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killing denouement blogs about if and how we make the distinction between copyleft and anti-copyright.  There’s a difference, at least in my mind, and I think the distinction is an important one to make — and the questions of whether these two models can coexist, and in what contexts they are most useful to creative types and intellectuals, are important to ask.  There is some level of agreement, at least amongst makers and thinkers I spend time with, reading, and reading about, about the fact that copyright has become unsuitable for the networked age, but also that copyright may be unsuitable for creative growth with or without ubiquitous digital networks.  I think it’s quite clear that, at the very least, contemporary copyright law is kind of a dinosaur, whether or not you like the idea of “intellectual property” or no.

Being anti-copyright, to me, means you don’t believe in any kind of checks or requirements for re-use or adaptation of someone else’s work.  Being all about copyleft, on the other hand, is more about liking progressive copyright law that allows individual makers and thinkers to place their own requirements on how others can re-use or adapt their work.  Anti-copyright is about a standard of free use for all; copyleft vests some power in the creator to say what happens next, but encourages progressive ways of dealing with information as opposed to forcing people to pay each other to use ideas.  At its core, anti-copyright versus copyleft asks a fundamental metaethical question: who gets privileges over stuff after that stuff has been produced?

On a very basic level I don’t think that knowledge should be bought or sold, but at the same time I do know that I continue to be forced to operate in a system where ideas professionals — intellectuals, artists, writers, programmers, or whoever else you might think of — still have to put food on the table.  I hate these kinds of compromises and they’re more symptomatic of larger-scale problems than who owns ideas, but they’re something that has to be taken into account.  Fortunately, just because this is the status quo doesn’t mean there are other ways to feed your family if you’re an ideas professional that don’t include draconian copyright over your “intellectual property.”  Just because your job doesn’t produce material stuff doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t benefit from producing — but then again, just because your job produces stuff doesn’t mean you own it.

I can see an argument based on the fact that completely free information is a public good, and that completely free information creates a better quality of life for more people.  The arguments for complete freedom of information are myriad: it has the potential to touch many people who might not have access in traditionally-controlled information environments; it’s more egalitarian; free information encourages creative innovation and collaboration; and it simply doesn’t make sense to try and regulate the exchange of information in a highly networked society.  I grant all this, but the question of who has privileges over what can be attributed to individual effort and labor still troubles me.

I think that people have a right to have some control over what they produce.  As a musician, for example, I think you have every right to say, “I don’t want you downloading my stuff from other fans.”  I might think you’re stupid for saying so, and even try and convince you that going after pirates isn’t the way to do business in the industry in this day and age, but I do want to afford you some control over the music you make.  I think it’s only fair: your effort and your creativity went into producing that music, it’s yours.  What you do with it is up to you, and it’s possible that you make the wrong choice in how you handle that right.

Which is a fundamental problem with copyright as we know it.  People’s choices are limited to: do nothing, let stuff propagate organically, or be draconian about your levels of control.  As far as I’m concerned that virtually isn’t even a choice. I think you should have even more choice over how things you produce get reproduced and distributed.

I do think being copyleft lets you make room for people who are stridently anti-copyright.  After all, if we let people make their own rules of use, some people might choose to let people take their ideas and run with them.  At the very least I think copyleft policy is useful because it creates an environment where people who are committed to progressive (or nonexistent) “intellectual property” rules can bend and customize as they see fit.  The main reason I consider myself a copyleftist and not anti-copyright is because I think if you make something, or have a part in making something, you have the right to some kind of control over it — and part of that control can be to decide that you no longer have control over it.


Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

So I’ve been working on the Program on Intergroup Relations‘ course materials for the gender dialogue for some time now.  I’ve added a lot of content, but one of the things that I’m currently wrestling with is the “Authorship and Copyright” box on the main page.  The original course materials book says this:

All materials remain property of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan, 530 S. State Street, 3000 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, MI. 48109-1308, 734-936-1875,  Materials may only be used with permission and proper citation of their source.

Now, this isn’t as draconian as it could be, but I definitely want the work that Jene and I have done on the gender course materials to be freely remixable and re-usable (so long as it’s not for commercial purposes, and so long as the remixers and re-users are down with sharing and sharing alike.  In general I think there’s a lot for academia to gain from Creative Commons licensing, and I sort of just want to change the Authorship/Copyright box on my new gender materials to a full-fledged Creative Commons license.

I kind of feel weird about it because my work is built on some other people’s work.  And they didn’t necessarily say that their work can be remixed and re-used.  Yet I’m the one doing this set of edits, and I have explicit permission to change and mash and delete and reconfigure, so doesn’t that give me the prerogative to re-license the material with Creative Commons?

I think it makes a lot of sense.  I was excited to see that Ph.D. candidates at UC Berkeley have recently made movements toward enabling students to file dissertations under Creative Commons licenses, instead of selling their souls to ProQuest.  I believe in the availability of academic work to everybody, regardless of their place in the academy, and Creative Commons is a great step in the right direction.  danah boyd, as always, says it better than I ever could.

Long and short, IGR, as a progressive, equality-motivated organization, is getting some Creative Commons licenses for their course materials.  It’s a little bit of another kind of rebellion on my part, and considering the entire project is really pretty damn subversive, I don’t see why not.  IGR should be sending the clear message that equality is for everybody, and I think Creative Commons is a super way to do that.

I don’t think it was as truly shocking as many people seemed to think it was when danah boyd blogged about the class divide between users of Myspace and Facebook.  I think it’s a significant divide, though, and I think that many critics of danah’s work were more given over to how she wrote rather than what she wrote.  And, as someone deeply committed to social justice as well as an internet evangelical, I think we owe it to ourselves to break this down a little bit more.

Talking to a co-worker who grew up in poverty in rural Alabama was pretty enlightening for me: she hadn’t had access to a computer until she was in her late teens.  Though there’s a class divide between users of Myspace and Facebook, what proportion of young Americans don’t have regular access to a computer and the internet?  I think it’s important that they do, but people in my place seem to forget that free (and I don’t mean cost-wise, because it’s not actually that hard to locate internet access you don’t have to pay for, so long as you live in an area with a decent public library) internet access to youth is something that isn’t yet taken for granted in many places in this country.  It’s remarkably emblematic for me of the privilege we experience as academics.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, most kids who come from impoverished backgrounds, have parents who did not complete high school, and/or Spanish-speaking-only households generally only have internet access at school, which is hardly free.  Though it’s reassuring that some 92% of public school classrooms have internet access, what’s the quality of that access?  How fast is it?  How free is it?

I know that I have made a grave assumption in the past that internet usage is ubiquitous enough to carry the kind of revolution that I envision.  I think that I have been coming to terms with my privilege — NCES notes that many more youth with parents who have parents with post-graduate degrees and don’t live in poverty have internet access both at home and school — coming from my financial and eduational background.  While I still think the internet is the future, and I think that it is the last great hope for democracy in the world, it worries me that, while only 54% of Americans reported using the internet in 2001, the government and big telecom are already taking steps to restrict what should be weird and free.

Do we have a responsibility as economically privileged members of society to keep the internet free for those who are still newcomers?  What can we do to increase computer and internet literacy in impoverished areas?  How can we teach young people who don’t have consistent, free access to the internet the value of information?  I think this is clearly an educational problem, and the solutions, like the solutions to problems facing impoverished school districts, are not easy.  A first step is the provision of new, good computers and courses that encourage the use of the internet.  Unfortunately I feel like many of the people in my age bracket who are interested in education don’t seem to have an eye and a knack for the internet, and those who are technological evangelists like myself are more focused on research and academia than the hands-on work of spreading the technology we love to places which cannot afford it.

I think, though, that part of the reason we’re not so invested in this distribution is because we don’t talk about poverty in the United States.  The One Laptop Per Child project, for example, is focused on providing computers to poor children in developing nations.  And while OLPC has an admirable goal, who’s working on access to computers in the United States?  And, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds projects to get more computers and steady internet access into public libraries across the U.S., I doubt that just computers and community-oriented literacy courses are going to change the way youth in these areas interact with information technology.

So: what do we do about this?

The New Yorker ran a fantastic article about the state of intellectual conservatism in China.  I was reminded of a conversation I had recently at a restaurant with my friend from Peking University, Yiyang.  We discussed the difference between political and theological conservatism, and what it means in the United States to be a liberal or a conservative.  What about in a philosophical sense?

It interests me that Chinese intellectuals are so interested in Harvey Mansfield, in Leo Strauss.  It makes a great deal of sense to me that young Chinese, so enamored of the explosion in material wealth that is characteristic of China today, would see conservatism in an intellectual sense the reasonable alternative.  And I can see why the affluent lives of young, educated Chinese are such good tools to convince them that in this political moment, what really matters is national pride, because China is on the rise, and so long as China is on the rise, what does it really matter that the government is viewed by the West as oppressive?

As the New Yorker notes, it’s common practice to sidestep the Great Firewall.  In fact, it’s a little less like scaling the Berlin Wall than a rabbit digging under a garden fence.  In a matter of moments, through a wide variety of technological tools, you can get to the other side.  Young, educated Chinese don’t see the Great Firewall as a threat.  The government’s censorship program is malleable, as well.  Though there are notable exceptions, like the dissident blogger, Shi Tao, who was ‘betrayed’ by Yahoo to Chinese authorities and was sentenced to 10 years, the topic of direct and intentional censorship by the Chinese government hasn’t really come up in my circles.

Is lack of speech about free speech equivalent to free speech?  I certainly don’t think so, but the philosophy graduate student, Tang Jie, featured in the New Yorker essay says,

“We are always eager to get other information from different channels.” Then he added, “But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed.”

Sure, it’s a good point, and I’d argue that Tang probably thinks more about his media intake than does the average American, though…that isn’t saying much, is it?  Life in this so-called repressive state sure doesn’t seem repressive from the inside, and not during daily life.  The importance the West places on things like freedom of the press and the social and political issues that sparked Tienanmen Square seem to be largely lost on my Chinese friends.  The question of the influence of intellectual conservatism on young Chinese is something that fascinates me — because it certainly has a pull on the way I see things, but I can’t deny the fact that I am avowedly a socialist.  I can’t help but find my Chinese peers’ indifference toward some of their government’s mismanagements mystifying and frightening, at turns.

It will be interesting to see what comes of the new political lines being drawn in China.  Mostly everyone I’ve talked to is dissatisfied with the government in some respect, but how will — and can — the liberals and the conservatives, who are both unhappy with the way the Party is managing things, come together to make a positive change?  After the economic prosperity, what are the priorities of China’s educated elite?

Sometimes it seems like I am.  The so-called “compromise bill” to update FISA for 2008 passed the House today, and nobody is fussing too much about it.  I’m starting to wonder if other people should be as frightened as I am of this thing.  In spite of the troubling fact that the bill grants retroactive immunity to telecom firms that helped the government spy on their customers without search warrants, I heard nothing about this on the radio today, and nobody I’ve spoken with really even knows what this bill means.  Is this weird to anybody else?  Why aren’t we speaking out against this?  Why doesn’t anyone know what’s going on, even?

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been lost behind the Golden Shield — that is, the Great Firewall — and haven’t had time to investigate setting up anonymizing tools so I can get around it. I’ve installed and am running Tor to anonymize my surfing. So far, so good — I’m pretty happy with it. It’s fairly easy to use, I recommend at least checking it out.

As you might expect, WordPress is blocked in China. Things have been interesting here, and though I don’t have the energy to relate them all at the moment, if you click over to my Ego blog, there are a few entries there that I managed to crank out. The interface ain’t no WordPress, but it worked while I was away. I’ll be returning to Hong Kong soon and things will be back to normal. The nice thing about Tor though, it keeps people from snooping into your business while you use the internet. Very important not just in China, but also in the States, where someone is watching your every digital move.

Speaking of watching your every move, Naomi Klein had an article published in a recent issue of Rolling Stone about the state of surveillance in China…er…state surveillance in China? (The state of state surveillance.) It made checking back into the five-star Wenjin a bittersweet activity. Interestingly enough, it turns out the police do do random searches of foreigners here, and it happened to someone on my trip. Conveniently enough, the day we moved out of the youth hostel, one of my tripmates had her passport taken during a police search of her hostel room. You need to show a passport to check into hotels here. They scan your bioinfo page and your visa page, and according to some sources (including Ms. Klein) they send that data to the police. Luckily my tripmate got her passport back, but it was definitely a sober reminder that we are in China.

One of the things that always surprises me here is how readily both Chinese and Westerners equate economic freedoms — property ownership, freedom to start enterprises, and the ability to make money, for example — with political freedoms, like freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press. I’m guessing that for my dad’s generation, the economic freedoms are enough. He was five when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and so the ability to change one’s economic status is probably one hell of a thrill. However, the fact that people still need to use proxies to access some sites on the internet — and the fact that Shenzen has 2 million CCTV cameras for a little over 12 million residents, as an example — doesn’t seem to wig people out.

Maybe this’ll come with time. I’ve been reading Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody and I am trying to fathom how to apply these sorts of things to Chinese situations, especially since the internet is so restricted. Caroline Watson from Hua Dan also pointed out to me that anyone who is not a member of the rising middle class or above doesn’t have access to computers and the internet. They do, however, have mobile phones, and that seems to me to be an untapped resource. People are starting to normalize this technology in their lives. The next step is coming up with an innovative use for it…and in my experience, the people of China are very innovative. I’m interested to see what comes of it.

On the flip side, the Chinese government is pretty ace at packaging even the stuff that leaks out on the internet — look at what happened earlier this year in Tibet. Most of the information that came out of the Lhasa riots was disseminated by the Chinese state media. The few citizens, journalists and bloggers who were able to get information out don’t seem to be recognized by the mainstream media, and it’s really hard to read who’s being serious about what. What does a technologically-savvy Chinese population have to do to break this trend?

I think a major reason the Chinese government was able to spin these protests was the fact that by and large there were not all that many people posting images to the internet. I wonder if many more people began posting images and even tweeting from their mobiles (Twitter, by the way, is not blocked by the Great Firewall), the government might have a harder time sweeping up after itself.

By and large people seem to keep in line here. There is no violence to speak of in this city, which is amazing, but certainly a result of the fact that the government is so stringent about its rules. But as the country gets more economically liberal, will people begin demanding further political liberalization?

So I know you guys might abhor blogging what you’re really thinking. I sometimes have horrifying nightmares of people stealing what I’m thinking off my blog. Especially the most recent previous post — what if someone jumps on that idea before I do? How do you think that’d make me feel? That would really suck, and especially because that’s the kind of thing I want to make my career out of , it’s kind of a risky move.

Risky only from a traditional viewpoint. Now that it’s out there in the open, I’m hoping to get a lot of feedback before I decide to do anything about it. I know that the academic institution helps you guys out a lot with that whole feedback thing, but right now I don’t have those tools. And also, you don’t have access to people like me. I know that you might have a (mild?) distrust of people like me — raving blogging loonies, I know. But at the same time, there are people who are doing some really serious work who are using both the online commons and the ivory tower. Most of these people are doing research that have directly to do with other stuff that goes on in the online commons, like alternate reality games. Still, I don’t see why we can’t start expanding the conversation to more “traditional” academic topics.

This proposal is a little bit crazy, I know. Peer review in the commons can often turn into vulgar mud-slinging flame war contests. But it doesn’t have to — I think that a lot of people have this image of the internet as pretty vulgar. And it is pretty vulgar from time to time. But you’re not going to be publishing your dissertation on 4chan. Spam filters are getting as good as spam is getting bad. There are also wonderful places on the internet where people are quite civil, intelligent, and thoughtful.

Of course you’re going to run into problems with a lot of major academic journals’ anal-retentive access policies. But you might not ever publish something in your blog that is rigorous enough for publication in academic journals. Or you might shun journals which aren’t open-access friendly. But I think I might be getting ahead of myself a little here. These are ethical choices I’m going to leave up to you.

The point is, I want to know what you guys are really thinking. I know that the internet is in a lot of ways the Wild West of intellectual life. There aren’t many sheriffs in town, and those that are there can and are wildly inconsistent. It’s not safe per se — but there are also untold rewards for people who venture out. There’s gold in them thar hills, if you will. The gold is the public.

I know you aren’t too keen on it, but think about those undergrads you have who are really bright. When do we ever get a chance to interface with you on topics outside of class and class topics? I know you might never wonder what I’m really thinking, but like I said before, I wonder all the time what you’re really thinking. I mean, you guys are pretty smart.


 Coming out in defense of net neutrality is a really good way to get me to vote for you, btw.

Look, for me, the political arena is kind of like the queer community here at U of M: you might try to ignore it, or avoid it, because it’s cliched or boring or melodramatic, but somehow if you find yourself in the demographic it generally encompasses, there’s only so long you can go without getting involved somehow. I used to think I wanted to run for President one day, but I think now that’s a load of shit. I would rather be able to blaze my own trails. Yeah, yeah, I’m an academic pussy, but are you surprised? I’m studying philosophy. We weren’t designed for life outside the ivory tower.

That said, I spend a lot of time lurking on political blogs, left and right, combing candidates’ sites and trying to figure out who is going to fuck up the least. I am, after all, in the demographic that American politics effects the most: Americans. Everyone’s tired. I think that of most of the people I talk to on campus who don’t directly do work for one party or another are just tired. Not just of bullshit candidates and the adamant refusal to answer questions, but also of the American political system itself.

I keep telling people that democracy is the worst form of government except for the others that have already been tried (attributed to Winston Churchill, am I right?) and I really believe that. (Watch me get elected with that kind of faith in the system!) I’m a guy who’s a little like John Adams: willing to go along with this democracy thing, I guess, but skeptical about the judgments made by the masses. My phobia of the pedestrian, illiterate and the mundane is probably my biggest fear. (Outside of zombies.)

At the same time I have this innate love of the Internet. I honestly think that if we are to make a democratic system effective knowledge and information must be free and easy to obtain – and this applies not just to information about candidates, it also applies to knowledge about how the health care system really works, or why we should infringe on someone’s rights (or if it’s justified at all). Well-educated societies produce good government under a democratic or republican model, because the electorate can pick representatives or vote for legislation that makes sense. (Obviously real life is never that easy.)

Probably the best manifestation of both my faith in the Internet and my disdain (fear?) of the populists is Ron Paul. He’s embracing new technology, from being one of two Republican candidates currently slated to take part in the CNN/YouTube debates for their party. He’s for net neutrality. (Speaking of faith in the Internet, how can you have it of someone else controls it?) He has all the right moves, too – not afraid to speak his mind, nothing to hide. Really, the guy has nothingto be particularly ashamed of, as far as I can see, except for the fact that his support base is such that the first five Paul devotees I met were fat Goth kids. (Okay, so one was a secret Internet fatty, but we’ll still count it.)

That aside, I also kind of balk at guys who are really into national sovereignty to the point where they want to withdraw from NAFTA and the UN. International conspiracy to take over U.S. sovereignty, for sure. That’s why the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council, and countries vote for, and engage in protracted debate on, motions (don’t get me started on the fact they’re quite ineffective anyway). Let’s not ignore the corruption and bribery in these bodies. I’m sure it never happens in America.

Look, people aren’t perfect, and I expect nothing less of my national government and international regulatory bodies than a few corruption scandals every now and then. But resisting the UN from the White House is kind of a silly idea from a guy who also says that “we must not isolate ourselves.” If I’m not mistaken this seems like a somewhat contradictory foreign policy plan.

I want really badly to just agree with someone for once, but the only person I’m ever going to really agree with is me, I guess. I want really badly to have a candidate I can endorse. And that’s why I think most of us kids are tired. (Let the flame war begin!)


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