The Ronin Institute at Performing the World in NYC

Biosystems Analytics

Reposted from my Ronin Institute blog post

Performing the World (PTW) is a biennial conference with a focus on building communities, social change and performance. This year it is being held in New York City on September 21-23. Here’s the description from the conference website:

Since the first PTW in 2001, the conference has been a gathering place to explore and celebrate performance as a catalyst for human and community development and culture change. PTW is now a global community of hundreds who creatively engage social problems, educate, heal, organize and activate individuals, organizations and communities, and bring new social-cultural-psychological and political possibilities into existence.

Building on the conversations started in the related CESTEMER meeting  last year, several Ronin Institute Research Scholars will be holding a session “Performing New Models of Scholarship at the Ronin Institute” at 5:15pm on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be joining Research Scholars 

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Scientific “ecosystem” paper now published in F1000 Research

Biosystems Analytics

I’ve previously blogged about our PeerJ Pre-print on moving away from the dominant metaphor of the scientific enterprise as “pipeline” leading to professorial positions in universities, towards a metaphor of diverse “ecosystem”. The paper has now been published in F1000 Research and has already garnered one peer review:

Lancaster AK, Thessen AE and Virapongse A. A new paradigm for the scientific enterprise: nurturing the ecosystem [version 1; referees: 1 approved]. F1000Research 2018, 7:803
(doi: 10.12688/f1000research.15078.1)

One the major points of the paper is that we need to move away from the currently closed system that emphasizes artificial scarcity (e.g. in journal spots), towards a system that emphasizes abundance, and we feel that publishing in journals that use post–publication and transparent peer review (like F1000 Research) helps us “walk-the-walk” as we build those new ecosystems.

Table 1 from the paper reinforces this point: illustrating the contrasting language between…

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Sixteen years of Twisted Grooves in the high desert

DavidBarsantiDavid Barsanti is a Santa Fe-based musician, drummer, DJ and GIS analyst and has lived in the City Different since the early 1990s. When not playing in various bands around town, he is actively DJing around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico under the moniker Spinifex. He and I created the Twisted Groove radio show that aired in the midnight slot on community station KSFR back in 2000. Although I left Santa Fe for the Bay Area, David has continued the show, going from strength to strength, and in the process, gaining a more sleep-friendly 10pm timeslot. Following up on the 16th anniversary of the show, I recently chatted to David about the Twisted Groove, the Santa Fe music scene and how music and radio has changed in the intervening years.

Tell us about how you got to Santa Fe

I first came to Santa Fe after getting a sociology degree with an anthropology focus from Keene State College where I’m originally from. After college I was still working in New England in archeology, but really looking for a change in environment. I was also really struggling to find work in archeology during the winter – you couldn’t find just work everywhere – it’s definitely hard to excavate then! So in November 1991, my girlfriend at the time had contacts here and we planned to come here together but that didn’t work out but I needed winter work so I was driven to find work here in SF. I was hired to do field work in the winter, and I stayed. Now by day I work as a GIS analyst for the City of Santa Fe.

What got you into music?

Sylvania-tubeI have always been into music, it was a big part of the family growing up. My oldest brother grew up in the Woodstock era so I always heard a lot of music from that time. And although my parent’s weren’t musicians themselves there was always music around the house, my Dad had worked for Sylvania, an early TV manufacturer that was eventually acquired by General Telephone and Electronics. So we always had TVs and radio stereo of the best quality around the house, which was another way I really got into sound and music.

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Decoding Turnbull: what his 2015 acceptance speech really said

On the day of the 2016 Australian Federal election, let’s rewind to last year.  On September 14, 2015, Malcolm Turnbull ascended to the party Liberal Party leadership, and Australia breathed a collective sigh of relief as the brief, but strange and destructive, reign of Tony Abbott came to an abrupt end.  There was a sense, especially amongst Australian progressives, that we might see a return to a more moderate Liberal Party. And if you cursorily examine Turnbull’s acceptance speech, it sounds thoroughly sensible and moderate, touching on now-familiar bromides of “creativity” and “innovation”:

“This will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market. It’ll be focused on ensuring that in the years ahead as the world becomes more and more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that. The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. We will ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future and is putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it.”

Who can be against any of that?  Sounds good, right?  Being agile, creative, innovative! Yeaah! But having lived in the United States through the first dot-com boom, the Global Financial Crisis, and now the current tech-boom that creates only a relatively small number of jobs (and wealth for only a few of those in those jobs) and the rise of the predatory “sharing economy” of AirBnB and Uber, many of these phrases ring hollow to me. Phrases that use words like agility, creativity and innovation are very handy because they sound great as sound-bites, but are more often used as a fig leaf to disguise the true agenda.  Cognitive linguist George Lakoff in Don’t Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics has written extensively about how US right-wing think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute have been successfully using words and metaphors to “frame” otherwise unpalatable policies for decades.  These think-tanks have, in turn, been diligently exporting these framings around the world through exchanges with Australian equivalents like the Institute for Public Affairs. Creativity and innovation used in the context of the LNP are code for a corporatist neoliberal set of policies that is focused on one thing and one thing only: enriching those already wealthy with even more wealth.

Many progressive Australians didn’t really see this true agenda clearly and wanted to believe that this would be a kinder, gentler Coalition government. I, too, shared this hope (although there were some commentators at the time who were not buying it). And, while the rhetoric on social issues like gay marriage has clearly shifted in a more moderate direction, in the areas that affect the most people: economics, benefits, job security and investments to build a better future, the Turnbull government has doubled-down on the economic rationalism. (The Labor Party under Shorten, by mostly sticking to economic rationalism-lite, has failed to offer a truly compelling alternatives).

So before today’s election I offer this handy decoded version of Turnbull’s acceptance speech to reveal what he really means:

“This will be a thoroughly NeoLiberal Government. It will be a thoroughly NeoLiberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the converting any  remaining  institutions devoted to the public good over to market-based solutions even in areas where they demonstrably do not work like healthcare, labor markets, carbon emissions regulation and financial regulation. It’ll be focused on ensuring that in the years ahead as the world becomes more and more competitive because we’ve engineered it to be so through deregulation and capital market expansions and flexible labor market policies and there is greater misery opportunities for ordinary people, we are able to the lucky and the wealthy can take advantage of that. The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile and jumps when transnational corporate interests want us to jump as specified in “trade” agreements like the TPP, that is innovative in creating wealth for a smaller number of people with fewer stable jobs through more complicated financial services and instruments, that is creative in moving money around but is not creative in challenging corporate interests and we will defund the those in the sciences or arts organizations that do so. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves by collectively deciding where we allocate our resources democratically. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology  neoliberal policies that deliberately transfer wealth up the hierarchy by invoking an outdated notion of  technological determinism to disguise those policies, and that the volatility in change is our friend if we are for those of us who are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it, and we will heap scorn and derision and demonize those who question these policies. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today if you’re in the 1% and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian in that 1%. We will ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future for its wealthy friends in the corporate class and is putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it, by privatizing Medicare, deregulating the public university system and introduce US-style student loans and removing people or groups in positions of authority in institutions such as the CSIRO or the ABC that question these policies.

In the Turnbull/Liberal National Party “vision” there is no sense of the common good, of building a democratic future together, of supporting and strengthening civil society, of investing in basic science (outside of narrowly defined biomedical science, funded through cuts to Medicare), or growing sustainable (i.e. non-venture-capital based) small and medium sized businesses that create long term value for Australians. Just every agile man and women for him or herself in the global marketplace.

Get jumping!!

Hollywood’s take on Wall Street: The Big Systemic Corruption

The Big Short is just about the best film I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s as if Guy Ritchie and Michael Moore took some coke together and decided to make a film about the almost-complete financial meltdown of the world.  Based on Michael Lewis’ 2010 bestseller, it delves deeply into both the mechanics of the crash and the mentality that drove us there.  It doesn’t pander, isn’t emotionally overwrought and gives just about the best explanation that I’ve heard of a synthetic CDO thanks to Selena Gomez and behavioural economist Richard Thaler.

THE BIG SHORT

The casting is spot on with Steve Carrell giving an amazing career-defining performance.  It has a fast-based, but not overly hyper-kinetic style, and is leavened through with a kind of gallows-humour, as expected given director Adam McKay’s background in comedy.  It’s also a film that treats the underlying ideas seriously, but it also never feels too complicated and plot-driven, no mean feat for a director. 

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Resisting cheaters will be the big challenge for “platform cooperativism”

The promise of the Internet as a means to “level the playing field’ has seriously gone off the rails. A two-day conference at The New School that just wound up this last weekend, explored the emergence of platform cooperativism.  Platform cooperativism aims to return the democratic promise of the Internet away from the rapacious, heavily-leveraged extractive models of the so-called “sharing economy” such as Uber and AirBnB, and towards models of true user ownership and governance.  As pointed out in a set of 5 summary essays that appeared in The Nation, these are not (mainly) technical challenges but legal and political ones.  An example is FairCoop:

FairCoop is one among a whole slew of new projects attempting to create a more democratic Internet, one that serves as a global commons. These projects include user-owned cooperatives, “open value” companies structured like a wiki, and forms of community-based financing. Part of what distinguishes them from mainstream tech culture is the determination to put real control and ownership in the hands of the users. When you do that, the platform becomes what it always should have been: a tool for those who use it, not a means of exploiting them.

Many of these efforts will face an uphill battle, and as pointed out by Astra Taylor at the conference (she follows Douglas Rushkoff’s presentation in the video link), will probably be fiercely resisted by the newly entrenched platforms of Google, Facebook and the like.  But we can also say the same thing about those platforms many of which were just small upstarts back in the 1990s. The real challenge is one that is familiar to evolutionary biologists in game theory: building systems that reduce the chance of “invaders” or “cheaters” (in this case, rapacious VC firms and super-capitalism in general) from swamping a population of mutually beneficial co-operators (or turning those cooperators into cheaters). It doesn’t have to be, and could never be, perfect: you’ll never reduce the population of cheaters to zero, but at least keep them from taking over your population completely.

Read more about platform cooperativism at The Nation

Brian Eno on the vital role of the arts and humanities

There’s quiet, but steady, drumbeat of pushing children and college students into narrow STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, and away from anything that doesn’t contribute to the (narrowly defined) “economy”. The UK Education Secretary said in 2014 that choosing to study arts or humanities could “hold them back for the rest of their lives”.  Being trained in both science and engineering, I’m the first to agree that a well-informed scientific and technically literate citizenry is of utmost importance, but it doesn’t follow that we should be just shovelling people into STEM.  It’s short-term thinking at it’s worst and is born of the idea that the purpose of education is to train people to contribute to the global neoliberal corporate state, rather than a process of becoming a complete, well-rounded human being.

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