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    • You Will Never Be Free of Identity Politics
      (MANDOS POST, people who don’t want to read things they disagree with pls stop here) I don’t normally watch horror movies, but I made an exception and recently watched the horror film Get Out.  It’s a horror-satire movie that constructs its underlying trope from the concept of racist microaggressions, and it’s one of the best […]
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A little night dancing

Here’s another contemporary ballet I happened upon.  This one features Aurelie Dupont and Manuel Legris of the Paris Opera Ballet.  This pas de deux is from a longer work called Le Parc. It starts off a little kinky but starts to grow on the viewer about half way through.  The feeling is intimate and familiar.

Scientific Journals and SOPA

There is some good news and not so good news on the scientific journals front.

First, the good news.  For those of us in STEM jobs who are laid off, we face a double whammy.  In order for us to stay current in our fields we *must* keep up with new literature.  Future employers won’t want to hire someone who doesn’t know what’s been going on in this rapidly changing research environment.  Watching NOVA is no substitute. The problem is that when you get laid off, you lose access to the licenses you need to search and retrieve literature, patents, methods, etc.  You can still get papers but you either need to subscribe to the journals, which could cost hundreds of dollars a year, or you need to buy the paper outright.  Prices for a *single* paper from journals like Journal of Medicinal Chemistry or Science cost $30.00.  On new projects, it is not uncommon to read a dozen papers to start.

There are some other subscription services like Deep Dyve that offer packages of a certain number of papers per month.   The problem with this is that you may need to go back to that paper sometime in the future and with Deep Dyve, that’s impossible.  You are only renting that copy and within days, it disappears, never to be accessed again without forking over the cash.  The best option is to go to a library where you can read as many papers as you like for free but then you have to go to the library.  You can’t just do it from home.  And that becomes a problem when you’re in the middle of reading a paper at home and you see a citation for a paper you need for background.  Then you have to haul your sorry ass down to the library.   I’m close enough to Princeton’s scientific library so access is not a problem but it’s not exactly convenient.

Let’s just say that it adds insult to injury for the journal aggregators to charge an unemployed person so bloody much for a digital copy of a paper, especially when those papers are important to our future employment.  I brought this up to a representative of the American Chemical Society (ACS) last May and got the impression that the old dude was really living in a different century.  The ACS had no intention of lowering the cost or allowing us to buy papers ala an iTunes model.  So, I was surprised to see that the ACS is relenting somewhat and is making their SciFinder application available to unemployed chemists who previously had an account at their former workplace.  They must have gotten a lot of desperate and angry pleas for access.  SciFinder licenses are difficult enough to get when you are employed.  In fact, I finally got one about two weeks before I was laid off so I don’t think I ever had an opportunity to use it.  But if you’re looking for a way to search the literature/patents through SciFinder, and you previously had access, you might want to check it out.

The bad news is that SOPA might make all that access impossible.  That’s because when scientists write papers, they liberally filch methods, pictures and other details from previously published papers from other authors.  That’s just the nature of science.  Everyone is standing on the shoulders of someone else and the reason authors publish is so they can share that information and to keep their jobs.  Publish or perish.  SOPA will interfere with that process for scientific literature in digital form, which is everything these days.  From the TechDirt article on the issue:

These kinds of “violations” are inevitable, because science is about sharing – it’s what you are supposed to do in order to spread knowledge. And thus drawing on standard materials in this way is a habit that pervades all of academic publishing to such a degree that few scientists are even aware they are doing it – or that there might be legal issues. That will make policing this kind of “accepted” infringement extremely difficult, if not impossible.

If SOPA is passed, Neylon points out an interesting consequence:

“So if someone, purely as a thought experiment you understand, crowd-sourced the identification of copyright violations in papers published by supporters of SOPA, then they could legitimately take down journal websites, like Science Direct and Nature.com. That’s right, just find the plagiarised papers, raise them as a copyright violation, and you can have the journal website shut down.”Scientific publishers that are represented by the Association of American Publishers, which appears in the “List of Supporters” (pdf) for SOPA, could therefore find their own Web sites shut down repeatedly thanks to this law they are currently backing by default, since none has yet come out against SOPA. Looks like US politicans aren’t the only ones who haven’t really thought this through.

I’m not surprised that publishers like the ACS haven’t thought this through carefully.  They are just trying to cash in by soaking companies, academic institutions and the unemployed for as much as they possibly can.  That’s why they charge $30.00/copy.  Of course they want SOPA so they can make sure that no one gives out copies of papers that they didn’t authorize.  But they’re really not thinking about the copyright violations in each paper.

I don’t know how they’re proposing to get around this.  There could be a lot of pharmaceutical company tit for tat.  Maybe Glaxo doesn’t want Merck scientists lifting their methods and throws a flag, while some little company wants to publish based on multiple companies published citations and gets flagged multiple times.  The end result is that nothing would get published and we’d all be cut off from one another, scared silly that our internet access could be terminated over some unintentional violation.  Not that you’d use the internet much because everything would be off limits.  It could open up a whole new field of employment in companies.  You could have copyright MBAs sitting in their cubes, heartlessly penalizing everyone they are competing with, damaging the spirit of sharing among the science community.  It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve thoughtlessly ruined research.

So, those of you out there who care about keeping science literature sharable, contact your congressman and senators.  SOPA is going to make an already bad situation so much worse.

#opBlackout January 23, 2012

Most of you have probably seen this by now.  Internet giants Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, PayPal and others are contemplating an internet blackout of their services for January 23 to protest proposed SOPA legislation to be voted on January 24.

Companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Yahoo! and Wikipedia are said to be discussing a coordinated blackout of services to demonstrate the potential effect SOPA would have on the Internet, something already being called a “nuclear option” of protesting. The rumors surrounding the potential blackout were only strengthened by Markham Erickson, executive director of trade association NetCoalition, who told FoxNews that “a number of companies have had discussions about [blacking out services]” last week.

According to Erickson, the companies are well aware of how serious an act such a blackout would be:

“This type of thing doesn’t happen because companies typically don’t want to put their users in that position. The difference is that these bills so fundamentally change the way the Internet works. People need to understand the effect this special-interest legislation will have on those who use the Internet.”

The idea of an Internet blackout should seem familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to the debate so far. In addition to a blackout already carried out by Mozilla, hacking group Anonymous proposed the same thing a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that sites replace their front pages with a statement protesting SOPA. That suggestion itself came a week after Jimmy Wales had asked Wikipedia users about the possibility of blacking out that site in protest of the bill.

I think they’re serious.  Holy hemiola, we’d have to look stuff up and talk on the phone.  I know it sounds trivial but I think about how I use each one of these services each day and how without them, I would feel disabled.  We would have to relearn how to do things all over again.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google said:

The bills “give the U.S. government and copyright holders extraordinary powers including the ability to hijack DNS (the Internet’s naming system) and censor search results (and this is even without so much as a proper court trial),” Brin wrote last month on his Google+ page as Congress was considering the measures. “While I support their goal of reducing copyright infringement (which I don’t believe these acts would accomplish), I am shocked that our lawmakers would contemplate such measures that would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world.”

That CNN article also writes that:

When contacted by CNN, none of those companies would confirm that such a drastic move had ever been considered. By Friday, the advocate whose comments had fueled the speculation appeared to back away from claims that a Web blackout was still likely to occur.

“Internet and technology companies will continue to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on the problems with the (legislation),” Markham Erickson, director of Web trade associationNetCoalition, said in a statement. “An ‘Internet blackout’ would obviously be both drastic and unprecedented.”

Or maybe they’re just not going to tell us what day or hour.  Sort of like Armageddon.

Al Gore appears to oppose SOPA as well.  In a recent speech, “the ex-veep warned that proposals to levy an Internet death penalty against allegedly piratical Web sites “would very probably have the effect of really shutting down the vibrancy of the Internet.”” and  “anything that would serve to threaten the vibrancy and freedom of the Internet in the future, I’m against.”  There was a youtube video of Gore’s remarks on the subject but somewhat ironically, it was deleted from the internet.

I hope they go through with it.  Enough with the copyright smokescreen.  This is a great way for media giants to shut down, well, whatever they want to shut down.  It’s not in their best interests to have people making snide and unpleasant remarks about them.  They’ll be like the whiny billionaires and make our stuff disappear. Oh, they won’t mean to delete your occupy videos and tweets because of alleged copyright violations.  But if you can’t use the internet to file a complaint, you’re kinda stuck, right?

So, black them out for a day and plunge us back to 1992 when no one had ever heard of a browser and we were all just thrilled to death that we could ftp the soda machine in the Computer Science building at CMU to see if the cokes were cold yet.  I hope WordPress, Typepad and other hosting sites follow suit.  But google is going to be a real problem because it affects so many businesses and industries.  I use google to find free scientific software, look up papers and unknown terms, as well as for mail, addresses and phone numbers.  I don’t even know where my phone books are.

This should be good.

And here’s a video from Anonymous on #opBlackout.  It’s pretty heavy on the ominous.

*********************************

In other news: Ron Paul gave a speech in NH.  His buzzword appears to be “liberty”.  Has anyone ever sat down with Paul and asked him to explain just what liberty means to him and whether it applies to all American Citizens equally or just 49% of them?  You can hear a lot of cheering in the background.  It sounds like a bunch of guys.  It has to be guys.  I’d just like to point out that, once again, the so-called liberals are willing to sell out their sisters just so they can say they stopped a war.  And let me add the disclaimer that I opposed these stupid wars from the very beginning when many on the left were supporting them.  I have a brother over there, a brother who was stupid enough to be all enthusiastic about us kicking ass in Iraq 8 years ago and over which we had the kind of argument over dinner that leads to siblings referring to their relationsip as “estranged”.  (Betcha he wishes he’d listented to me now) I want the wars to stop sucking blood and money from us as much as Noam Chomsky.  But getting us out of a mess that Bush deliberately chained us to is not going to be easy and I don’t want to get saddled with Ron Paul for four years.  I want an FDR style Democrat in the White House who will not sacrifice women to score political points with the religious and who has enough foreign policy experience to not trigger Pakistan to go off on a hissy fit.  Enough of the female sacrifices and the economic inertia.  Get Obama out of the White House and replace him with someone who will act like they give a f^*&.  And if you can’t think through this problem long enough to abandon Paul and his Dickensian worldview, you’re no progressive.

BTW, I’d just like to note that if this is some kind of reverse psychology strategy to get us to vote for Obama as the lesser evil, it won’t work for me.  I will never vote for Obama because 1.) he’s been a lousy president and responsible for the livelihoods ruined and families made homeless by his finance industry backed policies, 2.) if he did a lousy job for the first four years, he sure as hell won’t stand up to congressional Republicans in the second four and 3.) our right to vote is our one sacrament and he and the DNC violated that right for 18,000,000 of us in 2008.  That is unforgivable for a politician.  So, if you’re a progressive male, and they’re almost always men, and you are playing some political game of chicken with us, be careful because you might just get stuck with a hardass Republican.  This is not the way to win friends and influence people.

Anyway, here’s the speech.  You be the judge.