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COMMONS MAGAZINE

New York City Shows How Co-op Housing Can Work

June 30, 2005

The term “New York City co-op” probably brings to mind chichi buildings on the Upper East Side where apartments sell for millions and coop boards decide who gets to join the elect. In reality, housing co-ops include a wide swath of the city’s social spectrum, and they provide a social glue that is especially important in this huge and fractious city. Co-ops provide something else as well: a partial buffer against raw speculative greed.

A Disappointing Day for the Internet Commons

June 27, 2005 | By David Bollier

It was a disappointing day. In one ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court made it more likely that the Internet could become a more closed, proprietary platform dominated by cable and telco companies that can legally erect barriers against open access. In another ruling, the Court gave content owners new legal tools to fight innovative technologies, in the name of strengthening copyright protection.

Success Stories of Environmental Justice

June 21, 2005 | By David Bollier

So many people regard the environment either as a commodity (exploit without limit) or a sanctuary (no humans allowed) that we lose sight of a practical reality: the most sustainable environmental improvements will come from local communities working constructively with the natural environment.

Houses, Houses Everywhere

June 20, 2005

I am not one who gets worked up because some people have more money than I do, even a great deal more. When I read about the mansions and yachts, the private jets and bottles of wine that cost enough to feed my family for a month, I feel pity more than anything else. What small and insecure people, to have to pile up so much stuff to feel that they are worth anything.

A Kind of Strength

June 16, 2005

Boston was a center of student activism in the ’60s, and it was common to attribute this to the many colleges there, and, more vaguely, to the city’s Abolitionist past. Something less obvious was involved as well — namely, sports.

Wal-Mart Clerks Become Copyright Vigilantes

June 9, 2005 | By David Bollier

It used to be that only legislators and judges were authorized to decide how far copyright protection extends. Now it appears that pimply teenage clerks at Wal-Mart’s photo-finishing department are fully empowered to determine whether or not you own the copyrights of your own amateur photographs. The real joke is how they make such determinations.

Brazil Goes Open Source, the Wikimedia Commons Soars

June 7, 2005 | By David Bollier

Here are two encouraging dispatches about the future of online commons — and one distressing bummer.

The Bombast Tax

June 2, 2005

An old front in the campaign against public broadcasting opened up again the other day. For weeks, Kenneth Tomlinson, the Bush chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has inveighed against the left wing bias of public broadcasting, and has taken steps to impose his own right wing views. This is despite the overwhelming listener support of public radio and television.

The Dangers of Faux Localism

June 1, 2005 | By David Bollier

It’s always bothered me that the bigger a company grows, the more folksy and homespun it pretends to be. Now that Bank of America has gobbled up Fleet Bank in the Northeast — the largest bank merger in history — its advertising disingenuously stresses that BOA is “your neighborhood bank.” The strategy, of course, is to pretend to embrace the very virtues that the bank merger is jeopardizing.

Heavy Boots at Berkeley

May 27, 2005

What happens when faculty at a major university raise questions about a multimillion dollar research deal between a corporation and the university? And what happens to science when the search for truth becomes a quest for corporate gain? You could ask Ignacio Chapela. It wouldn’t be a bad idea, because the way things are going, there are likely to be a lot more cases like his.

The Invisible Corruption of Cost-Benefit Analysis

May 23, 2005 | By David Bollier

One of the great intellectual and political scandals of the past generation is the wholesale integration of cost-benefit analysis into federal regulation. It’s not a tale with high drama or sexual titillation, just a sordid little story of compliant academics and policy wonks working hard to shore up corporate America’s balance sheets by thwarting government regulation.

Leave the Books Alone

May 20, 2005

It was my good fortune as a child that the local library was just a couple blocks from my elementary school. Once a week, starting in the second or third grade, our teacher would march us past the row of shops, and to the land of books. In my memory it is a brick and Tudor structure, one story, set back on a shady corner lot. Inside were long oak tables and lamps with green glass shades. The windows I think were leaded. It felt a little like a church, except more friendly and inviting.

The Rich Appeal of Giving Circles

May 19, 2005 | By David Bollier

I recently learned of a new grassroots phenomenon in philanthropy that is apparently growing by leaps and bounds: the Giving Circle. Ranging in size from a dozen to several hundred people, Giving Circles are informal social clubs dedicated to researching social needs and then pooling individual donations in order to have a greater impact. The clubs resemble quilting circles, bake sales and church picnics — a way for groups of ordinary people to come together and contribute their talents and money to a community cause.

Factories of Cheer

May 18, 2005

At first I thought it was a yuk. A Texas state representative by the name of Al Edwards introduced a bill in March that would put an end to “sexually suggestive” cheerleading. You mean they actually wear teensie skirts down there? And move their bodies? In public? Then I realized there’s more to it than the deadpan AP report suggested.

The Media Reform Movement Declares Itself

May 16, 2005 | By David Bollier

Some 2,500 activists, policy wonks, community journalists, musicians and others came from all 50 states and eight foreign countries to St. Louis this past weekend for a remarkable political gathering — a conference on media reform organized by Free Press, the advocacy organization. Participants in the wildly eclectic conference shared a common interest in breaking the stranglehold of the corporate media and boosting citizen-friendly alternatives.

Museums as Crypto-Marketers

May 11, 2005 | By David Bollier

It is now common for sports arenas and public schools to rent themselves out as marketing venues. Increasingly museums are doing the same. In today’s New York Times (registration required), Michael Kimmelman describes how art museums are choosing to become crypto-marketers, betraying their public trust as independent, artistically authoritative institutions.

Re-localize Yourself

May 6, 2005 | By David Bollier

One of the pernicious aspects of globalized markets is that people lose their memory of how to value and protect their local community. Fixated on economic abstractions, our cognitive feedback loops about the local and the real begin to atrophy. This thought is provoked by yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article (May 5, 2005) on Brian Donahue’s efforts to convince the residents of Weston, Massachusetts, to harvest and use wood from town-owned forests.

Privatizing the Weather

May 4, 2005 | By David Bollier

Last December, as noted here, the National Weather Service joined the Internet age and began to put mountains of raw weather data on the Internet. The NWS recognized that making weather data available to everyone for free, open source style, would empower amateurs, entrepreneurs and others in government to build their own innovative forecasts and data systems. Could there be a more appropriate, efficient, or socially constructive use of government data?

We the Givers

April 28, 2005

Economics as practiced in the United States is a state of arrested psycho-emotional development. There is an infatuation with mechanisms and statistics — trucks and baseball cards — with little interest in the human realities and complexities that lie beneath them. There is also a solipsistic concern for the self and its desires, to the exclusion of everyone else.

The Buying and Selling of Reputation

April 26, 2005 | By David Bollier

I find it very curious that highbrow business journalism keeps documenting new marketing abuses as news, but consistently fails to connect the dots and validate them as a trend. The trend: amoral marketing innovations that cynically appropriate social reputation and ultimately corrupt it. There has been a spate of stories on this topic in the past few weeks: