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Foreign farmland investors in Brazil linked to 423,000 hectares of deforestation

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18 Dec 2018 | CRR
Harvard University, the US pension fund manager TIAA/Nuveen and Japan's Mitsui are among the foreign companies buying up Brazilian farmlands that are responsible for over 420,000 ha of deforestation in the Cerrado since 2000.
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superiphi
11 days ago
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It's our pensions funds, usually...
Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
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Tunes for a Monday Morning

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Dawn from the boat house window

In a time of political discord, strife, and disconnection from the wider world, let's start the week grounded in harmony, community, and the wonders of the earth we share.

Above: "Rivermouth" by Rising Appalachia (Leah and Chloe Smith), based in the southern Appalachian region and New Orleans. The sisters are activists as well as musicians, working with Mississippi River, Gulf, and Klamath water protectors and other Waterkeepers around the world, to preserve drinkable, fishable, swimmable water for everyone, everywhere. The song is from their sixth album, Wider Circles (2015).

Below: "Rang Tang Ring Toon" and "AGT" by Moutain Man, an Appalachian acappella trio (Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, and Amelia Randall Meath). Both songs are from their second studio album, Magic Ship (2018).

Morning coffee

Sunrise on the River Dart

Above: "Order and Chaos" by the English vocal harmony trip Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Hazel Askew, and Rowan Rheingans). The song is from their third album, Cycle (2016). The animation is by Minha Kim.

Below: "The Birds' Courting Song" by English vocal harmony trio Said the Maiden (Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton), from their first album, Here's a Health (2017); and "Step Up, Speak Out," released by Rising Appalachia the same year.

Writing on the the river

Photographs: a favourite place of mine to retreat and write on the River Dart.

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superiphi
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Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
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What’s Wrong with Bananas - Issue 66: Clockwork 

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Of the important global crops, the banana is the most genetically uniform. A single cluster of nearly identical genotypes, the Cavendish subgroup, nearly monopolizes the world’s banana groves and banana trade. In contrast to the riotous rainbow of genetic diversity that lends sustainability to natural plant and animal populations, the world’s banana industry has the stability of an upside-down Egyptian pyramid balanced on its tip.

That fact leads to another superlative: The commercial banana is the world’s most endangered major crop. The future of the intercontinentally traded banana was once, and is again, precarious. Given that their wild progenitors are as variable as most species, how has it come to pass that most of the banana plants growing in the world have become so uniform? And what does that uniformity mean for their future as the “world’s most perfect food”?

Gros Michel bananas.Zwifree / Wikimedia

Reproductively, domesticated banana plants are self-copying machines. Proto-farmers who found an individual whose fruit they liked (maybe tasty and not so seedy) could dig up its suckers and replant them in a nearby clearing or even along the trail. In a few years, an industrious proto-farmer might have had reproduced dozens of plants of that…
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superiphi
72 days ago
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Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
Michdevilish
78 days ago
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Canada
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Dystopias Now • Commune

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The end of the world is over. Now the real work begins. 

Dystopias are the flip side of utopias. Both of them express feelings about our shared future; utopias express our social hopes, dystopias our social fears. There are a lot of dystopias around these days, and this makes sense, because we have a lot of fears about the future.

Both genres have ancient lineages. Utopia goes back to Plato at least, and from the start it had a relationship to satire, an even more ancient form. Dystopia is very clearly a kind of satire. Archilochus, the first satirist, was said to be able to kill people with his curses. Possibly dystopias hope to kill the societies they depict.

For a while now I’ve been saying that science fiction works by a kind of double action, like the glasses people wear when watching 3D movies. One lens of science fiction’s aesthetic machinery portrays some future that might actually come to pass; it’s a kind of proleptic realism. The other lens presents a metaphorical vision of our current moment, like a symbol in a poem. Together the two views combine and pop into a vision of History, extending magically into the future.

By that definition, dystopias today seem mostly like the metaphorical lens of the science-fictional double action. They exist to express how this moment feels, focusing on fear as a cultural dominant. A realistic portrayal of a future that might really happen isn’t really part of the project—that lens of the science fiction machinery is missing. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of this; its depicted future is not plausible, not even logistically possible. That’s not what it’s trying to do. What it does very well is to portray the feeling of the present for young people today, heightened by exaggeration to a kind of dream or nightmare. To the extent this is typical, dystopias can be thought of as a kind of surrealism.

“Or maybe we should just give up entirely on optimism or pessimism—we have to do this work no matter how we feel about it.”

These days I tend to think of dystopias as being fashionable, perhaps lazy, maybe even complacent, because one pleasure of reading them is cozying into the feeling that however bad our present moment is, it’s nowhere near as bad as the ones these poor characters are suffering through. Vicarious thrill of comfort as we witness/imagine/experience the heroic struggles of our afflicted protagonists—rinse and repeat. Is this catharsis? Possibly more like indulgence, and creation of a sense of comparative safety. A kind of late-capitalist, advanced-nation schadenfreude about those unfortunate fictional citizens whose lives have been trashed by our own political inaction. If this is right, dystopia is part of our all-encompassing hopelessness.

On the other hand, there is a real feeling being expressed in them, a real sense of fear. Some speak of a “crisis of representation” in the world today, having to do with governments—that no one anywhere feels properly represented by their government, no matter which style of government it is. Dystopia is surely one expression of that feeling of detachment and helplessness. Since nothing seems to work now, why not blow things up and start over? This would imply that dystopia is some kind of call for revolutionary change. There may be something to that. At the least dystopia is saying, even if repetitiously and unimaginatively, and perhaps salaciously, Something’s wrong. Things are bad.

Probably it’s important to remember the looming presence of climate change, as a kind of techno-social disaster that has already begun and which will inundate the next couple of centuries as some kind of overdetermining factor, no matter what we do. This period we are entering could become the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, and the first caused by human activity. In that sense the Anthropocene is a kind of biospheric dystopia coming into being every day, partly because of the daily activities of the bourgeois consumers of dystopian literature and film, so that there is a nightmarish recursive realism involved in the project: not just Things are bad, but also We are responsible for making them bad. And it’s hard not to notice that we’re not doing enough to make things better, so things will get worse too. Collective political action is necessary in order to make things better; fixing the problems will require more than personal virtue or renunciation. The collective has to change, and yet there are forces keeping the collective from seeing this: thus dystopia now!

It’s important to remember that utopia and dystopia aren’t the only terms here. You need to use the Greimas rectangle and see that utopia has an opposite, dystopia, and also a contrary, the anti-utopia. For every concept there is both a not-concept and an anti-concept. So utopia is the idea that the political order could be run better. Dystopia is the not, being the idea that the political order could get worse. Anti-utopias are the anti, saying that the idea of utopia itself is wrong and bad, and that any attempt to try to make things better is sure to wind up making things worse, creating an intended or unintended totalitarian state, or some other such political disaster. 1984 and Brave New World are frequently cited examples of these positions. In 1984 the government is actively trying to make citizens miserable; in Brave New World, the government was first trying to make its citizens happy, but this backfired. As Jameson points out, it is important to oppose political attacks on the idea of utopia, as these are usually reactionary statements on the behalf of the currently powerful, those who enjoy a poorly-hidden utopia-for-the-few alongside a dystopia-for-the-many. This observation provides the fourth term of the Greimas rectangle, often mysterious, but in this case perfectly clear: one must be anti-anti-utopian.

“Immediately many people will object that this is too hard, too implausible, contradictory to human nature, politically impossible, uneconomical, and so on. Yeah yeah.”

One way of being anti-anti-utopian is to be utopian. It’s crucial to keep imagining that things could get better, and furthermore to imagine how they might get better. Here no doubt one has to avoid Berlant’s “cruel optimism,” which is perhaps thinking and saying that things will get better without doing the work of imagining how. In avoiding that, it may be best to recall the Romain Rolland quote so often attributed to Gramsci, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” Or maybe we should just give up entirely on optimism or pessimism—we have to do this work no matter how we feel about it. So by force of will or the sheer default of emergency we make ourselves have utopian thoughts and ideas. This is the necessary next step following the dystopian moment, without which dystopia is stuck at a level of political quietism that can make it just another tool of control and of things-as-they-are. The situation is bad, yes, okay, enough of that; we know that already. Dystopia has done its job, it’s old news now, perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more. Next thought: utopia. Realistic or not, and perhaps especially if not.

Besides, it is realistic: things could be better. The energy flows on this planet, and humanity’s current technological expertise, are together such that it’s physically possible for us to construct a worldwide civilization—meaning a political order—that provides adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, education, and health care for all eight billion humans, while also protecting the livelihood of all the remaining mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants, and other life-forms that we share and co-create this biosphere with. Obviously there are complications, but these are just complications. They are not physical limitations we can’t overcome. So, granting the complications and difficulties, the task at hand is to imagine ways forward to that better place.

Immediately many people will object that this is too hard, too implausible, contradictory to human nature, politically impossible, uneconomical, and so on. Yeah yeah. Here we see the shift from cruel optimism to stupid pessimism, or call it fashionable pessimism, or simply cynicism. It’s very easy to object to the utopian turn by invoking some poorly-defined but seemingly omnipresent reality principle. Well-off people do this all the time.

Clearly we enter here the realm of the ideological; but we’ve been there all along. Althusser’s definition of ideology, which defines it as the imaginary relationship to our real conditions of existence, is very useful here, as everywhere. We all have ideologies, they are a necessary part of cognition, we would be disabled without them. So the question becomes, which ideology? People choose, even if they do not choose under conditions of their own making. Here, remembering that science too is an ideology, I would suggest that science is the strongest ideology for estimating what’s physically possible to do or not do. Science is AI, so to speak, in that the vast artificial intelligence that is science knows more than any individual can know—Marx called this distributed knowing “the general intellect”—and it continually reiterates and refines what it asserts, in an ongoing recursive project of self-improvement. A very powerful ideology. For my purpose here, I only invoke science to assert that the energy flows in our biosphere would provide adequately for all living creatures on the planet today, if we were to distribute them properly. That proper distribution would involve not just cleaner, ultimately decarbonized technologies—these are necessary but not sufficient. We would also have to redefine work itself to include all the activities now called social reproduction, treating them as acts valuable enough to be included in our economic calculations one way or another.

An adequate life provided for all living beings is something the planet can still do; it has sufficient resources, and the sun provides enough energy. There is a sufficiency, in other words; adequacy for all is not physically impossible. It won’t be easy to arrange, obviously, because it would be a total civilizational project, involving technologies, systems, and power dynamics; but it is possible. This description of the situation may not remain true for too many more years, but while it does, since we can create a sustainable civilization, we should. If dystopia helps to scare us into working harder on that project, which maybe it does, then fine: dystopia. But always in service to the main project, which is utopia.

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satadru
77 days ago
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In which it is revealed that Kim Stanley Robinson is educated way way way above my pay grade.
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superiphi
72 days ago
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Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
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Analyst: Apple's poor earnings will recover now they've switched from innovating to rent-seeking

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Apple just had a really poor Q3 earnings report, with hardware sales falling off as people figure out that they just don't need to get a new phone every year or so; writing in Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky tries to soothe investors by pointing out that Apple is still seeing growth in "services" and that there's plenty more growth to be realized there.

Bershidsky is refreshingly honest in his description of these services: he refers to repairs, sales through the App and Itunes stores, and cloud services as "collecting rent" on Apple customers and its suppliers.

As Bershidsky points out, long-term Apple users are rather locked into its ecosystem by the tedious and potentially risky process of extracting their photos, music, etc to a rival platform. That means that the suppliers of things like music, ebooks, and videos are also locked into Apple's stores, unlikely to win a battle to establish rival stores that interoperate with Apple's Itunes and other apps, but which take a smaller commission on the sale of their products. Apple has inserted itself into the transactions for copyrighted works for the foreseeable future, passively creaming off a substantial portion of the profits from the sales not because their store is the best, but because they have used DRM and other proprietary tactics to lock out competitors.

A Goldman Sachs report suggests that Apple aggressively turn the screw on the rent-collecting end of its business, using bundling and anti-competitive retail tactics to crush Dropbox and other cloud providers currently serving Iphone owners.

The kicker to the piece comes in the final graf: "Rent extraction from a user base that finds it hard to go away may sound a bit like extortion. But it’s more honest and upfront than extracting data from users in ways they often don’t understand and then making money off the data, as Facebook does."

The poverty of imagination on display here is maybe the most 2018 thing I've read all year. Of course "If you're not paying for the product, you're the product" -- but as Bershidsky and Goldman Sachs agree, "even if you pay for the product, you're still the product."

The fetishization of paid services as a panacea for the woes of surveillance capitalism mistakes the nature of the problem. Google doesn't spy on us like crazy because they're creepy spies: they spy on us like crazy because the lack of competition lets their creepy spy-nature run amok, and the size of Google and its surveillance capitalism breathren allows it to purchase regulation and laws that fail to meaningfully limit surveilling us (if we were serious about regulating privacy, we'd create really serious statutory damages for breaches, far beyond even the dreams of Ron Wyden).

The harms of being "the product" in monopoly walled-garden capitalism are different in kind, but not degree from being "the product" in monopoly surveillance capitalism: you pay lots more, while the world drowns in e-waste. Your access to artistic works is limited by arbitrary and self-serving ways -- and walled gardens are an autocracy's best friend.

(To say nothing of the other problem with "everything should be a paid service": in a grossly unequal world, the idea that charging to participate in discourse will fix discourse is radioactively wrong, a bad idea that's visible from orbit -- imagine a world where the vast majority either have to ration their participation, or use platforms subsidized by 1-percenters who reserve the right to kick you off their services for suggesting limits on looting and exploitation)

What if, instead of forcing us to choose between monopoly surveillance capitalism and monopoly walled-garden capitalism, we held out hope for a world where we smashed the monopolies. Made them paid their taxes, made them divest of the competitors they gobbled up, cut them down to a size where they could no longer dominate the legislative and regulatory processes.

Because, after all, even with its weak growth figures, Apple is still a vastly profitable company. Being forced to give up on blocking competing stores, service, parts, and add-ons would not put the company out of business: it would merely shave a few points off the its quarterly profits -- while diverting that income to other companies, from the small mom-and-pop service depot on your corner to the indie app vendor who could sell software to Ios users direct and pocket the 30% Apple would have creamed off of their margin.

The future is not a choice between one kind of monopoly and another: it's a choice between monopoly and anti-monopoly. The choice between surveillance and walled gardens is no choice at all (and, in the case of Facebook, you get two horrors for the price of one).

Rent extraction from a user base that finds it hard to go away may sound a bit like extortion. But it’s more honest and upfront than extracting data from users in ways they often don’t understand and then making money off the data, as Facebook does. That honesty is in itself a competitive advantage for Apple as it gradually reimagines itself as more of a services company. Now, the challenge is to grow the services offering fast enough to make up for potential iPhone revenue losses; gadget prices cannot keep going up forever without hurting the top line, and in the end, a phone is just a phone. We only need it to gain access to all the nice digital stuff out there.

Apple Used to Be an Inventor. Now It’s Mainly a Landlord. [Leonid Bershidsky/Bloomberg]

(via /.)

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superiphi
72 days ago
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Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
satadru
74 days ago
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New York, NY
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Swedish ISP punishes Elsevier for forcing it to block Sci-Hub by also blocking Elsevier

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The Swedish ISP Bahnhof has a strong historic commitment to free speech, so when the notoriously corrupt science publishing giant Elsevier (previously) sought to force the ISP to censor connections to the open access site Sci-Hub (previously), the ISP went to court to resist the order.

Unfortunately for Swedes and for science, the Swedish Patent and Market Court (which never met a copyright overreach it didn't love) upheld the order, and Bahnhof, a small ISP with limited resources, decided not to appeal (a bigger, richer ISP had just lost a similar appeal).

Instead, Bahnhof now blocks attempts to visit Sci-Hub domains, and Elsevier.com, redirecting attempts to visit Elsevier to a page explaining how Elsevier's sleaze and bullying have allowed it to monopolize scientific publishing, paywalling publicly funded science that is selected, reviewed and edited by volunteers who mostly work for publicly funded institutions.

To as icing on this revenge-flavored cake, Bahnhof also detects attempts to visit its own site from the Patent and Market Court and redirects them to a page explaining that since the Patent and Market Court believes that parts of the web should be blocked, Bahnhof is blocking the court's access to its part of the web.

This is the worst possible outcome for Bahnhof. TorrentFreak spoke to CEO Jon Karlung who describes it as a “horrifying” decision that “goes against the soul of the Internet.”

The result, starting today, is that sci-hub.tw, sci-hub.mu, sci-hub.se, libgen.io, and several other domains are being blocked by the ISP. But Bahnhof wouldn’t be Bahnhof if it went down without a fight.

The company has no faith in an expensive appeal, which another ISP lost last year in a similar blocking case. However, it does have another ace up its sleeve. Now that they are blocking anyway, they can easily an extra domain name to make a point.

So, in addition, Bahnhof has gone ahead and banned its visitors from accessing the official Elsevier.com website as well. Elsevier wanted a site blockade – it now has one.

Swedish ISP Protests ‘Site Blocking’ by Blocking Rightsholders Website Too [Ernesto/Torrentfreak]

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satadru
74 days ago
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lololol
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superiphi
72 days ago
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Idle, Bradford, United Kingdom
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ChrisDL
70 days ago
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im feeling a sudden urge to move to sweden.
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