Arquivo mensal: agosto 2013

Is War Really Disappearing? New Analysis Suggests Not (Science Daily)

Aug. 29, 2013 — While some researchers have claimed that war between nations is in decline, a new analysis suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate a more peaceful world.

The study finds that there is no clear trend indicating that nations are less eager to wage war, said Bear Braumoeller, author of the study and associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University.

Conflict does appear to be less common than it had been in the past, he said. But that’s due more to an inability to fight than to an unwillingness to do so.

“As empires fragment, the world has split up into countries that are smaller, weaker and farther apart, so they are less able to fight each other,” Braumoeller said.

“Once you control for their ability to fight each other, the proclivity to go to war hasn’t really changed over the last two centuries.”

Braumoeller presented his research Aug. 29 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

Several researchers have claimed in recent years that war is in decline, most notably Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

As evidence, Pinker points to a decline in war deaths per capita. But Braumoeller said he believes that is a flawed measure.

“That accurately reflects the average citizen’s risk from death in war, but countries’ calculations in war are more complicated than that,” he said.

Moreover, since population grows exponentially, it would be hard for war deaths to keep up with the booming number of people in the world.

Because we cannot predict whether wars will be quick and easy or long and drawn-out (“Remember ‘Mission Accomplished?'” Braumoeller says) a better measure of how warlike we as humans are is to start with how often countries use force — such as missile strikes or armed border skirmishes — against other countries, he said.

“Any one of these uses of force could conceivably start a war, so their frequency is a good indication of how war prone we are at any particular time,” he said.

Braumoeller used the Correlates of War Militarized Interstate Dispute database, which scholars from around the world study to measure uses of force up to and including war.

The data shows that the uses of force held more or less constant through World War I, but then increased steadily thereafter.

This trend is consistent with the growth in the number of countries over the course of the last two centuries.

But just looking at the number of conflicts per pair of countries is misleading, he said, because countries won’t go to war if they aren’t “politically relevant” to each other.

Military power and geography play a big role in relevance; it is unlikely that a small, weak country in South America would start a war with a small, weak country in Africa.

Once Braumoeller took into account both the number of countries and their political relevance to one another, the results showed essentially no change to the trend of the use of force over the last 200 years.

While researchers such as Pinker have suggested that countries are actually less inclined to fight than they once were, Braumoeller said these results suggest a different reason for the recent decline in war.

“With countries being smaller, weaker and more distant from each other, they certainly have less ability to fight. But we as humans shouldn’t get credit for being more peaceful just because we’re not as able fight as we once were,” he said.

“There is no indication that we actually have less proclivity to wage war.”

How Vegetation Competes for Rainfall in Dry Regions (Science Daily)

Aug. 30, 2013 — The greater the plant density in a given area, the greater the amount of rainwater that seeps into the ground. This is due to a higher presence of dense roots and organic matter in the soil. Since water is a limited resource in many dry ecosystems, such as semi-arid environments and semi-deserts, there is a benefit to vegetation to adapt by forming closer networks with little space between plants. 

Vertical aerial view of a tiger bush plateau in Niger. Vegetation is dominated by Combretum micranthum and Guiera senegalensis. Image size : 5 x 5 km on the ground. Satellite image from the Declassified corona KH-4A national intelligence reconnaissance system, 1965-12-31. (Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)

Hence, vegetation in semi-arid environments (or regions with low rainfall) self-organizes into patterns or “bands.” The pattern formation occurs where stripes of vegetation run parallel to the contours of a hill, and are interlaid with stripes of bare ground. Banded vegetation is common where there is low rainfall. In a paper published last month in the SIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics, author Jonathan A. Sherratt uses a mathematical model to determine the levels of precipitation within which such pattern formation occurs.

“Vegetation patterns are a common feature in semi-arid environments, occurring in Africa, Australia and North America,” explains Sherratt. “Field studies of these ecosystems are extremely difficult because of their remoteness and physical harshness; moreover there are no laboratory replicates. Therefore mathematical modeling has the potential to be an extremely valuable tool, enabling prediction of how pattern vegetation will respond to changes in external conditions.”

Several mathematical models have attempted to address banded vegetation in semi-arid environments, of which the oldest and most established is a system of partial differential equations, called the Klausmeier model.

The Klausmeier model is based on a water redistribution hypothesis, which assumes that rain falling on bare ground infiltrates only slightly; most of it runs downhill in the direction of the next vegetation band. It is here that rain water seeps into the soil and promotes growth of new foliage. This implies that moisture levels are higher on the uphill edge of the bands. Hence, as plants compete for water, bands move uphill with each generation. This uphill migration of bands occurs as new vegetation grows upslope of the bands and old vegetation dies on the downslope edge.

In this paper, the author uses the Klausmeier model, which is a system of reaction-diffusion-advection equations, to determine the critical rainfall level needed for pattern formation based on a variety of ecological parameters, such as rainfall, evaporation, plant uptake, downhill flow, and plant loss. He also investigates the uphill migration speeds of the bands. “My research focuses on the way in which patterns change as annual rainfall varies. In particular, I predict an abrupt shift in pattern formation as rainfall is decreased, which dramatically affects ecosystems,” says Sherratt. “The mathematical analysis enables me to derive a formula for the minimum level of annual rainfall for which banded vegetation is viable; below this, there is a transition to complete desert.”

The model has value in making resource decisions and addressing environmental concerns. “Since many semi-arid regions with banded vegetation are used for grazing and/or timber, this prediction has significant implications for land management,” Sherratt says. “Another issue for which mathematical modeling can be of value is the resilience of patterned vegetation to environmental change. This type of conclusion raises the possibility of using mathematical models as an early warning system that catastrophic changes in the ecosystem are imminent, enabling appropriate action (such as reduced grazing).”

The simplicity of the model allows the author to make detailed predictions, but more realistic models are required to further this work. “All mathematical models are a compromise between the complexity needed to adequately reflect real-world phenomena, and the simplicity that enables the application of mathematical methods. My paper concerns a relatively simple model for vegetation patterning, and I have been able to exploit this simplicity to obtain detailed mathematical predictions,” explains Sherratt. “A number of other researchers have proposed more realistic (and more complex) models, and corresponding study of these models is an important area for future work. The mathematical challenges are considerable, but the rewards would be great, with the potential to predict things such as critical levels of annual rainfall with a high degree of quantitative accuracy.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jonathan A. Sherratt. Pattern Solutions of the Klausmeier Model for Banded Vegetation in Semiarid Environments V: The Transition from Patterns to DesertSIAM Journal on Applied Mathematics, 2013; 73 (4): 1347 DOI:10.1137/120899510

Poor Concentration: Poverty Reduces Brainpower Needed for Navigating Other Areas of Life (Science Daily)

Aug. 29, 2013 — Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University. As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes. 

Research based at Princeton University found that poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life. Experiments showed that the impact of financial concerns on the cognitive function of low-income individuals was similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep. To gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, the researchers tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Each farmer performed better on common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest. (Credit: Image courtesy of Princeton University)

Published in the journal Science, the study presents a unique perspective regarding the causes of persistent poverty. The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep.

But when their concerns were benign, low-income individuals performed competently, at a similar level to people who were well off, said corresponding author Jiaying Zhao, who conducted the study as a doctoral student in the lab of co-author Eldar Shafir, Princeton’s William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. Zhao and Shafir worked with Anandi Mani, an associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick in Britain, and Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard University economics professor.

“These pressures create a salient concern in the mind and draw mental resources to the problem itself. That means we are unable to focus on other things in life that need our attention,” said Zhao, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

“Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” she said. “We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function. The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty.”

The mental tax that poverty can put on the brain is distinct from stress, Shafir explained. Stress is a person’s response to various outside pressures that — according to studies of arousal and performance — can actually enhance a person’s functioning, he said. In the Science study, Shafir and his colleagues instead describe an immediate rather than chronic preoccupation with limited resources that can be a detriment to unrelated yet still important tasks.

“Stress itself doesn’t predict that people can’t perform well — they may do better up to a point,” Shafir said. “A person in poverty might be at the high part of the performance curve when it comes to a specific task and, in fact, we show that they do well on the problem at hand. But they don’t have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks. The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems. It’s the other tasks where they perform poorly.”

The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by, Shafir said. Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management — these make a tight money situation worse. And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship, Shafir said. He and Mullainathan were co-authors on a 2012 Science paper that reported a higher likelihood of poor people to engage in behaviors that reinforce the conditions of poverty, such as excessive borrowing.

“They can make the same mistakes, but the outcomes of errors are more dear,” Shafir said. “So, if you live in poverty, you’re more error prone and errors cost you more dearly — it’s hard to find a way out.”

The first set of experiments took place in a New Jersey mall between 2010 and 2011 with roughly 400 subjects chosen at random. Their median annual income was around $70,000 and the lowest income was around $20,000. The researchers created scenarios wherein subjects had to ponder how they would solve financial problems, for example, whether they would handle a sudden car repair by paying in full, borrowing money or putting the repairs off. Participants were assigned either an “easy” or “hard” scenario in which the cost was low or high — such as $150 or $1,500 for the car repair. While participants pondered these scenarios, they performed common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests.

Subjects were divided into a “poor” group and a “rich” group based on their income. The study showed that when the scenarios were easy — the financial problems not too severe — the poor and rich performed equally well on the cognitive tests. But when they thought about the hard scenarios, people at the lower end of the income scale performed significantly worse on both cognitive tests, while the rich participants were unfazed.

To better gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, between 2010 and 2011 the researchers also tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Because sugarcane harvests occur once a year, these are farmers who find themselves rich after harvest and poor before it. Each farmer was given the same tests before and after the harvest, and performed better on both tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.

The cognitive effect of poverty the researchers found relates to the more general influence of “scarcity” on cognition, which is the larger focus of Shafir’s research group. Scarcity in this case relates to any deficit — be it in money, time, social ties or even calories — that people experience in trying to meet their needs. Scarcity consumes “mental bandwidth” that would otherwise go to other concerns in life, Zhao said.

“These findings fit in with our story of how scarcity captures attention. It consumes your mental bandwidth,” Zhao said. “Just asking a poor person to think about hypothetical financial problems reduces mental bandwidth. This is an acute, immediate impact, and has implications for scarcity of resources of any kind.”

“We documented similar effects among people who are not otherwise poor, but on whom we imposed scarce resources,” Shafir added. “It’s not about being a poor person — it’s about living in poverty.”

Many types of scarcity are temporary and often discretionary, said Shafir, who is co-author with Mullainathan of the book, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” to be published in September. For instance, a person pressed for time can reschedule appointments, cancel something or even decide to take on less.

“When you’re poor you can’t say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to be poor anymore.’ Or, ‘Forget it, I just won’t give my kids dinner, or pay rent this month.’ Poverty imposes a much stronger load that’s not optional and in very many cases is long lasting,” Shafir said. “It’s not a choice you’re making — you’re just reduced to few options. This is not something you see with many other types of scarcity.”

The researchers suggest that services for the poor should accommodate the dominance that poverty has on a person’s time and thinking. Such steps would include simpler aid forms and more guidance in receiving assistance, or training and educational programs structured to be more forgiving of unexpected absences, so that a person who has stumbled can more easily try again.

“You want to design a context that is more scarcity proof,” said Shafir, noting that better-off people have access to regular support in their daily lives, be it a computer reminder, a personal assistant, a housecleaner or a babysitter.

“There’s very little you can do with time to get more money, but a lot you can do with money to get more time,” Shafir said. “The poor, who our research suggests are bound to make more mistakes and pay more dearly for errors, inhabit contexts often not designed to help.”

Journal Reference:

  1. A. Mani, S. Mullainathan, E. Shafir, J. Zhao. Poverty Impedes Cognitive FunctionScience, 2013; 341 (6149): 976 DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041

Paraíso sitiado (O Globo)

O drama dos índios Awá e a resistência de seu povo que tenta impedir a ação criminosa de madeireiros na Reserva Biológica Gurupi, onde o território indígena já perdeu 30% de sua paisagem original.




O drama do povo Awá na luta contra o desmatamento na Reserva Biológica Gurupi


A repórter Míriam Leitão fala do privilégio de acompanhar o fotógrafo Sebastião Salgado pela Aldeia Juriti


Míriam Leitão flagra madeireiros em ação à noite numa serraria clandestina no interior do Maranhão

Sobreviver com coragem

Considerados um dos últimos povos caçadores e coletores do planeta, os poucos mais de 400 Awá que povoam o que restou da Floresta Amazônica no Maranhão vivem o momento mais decisivo de sua sobrevivência: impedir que grileiros, posseiros e madeireiros destruam o seu mais valioso bem. É das árvores e da mata densa situadas na Reserva Biológica do Gurupi, de onde tiram o seu alimento, a sua certeza de amanhã poderem garantir a continuação de seu povo, de sua gente. Eles não querem nada mais do que a garantia do governo federal de que não terão o seu terrítório devastado pela ganância do homem branco, que avança a passos largos em busca de madeira nobre.

Apesar de sua terra já estar demarcada, homologada e registrada com 116.582 hectares pela União, eles enfrentam uma ameaça real de assistir à destruição da floresta da qual são tão dependentes e de onde tiram o sustento de seus filhos. Ainda que a Justiça já tenha determinada a retirada desses ‘intrusos’ ou não índios, como define a Funai, os Awá temem pela própria sorte, se afirmam em sua coragem e não vacilam quando veem sua resistência em xeque. “Não temos medo. Vamos resistir”, dizem em discursos emocionados.

A repórter Míriam Leitão, a convite do renomado fotógrafo Sebastião Salgado, viajou até a Aldeia Juriti e pôde comprovar como os Awá vivem essa dramática expectativa. Neste ambiente especial, que complementa a série de reportagens publicadas na edição dominical de O GLOBO, o leitor poderá saber mais do cotidiano dos chamados ‘índios invisíveis’, como vivem, e como reverenciam a sua sagrada cultura.

Sem Título-1Reserva Biológica Gurupi
Terra Indígena Awa
Terra Indígena Caru
Terra Indígena Alto Turiaçu



Sebastião Salgado se prepara para fotografar os Awá


Ouça trecho da fala de uma das lideranças Awá


A repórter Míriam Leitão flagra a ação ilegal de madeireiros em uma serraria


Ouça trecho de seu discurso


O antropólogo Uirá Garcia fala sobre a cultura Awá


Ouça o canto do jovem guerreiro antes de ir à caça


O jovem guerreiro Jui’i fala da ameaça dos madeireiros



Awás tentam sobreviver à ação criminosa dos desmatadores


Fim da floresta os impedirá de virar ‘Karauaras’, seres que habitam o mundo após a morte


Audição acima dos padrões comuns permite ouvir som da devastação a quilômetros


Após vencer a desconfiança dos índios, ouve-se o desabafo: ‘Quero ficar na minha casa’


Os Awás pelas lentes de Sebastião Salgado


Em emboscadas, comerciantes de madeira demostram ter mais força do que a Polícia Federal e a Força Nacional juntas


Na estradas que ligam terra Awá, grileiros, serrarias e caminhões agem na certeza da impunidade


Ministro da Justiça programa operação, atrasada pela vinda do Papa, já para este semestre


Os Awá-Guajá viram bichos-pau (Yahoo! Notícias)

Por  – ter, 20 de ago de 2013

As primeiras fotos de índios surgiram no início mesmo da invenção e popularização dos daguerreótipos e câmeras fotográficas. Pelo Oeste americano intrépidos aventureiros arriscavam suas vidas e suas imensas geringonças para obter um clique de um grupo de guerreiros a cavalo, um retrato de um chefe indígena Sioux, Apache ou Comanche engalonado em suas casacas de couro de búfalo e seus exuberantes cocares de pena de águia. Posavam hirtos, de cara dura, olhando para o horizonte infinito, como se estivessem em alguma solenidade com autoridades estrangeiras, quem sabe, o próprio presidente americano, manifestando sua dignidade humana para preservar ou recuperar seus territórios e ocupar um lugar digno no novo mundo que se criava ao seu redor.

Mas o destino lhes foi cruel demais.

Das fotos solenes, ao final dos anos de resistência (1830-1880) em que o Oeste foi definitivamente incorporado aos Estados Unidos da América, passou-se à dessacralização dos índios, quando até um líder de grande respeito, como Touro Sentado, chefe dos Sioux que destroçou o 6º Regimento de William Custer, na famosa batalha de Little Big Horn, se submeteu a ser uma das estrelas do famoso circo do fanfarrão Buffalo Bill, montando cavalos, dando gritos de guerra e empunhando um rifle winchester com balas de festim. O Wild West Circus fez história se apresentando nas cidades e bribocas que se formavam por todo o imenso centro-oeste americano. Mutatis mutandi, não pensem que no Brasil seja diferente!

As primeiras fotos de índios brasileiros, passado o tempo de viajantes estrangeiros fazendo desenhos e aquarelas, foram tiradas em cidades como Manaus e Cuiabá. Marc Ferrez, famoso por suas fotos do Rio de Janeiro, conseguiu levar um grupo de 11 índios Bororo para um studio em Cuiabá e os fotografou com maestria, mostrando como seres humanos dignos, em toda sua nudez virtuosa, ainda em 1880.

Indios Bororo , coleção Gilberto Ferrez

Indios Bororo , coleção Gilberto Ferrez

No campo, nas matas, nos cerrados, ao vivo em seus ambientes, fotos de índios brasileiros vão surgir pelas lentes de viajantes, cientistas e, no começo do século XX, pela Comissão Rondon, que percorreu todo o oeste do Mato Grosso, Rondônia e várias partes da Amazônia. Os índios aparecem ora desnudos completamente, com algum pano, uma tanga inventada na hora, ora vestidos em camisas sem gola, manga comprida, calças simples, como os pobres brasileiros da época, pés descalços, um ou outro em uniforme militar, as mulheres de saia e os seis expostos. Exceto nas missões, quando as saias desciam até os calcanhares.

A coloração em preto, cinza e branca dessas fotos é do tipo que hoje se chama sépia, a qual faz as imagens se diferenciarem tão somente pela textura e forma dos objetos, como se o mundo fosse uma penumbra. Visualizando isso, o espectador precisava de um esforço intelectual para ver e dar significado às distintas imagens. Por esse esforço as imagens ganhavam um significado muito além do real corriqueiro. De algum modo elas se sacralizavam, como se fosse um objeto antigo ou precioso. Daí porque naqueles tempos tornara-se de praxe os amigos se presentearem com retratos, que eram solenemente expostos nas salas e nos escritórios. Daí porque as fotos eram tratadas com reverência e carinho, e eram beijadas como se representassem as pessoas vivas.

A nitidez da coloração das fotos, desde os anos 1960, mudou o modo como as vemos e elas foram aos poucos se vulgarizando, tanto pela banalidade de sua existência quanto principalmente pelo realismo que elas nos evocam. A arte da fotografia, consequentemente, passou a requerer mais sutileza de luzes para obter algum senso de sacralidade do objeto visado.

E aqui chegamos ao objetivo desse artigo – as fotos tiradas pelo fotógrafo profissional Sebastião Salgado dos índios Awá-Guajá, do Maranhão, recentemente publicadas pelo jornal O Globo, em reportagem de Miriam Leitão.

Nessas fotos, os Guajá, a última sociedade a viver quase que exclusivamente da caça, pesca e coleta de animais, frutos e tubérculos da floresta, são fotografados em coloração sépia, com pouca luz, sob um fundo “natural” de árvores, raízes e chão. Apresentam-se nus, os homens com seus prepúcios amarrados com fibras de tucum, braceletes e auréolas de penas, meninos e meninas sem nada, e as mulheres em seus saiotes tecidos de fibras de tucum, bem como as tipóias em que carregam seus bebês.

Algumas fotos, talvez as que mais calaram fundo com os propósitos do fotógrafo mineiro-europeu, trazem grupos de homens e meninos adornados a caráter, todos em pé, fisionomias sérias, porém mudos e imóveis, arcos à mão, numa clara alusão de que são parte da floresta que lhes ladeia como o cenário de fundo e de compartilhamento.

Nas fotos de Salgado não há informação etnográfica, exceto aquela em que um caçador, que o reconheço pelo nome de Mutumhû, porta um macaco guariba morto pendurado às suas costas, com um olhar de inadvertida preocupação. Não sabemos como vivem os Guajá, como se alimentam, como amam e cuidam dos filhos, como se divertem e como sofrem. Não há tempo aqui. Nem eternidade, nem instantaneidade. Tempo morto.

A jornalista Miriam Leitão, emocionada com o quê viu, produziu alguns textos nos quais procura mostrar que os Guajá estão em perigo de sobrevivência, ecoando inadvertidamente as matérias da Survival International, uma ONG inglesa que alardeia que os Guajá são o povo em maior grau de perigo de sobrevivência do mundo. No total, os Guajá somam cerca de 360 pessoas, mas eram menos de 200 na década de 1980. A terra indígena visitada por Salgado e Leitão, chamada de Awá-Guajá, está parcialmente invadida por madeireiros e posseiros, sem dúvida, mas não consta nas matérias informação sobre por que isto está acontecendo e se a presença da FUNAI é eficiente ou não para deter esse perigo e para dar assistência aos índios. Por que tudo está tão ruim no indigenismo brasileiro da atualidade?

Os Guajá, em virtude de sua característica cultural de mobilidade, se dispersaram há mais de 100 anos por uma vasta área do oeste maranhense, e hoje se encontram morando em quatro terras indígenas, com pouco contato entre si. A terra indígena Awá-Guajá, com 116.000 hectares, conecta as terras indígenas Caru (172.000 ha) e Alto Turiaçu (530.000 ha), que juntas somam 718.000 hectares, compartilhadas com os povos Guajajara e Kaapor. Em vários trechos delas os últimos madeireiros do Maranhão se esbaldam, traçando picadas pelo meio da mata por onde passam seus tratores e caminhões carregados de toras de madeira de lei, sob as vistas grossas de alguns índios não Guajá, cooptados por migalhas, com rara presença do órgão indigenista, ultimamente em completa inatividade e decadência.

Aqueles Guajá que residem na Terra Indígena Awá-Guajá são, por ironia, os que estão mais bem protegidos por funcionários dedicados do órgão indigenista, funcionários que passam às vezes mais de 60 dias sem saírem do posto indígena perto do qual se fixou, há mais de 20 anos, o grupo Guajá visitado. Na verdade, o posto indígena não existe mais, foi extinto por um decreto presidencial, e só por teimosia é que os resolutos funcionários nele permanecem. É provável que tenham que se retirar de vez ainda este mês. Se ao menos essa informação e um pouco do histórico da luta desigual que esses funcionários travam para manter a dignidade dos índios, à indiferença das atitudes do poder federal, fossem divulgados aos leitores, algo mais verdadeiro e esperançoso teria surgido dessa expedição e das fotos obtidas.

Ilustrar com fotos artísticas e etnograficamente relevantes para informar o espectador e sensibilizá-lo para a causa indígena tem sido o mais nobre dos propósitos de fotógrafos e jornalistas. Neste caso, a informação jornalística sem dúvida pode pressionar o governo a tomar as medidas necessárias para seguir as ordens judiciais, exaradas há algum tempo pela Justiça Federal do Maranhão, para retirar de uma vez por todas todos os invasores que teimam em permanecer nessa terra, e coibir definitivamente as atividades destrutivas dos madeireiros. Nada disso é fácil, nas circunstâncias do anti-indigenismo oficial que estamos vivenciando. Este é o sentido que se esperava desta reportagem publicada em O Globo pelos dois competentes profissionais da informação.

Porém, para além desse propósito, as fotos de Sebastião Salgado têm um objetivo considerado transcendente. Salgado está engajado num projeto patrocinado por financiadores particulares e chancelado pela ONU com o intuito visionário, e, dir-se-ia, poético, no sentido de criativo, de captar do mundo atual, tão diversificado na natureza e nas culturas, mas tão dilapidado e com tendência à homogeneização, aquilo que representaria a gênese mesmo da Terra, da vida e do homem. Uma espécie de arqueologia ao vivo.

Assim, Salgado vem fotografando geleiras intocáveis, vulcões flamejantes, montanhas inalcançáveis e povos remotos e “imutáveis” na África, Ásia e Américas. Há sete anos passou um mês morando em duas aldeias dos índios do Alto Xingu capturando sua vida autêntica ao máximo. Durante a cerimônia do Kwarup, quando os índios celebram o fim de um período de luto pela morte de um parente respeitado, Salgado fez questão absoluta de fotografar a efeméride sem a presença de qualquer objeto exógeno à cultura xinguana, seja um cigarro de palha ou uma tira de pano, muito menos alguém não indígena, apesar da aldeia ter isso tudo e mais. As fotos são ahistóricas, pois todos os seus signos foram escoimados pelas lentes prístinas do fotógrafo. Entretanto, os índios xinguanos não vivem e não pensam assim: sabem que estão no meio do redemoinho histórico, sendo e vindo a ser, procurando seu lugar no mundo da atualidade, não flutuando em um éter deshistorizado.

Os Guajá sabem muito menos do nosso mundo, tão recente e tão sofrido tem sido sua aproximação conosco. Nós sabemos muito menos sobre eles. Sua cultura tradicional é viva, apesar dos objetos exógenos. Assim, retratá-los como figurantes da natureza, e mostrá-los como seres quase ctônicos, não deve ter sido difícil para Sebastião Salgado. Mas, ao invés do resultado se tornar uma imagem de auto-conhecimento para os Guajá para avançar em sua compreensibilidade do mundo que os massacra, e de ser um modo de nós os conhecer melhor para amá-los e os ajudar a sobreviver e encontrar um lugar seguro nesse mundo convoluto, essas fotografias se tornam um desserviço para todos nós, os Guajá em especial.

Por essas fotos, os Guajá se tornaram seres da natureza, animais ou vegetais, folhagem, até talvez bichos-pau mimetizados na sépia florestal. A estética da ecologização do mundo virou uma estética da desumanização do homem pelas lentes de um brasileiro que perdeu o senso de brasilidade e anda pelo mundo apegado às cadeias do espetáculo do faz-de-conta.

Can weather swing an election? (Discover)

By Seriously Science | May 22, 2013 10:30 am

Photo: flickr/hjl

It’s pretty obvious that weather can affect overall voter turnout; many people just don’t want to go out in the rain, even if it’s to exercise their civic duty. But does weather affect some political parties more than others? Are right-wing voters more likely to skip the polls on a rainy day? Do Democrats forget to vote when the surf’s up? Well, not many people go surfing in the Netherlands, but they do have elections and weather, and this study describes the relationship between the two.

Weather conditions and political party vote share in Dutch national parliament elections, 1971-2010.

“Inclement weather on election day is widely seen to benefit certain political parties at the expense of others. Empirical evidence for this weather-vote share hypothesis is sparse however. We examine the effects of rainfall and temperature on share of the votes of eight political parties that participated in 13 national parliament elections, held in the Netherlands from 1971 to 2010.This paper merges the election results for all Dutch municipalities with election-day weather observations drawn from all official weather stations well distributed over the country. We find that the weather parameters affect the election results in a statistically and politically significant way. Whereas the Christian Democratic party benefits from substantial rain (10 mm) on voting day by gaining one extra seat in the 150-seat Dutch national parliament, the left-wing Social Democratic (Labor) and the Socialist parties are found to suffer from cold and wet conditions. Cold (5°C) and rainy (10 mm) election day weather causes the latter parties to lose one or two parliamentary seats.”

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Master of Disaster (Discover)

Earthquakes and hurricanes will always wreak havoc, but risk management expert Robert Bea says the greatest tragedies result from hubris and greed.

By Linda Marsa|Thursday, May 23, 2013


Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis

Robert Bea has an unusual specialty: He studies disasters. As one of the world’s leading experts in catastrophic risk management, the former Shell Oil Co. executive sifts through the wreckage to unravel the chain of events that triggers accidents. The blunt-spoken civil engineer has spent more than a half-century investigating high-profile engineering failures, from the space shuttle Columbia’s horrific end to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig in the Gulf.

A professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, Bea’s disaster autopsy methods — such as looking at the organizational breakdowns that lead to calamities — have been widely adopted. Although policymakers and corporate honchos seek his counsel, sometimes they don’t like what he has to say — witness the flak he took from BP during the Deepwater Horizon probe.

Now in his mid-70s, Bea’s voice is raspier, but his critical faculties are undimmed. On a crisp fall day, he talked with DISCOVER in his comfortable one-story house in Moraga, a leafy suburb east of Berkeley, about what causes catastrophes.

You have said that engineering failures aren’t the chief culprits behind disasters, pointing instead to human and organizational failures — inadequate safety protocols, corporate hierarchies, conflicting egos or just plain laziness. Was there an “aha moment” when this became apparent?

When I was involved in the investigation into the Piper Alpha disaster, when an explosion destroyed an Occidental Petroleum oil-drilling platform in the North Sea, killing 167 men in 1988. The external investigation team that had been hired by Occidental into what caused Piper Alpha found it was a corporate culture that had gone bad, had lost its way.

I was part of that team all the way through the Lord Cullen Commission hearings in London, and I had to listen to one of my friends explain to the Cullen Commission why he and his colleagues had turned off the smoke alarms on the platform because the operating crew was doing a routine maintenance procedure late in the evening. Unfortunately, for over a month, certain alarms had been disabled to prevent unnecessary shutdowns on the rig — in some cases as a response to practical jokes. But turning off the alarms was one of the reasons they got caught by surprise.

Ironically, two years before, I was brought in to advise Occidental on risk management for Piper Alpha because they were having gas releases, pipes were leaking. Of course, you didn’t have to be very smart to say, “Yeah, we’ve got a problem — it’s called rusty pipes. And we’ve got problems with people not doing what they should be doing, and people who don’t understand what’s happening.”

One evening, during the first year of the investigation, I saw spread out on the reception table of the Occidental offices a copy of the London Times newspaper with a great, big, bold headline that said, “Occidental puts profit before safety.”

It had a picture of one of the bandaged, beat-up, horribly scarred survivors from the disaster who was telling this to the newspaper. What this survivor was observing is true. If you don’t have profitability, you don’t have the resources to invest in achieving adequate protection. What the tension is, is having the discipline and the foresight to make those investments before you’re in trouble.

When I came back to Berkeley after the investigation was completed, I realized that for the past 50-some-odd years of my career, I’d been working on 10 percent of the problems. I’d been working on normal engineering things, and 90 percent of the problems are humans and/or organizations.

We often have ample warnings before catastrophes hit, but we tend to ignore them until it’s too late. Why?

The problem is attention span, particularly in this country because we are a pretty young country. Our knowledge of history is very limited. We are extremely blessed. Lots of good things attract our attention. It’s a noisy environment, really noisy. It’s unusual to find people who are comfortable sitting in a room by themselves thinking.

You could say the eruption of Mount St. Helens was certainly painful, but it actually affected relatively few people and then disappeared into that strong noise environment. At that point people say, “Well, it’s never happened to me.

I can’t even remember my parents talking about it, and I’ve got these new things to play with, and they require attention,” like Facebook and Twitter. And suddenly, we have flitted from something that is difficult and painful to think about back to something that is enjoyable.


Robert Bea helped investigate the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, where an exploding oil platform killed 167 in the North Sea. Press Association/AP

You seem to be suggesting that people have trouble dealing with issues over the long term. Are there other examples?

Well, global climate change is a perfect one, or rising sea levels. It’s happening slowly. People love living by the beach, so they build a beautiful home on a concrete slab, on top of the sand a few feet above sea level, and [ignore the fact] that the sea level is [rising]. So thinking about these slowly evolving long-term things, it is painful. It says, “Well, I might have to move my home. I really enjoy the beach,” and we don’t like to give those things up.

Is this inability to think long term also true of organizations — corporations or government agencies?

Yes. The equation for disaster is A + B = C. A is natural hazards, things like hurricanes, gases and liquids under pressure that are extremely volatile. They’re volcanoes. They’re tsunamis. They’re natural, and there’s nothing unusual about them. B is organizational hazards: people and their hubris, their arrogance, their greed. The real killer is our indolence.

So human error is the kindling that escalates a natural hazard — a hurricane, a tsunami, chemicals under pressure — into C, a catastrophic disaster. Can you give me some examples?

Hurricane Ike. Galveston, Texas, got completely wiped out in 1900. Thousands of people got killed. So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a seawall on Galveston Island, and that sucker has gone through every major hurricane since 1900.

But people think that if a storm hasn’t happened since they lived there, somehow it can’t happen to them. This is where B comes in — the hubris and shortsightedness. Because a hurricane hadn’t flattened the city in decades, civic leaders decided to let people build at sea level again. And when Hurricane Ike came through in 2008, it was just like Berlin at the end of the second world war. Everything was gone.

Before Superstorm Sandy, I wrote that the subways were going to flood, but no one did anything. Mayor Bloomberg even hired some of my engineer friends from the Netherlands to come to New York City and advise him about building gates to cut off incoming hurricane surges.

But here we’re back to B — hubris and shortsightedness. People think because they’ve never seen a storm like what happened in New Jersey or they’ve never seen the tunnels flooded in New York City that it can’t happen, or that they need to think about building a levee.


Disaster specialist Robert Bea studied the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left New Orleans flooded in 2005. NOAA

When I lived in New Orleans, we lost everything in Hurricane Betsy [in 1965]: our house, wedding photographs, marriage license, birth certificates. Yet 40 years later, after Katrina, I go back to the same place. There’s a new home built on the foundation, and the owners are dragging wet, oily mattresses out the front door.

Luckily I had no one with me that morning, but I broke down and cried. It wasn’t tears of sadness. It was tears of frustration at such a miserable, despicable mess. While we can’t prevent disaster, we can do things that are more sensible to mitigate risks, like maybe not building homes in floodplains.

But the cities are already there. Are you going to move entire cities?

In some cases, yes. We did it in the Mississippi River Valley after the 1993 floods. We actually moved entire towns to higher ground, like Valmeyer, Ill., and Rhineland, Mo., because we suddenly recognized they’d rebuilt them five times in the same damn place. Doing it six times doesn’t quite make sense. But there is not a “one size fits all” answer.

In other cases, there are intermediate solutions that can work, such as occupying only what you can defend properly and in a sustainable manner. An example is the “new New Orleans,” where parts of the city outside of the defended perimeter of the levee system can be expected to flood severely and frequently. Individuals there are building structures on higher ground and making them stronger, and preparing to take care of themselves in future storms.

But even after Superstorm Sandy’s devastation, you can’t just completely rebuild Lower Manhattan.

No, you can’t. But you can follow the example of the massive Thames Barrier that has been built in London [10 steel gates that prevent the city from being flooded by tidal surges].

But that cost over 500 million pounds — about $850 million — when it was completed in 1982. Doing the same in Manhattan would cost up to $17 billion and an additional $10 billion to $12 billion to shore up areas next to the barriers, an astonishing amount of money.

Well, do you want to fix it now or fix it later, when it will cost 100 times as much? Damages from Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey are estimated at $60 billion to $70 billion. The key question I always ask is, “Can we work this problem out in a responsible way, or do we wait until it fails — in other words, will we fix it now versus pick up the pieces later?”

We looked into this “pay me now or pay me later,” and in many cases, it’s more than 100 times the cost to fix afterward. We economically documented several major accidents where the factor is bigger than 1,000, like Katrina.

People regularly ignore risks, but isn’t it the extreme scenario — the thing that has the 1 percent chance of happening, the so-called long tail at each end of the bell curve — that causes all the trouble? What about events beyond the realm of normal expectations, like Superstorm Sandy? 

Sandy is better classified as a “predictable surprise.” There were some groups in the greater New York area that had a clear understanding of the potential for significant flooding due to an intense storm. But there were other groups who had no idea and made no significant efforts to learn how vulnerable the city was to storm surges from the Atlantic.


A hurricane flattened Galveston, Texas, in 1900. Hurricane Ike in 2008 took out the city again. Library of Congress

What do you do when it becomes more costly to prepare for every disaster than just to take the risk? How safe is safe enough?

In many cases, you can’t prepare because no one’s willing to spend money to do this. We’ve rebuilt the levees around New Orleans, for example, but they’re right back on the same slabs. And it’s going to cost about 10 percent of the construction costs per year to maintain them.

Now where are you going to get $1.5 billion a year? So they can’t maintain it, and the next time it is challenged — and there is no doubt in my mind it will be challenged severely — it’s going to fail again, and the consequences are going to be worse because we’ve allowed more population and more infrastructure.

In aviation, which has unequaled safety records, they do predict and plan for the worst case because they can’t afford accidents. But Sully Sullenberger’s “Miracle on the Hudson,” when the pilot landed the plane on the Hudson River after flying into a flock of geese, does seem like a miracle.

It was a miracle, but it was not an accident. It was, in fact, rehearsed. That’s how the FAA was able to clear air traffic control, how he and his co-pilot, together with the flight crew, were able to get almost everything right, how the French Airbus had those backflow valves already designed in the fuselage.

We don’t normally land airplanes in water. They’re supposed to be on land, but they designed it to land in water as well, and the crew had rehearsed and planned what they would do in the event of a water landing. They are thinking about the impossible.

What warnings are going unheeded now? The antiquated levee system protecting California’s Sacramento Delta, which is the source of fresh water for 28 million of the state’s residents, comes to mind. I know you’ve been studying this.

An earthquake, a megaflood. Any of these natural disasters could rupture the delta levees and take a lot of the infrastructure — power lines, communication networks, gas pipelines, hydroelectric power systems — with it. Millions could be without power or fresh water for months. It isn’t going to be pretty, and it will knock out of commission the ninth-largest economy in the world.

And it could happen at any time.

Yeah. Tick, tick, tick.


US Coast Guard

Bea goes back in time to explain how we might have avoided notable catastrophes of the past.


Deepwater Horizon, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crewmen and igniting a fire that could not be extinguished. Two days later the rig sank, leaving the well gushing in the seabed. It ultimately leaked 210 million gallons of oil in the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

» What was ignored? BP, the industry and federal regulators understood the potential for an uncontrolled blowout in Deepwater drilling, but they failed to heed warnings about the structural weaknesses in the cement casings that protect the well pipes. Plus, the blowout preventer hadn’t been working properly for several days.

» What would have improved the outcome? Delivering the required degree of safety consistently and ensuring that protocols were followed. Understanding that wells pumping 162,000 barrels of oil a day are under much higher pressure, and therefore are much more dangerous, than wells delivering 500 barrels a day. Building stronger protective structures to withstand these intense pressures could have prevented the disaster.

Midwest Floods, 2008

Months of rainstorms led to heavy flooding in seven Midwestern states, including Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri, resulting in 24 deaths and more than $6 billion in damage.

» What was ignored? The lessons from floods in 1993. The increasing fragility of the aging levee system, and more people building in low-lying areas susceptible to flooding.

» What would have improved the outcome? Giving the water the room it needed to flood and not build in those areas. Building and maintaining high-quality flood protection systems in the areas that could have been protected.

Columbia Disaster, 2003 

The space shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere due to missing heat shield tiles, killing all seven astronauts on board.

» What was ignored? The mantra “better, faster, cheaper” drove the management decision to “bring the bird back,” even though the U.S. Air Force had photographs showing the leading edge of the Columbia was missing heat shield tiles, which were damaged during the launch. Problems with heat shield tiles during earlier missions hadn’t been adequately addressed, and NASA ignored engineers’ requests to ground the mission until these problems were solved.

» What would have improved the outcome? Fixing heat shield tile problems uncovered during earlier missions. Develop a backup plan for fixing the shuttle in space if it is damaged and ensuring the crew’s safety. They were lucky with previous missions that had missing tiles, but they took a chance, and their luck ran out.

Exxon Valdez Crash, 1989

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil along Alaskan shores. Numerous factors complicated cleanup, including the size of the spill, the remote location and a lack of readily available equipment and effective chemical dispersants to dissolve the thick oil.

» What was ignored? The dangers of Bligh Reef, where the ship hit the rocks. Taking shortcuts to save time to get the oil to Southern California refineries. Not traveling in regulated shipping lanes.

» What would have improved the outcome? Better communication between vessel captains and traffic control centers to avoid treacherous conditions. True pollution control to improve visibility, and better preparation for cleanup.

Hello, Hal (New Yorker)

Will we ever get a computer we can really talk to?


JUNE 23, 2008

The challenge is to marry our two greatest technologies: language and toolmaking.

The challenge is to marry our two greatest technologies: language and toolmaking.

Not long ago, a caller dialled the toll-free number of an energy company to inquire about his bill. He reached an interactive-voice-response system, or I.V.R.—the automated service you get whenever you dial a utility or an airline or any other big American company. I.V.R.s are the speaking tube that connects corporate America to its clients. Companies profess boundless interest in their customers, but they don’t want to pay an employee to talk to a caller if they can avoid it; the average human-to-human call costs the company at least five dollars. Once an I.V.R. has been paid for, however, a human-to-I.V.R. call costs virtually nothing.

“If you have an emergency, press one,” the utility company’s I.V.R. said. “To use our automated services or to pay by phone, press two.”

The caller punched two, and was instructed to enter his account number, which he did. An alert had been placed on the account because of a missed payment. “Please hold,” the I.V.R. said. “Your call is being transferred to a service representative.” This statement was followed by one of the most commonly heard sentences in the English language: “Your call may be monitored.”

In fact, the call was being monitored, and I listened to it some months later, in the offices of B.B.N. Technologies, a sixty-year-old company, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Joe Alwan, a vice-president and the general manager of the division that makes B.B.N.’s “callerexperience analytics” software, which is called Avoke, was showing me how the technology can automatically create a log of events in a call, render the speech as text, and make it searchable.

Alwan, a compact man with scrunchedtogether features who has been at B.B.N. for two years, spoke rapidly but smoothly, with a droll delivery. He projected a graphic of the voice onto a screen at one end of the room. “Anger’s the big one,” he said. Companies can use Avoke to determine when their callers are getting angry, so that they can improve their I.V.R.s.

The agent came on the line, said his name was Eric, and asked the caller to explain his problem. Eric had a slight Indian accent and spoke in a high, clear voice. He probably worked at a call center in Bangalore for a few dollars an hour, although his pay was likely based on how efficiently he could process the calls. “The company doesn’t want to spend more money on the call, because it’s a cost,” Alwan said. The caller’s voice gave the impression that he was white (particularly the way he pronounced the “u” in “duuude”) and youthful, around thirty:

CALLER: Hey, what’s going on is, ah, I got a return-payment notice, right?
CALLER: And I checked with my bank, and my bank was saying, well, it didn’t even get to you . . . they didn’t reject it. So then I was just, like, what’s the issue, and then, ah, you guys charge to pay over the phone, so that’s why it’s not done over the phone, so that’s why I do it on the Internet, so—
CALLER: So I don’t . . . know what’s going on.

The caller sounded relaxed, but if you listened closely you could hear his voice welling with quiet anger.

The agent quickly looked up the man’s record and discovered that he had typed in his account number incorrectly. The caller accepted the agent’s explanation but thought he shouldn’t be liable for the returned-payment charge. He said, “There’s nothing that can be done with that return fee, dude?” The agent explained that another company had levied the charge, but the caller took no notice. “I mean, I would be paying it over the phone, so you guys wanna charge people for paying over the phone, and I’ll be—”

People express anger in two different ways. There’s “cold” anger, in which words may be overarticulated but spoken softly, and “hot” anger, in which voices are louder and pitched higher. At first, the caller’s anger was cold:

AGENT: O.K., sir. I’m gonna go ahead and explain this. . . . O.K., so on the information that you put this last time it was incorrect, so I apologize that you put it incorrectly on the site.
CALLER: O.K., we got past that, bro. So tell me something I don’t know. . . .
AGENT: Let’s see . . . uh . . . um.
CALLER: Dude, I don’t care what company it is. It’s your company using that company, so you guys charge it. So you guys should be waiving that shit-over-the-phone shit, pay by phone.
AGENT: But why don’t you talk to somebody else, sir. One moment.

By now, the caller’s anger was hot. He was put on hold, but B.B.N. was still listening:

CALLER: Motherfucker, I swear. You fucking pussy, you probably don’t even have me on hold, you little fucked-up dick. You’re gonna wait a long time, bro.
You little bitch, I’ll fucking find out who you are, you little fucking ho.

After thirty seconds, we could hear bubbling noises—a bong, Alwan thought—and then coughing. Not long afterward, the caller hung up.

This spring marked the fortieth anniversary of HAL, the conversational computer that was brought to life on the screen by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” HAL has a calm, empathic voice—a voice that is warmer than the voices of the humans in the movie, which are oddly stilted and false.HAL says that he became operational in Urbana, Illinois, in 1992, and offers to sing a song. HAL not only speaks perfectly; he seems to understand perfectly, too. I was a nine-year-old nerd in the making when the film came out, in 1968, and I’ve been waiting for a computer to talk to ever since—a fantasy shared by many computer geeks. Bill Gates has been touting speech recognition as the next big thing in computing for at least a decade. By giving computers the ability to understand speech, humankind would marry its two greatest technologies: language and toolmaking. To believers, this union can only be a matter of time.

Forty years after “2001,” how close are we to talking to computers? Today, you can use your voice to buy airplane tickets, transfer money, and get a prescription filled. If you don’t want to type, you can use one of the current crop of dictation programs to transcribe your speech; these have been improving steadily and now work reasonably well. If you are driving a car with an onboard navigator, you can get directions in one of dozens of different voices, according to your preference. In a car equipped with Sync—a collaboration of Ford, Microsoft, and Nuance, the largest speech-technology company in the world—you can use your voice to place a phone call or to control your iPod, both of which are useful when you are in what’s known in the speech-recognition industry as “hands-busy, eyes-busy” situations. State-of-the-art I.V.R.s, such as Google’s voice-based 411 service, offer natural-language understanding—you can speak almost as you would to a human operator, as opposed to having to choose from a set menu of options. I.V.R. designers create vocal personas like Julie, the perky voice that answers Amtrak’s 800 number; these voices can be “tuned” according to a company’s branding needs. Calling Virgin Mobile gets you a sassy-voiced young woman, who sounds as if she’s got her feet up on her desk.

Still, these applications of speech technology, useful though they can be, are a far cry from HAL—a conversational computer. Computers still flunk the famous Turing Test, devised by the British mathematician Alan Turing, in which a computer tries to fool a person into thinking that it’s human. And, even within limited applications, speech recognition never seems to work as well as it should. North Americans spent forty-three billion minutes on the line with an I.V.R. in 2007; according to one study, only one caller in ten was satisfied with the experience. Some companies have decided to switch back to touch-tone menus, after finding that customers prefer pushing buttons to using their voices, especially when they are inputting private information, such as account numbers. Leopard, Apple’s new operating system for the Mac, responds to voice commands, which is wonderful for people with handicaps and disabilities but extremely annoying if you have to listen to Alex, its computer-generated voice, converse with a co-worker all day.

Roger Schank was a twenty-two-year-old graduate student when “2001” was released. He came toward the end of what today appears to have been a golden era of programmer-philosophers—men like Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, who, in establishing the field of artificial intelligence, inspired researchers to create machines with human intelligence. Schank has spent his career trying to make computers simulate human memory and learning. When he was young, he was certain that a conversational computer would eventually be invented. Today, he’s less sure. What changed his thinking? Two things, Schank told me: “One was realizing that a lot of human speech is just chatting.” Computers proved to be very good at tasks that humans find difficult, like calculating large sums quickly and beating grand masters at chess, but they were wretched at this, one of the simplest of human activities. The other reason, as Schank explained, was that “we just didn’t know how complicated speech was until we tried to model it.” Just as sending men to the moon yielded many fundamental insights into the nature of space, so the problem of making conversational machines has taught scientists a great deal about how we hear and speak. As the Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker wrote to me, “The consensus as far as I have experienced it among A.I. researchers is that natural-language processing is extraordinarily difficult, as it could involve the entirety of a person’s knowledge, which of course is extraordinarily difficult to model on a computer.” After fifty years of research, we aren’t even close.

Speech begins with a puff of breath. The diaphragm pushes air up from the lungs, and this passes between two small membranes in the upper windpipe, known as the vocal folds, which vibrate and transform the breath into sound waves. The waves strike hard surfaces inside the head—teeth, bone, the palate. By changing the shape of the mouth and the position of the tongue, the speaker makes vowels and consonants and gives timbre, tone, and color to the sound.

That process, being mechanical, is not difficult to model, and, indeed, humans had been trying to make talking machines long before A.I. existed. In the late eighteenth century, a Hungarian inventor named Wolfgang von Kempelen built a speaking machine by modelling the human vocal tract, using a bellows for lungs, a reed from a bagpipe for the vocal folds, and a keyboard to manipulate the “mouth.” By playing the keys, an operator could form complete phrases in several different languages. In the nineteenth century, Kempelen’s machine was improved on by Sir Charles Wheatstone, and that contraption, which was exhibited in London, was seen by the young Alexander Graham Bell. It inspired him to try to create his own devices, in the hope of allowing non-hearing people (Bell’s mother and his wife were deaf) to speak normally. He didn’t succeed, but his early efforts led to the invention of the telephone.

In the twentieth century, researchers created electronic talking machines. The first, called the Voder, was engineered by Bell Labs—the famed research division of A.T. & T.—and exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair, in New York. Instead of a mechanical system made of a reed and bellows, the Voder generated sounds with electricity; as with Kempelen’s speaking machine, a human manipulated keys to produce words. The mechanical-sounding voice became a familiar attribute of movie robots in the nineteen-fifties (and, later, similar synthetic-voice effects were a staple of nineteen-seventies progressive rock). In the early sixties, Bell Labs programmed a computer to sing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.” Arthur C. Clarke, who visited the lab, heard the machine sing, and he and Kubrick subsequently used the same song in HAL’s death scene.

Hearing is more complicated to model than talking, because it involves signal processing: converting sound from waves of air into electrical impulses. The fleshy part of the ear and the ear canal capture sound waves and direct them to the eardrum, which vibrates as it is struck. These vibrations then push on the ossicles, which form a three-boned lever—that Rube Goldbergian contraption of the middle ear—that helps amplify the sound. The impulses pass into the fluid of the cochlea, which is lined with tiny hairs called cilia. They translate the impulses into electrical signals, which then travel along neural pathways to the brain. Once signals reach the brain, they are “recognized,” either by associative memories or by a rules-based system—or, as Pinker has argued, by some combination of the two.

The human ear is exquisitely sensitive; research has shown, for example, that people can distinguish between hot and cold coffee simply by hearing it poured. The ear is particularly attentive to the human voice. We can differentiate among different voices speaking together, and we can isolate voices in the midst of traffic and loud music, and we can tell the direction from which a voice is coming—all of which are difficult for computers to do. We can hear smiles at the other end of a telephone call; the ear recognizes the sound variations caused by the spreading of the lips. That’s why call-center workers are told to smile no matter what kind of abuse they’re taking.

The first attempts at speech recognition were made in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, when the A.I. pioneers tried to simulate the way the human mind apprehends language. But where do you start? Even a simple concept like “yes” might be expressed in dozens of different ways—including “yes,” “ya,” “yup,” “yeah,” “yeayuh,” “yeppers,” “yessirree,” “aye, aye,” “mmmhmm,” “uh-huh,” “sure,” “totally,” “certainly,” “indeed,” “affirmative,” “fine,” “definitely,” “you bet,” “you betcha,” “no problemo,” and “okeydoke”—and what’s the rule in that? At Nuance, whose headquarters are outside Boston, speech engineers try to anticipate all the different ways people might say yes, but they still get surprised. For example, designers found that Southerners had more trouble using the system than Northerners did, because when instructed to answer “yes” or “no” Southerners regularly added “ma’am” or “sir,” depending on the I.V.R.’s gender, and the computer wasn’t programmed to recognize that. Also, language isn’t static; the rules change. Researchers taught machines that when the pitch of a voice rises at the end of a sentence it usually means a question, only to have their work spoiled by the emergence of what linguists call “uptalk”—that Valley Girl way of making a declarative sentence sound like a question?—which is now ubiquitous across the United States.

In the seventies and eighties, many speech researchers gradually moved away from efforts to determine the rules of language and took a probabilistic approach to speech recognition. Statistical “learning algorithms”—methods of constructing models from streams of data—were the wheel on which the back of the A.I. culture was broken. As David Nahamoo, the chief technology officer for speech at I.B.M.’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, told me, “Brute-force computing, based on probability algorithms, won out over the rule-based approach.” A speech recognizer, by learning the relative frequency with which particular words occur, both by themselves and within the context of other words, could be “trained” to make educated guesses. Such a system wouldn’t be able to understand what words mean, but, given enough data and computing power, it might work in certain, limited vocabulary situations, like medical transcription, and it might be able to perform machine translation with a high degree of accuracy.

In 1969, John Pierce, a prominent member of the staff of Bell Labs, argued in an influential letter to the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, entitled “Whither Speech Recognition,” that there was little point in making machines that had speech recognition but no speech understanding. Regardless of the sophistication of the algorithms, the machine would still be a modern version of Kempelen’s talking head—a gimmick. But the majority of researchers felt that the narrow promise of speech recognition was better than nothing.

In 1971, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency made a five-year commitment to funding speech recognition. Four institutions—B.B.N., I.B.M., Stanford Research Institute, and Carnegie Mellon University—were selected as contractors, and each was given the same guidelines for developing a speech recognizer with a thousand-word vocabulary. Subsequently, additional projects were funded that might be useful to the military. One was straight out of “Star Trek”: a handheld device that could automatically translate spoken words into other languages. Another was software that could read foreign news media and render them into English.

In addition to DARPA, funding for speech recognition came from telephone companies—principally at Bell Labs—and computer companies, most notably I.B.M. The phone companies wanted voice-based automated calling, and the computer companies wanted a voice-based computer interface and automated dictation, which was a “holy grail project” (a favorite phrase of the industry). But devising a speech recognizer that worked consistently and accurately in real-world situations proved to be much harder than anyone had anticipated. It wasn’t until the early nineties that companies finally began to bring products to the consumer marketplace, but these products rarely worked as advertised. The fledgling industry went through a tumultuous period. One industry leader, Lernout & Hauspie, flamed out, in a spectacular accounting scandal.

Whether its provenance is academic or corporate, speech-recognition research is heavily dependent on the size of the data sample, or “corpus”—the sheer volume of speech you work with. The larger your corpus, the more data you can feed to the learning algorithms and the better the guesses they can make. I.B.M. collects speech not only in the lab and from broadcasts but also in the field. Andy Aaron, who works at the Watson Research Center, has spent many hours recording people driving or sitting in the front seats of cars in an effort to develop accurate speech models for automotive commands. That’s because, he told me, “when people speak in cars they don’t speak the same way they do in an office.” For example, we talk more loudly in cars, because of a phenomenon known as the Lombard effect—the speaker involuntarily raises his voice to compensate for background noise. Aaron collects speech both for recognizers and for synthesizers—computer-generated voices. “Recording for the recognizer and for the synthesizer couldn’t be more different,” he said. “In the case of the recognizer, you are teaching the system to correctly identify an unknown speech sound. So you feed it lots and lots of different samples, so that it knows all the different ways Americans might say the phoneme ‘oo.’ A synthesizer is the opposite. You audition many professional speakers and carefully choose one, because you like the sound of his voice. Then you record that speaker for dozens of hours, saying sentences that contain many diverse combinations of phonemes and common words.”

B.B.N. came to speech recognition through its origins as an acousticalengineering firm. It worked on the design of Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall in the mid-sixties, and did early research in measuring noise levels at airports, which led to quieter airplane engines. In 1997, B.B.N. was bought by G.T.E., which subsequently merged with Bell Atlantic to form Verizon. In 2004, a group of B.B.N. executives and investors put together a buyout, and the company became independent again. The speech they use to train their recognizers comes from a shared bank, the Linguistic Data Consortium.

During my visit to Cambridge, I watched as a speech engine transcribed a live Al Jazeera broadcast into more or less readable English text, with only a three-minute lag time. In another demo, software captured speech from podcasts and YouTube videos and converted it into text, with impressive accuracy—a technology that promises to make video and audio as easily searchable as text. Both technologies are now available commercially, in B.B.N.’s Broadcast Monitoring System and in EveryZing, its audio-and-video search engine. I also saw B.B.N’s English-to-Iraqi Arabic translator; I had seen I.B.M.’s, known as the Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator, or MASTOR, the week before. Both worked amazingly well. At I.B.M., an English speaker made a comment (“We are here to provide humanitarian assistance for your town”) to an Iraqi. The machine repeated his sentence in English, to make sure it was understood. The MASTOR then translated the sentence into Arabic and said it out loud. The Iraqi answered in Arabic; the machine repeated the sentence in Arabic and then delivered it in English. The entire exchange took about five seconds, and combined state-of-the-art speech recognition, voice synthesis, and machine translation. Granted, the conversation was limited to what you might discuss at a checkpoint in Iraq. Still, for what they are, these translators are triumphs of the statistics-based approach.

What’s missing from all these programs, however, is emotional recognition. The current technology can capture neither the play of emphasis, rhythm, and intonation in spoken language (which linguists call prosody) nor the emotional experience of speaking and understanding language. Descartes favored a division between reason and emotion, and considered language to be a vehicle of the former. But speech without emotion, it turns out, isn’t really speech. Cognitively, the words should mean the same thing, regardless of their emotional content. But they don’t.

Speech recognition is a multidisciplinary field, involving linguists, psychologists, phoneticians, acousticians, computer scientists, and engineers. At speech conferences these days, emotional recognition is a hot topic. Julia Hirschberg, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, told me that at the last prosody conference she attended “it seemed like three-quarters of the presentations were on emotional recognition.” Research is focussed both on how to recognize a speaker’s emotional state and on how to make synthetic voices more emotionally expressive.

Elizabeth Shriberg, a senior researcher in the speech group at S.R.I. International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), said, “Especially when you talk about emotional speech, there is a big difference between acted speech and real speech.” Real anger, she went on, often builds over a number of utterances, and is much more variable than acted anger. For more accurate emotional recognition, Shriberg said, “we need the kind of data that you get from 911 and directory-assistance calls. But you can’t use those, for privacy reasons, and because they’re proprietary.”

At SAIL—the Speech Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory, on the campus of the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles—researchers work mostly with scripted speech, which students collect from actors in the U.S.C. film and drama programs. Shrikanth Narayanan, who runs the lab, is an electrical engineer, and the students in his emotion-research group are mainly engineers and computer scientists. One student was studying what happens when a speaker’s face and voice convey conflicting emotions. Another was researching how emotional states affect the way people move their heads when they talk. The research itself can be a grind. Students painstakingly listen to voices expressing many different kinds of emotion and tag each sample with information, such as how energetic the voice is and its “valence” (whether it is a negative or a positive emotion). Anger and elation are examples of emotions that have different valences but similar energy; humans use context, as well as facial and vocal cues, to distinguish them. Since the researchers have only the voice to work with, at least three of them are required to listen and decide what the emotion is. Students note voice quality, pacing, language, “disfluencies” (false starts, “um”s), and pitch. They make at least two different data sets, so that they can use separate ones for training the computer and for testing it.

Facial expressions are generally thought to be universal, but so far Narayanan’s lab hasn’t found that similarly universal vocal cues for emotions are as clearly established. “Emotions aren’t discrete,” Narayanan said. “They are a continuum, and it isn’t clear to any one perceiver where one emotion ends and another begins, so you end up studying not just the speaker but the perceiver.” The idea is that if you could train the computer to sense a speaker’s emotional state by the sound of his voice, you could also train it to respond in kind—the computer might slow down if it sensed that the speaker was confused, or assume a more soothing tone of voice if it sensed anger. One possible application of such technology would be video games, which could automatically adapt to a player’s level based on the stress in his voice. Narayanan also mentioned simulations—such as the computer-game-like training exercises that many companies now use to prepare workers for a job. “The program would sense from your voice if you are overconfident, or when you are feeling frustrated, and adjust accordingly,” he said. That reminded me of the moment in the novel “2001” when HAL, after discovering that the astronauts have doubts about him, decides to kill them. While struggling with one of the astronauts, Dave, for control of the ship, HAL says, “I can tell from your voice harmonics, Dave, that you’re badly upset. Why don’t you take a stress pill and get some rest?”

But, apart from call-center voice analytics, it’s hard to find many credible applications of emotional recognition, and it is possible that true emotional recognition is beyond the limits of the probabilistic approach. There are futuristic projects aimed at making emotionally responsive robots, and there are plans to use such robots in the care of children and the elderly. “But this is very long-range, obviously,” Narayanan said. In the meantime, we are going to be dealing with emotionless machines.

There is a small market for voice-based lie detectors, which are becoming a popular tool in police stations around the country. Many are made by Nemesysco, an Israeli company, using a technique called “layered voice analysis” to analyze some hundred and thirty parameters in the voice to establish the speaker’s pyschological state. The academic world is skeptical of voice-based lie detection, because Nemesysco will not release the algorithms on which its program is based; after all, they are proprietary. Layered voice analysis has failed in two independent tests. Nemesysco’s American distributor says that’s because the tests were poorly designed. (The company played Roger Clemens’s recent congressional testimony for me through its software, so that I could see for myself the Rocket’s stress levels leaping.) Nevertheless, according to the distributor more than a thousand copies of the software have been sold—at fourteen thousand five hundred dollars each—to law-enforcement agencies and, more recently, to insurance companies, which are using them in fraud detection.

One of the most fully realized applications of emotional recognition that I am aware of is the aggression-detection system developed by Sound Intelligence, which has been deployed in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and other cities in the Netherlands. It has also been installed in the English city of Coventry, and is being tested in London and Manchester. One of the designers, Peter van Hengel, explained to me that the idea grew out of a project at the University of Groningen, which simulated the workings of the inner ear with computer models. “A colleague of mine applied the same inner-ear model to trying to recognize speech amid noise,” he said, “and found that it could be used to select the parts belonging to the speech and leave out the noise.” They founded Sound Intelligence in 2000, initially focussing on speech-noise separation for automatic speech recognition, with a sideline in the analysis of non-speech sounds. In 2003, the company was approached by the Dutch national railroad, which wanted to be able to detect several kinds of sound that might indicate trouble in stations and on trains (glass-breaking, graffiti-spraying, and aggressive voices). This project developed into an aggression-detection system based on the sound of people shouting: the machine detects the overstressing of the vocal cords, which occurs only in real aggression. (That’s one reason actors only approximate anger; the real thing can damage the voice.)

The city of Groningen has installed an aggression-detector at a busy intersection in an area full of pubs. Elevated microphones spaced thirty metres apart run along both sides of the street, joining an existing network of cameras. These connect to a computer at the police station in Groningen. If the system hears certain sound patterns that correspond with aggression, it sends an alert to the police station, where the police can assess the situation by examining closed-circuit monitors: if necessary, officers are dispatched to the scene. This is no HAL, either, but the system is promising, because it does not pretend to be more intelligent than it is.

I thought the problem with the technology would be false positives—too many loud noises that the machine mistook for aggression. But in Groningen, at least, the problem has been just the opposite. “Groningen is the safest city in Holland,” van Hengel said, ruefully. “There is virtually no crime. We don’t have enough aggression to train the system properly.” ♦

A importância da imaginação pós-capitalista (Envolverde)

27/8/2013 – 11h47

por Ronan Burtenshaw e Aubrey Robinson, do The Irish Left Review*

david harvey 250 A importância da imaginação pós capitalista

David Harvey mergulha no estudo das contradições do sistema e busca alternativas: desmercantilização, propriedade comum, renda básica permanente, gratuidades… Foto: Divulgação/ Internet

Mês que vem completam-se cinco anos que Lehman Brothers foram protagonistas do maior caso de falência de banco na história dos EUA. O colapso sinalizou o início da Grande Depressão – a crise mais substancial do capitalismo mundial desde a 2ª Guerra Mundial. Como entender os fundamentos desse sistema agora em crise? E, com o sistema em guerra contra a classe trabalhadora, sob o disfarce da “austeridade”, como imaginar um mundo depois disso?

Poucos pensadores geraram respostas mais influentes para essas perguntas que o geógrafo marxista David Harvey. Aqui, em entrevista recente, ele fala a Ronan Burtenshaw e Aubrey Robinson sobre esses problemas.

The Irish Left Review – Você está trabalhando agora num novo livro, The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism [As 17 contradições do capitalismo]. Por que focar essas contradições?

David Harvey – A análise do capitalismo sugere que são contradições significativas e fundamentais. Periodicamente essas contradições saem de controle e geram uma crise. Acabamos de passar por uma crise e acho importante perguntar que contradições nos levaram à crise? Como podemos analisar a crise em termos de contradições? Uma das grandes ditos de Marx foi que uma crise é sempre resultado das contradições subjacentes. Portanto, temos de lidar com elas próprias, não com os resultados delas.

TILR – Uma das contradições a que você se dedica é a que há entre o valor de uso e o valor de troca de uma mercadoria. Por que essa contradição é tão fundamental para o capitalismo e por que você usa a moradia para ilustrá-la?

DH – Temos de começar por entender que todas as mercadorias têm um valor de uso e um valor de troca. Se tenho um bife, o valor de uso é que posso comê-lo, e o valor de troca é quanto tenho de pagar para comê-lo.

A moradia é muito interessante, nesse sentido, porque se pode entender como valor de uso que ela garante abrigo, privacidade, um mundo de relações afetivas entre pessoas, uma lista enorme de coisas para as quais usamos a casa. Houve tempo em que cada um construía a própria casa e a casa não tinha valor de troca. Depois, do século 18 em diante, aparece a construção de casas para especulação – construíam-se sobrados georgianos [reinado do rei George, na Inglaterra] para serem vendidos. E as casas passaram a ser valores de troca para consumidores, como poupança. Se compro uma casa e pago a hipoteca, acabo proprietário da casa. Tenho pois um bem, um patrimônio. Assim se gera uma política curiosa – “não no meu quintal”, “não quero ter gente na porta ao lado que não se pareça comigo”. E começa a segregação nos mercados imobiliários, porque as pessoas querem proteger o valor de troca dos seus bens.

Então, há cerca de 30 anos, as pessoas começaram a usar a moradia como forma de obter ganhos de especulação. Você podia comprar uma casa e “passar adiante” – compra uma casa por £200 mil, depois de um ano consegue £250 mil por ela. Você ganha £50 mil, por que não? O valor de troca passou a ser dominante. E assim se chega ao boom especulativo. Em 2000, depois do colapso dos mercados globais de ações, o excesso de capital passou a fluir para a moradia. É um tipo interessante de mercado. Você compra uma casa, o preço da moradia sobe você diz “os preços das casas estão subindo, tenho de comprar uma casa”, mas outro compra antes de você. Gera-se uma bolha imobiliária. As pessoas ficam presas na bolha e a bolha explode. Então, de repente, muitas pessoas descobrem que já não podem usufruir do valor de uso da moradia, porque o sistema do valor de troca destruiu o valor de uso.

E surge a pergunta: é boa ideia permitir que o valor de uso da moradia, que é crucial para o povo, seja comandado por um sistema louco de valor de troca? O problema não surge só na moradia, mas em coisas como educação e atenção à saúde. Em vários desses campos, liberamos a dinâmica do valor de troca, sob a teoria de que ele garantirá o valor de uso, mas o que se vê frequentemente, é que ele faz explodir o valor de uso e as pessoas acabam sem receber boa atenção à saúde, boa educação e boa moradia. Por isso me parece tão importante prestar atenção à diferença entre valor de uso e valor de troca.

TILR – Outra contradição que você comenta envolve um processo de alternar, ao longo do tempo, entre a ênfase na oferta, na produção, e ênfase na demanda, pelo consumo, que se vê no capitalismo. Pode falar sobre como esse processo apareceu no século 20 e por que é tão importante?

DH – Uma grande questão é manter uma demanda adequada de mercado, de modo que seja possível absorver o que for que o capital esteja produzindo. Outra, é criar as condições sob as quais o capital possa produzir com lucros.

Essas condições de produção lucrativa quase sempre significam suprimir a força de trabalho. Na medida em que se reduzem salários – pagando salários cada vez menores –, as taxas de lucro sobem. Portanto, do lado da produção, quanto mais arrochados os salários, melhor. Os lucros aumentam. Mas surge o problema: quem comprará o que é produzido? Com o trabalho arrochado, onde fica o mercado? Se o arrocho é excessivo, sobrevém uma crise, porque deixa de haver demanda suficiente que absorva o produto.

A certa altura, a interpretação generalizada dizia que o problema, na crise dos anos 1930s foi falta de demanda. Houve então uma mudança na direção de investimentos conduzidos pelo Estado, para construir novas estradas, o WPA [serviços públicos, sob o New Deal] e tudo aquilo. Diziam que “revitalizaremos a economia” com demanda financiada por dívidas e, ao fazer isso, viraram-se para a teoria Keynesiana. Saiu-se dos anos 1930s com uma nova e forte capacidade para gerenciar a demanda, com o Estado muito envolvido na economia. Resultado disso, houve fortes taxas de crescimento, mas as fortes taxas de crescimento vieram acompanhadas de maior poder para os trabalhadores, com salários crescentes e sindicatos fortes.

Sindicatos fortes e altos salários significam que as taxas de lucro começam a cair. O capital entra em crise, porque não está reprimindo suficientemente os trabalhadores. E o “automático” do sistema dá o alarme. Nos anos 1970s, voltaram-se na direção de Milton Friedman e da Escola de Chicago. Passou a ser dominante na teoria econômica, e as pessoas começaram a observar a ponta da oferta – sobretudo os salários. E veio o arrocho dos salários, que começou nos anos 1970s. Ronald Reagan ataca os controladores de tráfego aéreo; Margaret Thatcher caça os mineiros; Pinochet assassina militantes da esquerda. O trabalho é atacado por todos os lados – e a taxa de lucros sobe. Quando se chega aos anos 1980s, a taxa de lucro dá um salto, porque os salários estão sendo arrochados e o capital está se dando muito bem. Mas surge o problema: a quem vender aquela coisa toda que está sendo produzida.

Nos anos 1990s tudo isso foi recoberto pela economia do endividamento. Começaram a encorajar as pessoas a tomarem empréstimos – começou uma economia de cartão de crédito e uma economia de moradia pesadamente financiada por hipotecas. Assim se mascarou o fato de que, na realidade, não havia demanda alguma. Em 2007-8, esse arranjo também desmoronou.
O capital enfrenta essa pergunta, “trabalha-se pelo lado da oferta ou pelo lado da demanda”? Minha ideia, para um mundo anticapitalista, é que é preciso unificar tudo isso. Temos de voltar ao valor de uso. De que valores de uso as pessoas precisam e como organizar a produção de tal modo que satisfaça à demanda por aqueles valores de uso?

TILR – Hoje, tudo indica que estamos em crise pelo lado da oferta. Mas a austeridade é tentativa de encontrar solução pelo lado da demanda. Como resolver isso?

DH – É preciso diferenciar entre os interesses do capitalismo como um todo e o que é interesse especificamente da classe capitalista, ou de uma parte dela. Durante essa crise, a classe capitalista deu-se muitíssimo bem. Alguns saíram queimados, mas a maior parte saiu-se extremamente bem. Segundo estudo recente, nos países da OECD a desigualdade econômica cresceu significativamente desde o início da crise, o que significa que os benefícios da crise concentraram-se nas classes mais ricas. Em outras palavras, os ricos não querem sair da crise, porque a crise lhes traz muitos lucros.
A população como um todo está sofrendo, o capitalismo como um todo não está saudável, mas a classe capitalista – sobretudo uma oligarquia que há ali – está muito bem. Há várias situações nas quais capitalistas individuais operando conforme os interesses de sua classe, podem de fato fazer coisas que agridem muito gravemente todo o sistema capitalista. Minha opinião é que, hoje, estamos vivendo uma dessas situações.

TILR – Você tem repetido várias vezes, recentemente, que uma das coisas que a esquerda deveria estar fazendo é usar nossa imaginação pós-capitalista, e começar por perguntar como, afinal, será um mundo pós-capitalista. Por que isso lhe parece tão importante? E, na sua opinião, como, afinal, será um mundo pós-capitalista?

DH – É importante, porque há muito tempo trombeteia-se nos nossos ouvidos que não há alternativa. Uma das primeiras coisas que temos de fazer é pensar a alternativa, para começar a andar na direção de criá-la.

A esquerda tornou-se tão cúmplice com o neoliberalismo, que já não se vê diferença entre os partidos políticos da esquerda e os da direita, se não em questões nacionais ou sociais. Na economia política não há grande diferença. Temos de encontrar uma economia política alternativa ao modo como funciona o capitalismo. E temos alguns princípios. Por isso as contradições são interessantes. Examina-se cada uma delas, por exemplo, a contradição entre valor de uso e valor de troca e se diz – “o mundo alternativo é mundo no qual se fornecem valores de uso”. Assim podemos nos concentrar nos valores de uso e tentar reduzir o papel dos valores de troca.

Ou, na questão monetária – claro que precisamos de dinheiro para que as mercadorias circulem. Mas o problema do dinheiro é que pessoas privadas podem apropriar-se dele. O dinheiro torna-se uma modalidade de poder pessoal e, em seguida, um desejo-fetiche. As pessoas mobilizam a vida na procura por esse dinheiro, até quem não sabe que o faz. Então, temos de mudar o sistema monetário – ou se taxam todas as mais-valias que as pessoas comecem a obter ou criamos um sistema monetário no qual a moeda se dissolve e não pode ser entesourada, como o sistema de milhagem aérea.

Mas para fazer isso, é preciso superar a dicotomia estado/propriedade privada, e propor um regime de propriedade comum. E, num dado momento, é preciso gerar uma renda básica para o povo, porque se você tem uma forma de dinheiro antipoupança é preciso dar garantia às pessoas. Você tem de dizer “você não precisa poupar para os dias de chuva, porque você sempre receberá essa renda básica, não importa o que aconteça”. É preciso dar segurança às pessoas desse modo, não por economias privadas, pessoais.

Mudando cada uma dessas coisas contraditórias chega-se a um tipo diferente de sociedade, que é muito mais racional que a que temos hoje. Hoje, o que acontece é produzimos e, em seguida, tentamos persuadir os consumidores a consumir o que foi produzido, queiram ou não e precisem ou não do que é produzido. Em vez disso, temos de descobrir quais os desejos e vontades básicas das pessoas e mobilizar o sistema de produção para produzir aquilo. Se se elimina a dinâmica do valor de troca, é possível reorganizar todo o sistema de outro modo. Pode-se imaginar a direção na qual se moverá uma alternativa socialista, se nos afastamos da forma dominante da acumulação de capital que hoje comanda tudo.

* Esse é um trecho da entrevista. A íntegra da entrevista será publicada na edição de outono de The Irish Left Review./ Tradução Vila Vudu.

** Publicado originalmente no site Irish Left Review e retirado do site Outras Palavras.

(Outra Palavras)

Language can reveal the invisible, study shows (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Public release date: 26-Aug-2013

By Gary Lupyan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

MADISON, Wis. — It is natural to imagine that the sense of sight takes in the world as it is — simply passing on what the eyes collect from light reflected by the objects around us.

But the eyes do not work alone. What we see is a function not only of incoming visual information, but also how that information is interpreted in light of other visual experiences, and may even be influenced by language.

Words can play a powerful role in what we see, according to a study published this month by University of Wisconsin–Madison cognitive scientist and psychology professor Gary Lupyan, and Emily Ward, a Yale University graduate student, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Perceptual systems do the best they can with inherently ambiguous inputs by putting them in context of what we know, what we expect,” Lupyan says. “Studies like this are helping us show that language is a powerful tool for shaping perceptual systems, acting as a top-down signal to perceptual processes. In the case of vision, what we consciously perceive seems to be deeply shaped by our knowledge and expectations.”

And those expectations can be altered with a single word.

To show how deeply words can influence perception, Lupyan and Ward used a technique called continuous flash suppression to render a series of objects invisible for a group of volunteers.

Each person was shown a picture of a familiar object — such as a chair, a pumpkin or a kangaroo — in one eye. At the same time, their other eye saw a series of flashing, “squiggly” lines.

“Essentially, it’s visual noise,” Lupyan says. “Because the noise patterns are high-contrast and constantly moving, they dominate, and the input from the other eye is suppressed.”

Immediately before looking at the combination of the flashing lines and suppressed object, the study participants heard one of three things: the word for the suppressed object (“pumpkin,” when the object was a pumpkin), the word for a different object (“kangaroo,” when the object was actually a pumpkin), or just static.

Then researchers asked the participants to indicate whether they saw something or not. When the word they heard matched the object that was being wiped out by the visual noise, the subjects were more likely to report that they did indeed see something than in cases where the wrong word or no word at all was paired with the image.

“Hearing the word for the object that was being suppressed boosted that object into their vision,” Lupyan says.

And hearing an unmatched word actually hurt study subjects’ chances of seeing an object.

“With the label, you’re expecting pumpkin-shaped things,” Lupyan says. “When you get a visual input consistent with that expectation, it boosts it into perception. When you get an incorrect label, it further suppresses that.”

Experiments have shown that continuous flash suppression interrupts sight so thoroughly that there are no signals in the brain to suggest the invisible objects are perceived, even implicitly.

“Unless they can tell us they saw it, there’s nothing to suggest the brain was taking it in at all,” Lupyan says. “If language affects performance on a test like this, it indicates that language is influencing vision at a pretty early stage. It’s getting really deep into the visual system.”

The study demonstrates a deeper connection between language and simple sensory perception than previously thought, and one that makes Lupyan wonder about the extent of language’s power. The influence of language may extend to other senses as well.

“A lot of previous work has focused on vision, and we have neglected to examine the role of knowledge and expectations on other modalities, especially smell and taste,” Lupyan says. “What I want to see is whether we can really alter threshold abilities,” he says. “Does expecting a particular taste for example, allow you to detect a substance at a lower concentration?”

If you’re drinking a glass of milk, but thinking about orange juice, he says, that may change the way you experience the milk.

“There’s no point in figuring out what some objective taste is,” Lupyan says. “What’s important is whether the milk is spoiled or not. If you expect it to be orange juice, and it tastes like orange juice, it’s fine. But if you expected it to be milk, you’d think something was wrong.”

Crowdsourcing, for the Birds (NY Times)

NY Times, August 19, 2013


HELENA, Mont. — On a warm morning not long ago on the shore of a small prairie lake outside this state capital, Bob Martinka trained his spotting scope on a towering cottonwood tree heavy with blue heron nests. He counted a dozen of the tall, graceful birds and got out his smartphone, not to make a call but to type the number of birds and the species into an app that sent the information to researchers in New York.


Mapping Bird Species Heat maps show the northward migration of the chimney swift as modeled by the eBird network. Brighter colors indicate higher probabilities of finding the species.

Mr. Martinka, a retired state wildlife biologist and an avid bird-watcher, is part of the global ornithological network eBird. Several times a week he heads into the mountains to scan lakes, grasslands, even the local dump, and then reports his sightings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a nonprofit organization based at Cornell University.

“I see rare gulls at the dump quite frequently,” Mr. Martinka said, scanning a giant mound of bird-covered trash.

Tens of thousands of birders are now what the lab calls “biological sensors,” turning their sightings into digital data by reporting where, when and how many of which species they see. Mr. Martinka’s sighting of a dozen herons is a tiny bit of information, but such bits, gathered in the millions, provide scientists with a very big picture: perhaps the first crowdsourced, real-time view of bird populations around the world.

West Kassel. A western meadowlark.

Birds are notoriously hard to count. While stationary sensors can measure things like carbon dioxide levels and highway traffic, it takes people to note the type and number of birds in an area. Until the advent of eBird, which began collecting daily global data in 2002, so-called one-day counts were the only method.

While counts like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey bring a lot of people together on one day to make bird observations across the country, and are scientifically valuable, they are different because they don’t provide year-round data.

And eBird’s daily view of bird movements has yielded a vast increase in data — and a revelation for scientists. The most informative product is what scientists call a heat map: a striking image of the bird sightings represented in various shades of orange according to their density, moving through space and time across black maps. Now, more than 300 species have a heat map of their own.

“As soon as the heat maps began to come out, everybody recognized this is a game changer in how we look at animal populations and their movement,” said John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab. “Really captivating imagery teaches us more effectively.”

It was long believed, for example, that the United States had just one population of orchard orioles. Heat maps showed that the sightings were separated by a gap, meaning there are not one but two genetically distinct populations.

Moreover, the network offers a powerful way to capture data that was lost in the old days. “People for generations have been accumulating an enormous amount of information about where birds are and have been,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “Then it got burned when they died.”

No longer: eBird has compiled 141 million reports, or bits, and the number is increasing by 40 percent a year. In May, eBird gathered a record 5.6 million new observations from 169 countries. (Mr. Martinka’s sighting of 12 herons at once, for example, is considered one species observation, or bit.)

The system also offers incentives for birders to stay involved, with apps that enable them to keep their life lists (records of the species they have seen), compare their sightings with those of friends (and rivals), and know where to look for birds they haven’t seen before.

“When you get off the plane and turn your phone on,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said, “you can find out what has been seen near you over the last seven days and ask it to filter out the birds you haven’t seen yet, so with a quick look you can add to your life list.”

The system is not without problems. Citizen scientists may not be as precise in reporting data as experienced researchers are, like the ones in the Breeding Bird Survey. Cornell has tried to solve that problem by hiring top birders to travel around the world to train people like Mr. Martinka in methodology. And 500 volunteer experts read the submissions for accuracy, rejecting about 2 percent. Rare-bird sightings get special scrutiny.

The engine that makes eBird data usable is machine learning, or artificial intelligence — a combination of software and hardware that sorts through disparities, gaps and flaws in data collection, improving as it goes along.

“Machine learning says, ‘I know these data are sloppy, but fortunately there’s a lot of it,’ ” Dr. Fitzpatrick said. “It takes chunks of these data and sorts through to find patterns in the noise. These programs are learning as they go, testing and refining and getting better and better.”

Still, some experts question eBird’s validity. John Sauer, a wildlife biologist with the United States Geological Survey, says that bird-watchers’ reports lack scientific rigor. Rather than randomness, he said, “you get a lot of observations from where people like to go.” And he doubts that Cornell has proved the reliability of its machine learning efforts.

Still, the information has promise, he said, “and it’s played a powerful role in coordinating birders for recording observations, and encouraging bird-watching.”

And the data are being used by a wide array of researchers and conservationists.

Cagan H. Sekercioglu, a professor of ornithology at the University of Utah who has used similar bird-watching data in his native Turkey to study the effects of climate change on birds, called eBird “a phenomenal resource” and said that it was “getting young people involved in natural history, which might seem slow and old-fashioned in the age of instant online gratification.”

Data about bird populations can help scientists understand other changes in the natural world and be a marker for the health of overall biodiversity. “Birds are great indicators because they occur in all environments,” said Steve Kelling, the director of information science at the Cornell bird lab.

A decline in Eastern meadowlarks in part of New York State, for example, suggests that their habitat is shrinking — bad news for other species that depend on the same habitat. In California, eBird data is being used by some planners to decide where cities and towns should steer development.

The data is also being combined with radar and weather data by BirdCast, another Cornell bird lab project that forecasts migration patterns with the aim of protecting birds as they move through a gantlet of threats. “We can predict migration events that would be usable for the timing of wind generation facilities to be turned off at night,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said.

In California, biologists use the migration data to track waterfowl at critical times. When the birds are headed through the Central Valley, for example, they can ask rice farmers to flood their fields to create an improvised wetland habitat before the birds arrive. “The resolution is at such a level of detail they can make estimates of where species occur almost at a field-by-field level,” Mr. Kelling said.

EBird data has been used in Britain, too, combined with that of a similar program called BirdTrack, which uses radar images, weather models and even data from microphones on top of buildings to record the sounds of migrating birds at night.

And for bird-watchers, the eBird project has given their pastime a new sense of purpose. “It’s a really neat tool,” Mr. Martinka said. “If you see one bird or a thousand, it’s significant.”

Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming (N.Y.Times)

Tim Wimborne/Reuters. A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that the authors are now 95 percent to 100 percent confident that human activity is the primary influence on planetary warming.


Published: August 19, 2013

An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century if emissions continue at a runaway pace.

The level of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is up 41 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Emissions from facilities like coal-fired power plants contribute.

The scientists, whose findings are reported in a draft summary of the next big United Nations climate report, largely dismiss a recent slowdown in the pace of warming, which is often cited by climate change doubters, attributing it most likely to short-term factors.

The report emphasizes that the basic facts about future climate change are more established than ever, justifying the rise in global concern. It also reiterates that the consequences of escalating emissions are likely to be profound.

“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”

The draft comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of several hundred scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore. Its summaries, published every five or six years, are considered the definitive assessment of the risks of climate change, and they influence the actions of governments around the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, for instance, largely on the basis of the group’s findings.

The coming report will be the fifth major assessment from the group, created in 1988. Each report has found greater certainty that the planet is warming and greater likelihood that humans are the primary cause.

The 2007 report found “unequivocal” evidence of warming, but hedged a little on responsibility, saying the chances were at least 90 percent that human activities were the cause. The language in the new draft is stronger, saying the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause.

On sea level, which is one of the biggest single worries about climate change, the new report goes well beyond the assessment published in 2007, which largely sidestepped the question of how much the ocean could rise this century.

The new report also reiterates a core difficulty that has plagued climate science for decades: While averages for such measures as temperature can be predicted with some confidence on a global scale, the coming changes still cannot be forecast reliably on a local scale. That leaves governments and businesses fumbling in the dark as they try to plan ahead.

On another closely watched issue, the scientists retreated slightly from their 2007 position.

Regarding the question of how much the planet could warm if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere doubled, the previous report largely ruled out any number below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The new draft says the rise could be as low as 2.7 degrees, essentially restoring a scientific consensus that prevailed from 1979 to 2007.

But the draft says only that the low number is possible, not that it is likely. Many climate scientists see only a remote chance that the warming will be that low, with the published evidence suggesting that an increase above 5 degrees Fahrenheit is more likely if carbon dioxide doubles.

The level of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is up 41 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and if present trends continue it could double in a matter of decades.

Warming the entire planet by 5 degrees Fahrenheit would add a stupendous amount of energy to the climate system. Scientists say the increase would be greater over land and might exceed 10 degrees at the poles.

They add that such an increase would lead to widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.

The new document is not final and will not become so until an intensive, closed-door negotiating session among scientists and government leaders in Stockholm in late September. But if the past is any guide, most of the core findings of the document will survive that final review.

The document was leaked over the weekend after it was sent to a large group of people who had signed up to review it. It was first reported on in detail by the Reuters news agency, and The New York Times obtained a copy independently to verify its contents.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does no original research, but instead periodically assesses and summarizes the published scientific literature on climate change.

The draft document “is likely to change in response to comments from governments received in recent weeks and will also be considered by governments and scientists at a four-day approval session at the end of September,” the panel’s spokesman, Jonathan Lynn, said in a statement Monday. “It is therefore premature and could be misleading to attempt to draw conclusions from it.”

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize six years ago, the group became a political target for climate doubters, who helped identify minor errors in the 2007 report. This time, the panel adopted rigorous procedures in the hope of preventing such mistakes.

Some climate doubters challenge the idea that the earth is warming at all; others concede that it is, but deny human responsibility; still others acknowledge a human role, but assert that the warming is likely to be limited and the impacts manageable. Every major scientific academy in the world has warned that global warming is a serious problem.

The panel shifted to a wider range for the potential warming, dropping the plausible low end to 2.7 degrees, after a wave of recent studies saying higher estimates were unlikely. But those studies are contested, and scientists at Stockholm are likely to debate whether to stick with that language.

Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said he feared the intergovernmental panel, in writing its draft, had been influenced by criticism from climate doubters, who advocate even lower numbers. “I think the I.P.C.C. on this point has once again erred on the side of understating the degree of the likely changes,” Dr. Mann said.

However, Christopher B. Field, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science who serves on the panel but was not directly involved in the new draft, said the group had to reflect the full range of plausible scientific views.

“I think that the I.P.C.C. has a tradition of being very conservative,” Dr. Field said. “They really want the story to be right.”

Regarding the likely rise in sea level over the coming century, the new report lays out several possibilities. In the most optimistic, the world’s governments would prove far more successful at getting emissions under control than they have been in the recent past, helping to limit the total warming.

In that circumstance, sea level could be expected to rise as little as 10 inches by the end of the century, the report found. That is a bit more than the eight-inch increase in the 20th century, which proved manageable even though it caused severe erosion along the world’s shorelines.

At the other extreme, the report considers a chain of events in which emissions continue to increase at a swift pace. Under those conditions, sea level could be expected to rise at least 21 inches by 2100 and might increase a bit more than three feet, the draft report said.

Hundreds of millions of people live near sea level, and either figure would represent a challenge for humanity, scientists say. But a three-foot rise in particular would endanger many of the world’s great cities — among them New York; London; Shanghai; Venice; Sydney, Australia; Miami; and New Orleans.

A version of this article appears in print on August 20, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming.

Global warming survey shows support for civil disobedience (Climate Connections)

20 August, 2013. Source: Climate Nexus

Photo: David Suzuki Foundation

Photo: David Suzuki Foundation

national survey finds that many Americans (24%) would support an organization that engaged in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse.

Moreover, 13% say they would be willing to personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience for the same reason.

“Many Americans want action on climate change by government, business, and each other,” said lead researcher Anthony Leiserowitz, PhD, of Yale University. “The fact that so many Americans would support organizations engaging in civil disobedience to stop global warming  – or would be willing to do so personally – is a sign that many see climate change as a clear and present danger and are frustrated with the slow pace of action.”

Another key finding of the survey is that, in the past year, Americans were more likely to discuss global warming with family and friends (33% did so often or occasionally) than to communicate about it using social media (e.g., 7% shared something about global warming on Facebook or Twitter, 6% posted a comment online in response to a news story or blog about the topic, etc.).

“Our findings are in line with other research demonstrating that person-to-person conversations – about a wide variety of topics, not just global warming – are still the most common form of communication,” said Dr. Leiserowitz. “The notion that social media have completely ‘taken over’ most of our social interactions is incorrect. For example, we find that Americans are much more likely to talk about extreme weather face-to-face or over the phone than through social media.”

Furthermore, Americans are most likely to identify their own friends and family, such as a significant other (27%), son or daughter (21%), or close friend (17%), as the people who could motivate them to take action to reduce global warming.

“Our findings show that people are most willing to listen to those personally close to them when it comes to taking action against global warming,” said researcher Ed Maibach, PhD, of George Mason University. “In fact, if someone they ‘like and respect’ asks them to take action about global warming, a third say they would attend a public meeting about global warming or sign a pledge to vote only for political candidates that share their views about global warming, among other things.”

These findings come from a nationally representative survey – Climate Change in the American Mind – conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

How many uncontacted tribes are left in the world? (New Scientist)

16:53 22 August 2013 by Bob Holmes

News emerged this week that an indigenous tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, the Mashco-Piro, has been trying to make contact with outsiders. In the past, the Mashco-Piro have always resisted interaction with strangers, avoiding – and sometimes killing – any they encounter. How should Western societies respond to these so-called uncontacted tribes? New Scientist looks at the issue.

How many uncontacted tribes are still left?
No one knows for sure. At a rough guess, there are probably more than 100 around the world, mostly in Amazonia and New Guinea, says Rebecca Spooner, of Survival International, a London-based organisation that advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples. Brazil’s count is likely to be the most accurate. The government there has identified 77 uncontacted tribes through aerial surveys, and by talking to more Westernised indigenous groups about their neighbours.

There are thought to be around 15 uncontacted tribes in Peru, a handful in other Amazonian countries, a few dozen in the Indonesian part of the island of New Guinea and two tribes in the Andaman Islands off the coast of India. There may also be some in Malaysia and central Africa.

Have they really had no contact with the outside world? 
Most have had a little, at least indirectly. “There’s always some contact with other isolated tribes, which have contact with other indigenous people, which in turn have contact with the outside world,” says Spooner.

Many of the Amazon tribes choose to avoid contact with outsiders because they have had unpleasant encounters in the past. The Mashco-Piro, for example, abandoned their settled gardens and fled into the forest. According to Glenn Shepard, an ethnologist at the Emilio Goeldi Museum in Belem, Brazil, this came after rubber companies massacred tribespeople at the turn of the 20th century. For this reason, some researchers refer to such tribes as “voluntarily isolated”, rather than uncontacted.

More recent incursions, especially by miners, oil workers and loggers, may have reinforced the tribes’ xenophobia. In 1995, oilfields were encroaching on the homeland of the uncontacted Huaorani people of eastern Peru. A visitingNew Scientist reporter was warned that any unclothed native should be regarded as uncontacted and, thus, very dangerous.

Are there guidelines for how best to approach such tribes?
In Peru, laws prohibit outsiders from initiating contact with isolated groups in most cases. They also provide protected areas where tribes can live in peace – but there are loopholes that allow oil and mining companies into the region. Brazil has similar laws and policies that allow contact only in life-threatening situations.

Anthropologists have an ethical obligation to do no harm to their research subjects, according to the American Anthropological Association’s Statement on Ethics. However, they are rarely the first people to make contact with indigenous groups – missionaries and resource developers almost always get there first, says Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University who has worked with several recently contacted tribes. As a result, there is no standard practice for initial contact, he says.

Why would tribes choose to end their isolation?
Often, they feel forced out by encroaching civilisation, says Spooner. Survival International has documented some cases where settlements have been bulldozed and tribespeople harassed – or even killed. This leaves the survivors feeling like they have no option but to give up.

Others see a more benign process at work, at least some of the time. Tribes may seek contact with outsiders because they begin to trust their intentions, says Hill. “As soon as the tribes believe they might have some peaceful contact, all these groups want some outside interaction,” he says. “It’s a human trait to want to expand our contacts.” Modern medicine, metal tools and education can also exert a powerful pull.

What happens then?
Often, there is a lot of disease because the tribespeople are exposed to novel pathogens. It is not uncommon for half the population to die of respiratory illness – unless outsiders bring sustained medical care, says Hill. Also, the newly integrated tribespeople frequently end up on the lowest rung of the society they join. Still, he says, when he interviews such people years later, “I don’t find anyone, pretty much, who would want to go back to the old situation.”

Only a few countries are teaching children how to think (The Economist)

Best and brightest

Aug 17th 2013

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. By Amanda Ripley. Simon and Schuster; 320 pages; $28.

BAMA Companies has been making pies and biscuits in Oklahoma since the 1920s. But the company is struggling to find Okies with the skills to fill even its most basic factory jobs. Such posts require workers to think critically, yet graduates of local schools are often unable to read or do simple maths. This is why the company recently decided to open a new factory in Poland—its first in Europe. “We hear that educated people are plentiful,” explains Paula Marshall, Bama’s boss.

Poland has made some dramatic gains in education in the past decade. Before 2000 half of the country’s rural adults had finished only primary school. Yet international rankings now put the country’s students well ahead of America’s in science and maths (the strongest predictor of future earnings), even as the country spends far less per pupil. What is Poland doing right? And what is America doing wrong? Amanda Ripley, an American journalist, seeks to answer such questions in “The Smartest Kids in the World”, her fine new book about the schools that are working around the globe.

Though America’s grim education results come in for special drubbing in this book, the country is not alone in failing to teach its children how to think critically. This, at least, is the view of Andreas Schleicher, the “educational scientist” behind what is known as the Program for International Student Assessment, or the PISA test. If most exams quantify students’ ability to memorise material, this one aims to assess their effectiveness at problem-solving. Since 2000 it has been administered to millions of teenagers in more than 40 countries, with surprising results. Pupils in Finland, Korea, Japan and Canada consistently score much higher than their peers in Germany, Britain, America and France. The usual explanations for these achievements, such as wealth, privilege and race, do not apply.

To understand what is happening in these classrooms, Ms Ripley follows three American teenagers who spend a year as foreign-exchange students in Finland, Poland and South Korea. Their wide-eyed observations make for compelling reading. In each country, the Americans are startled by how hard their new peers work and how seriously they take their studies. Maths classes tend to be more sophisticated, with lessons that show the often fascinating ways that geometry, trigonometry and calculus work together in the real world. Students forego calculators, having learned how to manipulate numbers in their heads. Classrooms tend to be understated, free of the high-tech gadgetry of their schools back home. And teachers in every subject exhibit the authority of professionals held in high regard.

Ms Ripley credits Poland’s swift turnaround to Miroslaw Handke, the former minister of education. When he entered the post in 1997, Poland’s economy was growing but Poles seemed destined for the low-skilled jobs that other Europeans did not want. So he launched an epic programme of school reforms, with a new core curriculum and standardised tests. Yet his most effective change was also his wooliest: he expected the best work from all of his pupils. He decided to keep all Polish children in the same schools until they were 16, delaying the moment when some would have entered vocational tracks. Poland’s swift rise in PISA rankings is largely the result of the high scores of these supposedly non-academic children.

This is a lesson Ms Ripley sees throughout her tour of “the smart-kid countries”. Children succeed in classrooms where they are expected to succeed. Schools work best when they operate with a clarity of mission: as places to help students master complex academic material (not as sites dedicated to excellence in sport, she hastens to add). When teachers demand rigorous work, students often rise to the occasion, whereas tracking students at different cognitive levels tends to “diminish learning and boost inequality”. Low expectations are often duly rewarded.

In Helsinki Ms Ripley visits a school in a bleak part of town, where classrooms are full of refugee immigrants.“I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much,” says their teacher, wary of letting sympathy cloud his judgment of his students’ work. “It’s your brain that counts”. She marvels at how refreshing this view is when compared with that of teachers in America, where academic mediocrity is often blamed on backgrounds and neighbourhoods. And she laments the “perverse sort of compassion” that prevents American teachers from failing bad students, not least because this sets these youths up to fail in a worse way later on.

Not every story of academic success is a happy one. In South Korea Ms Ripley finds a “culture of educational masochism”, where pupils study at all hours in the hope of securing a precious spot in one of the country’s three prestigious universities. The country may have one of the highest school-graduation rates in the world, but children appear miserable. Even so, South Korea offers some good lessons for how quickly a country can change its fate. Largely illiterate in the 1950s, it is now an “extreme meritocracy”.

America’s classrooms do not fare well in this book. Against these examples of academic achievement, the country’s expensive mistakes look all the more foolish. For example, unlike the schools in Finland, which channel more resources to the neediest kids, America funds its schools through property taxes, ensuring the most disadvantaged students are warehoused together in the worst schools.

Ms Ripley packs a startling amount of insight in this slim book. She notes that Finland, Poland and South Korea all experienced moments of crisis—economic and existential—before they buckled down and changed their stories. America, she observes, may soon reach a similar moment. She cites the World Economic Forum’s most recent ranking of global competitiveness, which placed America seventh, marking its third consecutive year of decline. Meanwhile Finland, that small, remote Nordic country with few resources, has been steadily moving up this ladder, and now sits comfortably in third place.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review repeated Ms Ripley’s assertion that in 2000 “only half” of Poland’s rural adults had completed primary school. In fact half of rural adults had completed no more than primary school. Sorry.

The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head (Time)

Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is

By , Aug. 19, 2013

ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GETTY IMAGES. Climate campaigns, like this one from Greenpeace in Moscow, have failed to galvanize public support for strong climate action

Today the scientific community is in almost total agreement that the earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activity, and that this represents a huge threat to the planet and to us. According to a Pew survey conducted in March, however, public opinion lags behind the scientific conclusion, with only 69% of those surveyed accepting the view that the earth is warming — and only 1 in 4 Americans see global warming as a major threat. Still, 69% is a solid majority, which begs the question, Why aren’t we doing anything about it?

This political inertia in the face of unprecedented threat is the most fundamental challenge to tackling climate change. Climate scientists and campaigners have long debated how to better communicate the message to nonexperts so that climate science can be translated into action. According to Christopher Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London, the usual tactic of climate experts to provide the public with information isn’t enough because “it does not address key underlying causes.” We are all bombarded with the evidence of climate change on an almost a daily basis, from new studies and data to direct experiences of freakish weather events like last year’s epic drought in the U.S. The information is almost unavoidable.

If it’s not a data deficit that’s preventing people from doing more on global warming, what is it? Blame our brains. Renee Lertzman, an applied researcher who focuses on the psychological dimensions of sustainability, explains that the kind of systemic threat that climate change poses to humans is “unique both psychologically and socially.” We face a minefield of mental barriers and issues that prevent us from confronting the threat.

For some, the answer lies in cognitive science. Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paperon the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.” Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the “Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?”) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.

Gifford is reluctant to pick out one barrier as being more powerful or limiting than another. “If I had to name one, I would nominate the lack of perceived behavioral control; ‘I’m only one person, what can I do?’ is certainly a big one.” For many, the first challenge will be in recognizing which dragons they have to deal with before they can overcome them. “If you don’t know what your problem is, you don’t know what the solution is,” says Gifford.

Yet this approach can only work if people are prepared to acknowledge that they have a problem. But for those of us who understand that climate change is a problem yet make little effort to cut the number of overseas trips we make or the amount of meat we consume, neither apathy nor denial really explains the dissonance between our actions and beliefs. Lertzman has come to the conclusion that this is not because of apathy — a lack of feeling — but because of the simple fact that we care an overwhelming amount about both the planet and our way of life, and we find that conflict too painful to bear. Our apparent apathy is just a defense mechanism in the face of this psychic pain.

“We’re reluctant to come to terms with the fact that what we love and enjoy and what gives us a sense of who we are is also now bound up with the most unimaginable devastation,” says Lertzman. “When we don’t process the pain of that, that’s when we get stuck and can’t move forward.” Lertzman refers to this inability to mourn as “environmental melancholia,” and points to South Africa’s postapartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an example of how to effectively deal with this collective pain. “I’m not saying there should be one for climate or carbon, but there’s a lot to be said for providing a means for people to talk together about climate change, to make it socially acceptable to talk about it.”

Rosemary Randall, a trained psychotherapist, has organized something close to this. She runs the U.K.-based Carbon Conversations, a program that brings people together to talk in a group setting about ways of halving their personal carbon footprint. Writing in Aeon, an online magazine, Randall suggests that climate change is such a disturbing subject, that “like death, it can raise fears and anxieties that people feel have no place in polite conversation.” Randall acknowledges that while psychology and psychoanalysis aren’t the sole solutions to tackling climate change, “they do offer an important way of thinking about the problem.”

Lertzman says the mainstream climate-change community has been slow to register the value of psychology and social analysis in addressing global warming. “I think there’s a spark of some interest, but also a wariness of what this means, what it might look like,” she notes. Gifford says otherwise, however, explaining that he has never collaborated with other disciplines as much as he does now. “I may be a little biased because I’m invested in working in it, but in my view, climate change, and not mental health, is the biggest psychological problem we face today because it affects 100% of the global population.”

Despite the pain, shame, difficulty and minefield of other psychological barriers that we face in fully addressing climate change, both Lertzman and Gifford are still upbeat about our ability to face up to the challenge. “It’s patronizing to say that climate change is too big or abstract an issue for people to deal with,” says Lertzman. “There can’t be something about the human mind that stops us grappling with these issues given that so many people already are — maybe that’s what we should be focusing on instead.”

Read more:

Black Bloc: “Fazemos o que os outros não têm coragem de fazer” (Revista Fórum)

Eles afirmam não temer o confronto com a polícia e defendem a destruição de “alvos capitalistas”. Conheça a história e a forma de luta que se popularizou com o movimento antiglobalização e ganha destaque no Brasil

Esta matéria faz parte da edição 125 da revista Fórum.

Por Paulo Cezar Monteiro

20/08/2013 7:20 pm

“Os ativistas Black Bloc não são manifestantes, eles não estão lá para protestar. Eles estão lá para promover uma intervenção direta contra os mecanismos de opressão, suas ações são concebidas para causar danos às instituições opressivas.” É dessa forma que a estratégia de ação do grupo que vem ganhando notoriedade devido às manifestações no País é definida por um vídeo, divulgado pela página do Facebook “Black Bloc Brasil”, que explica parte das motivações e forma de pensar dos seus adeptos.

A ação, ou estratégia de luta, pode ser reconhecida em grupos de pessoas vestidas de preto, com máscaras ou faixas cobrindo os rostos. Durante os protestos, eles andam sempre juntos e, usualmente, atacam de maneira agressiva bancos, grandes corporações ou qualquer outro símbolo das instituições Eles afirmam não temer o confronto com a polícia e defendem a destruição de “alvos capitalistas”. Conheça a história e a forma de luta que se popularizou com o movimento antiglobalização e ganha destaque no Brasil “capitalistas e opressoras”, além de, caso julguem necessário, resistirem ou contra-atacarem intervenções policiais.

Devido ao atual ciclo de protestos de rua, o Black Bloc entrou no centro do debate político nacional. Parte das análises e opiniões classifica as suas ações como “vandalismo” ou “violência gratuita”, e também são recorrentes as críticas ao anonimato produzido pelas máscaras ou panos cobrindo a face dos adeptos. Mas o Black Bloc não é uma organização ou entidade. Leo Vinicius, autor do livro Urgência das ruas – Black Bloc, Reclaim the Streets e os Dias de Ação Global, da Conrad, (sob o pseudônimo Ned Ludd), a define o como uma forma de agir, orientada por procedimentos e táticas, que podem ser usados para defesa ou ataque em uma manifestação pública.


Zuleide Silva (nome fictício), anarquista e adepta do Black Bloc no Ceará, frisa que eles têm como alvo as “instituições corporativas” e tentam defender os manifestantes fora do alcance das ações repressoras da polícia. “Fazemos o que os manifestantes não têm coragem de fazer. Botamos nossa cara a tapa por todo mundo”, afirma.

O jornalista e estudioso de movimentos anarquistas, Jairo Costa, no artigo “A tática Black Bloc”, publicado na Revista Mortal, lembra que o Black Bloc surgiu na Alemanha, na década de 1980, como uma forma utilizada por autonomistas e anarquistas para defenderem os squats (ocupações) e as universidades de ações da polícia e ataques de grupos nazistas e fascistas. “O Black Bloc foi resultado da busca emergencial por novas táticas de combate urbano contra as forças policiais e grupos nazifascistas. Diferentemente do que muitos pensam, o Black Bloc não é um tipo de organização anarquista, ONG libertária ou coisa parecida, é uma ação de guerrilha urbana”, contextualiza Costa.

De acordo com um dos “documentos informativos” disponíveis na página do Facebook, alguns dos elementos que os caracterizam são a horizontalidade interna, a ausência de lideranças, a autonomia para decidir onde e como agir, além da solidariedade entre os integrantes. Atualmente, há registros, por exemplo, de forças de ação Black Bloc nas recentes manifestações e levantes populares no Egito.

Manifestantes se reúnem em rua do Leblon, no Rio de Janeiro, próximos à casa do governador Sérgio Cabral (Foto: Mídia Ninja)

Black Bloc no Brasil

Para Leo Vinicius, é um “pouco surpreendente” que essa estratégia de manifestação urbana, bastante difundida ao redor do mundo, tenha demorado a chegar por aqui. “Essa forma de agir em protestos e manifestações ganhou muito destaque dentro dos movimentos antiglobalização, na virada da década de 1990 para 2000. Não é uma forma de ação política realmente nova”. No Brasil, existem páginas do movimento de quase todas as capitais e grandes cidades, a maior parte delas criadas durante o período de proliferação dos protestos. A maior é a Black Bloc Brasil, com quase 35 mil seguidores, seguida pela Black Bloc–RJ, com quase 20 mil membros.

A respeito da relação com o anarquismo, Vinicius faz uma ressalva. É preciso deixar claro que a noção de que “toda ação Black Bloc é feita por anarquistas e que todos anarquistas fazem Black Bloc” é falsa. “A história do Black Bloc tem uma ligação com o anarquismo, mas outras correntes como os autonomistas, comunistas e mesmo independentes também participavam. Nunca foi algo exclusivo do anarquismo. Na prática, o Black Bloc, por se tratar de uma estratégia de operação, pode ser utilizado até por movimentos da direita”, explica o escritor.

Para alguns ativistas, o processo de aceitação das manifestações de rua, feito pela grande mídia e por parte do público, de certa forma impôs que, para serem considerados legítimos, os protestos deveriam seguir um padrão: pacífico, organizado, com cartazes e faixas bem feitas e em perfeito acordo com as leis. Vinicius demonstra certa preocupação com a possibilidade do fortalecimento da ideia de que essa forma “pacífica” seja vista como o único meio possível ou legítimo de protestar. Ele afirma que não entende como violenta a ação Black Bloc de quebrar uma vidraça ou se defender de uma ação policial excessiva. “A violência é um conceito bastante subjetivo. Por isso, não dá pra taxar qualquer ato como violento, é preciso contextualizá-lo, entender as motivações por trás de cada gesto”, avalia.

Para ele, a eficácia de uma manifestação está em saber articular bem formas de ação “pacíficas” e “não pacíficas”. Foi esse equilíbrio, analisa, que fez com que o Movimento Passe Livre – São Paulo (MPL-SP) barrasse o aumento da tarifa na capital paulista. “Só com faixas e cartazes a tarifa não teria caído”, atesta. “Quem tem o poder político nas mãos só cede a uma reivindicação pelo medo, por sentir que as coisas podem sair da rotina, de que ele pode perder o controle do Estado”, sentencia.

Por outro lado, Vinicius alerta que é preciso perceber os limites para evitar que as ações mais “radicais” façam com que o movimento seja criminalizado ou se isole da sociedade e, com isso, perca o potencial de realizar qualquer mudança. Em sua obra, faz a seguinte definição daqueles que adotam a estratégia Black Bloc: “Eles praticam uma desobediência civil ativa e ação direta, afastando assim a política do teatro virtual perfeitamente doméstico, dentro do qual [a manifestação política tradicional] permanece encerrada. Os BB não se contentam com simples desfiles contestatórios, certamente importantes pela sua carga simbólica, mas incapazes de verdadeiramente sacudir a ordem das coisas”, aponta.

Outra crítica recorrente é o fato de os BB usarem máscaras ou panos para cobrirem os rostos. Os adeptos da ação explicam que as máscaras são um meio de proteger suas identidades para “evitar a perseguição policial” e outras formas de criminalização, como também criar um “sentimento de unidade” e impedir o surgimento de um “líder carismático”.

Luta antiglobalização

Com o passar do tempo, segundo Jairo Costa, as táticas Black Bloc passaram a ser reconhecidas como um meio de expressar a ira anticapitalista. Ele explica que geralmente as ações são planejadas para acontecer durante grandes manifestações de movimentos de esquerda.

O estudioso destaca como um dos momentos mais significativos da história Black Bloc a chamada “Batalha de Seattle”, em 1999, contra uma rodada de negociações da Organização Mundial do Comércio (OMC). Em 30 de novembro daquele ano, após uma tarde de confrontos com as forças policiais, uma frente móvel de black blockers conseguiu quebrar o isolamento criado entre os manifestantes e o centro comercial da cidade. Após vencer o cerco policial, os manifestantes promoveram a destruição de várias propriedades, limusines e viaturas policiais, e fizeram várias pichações com a mensagem “Zona Autônoma Temporária”. Estimativas apontam prejuízos de 10 milhões de dólares, além de centenas de feridos e 68 prisões.

Para Costa, um dos episódios mais impactantes – e duros – da história Black Bloc foi o assassinato de Carlo Giuliani, jovem anarquista de 23 anos, durante a realização simultânea do Fórum Social de Gênova e a reunião do G8 (Grupo dos oito países mais ricos), na Itália, em julho de 2001. Ele lembra que, após vários confrontos violentos – alguns deles vencidos pelos manifestantes, que chegaram a provocar a fuga dos policiais, que deixaram carros blindados para trás –, ocorreu o episódio que levou à morte de Giuliani.
“Ele partiu para cima de um carro de polícia tentando atirar nele um extintor de incêndio. Muitos fotógrafos estavam por lá e seus registros falam por si. Ao se aproximar do carro, Giuliani é atingido por dois tiros, um na cabeça. E, numa cena macabra, o carro da polícia dá marcha a ré e atropela-o várias vezes”, narra. Os assassinos de Carlo Giuliani não foram condenados. Dois anos após o fato, a Justiça italiana considerou que a ação policial se deu como “reação legítima” ao comportamento do militante.

Alvos capitalistas

Entre as formas de ação direta do Black Bloc destacam-se os ataques aos chamados “alvos simbólicos do capital”, que incluem joalherias, lanchonetes norte-americanas ou ainda a depredação de instituições oficiais e empresas multinacionais. Costa explica que essas ações “não têm como objetivo atingir pessoas, mas bens de capital”.

Zuleide justifica a destruição praticada contra multinacionais ou outros símbolos capitalistas, porque elas seriam mecanismo de “exploração e exclusão das pessoas”. “Queremos que esses meios que oprimem e desrespeitam um ser humano se explodam, vão embora, morram. Trabalhar dez horas por dia para não ganhar nada, isso é o que nos enfurece. Por isso, nossas ações diretas a eles, porque queremos causar prejuízos, para que percebam que há pessoas que rejeitam aquilo e que lutam pela população”, explica.

Ela reconhece que essas ações diretas podem deixá-los “mal vistos” na sociedade, já que há pessoas que pensam: “Droga, não vou poder mais comer no ***** porque destruíram tudo”. Porém, Zuleide afirma que o trabalhador, explorado por essas corporações, “adoraria fazer o que nós fazemos”, mas, por ter família para sustentar e contas a pagar, não faz. “Esse é mais um dos motivos que nos fazem do jeito que somos”, pontua.

Vinicius explica que, nas “ações diretas”, os black blockers atacam bens particulares por considerarem que “a propriedade privada – principalmente a propriedade privada corporativa – é em si própria muito mais violenta do que qualquer ação que possa ser tomada contra ela”. Quebrar vitrines de lojas, por exemplo, teria como função destruir “feitiços” criados pela ideologia capitalista. Esses “feitiços” seriam meios de “embalar o esquecimento” de todas as violências cometidas “em nome do direito de propriedade privada” e de “todo o potencial de uma sociedade sem ela [as vitrines]”.

Sem violência?

Em praticamente todas as manifestações, independentemente das causas e dos organizadores, tornou-se comum o grito: “Sem violência! Sem violência!”, que tinha como destinatários os policiais que, teoricamente, entenderiam o caráter “pacifista” do ato. Também seria uma tentativa de coibir a ação de “vândalos” ou “baderneiros”, que perceberiam não contar com o apoio do restante da massa.

Zuleide reconhece que, inicialmente, a ação Black Bloc era alvo desses gritos, mas, segundo ela, quando as pessoas entendem a forma como eles atuam, isso muda. “Os manifestantes perceberam que o Estado não iria nos deixar falar, nos deixar reivindicar algo, e começaram a nos reprimir. Quando há confronto [com a polícia], nós os ajudamos retardando a movimentação policial ou tirando eles de situações que ofereçam perigo, e alguns perceberam isso”, afirma.

Apesar de os confrontos com policiais não serem uma novidade durante as suas ações, os adeptos afirmam não ter como objetivo atacar policiais. Contudo, outro documento intitulado “Manifesto Black Bloc” deixa claro que, caso a polícia assuma um caráter “opressor ou repressor”, ela se torna, automaticamente, uma “inimiga”.

No “Manual de Ação Direta – Black Bloc”, também disponível na internet, a desobediência civil é definida como “a não aceitação” de uma regra, lei ou decisão imposta, “que não faça sentido e para não se curvar a quem a impõe. É este o princípio da desobediência civil, violenta ou não”. Entre as possibilidades de desobediência civil são citadas, por exemplo, a não aceitação da proibição da polícia que a manifestação siga por determinado caminho, a resistência à captura de algum manifestante ou, ainda, a tentativa de resgatar alguém detido pelos policiais.

Também são ensinadas táticas para resistir a gás lacrimogêneo, sprays de pimenta e outras formas de ação policial, além de dicas de primeiros socorros e direitos legais dos manifestantes. De acordo com o documento, as orientações desse manual tratam apenas da desobediência civil “não violenta”.

Outra orientação é que seja definido, antes da manifestação, se a desobediência civil será “violenta” ou “não violenta”. Caso se opte pela ação ‘não violenta’, essa decisão deve ser respeitada por todos, visto que não cumprir o combinado pode pôr “em risco” outros companheiros, além de ser um sinal de “desrespeito”.

Contudo, o mesmo manual deixa claro que o que “eles fazem conosco” todos os dias é uma violência, sendo assim, “a desobediência violenta é uma reação a isso e, portanto, não é gratuita, como eles tentam fazer parecer”.

Uma breve história

1980: O termo Black Bloc (Schwarzer Block) é usado pela primeira vez pela polícia alemã, como
forma de identificar grupos de esquerda na época denominados “autônomos, ou autonomistas”, que lutavam contra a repressão policial aos squats (ocupações).

1986: Fundada, em Hamburgo (Alemanha), a liga autonomista Black Bloc 1500, para defender o Hafenstrasse Squat.

1987: Anarquistas vestidos com roupas pretas protestam em Berlim Ocidental, por ocasião da presença de Ronald Reagan, então presidente dos EUA, na cidade.

1988: Em Berlim Ocidental, o Black Bloc confronta-se com a polícia durante uma manifestação
contra a reunião do Banco Mundial e o Fundo Monetário Internacional (FMI).

1992: Em São Francisco (EUA), na ocasião do 500º aniversário da descoberta da América por Cristóvão Colombo, o Black Bloc manifesta-se contra o genocídio de povos nativos das Américas.

1999: Seattle contra a Organização Mundial do Comércio (OMC). Estima-se em 500 o número de integrantes do Black Bloc que destruíram o centro econômico da cidade.

2000: Em Washington, durante reunião do FMI e Banco Mundial, cerca de mil black blockers anticapitalistas saíram às ruas e enfrentaram a polícia.

2000: Em Praga (República Tcheca), forma-se um dos maiores Black Blocs que se tem notícia, durante a reunião do FMI. Cerca de 3 mil anarquistas lutam contra a polícia tcheca.

2001: Quebec (Canadá). Membros do Black Bloc
são acusados de agredir um policial durante uma marcha pela paz nas ruas de Quebec. Após esse evento, a população local e vários manifestantes de esquerda distanciaram-se da tática Black Bloc e de seus métodos extremos.

2001: A cidade de Gênova (Itália), ao mesmo tempo, recebeu a cúpula do G8 e realizou o Fórum Social de Gênova, com um grande número de Black blockers, além de aproximadamente de 200 mil ativistas. A ação ficou marcada pela violenta morte do jovem Carlo Giuliani, de 23 anos.

2007: Em Heiligendamm (Alemanha), reunião do G8 foi alvo de uma ação com a participação de cerca de 5 mil blackblockers . Mobilização Black Bloc de cerca de 5.000 pessoas

2010: Toronto (Canadá), na reunião do G20. Neste confronto, mais de 500 manifestantes foram presos e dezenas de outros ativistas foram parar em hospitais com inúmeras fraturas.

2013: Cairo (Egito). O Black Bloc aparece com forte atuação nos protestos da Praça Tahir, no combate e resistência ao exército do então presidente Hosni Mubarak.

Fonte: Artigo “A Tática Black Bloc”, escrito por Jairo Costa, na Revista Mortal, 2010

LSD and Other Psychedelics Not Linked With Mental Health Problems (Science Daily)

Aug. 19, 2013 — The use of LSD, magic mushrooms, or peyote does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 130,000 randomly chosen people, including 22,000 people who had used psychedelics at least once.

Researchers found no link between the use of psychedelic drugs and a range of mental health problems. Instead they found some significant associations between the use of psychedelic drugs and fewer mental health problems. (Credit: © Zerbor / Fotolia)

Researcher Teri Krebs and clinical psychologist Pål-Ørjan Johansen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Neuroscience, used data from a US national health survey to see what association there was, if any, between psychedelic drug use and mental health problems.

The authors found no link between the use of psychedelic drugs and a range of mental health problems. Instead they found some significant associations between the use of psychedelic drugs and fewer mental health problems.

The results are published in the journal PLOS ONE and are freely available online after 19 August.

Symptoms and mental health treatment considered

The researchers relied on data from the 2001-2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in which participants were asked about mental health treatment and symptoms of a variety of mental health conditions over the past year. The specific symptoms examined were general psychological distress, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and psychosis.

Armed with this information, Krebs and Johansen were able to examine if there were any associations between psychedelic use and general or specific mental health problems. They found none.

“After adjusting for other risk factors, lifetime use of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or peyote, or past year use of LSD was not associated with a higher rate of mental health problems or receiving mental health treatment,” says Johansen.

Could psychedelics be healthy for you?

The researchers found that lifetime use of psilocybin or mescaline and past year use of LSD were associated with lower rates of serious psychological distress. Lifetime use of LSD was also significantly associated with a lower rate of outpatient mental health treatment and psychiatric medicine prescription.

The design of the study makes it impossible to determine exactly why the researchers found what they found.

“We cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others,” they wrote.

Nevertheless, “recent clinical trials have also failed to find any evidence of any lasting harmful effects of psychedelics,” the researchers said, which supports the robustness of the PLOS ONE findings.

In fact, says Krebs, “many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics.”

“Other studies have found no evidence of health or social problems among people who had used psychedelics hundreds of times in legally-protected religious ceremonies,” adds Johansen.

What’s the bottom line on psychedelic use?

Psychedelics are different than most other recreational drugs. Experts agree that psychedelics do not cause addiction or compulsive use, and they are not known to harm the brain.

When evaluating psychedelics, as with any activity, it is important to take an objective view of all the evidence and avoid being biased by anecdotal stories either of harm or benefit, the researchers say.

“Everything has some potential for negative effects, but psychedelic use is overall considered to pose a very low risk to the individual and to society,” Johansen says, “Psychedelics can elicit temporary feelings of anxiety and confusion, but accidents leading to serious injury are extremely rare.”

“Early speculation that psychedelics might lead to mental health problems was based on a small number of case reports and did not take into account either the widespread use of psychedelics or the not infrequent rate of mental health problems in the general population,” Krebs explains.

“Over the past 50 years tens of millions of people have used psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of long-term problems,” she concludes.

Both researchers were supported by the Research Council of Norway.

Journal Reference:

  1. Teri S. Krebs, Pål-Ørjan Johansen. Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population StudyPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (8): e63972 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063972

World’s oldest temple built to worship the dog star (New Scientist)

16 August 2013 by Anil Ananthaswamy
Magazine issue 2930

THE world’s oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.

The original star sign? <i>(Image: Vincent J. Musi/ National Geographic Stock)</i>

The original star sign? (Image: Vincent J. Musi/ National Geographic Stock)

The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring (see illustration).

Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.

“We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements,” says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.

But it is still anybody’s guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.

Magli simulated what the sky would have looked like from Turkey when Göbekli Tepe was built. Over millennia, the positions of the stars change due to Earth wobbling as it spins on its axis. Stars that are near the horizon will rise and set at different points, and they can even disappear completely, only to reappear thousands of years later.

Today, Sirius can be seen almost worldwide as the brightest star in the sky – excluding the sun – and the fourth brightest night-sky object after the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Sirius is so noticeable that its rising and setting was used as the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, says Magli. At the latitude of Göbekli Tepe, Sirius would have been below the horizon until around 9300 BC, when it would have suddenly popped into view.

“I propose that the temple was built to follow the ‘birth’ of this star,” says Magli. “You can imagine that the appearance of a new object in the sky could even have triggered a new religion.”

Using existing maps of Göbekli Tepe and satellite images of the region, Magli drew an imaginary line running between and parallel to the two megaliths inside each enclosure. Three of the excavated rings seem to be aligned with the points on the horizon where Sirius would have risen in 9100 BC, 8750 BC and 8300 BC, respectively (

The results are preliminary, Magli stresses. More accurate calculations will need a full survey using instruments such as a theodolite, a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Also, the sequence in which the structures were built is unclear, so it is hard to say if rings were built to follow Sirius as it rose at different points along the horizon.

Ongoing excavations might rule out any astronomical significance, says Jens Notroff, also at DAI. “We are still discussing whether the monumental enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were open or roofed,” he says. “In the latter case, any activity regarding monitoring the sky would, of course, have been rather difficult.”

This article appeared in print under the headline “Stone Age temple tracked the dog star”

The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)


June 14, 2010

A Special Issue of Cultural Anthropology

Edited by Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich

In the November 2010 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich explore how creatures previously appearing on the margins of anthropology — as part of the landscape, as food for humans, as symbols — have been pressed into the foreground in recent ethnographies.  Multispecies ethnographers are studying the host of organisms whose lives and deaths are linked to human social worlds. A project allied with Eduardo Kohn’s “anthropology of life”—“an anthropology that is not just confined to the human but is concerned with the effects of our entanglements with other kinds of living selves” (2007:4)—multispecies ethnography centers on how a multitude of organisms’ livelihoods shape and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces.

“Becomings”—new kinds of relations emerging from nonhierarchical alliances, symbiotic attachments, and the mingling of creative agents (cf. Deleuze and Guattari 1987:241–242)—abound in this chronicle of the emergence of multispecies ethnography, and in the essays in this collection.“The idea of becoming transforms types into events, objects into actions,” writes contributor Celia Lowe.

The work of Donna Haraway also provides one key starting point for the “species turn” in anthropology: “If we appreciate the foolishness of human exceptionalism,” she writes in When Species Meet, “then we know that becoming is always becoming with—in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake” (2008:244).

Anna Tsing’s scholarship also provides a charter for multispecies ethnographers.  In an forthcoming essay, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species”, she suggests that “human nature is an interspecies relationship” (Tsing n.d.; see Haraway 2008:19).  Displacing studies of animal behavior used by social conservatives and sociobiologists to naturalize autocratic and militaristic ideologies, Tsing began studying mushrooms to imagine a human nature that shifted historically along with varied webs of interspecies dependence. Searching familiar places in the parklands of northern California for mushrooms—looking for the orange folds of chanterelles or the warm muffins of king boletes—she discovered a world of mutually flourishing companions. Aspiring to mimic the “mycorrhizal sociality” of mushrooms, Tsing formed the Matsutake Worlds Research Group—an ethnographic research team centered on matsutake, an aromatic gourmet mushroom in the genus Tricholoma, a “species cluster.” Following the matsutake mushroom through commodity chains in Europe, North America, and East Asia, this group has experimented with new modes of collaborative ethnographic research while studying scale-making and multispecies relations.

Multispecies ethnography has emerged with the activity of a swarm, a network with no center to dictate order, populated by “a multitude of different creative agents” (Hardt and Negri 2005:92). The Multispecies Salon — a series of panels, round tables, and events in art galleries held at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (in 2006 and 2008) — was one place, among many others, where this swarm alighted. In November the Multispecies Salon will travel to New Orleans.  Here, at the 2010 AAA meetings, a lively group of interlocutors—wild artists and para-ethnographers—will come together to discuss the multispecies zeitgeist that is sweeping the social sciences and the humanities.


Eben Kirksey, “Untitled.” April 6, 2010.


The “Twins,” a chimerical pair of grubs with wings, graces the cover of the November 2010 issue of Cultural Anthropology. This ceramic piece was created by Marnia Johnston, who joined Eben Kirksey in curating the Multispecies Salon.  Only adult insects have wings. Their juvenile forms, larvae, do not. “Humans are acquiring adult characteristics, such as breasts, at an early age,” Johnston told us. “Endocrine disrupting chemicals, like Bovine Growth Hormone,” she continued, “are working on the bodies of humans and multiple other species. I want people to think about how our chemical dependencies change us and the world we live in.”

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. What were the Science Wars?  What distinguishes emerging conversations about nature and culture in anthropology from this earlier historical moment?

2. What does anthropos mean?  As the facts of life are being remade by the biosciences, what is anthropos becoming?

3. In the Anthropocene, a new epoch in Earth’s history, are there elements of nature that exist outside of culture?

About the Authors

Eben Kirksey is a cultural anthropologist at the CUNY Graduate Center who studies the political dimensions of imagination as well as the interplay of natural and cultural history.  As a graduate student at the University of Oxford, and UC Santa Cruz, he published four articles in peer-reviewed journals and two chapters in edited books on these themes.  His doctoral dissertation and first book, “Freedom in Entangled Worlds”, is about an indigenous political movement in West Papua, the half of New Guinea under Indonesian control (forthcoming 2011).  As a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow (2008-2010), he conducted an ethnography of place at multiple biological research stations in Latin America.  Following the movement of people and organisms—across national borders and through a fragmented landscape—he studied oblique powers at play in global assemblages.

Stefan Helmreich has worked as a Postdoctoral Associate in Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University, an External Faculty Fellow at the Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture at Rutgers University, and as Assistant Professor of Science and Society at New York University. The National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation have funded his research. Helmreich’s research examines the works and lives of contemporary biologists puzzling through the conceptual boundaries of “life” as a category of analysis. He has written extensively on Artificial Life, most notably in Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998), which in 2001 won the Diana Forsythe Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. His latest book, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009), is a study of marine biologists working in realms usually out of sight and reach: the microscopic world, the deep sea, and oceans outside national sovereignty.

The Multispecies Salon 3: SWARM

An Innovent panel at the AAA Meeting in New Orleans

Get Involved: CFP

Call for Papers: from Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren

Editors’ Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of essay that map new directions in anthropology, including George Marcus’s “The End(s) of Ethnography: Social/Cultural Anthropology’s Signature Form of Producing Knowledge in Transition” (2008); Michael M. J. Fischer’s “Four Genealogies for a Recombinant Anthropology of Science and Technology” (2007); Daniel Segal’s “Editor’s Note: On Anthropology and/in/of Science”(2001); and Gary Lee Downey, Joseph Dumit, and Sarah Williams’s “Cyborg Anthropology” (1995).

Cultural Anthropology has also published essays on art and/as cultural analysis. See Kenneth George’s “Ethics, Iconoclasm, and Qur’anic Art in Indonesia” (2009), and Liam Buckley’s “Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive” (2005).

Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action (Places)


The Design Observer Group

Occupy Wall Street digital activity timeline
Occupy Wall Street activity online. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

For nine weeks last fall crowds gathered every evening at the eastern end of Zuccotti Park, where a shallow crescent of stairs creates a modest amphitheater, to form the New York City General Assembly. A facilitator reviewed rules for prioritizing speakers and gestures by which participants could signal agreement or dissent. Over two hours or more, they worked through issues of common concern — every word repeated by the assembly, which formed a human microphone amplifying the speaker’s voice — until they reached consensus.

Such was the daily practice of Occupy Wall Street, paralleled in more than a thousand cities around the world. Participants borrowed tactics from Quaker meetings, Latin American popular assemblies, Spanish acampadas, and other traditions of protest and political organization. They also enacted something foundational to the western democratic tradition: constituting a polity as a group of speaking bodies gathered in a central public place.

At the same time, another crowd assembled in a range of online spaces. Moving between the physical and the virtual, participants navigated a hypercity built of granite and asphalt, algorithms and information, appropriating its platforms and creating new structures within it. As they posted links, updates, photos and videos on social media sites; as they deliberated in chat rooms and collaborated on crowdmaps; as they took to the streets with smartphones, occupiers tested the parameters of this multiply mediated world.

What is the layout of this place? What are its codes and protocols? Who owns it? How does its design condition opportunities for individual and collective action? Looking closely at these questions, we learn something about the possibilities for public life and political action created at the intersection of urban places and online spaces.

Top: Occupiers camp in Liberty Plaza as news vans line up across the street. Middle: Detail of#OccupyMap. Bottom: Occupy coordinators meet in the atrium of 60 Wall Street. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

Occupying the Public Square 
Zuccotti Park — or Liberty Plaza — was the site not only of General Assembly but also of the bustling camp that materialized and sustained the occupation. As architects, we were fascinated by the intensive use of this privately owned public space. As citizens, we were inspired by the movement’s critique of the U.S. political system and its experiment with alternate forms of social organization. After the arrest of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, Jonathan began visiting Liberty Plaza and occasionally participating in rallies. Brett tracked the movement’s use of new media to expose inequalities in wealth distribution. Jonathan enlisted friends to survey and document the encampment, while Brett developed an interactive project, Public Space 2.0, that linked Occupy to broader questions about public space. Following the eviction of occupiers in New York and other cities, we decided to collaborate on a project examining the spatial and social organization of Liberty Plaza.

In the tradition of urban demonstrations and sit-ins, the camp claimed a prominent and symbolically charged city space in order to call attention to a political cause. It provided logistical support as the first day of protest extended into a two-month occupation. It gave visitors a point of entry into the movement and its ideas. Moreover, it prefigured in microcosm the alternative polity desired by many participants, modeling and testing modes of self-organization partly autonomous from those provided by the state and the market.

As such, it embodied one of the defining tensions of Occupy Wall Street: between the aims of protest and prefiguration. [1] One reason for claiming Liberty Plaza was to command the attention of the public and the state. Indeed, the blog post that sparked the movement, by the Canadian magazine Adbusters, urged activists to create “a Tahrir moment” by insistently repeating “one simple demand” akin to the call for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. [2] But some of the New York activists who planned the occupation pursued a vision of autonomous self-organization and self-government informed by anarchist principles. Occupiers refused to formulate their objectives as political demands, even though doing so might have strengthened their grip on the public imagination. Instead of a unified plea to elected representatives, broadcast from a central square, Occupy yielded a polyphony of discussions in the agoras of the hypercity.

Occupy Wall Street police observation tower
Top: Occupiers in mid-October. Bottom: NYPD Skywatch portable surveillance tower. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

From its founding on September 17, 2011, the occupation traced contours of regulation and control. Its location, design and construction limned the legal, juridical and police affordances of New York’s public realm, revealing the constraints placed on people assembling to form a counterpublic — a public operating according to practices distinct from those of the mainstream. [3] The declared site of the first protest, carnival, and General Assembly was Chase Manhattan Plaza, but occupiers arrived to find the corporate space closed off by barricades and patrolled by police. Prior General Assemblies had been held in New York public parks and squares, but organizers knew the city tightly controlled those spaces by requiring permits, enforcing nighttime closures and barricading areas. The use of city sidewalks was also curtailed. Bloombergville, a sidewalk encampment near City Hall, had survived for three weeks in July, but a test camp-out on Wall Street on September 1 had been broken up by police. [4] When demonstrators found Chase Plaza closed, they moved to the privately-owned Zuccotti Park, three blocks away, claiming the space with signs, megaphones, sleeping bags and blankets.

The following weeks confirmed that the state would use police control to assert its hegemony over the terms of public assembly and discourse. When protesters crossed the border of Liberty Plaza onto city streets or squares, they encountered “order maintenance policing,” a euphemistic directive that empowers New York police to intervene in public events irrespective of criminal action. Over the past 15 years, the NYPD has expanded the practice to assert control over parades, festivals and rallies, often arresting participants for “disorderly conduct” and releasing them without charge. [5] Under this vague authority, NYPD limited the range and duration of Occupy demonstrations and tightly controlled their internal dynamics through barricades, kettling and arrests.

And yet Occupy Wall Street showed that possibilities foreclosed on private and public land could be actualized in the liminal territory of the city’s privately owned public spaces(POPS) — plazas, arcades and other spaces built by real estate developers in return for density bonuses under the terms of the 1961 Zoning Resolution. [6] The occupation of Zuccotti Park was made possible by ambiguities in the POPS system, which has created places where the city government must negotiate authority with corporate owners as well as site occupants. Even so, the city intervened in the camp’s internal organization and operation: fire marshals prohibited tents and other structures in the early weeks; they removed generators as the weather grew cold in late October; and, shortly after midnight on November 15, police forcibly cleared the park.

Zuccotti Park after eviction of protestors
Top: The planned site of the September 17 protest, Chase Manhattan Plaza, was barricaded at the request of its corporate owners. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Police patrol Zuccotti Park on November 15 after evicting protesters. [Photo by Jonathan Massey]

During the two-month occupation, protesters rewrote the social and spatial codes that had determined use of the block for decades. Created in the late 1960s as a POPS concession linked to the construction of One Liberty Plaza, the park was rebuilt by new owners Brookfield Properties in 2006 to a design by Cooper Robertson & Partners that serves downtown office workers by encouraging passive recreations like lunch and chess while discouraging active ones like cycling and skateboarding. In a related feature on Places, we look more closely at the Cooper Robertson design and its transformation into the Liberty Plaza encampment.

Stepping partially outside state and market systems, occupiers created their own structures for discussion and governance; for provision of daily services; for medical care and sacred space; for music, dance and art. Some aspects of this counterpublic resembled the exhilarating, liberatory “Temporary Autonomous Zones” described by anarchist writer Hakim Bey. [7] Others were pragmatic, even bureaucratic. Within days, working groups resembling urban agencies — dedicated to issues like Comfort, Medical, Kitchen, Library, Sanitation and Security — created a series of nodes or workstations that cut diagonally across the park. They appropriated design elements such as retaining walls, benches and tables to define functional zones.

In overlaying the permanent landscape of the park with new activities and installations, the occupation created what anthropologist Tim Ingold calls a “taskscape”: a topography of related activities deployed in space and changing over time. [8] Through their patterns of spatial appropriation, occupiers responded to the asymmetries of the park — its slope, the priority of Broadway relative to Trinity Place, and the more favorable sun and wind exposures available in the northeast corner — by programming the plaza along a gradient. Running from north and east to south and west, this gradient shaded from public to private, mind to body, waking to sleeping, and reason to faith. Outreach/Media/Legal claimed the location that afforded the most shelter and the best sun exposure while also being situated far from the noise and dust of the World Trade Center construction site.

Kitchen compost station and The People’s Library. [Photos by Jonathan Massey]

On the austere geometry of a tasteful corporate plaza, just under 33,000 square feet, the occupation created an entire world in which you could meditate, change your wardrobe, update your blog, cook lentils, read a book, sweep up litter, bandage a wound, bang a drum, roll a cigarette, debate how best to challenge corporate hegemony, make art, wash dishes and have sex, usually in the company of others.  The square teemed with friends and strangers, allies and antagonists; it was intensely public and interactive. Daily activities were saturated with a talky sociability in which the challenges and opportunities of every action, every decision, were open to reinterpretation and negotiation. At any moment, the call of “Mic check!” could ring out across the camp, obligating participants to drop personal conversations and become part of a communal discourse. The act of chanting in unison, as a human microphone, created a common sense of purpose, established relationships among neighbors and intensified awareness of surrounding bodies.

This new world could feel exhilarating and inspiring but also threatening and claustral. It was crowded. It was charged with strong emotions. Its core members were working hard, and they were often tired. On top of reforming global capitalism, they had to handle fights, thefts, drug use and sexual assaults, while operating under the strain of official hostility, police surveillance, constant interaction with supportive and hostile visitors, and weather. Radical openness and participatory self-government proved taxing. As the occupation stretched from days into weeks and months, participants took shelter from cold, rain and snow in tents and tarps. The plaza became more internalized and lost some of its intense sociability.

The functional zoning also reinforced sociological differences in the camp. Many of the most active members identified themselves as coordinators or occupiers. These groups were not mutually exclusive, but they gravitated toward spaces in separate ends of the park.Coordinators, who facilitated discussions and posted on blogs, often spent nights at home, while occupiers put their bodies on the line by living and sleeping in the park. A spatial gradient emerged, with occupiers’ tents clustered toward the western end. Not surprisingly, these constituencies were marked by differences in class, education level, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. The Daily Show even aired a skit about the differences, using “uptown” and “downtown” to describe the two ends of the park. [9]

Occupy Wall Street Sanitation Workstation

Top: Sanitation workstation. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom: Liberty Plaza Site Map drawn by Occupy participant on October 10. Click image to enlarge. [Map by Jake Deg]

Organizers worked hard to build the institutions needed to sustain the micro-city, but its autonomy was inherently limited; the camp was shaped by its adjacencies to the social, commercial and political networks of Lower Manhattan and the Financial District. Businesses provided restrooms. Sympathetic unions made facilities available. Organizations lent kitchen and office space. Individuals donated money, books, clothing and food. Murray Bergtraum High School opened its auditorium to meetings of the OWS Spokescouncil. A local government authority, Manhattan Community Board 1, mediated among protesters, neighborhood residents, Brookfield Properties and city officials in discussions about drum noise and other issues where order maintenance was enforced through claims about “quality of life.”

These interactions extended the spatial and social gradients of Liberty Plaza across a broader urban geography. Dozens of working groups met in the enclosed atrium at 60 Wall Street, a privately owned public space at the base of an office tower built by J.P. Morgan and currently occupied by Deutsche Bank. In that large room, designed by Roche and Dinkeloo and clad in marble and mirror and decorated with palm trees and postmodern grottoes, they shared space with chess-players and well-heeled denizens of the Financial District. From morning to night they used the tables, benches, chairs and wifi of the climate-controlled space as a purposeful, orderly extension of the eastern end of Liberty Plaza, establishing commuting patterns that figured 60 Wall as the Occupy office.

Occupying the Internet 
The Wall Street protests would not have materialized without extensive work by on-the-ground activists in New York. But it was the Adbusters blog post that gave the action a name and date. It also gave them #occupywallstreet, the first of thousands of #Occupy hashtags that enabled the spontaneous assembly of strangers on Twitter and other internet platforms. In the months leading up to the first occupation, and in the year afterward, Occupy established an online presence unmatched in the history of social action, leveraging multiple online spaces to stage protests and to generate a distinctive counter-public and alternative polity.

Top: Occupiers connect via laptops and smartphones from Liberty Plaza. [Photo by David Shankbone] Bottom: Instagram photo sent by Occupy activist: “Riding in a bus with 50 others, in cuffs writing this.” [Photo by pulseprotest]

In the United States, the internet was largely exempt from the state control and censorship that curtailed protest activity on the street, but it was inherently open to surveillance and imposed another set of exclusions based on access to online spaces and protocols. Its various platforms afforded ties that were both broader and weaker than those at Liberty Plaza. Discussions took place in specialized forums and channels quite unlike the multisensory, multiparticipatory assemblies, meetings, marches and rallies of the physical realm. From its inception, Occupy tested the capacities of the internet’s virtual spaces to sustain organizational activity, deliberative discourse and other kinds of public-making. [10]

As with the physical occupation, many online actions had precedent in earlier movements, from the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s to the Arab Spring of 2011. For years U.S. activists have used sites like Indymedia to distribute information and mobilize protest participation. [11] After posting its call to action, Adbusters sent word to its email distribution list and created a Facebook event, mobilizing a pre-existing network of followers. As one of the largest privately owned public spaces online, Facebook became a key platform for the Occupy movement. Facebook profiles such as OccupyWallSt,Gilded.Age and OccupyTogether, created in the weeks leading up to the first protest, provided broadly accessible channels for information. When individuals “liked” or commented on items in these newsfeeds, Occupy ideas propagated through user-generated social networks. Throughout the fall, members used the site’s text, link, note, and photo and video sharing features to endorse events and activities. [12]

During the groundwork phase, organizers also used open-source web-coding tools to create dedicated Occupy websites. The most important were, a Github site launched in mid-July as a clearinghouse and contact-point for the movement;, a WordPress site created a few weeks later to serve the New York City General Assembly and its working groups; and the blog These sites combined newsfeeds and social media links with manifestos, videos, crowdmaps and other resources, and they linked together other sites to create a sprawling landscape of information.

A selection of the more than 1600 posts submitted to the 99 Percent Project in October 2011.

In parallel, organizers tapped the internet’s capacity to build what sociologists Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call “e-movements”: politically effective campaigns that circulate in the media without necessarily coalescing into mass gatherings. Online tools provide immediate and inexpensive site design and back-end functionality, allowing organizations or individuals to launch awareness campaigns and other political actions that demand little money or time from participants. [13] One such tool for Occupy activists was the image-based microblogging site Tumblr. In late summer, the 99 Percent Project invited people to “get known” as part of a majority disenfranchised by the super-rich. Under the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” the image blog featured self-portraits of working- and middle-class Americans holding handwritten signs or letters describing the circumstances of their indebtedness. The project called attention to the rise in income inequality and helpedpopularize the rhetoric of “the 99 percent.” [14] After September 17, it became an online analogue to Liberty Plaza, enabling a geographically dispersed set of participants to join the occupation of Wall Street and forging a common consciousness about debt and disenfranchisement. The self-portraits were often shot at a computer desk with a webcam, and overwhelmingly they were set in domestic interiors like living rooms, dens and bedrooms. But the handwritten signs pointed to a world outside those walls, evoking the signs of the homeless explaining their misfortunes and asking for help, as well as the signs of protesters bearing expressions of solidarity and calls to action. [15]

Global crowdmap on the Ushahidi platform. [Screenshot by the authors]

Contours of the Hypercity 
In the summer of 2011, before the first protesters had set foot in Liberty Plaza, the Occupy movement was evolving toward a model of General Assembly that hybridized online and offline discourse. While street activists in New York were practicing consensus decision-making in public parks, online participants were responding to a poll Adbusters created using Facebook’s “question” function: “What is our one demand?” Answers included abolishing capitalism, demilitarizing the police, legalizing marijuana, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and freeing the unicorns. (The winner was “Revoke Corporate Personhood.”) Through this asynchronous online polling, Facebook supported a weak form of political discussion that prefigured the stronger and more interactive deliberations that filled Liberty Plaza.

By September 10, General Assembly minutes were being posted online at NYCGA. Over time these became more elaborate, and note-takers projected their evolving documents on a screen in Liberty Plaza so that participants could respond to the minutes-in-the-making. Assembly meetings were livestreamed so that participants across the globe could follow in real time, and some were archived online in audio and video formats. Congregants also livetweeted the assemblies under Twitter handles such as @DiceyTroop and @LibertySqGA. These accounts attracted thousands of followers, many of whom responded to live events, adding a layer of online conversation that augmented the face-to-face assemblies.

Hybrid discussions were the norm for the working groups that handled the day-to-day and week-to-week activity of Occupy Wall Street. During and after the occupation, working groups met regularly at Liberty Plaza, the 60 Wall atrium, Union Square and other locations throughout New York. A blackboard at Liberty Plaza listed some of these meetings, but more reliable information was found online at NYCGA, where nearly every working group had a page with a blog, activity wall, shared documents and event calendar, and discussion forum involving members who had never attended the face-to-face meetings. By spring 2012, the site hosted roughly 90 working groups, some with just a handful of registered users and a couple of posts, others with many hundreds of users and more than 2,000 entries.

Top: Blackboard at Liberty Plaza announces working group meetings. [Photo by Jonathan Massey] Bottom left: Livestream at Occupy Detroit. [Photo by Stephen Boyle] Bottom right: “People’s Mic: Please join the Conversation.” 24/7 internet broadcast from Occupy Wall Street. [Photo by Chris Rojas]

As the weather changed in late October, the Town Planning forum hosted extensive discussions on a topic that simultaneously preoccupied the group’s in-person meetings and the General Assembly: how to sustain the camp into the winter. One participant lit up the forum with a long post advocating event tents that would cover large expanses of the park in communal enclosures, as an alternative to individual camping tents. “Safety teams are unfortunately learning … that privacy equals risk,” wrote Sean McKeown, “because privacy allows for unseen violence, unseen sexual menace, and for drugs, alcohol, and weapons to be kept in shockingly large number if we are to guess by the number of needles found around tents lately since they have gone up.” [16] Members suggested building geodesic domes or frame structures with salvaged materials, or claiming regulatory exemption by designating the camp as a Native American sacred site. The reconfiguration of Liberty Plaza at the beginning of November was negotiated simultaneously in the park, in dispersed work-group meetings, and on the internet.

While online forums, as the Latin term implies, evoke the experience of face-to-face discussion, other online technologies create public spaces without analogue in the physical world. The Twitter hashtag, for example, enables radically new modes of creating, discovering and organizing affinity clusters, which proved useful in movements like the January 25 Egyptian Revolution and the Green Revolution in Iran. In self-conscious emulation of those precedents, Adbusters branded September 17 with the hashtag#occupywallstreet, signaling an expectation that participants would use Twitter to communicate with one another and with larger publics.

It took more than a week for the hashtag to catch on, and from July 25 through the end of August, the four hashtags #occupywallstreet, #occupywallst, #occupy and #ows together accounted for an average of only 27 messages per day. Activity increased in September, and by the day of occupation, Twitter volume on this group of hashtags hit 78,351 as the broader public of participants, bystanders and commentators joined organizers in using the platform for realtime micoblogging of information, opinions and photos. Twitter’s instantaneous syndication was a valuable conduit for time-sensitive news, and its 140-character message limit was well suited to the mobile devices that predominated in Liberty Plaza. Some activists used photo, video and geotagging features on their phones to make Twitter a medium for mapping and building the extended Occupy taskscape. Volume on those four hashtags peaked at 411,117 on November 15, the day protesters were evicted from the park. [17]

Visualization of the Occupy movement online, July to December 2011, including activity on Google, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and We Are the 99 Percent. Click image to enlarge. [Timeline by the authors]

Many other online spaces provided venues for discourse and arenas for participation. Internet relay chat channels allowed participants to talk to one another, individually and in groups. Live video streams from Liberty Plaza and other camps opened real-time windows onto parks, squares and streets around the world. compiled more than 250 such livestreams, each flanked on screen by a chat feed. Video and photo-sharing sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Instagram enabled participants to post, share and discuss images of Occupy protests, police actions, and other content. Much of this activity garnered only limited interest, but some posts went viral, such as the late September videoof a high-ranking NYPD officer pepper-spraying women who had already been corralled on the sidewalk. Edited and annotated with the low-tech tools that support user-generated content, the video broadened awareness of and sympathy for the occupation.

As social media expanded the range of channels for participation in Occupy Wall Street, it also changed the nature of the public that joined. Extrapolating from the work of anthropologist Jeffrey S. Juris, we can contrast the network logics that predominated in summer 2011, when organizations and activists used email lists and websites to mobilize pre-existing networks, with a new set of aggregation logics that developed as the event took off. Social media engaged many thousands of people who had no pre-existing connection to social change organizations and activist networks. These virtual spaces, even more than city parks, became points of encounter where previously unrelated individuals aggregated to form popular assemblies.

Focusing on Occupy Boston, Juris suggests that while the alter-globalization protests of the 1990s created “temporary performative terrains along which networks made themselves and their struggles visible,” the Occupy movement activated a wider public. “Rather than providing spaces for particular networks to coordinate actions and physically represent themselves,” he writes, “the smart mob protests facilitated by social media such as Facebook and Twitter make visible crowds of individuals aggregated within concrete locales.” [18]

Political scientist Stephania Milan has characterized Occupy protests as “cloud protesting,” comparing the movement to “a cloud where a set of ‘soft resources’ coexist: identities, narratives, and know-how, which facilitate mobilization,” much as social media hosted via cloud computing gives individuals the tools for “producing, selecting, punctuating, and diffusing material like tweets, posts and videos.” [19]

Top: Protest sign in Times Square: “Get off the internet. I’ll Meet you in the streets.” [Photo by Geoff Stearns] Bottom: Collaboratively edited User Map at

Though Milan and Juris don’t address them, we could add crowdmaps to the list of “cloud tools” that activated aggregation logics in the Occupy movement. Online maps populated by user-generated content were published at Take the SquareUS Day of Rage,, and Most used Ushahidi, free open-source crowdmapping software developed in 2008 in Kenya to support disaster relief and response efforts. By compiling data into a common geospatial framework, these crowdmaps visualized Occupy participants and camps as discrete elements that aggregated to form a global phenomenon. They associated people, texts, images and videos with particular places, constructing hypergeographies of action and potential. Animated timeline features encouraged users to visualize themselves and local events as part of a process of “#globalchange.”

The most robust crowdmap was the #OccupyMap at, built by the Tech Ops working group of NYCGA. It provided a web interface for reporting events such as marches, rallies and police interventions, with easy media embedding and compatibility with the Ushahidi app on iOS and Android mobile devices. It also populated automatically from Twitter: any tweet from a location-enabled device that included the hashtag #occupymap generated a geotagged report that could incorporate photos and videos via the Twitpic and Twitvid apps. By spring 2012, the map had aggregated some 900 entries from New York City into a database that could be sorted geographically and temporally, by medium and by event type — all viewable via map, timeline and photo interfaces. By pulling together disparate events and data across space and time, the #OccupyMap created a counterpublic integrated through its use of online media to contest state and corporate control of urban places.

The Occupy crowdmaps were most compelling rhetorically at larger scales, where they visualized landscapes fundamentally distinct from those visible in city streets. In counterpoint to the intense attention paid to Liberty Plaza, these virtual geographies redefined the public of Occupy Wall Street as a dispersed set of agents linked more by online communication channels than by proximity. Viewed at national scale, the red placemarker icons on the User Map at suggested a crowd of hot air balloons that had landed — or were preparing to take off — all across the country. In places they clustered so tightly as to create red contours marking an otherwise invisible topography of radicalism. But at the local scale, what had seemed a continuous landscape of occupiers thinned out; zooming in on Liberty Plaza, you saw only a forlorn green oblong scattered with a few markers.

Open-Source Urbanism 
While some online activists relied on corporate media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach a broad public, many made a point of using open-source software, sources and methods such as wikicoding. Occupy websites became spaces for the elaboration of what Christopher Kelty calls a recursive public, “a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence.” [20] In the physical realm, Liberty Plaza and other occupied spaces functioned as offline analogues of a wiki page. Participants without much prior affiliation built new worlds and organized themselves to maintain them while avoiding hierarchy and formalization whenever they could. At these “wikicamps,” open-source urbanism operated at a scale simultaneously local and global. [21] The New York camp was built with knowledge, idea and resources from Spain and Argentina, Chiapas and Cairo, as well as from local coalitions.

Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder map Liberty Plaza’s functional zones and activities. See the sidebar  “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation.

Participants have continued to explore the ways that digital media can reshape our public spaces and public spheres. One example is a course project at The New School that emerged from a multi-day, multi-city “hackathon” sponsored by the working group Occupy Research. The Twitter bot @OccupyPOPS is a script that cross-references check-ins on social media sites Foursquare and Twitter with the New York City government database of privately-owned public spaces, then automatically tweets a call to temporarily occupy a particular POPS at a specific date and time. Created by Christo de Klerk, @OccupyPOPS mobilizes virtual spaces, physical places and social networks to reshape urban public space and the regulations that govern it. Other New York-based projects addressing the issues foregrounded by Occupy include #whOWNSpace and The Public School, as well as pre-existing initiatives like Not an Alternative.

Open-source hypercity urbanism becomes increasingly important as governments constrain public assembly in the offline world. On November 15, the state cleared the experimental agora at Liberty Plaza. Police and sanitation workers with bulldozers removed tents and tarps while resisting occupiers fell back to the People’s Kitchen. As NYPD blockaded the surrounding streets and airspace, people and texts and media feeds streamed out from an atmosphere made toxic by chemical and sonic weapons. Coordinated police actions evicted occupiers in Oakland, Portland, Denver and other cities.

Occupy Wall Street working groups and General Assemblies continue to meet in the 60 Wall Street atrium and other public locations, and to stage intermittent marches, rallies and actions. Occupations were sustained in other cities around the world, and activists tried several times to retake Zuccotti Park. Without its base camp, the Occupy movement relied even more extensively on websites and other online media as its primary means of communication and self-representation. This activity expanded into an array of diffuse campaigns: to reduce and renegotiate student debt; to resist foreclosures and reclaim bank-owned houses; and to challenge corporate power on many fronts.

Top: Sign posted at the 60 Wall atrium on November 15: “No excessive use of space.” [Photo byJohanna Clear] Bottom: Protesters remove police barriers and reoccupy Zuccotti Park on November 17. [Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh]

Occupy Wall Street had an immediate impact on U.S. domestic politics. Counteracting anti-deficit rhetoric from the Republican Party and Tea Party activists who sought to cut social services while borrowing heavily to fund wars and regressive income redistributions, the Occupy movement shifted the focus of mainstream political discourse to income inequality and the burdens of consumer debt. For many participants and observers, though, its more compelling achievement was to embody a minimally hierarchical communitarian polity that combined consensual direct democracy with a high degree of individual autonomy, and also a voluntary sharing economy with the market logics and state service provision that dominate everyday urban life. The longer-term impact of #OWS may well stem from the techniques it modeled online and in the streets for building new publics and polities.

What might this history mean for the future of public space and political action? Events are still unfolding, so the question is open-ended. But here are some provisional conclusions:

  • Online tools are rapidly changing the dynamics of political action. The aggregative, rhizomatic, and exponentially expanding character of the Occupy movement reflects the distinctive capacities of social media.
  • Media are accelerating the pace of discourse and action. Flash mobs and viral tweets may be excessively hyped, but the compressed temporality of the new media landscape is reflected in the rapid emergence, metastasis, and dormancy of Occupy Wall Street.
  • Digital communities are good at building systems. Wikicoding and other modes of online collaboration can build online venues fast and well.
  • These communities may still require face-to-face interaction to achieve substantive change. Digital communication is easy, but for that reason it can feel too light and weightless to mobilize people for the tenacious action it often takes to achieve deep structural changes.
  • Bodies in the street still matter for commanding attention and galvanizing engagement.
  • Modern forms of police control violate basic civil liberties. From the constraints placed on all manner of public assembly to the everyday civil rights violations of the stop-and-frisk system, police in New York and some other American cities have passed a dangerous tipping point.
  • Asserting a broad right to the city means claiming public places, online and offline, for assembly, dialogue and deliberation by multiple publics with varying spatial and temporal requirements.
  • Privately owned public spaces offer platforms for experimentation. The prevalence of corporate enclaves in our cities and online often homogenizes and constrains public life, but Occupy Wall Street showed that POPS can be sites for public-making and political action.
  • But users should reclaim some of the value we create in using corporate media. Activists should find ways to gain at least partial control over the valuable and revealing information trails that users generate through activity online and in our cities.

Finally, initiative is shifting to global-local coalitions. While Occupy was often framed in nationalist terms, its more pervasive character was simultaneously transnational and highly local, reflecting the new geographies of capitalism and its media. The intersections between global and local, online and face-to-face, reformist and radical are promising sites for the creation of the new publics and polities that might open up futures beyond the neoliberal state.

Editors’ Note

See the sidebar “Mapping Liberty Plaza” for axonometric drawings of the site’s transformation, by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder.For related content on Places, see also “Occupy: What Architecture Can Do” and “Occupy: The Day After,” by Reinhold Martin, and “Housing and the 99 Percent,” by Jonathan Massey.

Authors’ Note 

Andrew Weigand and Grant D. Foster assisted with research and visualization for this project.

We would like to thank many colleagues who contributed research and ideas. Early discussions about Occupy Wall Street included Joy Connolly, Elise Harris, Greg Smithsimon and Jenny Uleman. Matt Boorady, Timothy Gale, Steve Klimek, Gabriella Morrone and Nathaniel Wooten contributed to the mapping and surveying of Liberty Plaza. Jennifer Altman-Lupu, Rob Daurio and Katie Gill shared Occupy Wall Street maps they had made and gathered. The Transdisciplinary Media Studio at Syracuse University supported our research with funding from a Chancellor’s Leadership Initiative.

The project benefited from feedback at two stages. The Aggregate Architectural History Collaborativeworkshopped an early version of the text. Organizers and participants in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Digital Humanities, “Digital Cultural Mapping,” held at UCLA in June and July 2012, helped us develop the project both intellectually and representationally. Particular thanks to organizers Todd Presner, Diane Favro and Chris Johanson, and to consultants Zoe Borovsky, Yoh Kawano, David Shepard and Elaine Sullivan, as well as Micha Cárdenas of USC.


1. See Doug Singsen, “Autonomous Zone on Wall Street?,” Socialist Worker, October 11, 2011.
2. “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET,” Adbusters, July 31, 2011.
3. On Occupy Oakland as a counterpublic, see Allison Laubach Wright, “Counterpublic Protest and the Purpose of Occupy: Reframing the Discourse of Occupy Wall Street,” Plaza: Dialogues in Language and Literature 2.2 (Spring 2012): 138-146.
4. “Nine Arrested and Released Without Charge in Occupy Wall Street Test Run,” Occupy Wall Street, September 8, 2011. For early histories of OWS in New York, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America (New York and London: OR Books, 2011), andOccupyScenes from Occupied America, ed. Astra Taylor, Keith Gessen, et al. (London: Verso, 2011).
5. See Alex Vitale, “NYPD and OWS: A Clash of Styles,” in OccupyScenes from Occupied America, 74-81; and Vitale, City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics (New York: NYU Press, 2008).
6. On the POPS system, see Jerold S. Kayden et al., Privately Owned Public Spaces: The New York City Experience (John Wiley & Sons, 2000); and Benjamin Shepard and Greg Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces (Albany: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 2011), Chs. 2-3.
7. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous ZoneOntological AnarchyPoetic Terrorism (New York: Autonomedia, 1985). See also Shepard and Smithsimon, The Beach Beneath the Streets, Ch. 1.
8. Tim Ingold, “The Temporality of the Landscape,” World Archaeology, 25:2 (1993): 152-174. Thanks to Jennifer Altman-Lupu for suggesting this way of understanding Liberty Plaza.
9. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “Occupy Wall Street Divided,” 16 November 2011. For a more serious account, see Writers for the 99%, Occupying Wall Street, 61-67.
10. The Occupy movement online combined two modes that Sándor Végh describes as “internet-enhanced activism” and “internet-enabled activism.” See “Classifying Forms of Online Activism: The Case of Cyberprotests against the World Bank,” in Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory and Practice, ed. Martha McCaughey and Michael D. Ayers (Portsmouth, NH: Routledge, 2003), 71-96. These approaches constituted what we might call a digital repertory of contention. See Charles Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Brett Rolfe, “Building an Electronic Repertoire of Contention,” Social Movement Studies 4:1 (May 2005): 65-74.
11. Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport call this “e-mobilization”: using the web to facilitate and coordinate in-person protest. See Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).
12. Some commentators even used the site’s “notes” function to publish commentaries on and critiques of the movement for others to discuss and repost. See, for instance, Greg Tate’s note “Top Ten Reasons Why So Few Blackfolk Seem Down to Occupy Wall Street,” 17 October 2011.
13. See Earl and Kimport, Digitally Enabled Social Change, Introduction.
14. See Adam Weinstein, “‘We Are the 99 Percent’ Creators Revealed,” Mother Jones, 7 October 2011, and Rebecca J. Rosen, “The 99 Percent Tumblr and Self-Service History,” The Atlantic, 10 October 2011.
15. After a slow start in August 2011, participation in the 99 Percent Project spiked at the beginning of October 2011, as the Brooklyn Bridge march and arrests spread awareness of Occupy Wall Street. Activity peaked on October 20, when site managers posted 264 photos and site visitors added nearly 6,000 comments. By the end of May 2012, the project encompassed 3255 posts and more than 134,000 comments.
16. Sean McKeown, “Winter Event Tents for Liberty Plaza,” Town Planning forum, New York City General Assembly.
17. Twitter data is drawn from a dataset compiled by social analytics company PeopleBrowsr.
18. Jeffrey S. Juris, “Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere: Social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation,” American Ethnologist 39:2 (2012): 259-79: 260-61.
19. Stefania Milan, “Cloud Protesting: On Mobilization in Times of Social Media,” lecture, 10 February 2012 (abstract).
20. Christopher Kelty, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008). See also “Recursive Public,” The Foundation for P2P Alternatives.
21. “Wikicamps” adapts the term that sociologist Manuel Castells used to describe the camps that filled Spanish plazas beginning in May 2011. See Castells, “The Disgust Becomes a Network” (translation of “#Wikiacampadas,” La Vanguardia, 28 May 2011), trans. Hugh Green, Adbusters 97 (2 August 2011).

Aphid attacks should be reported through the fungusphone (Byte Size Biology)

By  on August 3rd, 2013

We like to think of ourselves as the better results of evolution. We humans are particularly proud of our ability to communicate, having invented cell phones, the Internet, and extended forelimb digits as sophisticated means of communication not found anywhere else in nature.

Not true. Where there is life, there is communication. Vocal, visual, chemical. Some fish even communicate electrically. Take, that, Alex G. Bell! From bacteria to Blue Whales, from yeast to yak, everyone communicates. Including plants.

When some plants are attacked by sap-sucking aphids, they emit volatile compounds into the air. These volatiles serve as a defense mechanism, and in more ways than one. First, they serve to repel the aphids attacking the plant. Second, they attract the aphids natural enemies, wasps. But there’s more to that: a team from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute show that some plants use fungi to communicate the presence of aphids, allowing those plants to emit wasp-attracting and and aphid-repelling  volatiles even before they have been physically attacked.

Source: PLos Biology, 2/2010. Credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin. National Taiwan University.

Pea Aphids. Source: PLoS Biology, 2/2010. Credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin. National Taiwan University.

Introducing the arbuscular mycorrhyza (AM) fungus, which has been living symbiotically with plants for at least 460 million years.  The AM fungi and their symbiotic plants create mycorrhiza, structures in which the fungus penetrates the plant’s root cells forming arbuscules, branched structures interfacing within the plant cells. The arbuscules allow the exchange of nutrients between plant and fungus. The result allows plants to capture nutrients such as phosphate, zinc and nitrogen. AM fungi are found in 80% of vascular plant families (plants which transport nutrients and water via a vascular system), which makes them an essential part of plant life.  While we think of fungi mostly as mushrooms, those are only the fruiting bodies of the fungi. Like all fungi,  the major biomass of AM lies in the mycelium: a network long, thin filamentous structures that branch within the soil where they grow. The hypothesis that the researchers tested was: are the AM fungus mycelia  used to communicate information between plants, in a sort of symbiotic nervous system?

To answer this question, they planted  bean seedlings in a pot whose soil contains an AM fungus. They isolated some seedlings from the AM fungus using a fine mesh, while others had only their roots isolated, or were not isolated at all. All plants were covered individually with bags to ensure they do not communicate via the air using volatiles. Then the researchers infested one plant with aphids, and collected the volatiles from the other plants. They discovered that the plants connected by the fungal network produced volatiles that repelled aphids and attracted wasps.  Those plants which had no hyphal contact produced much less of these volatiles. In the control, the plants in the fine mesh that had hyphal contact only, but no root contact, also produced anti-aphid volatiles.

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules. Credit: MS Turmel, University of Manitoba. Source: wikipedia

Flax root cortical cells containing paired arbuscules. Credit: MS Turmel, University of Manitoba. Source: wikipedia

Bottom line: plants can communicate via fungal networks, although we don’t quite know how yet. Also, probably this is not an exclusive mode of communication. Apparently, symbiosis is not just about food or protection from predators or the elements.  It’s also about conveying information. Very cool.

Zdenka Babikova, Lucy Gilbert, Toby J. A. Bruce, Michael Birkett, John C. Caulfield, Christine Woodcock, John A. Pickett, & David Johnson (2013). Underground signals carried through common mycelial networks warn neighbouring plants of aphid attack Ecology Letters, 16 (7), 835-843 DOI: 10.1111/ele.12115

Commodifying animals to save them? (It is easier to think about the end of the world than about the end of capitalism, indeed)

A Market to Save Whales? (Conversable Economist)

Timothy Taylor


The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, which is still in effect. However, the moratorium has effectively allowed “scientific” whaling (mainly Japan),  “subsistence” whaling (various aboriginal groups), and limited commercial whaling (mainly by Norway and Iceland).  The total number of whales caught has doubled since the 1990s to about 2,000 per year, which is a pace that many biologists consider to be unsustainably high. After watching the moratorium approach struggle and fail over the last quarter-century, it’s time to think about alternatives. In the Spring 2013 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, Ben A. Minteer and Leah R. Gerber discuss the possibility of “Buying Whales to Save Them.” 

What Minteer and Gerber have in mind is that the International Whaling Commission or some similar body would set a quota for the number of whales that could be taken, based on estimates of sustainable catch from biologists. These quotas would be marketable; in particular, environmentalist groups could purchase the right to take a whale–but then not do so. As they describe it:
“Under this plan, quotas for hunting of whales would be traded in global markets. But again, and unlike most “catch share” programs in fisheries, the whale conservation market would not restrict participation in the market; both pro- and antiwhaling interests could own and trade quotas. The maximum potential harvest for any hunted species in any given year would be established in a conservative manner that ensures sustainability of the marketed species (that is, harvest levels would be established that would not permit taking more individuals than can be replaced) and maintains their functional roles in the ecosystem. The actual harvest, however, would depend on who owns the quotas. Conservation groups, for example, could choose to buy whale shares in order to protect populations that are currently threatened; they could also buy shares to protect populations that are not presently at risk but that conservationists fear might become threatened in the future.”
As you might expect, this kind of proposals is controversial. Many environmentalists feel that putting a value on whales is unethical, a betrayal of the underlying values involved. Other environmentalists, especially those with an economic turn of mind, note that if those who would be catching whales sell their quota to those who do not wish to catch whales, both parties can be benefit from the exchange–and the result may be that fewer whales are killed. Much of Minteer and Gerber’s article is a consideration of these issues. Here’s a sample:

“Despite the widely acknowledged failure of the IWC [International Whaling Commission] moratorium to curtail unsustainable whaling, the whale conservation market idea has proved to be wildly controversial within conservation and antiwhaling circles. Concerns have been raised about how the system would be established (for example, under what guidelines would the original shares be allocated?) and how it would play out over time (for example, would a legal market lead to increased whaling?). Many critics of the idea are also plainly not comfortable with the ethics of putting a price on such iconic species—that is, with using contingent market methods for what they believe should be a categorical ethical obligation to preserve whales. On the other hand, the negotiation failures surrounding the global management of whales underscore the need for a realistic and pragmatic discussion about available policy alternatives. Indeed, the vulnerable status of many whale populations and the failure of the traditional regulatory response to halt unsustainable harvests call for a more innovative and experimental approach to whale policy, including considering unconventional proposals, such as the whale conservation market.”

My own sense, trained as I am into economic ways of thinking, is that if ethics are to be meaningful, they need to engage with pragmatic realities. The moratorium on commercial whaling is not, in fact, protecting a biologically sufficient number of whales. The arguments that whales should not be hunted, whatever their merits, have not been winning where it counts–that is, as measured by the size of the whale population. Arguments about the ethics whaling have even not brought us to a biologically sustainable situation, much less to the far more stringent limits on whaling that many environmentalists would prefer. In that situation, real-world ethical behavior calls for looking at alternatives.

*   *   *

Scientists call for legal trade in rhino horn (Julian Cribb & Associates)

Public release date: 28-Feb-2013

Julian Cribb

Julian Cribb & Associates

Four leading environmental scientists today urged the international community to install a legal trade in rhino horn – in a last ditch effort to save the imperilled animals from extinction.

In an article in the leading international journal Science the scientists argued that a global ban on rhino products has failed, and death rates among the world’s remaining black and white rhinos are soaring due to illegal poaching to supply insatiable international demand.

“Current strategies have clearly failed to conserve these magnificent animals and the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn”, says lead author Dr Duan Biggs of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and University of Queensland.

“As committed environmentalists we don’t like the idea of a legal trade any more than does the average member of the concerned public. But we can see that we need to do something radically different to conserve Africa’s rhino.”

The researchers said the Western Black Rhino was declared extinct in 2011. There are only 5000 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left, the vast majority of which are in South Africa and Namibia.

“Poaching in South Africa has, on average, more than doubled each year over the past 5 years. Skyrocketing poaching levels are driven by tremendous growth in the retail price of rhino horn, from around $4,700 per kilogram in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilogram in 2012,” they say.

“Rhino horn is now worth more than gold,” the scientists note. This growth is mainly attributed to soaring demand by affluent Asian consumers for Chinese medicines.

World trade in rhino horn is banned under the CITES Treaty – and this ban, by restricting supplies of horn, has only succeeded in generating huge rewards for an illegal high-tech poaching industry, equipped with helicopters and stun-darts, which is slaughtering rhinos at alarming rates.

Attempts to educate Chinese medicine consumers to stop using rhino horn have failed to reduce the growth in demand, they said.

The scientists argue that the entire world demand for horn could be met legally by humanely shaving the horns of live rhinos, and from animals which die of natural causes. Rhinos grow about 0.9kg of horn each year, and the risks to the animal from today’s best-practice horn harvesting techniques are minimal. The legal trade in farmed crocodile skins is an example of an industry where legalisation has saved the species from being hunted to extinction.

Furthermore, if rhinos were being ‘farmed’ legally, more land would be set aside for them and this in turn would help to conserve other endangered savannah animals, as well as generating much-needed income for impoverished rural areas in southern Africa the researchers argue.

They advocate the creation of a Central Selling Organisation to supervise the legitimate harvest and sale of rhino horn globally. Buyers would be attracted to this organisation because its products will be legal, cheaper than horn on the black market, and safer and easier to obtain, they said, adding “horn sold through a Central Selling Organisation could be DNA-fingerprinted and traceable worldwide, enabling buyers, and regulators to differentiate between legal and illicit products.”

A legal trade in rhino horn was first proposed 20 years ago, but rejected as ‘premature’.

However, the time has now come for a legal trade in horn, says Dr Biggs. “There is a great opportunity to start serious discussions about establishing a legal trade in rhino horn at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP-16), which is to be held from 3-14 March this year, in Bangkok.”

“Legitimizing the market for horn may be morally repugnant to some, but it is probably the only sensible way to prevent extinction of Africa’s remaining rhinos,” the scientists conclude.

Their paper Legal Trade of Africa’s Rhino Horns by Duan Biggs, Franck Courchamp, Rowan Martin and Hugh Possingham, appears in the latest edition of the journal Science (March 1).

Digest This: Cure for Cancer May Live in Our Intestines (Science Daily)

July 31, 2013 — Treating a cancerous tumor is like watering a houseplant with a fire hose — too much water kills the plant, just as too much chemotherapy and radiation kills the patient before it kills the tumor.

The discovery of Robo1 protein in the intestinal stem cells (depicted in yellow) leads to tolerance of higher doses of chemoradiation for cancer patients. (Credit: Dr. Wei-Jie Zhou)

However, if the patient’s gastrointestinal tract remains healthy and functioning, the patient’s chances of survival increase exponentially, said Jian-Guo Geng, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Recently, Geng’s lab discovered a biological mechanism that preserves the gastrointestinal tracts in mice who were delivered lethal doses of chemotherapy.

The findings, which will appear in the journal Nature, could revolutionize cancer therapy, Geng said.

“It’s our belief that this could eventually cure later-staged metastasized cancer. People will not die from cancer, if our prediction is true,” said Geng, who emphasized that the findings had not yet been proven in humans. “All tumors from different tissues and organs can be killed by high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, but the current challenge for treating the later-staged metastasized cancer is that you actually kill the patient before you kill the tumor.

“Now you have a way to make a patient tolerate to lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In this way, the later-staged, metastasized cancer can be eradicated by increased doses of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Geng’s lab found that when certain proteins bind with a specific molecule on intestinal stem cells, it revs intestinal stem cells into overdrive for intestinal regeneration and repair. Stem cells naturally heal damaged organs and tissues, but so-called “normal” amounts of stem cells in the intestine simply cannot keep up with the wreckage left behind by the lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation required to successfully treat late-stage tumors.

However, the phalanx of extra stem cells protect the intestine and gastrointestinal tract, which means the patient can ingest nutrients, the body can perform other critical functions and the bacterial toxins in the intestine are prevented from entering the blood circulation, Geng said.

These factors could give the patient just enough of an extra edge to survive the stronger doses of chemotherapy and radiation, until the tumor or tumors are eradicated.

In the study, 50-to-75 percent of the mice treated with the molecule survived otherwise lethal doses of chemotherapy. All of the mice that did not receive the molecule died, Geng said.

“If you can keep the gut going, you can keep the patient going longer,” Geng said. “Now we have found a way to protect the intestine. The next step is to aim for a 100-percent survival rate in mice who are injected with the molecules and receive lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Geng’s lab has worked with these molecules, called R-spondin1 and Slit2, for more than a decade. These molecules repair tissue in combination with intestinal stem cells residing in the adult intestine.

Journal Reference:

  1. Wei-Jie Zhou, Zhen H. Geng, Jason R. Spence & Jian-Guo Geng. Induction of intestinal stem cells by R-spondin 1 and Slit2 augments chemoradioprotectionNature, 2013 DOI: 10.1038/nature12416