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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Product Placement Runs Amok

Product Placement Runs Amok

July 17, 2008 | By David Bollier

Once upon a time, the public owned the airwaves and broadcasters were mandated to serve the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” Now, not only has deregulation gutted the public’s rights to educational, local and public affairs programming, even the degraded commercial programming that remains is being converted into wall-to-wall advertisements. The tactic, usually known as “product placement,” is now metastasizing into obnoxious new forms of commercial propagandizing, none of it disclosed.

A Breakthrough for Indigenous People’s Rights

A Breakthrough for Indigenous People’s Rights

July 17, 2008

An historic event in the annals of human progress took place last fall with virtually no media attention in the United States.

After 22 years of negotiations, the United Nations voted 143-4 on September 13 to endorse the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People—a logical next step beyond the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed in 1948.

The Entrepreneur Commons

The Entrepreneur Commons

July 17, 2008

The Entrepreneur Commons is trying to change the process of financing startups, by doing loans instead of equity deals. The concept is similar to what is being done in Microfinance, but applied to entrepreneurs in developed countries rather than the poor in developing countries.

Care To Try to Define the Commons?

Care To Try to Define the Commons?

July 15, 2008

How would you draw the commons? Is it two circles — one for public and one for private sectors — with an overlapping part in the middle for commons? Is it a third circle separate from the other two? Maybe circles simply won’t do. I’ve seen other shapes used. I’ve seen rainbows; pastoral landscapes; abstract grafitti-like scrawling; even mobiles suspending paper sculptures and text. The point is that that there is a delicious paradox here. I “got” the commons instantly the first time I was introduced to the concept.

Defending Public-Sector Science

Defending Public-Sector Science

July 15, 2008

A backlash against the over-commercialization of science seems to be gaining new momentum. Two eminent Nobel prize winners — Sir John Sulston, a British geneticist and American economist Joseph Stiglitz – are working with leading scientists and ethicists to formulate a “Manchester Manifesto,” http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=3805 in connection with the newly created University of Manchester Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation.

Will the Commons Emerge as a 2008 Campaign Issue?

Will the Commons Emerge as a 2008 Campaign Issue?

July 14, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

Many are wondering if the commons will emerge as a bona fide political issue in this year’s presidential election.

Even if it doesn’t become a centerpiece of policy for the next administration, discussion of an issue like the commons on the campaign trail can significantly raise public awareness.

In Barack Obama, the Democrats have a candidate willing to think expansively about a wide range of issues beyond the usual electoral perimeters.

Discovering the Commons of the White Mountains

Discovering the Commons of the White Mountains

July 14, 2008 | By David Bollier

Last week I woke up in a room with twenty other people sleeping in bunk beds stacked four high. It was part of my induction into one of the great social commons in New England, the community of hikers who love the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With three friends, my wife and I hiked the Presidential Range and stayed in two of the fabled “huts” that give hikers spartan overnight accommodations, hearty food and the camaraderie of other hikers.

The "Flash Mob" Gambit

The "Flash Mob" Gambit

July 11, 2008 | By David Bollier

When Howard Rheingold wrote about “smart mobs” five years ago, many people assumed that that the rapidly assembled Internet “mobs” would be a marginal phenomenon confined to cyberspace. But as a series of major protests in South Korea have demonstrated over the past month, digital technologies are helping large masses of people to coordinate their actions in highly sophisticated and powerful ways. Their political will suddenly matters.

The 5th of July

The 5th of July

July 9, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

Modern culture seems so steeped in the market mentality that any effort to restore the commons to our lives is seen, by definition, as a brash and controversial move. But if you take a closer look, that’s not necessarily so. The commons endures in a number of forms we take for granted today.

Walk into a restaurant, and the waiter will usually bring you a glass of water right away. This act acknowledges water as a life-giving resource that we all share in common. Simple decency demands that everyone is offered a drink to slake his or her thirst.

How to Tell If Your Tap Water Is Safe

How to Tell If Your Tap Water Is Safe

July 9, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

Most Americans recently received a water quality report from their local utility, detailing what’s in the tap water they drink. This is a required by the Safe Drinking Water Act so that citizens know about potential dangers in their water supply.

Creative Commons license by Debcil, NC, from Flickr

What's Happening with What We Got:  DJ Spooky's Quest for the Commons

What's Happening with What We Got: DJ Spooky's Quest for the Commons

July 2, 2008

For those of you who don’t know, I’m the director and producer of What We Got: DJ Spooky’s Quest for the Commons. Vernon Reid is the co-director of the project, and Brian Glazer is our producer.

Brad (lt) and Vernon (rt) present the WeJay at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.

This Guitar Fights Enclosure

This Guitar Fights Enclosure

July 1, 2008 | By David Bollier

David Rovics hates the word “protest singer,” probably because it conjures up so many clichés about the Sixties, music and political change. And in truth, he and his music are about much more than politics. I’d say he speaks more about the human condition in these times….. which, for any sentient being in the Bush era, necessarily involves politics.

Can Cattle Save Us From Global Warming?

Can Cattle Save Us From Global Warming?

June 30, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

On an unseasonably warm and sunny winter morning—the kind that lulls you into thinking global climate change can’t be so bad—a group of environmentalists and sustainable agriculture advocates gather over muffins and coffee on a California ranch to discuss a bold initiative to reverse the greenhouse effect. It’s a diverse group—longtime ranchers, a forestry professor from Berkeley, organic food activists, a Vermont dairy farmer, the author of a famous children’s book—united in their belief that current proposals to address the climate crisis don’t go far enough.

A Mini-bus Named Self-Defense

A Mini-bus Named Self-Defense

June 27, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

A van named Self-Defense cruises up and down Calibeshie’s one street in the early morning light. Four passes as the village gradually wakens, nets only six passengers. Calibeshie is strung out along the highway taking up almost half a mile of the Northeastern coastline of the Caribbean island of Dominica. The houses are ramshackle, once mostly tin and now tending towards the concrete. Every second house doubles as some kind of commercial establishment either a “snackett” where you can grab an early morning “bake” or a shop selling some kind of “provisions”.

Tapping into the Power to Share

Tapping into the Power to Share

June 27, 2008 | By David Bollier

For those of us who don’t venture into the laboratories of science, it’s difficult to appreciate how fragmented, proprietary and inefficient drug and disease research truly is. At a time when the Internet is making it easier than ever to share and collaborate, some of the most well-funded, high-tech scientific projects today still operate in their own isolated silos. They are effectively cut off from vast quantities of potentially useful research, scientific literature, emerging ideas and potential collaborators.

Paul Revere in a Labcoat

Paul Revere in a Labcoat

June 26, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

Dr. James E. Hansen might be described as Paul Revere in a labcoat.


In 1988 the physicist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies first sounded the warning that global climate change was coming—soon. Speaking before Congress, he testified that global climate change was not a potential problem for the distant future. It was happening all around us.


He spoke to Congress again this week, 20 years to the day of his famous testimony, and took the opportunity to discuss what can be done to curtail climate change.

Water for All

Water for All

June 25, 2008 | By Jay Walljasper

The water commons as a concept is easy to understand. And in a time when our planet is threatened by global warming, the importance of the idea is all-too-obvious.

Put simply, the water commons means that water is no one’s property; it rightfully belongs to all of humanity and to the earth itself. It is our duty to protect the quality and availability of water for everyone around the planet. This ethic should be the foundation of all decisions made about use of this life-giving resource. Water is not a commodity to be sold or squandered or hoarded.

Why Are There So Many Floods?

Why Are There So Many Floods?

June 25, 2008

The question on everyone’s minds here in the Upper Midwest is: What’s causing these floods? In 1993, Des Moines and many Mississippi River towns were devastated. Then in 1997, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was nearly wiped off the map as the Red River rose to record highs. Last year, huge floods struck southern Minnesota in the midst of what had been a serious drought. And now, a number of cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri have been submerged.

Using Sousveillance to Defend the Commons

Using Sousveillance to Defend the Commons

June 24, 2008 | By David Bollier

The familiar storyline of science fiction is the evil dystopia – the totalitarian society of the future in which large, faceless government agencies and corporations use sophisticated technologies to pry into every corner of our lives. The goal is to neutralize dissent and shield the exercise of power from accountability. However necessary at times, surveillance is a crude display of power, a unilateral override of the “consent of the governed.”

Generic Drugs, an Endangered Commons

Generic Drugs, an Endangered Commons

June 20, 2008 | By David Bollier

The point of patents for drugs is to give pharmaceutical companies a chance to recover their significant research costs, and turn a profit, before a drug enters the equivalent of the public domain. At that point, under a 1984 law that authorizes generic drug-making, any company who satisfies basic safety standards can also manufacture and sell the drug – usually at significant savings to consumers.