"This is a profound transformation, and one we barely talk about. " Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber sees the FBI Ferguson report as a window into how American democracy is changing. [more inside]
David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy
Unlike the enormous and comprehensive Debt, Utopia of Rules is mostly argument, not history. It sets out to investigate the problem of "bureaucracy" -- basically, rules, and the simmering threat of violence that underpins them. Hidebound adherence to awful, runaround bureaucracy was always the sin laid at the feet of slow-moving, Stalinist states under the influence of the USSR. Capitalism, we were told, was dynamic, free, and open. But if that's so, why is it that since the USSR imploded, bureaucracy under capitalism has exploded? If you live in a western, capitalist state, you probably spend more time filling in paperwork, waiting on hold, resubmitting Web-forms, attending performance reviews, brainstorming sessions, training meetings, and post-mortems than any of your ancestors, regardless of which side of the Iron Curtain they lived on.[more inside]
The European Parliament building regularly makes visitors and employees break down and cry. The disorienting effect probably wasn’t an accident. “Our buildings offer themselves to their inhabitants and to the city as ‘mysteries,’ or stories for which we provide ‘keys’ and signs so that they can be deciphered,” is how Architecture-Studio’s website describes its approach.
A Deaf couple in Great Britain has successfully fought for the right to include the British Sign Language notation of their child's name on her birth certificate.
Gottland is not a novel, but that proves difficult to remember. The book, playfully subtitled Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, is technically a work of reportage, and its author, Mariusz Szczygieł, one of Poland’s best-known journalists. Most of Gottland’s tales, however, seem better suited to Soviet science fiction—or even Russian absurdism—than to actual European history. Szczygieł, aware of his essays’ incredibility, alludes to it not only in Gottland’s subtitle but also in a more blatant disclaimer to his readers: “From here on, most of what we know . . . should be labeled with the first sentence from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, which goes: ‘All this happened, more or less.’”
Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator: For years, one man has approved virtually every beer label design in the United States. Among brewers, he’s a tyrant. A legend. A pedantic pain in the ass. Brewers and legal experts speak of him in hushed tones, with equal parts irritation and reverence. "He’s the king of beer. His will is law," said one lawyer who works with him regularly. The lawyer asked to remain anonymous, for fear of crossing the beer specialist. "There’s one dude in the government who gets to control a multibillion-dollar industry with almost no supervision." And he goes by the name "Battle."
Counterintuitive as it may sound, it is perfectly fine and acceptable to just use common sense when editing Wikipedia.
The US Office of Personnel Management's Retirement Operations Center is housed about 230 feet below the surface inside the caverns of an old limestone mine. The trucks full of paperwork come every day, turning off a country road north of Pittsburgh and descending through a gateway into the earth. Underground, they stop at a metal door decorated with an American flag. [more inside]
Turkey: The Erdogan-Gulen showdown - "A political fight to the death had just broken out between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, and his former allies in the movement of Mr Gulen... The prime minister argues that the Gulenists have set up a 'parallel state' within the bureaucracy, following orders from Pennsylvania and pursuing an agenda of their own." [more inside]
Buffalo News theater critic reviews a recent school board meeting.
The Control Revolution And Its Discontents - "the long process of algorithmisation over the last 150 years has also, wherever possible, replaced implicit rules/contracts and principal-agent relationships with explicit processes and rules."
Adam Humphreys created a successful business helping people navigate the Chinese embassy's bureaucracy (in a van parked across the street).
The Age of Imperialism is over, but its impact remains, leaving behind a long-lasting legacy through cultural norms. Comparing individuals on opposite sides of the long-gone Habsburg Empire border within five countries, it shows that firms and people living in what used to be the empire have higher trust in courts and police.
Here’s what we think the Editor Trends Study tells us: Between 2005 and 2007, newbies started having real trouble successfully joining the Wikimedia community. Before 2005 in the English Wikipedia, nearly 40% of new editors would still be active a year after their first edit. After 2007, only about 12-15% of new editors were still active a year after their first edit. Post-2007, lots of people were still trying to become Wikipedia editors. What had changed, though, is that they were increasingly failing to integrate into the Wikipedia community, and failing increasingly quickly. The Wikimedia community had become too hard to penetrate. - The Wikimedia Strategy March 2011 Update discusses wikipedia's declining ability to retain new editors. Meanwhile the case of the deletion (and restoration) of the article on the remarkably notable Old Man Murray highlights the bad decisions that can occur when insular admins and editors favor deletionist sentiment and bureaucratic rule-waving over the input of outsiders and a basic level of research.
Not all queer or LGBT people are for legalizing gay marriage. The Against Equality collective argues that legalizing marriage values one type of relationship over another (.pdf), doesn't do enough for queer people of colour, and plays into the larger class struggle. Beyond Marriage calls for "access to a flexible set of economic benefits and options regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender/gender identity, class, or citizenship status". Queer activists in Maine consider the marriage issue a "distraction from improving the lives of gay people", and Questioning Transphobia argues that "marriage by its very nature is an exclusive practice, its purpose is to ennoble some relationships and by default render other relationships to be less meaningful and less worthy of legal and social recognition". Mainstream queer women's website Autostraddle ponders all this and asks: does gay marriage make gays straight?
Need some dessert ideas? The Pentagon has recipes for brownies and oatmeal cookies. (26 page pdf)
There is a law in South Carolina that forces any subversive organization to register before the Secretary of State. Penalties for refusing to do so include a fine for up to $25,000 and 10 years imprisonment. You can download the form here. [more inside]
Simulated U.S. Government Agency Responses to Vampire-Americans "Every spring, [the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce] runs a policy simulation designed to illustrate the difficulty of operating an organization in the context of asymmetric and limited information. Every fall, I run a two hour mini-simulation designed to give students a sense of how the larger simulation will play out. ... Since vampires seem to be in the news lately, this year I chose a vampire oriented scenario."
Why bureaucracy, like gas, fills up all available space. From the archive of The Economist, 1955 [via ArchiveDigger.]
Wondering which Obama administration job is right for you? The Plum Book (2008 Edition) is a US government publication that lists some 8000 jobs (including salary ranges) in the executive branch that will become available upon the inauguration of President-Elect Obama. (Individual chapters are .pdf files.) [more inside]
Even Astronauts Commit Suicide. Former Navy doctor, astronaut and Space Shuttle mission specialist, ham radio operator, and one time flight surgeon of The Blue Angels, Dr. Chuck Brady, was denied a hip replacement by the Navy shortly before he took his own life in July, 2006, and, according to his friend Dr. Ed Drum, this was a pivotal point in the depression that led Dr. Brady to apparently take his own life. [more inside]
Applications for UK visas are being denied for ridiculous reasons, says an independent monitor report. Among the reasons: never having been on holiday before, "failing to complete pivotal areas of Section 6", and "plan[ning] a holiday for no particular purpose other than sightseeing. BBC readers contribute their stories - from potential bridesmaids being told that they were only going to marry English men like their sister was doing, to not having good enough German.
Are you a citizen? Prove it. Stateline.org, a research group funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, takes a look at how some states are moving to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005 (previously discussed here and here) and how Americans will be affected.
Government waste. While the report had very libertarian leanings, John Stossel's special on how royally inept our government is at accomplishing anything is an indictment of the entrenched ways of doing things. There must be some sort of crossroad where liberal social policies can meet with real accountability without bureaucracy.