Sunday, October 30, 2005

How the cult of the guru puts gullible nation under its spell
By Sarah Womack and Jonathan Petre (Filed: 28/10/2005)

They are everywhere - the life coaches, the supernannies, the makeover experts, the celebrity chefs, the fashion police.

They tell us what not to wear, what not to eat, what not to do with ourlives, our children's lives and our bathrooms.Tony and Cherie Blair famously defer to a lifestyle guru, Carole Caplin, who applies Mrs Blair's lipstick and was depicted in a television satire this month calling Mr Blair "Toblerone" and offering him a Reiki massage.

According to a leading academic, the nation is in "thrall to a new priesthood of gurus".

In a speech at the Battle of Ideas Festival tomorrow at the Royal College of Art, Prof Frank Furedi says the collapse in traditional authority figures has not produced a less deferential or more questioning society.

Instead, we are now slaves to therapists and "hustlers" and taking advice on saving Africa from pop singers.

Prof Furedi, the professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury, said the "unquestioning and fatalistic deference" to relationship and other types of experts was coming from the "very top of society".

He added: "It is so sad when you see grown-up people - people of my age- on television needing someone to take them shopping for clothes.There is this myth that we live at the end of an age of deference, but we are entirely subservient to unacknowledged forms of authority."

On the national television awards this week, Jamie Oliver [thecelebrity chef] won a special achievement award and was lauded for saving our children.

"Tony Blair pops up to say he is a great man and a dinner lady says he should be made a saint. Then the Queen is shown giving Oliver an MBE.

"This is a sort of modern-day coronation of an ordinary guy, the sort that you bump into in the pub at the weekend, and he has become the fount of wisdom and the model of moral rectitude."

The cult of celebrity has come full circle with politicians trying to learn new techniques from television reality shows.

While it is a myth that more young people vote in television reality contests than in general elections, it has not stopped politicians attempting to learn lessons, Prof Furedi said.

One policy document on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website says: "A host of television and radio programmes such as ITV's Pop Idol and Channel 4's Big Brother encourage viewer polls using telephone voting, SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging or internet voting.

"With such a proliferation of the method, it is difficult not toconclude that there is popular support for e-voting among a significant proportion of citizens."

The Rev Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney and a philosophy lecturer atWadham College, Oxford, said celebrity worship had gone too far.

"We are considerably more superstitious now than we were 200 years ago," he added."It emerges in celeb-worship and the feng shui-isation of life. Spirituality has become a make-over term.

"When you stop believing in God, you don't believe in nothing, you believe in anything. The point of the Christian gospel is that we find relief from our demons by concentrating on things outside ourselves, whereas many of these new therapies are self-centred."

The Vatican said Catholics would be better off believing in "encounters with aliens" than being sucked into anything that resembled the New Age movement.

Ann Widdecombe, the Tory MP and Catholic who recently won Celebrity Fit Club on ITV by losing a tenth of her body weight in six months, said:"People like to think these gurus' opinions are almost holy writ. Everyone is infallible these days except the Pope."

The New McCarthyism: On the Recent Purge of David Graeber
KK Vega
Fifth Estate Magazine

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber's recent purge from Yale University—coming hot on the heels of thetrial-by-media of Native American radical WardChurchill—is one of many recent attacks on radical professors that have shaken the supposedly safe zone of the ostensibly liberal academy. Graeber’s contract was recently not renewed under highly suspicious circumstances after many years of teaching at the IvyLeague school.

"Being an openly anarchist professor would mean challenging the way universities are run," Graeber had written, "and that, of course, is going to get one in far more trouble than anything one could ever write."Apparently, his situation has proven these observations true.

Unlike some radical academics, Graeber has always distinguished himself as someone who had a very active presence ‘on the ground.’ In addition to having written several widely-read essays on anarchism and the anti-globalization movement, and the books ‘Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams’ and ‘Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology,’ he was also a member of the NYC DirectAction Network, and a familiar face at demonstrations, benefits, and talks.

In fact, it was several years ago at one of these events that he told me that, while it was great while it lasted, the Ivory Tower (or at least his nook of it) would not tolerate him for long. After he was identified in the mainstream media as a member of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence during the demonstrations against the 2002 World Economic Forum in New York City, right-wing Yale alumni started a campaign to have him dismissed. Two years ago, his department attempted to have him removed, and was only barred from doing so for violating administrative procedures. Nonetheless, Graeber himself has seemed surprised that he would lost his job in this manner.

But what’s the momentum behind these difficulties that radical academics have had? I think it has to do with the ubiquitous presence of progressives of all stripes (from Communist to queer) in the universities - long a thorn in the side of the Right. So, with Bush's election victory, it should come as no surprise that conservatives see this as an opportunity to take out some of the Right's most hated opponents—those damn anti-American radical professors.

This is not to argue that there's some vast conspiracy afoot, with its origins in either a PNAC three-drink lunch or in some cold, dark crevice of Karl Rove's reptilian brain. It's far more likely that the atmosphere is simply conducive, and we are on the defensive. So, the Rightists roll forward with their agenda of abridging the cultural and political freedoms of those who have the audacity to disagree with them. And anarchists are on the forefront of this opposition.

But the anarchist response to these attacks have been mixed. Ward Churchill, for example, has only garnered tepid support from the movement. True, despite being an anarchist-sympathizer, Churchill had previously gone out of his way to alienate fellow radicals with tracts like ‘Pacifism As Pathology,’ and was in the middle of a long-running internecine fight between American Indian Movement factions. He also offended some people by more-or-less condoning the deaths of the elite "technocractic corps" in the September 11th attacks (although not of janitors or tempshit-workers, as he was widely misrepresented as doing). It is also true that Churchill and other radicals are often well-paid employees of state universities and other public institutions, another reason some anarchists have cited for their lack of support. But while this position is impeccably anarchist, it's also very short-sighted.

I once challenged one my friends on this once (she is a NEFAC member as well as a city employee), she quipped ‘As anarchists we are opposed to both theState and Capital; since we have to work for one or the other, what's the difference?’ Additionally, the precedent set by purging a professor at a State university holds for private universities as well - not to mention for the larger society in general.

Depriving political opponents of work is one of the most underhanded and effective ways to disable a political movement. During the Civil Rights Movement, this was a popular tactic used by Southern reactionaries; South Carolina, for example, made it illegal for school teachers to belong to the NAACP, a law which resulted in widespread purges, as well as resignations from the organization; obviously, it created huge difficulties for recruiting new members as well. Later, the segregationists cut to the chase and tried (successfully in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas) to outlaw the civil rights organization altogether.

The details behind Graeber's dismissal are as bland as any bureaucratic procedure. As a non-tenured professor, his first two three-year reviews were approved; after this he started engaging in more high-profile activism (including, most recently, defending a student who was an organizer for the graduate student union). His next contract extension, for four years, was originally a split vote: but on appeal it was ruled that the faculty was guilty of ethical violations for attempting to remove him without prior warnings, and so his contract was renewed for two years (instead of four). This current dismissal comes at the review of point for the last two years.

So why is this political? Because at Yale these reviews are mere rubber stamps, since you're not "up" for anything (such as tenure, which Graeber would only be considered for if he worked the next two years). Unless you totally screw up, it's a basic automatic renewal. It's tenure that there's only a 3-12% chance of getting at Yale, according to Graeber. The last pre-tenure renewal was the point at which Graeber, with strong student support and a sterling publishing record, was canned.

Like Churchill, support for Graeber has been stronger from progressives, students, and other professors in general (and, in the latter case, anthropologists in particular) than from anarchists. Not just have his own students mobilized in defense of him and over 3,800 people from around the world signed a public petition of support, but a bill has even been introduced into the European Parliament specifically about his case.

Perhaps the fairly tepid anarchist support stems from an aversion to professors in general, or maybe it's just plain resentment that he secured a position at an Ivy League institution, instead of working at a high school or community college, as some anarchists have suggested were more appropriate teaching positions. (Some radical listserves and websites are full of big-picture comments, more-or-less literally like, "fuck you, serves you right for teaching rich kids and selling out to the man!") And, more than one person has suggested that, with his extensive publishing record and high powered resume, Graeber will have no trouble landing another job.

But while we can debate these issues, what's missing here is any kind of understanding about the larger issues that are at stake, not to mention what's just plumb fucked-up about radicals losing their jobs solely on the basis of their political beliefs. If controversial and radical professors can be purged for their views on campus and their political actions off-campus, so can other radicals. In fact, once purges are established as a precedent in the universities, both public and private, this can open the door to this happening at all levels in society.

The universities are practically the only major sector in our society where radicals have established aserious foothold, and can function openly. (Contrary to popular belief, they are not a majority in academia– although liberals may be).

Unless there is a fundamental transformation of the economic and social relationships of our society, we are all dependent on the present system to get by. Even squatters, dumpster-divers and train-hoppers are dependent on capitalism to overproduce goods, which then get thrown away and can be scavenged, occupied or boarded. If the Right can dislodge radicals in one of our only strongholds, it will have cleared any potential obstacles to sweeping us out of all the workplaces where we are forced to toil, whether they are public or private. Remember, Churchill, as a tenured professor and well-known scholar, is in a position of strength that even Graeber, who taught at an Ivy League school, was not since he did not have tenure.

Nothing makes the reputation of a newcomer like picking a fight with the playground bully, instead of the shy kid in back. The last time this happened, in the 1950s, the Right did the same and took the radicals head on, purging them from their then-stronghold, the unions, and in particularly the CIO. This effectively smashed the progressive movement for a decade, until the New Left arose.

Perhaps workplace justice for radical professors, whom any see as part of the privileged establishment, is not the most pressing cause facing the anarchist movement. Graeber himself has said that solidarity is most needed for anarchist political prisoners, like Jeffrey "Free" Luers. But perhaps, at the very least, anarchists may wish to think of political action in defense of fired radicals as a simple case of enlightened self-interest, for they may be the next in line.

For more info on David Graeber's situation:
this article originally appeared in ‘Fifth Estate’(Fall 2005 #370)
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Thursday, October 27, 2005

IRC News

Environmental News from IRC
Forging local-global links for policy alternatives, strategic dialogue,and citizen action since 1979.
October 25, 2005

New from the IRC:
Cellulose and Forestation: Two Sides of a Predatory Model
By Raúl Zibechi

The construction of two huge cellulose factories on the Uruguay River that threaten to pollute the binational stream illustrates how a model of forestry imposed by neoliberalism in the 1990’s is gaining ground in the Southern Cone.

Standing on a makeshift stage in the center of Montevideo, writer Eduardo Galeano addressed the crowd in a calm tone: “There are decisions that are made in 15 minutes but have consequences for centuries.”

It was May 27, 2005 during a demonstration against theconstruction of two huge cellulose factories on the shores of the Uruguay River between Uruguay and Argentina. Until now, as Greenpeace points out, “the governments of both countries have bet that the polemic will peter out and lower its intensity. That seems to be the more popular environmental policy: wager that the people will not find out or mobilize.”

But in late April some 40,000 Uruguayans and Argentineans carried out the largest demonstration yet against the paper companies--an “embrace” that joined the two shores of the Uruguay River along the bridge between Gualeguaychú and Fray Bentos, a short distance away from the plants’ location. Apparently this is the only language that governments--whether right wing or progressive--understand.

Raúl Zibechi is a member of the council of the weekly newspaper Brecha in Montevideo, teacher and researcher on social movements in theFranciscan Multiversity of Latin America, and adviser to various social groups. He is a monthly collaborator of the IRC Americas Program

See full article online at:
With printer-friendly PDF version at:

Brazil's São Francisco River Diversion Project: Residents Protest Lula’s Northeast Water Plan
By Bill Hinchberger
When candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the São Francisco River during the 994 presidential campaign, Roberto Malvezzi sidled up to him during a break. Better known by his nickname “Gogo,” Malvezzi worked then as now with both the lands and fisheries commissions of the Catholic Church. Gogo asked the candidate about his position on the diversion of water from the São Francisco to other parts of the semi-arid Brazilian northeast. Lula promised environmental activists in the region that if elected he would appoint a high-level commission tostudy alternatives. Imagine their surprise when Lula turned around and began trying to push the same old plumbing down their throats.

Indeed Lula’s proposal is more ambitious and five times more expensive--budgeted at US$5 billion. Largedams, deforestation at its headwaters and along its banks, pumping for irrigation, and pollution have long plagued the São Francisco River. Of the 504 municipalities along its 2,700-kilometercourse, only 78 have adequate sewage facilities. Erosion drives 18 tons of silt into the riverbed each year. Once plentiful freshwater fish are disappearing.

A former correspondent in Brazil for The Financial Times and BusinessWeek, Bill Hinchberger is the founder and editor of BrazilMax:, “the hip guide to Brazil.”
Based in SaõPaulo, he is a contributor to the IRC Americas Program

CASA and GAF provided support for this article.
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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Theoretical Model of Enclosure (Diagram)

I realise that it's sort of difficult to make sense of diagrams without the accompanying theoretical exposition, but summary diagrams that accompany my theoretical work are now up on my website at They offer a social interactional model of the structuring of expectation. If you can manage to make sense of them at all (there is supporting material elsewhere on the site), comments welcome. If you can't, questions welcome :)

[Gloss, which I should really put on the diagrams!: the more the 'influence' variable ascends the pyramid, the more directive the influencing of structuring of expectation ... the more the 'affect' variable ascends the pyramid the more intense the affective experience ... the more the 'meaning' variable ascends the pyramid the more the discursive quality of the meaning is associated with 'the "elimination" of uncertainty']

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dominant Political Positionings in Environments of Enclosure?

I used to think they were just




To these I now add


(enclosing analysis)

I suggest alternatives of


(gentle relational analysis of your participation and of the situation)


(negotiation as responsive adaptation rather than agreement)


For me, the 'construction' (expectational negotiation) of the 'Other' or 'Otherness' involves two (enclosing) discursive strategies working together:

a) Semantic closure: the assumption that what we say or think about what happens corresponds exactly to what happens, and

b) Separation: the discursive equation of difference as separateness (e.g. the 'them' part of certain kinds of attitude often implicated in the phrase 'them and us')

'Othering', for me, also often involves 'Saming', which relies on a) as well:

c) Saming: the discursive equation of similarity as identicality (e.g. the 'us' part of certain kinds of attitude often implicated in the phrase 'them and us')

So, I don't think of 'otherness' as a necessary aspect of our existence, as people often do when they ground our understandings of anything in 'self-other' relationships, for example. I would also suggest that subject-object (any?) dichotomies tend to rely heavily on the discursive politics of 'othering'. I'm not a big fan of othering.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals

Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News
October 13, 2005

A new study shows that 20 percent of human genes have been patented in the United States, primarily by private firms and universities.

The study, which is reported this week in the journal Science, is the first time that a detailed map has been created to match patents to specific physical locations on the human genome.
Researchers can patent genes because they are potentially valuable research tools, useful in diagnostic tests or to discover and produce new drugs.

"It might come as a surprise to many people that in the U.S. patent system human DNA is treated like other natural chemical products," said Fiona Murray, a business and science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and a co-author of the study.

"An isolated DNA sequence can be patented in the same manner that a new medicine, purified from a plant, could be patented if an inventor identifies a [new] application."

Hot Spots

Gene patents were central to the biotech boom of the 1980s and 1990s. The earliest gene patents were obtained around 1978 on the gene for human growth hormone.

The human genome project and the introduction of rapid sequencing techniques brought a deluge of new genetic information and many new patents. Yet there has been little comprehensive research about the extent of gene patenting.

The new study reveals that more than 4,000 genes, or 20 percent of the almost 24,000 human genes, have been claimed in U.S. patents.

Of the patented genes, about 63 percent are assigned to private firms and 28 percent are assigned to universities.

The top patent assignee is Incyte, a Palo Alto, California-based drug company whose patents cover 2,000 human genes.

"Gene patents give their owners property rights over gene sequences—for example in a diagnostic test, as a test for the efficacy of a new drug, or in the production of therapeutic proteins," Murray said.

"While this does not quite boil down to [the patent holders] owning our genes … these rights exclude us from using our genes for those purposes that are covered in the patent," she said.
Specific regions of the human genome are "hot spots" of patent activity. Some genes have up to 20 patents asserting rights to how those genes can be used.

"Basically those genes that people think are relevant in disease, such as Alzheimer's or cancer, are more likely to be patented than genes which are something of a mystery," Murray said.

Patent Maze

The effect of gene patenting on research and investment has been the subject of great debate.
Advocates argue that gene patents, like all patents, promote the disclosure and dissemination of ideas by making important uses of gene sequences publicly known.

Patents also provide important incentives to investors who would otherwise be reluctant to invest in ideas that could be copied by competitors.

But critics caution that patents that are very broad can obstruct future innovations by preventing researchers from looking for alternative uses for a patented gene.

"You can find dozens of ways to heat a room besides the Franklin stove, but there's only one gene to make human growth hormone," said Robert Cook-Deegan, director of Duke University's Center for Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy.

"If one institution owns all the rights, it may work well to introduce a new product, but it may also block other uses, including research," he said.

In cases where there are a lot of patents surrounding one area of research, the scientific costs of gene patents—financial and otherwise—can be extremely high.

"Our data raise a number of concerns about gene patents, particularly for heavily patented genes," Murray said. "We worry about the costs to society if scientists—academic and industry—have to walk through a complex maze of patents in order to make more progress in their research."

Friday, October 14, 2005


It strikes me that people are often very quick to declare a relationship of opposition. Now if you believe that the world is structured in terms of opposition or oppositional forces (order/chaos, good/evil, male/female etc) then that might not seem to be of any note whatsoever. However, from an undualistic understanding of experience the idea of opposition can sort of dissolve into an unsubstantiable discursive assertion rather than a declaration of some eternal truth. It is often the case that a rhetorical assertion of opposition is more adequately understood as the identification of difference. The opposition part, for me at least, tends to emerge as a discursive overdetermination of the conditions of happening.

Why am I going on about this? I have been reading Jeffrey Gray's The Psychology of Fear and Stress, a fairly psychologically-orthodox popular text from 1971. It's an interesting read, but it's the following paragraph that stood up and waved to me ... [written in the context of a brief mention of Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals]

Darwin's second principle is that of antithesis, according to which two behavioural dispositions opposite in kind (e.g. agressive and friendly) are expressed in ways which are also the opposite of each other. A very common example, found among fish, birds, and mammals (including Man) is the opposition between a direct stare ... and an averted gaze .... (p.31)

It is is no way "natural", necessary, or inevitable that agressiveness and friendliness be set up as opposites. Different conditions do not opposition make. Neither is it terribly adequate to speak of the difference between a direct stare and an averted gaze as opposites. The "opposition" would rather seem to come from the discursive engagement of the writer, within, of course, communities of discourse in which such ideas often go unchallenged.

I've had a number of people in the last few years say to me that the dynamics of the world can be reduced to Marx's thesis-antithesis-synthesis formula. Understood within my theoretical work on the dynamics of enclosure, opposition or thesis-antithesis-synthesis emerge from the discursive deployment of strategies of closure (the discursive "elimination" of variables) and separation (the discursive "equation" of difference as "separateness") together. As I understand what goes on, the deployment of closure and separation in making sense of experience tends to grossly misrepresent the character of what actually happens.

Thinking that the world is naturally structured in terms of opposition is not, in my opinion, likely to lead to fruitful analysis of how we might more helpfully or more appropriately participate in the everyday transformation of our lives. Identifying that experience and expectation tend to often be discursively structured in terms of opposition leads to opportunities for us to, first, identify how opposition is asserted, and, second, to dissolve the oppositional relationship within our own thinking and proceed on the basis of a more fluid and gentle analysis that asks, 'okay, so if opposition isn't a necessary aspect of this situation, how might I understand what is actually going on?'.

Nonduality: Wikipedia

Flax, J. 1992. "The End of Innocence" in J. Butler and J.W. Scott Feminists Theorize the Political New York: Routledge.

The Embodied Mind

Pragmatist Philosophy and Action Research

Pragmatism: A Reader

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Letter to US Congress on proposals at WIPO to create new IP right for broadcasting and webcasting organizations

letter -,

CPTech page on casting treaty:

13 October 2005

Dear Senators Bill Frist, Harry Reid, Arlen Specter, Patrick J. Leahy, and Representatives Dennis Hastert, Nancy Pelosi, James Sensenbrenner, Jr., and John Conyers, Jr.

RE: Request for Public consultations regarding Webcasting treaty proposal at WIPO

We are writing to ask that Congress insist that the United States negotiators block a diplomatic conference at WIPO that would create a new Intellectual Property Right for Broadcasting and Webcasting Organizations until a federal register notice requests public comment on the costs and benefits of the proposal.

The treaty proposal is complex and will have far-reaching consequences. But few US firms or members of the public are even aware of the proposal. Moreover, the U.S. government agencies responsible for WIPO negotiations on the treaty have not yet adequately analyzed even the most basic issues, including, for example, the impact of the treaty on the Internet, or the required changes in U.S. law.

We oppose in particular a proposal in the draft treaty that would create a new intellectual property right affecting both the rights of the general public and the rights of copyright holders.

Specifically, this proposal would grant to persons who make combinations or representations of images and sounds available to the public over broadcast networks and other networks, including the Internet, a 50-year exclusive right to authorize or prohibit the copying or redistribution of such information. Not only would this right, granted to broadcasters and webcasters, allow those who transmit content to effectively close off works in the public domain, but it also would encumber the rights of copyright holders (making it harder for them to license their works to others), and would pre-empt the rights of many stakeholders, including the general public, under our copyright law.

This new intellectual-property right is an expanded version of a related right for broadcasting organizations that is provided for in the Rome Convention, a treaty the United States and more than 100 other countries have never signed. Nevertheless, the United States is proposing to extend this controversial right to the Internet (and other networks, including private networks).

A small number of webcasters are asking that they be given the same intellectual property rights that the treaty would give to broadcasters. But many other Internet companies, including those also involved in webcasting, "reject the idea that the Internet needs or will benefit from the extension of these pseudo-copyrights to so- called 'Webcasters.'" These companies further argue that "Adding a new layer of intermediaries, over and above copyright holders, for the re-use of information on the Internet benefits no one -- save those intermediaries. If an Internet company has the rights to a work, or need not secure the rights to a work due to a limitation in copyright, or because the work is in the public domain, there is no rational reason to require that the company also seek the permission of a further intermediary whose sole creative contribution to the work is in making it available." [1]

Finally, we note that there are serious definitional problems with the proposal's approach to webcaster rights -- it may burden all World Wide Web content (including text and still images) with a rights framework that was designed for broadcasting radio waves over the air.

We ask that any decision about a diplomatic conference be deferred until there is an opportunity for the affected parties -- ranging from librarians and civil society groups to recording artists, filmmakers, and publishers -- to comment on the proposal through an appropriate federal register notice.


Mark Cooper
Consumer Federation of America

Mike Godwin
Legal Director, Public Knowledge

James Packard Love
Consumer Project on Technology

Professor Jennifer M. Urban
The Law School, University of Southern California*

Robin Gross
IP Justice

Frannie Wellings
Free Press

Jeannine Kenney
Consumers Union

Paul Hyland
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)

Wendy Seltzer
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School

Professor James Boyle
Duke Law School*

Gwen Hinze
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco, CA

David Tannenbaum
Union for the Public Domain (UPD)

Joshua D. Sarnoff
Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic
Washington College of Law, American UniversityWashington, DC

Eric Blossom
GNU RadioBlossom Research, LLCReno, NV

Corynne McSherry
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco, CA

Malla Pollack
American Justice School of Law
University of Idaho

Ken McEldowney
Executive Director
Consumer Action, San Francisco, CA

Marc Rotenberg
EPIC / Public VoiceWashington, DC

Ed Mierzwinski,
Consumer Program Director
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG),
Washington, DC

Jack Willis

Anatoly Volynets
President,, California

Michael Shames
Executive Director
Utility Consumers' Action Network, San Diego, CA

Steve Cleary
Director, AkPIRG Anchorage, AK

Billie J. Kincade,
President Victim's Committee for Recall of Defective Vehicles, Inc.
Catoosa, OK

Paul Hinman
ASCAP, Nashville TN

Daniel Krimm
Los Angeles, CA

Patricia Dolan
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Claire Stewart
Northwestern University Library, Evanston, Illinois

Peter Suber
Open Access Project Director, Public KnowledgeWashington, DC

A. Michael Froomkin
U. Miami School of Law, Coral Gables, FL

Sasha Costanza-Chock
Communication Rights in the Information Society

Eddan Katz
Information Society ProjectYale Law School, New Haven, CT

David Meieran
Global Thought, Pittsburgh, PA

Joshua Sturgill
Morehead, KY

Dorothy Kidd
Dept. of Media Studies, University of San Francisco

Marcus Estes
Tables Turned

Matthew L. Seidl
Wraith Interprises, Longmont, CO

David Tarleton
Tarleton / Dawn Productions, Los Angeles, CA

James Bessen
Boston University School of Law, Harpswell, ME

John Markos O'Neill
San Francisco, CA

Keith Copenhagen
Orinda, CA

Carolyn Sortor
Dallas, TX

Leslie B. Gore
Kay Gore, Virginia Beach, VA

Richard A. Milewski
RamPage Publishing

John Lozier
Harping for Harmony Foundation, Morgantown, WV

Brianna Shepard
Los Angeles, CA

Tom Cassel
New York, NY

Robert Thornton
Rockville, MD

Daniel Lowe
Concord, OH

Jason J. Bundy
Clearwater, FL

Ben Seigel
Madison, WI

Adam Thompson
Los Angeles, CA

hannah sassaman
prometheus radio project, philadelphia, pa

Joseph Pietro Riolo
East Stroudsberg, PA

William S. Stuart
Integral Evaluation, LLC, Willimantic, CT

Jeremiah Blatz
Interpublic Group of Companies, New York, NY

Gloriana St. Clair,
Dean, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
Pittsburgh, PA

Barb SorensenSinger/Songwriter
Schaumburg, IL

* institution for identifying purposes only-----[1]

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Enclosure Diagrams

I'm sure there are those who would think it not such a good idea, but for those who are in any way inclined towards the visual rather than the verbally philosophical I have reduced what I understand to be the primary dynamics of enclosure to a few diagrams. They are linked off the main page but can also be found at

Fatwas Concerning Intellectual Property


Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, Jakarta

One important matter contained within fatwas (edicts) recently issued by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) is the judgment that Intellectual Property(IP) violations are haram. This conclusion means that utilizing IP without a right is a violation of God's prescribed law and thus a sinful thing to do for a Muslim.

MUI's argument is that Islamic law protects the rights andproperty of individuals and that Intellectual Property is also a form of property that is protected under Islamic law.

This is exactly the point at which MUI's argument could be mistaken. Prior to issuing such an edict, the MUI should have investigated whether the concept of Intellectual Property is in fact a sui generis (unique, peculiar) Islamic concept. This is done by finding justifications in primary sources of Islamic law, which are the Koranic verses and hadith.

It is certain that the MUI will find abundant verses and hadith stating that an individual's property must be protected. However, it is quite certain that they will hardly find any verses or hadith that states that knowledge or ideas are protected under Islamic law. What they will surely find in those sources is that all knowledge belongs to God and that knowledge seeking and knowledge sharing is an obligation for all Muslims.

Under old Islamic customs there was a system of knowledge acknowledgement known as ijaza (certificate). If a person is to teach, quote or reproduce acertain knowledge, then he or she must obtain an ijaza from the author.

This system of a chain of authority is designed to ensure authenticity in thepassing of knowledge from one person to another, and also as a form ofrespect for authors. Certainly, this kind of system was not created for financial benefit but rather for the sanctity of science. It only protects the moral right of anauthor to a certain degree. The knowledge itself belongs to God, not to any individual.

The ijaza system certainly is not a form of copyright. Copyright was a response to Gutenberg's printing revolution of the EuropeanMiddle Ages. Conditions at that time required legal protection for authors, as book copying became easier due to the printing press. Prior to the invention of the printing machine, no economic right for authorship was ever granted specifically by any body of law. Authors were only granted the moral right for having created books. After copyright, the concept that intellectual products could be proprietarized expanded into patent, which occurred during the industrial revolution. Since then, the concept of property has extended into intellectual products that consequently entail legal protection as normally granted to tangible property.

By looking at the history of copyright andpatent, it is conclusive that Intellectual Property is a concept developed in the West. It is thus not a sui generis Islamic legal concept. Whether or not an idea expression can be proprietarized under Islamic law is still not certain.

What the MUI has done through its fatwa is to make ananalogy with the protection of tangible property available in Islam and further extending and applying it to intangible property. In relation to whether IP protection serves our society's best interests, the answer is quite clear. IP protection, whether copyright or patent, has sparked much abuse. The emerging trend today is aimed towards limiting IP protection, as removing it entirely would not be possible for the time being.

International moves through the draft Access to Knowledge Treaty purport to reduce and limit the length of IP protection. "Copyleft" licenses are meant to get around ordinary copyright licenses in disseminating intellectual products. It would be in the interests of Islamic society to limit the concept of Intellectual Property, if not completely abolish it in the future.

The World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO) is currently putting together a "development agenda" that will shift its emphasis from "protection" to "knowledge access". Extensive IP protection is only in the interests of big corporations and advanced nations. The language that the MUI used in its edict is also ambiguous as itdetermines the haram nature of a conduct if it "violates" a regulation. A violation of IP rights is determined by a verdict of a tribunal. The MUI is silent in relation to which law and which tribunal can judgeviolation to be haram. IP protection in each country is different.

Does the MUI refer to international law, Arabic law or Indonesian law? If the MUI refers to Indonesian positive law, there are plenty of things under our law that are harmful to the transfer and promotion of knowledge.The copyright law for example, requires that relinquishment of rights needs to be conducted in a traditional written form. Moreover, the existing copyright law does not support transfer of knowledge. DVD/CD replication in libraries for archival purposes could be deemed as an infringement ofcopyright. The law also does not specifically allow teachers to copy their class materials for students.

The MUI should not link the concept of haram with violations of positive law. Aligning religious law with positive law will have severe consequences.Positive law is very dynamic, it may change from time to time. If the concept of haram is attached to positive law, then the state of haram may also change from time to time. To summarize, the MUI's fatwa that supports IP could be misleading and is counterproductive for the following reasons.

First, "Intellectual Property" is a not a sui generis Islamic legal concept. Second, Islamic values favor the promotion, transfer and dissemination of knowledge, as compared to treating it as property. Third, it is not in the best interests of Islamic society to extensively support IP protection. And fourth, aligning religious law with positive law will reduce the transcendentality of religious values, making it vulnerable to political abuse.

The MUI's fatwas are not binding, both in terms of religious or positive law. However, they have great psychological influence as the majority of Indonesian Sunni Muslims will tend to adhere to it. Muslim society is currently being left out in terms of knowledge and scientific development. What Islamic legal scholars must do in responding to this situation is to revolutionize Islamic law so as to enlighten and liberate Muslim society from its dark ages, by limiting and reducing protection granted under the concept of Intellectual Property.

If the MUI does not wish to revolutionize Islamic law, then it should at least refrain from addressing the Intellectual Property issue. Importing a capitalistic legal concept and stamping God's word on it will not bring any benefits to society. Wallahu'alam.

The writer is a lawyer and a lecturer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Terminator seeds

From 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service


A group of Peruvian indigenous farmers have prepared an extensively researched counter to a Canadian move to revive 'terminator'seeds.

Terminator seeds work only once. For a new crop, farmers would have to go back to sellers. These seeds that do not regenerate like normal seedswould work hugely to the advantage of corporations, to the detriment of farmers.

A United Nations moratorium at present blocks commercialisation of terminator seeds. But a group of countries led by Canada have challenged the UN safety regulation. This has led the Convention on Biological Diversity based in Montreal to open new discussions on relaxing the moratorium on such seeds.

One of the strongest counters to the move so far has come not from experts and officials but from Peruvians, says Michel Pimbert from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development(IIED) that promotes sustainable development at local levels. After monitoring cultivation methods, about 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities met in a mountain village last month over two days to collate their findings and assess the damage that could be caused by terminator seeds.'

'When does it happen that marginalised, excluded citizens come out and talk in this way,'' Pimbert told IPS. The Peruvian indigenous farmers came together under the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature andSustainable Development (ANDES) and the International Institute forEnvironment and Development, a general assembly largely composed of indigenous people from villages in the Andes.

''Indigenous people and marginalised groups barely have a voice when it comes to policies and legislation,'' Pimbert said. ''These were thevoices of the poorest of the poor living in biodiversity hotspots.'' Officials at the Montreal institute had acknowledged that the input from the Peruvian indigenous farmers was one of the strongest they have received so far, Pimbert said. The indigenous farmers reported that Peruvian farmers and small farmers worldwide ''are dependent on seeds obtained from the harvest as a principal source of seed to be used in subsequent agricultural cycles.''

But their findings went beyond that to examine several aspects of any change. The farmers ''evaluated the evidence and assessed the risks ofterminator technology on land, spiritual systems and on women, who are their seed keepers,'' Pimbert said.

The farmers also showed that Terminator (Genetic Use RestrictionTechnology) would transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and wider plant life, as well as increasing the reliance of farmers on big agribusiness which is already patenting seeds traditionally owned by indigenous people.

They reported that industrialised 'mono-culture' farming would benefit at the expense of tried and tested local agricultural knowledge. They warned that in Peru alone, 2,000 varieties of potato could be put at risk by Terminator technology. Peru gave the potato to the world.'

'Terminator seeds do not have life,'' Felipe Gonzalez of the indigenous Pinchimoro community said in a statement. ''Like a plague they will comeinfecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.''

The Swiss-based company Syngenta recently won the patent on Terminator potatoes, but under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, it cannot market these potatoes.

The submission by the Peruvian farmers will be reviewed at a conference on such agricultural technology in Granada in Spain later this year. The moratorium issue will come up at a conference on biological diversity to be held in Brazil in March next year.

''These voices and their research will be formally communicated there,''Pimbert said. They would seek to challenge claims by academics who feelterminator technology is safe, he said.

Peruvian indigenous leaders are urging the UN to expose the dangers ofTerminator technology and uphold the moratorium. They also demand that indigenous people have a say in the process equal to the influence ofthe agribusiness lobby.

''The UN moratorium helps to protect millenarian indigenous agriculturalknowledge and the agrobiodiversity and global food security itenables,'' Alejandro Argumedo, associate director of ANDES, said in a statement. ''The rush to exploit Terminator technology for corporate profit must not be allowed to sabotage vital international biosafety polices.

(c) 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service

Saturday, October 08, 2005

My anxieties haven't so much been about how to progress within the university sector with my rather idiosyncratic political positioning, wondering how I might continue as a club member, but more in the line of wondering how long I can persist in institutional environments that consistently and increasingly guide me to spend a lot of time and energy on things that are not only not important to me, but extremely dissonant in relation to the hierarchies of values with which I negotiate my life and relationships.

I wonder about the history of universities and the fundamental architectures of university life that may still be structured in key ways by the powerful (not total) impetus in the early development of such (proto-corporate?) institutions to promote and reinforce (expansionary)(religious/legal) doctrine/"Truth" (driven, of course, by particular people rather than by some invisible epistemic hand). I wonder about the ways in which things from the structure of classrooms to textbook pedagogy may continue to be deeply influenced by those underlying architectures of thought, practice, and expectation.

I wonder whether critical or radical pedagogic approaches may always be the least influential (and yet most threatening) voices within such institutional environments. While I truly value the opportunities I have in classrooms now to work with students in the cause of more helpful thinking, I wonder how long I have to earn a regular wage (to cover loans) before having the courage to go primarily independent as an educator and writer/critic (I do think it helpful to keep a foot in the institutional camp, but not to allow such values to take over my life). I am wary not to think 'university = bad nasty system' because I am not a fan of the enemization (and often accompanying reification) of 'systems', more that I am thinking in terms of the relational character/tone/atmosphere of particular environments, particular circumstances, of involvement and encounter.

At present I find myself sometimes moving out of my disciplines, in a frustration with the abstractions of much academic life (of which I frequently participate despite my best intentions), (there's a venomous and somewhat misfiring article by Robert Fisk on the web about academic language, but I still have it on the wall above my desk) to speak to and work with people who are yearning for relationships in and through which to explore helpful approaches towards less enclosing ways of relating. This week I have been talking to people in an autism research centre (in a university), which is wonderfully refreshing, because the place is guided in tone and character by a working relationship with people living with autistic spectrum experience and with parents. Accessibility of language and thought is not so much demanded as it is simply appropriate to such circumstances, and I am very much looking forward to exploring those possibilities of inquiry and engagement.

The administrative, bureaucratic, doctrinal, and corporate orthodoxies of university life can often drown out other possibilities in your head. I think being very clear in clarifying what's important helps in being more aware of how and when the subtle persuasions of not-so-helpful university life are threatening to, or beginning to, displace what we might like to be important to us. I think working within university/corporate contexts is possible, but what I aspire to myself is to make sure that such environments of increasingly alienated relationship (never mind the normalization of bullying, domination, imposition, etc etc etc) do not become the dominant modes of my existence, that is, that I aspire to doing (and do) other things that keep me sane and humanised, like joining my local brass band, finding kindred spirits wherever, and putting most of my energies into working on the possibilities of resonance and emergence rather than the charybdis of oppositional resistance. It's easy to resonate with your enemies' priorities in a fight.

Just in passing, came across this on the internet, apropos nothing, just thought it was interesting, the heresy of Double Truth: