A WOMAN NAMED ELLEN — The Neighborhood


By most accounts, she was an ordinary woman….

via A WOMAN NAMED ELLEN — The Neighborhood

Why I Am Suing the Government

Social Media Collective

(or: I write scripts, bots, and scrapers that collect online data)

I never thought that I would sue the government. The papers went in on Wednesday, but the whole situation still seems unreal. I’m a professor at the University of Michigan and a social scientist who studies the Internet, and I ran afoul of what some have called the most hated law on the Internet.

Others call it the law that killed Aaron Swartz. It’s more formally known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the dangerously vague federal anti-hacking law. The CFAA is so broad, you might have broken it. The CFAA has been used to indict a MySpace user for adding false information to her profile, to convict a non-programmer of “hacking,” to convict an IT administrator of deleting files he was authorized to access, and to send a dozen FBI agents to…

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Warwick Uni to outsource hourly paid academics to subsidiary

Fighting Against Casualisation in Education

Teach Higher is a company which will effectively outsource hourly paid academic staff, whereby they will no longer be employed directly by the university but by a separate employer: ‘Teach Higher’. Teach Higher has been set up by Warwick University-owned ‘Warwick Employment Group’, and is about to be piloted at Warwick University. But it is a national company, which intends to be rolled out across UK universities.

(In this sense it is very similar to Uni Temps, which mainly employed, catering, cleaning and security staff at universities. We don’t know why Warwick decided to set up a separate company for outsourced academic staff, except that they possibly felt the need for ‘re-branding’ because it slightly more difficult to impose hyper-casualised positions on a previously more prestigious type of work such as academia.)

Teach Higher is about to be piloted with six Departments at Warwick; Sociology, Philosophy, Politics and International Studies…

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Tutorial on using the rworldmap package

Project R

This blog following up my previous oneattempts to explain how the geo-pie map was created.

I do not know how to attach a .rflow file in this blog. What you can do is to copy the following code into Notepad and save it as XXX.rflow, and open it by RAnalyticFlow. By using it, you can see the task is divided into 7 steps, and run up to any node you want.

Before you run the code below, you have make sure that required packages are installed. If you would like to run the 7th part of the code, you need to download an image of R-bloggers. I hope to make a generalized function out the code ONE DAY, but without any promises though. After running the code, you will have

Here is the plain R code.

################# 1. Clear working space ############### rm(list=ls()) ################ 2. load packages #################### ## make…

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Repost from http://bturn.com/4216/nazi-propaganda-posters-in-serbia-during-world-war-two



No Photoshop, no Illustrator, just plain ol’ hand-painted Nazi advertising. Though obviously not as cool as the Soviet

One of the issues the Nazi authorities faced with the local population during four years in occupied Belgrade (1941-1945) was how to neutralise the ideological influence of both the Soviet Marxist-Leninism and Anglo-American liberal democracy.

Among various other propaganda techniques, a well established means of mass political advertising were posters. Although the Nazis never reached the avant-garde coolness of Soviet design, it is certainly interesting to see how the German propaganda machinery worked in occupied Belgrade during the war.

It’s a simple story: Communists are death squads, Churchill is a drunken bastard and basically, they’re all Jews.

“Dear God, let my country be forever mine so I don’t share it with time wasters” 

(Didn’t the communists say that too? Anyway, it’s what right wing politicians still shout today. Down with time wasters, our country for our people!)

“Who will overcome? No one! Because the Jew keeps the balance in check. Visit the Anti-Masonic exhibition and see for yourself.” 

(Stalin is nothing but an action figure in the hands of old Jewish guys with beards.)

“Bolsevism, rule of terror.”

(Yes, it’s Tom Cruise from Vanilla Sky. Factories burning in the distance.)

“This is England! Are the English friends of small nations?” 

(Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt, somewhere between Adams Family and Robert Crumb’s characters. Stalin is the butcher, obviously, hatchet soaked in blood; incompetent Roosevelt limping in the background, both lead by ol’ Winston for a glass of whiskey, Grim Reaper navigating from behind. In case you’re short of inspiration for your next Halloween party…)

“Back off, communist monster!” 

(A sturdy Serbian peasant – forever in his late 50s – fights back a charging commie. It’s all about the giant corn, really.)

“Serbs. Everyday moto is ORDER and WORK.”

(Actually, it’s not.)

“Liberator? No, never.”

(But hey, those cheekbones…)

“Mother Serbia, they are leading you to your death, but for their own sake.” 

(American and British officers grabbing poor mother Serbia, with a help of a naked commie.)

“No one to thank but Germany for chasing away this danger out of Serbia and Europe.” 

(Wait, you mean this enraged triple-headed King Kong?)

(Churchill is drunk. And he’s a Jew.)

*Images taken from: Učionica istorije

Mbembe’s “Necropolitics” (notes)

Gender, Race and Biotech

Achille Mbembe (1957 – ), a prominent postcolonial theorist, was born in Cameroon and studied history and political science in Paris, France.  He is currently a senior researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg, South Africa, serves as contributing editor of Public Culture (in which he published “Necropolitics”), and is an annual visiting faculty member of Duke University’s English department.  What follows are my notes on “Necropolitics” [with my questions/comments in brackets].

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Ceccano e Fossanova: dagli Annalens Ceccanenses alla cronaca politica dei giorni d’oggi.

Interesting…too bad it is in Italian. But profoundly interesting


cibo medioevo

Una delle fonti più importanti della storia del medioevo è costituita dagli Annales Ceccanenses, ma pochi, probabilmente pochissimi ceccanesi ne sono a conoscenza.

Nei due codici che ce ne hanno conservato il testo (uno presente nella Biblioteca Vallicelliana di Roma, l’altro nella Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli; trascrizioni ambedue dei codice originario un tempo esistente nella chiesa di S. Maria a Fiume di Ceccano, eseguite, secondo quanto affermano gli explicit, a Fossanova il 7 luglio 1600 da un certo Benedetto Conti di Sora), la cronaca è attribuita a Giovanni dei conti di Anagni, signore di Ceccano (“Chronicon D.ni de Ceccano / extat in monast. Fossae / Nouae”, c. 4).

L’Ughelli, primo editore della cronaca stessa (1644), accettò affrettatamente tale attribuzione; mentre il Muratori (Rerum…, pp. 853-854) fece notare che il nome del conte Giovanni compariva in documenti di donazione incorporati direttamente nel testo e che pertanto la ripetizione della…

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Che cosa possiamo fare per Antonella Penati

il ricciocorno schiattoso

“Queste persone sono responsabili della morte di mio figlio. La loro condanna non me lo avrebbe restituito, ma l’assoluzione fa sì che possano fare ancora del male. Sono a piede libero e lavorano ancora con dei bambini” – aveva dichiarato alla stampa Antonella Penati in occasione della prima sentenza di assoluzione con formula piena dei due assistenti sociali e un educatore, accusati di essere “venuti meno all’obbligo di garanzia nei confronti del bambino“, che avrebbero dovuto proteggere da “tutte le fonti di pericolo e con importanti tratti specifici di controllo nei confronti del padre“.

Il 25 febbraio 2009, Federico Shady Barakat, che avrebbe compiuto 9 anni in aprile, muore nel centro socio sanitario di via Sergnano a San Donato Milanese, nel corso di un incontro “protetto”.

Ma non c’è nessuno a proteggere Federico, quel giorno. Sono soli, Federico e il suo assassino, che si è recato…

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Egyptian Revolution, Internet, BGP and ASes

…one of my old articles……

Since the early 1990s the Egyptian government has aggressively and successfully sought to extend Internet access as an engine of economic growth but at the same time it has tried to curtail the use of new technologies for the dissemination of information and anti-regime propaganda. During the Mubarak era (1981-2011) the country did not apply any formal limitation to content in terms of filtering or ban. Instead, authorities were typically known for intimidating and incarcerating any alternative voices, mainly coming from young and educated middle class bloggers, denouncing corruption, police brutality, harassment and governmental restrictions. [1] During the turmoil now known by the name of “Arab Spring”, Egypt attracted the world’s attention because of the ‘Facebook shut-down’, the first real case of governmental intervention on the Internet traffic.

On January 27th 2011 news circulated online with regards to a “Facebook shut down” at the hands of the Egyptian government (Whittacker, 2011). The decision seemed to have been prompted by the 25th January 2011 mass street demonstrations and the incessant calls for an end to President Muhammmad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak’s regime as well as a tactical use of Social Media Tools such as Twitter and Facebook.3 What happened is in reality much more than a simple ‘shut-down’. January 27th is the result of a complex and multi-alyered network that touches upon many different aspects and involves many layers and causes rather improbable actors to emerge and become politically crucial. Firstly and most importantly, mainstream media and opinion leaders immediately highlighted the political effects of the shutdown and the sentimental value of social media. I would argue that the shut down also touched the legal and technical aspect down to the very core of the Internet infrastructure. The infrastructural characteristics of the Internet didn’t just or only surfaced (as to use Heidegger). On the legal aspect, in Egypt, like in any other country, telecommunication companies negotiate licensing agreements with the governments in order to get into the market. In the case of Egypt, one restrictive licensing agreement was to comply with any requests coming from the government to limit the Internet traffic in the country ( Freedom House, 2011). Consequently, it could be said that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Egypt acted upon the functioning of the Border Gateway Protocols (BGP) tables, fundamental for any routing decision of the Internet, thus restricting what could be called the ‘communication funnel’ (Cisco, 2012).

Border Gateway Protocols are part of the third layer of the Internet, or that of the actual network. They go under the umbrella term of Routing Protocols, or protocols that allow packets of information to be passed through a complex network of nodes and links until they reach a specified destination that is predetermined by the IP.4 BGPs exchange information between gateways hosts in a network of Autonomous Systems (ASes). The latter is a network (or group of networks) controlled by one network administrator (or a group of administrators) on behalf of a single administrative entity, which could for example be a university, governmental institutions or, even, a business enterprise. In Egypt the Mubarak regime had the possibility to ‘shut down’ the Internet overriding the BGPs through the Internet Service Providers, which in this case acted as Network Administrators. As a result, Noor Data Networks was the sole provider from ten different ISPs to maintain its access to the Internet infrastructure.

 As a result, Internet traffic originating from and leaving Egypt dropped approximately 88%, meaning that government’s ‘rear-guard battle’ (Shirky, 2009) was not as desperate as one would have thought ( Williams, 2011). Though the Internet was eventually restored, its shut down had served to further motivate the tech-savvy population to keep on coordinating their movements and street protests, finding new ways of organising, relying on ham radios, mobile phones and word of mouth. The complex network that was set in motion brings to light concealed layers of the much-acclaimed Twitter revolution, guilty of leaving out the significant data of an 88% drop in traffic that took place in less than one hour, following the withdrawal of 3,500 BGPs. This leads to understanding how an IP routing protocol like the BGP can become a fundamental actant that adds complexity to any reflection of the political debate concerning the democratisation of the Internet and the World Wide Web, as well as their related platforms and tools, whether these are proprietary or open access.

The ‘Facebook shut-down’ of the Egyptian Revolution should then be looked at in a very network perspective, recognising the many layers that enmesh and intermingle in the creation and articulation of a particular event. Delving into this network, it is possible to map out the many entities that were involved in the ‘creation’ of the Egyptian Revolution, which moves between different fields of analysis, from the Facebook shut-down, the protests after years of emergency laws and unemployment to the Border Gateway Protocol, the economic decisions of ISPs to comply with restrictive requests to establish a presence and gain market share in one of the fastest-growing emerging countries in terms of mobile penetrations and sophistication of use. (Vodafone Business Report, 2013) Delving into this very complex network, which is made of many layers and many entities, both economic, political, technical and social, it should also be noticed how every single entity that comes to play a role in the articulation of the Egyptian Revolution becomes a node in this conceptual network. The network is not just established at the level of societal discontent and Border Gateway Protocols but it further extends to the depth of the networked infrastructure of the Internet and in the very algorithmic life of the BGP tables, as I will explain in the next section.

In fact, even the relation between ASes and BGPs is that of a network where Autonomous Systems (ASes) can be considered as a set of nodes (ASes) connected through a preferential set of links, decided by the BGPs tables. On their end, the BGPs tables heavily depend on the so-called path vector algorithm or the algorithm that allows finding the best routes to advertise a certain information packet. The graph that is formed between AS and BGP is loop-free, or a simple graph that ensures quick transmission, free of any redundancies.[2] In such graph it is possible to understand ‘where to apply routing policies’ to allow restrictions on routing behaviour (Cisco 2012). In fact, in an ideal situation, any BGP would indicate the right path for information to be passed through in function of the destination address on the packet. If policies, put in place through pieces of codes written by network administrators, were applied, then the destination and the functionality of the transmission of the packets would not be the only pre-requisites for the information to be effectively passed along. Therefore other elements would intervene such as the packet size or information redirection to a proxy server and therefore to a cache engine.

Egypt owns a relatively small number of Autonomous Systems (which are the nodes in the mapped conceptual network) that share the same information. In addition to this, the country owns two Internet Exchange Points or XPs based in Cairo, CR-IX and CA-IR, both open only to the licensed ISPs with international connectivity. However, because Egypt’s IXPs are fundamental for keeping an Internet presence in Africa, the government could not physically intervene on them for both political and tactical reasons. Instead, this interference took place on the line of code, or more specifically, on the BGP tables that restricted traffic coming from external and foreign sources. This way, when information from a ‘foreign’ source like Google attempted to reach its destination in Egypt, the BGP tables failed to recognise it and did not pass along as it would usually happen. Therefore, Egypt was cut off from the greater Internet and foreign services such as Google, Facebook and Twitter were not accessible.

In light of these technical aspects, a rather oblique question arises, which concerns the agency of an invisible actor that has altered, ‘redistributed and reallocated’ the construction of the Egyptian Revolution (Latour, 2010: 5): the path vector algorithm, or the algorithm behind the routing choice adopted by the BGPs. How could an algorithm unwittingly become a political and crucial actor? How does the path vector algorithm fit into the overall idea of the Egyptian Revelution? How do technical accounts of infrastructures and algorithms enrich the debate over the “Revolution 2.0”? A Revolution that, hadn’t the government decided to stop the “Internet shut down” after 24 hours would have had different outcomes? These questions offer the possibility to reflect more on the concept of the network as a “mode of enquiry”, “a powerful way of rephrasing basic issues of social, theory, epistemology and philosophy” and on that of agency here intended as the surfacing of improbable actors in the “making of” the Egyptian Revolution (Latour, 2005: 89 and Latour, 2010: 2).

These technical aspects also highlight how the idea of construction is not just about something that is created from above and unwittingly absorbed by a subject; construction is also about the question “how to go about an issue”? What realities emerge when the human-non-human interaction doesn’t stop at the understanding of how tools were used but also how their usage and their existence merged at different levels and amongst themselves? Embracing a networked mode of enquiry that includes non-human and un-sociological situations like the BGPs-ASes communication could in fact lead to reflect more on the complex reality of the Egyptian Revolution and less on that of the subjectivity of the masses and the objectivity of the tools used to diffuse a given message, resist the shut-down and bring thirty-two years of regime.

As a result, the actors present in such social and political events become the masses, the tiredness toward a defined status quo; the government, whose ‘interest’ is that of being in power even recurring to desperate political moves as reshuffling the cabinet or promising constitutional reforms; the path vector algorithm and the routing protocols that become the main ‘point of contact’ and that altered the opposition between governmental power and democratic calls coming from street protesters and activists. (Callon, 1986: 232)

To further enrich the network of relations formed around the ‘making’ of the Egyptian Revolution, other actors should be counted and considered, such as the International community bafflement and indignation after the shut down, the hacktivits groups of Anonymous and Telecomix, the women that had to undertake virginity tests and were battered and dragged on the streets by police forces and the widely broadcasted ideas of an Egyptian society finally liberated by Social Media. And the nodes and connections growing out of this initial list could grow virtually ad infinitum.

The Egyptian Revolution studied less through the lenses of resistance to despotic rules and more through those of a multi-layered and necessarily technological network opens up better understanding of the complexity of any techno-social, human/non-human issue that we cannot really escape from and that could become increasingly pervasive in the future.

[1] Freedom House, Report 2011 ‘Freedom on the Net 2011. Egypt’ available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2011/egypt     quite famous is the case of the movie ‘We are watching you’ available at: http://www.linktv.org/programs/shayfeen


[2] Gephi relies on Social Network Analysis.

Transdisciplinarity: The Politics and Practices of Knowledge Production

The Disorder Of Things

UPDATE (8 September 2014): Before she joined the expanded blog roster, Laura wrote this as a (very popular) guest post.

I am interested in disciplines, and intrigued by disciplinary transgressions. Recently, I was part of a discussion about these issues and it inspired some musings on the question of transdisciplinarity. I have a background in Social Anthropology at undergraduate level. Anthropology as a discipline is highly reflexive, resistant to abstraction, aware of the politics of representation and positionality. Back in the 1970s, anthropologist Annette B. Weiner was undertaking field research in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea (now Kiriwina Islands), with a view to unsettling disciplinary notions of common sense regarding gender neutrality of ethnographers and challenging the disciplinary canon in profound and influential ways. My postgraduate training in the discipline of International Relations (IR) was, therefore, a curious through-the-looking glass adventure in double-think. The State, the Balance…

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Data, visibility and agendas

I have been working on an independent project for the last couple of months. I surely enjoyed it. However the task, I will outline some of my reflections.

The project was about the level of poisonous and life threatening levels of mercury (amongst many other acronyms) in the soil of a once lovely area of centre Italy: Ciociaria.

Those who know something about cinema are familiar with the area and its history. However, it is another story. We have collected data from the local ASL (like the local NHS), compiled and analysed it, gathered everything that s available online with regards to experiences of cancer, animals with blue tongue and so on and so forth especially for two cities: Colleferro and Ceccano, where the level of thyroid cancer, pulmonary diseases, and all sorts of  medically challenging cases of leukaemia have made Ciociaria one of the most poisonous areas in the country Surely, these two cities are not alone because the wild industrialisation the are has been experiencing has migrated very often. Metal first, pharmaceutical when there was the pharmaceutical boom and now services, with the boom of big shopping centres, massive IKEAs that will be sitting above historical sites. Of course, waste management is not something we can forget. In fact, in some data we gathered, we noticed that in 2013 600 tons of so-called “organic vegetables” have been shipped from an area south of Ciociaria. Funky stuff that was not mentioned to these artsy fartsy bobo…the tomatoes were grown on waste sites.

Anyway, nothing really new. Everybody has taken to Social media, traditional media, published books and compiled statistical evidence about the need to sanitise the area, the river (did I mention it? oh no. That s the part we re still analysing along with the calcium deficits caused by thyroid problems), the river banks and the soil.

All this long story to say: where is that statistics becomes a place of resistance in this particular case? There has been quite a lot going on about Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s connection between lack of data and lack of policies (to protect children in her case). However, how is data and statistical evidence, the rather big movement that has taken to streets, social media and the like to be considered? Shall we start to think that big data, algorithms, onto-epistemological reasoning of the being and blabla is becoming yet another academic (hence funded) mental masturbation with no ‘connection’ to what is happening?

Surely, this could be applied to any other event, case or situation but I have been working on this one….surely the concept of political agenda comes to mind. So, if there is a political agenda -and surely the Camorra as usual- how can we really talk about data in relation to and function of a grand political design? The issue I see, and have been seeing in the last conferences I attended and participated to is that there is a considerable possibility to do with data what we did with the Internet. Making it become a ventriloquist that gives a voice to the voiceless. Without considering the “usual”  social fabric and political consequences we -as researchers- are so strongly trying to forget.

“Best value” rankings in higher education: bang for buck universities?

socializing finance

A post written by Dane Pflueger and Tommaso Palermo


As a recent NY Times article has pointed out, the public rankings regime in higher 

education is changing. From the elusive quest of determining quality or ‘who’s

the best’, public and private authorities in America have moved to the even more 

daunting quest of determining best value, or, as the article explains it, ‘where you 

can get the most bang for your buck’.


Although, as the article makes clear, there are innumerable different ways in which 

this new notion of best value is being measured and expressed, it is made possible, 

in principle, by placing a denominator, cost, below those sort of public measures that 

might be summarised as quality.


Best Value = Quality/Cost


We might consider this movement to be simply another instantiation of the public 

ranking phenomena, producing yet another set of dysfunctional effects through 

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Deleuze on Assemblages

Larval Subjects .

duchamp_brideIn preparing my talk on Deleuze’s overturning of Platonism and his theory of simulacra for the RMMLA on Friday, I came across the following terrific interview with Deleuze on A Thousand Plateaus and assemblages:

If there is no single field to act as a foundation, what is the unity of A Thousand Plateaus?

I think it is the idea of an assemblage (which replaces the idea of desiring machines). There are various kinds of assemblages, and various component parts. On the one hand, we are trying to substitute the idea of assemblage for the idea of behavior: whence the importance of ethology, and the analysis of animal assemblages, e.g., territorial assemblages. The chapter on the Ritornello, for example, simultaneously examines animal assemblages and more properly musical assemblages: this is what we call a “plateau,” establishing a continuity between the ritornellos of birds and Schumann’s ritornellos. On the other hand, the…

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Digital Studies

Interesting and insightful

Paying Attention

[Reposted from Sam Kinsley’s website.]

The purpose of this post, a slightly revised version of an original on the technophilia blog,  is to outline an initial reading of ‘digital studies’ in relation to the philosophy of Bernard Stiegler and examine its possible application. On 18th April the Digital Cultures Research Centre hosted a visit by Christian Fauré, a technologist and philosopher, who is a founding member of the Ars Industrialis association. That week also saw Bernard Stiegler, another founding member of Ars Industrialis, deliver a keynote at the World Wide Web international conference (WWW2012), held by the W3C international conference committee, in Lyon (France). In both talks we are introduced to what has been termed “Digital Studies”, by Ars Industrialis in conjunction with the Pompidou Centre’s Institute for Research and Innovation (Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation – IRI) [1].

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