent of total complaints in California, compared to 22 percent in New York and 21 percent in Texas. Among large states, Illinois had the highest ratio of age-related complaints, at 37 percent.


Some technology recruiters say unequivocally they see bias at work. Marta Fuentealba, a principal at start-up specialist Talent Farm, says she's encountered it many times.

She recalls a meeting at a software company a few years ago, when the human-resources executive told her he would like to find somebody "around age 26 or so" to fill a job. An age requirement along those lines would violate both state and federal laws on discrimination, California labor lawyers say.

"You mean, somebody less jaded?" Fuentealba recalls asking, hoping to jolt the executive back into legal territory. "And he said, ‘No, I mean somebody young, probably no older than 26.'" Back at the office, she sent the executive resumes from a variety of candidates.

Jeff Spirer, a 61-year-old technology marketing and strategy veteran, landed a new job in October after a stint doing part-time consulting. It was a tough search. He recalls the follow-up after a long phone interview at a small online-surveys company last year.

The hiring manager asked Spirer to come in for an interview with the chief executive, who was in his 20s. When Spirer walked into the room, the CEO looked at him, said something had come up unexpectedly, and left.

The interview never got rescheduled, and a younger candidate eventually got the job. Spirer cannot say for sure, but he thinks the CEO was taken aback to see somebody with wrinkles. "What other conclusion can I draw?" asks Spirer.

Age discrimination is notoriously difficult to prove. Lawyers say they typically do not have smoking guns such as emails saying the candidate or employee is too old, and need to be able to show through other methods such as statistics that the company is making employment decisions based on age.

In some cases, there are reasons other than bias for preferring younger workers in a startup setting. People with young children can be strapped for time and less able to work long, late hours. Younger workers are more likely to be expert in the newest software programming protocols. Young entrepreneurs, like many others, often move instinctively in hiring from the cohort of those they know.

Yet there are some indications that age bias is now part of the culture in Silicon Valley -especially visible in what Adams of Socialdial calls the "cachet of the young entrepreneur."

When young executives like Zuckerberg are successful, their age often gets a lot of attention. Successful older entrepreneurs, on the other hand, take pride in every aspect of their accomplishments - except their age.

When the software company Workday went public last month and raised $637 million, little attention was paid to the fact that co-founder and co-CEO David Duffield is 72.

Sandy Kurtzig founded Ask Computer Systems and its manufacturing software program, Manman, and saw the company through a stock-market listing in 1981. Now, she has raised $10.5 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and others for her new software company, Kenandy. She says she is in her 60s and leaves it at that, explaining, "I don't want to advertise it."


Investors, in contrast to employers, are not subject to discrimination laws when deciding whom to fund. And they are among the most outspoken in declaring their age preferences.

"I am just an incredibly enthusiastic fan of very talented 20-somethings starting companies," Sequoia Capital's Mike Moritz, 58 years old and a top VC, once said at a conference, echoing similar comments he has made over the years. "They have great passion. They don't have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way of business." He was 49 at the time.

"Unfortunately, I don't think the quote you have selected is very representative of what I think," Moritz said in an email. He declined to elaborate.

Khosla Ventures' Vinod Khosla, 57, told conference goers last year that "people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas."

Khosla says the line came in the context of a talk where he was discussing the fear many older people have of failure, contrasted with many younger people's experimental bent. "I was encouraging people to try new things that go against conventional wisdom," he says.

Khosla Ventures invests in several companies with over-45 leaders, including Nu-Tek Salt LLC and its CEO, Tom Manuel.

Some venture capitalists extend their appreciation of youth to their own partnerships. In June, Benchmark Capital's Peter Fenton, 40, told a group of journalists that Benchmark strives to keep the average age of its most-active partners under 40 to better relate to young entrepreneurs.

Fenton says he is not ageist, arguing that there is a well-documented relationship between youth and creativity. As for partners such as himself who hit 40, "we have a discipline to try and stay young," he says. "Young at mind."

Mark Zuckerberg himself once told a class at startup-funding firm Y Combinator that hiring only young people with technical expertise was the best way to found a successful company. "Young people are just smarter," he said. Zuckerberg was 22 at the time. Through a spokeswoman, he declined to comment.

Yet there is little evidence to support the idea that young people are intrinsically more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.

Fluid intelligence, which allows people to think logically and solve problems, does deteriorate with age, behavioral scientists say. But another type of intelligence known as crystallized intelligence, the ability to tap into experience and amassed knowledge, improves somewhat until about age 65.

The conventional wisdom about young people being more focused on work is itself a stereotype, older executives say.


"I have more time than a 35-year-old with a newborn," says Spirer, the marketing veteran. "And I'm more available. Judgments are made on age-related stuff without thinking it through."

Laurie McCann, an attorney with retiree lobby AARP, says the technology sector's obsession with fresh ideas and long hours leads people to fall back on easy assumptions about age.

"That older people can't work that fast," she says. "That they can't think on their feet in order to come up with the ideas." Further assumptions include inability to change on the part of older employees, or to get along with younger people.

Other fields, such as law, education or healthcare, also value creativity and hard work, she says, but less so than a track record. "Any field where experience is valued, I think you're going to find less instance of discrimination," she says.

Silicon Valley veterans try to adapt as best they can. Adams of Socialdial ticks off a list of faux pas that he believes peg older jobseekers as outsiders. "You can't have an AOL email," he says. "That's horrible. A Gmail address is okay. What's really cool is an email with your name on it," as part of the domain.

In person, older job applicants should carry a backpack, not a briefcase, he says. Avoid Blackberries and Dell laptops in favor of Android phones and Apple products. And above all, steer clear of wristwatches, which most younger people have replaced with the clocks on their phones. "The worst would be a gold Rolex," he says. "Tacky, and old."

Some recommend dressing young. For her first interview at Facebook, 40-something market researcher Sally Sadosky headed to a boutique popular with women 20 years her junior for advice on "something to look hip" and "blend in."

She ditched her tailored pants and blouses for a dress, tights, and biker boots. She then got second and third interviews and had to come up with more hipster outfits. "I was beginning to sweat," she recalls. She eventually got the position.

Adams recommends getting rid of gray hair, either through dyes or through shaving, as he did. He also believes in treating wrinkles or other skin-related signs of age. A few years ago, he underwent an eyelid lift to reduce sagging above his eyes.

The cosmetic surgery route seems increasingly common among the men of Silicon Valley. Roy Hong, chairman of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's plastic surgery department, says men represented 14 percent of his customers last year, up from 9 percent a decade ago.

Still, the scalpel is where some draw the line. Spirer complains that his friend Adams, buoyed by eye-surgery success, is hounding him to undergo a similar procedure for a more youthful image and enhanced job prospects.

No go. "I'm Jewish," Spirer says. "I've had bags under my eyes since I was 25."

(Reporting By Sarah McBride; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Michael Williams)


Decision-making in business/government is irrational and subjective, tho' clothed in Science bull. The tech industry is like some bad Peter Pan fantasy when it comes to VC funding and hiring: follow the naughty boy.  -HEK


Had I walked in on something like this in the Sixties....

Ban on Advertising to Children Linked to Lower Obesity Rates



Last weekend I met a couple whose children are not permitted to discuss movies or video games at school. The children don’t watch television, have limited computer access and have only seen movies pre-screened by their parents.

There was a time when I might have viewed these restrictions as a bit excessive, but not anymore. With what’s being thrown at kids through media exposure these days, I’m all in with an environment that seeks to filter some of it. As a doctor who treats children, many of whom are overweight or obese, I don’t think there can be much doubt that child-directed advertising is fueling the obesity epidemic. Now, a recently published University of British Columbia study supports that theory with findings that suggest that banning fast-food advertising to children may actually curtail obesity.

Researchers found that a 32-year ban on fast-food advertising to kids in electronic and print media in Quebec resulted in a 13 percent reduction in fast-food expenditures and an estimated 2 billion to 4 billion fewer calories consumed by children in the province. While the rest of Canada has been experiencing the same explosion in childhood obesity seen here in the United States, Quebec has the lowest childhood obesity rate in Canada.

Meanwhile, in the face of our own raging obesity epidemic, child-directed advertising of unhealthful food to children continues unabated.

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has just released a 2012 report showing that little has changed since 2009, even though the cereal industry claims to have reduced advertising to children.

Despite a slight improvement in overall nutritional quality of kids’ cereals, children still get “one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonfuls of cereal,” according to Jennifer L. Harris, the lead researcher on the Rudd study, and that sugar is heavily marketed: in 2011, 6- to 11-year-olds viewed more than 700 ads per year for cereals on television while preschoolers saw 595. Cereal companies spent $264 million to promote child-targeted cereals in 2011 (an increase of 34 percent from just 2008). Other companies spend millions more promoting unhealthy products — and it works: television viewing and the associated advertising exposure correlate with an increased intake of candy and sugary sodas.

As if pushing unhealthy food wasn’t enough, pharmaceutical companies are now rolling out ads that are designed to appeal to kids. Children’s Claritin, an allergy medication, now includes Madagascar stickers and blogging mothers are encouraged to hold Claritin parties for all the neighborhood kids. We seem to have accepted the idea of companies encouraging children to ask for foods that aren’t healthy choices; now we’re accepting targeted advertising of products that children can’t possibly evaluate.

It doesn’t matter that children aren’t necessarily the ones checking out at the grocery store and driving up to the fast-food outlet. Parents are being bombarded with requests for sugary cereals, fast food and vitamins shaped like dinosaurs. “No” fatigue is rampant, and eventually, “no” doesn’t help. Other studies have shown that once children become teenagers and are able to exert more control over their food choices, they eat less healthily. Years of being saturated with advertising for exactly the foods parents try to regulate can’t help.

What can be done about the invasion of child-directed advertising? Parents need to be aware of the pervasive advertising their children are being exposed to, take steps to manage their child’s media exposure, provide healthy alternatives to cereals and fast food and support legislation to curtail advertising to kids.

We’ve already seen the  Federal Trade Commission go weak in the knees about reeling in food advertising to children,  but it is still possible that more cities will follow New York City’s ban on outsized sugary sodas and that state governments will take actions similar to Quebec’s. And we can always hope that more corporations will voluntarily follow the lead of the Walt Disney Company in setting nutritional standards for products advertised on all child-focused television channels, radio stations and Web sites.

When the consequences of alcohol and tobacco consumption, particularly to young people, were recognized, ads for these products were restricted if not outright banned worldwide. We need to pay similar attention to the long-range effects of advertising obesity, and not turn our children’s brains and their behavior over to those whose measure of success is not necessarily the same as ours.

Catherine Musemeche is a pediatric surgeon. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can follow her on Twitter @DrKateM.

Cornel West to Economists: 'Wake Up From Your Mechanistic, Cartesian Dream!'

West and Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof talk markets and morality.

What happens when you throw economists, theologians and a literature professor into a room to talk about markets and morality? Sparks fly, that's what. Including a warning from Cornel West that we are "losing the class war."

Wednesday night at NYC's Union Theological Seminary, competing ideas clashed and questions tumbled forth in a spirited disucssion: Are people really equal? What does that mean economically? Does mathematics or history provide a better lens for approaching economic issues? Does the market really deliver what people want? How can we avoid being exploited by the market?

The Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) and the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) hosted the second installment in an intriguing series of conversations on economics and theology featuring Nobel Prize–winning economist and INET advisory board member George Akerlof; UTS theologian Dr. Cornel West; UTS president Rev. Dr. Serene Jones; English professor and former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Betty Sue Flowers; and INET executive director Robert Johnson.

Akerlof, who teaches at Berkeley, is an economist known for his challenges to the neoclassical theory dominant in his field for the past several decades. He has repeatedly shown that markets do not work the way their worshippers insist: people do not have adequate information when they make purchases; they often behave irrationally; and markets often work very inefficiently. His latest book, co-authored with Rachel Kranton, explores how our social identities shape our economic destinies.

On Wednesday Akerlof talked about his new book in the works, Phishing for Phools, which looks at how free markets give free rein to all manner of hustlers who prey on our emotional and cognitive weaknesses to sell us things that we don’t need and may harm us. In this climate, he insists, even reasonable, intelligent people are routinely caught in market snares. Drawing upon colorful illustrations of 19th-century swindlers who sold tonics that often cured customers of the disease of life itself, Akerlof underscored the importance of regulation in the market minefield.

Heterodox though he may be, Akerlof is, after all, an economist, and puts great faith in the power of mathematics to address human dilemmas. But he acknowledged that economists need better mathematics with which to predict catastrophes and understand the vagaries of human behavior. His faith in technocratic solutions was evident in his answer to a question I posed about how to best attack false economic arguments in the political realm – such as the commonly touted myth that Social Security contributes to the deficit (it doesn’t). I specifically wanted to know if mathematics or moral arguments were better suited to expose the lies. His answer? “The CBO has some good information.” In fairness, I think he may have misunderstood the question.

Cornel West may not have the answer, but he understands the question. In sharp contrast to the mild-mannered, delightfully nerdy Akerlof, West speaks with the bold sweep and poetic passion of a prophetic theologian. He challenged the room to consider the “structures of domination” that are “terrorizing people” in our economy, and he roundly criticized the reliance on mathematics to address real human suffering. To that sally, Akerlof agreed sheepishly that “We need to know how to talk about power.”

Unlike Akerlof, West does not think the economy is working particularly well. He cited high poverty rates and growing economic inequality as signs that the class war was going rather badly for most folks. He warned, however, that giving into cynicism would only stymie efforts to challenge exploitation and alleviate economic pain. West emphasized the need for economists to wake up from their “mechanistic, Cartesian dream” and focus more on the lessons of history. He applauded the great economist John Maynard Keynes for his association with the Bloomsbury Group, where the literary and historical perspectives of figures like Virginia Woolf informed his economic vision.  Betty Sue Flowers noted that 19th-century poets had a deep understanding of human temptation and often deployed religious imagery to describe our vulnerability to exploitation.

Rob Johnson described economics as “the secular religion of mankind” and noted that many of its structures are “mirages” that lead to suffering and demoralization.  He pointed out several ways in which the field of economics had been corrupted, including the tendency of economists to serve as the PR department for the powerful. Amen to that!

There was one thing everyone in the room agreed upon: We need better stories to communicate progressive economic ideas, and economists themselves are unlikely to provide them. I thought of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and how the author's critique of exploitation contained not a single mathematical equation. And yet it moved the public enough to create changes in labor laws that alleviated the suffering of millions. More discussions that blend the voices of economists with historians, poets, linguists and theologians are a promising step toward getting to such powerful narratives for our own times. Only connect!

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' She received her Ph.d in English and Cultural Theory from NYU, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.


Internet Radio Fairness Act Doesn't Touch Songwriters, Publishers


As the battle over the Internet Radio Fairness Act [IRFA] heats up in Washington, it's becoming clear that not everyone understands what the fight is all about. Case in point: Recently, songwriter Ellen Shipley claimed that although her hit song "Heaven Is a Place On Earth" was played nearly 3.2 million times on Pandora, she only received $39 - an amount that easily could be reduced if the proposed legislation is signed into law. However, as Digital Music News (no relation to this publication) this week pointed out, neither Pandora nor other online streaming services pay songwriters at all. Instead, these companies all pay a set fee to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, which then distribute royalties to their member publishers and songwriters. Since Shipley is a member of BMI, her $39 check came from that organization, which reportedly charges Pandora (and others) approximately 4.5% of their gross revenues, to be distributed 50/50 (after administrative fees) to publishers and songwriters, respectively. As DMN says, Shipley's concern raises the question of whether BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are fairly crediting the value of plays on Pandora and other streaming services. Note: Pandora has commenced a legal action against ASCAP in the "Rate Court" that supervises the fees charged by both ASCAP and BMI and, if it is successful, could use that decision to try to reduce BMI's fees. [Full story: Digital Music News]

SoundExchange Makes Largest Payment Ever To Artists, Labels In Q3


Just as internet radio services are mounting a lesgislative challenge to the way performance royalty fees are calculated, SoundExchange last week announced it distributed $122.5 million to record labels and artists in the third quarter, and $326.9 million for the first nine months of 2012. Since its inception, SoundExchange has paid more than $1 billion in royalties collected from Pandora and more than 2,000 other digital music services. "This distribution represents yet another record-setting quarter for SoundExchange, but means so much for the recording artists and record labels that rely upon this growing revenue stream," commented SoundExchange President Michael Huppe. "Musicians and rights owners - both superstars and rising stars - have come to depend on these royalty payments. We are proud to help facilitate this growth and are passionate about our work in protecting this revenue stream, and moving the music and creative community forward." [Full story: Sacramento Bee]

Digital Music Holdout AC/DC Finally Releases Catalog On iTunes


Heavy metal recording act AC/DC, one of the last holdouts in the digital download space, last week announced it finally would be making its entire catalog available for sale via iTunes and other online music sites. After years of arguing that iTunes was, as singer Brian Johnson said, "going to kill music if they're not careful," the band reached a deal to sell its entire catalog - 16 studio albums, four live albums, and three compilations - through the service. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, AC/DC was one of the last high-profile holdouts from the digital music marketplace, outlasting the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. Only two major artists remain steadfastly opposed to digital music sales: Garth Brooks and Kid Rock, neither of whom offer downloadable versions their back catalog, although Rock recently broke ranks and is selling his new album "Rebel Soul" via iTunes. Angus Young, AC/DC's lead guitarist, for years had been opposed to making the band's music available via iTunes or any other digital service, arguing the group's albums were designed to be experienced from beginning to end. In 2008 he said, "It's like an artist who does a painting. If he thinks it's a great piece of work, he protects it. It's the same thing: This is our work." He obviously changed his mind. [Full story: Los Angeles Times]

Triton Digital Partners With Microsoft For Multiple Xbox Music Services


Triton Digital this week announced it will provide multiple services for Microsoft's new free streaming Xbox Music service. The company will will serve audio ads within the free Xbox streaming service on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, and also will also provide its Media Ratings Council-accredited webcast metrics measurement solution and advertising platform, including campaign management and ad insertion technology. "Digital audio is bursting at the seams and some very big names are joining the competition," said Triton Digital COO Mike Agovino. "We're very proud to serve the audio advertising needs of Microsoft's new Xbox Music streaming service and have them further validate Triton's platform to measure, manage, and monetize." According to a company statement, each stream on Xbox Music will be enabled for targeting by geographic, demographic, and other criteria and will be personalized to every listener. This reportedly leads to more relevant and targeted ads, superior measurement, and a better overall experience for listeners. [Full story: Triton Digital]

Radical.FM Launches Listener-Supported Online Radio...In Sweden


From the "send in the clones" department: Yet another internet radio startup stuck a toe in the crowded digital water this past week, as Radical.FM launched - according to a company statement - a "a web-based service that combines on-demand streaming and curated radio stations with a platform for artists to create and broadcast their own public playlists." So what sets it apart from all the other online streaming services? Unlike such companies as Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio, which function on advertising and subscription platforms, Radical.FM is pushing its digital music catalog as a wholly-listener-supported model to fund its operations. The service is built around a catalog of 20 million tracks, IFPI-licensed music from all major recording labels, and offers three listening options. These include an on-demand streaming service where users can create and share playlists of music; a radio service where they can access curated radio stations complete with DJs commenting and shaping the playlists; and something called "RadCasts," a further set of radio stations where independent artists can create and share playlists of their own music. The services are available online and via the mobile web, and have options for sharing built into them. Interestingly, Radical.FM is available only in Sweden, birthplace of Spotify and The Pirate Bay. [Full story: Tech Crunch]
Al Bell Presents American Soul Music ... And American Soul TV

If you're into classic and contemporary Soul, R&B, Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Hip-Hop Soul, Rap Soul, and Neo-Soul, we invite you to listen to Al Bell Presents American Soul Music. Former Stax Records owner and Motown Records Group President Al Bell personally has programmed this awesome radio station online, presenting your favorites from the 1960s and '70s [and some '80s], a lot of the best new music that's being released today, and some real gems you haven't heard in a long, long time. Come to www.AlBellPresents.Com
 and hear it for yourself!

Huge Saturn Vortex Swirls in Stunning NASA Photos

"These phenomena mimic what Cassini found at Saturn's south pole a number of years ago," the scientists wrote.
Saturn's mysterious northern vortex, a vast hexagon-shaped storm, dominates this photo taken Nov. 27, 2012, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. This image is a raw and unprocessed view.
Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, was launched in 1997 and arrived at the gas giant in July 2004. The probe has logged more than 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers), and made some major discoveries about the Saturn system, including revealing the presence of hydrocarbon lakes on the moon Titan and spewing water geysers on the moon Enceladus.
"Eight and a half years into our history-making expedition around the ringed planet and we are still astounded by the seemingly endless parade of new planetary phenomena," the mission scientists wrote.
Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also onFacebook & Google+.

Lisbon Calling: #14N in Portugal — a short film

By Jerome Roos On November 29, 2012


After three years of crisis and taking the bitter pill of EU/IMF-imposed austerity without much resistance, the Portuguese have finally begun to rebel.

By Brandon Jourdan, Marianne Maeckelbergh and Luhuna Carvalho. Image above: a protester (some say police infiltrator) confronts riot police in Lisbon.

On November 14th 2012, thousands of people took to the streets of Portugal as part of a European-wide general strike. Until recently, the International Monetary Fund held Portugal as an ideal example of the effectiveness of austerity policies, but today, its economy is heading in the same direction as Greece and Spain. This short documentary details the week of the November 14th strike in Lisbon and the events surrounding it.

Lisbon Calling: November 14th in Portugal from brandon jourdan on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Occupy's Trigger Moment

Strike Debt's Rolling Jubilee is a tactical mindbomb.

  • With the election behind us, Occupy is emerging as an energized fighting force with new tactics and a renewed revolutionary potential. Spain's indignados are refocusing their rage against the banks by “jamming cash machines with glue and coins,” reports Reuters, in a tactical shift toward direct disruption of the flows of capital. Occupy Sandy is demonstrating the power of horizontal, people-to-people organizing with a relief operation that is feeding and caring for thousands in New York. And then there is perhaps the biggest tactical mindbomb of all: an audacious culture jam, originally conceived by Adbusters in 2009, to buy and abolish debt.

    Tomorrow, Strike Debt, a maverick affinity group of Zuccottis, is kicking off the Rolling Jubilee . . . a project that “buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it.” The ultimate goal is to “liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal.” The plan has attracted sizable media attention from CNN, the NY TimesSalon and more. Writing for the Guardian, Charles Eisenstein explains its “transformative potential”:

    Two pillars uphold the present debt regime: the moral legitimacy of debt in society's eyes, ie, the idea that a person 'should' pay back what he owes; and the coercive mechanisms that enforce repayment, such as harassment, seizure of assets, garnishment of wages, denial of employment or housing, and even imprisonment. The Rolling Jubilee erodes both. It destigmatises debt by saying, ‘we're all in this together, we believe your situation is unfair, not shameful, so we're going to help you out’.

    The Rolling Jubilee has already raised enough money to abolish over $3.2 million in debt . . . raising the tantalizing possibility that Occupy's biggest trigger moment – the spark of a widespread refusal against the financialization of life – is still to come.

    November 15, watch the live jubilee telethon at rollingjubilee.org.