Best practices.

In a still-influential paper from 1937 titled “The Nature of the Firm,” the economist and Nobel laureate Ronald Coase established himself as an early observer and theorist of corporate concerns. He described the employment contract not as a document that handed the employer unaccountable powers, but as one that circumscribed those powers. In signing a contract, the employee “agrees to obey the directions of an entrepreneur within certain limits,” he emphasized. But such characterizations, as Anderson notes, do not reflect reality; most workers agree to employment without any negotiation or even communication about their employer’s power or its limits. The exceptions to this rule are few and notable: top professional athletes, celebrity entertainers, superstar academics, and the (increasingly small) groups of workers who are able to bargain collectively.

Yet because employment contracts create the illusion that workers and companies have arrived at a mutually satisfying agreement, the increasingly onerous restrictions placed on modern employees are often presented as “best practices” and “industry standards,” framing all sorts of behaviors and outcomes as things that ought to be intrinsically desired by workers themselves. Who, after all, would not want to work on something in the “best” way? Beyond employment contracts, companies also rely on social pressure to foster obedience: If everyone in the office regularly stays until seven o’clock every night, who would risk departing at five, even if it’s technically allowed? Such social prods exist alongside more rigid behavioral codes that dictate everything from how visible an employee’s tattoo can be to when and how long workers can break for lunch.

–Miya Tokumitsu, The United States of Work

You won’t get privacy on the Republican party line.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, there are also serious implications for security: If ISPs look to sell consumer data, “internet providers will need to record and store even more sensitive data on their customers, which will become a target for hackers.” Even if they anonymize your sensitive data before they sell it to advertisers, they need to collect it first—and these companies don’t exactly have a perfect track record in protecting consumer data. In 2015, for example, Comcast paid $33 million as part of a settlement for accidentally releasing information about users who had paid the company to keep their phone numbers unlisted, including domestic violence victims.

This is all made much more difficult for consumers by the dearth of broadband competition. More than half of Americans have either one or even no options for providers, so if you don’t like your ISP’s data collection policies, chances are you won’t be able to do much about it, and providers know that. It’s highly unlikely that providers, particularly the dominant companies, will choose to forego those sweet advertising dollars in order to secure their customers’ privacy, when they know those customers don’t have much choice. […]

All is not completely lost. Your ISP still has to allow you to opt out of having your data sold, so you can call them or go online to find out how to do that. (If you do that, let us know how it went.) But today’s news is devastating for privacy overall. Consumers could have had more control over their privacy; your data could have been safer. Things could have been better, if Congress had done what it usually does and done nothing. Instead, they made things worse for anyone who doesn’t run an internet company or an advertising agency.

–Libby Watson, Congress Just Gave Internet Providers the Green Light to Sell You Browsing History Without Consent

 

Ice Age Solastalgia

The mammoth’s extinction may have been our original ecological sin. When humans left Africa 70,000 years ago, the elephant family occupied a range that stretched from that continent’s southern tip to within 600 miles of the North Pole. Now elephants are holed up in a few final hiding places, such as Asia’s dense forests. Even in Africa, our shared ancestral home, their populations are shrinking, as poachers hunt them with helicopters, GPS, and night-vision goggles. If you were an anthropologist specializing in human ecological relationships, you may well conclude that one of our distinguishing features as a species is an inability to coexist peacefully with elephants.

But nature isn’t fixed, least of all human nature. We may yet learn to live alongside elephants, in all their spectacular variety. We may even become a friend to these magnificent animals. Already, we honor them as a symbol of memory, wisdom, and dignity. With luck, we will soon re-extend their range to the Arctic. […]

Nikita and Sergey seemed entirely unbothered by ethical considerations regarding mammoth cloning or geoengineering. They saw no contradiction between their veneration of “the wild” and their willingness to intervene, radically, in nature. At times they sounded like villains from a Michael Crichton novel. Nikita suggested that such concerns reeked of a particularly American piety. “I grew up in an atheist country,” he said. “Playing God doesn’t bother me in the least. We are already doing it. Why not do it better?”

–Ross Andersen, Welcome to Pleistocene Park

From “The Mark Manifesto”

With a community of almost two billion people, it is less feasible to have a single set of standards to govern the entire community so we need to evolve towards a system of more local governance.

–Mark Zuckerberg, Building Global Community [via Recode]

There’s so much in the manifesto that smarter people than me will hash over, but this stood out to me, appearing as it does about three-quarters of the way through a polemic advocating for Facebook’s centrality to the building of a truly global community. I’ve no idea how this claim will be translated into algorithmic practice. The general tenor of that section of the manifesto gives the impression that what Zuckerberg means is that individuals will still (sort of) control what they see, but those settings will be refined by Facebook’s programmers to set regional norms for community standards. But in a global community, how are locality and region going to be defined? In a digital space where people choose their associations, how will Facebook determine boundaries? To what extent will cookies, likes, and reposts determine new forms of subcommunity identity? If Facebook is successful in its global agenda, will nation-states morph into digitally-facilitated forms of groupthink? Zuckerberg seems determined not to contribute to the atomization of society via his particular social media platform (and it’s clear that he’s wrestled with this issue pretty extensively), but what checks and balances do Zuckerberg and his army of programmers intend to build into the code? Zuckerberg also intends to grow the Facebook community; if 2 billion makes it “less feasible to have a single set of standards,” what happens when Facebook hits 3 billion? Zuckerberg claims at the outset of the manifesto that the goal is “building the long term social infrastructure to bring humanity together.” I feel like there’s a lot of slippage between terms like “community,” “government,” “standards,” and “infrastructure” throughout–as there tends to be in any extended political conversation–but very little acknowledgement of who or what comprises this infrastructure. It’s fine and dandy to insist that the sociability of people is the nucleus of Facebook. And that’s sort of true. But it’s also true that Facebook remains a private company whose product is a patented digital system whose language is known only to Zuckerberg and his employees. Facebook is infrastructure, even social infrastructure in a capacious sense of the word. But Zuckerberg seems to entertain seriously the idea that it’s the users who are driving the formation of the community even as he promotes the role of the Facebook corporate entity in giving it shape and function. What does locality look like in a global village whose infrastructure is house in Silicon Valley, yet whose fiberoptic materials and electronic signals remain almost literally invisible to the eye of the people who “live” there?

Patience is what it takes.

I know there comes a point in time when you say, okay, enough time, now things have got to change … if you need to legislate something or force something, then fine, you have those tools available. That’s why we have lawmakers. But the day the law changed to when black people could ride in the front of the bus, or not have to give up their seat, the day that law changed did not necessarily change the minds of the white riders. You can legislate behavior but you cannot legislate belief. Patience is what it takes. But patience doesn’t mean sitting around on your butt waiting for something to happen. Be proactive. And don’t just sit around and talk with your friends who believe the way you do. Invite other people who have differences of opinion.

–Daryl Davis

–Conor Friedersdorf, Every Racist I Know Voted for Donald Trump

Athens and Jerusalem

The true source of the current trouble reaches back to the foundations of Western civilization and democracy. Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions, or “Athens and Jerusalem,” taught westerners to put their faith in God or reason, and often both, and to be wary of despots and demagogues. Although many have warned of the steady erosion of those traditions, the full consequences of their loss are not appreciated. For the first time, vast swaths of the West are living with the death not only of God but of reason as well. Such a vacuum makes ample room for opportunism and exploitation, while moral chaos invites tyranny.

–R. A. Brown, Illiberalism Rising

“I think people should feel reassured that the rules cannot be violated”

Look, I think it’s important to understand that these minimization procedures are taken very seriously, and all other agencies that are handling raw signals intelligence are essentially going to have to import these very complex oversight and compliance mechanisms that currently exist at the NSA.

Within the NSA, those are extremely strong and protective mechanisms. I think people should feel reassured that the rules cannot be violated—certainly not without it coming to the attention of oversight and compliance bodies. I am confident that all of the agencies in the U.S. intelligence community will discharge those very same obligations with the same level of diligence and rigor, adhering to both the spirit and the letter of the law.

–Susan Hennessey, interviewed by Kaveh Waddell for the Atlantic

Not my president, quoth the constitutional lawyer

Donald Trump ran on a platform of relentless, thoroughgoing rejection of the Constitution itself, and its underlying principle of democratic self-government and individual rights. True, he never endorsed quartering of troops in private homes in time of peace, but aside from that there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments he did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.

Like an admissions officer at Trump University, he offered Americans a bag of magic beans and asked them in exchange to hand over their rights and their form of government.

Smiling, nearly 60 million complied.

I deny their right to give Trump my rights or those of others who cannot defend themselves. No result is legitimate that threatens the Constitution its very promise of the “blessings of liberty.” No transient plurality, no matter how angry, has the power to strip minorities of equal status and protection; no mass of voters, no matter how frightened, has the power to vote away the democratic future of their children and their children’s children. […]

The role of a professorial figure in crisis is to cluck reassuringly, note that something similar happened during the Taylor administration, and remind citizens that America is a favored nation and all will be well as we muddle through under God’s beneficent providence. But there is no evidence that any of that is true. The Constitution is broken, and I don’t know how, or whether, it will be fixed.

But I know this as well: Trump was elected President on November 8.

But he is not my president and he never will be.

–Garrett Epps, Donald Trump Has Broken the Constitution

So: the Constitution is broken and Donald Trump will never be the president and the 60 million American people who didn’t vote the way Epps wanted them to don’t actually have the right to vote. Glad we got that settled. Now that Epps has effectively liberated himself from the rules of law and social reality, he is (at last!) on the same ideological footing as Donald J. Trump. What wonders can such men achieve in dialectical tandem, free of such paltry constraints? We shall see, dear reader. We shall see…

“Maybe for you, but not for the country.”

I think Black Lives Matter is, in the larger pattern of history, where Occupy energies went and what that Occupy moment gave way to. And Occupy understood itself as a re-manifestation and derivative of the Arab Spring. Each new formation does what a predecessor couldn’t do, didn’t know to do. It shifts to completely new populations and causes — but it preserves the continuity of a Movement. Occupy was beaten by police, both literally and figuratively, even though police had no real stake in its concerns; and maybe it was defeated too by a white bourgeois ethos. Black Lives Matter does what Occupy couldn’t, or wouldn’t; and it invites people into the Movement in a larger way, while pursuing its own necessary ends. I don’t know about the mood of the young people I see as a whole, but my mood is pretty optimistic, and optimistic in their presence above all. There are always new people coming into the world, and that means the possibility that they’ll see how this world is not the way it could be. Not the way it should be, to be worthy of them. I think this happens to be a singularly good time. Every time I read another headline, “Is the Country Coming Apart?,” I think, Maybe for you, but not for the country.

As for my students and the young, I sometimes do think they believe too much of what they hear without really pressing on it or sitting on it for a while. How could they not believe too much? It is very difficult to distinguish a true from a false authority. And you’ve been told so many things. I think you have to take it slow, and keep checking yourself. In the book, I mark a difference at one point between extraordinary revolt and ordinary defiance. It’s the latter which I think we are most in need of, and it’s within reach.

–Mark Greif interviewed by Greg Gerke, True and False Authorities

“He appealed to common sense.”

The end of the six-week trial for seven people who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon can be summed up in two words: not guilty.

A 12-person jury found occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy not guilty Thursday of the government’s primary charge: conspiracy to impede federal officers by force, threat or intimidation. Their five co-defendants — Jeff Banta, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler — have all been found not guilty as well.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on Ryan Bundy’s theft of government property charge.

Lisa Ludwig, standby counsel for pro se defendant Ryan Bundy, said her client and the rest of the defense attorneys had a simple approach.

“He appealed to common sense,” Ludwig said.

This is what passes for common sense in Oregon? A bunch of armed thugs took over a federal facility and prevented federal employees from doing their jobs. Were these facts even contested? A man who was part of this takeover died resisting arrest. Well, whatever. The jury has spoken. Rule of law and all that. The following says it all:

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown — whose coffee mug appeared to read “It is what it is” — began by reading out the not guilty verdict for Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation.

“Did I read the verdict correctly?” Brown asked the jury for confirmation.