Creating a participatory system of economic democracy in Rojava

(Reblogged from Systemic Disorder, 8/30/17)

Out of repression has emerged one of the world’s most interesting experiments in democracy. And by democracy, what is meant is not the formal capitalist variety of elections every few years in which consumption of consumer products is substituted for participation in societal decisions.

Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces intent on destroying them, in a part of the world that Western pundits claim can only be ruled by dictators, the Kurds of Syria are intent on creating a society more democratic than any found in North America or Europe. This is not simply a matter of creating institutions of direct and communal, as opposed to representative, democracy but, most importantly, democratizing the economy. In the words of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, “In self-government, an alternative economic system is necessary, one that augments the resources of society rather than exploiting them, and in that way satisfies the society’s multitude of needs.”

The many sides of that equation are explored in detail in Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan,* a study of Rojava’s experiment in radical democracy by three activists who spent months in Rojava studying the society being constructed, and who themselves have been involved in Rojava in various capacities. One of the authors, Anja Flach, spent two years in the Kurdish women’s guerrilla army. Her co-authors are Ercan Ayboga, an environmental engineer, and Michael Knapp, a historian. Although the three authors make clear their sympathies for the Rojava revolution, their book is not hagiographic, but rather a serious analysis of a developing process.

See the full article here. A version of it also appears on today’s edition of CounterPunch.

A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect

Perhaps you haven’t noticed the investor class getting all gung-ho these days over Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only a couple of decades ago, these same people dismissed AI because it wasn’t very useful yet. But that’s all changed due to advances in machine vision and learning, and now VCs, hedge funds, and most of the rest of the usual big-money suspects are salivating over prospects of automating most of the rest of the economy, even including agriculture.

Thanks to its clot of institutions of higher learning, Boston—my fair city—is littered with tech startups and factories that churn them out. They and the Hub’s cloud of serial investors have created a knot of compressed energy, the nexus of which one can find at a suite in Kendall Square—epicenter of Boston’s tech scene, featuring outposts of Google, Oracle, Facebook and Amazon, pharma firms like Merck and Novartis and a host of biotechy startups fed by MIT’s biomedical research complex, augmented by its AI and Media Labs—where every Thursday evening prime movers get together for suds and savvy strategizing at private oasis called Venture Café. Continue reading “A.I. Enablers Gear Up to Assault Intellect”

The Curious Case of Citizen Grayson

The thing that saddens most in politics isn’t Donald Trump, the Republican Party, racism, xenophobia, or other alt-right affronts. No, as destructive as these forces are to the nation, what truly distresses me is the Democratic Party, and in particular opportunistic progressive politicians. Especially those tainted by corruption. The left doesn’t need that kind of skàta. We have enough tsouris as it is without shady standard-bearers.

The other day I received another email blast from Alan Grayson. He has kept relatively (for him) quiet after leaving Congress at the beginning of the year but is now gearing up, it seems, but for what? In his take-no-prisoners style, it begins:

We need an organization dedicated to ending the Trump Administration.

So here it is.  Welcome to the Resistance Movement! We want Donald Trump indicted, or we want him impeached and convicted, or we want to force him to resign.  Any way it happens, the Angry Creamsicle has got to go.

This is not an organization for people who have mixed feelings about Donald Trump, or who worry about whether VP Pence would be better or worse, or are willing to let Senate Republicans “investigate” Trump and leave it at that.  No.  This is an organization for people who have decided that TRUMP MUST GO – and are ready to take action to make that happen.

The left-populist Orlando rapscallion is at it again. The four-term ex-congressman and failed Florida Senate candidate, the self-styled “congressman with guts,” appears to have a new and unsurprisingly unique field operation. His Resistance Movement is not to be confused the “resistance” to Trump that Nancy Pelosi claims to spearhead while refusing to play the impeachment card. Grayson may or may not have created or authorized a website calling itself The Resistance (http://www.lockhimupnow.org/) but he’s certainly promoting it and, if true to form, intends to capitalize on it…somehow.

Continue reading “The Curious Case of Citizen Grayson”

How Technology Stakeholders Lose

An excerpt from a work in progress, a book called The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants, a set of essays that looks into what we can expect from this strange brave new world.

Our addictions to technology, especially of the digital sort and especially among the young, are manifest, but they aren’t entirely technology’s fault. Nor are they just the result of falling unto temptation, although practicing a bit more mindfulness and self-discipline wouldn’t hurt. Few of us ever asked for this stuff. We got it whether we wanted it or not, dreamed up by inventors and shoveled at us by the marketplace, packaged to titillate. And even what we think of as the good stuff often has a seamy underside that tries to hook us and then takes what it wants from us while we’re mesmerized. Technology won’t be denied, but the particular shapes it takes are fabricated by other forces that may not have our best interests at heart. Here are two stories of how our economy shapes the tech scene that in turn shapes us.

The Water Cooler Has Ears

For starters, you might not know that online social media is older than the personal computer. Forty years back, you only needed a computer terminal, a modem, and a telephone to participate in collaborative messaging apps called electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). They ran on minicomputers, were noncommercial, and staffed by volunteers (called SysOps). Some relics of that era still exist, but as the Net unfolded, BBS’s begat Usenet, then Reddit, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. piled on, demonstrating that computer users crave real-time online contact—the core social media value proposition. But sooner or later, almost all proprietary social media platforms succumb to Wall Street discipline to monetize our personal data, relentlessly upgrade, piling on features we never wanted or needed, and stalk us wherever we roam.

Continue reading “How Technology Stakeholders Lose”

State of Emojincy⚠

Today we celebrate the release by Sony Pictures of “The Emoji Movie,” rated PG (for saucy language). Rush to see it before it sinks without a trace. One look at the animation’s trailer told me it’s everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. Okay, the characters look authentic and are well voiced by prominent actors, but finding Patrick Stewart reduced to playing a pile of poop  was particularly depressing. Basically the entire film is a promo for the eponymous app plus others for Google, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox. It is meant for children, of course, but the the protagonist is pathetic and the plot is a downer. Critics were sad-faced, to say the least, with reactions ranging from  to  to . Writing for rogerebert.com, critic Peter Sobczynski ended his review with

“The Emoji Movie” may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the [lack of positive] reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.

We can hope against hope. The very fact that an emoji movie exists alarms me, but that it’s propaganda for big Internet brands hardly comes as a surprise. I guess I should get used to seeing more of that.

Continue reading “State of Emojincy⚠”

A Flock of Cowbirds

Stories allow us to untangle experience, make sense of our lives, and find meaning. They are containers for wisdom and lifeboats for memory — helping us not to forget, and then later, not to be forgotten. ~ Jonathan Harris

Imagine you’re a 19th-century novelist whose supply of paper has just run out and more can’t be found anywhere. Well, something like that recently happened to more than 10,000 writers when their electrons ran out.

They all belonged to a community called Cowbird that flourished on the Net for about five years. Late last winter its founder pulled the plug, perhaps bored with the site’s upkeep but saying he wanted us all to make more of a mark on the real world. What he told the Cowbird community at the time was:

Over the past five years, we’ve told nearly 100,000 stories — stories about birth, youth, sex, love, work, war, faith, death, grief, grace, and countless other topics. Together, we created a public library of human experience, so our knowledge and wisdom could live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We found beloved community here, forging deep and lasting connections.

He went on to explain what had changed his thinking about shepherding this community:

Continue reading “A Flock of Cowbirds”

Zombies Demand Healthcare

As promised, on Thursday the Senator from Coal and Tobacco released his chamber’s close-to-the-vest health care bill, and you know what? It isn’t actually a health care bill. It’s a government spending and taxation bill that incidentally screws up access to health care. Differing from the House’s American Health Care Act bill only in detail, it so severely limits Medicare spending as to totally undo almost all of the limited good that Obamacare instigated. Even the establishment-happy Senator McCaskill was moved to observe that it would remove life support from elderly and disabled Missourians and force the sick into emergency rooms in a state already losing rural hospitals. To her credit, she told off Chairman Orrin Hatch from her perch on the Finance Committee the other day, but of course nobody who matters cared.

Continue reading “Zombies Demand Healthcare”

Jam a Brand, Fan a Brand

Hardly a week passed after Donald Trump was sworn in as President when the tribute videos began pouring in from all over the world. Maybe you’ve seen some of them. They are just great. Fabulous. All of them. I mean it. So many that NPR lost track of some of the best ones when they reeled them off back in February. But you know NPR. Such losers. Should stand for Not Progressive Reporting.

One of the best tributes, which NPR overlooked for some odd reason was Iran’s. So, ICYMI, as a public service Progressive Pilgrim Review presents it here.

Continue reading “Jam a Brand, Fan a Brand”

Letter to an Erstwhile Comrade

Dear Alexander, wherever you are,

Happy birthday, comrade! How’s the struggle going out there? Tell me, cuz we need your help, now more than ever.

For reasons I could enumerate but can’t concretely substantiate, I’m writing via Celestial Post rather than virtually. I’m not sure what has made loquacious me, unlike you, fraught to propel words across the Net. Perhaps fear of blowback from the minions of ascendant reactionary forces, armed and eager to smite dissidents with Puritan vengeance. There’s no way to get through to them but one can still try to get around them. Continue reading “Letter to an Erstwhile Comrade”

Better than Winning the Lottery!

Today I received some exciting news from the Department of Homeland Security that I must tell you about! It’s not as if tidings such as this come in every day (well they do, actually, but not from the trusty Federal Government).

It seems that Mr. (Jeh) Johnson, who left his post as Secretary of Homeland Security on January 2oth, still has a desk there. He says he’s been assigned by President Trump himself to rectify cases of fraud concerning claims to assets and to track down their true owners. It seems, he informs me, that my family and I are the rightful owners of 17.5M USD sitting in a disused Wells Fargo account that a Mr. Steven Tilley—whom I don’t know—falsely claimed belonged to him. Fantastic that they caught him at it. I hope Tilley goes to prison for a long time. Continue reading “Better than Winning the Lottery!”