April 15, 2014
"AFRICOM’s Rick Cook explained to the audience of big-money defense contractors. He was unequivocal: the U.S. has been “at war” on the continent for the last two and half years. It remains to be seen when AFRICOM will pass this news on to the American public."

Nick Turse at Tom DispatchAFRICOM Goes to War on the Sly 

U.S. Officials Talk Candidly (Just Not to Reporters) about Bases, Winning Hearts and Minds, and the “War” in Africa 

April 14, 2014
"There is a fundamentalist belief by capitalists that capital will save the world, and it just isn’t so. Not because of what Marx said about the contradictions of capitalism, because, as I discovered, capital is an end in itself and no more."

Thomas Piketty quoted in an article by Andrew Hussey in The Guardian. Occupy was right: capitalism has failed the world

One of the slogans of the 2011 Occupy protests was ‘capitalism isn’t working’. Now, in an epic, groundbreaking new book, French economist Thomas Piketty explains why they’re right

April 14, 2014
"Everybody knows that lynching is bad. But affirmative action vs. quotas, feminism vs. pornography, Israel vs. the Arabs? I don’t know which side I’m on anymore. And you can’t write a funny song that uses, ‘On the other hand.’"

Tom Lehrer quoted in an article by Ben Smith at BuzzFeed. Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius

Tom Lehrer is considered one of the most influential figures in comedy — despite a body of work consisting of just 37 pitch-black songs and a career that stopped abruptly when the counterculture he helped spawn eclipsed him. You can ask him why he quit, but good luck getting an answer.

April 14, 2014
"

By becoming an advertising company (in addition to everything else it is), Mozilla now experiences a problem that has plagued ad-supported media for the duration: its customers and consumers are different populations. I saw it in when I worked in commercial broadcasting, and I see it today in the online world with Google, Facebook, Twitter… and Mozilla. The customers (or at least the main ones) are either advertisers or proxies for them (Google in Mozilla’s case). The consumers are you and me.

The difference with Mozilla is that it didn’t start out as an advertising company. So becoming one involves a change of nature — a kind of Breaking Bad.

"

Doc Searls at Doc Searls Weblog. Earth to Mozilla: Come back home

April 14, 2014
"Look, sooner or later there will be a meltdown of the net. We were headed for that long before Heartbleed. I never said what I believed because I didn’t want to be the first to say it. But we have been building more complex systems and more life-sustaining dependencies on a fragile and insecure system. The ability to do harm increases with every new dependency. When the network equivalent of Katrina happens, it will be felt everywhere."

Dave Winer at Scripting News. Knock knock

April 13, 2014
"

It is a “post-transgressive” novel because it seems relatively uninterested in whether or not its bourgeois readers and critics will “conquer” their disgust. And, also, I think, because it is so invested in “fun” and “affection.” Whereas the “transgressive” novel is invested in a big “fuck you” to the world, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is interested in what a livable world might be, especially a world in which a Shit can thrive. (And, here, it’s striking how much easier it seems for reviewers to focus on Eric to the exclusion of Shit.)

This is a post-transgressive novel precisely because it imagines a world where Shit can thrive.

"

keguro at Gukira. “Benign Perversion”

I haven’t read any of Samuel Delaney's books. It's not very likely that I'll read Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. But this review is one of the reasons I love the Internet so much. I read keguro’s earlier piece about the book after I read this and he linked to two further reviews by Lavelle Porter and Steven Shaviro and I read those too.  Pre-Internet, perhaps I would have found a review of the book somewhere. What’s so different is to be able to instantly get other takes too.

Yesterday I posted a link to Clare Stestanovich's piece in The Atlantic about the online conversation between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. I came to this conversation by way of Ta-Nehisi Coates, but it's quite clear plenty of other readers had it the other way around, or found themselves in the midst of the conversation by way of Andrew Sullivan or others.

I know, I know, it’s a boring old-man’s point, but this sort of writing was much less possible pre-Internet. It’s still astonishing to me that writing like this exists. 

April 13, 2014
"

The present day system of power - that has replaced the old patronising authority - is a new kind of limitation. It treats human beings themselves as very simple machines. Instead of telling them what to do, as the old power used to, the new system increasingly uses computers to read data about what human beings want or feel. And then fulfils those needs.

What Stephen Knight and Alan Moore are pointing towards is something different. How the human imagination has the power to conceive of worlds that have never existed before. And if that imagination can be integrated into a new kind of politics - then those worlds could be brought into existence.

It’s unquantifiable and untrustworthy. But it’s full of potential.

"

Adam Curtis at BBC. SUSPICIOUS MINDS

April 13, 2014
Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. Photo from Wikipedia.
It was warm today, I hung clothes on the line and went to the grocery store. I always take the back way to the store. As so I was pleased to catch little colonies of coltsfoot along the sides of the road. My daffodils came into bloom this week too, still somehow it’s seeing the coltsfoot that most convinces me spring is here.

Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. Photo from Wikipedia.

It was warm today, I hung clothes on the line and went to the grocery store. I always take the back way to the store. As so I was pleased to catch little colonies of coltsfoot along the sides of the road. My daffodils came into bloom this week too, still somehow it’s seeing the coltsfoot that most convinces me spring is here.


April 12, 2014

Global Citizen 

Could you patent the sun?

When asked who owned the patent on his vaccine against poliovirus, its inventor Jonas Salk famously responded: “The people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” The Salk Vaccine is used worldwide to this day.

I noticed that April 12 is the anniversary of the announcement in 1955—the year I was born—of the Salk polio vaccine.

Over at BiotechNow the organ of Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) the chief counsel of BIO, Roy Zwahlen calls bullshit on Salk: 

While the debate on whether patents are the best way to incentivize medical innovation and commercialization continues, that debate should proceed without reliance on this myth regarding the history of the Polio vaccine.

Zwahlen’s piece seems disingenuous to me, but, hey that’s what lobbyists are for—right? One of the tricks in the piece is to point to a WSJ debate on the extension of pharmaceutical patents to introduce his take-down of Salk’s quote, “Could you patent the sun?” Zwahlen points to “a guest writer” repeating the quote. The “guest writer” is Els Torreele. It’s not surprising that an industry organization would want to nip organizations like Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative (DNDi) in the bud, but it’s not at all clear that what’s good for industry is good for public health.

The truth as Zwahlen’s piece lays it out is that Salk couldn’t have patented his vaccine at the time because of prior art. What’s left implicit is patent laws have changed in the intervening time and it’s inconceivable a vaccine for polio would be developed today without patent protection. Clearly Zwahlen and BIO think the present regime is a good thing. My opinion is that IP protections do not ensure vaccine and drug innovations. 

Neglected tropical diseases continue to cause significant morbidity and mortality in the developing world. Yet, of the 1,556 new drugs approved between 1975 and 2004, only 21 (1.3%) were specifically developed for tropical diseases and tuberculosis, even though these diseases account for 11.4% of the global disease burden

I’m no health expert, but even I can see that the response to dangerous diseases like TB worldwide is  inadequate. TB has killed more than a billion people in the modern era. Disease resistant strains of TB are gaining a secure foothold. The current IP regime surely is not “the” solution. As the Center for TB Research notes:

This year will be the year with the highest number of TB cases and TB deaths in recorded history. Despite such sobering statistics, there is a paucity of new tools with which to combat tuberculosis:

1891 - last effective diagnostic for latent tuberculosis
1921 - last vaccine for tuberculosis
1967 - last new first line drug class for treatment of tuberculosis

 Zwahlen presents patents as a moral imperative and is eager to paint Salk’s famous quotation about his Polio vaccine as a hypocritical myth. But it behooves us all to peal back the covers from industry advocacy with an eye towards public health.  

April 12, 2014
"Her humour allows you to rise above the politicians and the divisiveness. No one ever got hurt or beaten up because of a Sue Townsend novel, but their conscience was raised nonetheless."

Bob and Roberta Smith in The Guardian. Sue Townsend – ‘a lone voice, a humanist and a genius’

With the death of the author of Adrian Mole and The Queen and I, the world has lost a unique comic talent. We asked writers to share their memories of the woman who hated to be called a national treasure

While my father was ailing I wanted reading that I could pick up and put down on short notice. I re-read The Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 and enjoyed it every bit as much as when I read it in the 1980’s. I’m sad to know of Sue Townsend’s death.

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