Monday, November 12, 2018

To Make the Internet Great Again, Trump Must Smash Facebook and Its Tech Oligarch Friends

To Make the Internet Great Again, Trump Must Smash Facebook and Its Tech Oligarch Friends


The tech giants are strangling our culture and economy.


Joel Kotkin
11.10.18 9:41 AM ET





OPINION

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Even as many Americans look with horror on the authoritarian blusterer in the White House, we are slowly succumbing to a more pernicious, less obvious and far more lasting tech oligarchy gaining ever more control over our economy, culture and politics.

“We are certainly looking at” bringing antitrust cases against Amazon, Facebook and Google,” Trump said in an interview just before the election, adding that he’s had “so many people” warning him about their overwhelming power.

Unreliable narrator though the President may be, people are indeed waking up to the tech giants’ massive and largely unchecked power, and the consequences of turning over our channels of communication to them. That includes World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who said earlier this year that he “was devastated” by how the internet has been used in recent elections, including our presidential race, and that he’s working to create a new system now that "the web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places.”



We once saw the tech industry as a refreshing alternative to the staid old corporate establishment, a entrepreneurial environment where all kinds of thoughts and images would have free rein. Yet as the industry has evolved, it has become one of the most concentrated and monopolistic America has ever seen, determined to stamp out prospective rivals and expand control of both media and politics.

Amazon’s recent decision to put its two new “headquarters” operations in New York and Washington illustrates the growing collusion of tech, culture and media. From an economic or geographic point of view, other cities like Columbus, Dallas, or Indianapolis, where tech growth is greater and where lower housing and living prices are drawing more millennials, might have made more sense. But by locating in the most expensive and connected northeastern cities, Amazon and Jeff Bezos are placing themselves in the heart of the nation’s dominant media and political culture. With almost limitless cash, considerations like office or housing costs, or even taxes, that impact most normal businesses apparently mean very little.



The early phases of the digital revolution, which I witnessed in California in the 1970s and 1980s, were shaped by relentless competition between upstarts and firms that, just a few years earlier had been upstarts. Scores of companies launched their own personal computer lines, software and peripherals.

Today, a handful of companies that have colluded to keep wages down dominate the digital economy, in part by buying up any emerging competitors. Once we had bold notions of the internet helping to create an ever-expanding realm of options in the arts and journalism. In 1980, the late Alvin Toffler suggested in The Third Wave a “de-massified media.” Instead, we have Google controlling nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of American e-book sales, over forty percent of all online sales and, perhaps most important, nearly 40 percent of the world’s “cloud business.” Together, Google and Apple control over 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices. Microsoft still accounts for over 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.

Rather than the old science fiction meme of tyranny through machines, the tech giants are expanding their control of how we think. Rather than simply seeking to provide speedier pipelines, they want to control what is in the pipe. In this effort the oligarchs enjoy enormous advantages. Nearly two thirds of readers now get at least some of their news through Facebook and Google—two companies that employ no reporters and are often in fact hostile to them. This dominance is even greater, in both the U.S. and the U.K., among millennials who, by some account, are almost three times as likely to get their information from these platforms than from print, television or radio.


In some senses the traditional media doesn’t have a chance. Overall print publishing (books, newspapers, magazines), has lost 290,000 jobs—40 percent of its 2001 job base. With Facebook and Google accounting for over 89 percent of the growth of the growth in online advertising in 2017, it’s exceedingly difficult for new publications to survive online given the dominance of the oligarchic platforms.

Here’s one sign of their dominance: When Facebook went down for 45 minutes in August, direct traffic to publishers immediately shot up: by more than 10 percent to website and 20 percent to mobile apps. Search traffic to publishers went up by nearly 10 percent, and, a little surprisingly, overall web traffic went up by about 2 percent.

“One of the fascinating things we noticed in the data was just how instantaneous the reaction was,” wrote Chartbeat. “When Facebook went down, it took only seconds for users to break the habit.”



While Facebook both pushes traffic to and competes with publishers, a similar pattern emerged when YouTube went down for an hour one evening in August: Web traffic to Chartbeat publishers shot up 20 percent, although about half of that increase came from searches related to the YouTube outage.



Having eclipsed the news business, the tech bosses are now looking to outright buy its remaining trusted brands. First Zuckerberg’s college roommate bought the New Republic in 2012 and then Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post in 2013 while Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the Apple founder, bought the Atlantic. This year, Marc Benioff, founder of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, purchased long-distressed Time magazine for $190 million. For its part, Google is also promoting bot-produced journalism, while planning to invest $300 millioninto subsidizing favored reporters. Zuckerberg himself is hoping to run for president.

In China, the estimable South China Morning Post is now owned by Alibaba.com, the country’s equivalent to Amazon. Since the takeover, the once fiercely independent paper promotes a more positive view of the Chinese dictatorship for the rest of the world to read.

News media is hardly the only content the oligarchs seek to dominate. Amazon has achieved enormous influence over the book industry of which it is by far the largest seller, constituting nearly 40 percent of all books sales, and upwards of 90 percent of eBook sales. Great publishing chains such as Hachette and Macmillanhave found themselves hostage to Amazon’s requests. YouTube, which was acquired by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock, has become determinative in the music industry, even as it hardly pays artists.

Hollywood also is clearly in tech giants’ sites. Netflix, a company financed by Silicon Valley venture firms, is now worth about as much as Disney and, along with Amazon, produces an ever-growing share of the award-winning programming on television. Both Netflix and Amazon each have well over 100 million subscribers, an unprecedented clientele for video production, yet the paychecks of many middle-class Hollywood workers are shrinking as these companies grow and exert ever more control over what people do on sets of movies they finance, including a ban on asking for phone numbers of co-workers or even looking at people for more than five seconds.

Of course, these new titans offer ritual denials from these new owners that they won’t influence content, but if you believe that, please buy a bridge that crosses over to my family’s native Brooklyn. When the equally rapacious moguls of the early 20th Century, like the McCormick’s of Chicago or William Randolph Hearst, bought papers, they pushed an agenda of imperial expansion, anti-unionism, and resistance to those assaulting their fortunes. Oligarchs historically have tended to buy media, art or even office buildings not necessarily just to protect their wealth, but, as Jeffrey Winters, author of Oligarchy, suggests, also to serve their own “vanity and advance their points of view.”

Some on the left may be tempted that given the tech oligarchs ostensibly “progressive” positions this takeover is a good thing. They certainly don’t want conservative billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson or the Sinclair’s, buying media, although what they own are usually local outlets with limited reach. Most oligarchs, including the granddaddy of the current wave, Michael Bloomberg, concentrate on the bigger markets, and those with the most influence.

The Bloomberg’s and Bezos’ are more like all autocrats seeking control than the great defenders of democracy that their publicists like to portray. Like all good upper-caste members, they seek to control the mores of society against both the depredations of louts like Trump and any grassroots attempts to undermine their oligopolies. Bernie Sanders discovered this when he took on Amazon and received scathing treatment in Bezos’ plaything, The Washington Post.

Let’s put it this way: good luck publishing a piece like this one in the Post; at Bloomberg Business Week, one longtime staff correspondent told me, the very use of the word “oligarch” is not permissible, since that’s not the proper image of the boss.

Bezos and Bloomberg are hardly alone in their passion to instruct others. The need to maintain control is critical to all oligarchies. Facebook’s attempts to “curate” content not only takes out open racists and Russian bots, but also, according to former employees, simply contrary and largely conservative views. Due to their new monopoly status, these firms, as Trump-supporting tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel notes, don’t have to “worry about competing with anyone,” allowing them to indulge their own particular prejudice to a greater extent than those who might have to worry about alienating customers.

Short of anti-trust action, not much can impact monopolists with unlimited funds. Over 70 percent of Americans, notes a recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

This isn’t the future we’ve hoped for. I won’t bet on it but here, at least, is a chance for Trump to smash some of the right idols for a change. Maybe this is one case progressives, moderates, and conservatives alike could find that rarest of thing: common ground.

Does the City of Tiburon care more about their parks and the public than the Marinwood CSD and Marin County?

Open Letter sent to the Marinwood CSD board, Parks and Recreation Commission and Staff:


Why has the CSD ignored 200 petitioners who object to th 4400 square foot Maintenance Compound? We simply want an open process to discuss the best options for our beloved Marinwood Park. When we will lose this beautiful section of park next to Miller Creek, it is gone forever. Is this the legacy we leave our children?

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Tiburon blowback stalls plan for soccer field shed






Crews scrape grass from the soccer field at McKegney Green in Tiburon last May. The work was part of a renovation project on the field. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

By MATTHEW PERA | mpera@marinij.com |
PUBLISHED: October 1, 2018 at 9:38 am | UPDATED: October 1, 2018 at 6:01 pm


Tiburon residents concerned about the aesthetics of what some call the town’s “crown jewel” have helped stifle the construction of a storage shed near Blackie’s Pasture — at least for now.

The proposed 600-square-foot shed, which officials estimate would cost about $200,000, would have housed equipment used to maintain McKegney Green — the soccer field under renovation south of Blackie’s Pasture — and other parts of Richardson Bay Lineal Park.

The field, a sand-based alternative to typical athletic turf, is set to open to the public in March, according to Greg Chanis, Tiburon’s town manager. He called the project 90 percent complete, but said officials are waiting until after the rainy season until they allow play on the field.

Tiburon’s already-stretched parks staff will soon have to spread its time even more thinly to keep up with maintenance at the field, officials said. The construction crew working on the $2 million renovation is still maintaining McKegney as it completes the project, but will hand that duty over to the town later this month.

Storing tools and other maintenance items — including a mower, an aerator, fuel and fertilizer — in a shed near the field would cut down on time spent lugging that equipment between the park and the town’s corporation yard, which are about 2 miles apart, according to Chanis.

Members of the Tiburon Planning Commission said last week they didn’t like the location of the proposed shed, tucked behind public restrooms at the Richardson Bay Lineal Park near Blackie’s Pasture. The park, in a prime location along the bay, isn’t suitable for a storage facility, some said, echoing concerns from community members.

Carla Rivera, who lives across the street from the park, called the shed an “industrial use” facility at a public park and opposed the project.

“This is really going to impact the views that we have,” she said.

Kathy McLoud said the site could be put to better use.


“It’s our park, and a permanent structure just nails the coffin in anything we could ever do there.”

Holly Thier, a member of the Tiburon Town Council, called Blackie’s Pasture the town’s “crown jewel.” She told commissioners last week she thought the shed “unnecessary” and urged them to oppose the project.

“Tonight you’re about to make history,” she said. “Tonight is the most important vote that will ever come before you in your lifetime probably. Blackie’s Pasture defines Tiburon. It’s the soul of our community. … Tonight you will define how our community is going to look for future generations.” See full story HERE

The Dixie School 1863-1954

The Dixie School

The Dixie Schoolhouse is both historically and architecturally significant in relationship to early California.  Not only does it provide a valuable link to the well-known James Miller family, but it is Marin County’s last remaining mid-Victorian one-room schoolhouse with is substantially unaltered, and intended for viable, contemporary public use DSC 9579aas an educational museum, meeting hall, and historical monument for visiting classes of school-children.  The other schoolhouses of this era have either been converted to private residences or demolished.
    The Schoolhouse is a rectangular one-story building with simple classical details.  Originally the school building was located on a deck which projected approximately five feet from the building.  (Restoration plans provide for the reconstruction of this deck.)  The original foundation has been replaced by a concrete foundation on the school’s new site.  Deterioration of original materials is minimal because of continuous and various use.  The process of restoration has revealed the original wooden floor materials, interior walls and blackboards.
    The Schoolhouse has a symmetrical façade with windows (four over four lights, double-hung wooden sashes) flanking the entrance.  This entrance is a double-door with a single light transom above.  The building has three bays across the principal façade, and two bays on the side facades.
    A simple porch is supported by two posts which originally contained simple decorative brackets.  Originally the porch was surmounted by a low balustrade and a flagpole on the front right-hand corner.  The corners of the building had simple pilasters which only partially remain today.  Details include simple Italianate bracketed roof and window cornices and a simple dentil course below the roof.  The building has a hipped roof with a central pediment above the entrance on the principal façade.
    Originally the school was painted white with details and trim in a darker color.  An earlier and much smaller rectangular school building is now attached to the rear of the main school-building.  It has no decorative details.  In the 19th century the school was surrounded by a picket fence with will be replaced during the restoration process, as well as the “window’s walk” above the front porch.  The main school-building had interior louvered shutters with will eventually be replaced.
    In 1862 when James Miller’s son, Bernard, was six, Miller donated three-quarters of an acre for the Dixie School which was to be built near the Las Gallinas home ranch so that Bernard would have a school to attend.  On November 3, 1863, the Board of Supervisors formally established the “Dixie Public School District”, making Dixie one of the earliest districts to be established in Marin.  The original Dixie Schoolhouse, which later became an annex and library to the larger and newer schoolhouse, was built in 1864.  This fact is confirmed both by Bernard Hoffman’s notes and the Superintendent of Schools Report in 1899.  Mr. Hoffman, raised by the Miller family, attended Dixie in the 1870’s and later served as a trustee of the District for fifty years.  His notes state that the “present annex to the main building was built in 1864.  I have seen ‘1864’ printed on its side.  The large building was built later.”
    Mr. Hoffman’s memory served him well.  An 1899 report of the Superintendent of Schools confirms this date.  “The District was organized November 3, 1863 and a house was built and school opened in March, 1864.”
    Mrs. Frances Miller Leitz, granddaughter of James Miller stated that her grandfather not only donated the land but helped haul redwood from the Nicasio Mills for construction of both school buildings.  Mrs. Leitz also uncovered the origin of the school’s name (“Dixie”) when she stated that her grandfather, no being a man to turn down a challenge, named the building “on a dare”.  Marin County in 1864 was hotly pro-Northern and the fact that several Southern sympathizers helped in the construction of the first schoolhouse prompted someone to dare James Miller to name the school “Dixie”.
    Until the 1868-69 school year, Dixie School property, which included schoolhouse and equipment, was consistently valued at $300 but at this time, the total “valuation of property” suddenly jumped to $1,100, and for the first time, the evaluation included a “library”.  A note in the Marin County Journal dated May 29, 1873 confirms the use of the annex as a library.  “The Dixie School, under Miss Giffin, has sixteen pupils enrolled with a good average attendance.  They have a good school room with library attached which contains a very choice selection of works.  It is considered a model school in all its appointments.”
    In 1869 James Miller was listed as the only trustee of the school district in the records of the Marin County Superintendent of Schools.  It is evident from these records of schools trustee membership during the first decades that James Miller and John Lucas were the backbone of the early life of the school.  (See Appendix C)
    Finally, on January 9, 1874, James Miller deeded the three-quarter acre site to the Dixie School District on the sole condition that the property be used exclusively for public school purposes.  (See Appendix D).
    Josephine Leary Burke was the last teacher to teach in the little Dixie School.  Mrs. Burke recalls leaving the schoolhouse in 1954 after her experience as superintendent, principal and sole teacher for fourteen years.  She had twenty-six pupils at that time.  Known as “Joie” to her many friends, she was highly individualistic and creative in her teaching methods and truly a “progressive” teacher (though the term would never be hers.)
“She followed deer trails with her pupils dressed as Indians, identified animal tracks, picked up bits of fur and hair which they placed under a microscope; collected rocks, watched birds.  Snakes, toads and frogs were brought into the classroom for study.
They made cheese, ice cream and butter….
‘The best way to learn is by use of the five senses.’”
(North Marin Advance, September 1961)
    Mrs. Burke retired from teaching in the Dixie District in 1971 but it should be noted that, in fact, Mrs. Burke is far from “retired”.  She serves as Executive Director of the Dixie Schoolhouse Foundation and Will act as “teacher” and docent in the Schoolhouse for visiting schoolchildren from all over.
    Mrs. Burke’s last year in the schoolhouse (1954) marked the beginning of dramatic growth for the District.  At that time the district enrollment was fifty pupils and the entire staff consisted of Mrs. Burke, Mr. Dennie Willis, and Mrs. Wilma Ingwersen Goss.  With the rapid development of the subdivisions and the sharp increase in population, the need for a school building program was imperative.  What had been a one-teacher school with twenty-three pupils in 1953 had increased its enrollment to 381 by the school year 1955-56.  Today Dixie District has ten schools and a student population of 4000.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Fable: THE HARES AND THE FROGS

THE HARES AND THE FROGS

HARES, as you know, are very timid. The least shadow, sends them scurrying in fright to a hiding place.

Once they decided to die rather than live in such misery. But while they were debating how best to meet death, they thought they heard a noise and in a flash were scampering off to the warren.

On the way they passed a pond where a family of Frogs was sitting among the reeds on the bank. In an instant the startled Frogs were seeking safety in the mud.

"Look," cried a Hare, "things are not so bad after all, for here are creatures who are even afraid of us!"

However unfortunate we may think we are there is always someone worse off than ourselves.


[Illustration]

Best Way to Store an Extension Cord.

State of Marin Economy 2018



“Update on the State of the Economy in Marin and the Challenges Ahead”

Speakers:
·      Robert Eyler – Dean of School of Extended and International Education, Sonoma State University
·      Bruce Wilson – Executive Director, Workforce Alliance of the North Bay
·      Sam Pahlavan – General Manager, Marriott Hotel, Larkspur