CALL for HACKER SPACE PROGRAM
http://events.ccc.de/camp/2011/wiki/Call_for_Space_Program
http://www.ccc.de/en/

the HACKERSPACE GLOBAL GRID (HGG)
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg:open_tasks
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16367042
Hackers plan space satellites to combat censorship
by David Meyer / 4 January 2012

The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin. The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites. Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon. Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit – usually only for brief periods of time – but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects. The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project. “The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said. He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.

Beyond balloons
Although space missions have been the preserve of national agencies and large companies, amateur enthusiasts have launched objects into the heavens. High-altitude balloons have also been used to place cameras and other equipment into what is termed “near space”. The balloons can linger for extended amounts of time – but are not suitable for satellites. The amateur radio satellite Arissat-1 was deployed into low earth orbit last year via a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts from the International Space Station as part of an educational project. Students and academics have also launched other objects by piggybacking official rocket launches. However, these devices have often proved tricky to pinpoint precisely from the ground. According to Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old enthusiast from Stuttgart who is working on the Hackerspace Global Grid, this is largely due to lack of funding. “Professionals can track satellites from ground stations, but usually they don’t have to because, if you pay a large sum [to send the satellite up on a rocket], they put it in an exact place,” Mr Bauer said. In the long run, a wider hacker aerospace project aims to put an amateur astronaut onto the moon within the next 23 years. “It is very ambitious so we said let’s try something smaller first,” Mr Bauer added.

Ground network
The Berlin conference was the latest meeting held by the Chaos Computer Club, a decades-old German hacker group that has proven influential not only for those interested in exploiting or improving computer security, but also for people who enjoy tinkering with hardware and software. When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme. He and his teammates are working on their part of the project together with Constellation, an existing German aerospace research initiative that mostly consists of interlinked student projects. In the open-source spirit of Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and some friends came up with the idea of a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals. Used together in a global network, these stations would be able to pinpoint satellites at any given time, while also making it easier and more reliable for fast-moving satellites to send data back to earth. “It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Mr Bauer said. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.” Mr Bauer said the team would have three prototype ground stations in place in the first half of 2012, and hoped to give away some working models at the next Chaos Communication Congress in a year’s time. They would also sell the devices on a non-profit basis. “We’re aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station. That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend,” Mr Bauer added.

Complications
Experts say the satellite project is feasible, but could be restricted by technical limitations. “Low earth orbit satellites such as have been launched by amateurs so far, do not stay in a single place but rather orbit, typically every 90 minutes,” said Prof Alan Woodward from the computing department at the University of Surrey. “That’s not to say they can’t be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods that they are in your view. It’s difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation.” This problem could be avoided if the hackers managed to put their satellites into geostationary orbits above the equator. This would allow them to match the earth’s movement and appear to be motionless when viewed from the ground. However, this would pose a different problem. “It means that they are so far from earth that there is an appreciable delay on any signal, which can interfere with certain Internet applications,” Prof Woodward said. “There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats. So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites.”

Need for knowledge
Apart from the ground station scheme, other aspects of the Hackerspace project that are being worked on include the development of new electronics that can survive in space, and the launch vehicles that can get them there in the first place. According to Mr Farr, the “only motive” of the Hackerspace Global Grid is knowledge. He said many participants are frustrated that no person has been sent past low Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. “This [hacker] community can put humanity back in space in a meaningful way,” Farr said. “The goal is to get back to where we were in the 1970s. Hackers find it offensive that we’ve had the technology since before many of us were born and we haven’t gone back.” Asked whether some might see negative security implications in the idea of establishing a hacker presence in space, Farr said the only downside would be that “people might not be able to censor your internet. Hackers are about open information,” Farr added. “We believe communication is a human right.”

PREVIOUSLY on SPECTRE
CONSUMER USE: SURREY SATELLITES (SSTL)
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/consumer-satellite-use/
DIY PERSONAL SATELLITES
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/diy-personal-satellites/
SATELLITE HACKS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/sat-hacks/
BRAZILIAN SATELLITE SQUATTERS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/brazilian-satellite-squatters/
RUSSIANS LAUNCHING SATELLITES from SUBS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/russians-launching-satellites-from-subs/
COWS as COMPASS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/cows-as-compass/
SOLAR FLARES: a CARRINGTON EVENT
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/a-carrington-event/
EARTH WILL HAVE RINGS
https://spectregroup.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/earth-will-have-rings-2/

DIY SATELLITE INTERNET
http://www.zdnet.com/news/hackers-aim-to-launch-internet-satellite-network-moon-mission/6335491
by David Meyer  /  January 3, 2012

Hackers have announced work on a ground station scheme that would make amateur satellites more viable, as part of an aerospace scheme that ultimately aims for the moon. The Hackerspace Global Grid (HGG) project hopes to make it possible for amateurs to more accurately track the home-brewed satellites. As these devices tend to be launched by balloon, they are not placed at a precise point in orbit as professional satellites deployed by rocket usually are. Armin Bauer, one of the three German hobbyists involved in the HGG, said at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin that the system involved a reversal of the standard GPS technique. The scheme was announced at the event, which is Europe’s largest hacker conference. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are,” Bauer said on Friday, according to the BBC. “We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.”

According to the HGG website, enthusiasts would site the ground stations using coordinates not only from the US’s GPS system, but also those from the EU’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and ground surveys. A major aim of the wider ‘Hacker Space Program’ is to create a satellite system for internet communication that is uncensorable by any country. The hackers also want to put someone on the moon by 2034 — something that has not been done since the Apollo 17 mission 39 years ago. Bauer described the moon mission as “very ambitious”. As for the anti-censorship aspects of the scheme, the HGG team said on their site that they are “not yet in a technical position to discuss details”. They also noted that the modular ground stations, which are intended to work out at a non-profit sales price of €100 (£84) each, would be able to work without the internet. “Then you will have to deploy four receiver stations and connect them to your laptop(s) or collect all storage media added to them, where all received data is stored on,” the team wrote. “Then you have to manage the data handling and processing by your own.” However, internet connectivity is the plan for most of the HGG’s usage. The team is working on the project alongside Constellation, an German aerospace research platform for academics that would use the distributed network to derive crucial data.

According to Bauer and his colleagues, the internet connectivity would be of “bare minimum” bandwidth that would be enough to keep basic communications going if needed. “The first step is establishing a means of accurate synchronisation for the distributed network,” the team explained. “Next up are building various receiver modules (ADS-B, amateur satellites, etc) and data processing of received signals. A communication/control channel (read: sending data) is a future possibility but there are no fixed plans on how this could be implemented yet.” The HGG team hopes to have working prototypes in the first half of the year, with production units ready for distribution by the end of 2012. These would be sold, but people would be able to build their own as well. If the Hacker Space Program really does take off, the satellites would be out of any country’s legal jurisdiction, but this would also leave any country that is capable of doing so free to disable them in some way. The HGG team admitted on their site that there would nothing they could do to stop this happening. “Since we don’t have actual satellites yet, this falls in the category of problems we’re going to solve once they occur,” they wrote. “We’re doing this because we want to and because it’s fun. We’re trying to concentrate on reasons why this will work, not why it won’t.”

http://aerospaceresearch.net/constellation/

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS – GROUND STATIONS
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg:faq
http://shackspace.de/wiki/doku.php?id=project:hgg
http://events.ccc.de/congress/2011/Fahrplan/attachments/2043_slides.pdf
http://events.ccc.de/congress/2011/Fahrplan/track/Hacking/4699.en.html
Building a Distributed Satellite Ground Station Network – A Call To Arms
Hackers need satellites. Hackers need internet over satellites. Satellites require ground stations. Let’s build them!

As proposed by Nick Farr et al at CCCamp11, we – the hacker community – are in desperate need for our own communication infrastructure. So here we are, answering the call for the Hacker Space Program with our proposal of a distributed satellite communications ground station network. An affordable way to bring satellite communications to a hackerspace near you. We’re proposing a multi-step approach to work towards this goal by setting up a distributed network of ground stations which will ensure a 24/7 communication window – first tracking, then communicating with satellites. The current state of a proof of concept implementation will be presented. This is a project closely related to the academic femto-satellite movement, ham radio, Constellation@Home.

The area of small satellites (femto-satellite <0.1 kg up to mini-satellite 100-500 kg) is currently pressed forward by Universities and enables scientific research at a small budget. Gathered data, both scientific and operational, requires communication between satellites and ground stations as well as to the final recipients of the data. One either has to establish own transmission stations or rent already existing stations. The project “distributed ground station” is an extension to the project which will offer, at its final expansion state, the ability to receive data from satellites and relay them to the final recepients. It is therefore proposed that a world-wide distributed network of antennas is to be set up which will be connected via the internet allowing the forwarding of received signals to a central server which will in turn forward signals to further recepients. Individual antennas will be set up by volunteers (Citizen Scientists) and partner institutions (Universities, institutes, companies). The core objective of the project is to develop an affordable hardware platform (antenna and receiver) to be connected to home computers as well as the required software. This platform should enable everyone to receive signals from femto-satellites at a budget and in doing so, eradicating black patches where there is currently no ground station to receive signals of satellites passing over-head. Emphasise is put on contributions by volunteers and ham radio operators who can contribute both passively by setting up a receiver station or actively by shaping the project making it a community driven effort powered by open-source hardware and applications.

Purposes The distributed ground stations will enable many different uses. Using distributed ground stations one could receive beacon signals of satellites and triangulate their position and trajectory. It would therefore be possible to determine the kepler elements right after launching of a new satellite without having to rely on official reports made at low frequency. Beacon tracking is also not limited to just satellites but can be used to track other objects like weather balloons and areal drones and record their flight paths. Additionally, beacon signals (sender ID, time, transmission power) could be augmented with house-keeping data to allow troubleshooting in cases where a main data feed is interrupted. Details regarding the protocol and maximum data packet length are to be defined during the feasibility study phase. Furthermore, distributed ground stations can be used as “data dumping” receivers. This can be used to reduce load on the main ground station as well as to more quickly distribute data to final recipients. The FunCube project, an out-reach project to schools, is already using a similar approach. Another expansion stage would be increasing the bandwidth of the individual receivers. As a side-effect, distributed ground station could also be used to analyse meteorite scattering and study effects in the ionosphere by having a ground-based sender with a known beacon signal to be reflected off meteorites and/or the iononosphere and in turn received by the distributed ground stations. Depending on the frequency used further applications in the field of atmospheric research, eg. local and regional properties of the air and storm clouds, can be imagined. Depending on local laws and guidelines, antennas could also be used to transmit signals. The concept suggests the following expansion stages:

  1. Feasibility study for the individual expansion stages
  2. Beacon-Tracking and sender triangulation
  3. Low-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Kbit/s)
  4. High-bandwidth satellite-data receiver (up to 10 Mbit/s)
  5. Support for data transmission Each stage is again split up into sub-projects to deal with hardware and software design and develoment, prototyping, testing and batch/mass production, Network The networking concept demands that all distributed ground stations are to be connected via the internet. This can be achieved using the Constellation platform. Constellation is a distributed computing project used already for various simulations related to aerospace applications. The system is based on computation power donated by volunteers which is combined to effectively build a world-wide distributed super-computer. The software used to do this is BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) which also offers support for additional hardware to eg. establish a sensor network. Another BOINC-project is the Quake Quatcher Network which is using accelleration sensors built into laptops or custom USB-dongles to detected earthquakes. Constellation could be enhanced to allow use of the distributed ground station hardware. Constellation is an academic student group of the DGLR (german aerospace society) at Stuttgart University and is supported by Rechenkraft.net e.V and Selfnet e.V.. Ham radio and volunteers Special consideration is given to the ham radio community. Femto-satellites make use of the ham radio bands in the UHF, VHF, and S-Band range. As a part of the ham radio community ham radio operators should be treated as part of the network. Ham radio operators hold all required knowledge about the technology required to operate radio equipment and are also well distributed world-wide. To also make the system attractive to volunteers, hardware should be designed in a way that allows manufacturing and distribution on a budget. All designs should also be made public to allow own and improved builds of the system by the community. The hardware should be designed to be simple to use correctly and hard to be used wrong.

    Supporters
    [1] Constellation Plattform, aerospaceresearch.net/constellation [2] shackspace Stuttgart, http://www.shackspace.de References [1] IRS Kleinsatelliten, Universität Stuttgart, kleinsatelliten.de [2] Constellation Plattform, aerospaceresearch.net/constellation [3] BOINC, Berkely University, boinc.edu [4] Quake Catcher Network, qcn.stanford.eu [5] DGLR Bezirksgruppe Stuttgart, stuttgart.dglr.de [6] Rechenkraft.net e.V., rechenkraft.net [7] Selfnet e.V., selfnet.de

http://www.community-wealth.org/strategies/index.html


Cliff Wood with the Ohio Cooperative Solar looks over the installation on the roof of the Euclid Public Library.

CO-OPERATIVES
http://www.garalperovitz.com/2011/12/worker-owners-of-the-world-unite/
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/opinion/worker-owners-of-america-unite.html
by Gar Alperovitz / December 14, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street protests have come and mostly gone, and whether they continue to have an impact or not, they have brought an astounding fact to the public’s attention: a mere 1 percent of Americans own just under half of the country’s financial assets and other investments. America, it would seem, is less equitable than ever, thanks to our no-holds-barred capitalist system. But at another level, something different has been quietly brewing in recent decades: more and more Americans are involved in co-ops, worker-owned companies and other alternatives to the traditional capitalist model. We may, in fact, be moving toward a hybrid system, something different from both traditional capitalism and socialism, without anyone even noticing. Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions. And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year.

Local and state governments are likewise changing the nature of American capitalism. Almost half the states manage venture capital efforts, taking partial ownership in new businesses. Calpers, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local development projects; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each resident with dividends from public investment strategies as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development. Moreover, this year some 14 states began to consider legislation to create public banks similar to the longstanding Bank of North Dakota; 15 more began to consider some form of single-payer or public-option health care plan. Some of these developments, like rural co-ops and credit unions, have their origins in the New Deal era; some go back even further, to the Grange movement of the 1880s. The most widespread form of worker ownership stems from 1970s legislation that provided tax benefits to owners of small businesses who sold to their employees when they retired. Reagan-era domestic-spending cuts spurred nonprofits to form social enterprises that used profits to help finance their missions. Recently, growing economic pain has provided a further catalyst. The Cleveland cooperatives are an answer to urban decay that traditional job training, small-business and other development strategies simply do not touch. They also build on a 30-year history of Ohio employee-ownership experiments traceable to the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s.

Further policy changes are likely. In Indiana, the Republican state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, is using state deposits to lower interest costs to employee-owned companies, a precedent others states could easily follow. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, is developing legislation to support worker-owned strategies like that of Cleveland in other cities. And several policy analysts have proposed expanding existing government “set aside” procurement programs for small businesses to include co-ops and other democratized enterprises. If such cooperative efforts continue to increase in number, scale and sophistication, they may suggest the outlines, however tentative, of something very different from both traditional, corporate-dominated capitalism and traditional socialism. It’s easy to overestimate the possibilities of a new system. These efforts are minor compared with the power of Wall Street banks and the other giants of the American economy. On the other hand, it is precisely these institutions that have created enormous economic problems and fueled public anger. During the populist and progressive eras, a decades-long buildup of public anger led to major policy shifts, many of which simply took existing ideas from local and state efforts to the national stage. Furthermore, we have already seen how, in moments of crisis, the nationalization of auto giants like General Motors and Chrysler can suddenly become a reality. When the next financial breakdown occurs, huge injections of public money may well lead to de facto takeovers of major banks. And while the American public has long supported the capitalist model, that, too, may be changing. In 2009 a Rasmussen poll reported that Americans under 30 years old were “essentially evenly divided” as to whether they preferred “capitalism” or “socialism.” A long era of economic stagnation could well lead to a profound national debate about an America that is dominated neither by giant corporations nor by socialist bureaucrats. It would be a fitting next direction for a troubled nation that has long styled itself as of, by and for the people.




OWN IT
http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/28/local/la-me-richmond-20111128
They’re owning this cooperation
by Lee Romney / November 28, 2011

Where a hot dog stand now is the main lunchtime option for city workers in this distressed Bay Area town, soon they’ll be able to choose from steel-cut oatmeal, goat cheese empanadas and white bean and kale stew, prepared in a mobile cafe. Its owners will share in the decision-making — and any profits. Richmond Solar has trained needy residents to work as green-energy installers and now aims to transform some into bosses by forming a worker-owned cooperative. The city’s first bicycle shop has opened with similar dreams: Young men who have volunteered to learn the repair trade soon may be elevated to co-owners. “I’m just gonna ride it out with everyone to get where we need to go,” Mercedes Burnell, 19, said as he prepared to replace a crankshaft and pedals at Richmond SPOKES.

The flurry of democratic enterprise has been guided by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a former schoolteacher who visited Mondragon, Spain, and recognized a possible path out of the poverty and unemployment that plague her city. The Basque hill town is dominated by Mondragon Corp., a web of cooperatives that employ 83,000 workers and together represent Spain’s seventh-largest business. Co-op clusters based on Mondragon’s model have emerged in Cleveland and the Bronx, N.Y., among other cities. Richmond, with a 16% unemployment rate, hopes to follow suit. The city’s industrial roots date back more than a century, when it was home to the Santa Fe Railroad terminus and a Standard Oil refinery. World War II shipyards swelled the population to nearly its current 103,000. But Richmond has struggled since and is regularly listed among the nation’s 25 most dangerous cities. Since August, Bay Area co-op veteran Terry Baird — a burly man with a gray beard and a penchant for South African freedom songs — has been on the city payroll, helping to piece together cooperative ventures in Richmond’s economically barren pockets.

Mondragon Corp. was created in 1956 and fine-tuned over half a century, McLaughlin said, “but you have to start somewhere. One of the prerequisites of starting a co-op is need, and that is something that we have in Richmond.” Demand matters too. Baird aims to start small, with food and service co-ops such as a plumber’s collective that won’t require hefty upfront investment. Then the city hopes to bring government and other big employers on board, setting up ventures to meet their buying needs. McLaughlin, a Green Party member who’s been mayor since 2006, visited Mondragon last year and was dazzled by the scale of the worker-driven enterprises. “My understanding of co-ops from the 1960s and 1970s was that they were small and interesting,” said McLaughlin, who was immediately sold on the idea of replicating the formula in Richmond. The Mondragon story began with a Catholic priest. In 1943, Father Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta — who had narrowly escaped death by firing squad during the Spanish Civil War — started a technical school for working-class boys. By 1956, graduates had helped form the first cooperative to make kerosene stoves. A cooperative bank followed in 1959. The corporation, which reported a $242-million profit last year, now includes 255 industrial, retail and financial cooperatives, with others focusing on education and research. Manufacturing co-ops churn out metal-cutting tools, washing machines and bicycles. A retail co-op runs Spain’s third-largest grocery chain. A Mondragon construction venture built Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. About 85% of the corporation’s employees are co-op members. But the original edict of one-worker/one vote remains, through an elected general assembly with representatives from each cooperative. Recently, the assembly voted to cut everyone’s pay rather than risk layoffs at any one co-op. The compensation of the highest-paid worker is capped at seven times that of the lowest. Some of the corporation’s overall profits go toward offsetting losses at any individual enterprise. Workers also receive a share in the corporation, based on their contributions, every year, with more money flowing into interest-bearing accounts disbursed at retirement.

The U.S. has a history of cooperative movements, beginning with enterprises organized in the late 19th century by the Knights of Labor and highlighted by the burst of food co-ops and consumer buying clubs of the 1960s. Recent years have seen a resurgence. “It’s less counterculture utopian,” said Melissa Hoover, executive director of the San Francisco-based U.S. Federation of Worker Owned Cooperatives, “and more engaged with people in the economy.” Some of the growth is sector-based: Green-cleaning ventures launched by immigrant women, for example, are common. But philanthropists and community developers increasingly have focused their attention on the co-op model as a way to revitalize urban areas. No city experiment has made more of a splash than Cleveland’s. With support from universities and medical centers that border the downtown area targeted for development, the Cleveland Foundation — a donor-based organization dedicated to bettering the city — has channeled millions of dollars into the Mondragon-inspired Evergreen Cooperatives. A solar panel installation-and-weatherization company and a green commercial laundry are up and running with a combined 50 worker-owners, said Lillian Kuri, program director of the Cleveland Foundation. An urban farming co-op is scheduled to open in the spring. In addition to providing financing for co-op ventures, Evergreen Cooperatives makes services such as child care available to the workers and provides no-cost healthcare. Ted Howard, an architect of Cleveland’s experiment and founder of the University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative, said worker-ownership is supplanting other forms of inner-city revival. “When you’re hiring people even in a decent job that pays a living wage — if they … have no retirement account, no rainy day savings — a job alone is not enough,” Howard said.

In addition to offering the chance to share in profits, worker-owned companies are rooted in the community and won’t “pack up and move,” he said. The co-op model has found interest among government officials in Washington D.C., Amarillo, Texas, and Atlanta, Howard said, but Richmond stands alone in hiring a coordinator. “I don’t know any city in America that’s done that,” he said. Enter Baird, a Richmond resident who in 1997 helped found the worker-owned Arizmendi Bakery cooperative in Oakland. The Arizmendi Assn. of Cooperatives now includes six Bay Area bakeries. All workers earn the same pay rate. Profits are distributed at year’s end in proportion to hours worked. Though he may be a co-op evangelist, Baird knows the model won’t work without a product or service consumers will pay for, a decent location and a group of people who are able to work together. During a recent tour of Richmond, Baird pointed out candidates for cooperative ventures: A vacant 5,000-square-foot building is under consideration for a handyman’s cooperative. A faded onetime coin laundry near a city park could become a bakery or restaurant. Then there’s the weedy lot that one woman hopes to transform into a cooperative garden and farm stand. In the heart of the old downtown sits Richmond SPOKES. Brian Drayton, once a junior zookeeper in Baltimore, spent years developing youth programs for a range of nonprofits, stressing art and environmental sustainability. When he opened the community space and “bike lounge” as a nonprofit last month, young men from the neighborhood poured in to find out what he was doing. Then they rolled up their sleeves and helped lay gleaming wood flooring. As a local artist covered the walls in vivid murals, they stuck around to learn the bike trade. Baird has been meeting with a group of five or so men to discuss a worker-owned collective.

Richmond Solar Executive Director Michelle McGeoy has secured funds for her co-op from, among others, Chevron (formerly Standard Oil and now the city’s largest employer) and the California Endowment — a private foundation that seeks to promote healthy communities. The company has set an initial target of having 10 worker-owners by next spring. Then there’s the Liberty Ship Cafe, whose seven owners were drawn together while taking a class on developing cooperatives at the Richmond library. The California Endowment has helped fund this project as well. On Dec. 1, the collective will start selling its breakfast and lunch fare at a farmers market near the civic center. The plan is to begin deliveries to government office workers soon after. Julio Chavez, 40, studied communications in his native Guatemala before coming to the U.S. and working as an electrician. In recent months, he has joined the other Liberty Ship Cafe partners in testing recipes for sancocho — a traditional Latin American soup — and other delicacies in a rented church kitchen. “It’s a difficult time, so one has to do different things, to search for options,” Chavez said. Challenges remain. While Mondragon is united by its Basque culture, Baird noted, Richmond is fragmented by race and class and shadowed by chronic violence. On top of the usual cost of business, cooperatives require training — not just in job-specific skills but on how to manage a business and make sure everyone’s voice is heard. “The real thing that can take a [cooperative] business down,” Hoover said, “is a group that’s not prepared to make decisions together.” On a recent rainy day, the Liberty Ship Cafe workers met to discuss just that. Concetta Abraham, a 76-year-old native of Italy, provides much of the group’s cooking magic. While tasting her savory pozole, the collective determined how long each member should be allowed to speak on agenda items and discussed the importance of not interrupting one another. “We’re from different countries, different cultures and are different ages,” said 68-year-old Carlos Ruiller, who was born in Peru. “There’s a period where we’ll have to suffer and adapt. But I’m hopeful. We’re all equals starting out — like soldiers.”


TRANSCRIPT
http://www.garalperovitz.com/abc/
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/15/worker_owners_of_america_unite_will

AMY GOODMAN: Alperovitz finds that 130 million Americans are members of some kind of cooperative, and 13 million Americans work in an employee-owned company. He says the U.S. may be heading toward something very different from both corporate-dominated capitalism and from traditional socialism. Gar Alperovitz is a professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. His op-ed is called “Worker-Owners of America, Unite!” It’s out today in the New York Times. A new edition of his book, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy, has also just been published. So, what’s the evidence for this, Gar?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, it’s piling up right beneath the surface, that the press, the normal press, hasn’t been covering. You know, 130 million people, that’s 40 percent of United States, involved in credit unions, co-ops all over the country, that don’t get any publicity. And roughly 13 million people, in one kind or another, have worker-owned companies—again, five or six million more people than are involved in labor unions. And several states are attempting to set up state banks, like the existing Bank of North Dakota. A number of cities are trying to set up city banks. San Francisco and Portland are the latest ones on the list. So, if you look deeper, you find wonderful experiments going on. One really interesting one in Cleveland, where there’s a group of cooperatively owned businesses by—in the community that are building a hydroponic land kind of greenhouse, producing three to five million heads of lettuce a year, a gigantic laundry—all this worker-owned. And again, the press hasn’t been covering it, but there—it gives you a sense of what could happen if the Occupy movement gets serious about simply building on what’s already out there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But in terms of a critical mass for the economy, are we talking about here cooperatives that have a significant share of the economic activity in the country, or are we talking largely about very small co-ops that, while they may involve a lot of people, don’t really have that much impact on the overall economy of the country?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, that’s the interesting thing. Of course most of this is still much smaller than the giant corporations—I mean, the ones that got us into trouble and the ones that got nationalized, as in GM and Chrysler and the big banks. And at some point, we’re going to have to go to that level. But what’s happening, and I think because of the pain levels, we’re seeing these things grow over time simply because the pain is growing. And the ones I mentioned in Cleveland are not small. We’ve got a laundry—an industrial-scale laundry going on there, owned by the workers in that community, that’s probably the most ecologically advanced in the country. This large greenhouse that’s developing, three to five million heads of lettuce. These are not your little corner stores. So I see a trend of expanding possibility, building step by step on what’s already out there. We’ve learned a lot in the last several decades. And I think it’s going to grow over time because of the pain levels. That’s what the evidence suggests.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the banks and the credit unions, the state banks that are developing.

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, we’ve had, since the beginning part of the century in North Dakota, a state-owned bank, highly successful. The press doesn’t cover it. But it’s a bank that exists just like other banks, but it doesn’t speculate. It doesn’t use money to do what the Wall Street banks are doing. And as I say, there are about 14 states that have introduced legislation to reproduce that, help finance small business, on the one hand, but co-ops and worker-owned firms, and most of this with a real green edge to it, ecologically developed. And in these city banks, the same thing, trying to focus—for instance, in San Francisco, there’s about $2 billion in state—in city money, that’s taxpayer money. Instead of putting it in the Bank of America, the proposal is put it in a city bank or a city credit union and then use that to finance development in the city. And I think that direction, using those public monies, and not simply to finance corporations or speculation, but doing it in a way that builds up this already developing knowledge and base of worker-owned companies, community-owned developments, neighborhood developments, co-ops, that form of development, the way to think about it is the—you know, the two to three decades before the Progressive Era and the Populist Era really made a big national impact. There was a developmental process, step by step, at the state level. Take the women’s right to vote, the same thing: step by step, state by state by state, building up over three to four to five decades. But I think the pain level is so high, it’s going to be quicker this time. So I take this local development process very seriously. And I think it can lead to national change, as the New Deal did at one point when the pain levels really struck. You know, at the other—

JUAN GONZALEZ: You also talk—

GAR ALPEROVITZ: At the other—go ahead.

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I can, you also talk about the changing attitudes, especially among young Americans, toward concepts like capitalism and socialism. Could you talk about that, as well?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Yeah, there was a Rasmussen poll—now, we’re talking about a fairly conservative polling group—in 2009. People under 30, they found, were equally disposed as to whether capitalism or socialism was a better system. And now that’s a big change. We’re past the time in the Cold War when anyone who mentioned anything like a worker-owned company or cooperative or public-owned enterprise was written out of court. Lots of younger people are looking at what will work in the midst of a failing economy, where the large corporations are falling day by day and the speculators on Wall Street are speculating away the money. I think we’re seeing a change in attitude, both increasing doubts about what’s now going on in the economy, deep doubts, very deep doubts—thanks to Occupation, it’s crystallized—but this other trend of saying, “What do you want? Where are we going?” in some ways to democratize the economy in a very American way, something very—you can explain to your neighbors, this is—this makes sense, in these cities that I’ve been talking about. You get a whole larger coalition of people understanding there’s a hell of a lot of pain here, we can develop something here that moves us in a direction of democratizing local economies and beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Gar Alperovitz, the name of your book, America Beyond Capitalism. Do you think that’s possible in this country?

GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, I’m a—you know, I’m a historian and a political economist. Changes of major kinds, if you look at decade-by-decade development, fundamental systemic change is as common as grass in world history. A lot of pain. But I think an America beyond capitalism is a real possibility. Again, if you stand back, the way the civil rights folks did—my heroes are the civil rights leaders in the 1930s and ’40s, the ones who laid the basis for the big change that came in the ’60s, and I think that’s the way to understand what’s going on at the grassroots level and the sort of things that Occupation has been teaching us. Get in there now and begin to develop that base and that foundation for the transformation.

http://bradner.dfci.harvard.edu/jq1.php
http://bradner.dfci.harvard.edu/JQ1-userguide-updated%20sept%202011.pdf


JQ1 – A first-in-class inhibitor of BET bromodomains (Nature, 2010)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/nov/03/1

How does cancer know it’s cancer? This is the question that cancer researcher, Jay Bradner and his colleagues have focused on in their research, and they think they may have found the answer: a molecule, which they call JQ1. But unlike the corporatocracy and its minions, which operate in secrecy, Dr Bradner and his colleagues chose to do something different. Engaging in an enlightened social experiment, they shared the news of this molecule by publishing their findings — and they mailed samples to 40 other labs to work with. In short, they open-sourced the information about this molecule and they crowd-sourced the testing and research.




TRANSCRIPT
http://dotsub.com/view/9ddedc52-8376-4526-8f97-b5a3181ed9de/viewTranscript/eng

I moved to Boston 10 years ago, from Chicago, with an interest in cancer and in chemistry. You might know that chemistry is the science of making molecules — or to my taste, new drugs for cancer. And you might also know that, for science and medicine, Boston is a bit of a candy store. You can’t roll a stop sign in Cambridge without hitting a graduate student. The bar is called the Miracle of Science. The billboards say “Lab Space Available.”

And it’s fair to say that in these 10 years, we’ve witnessed absolutely the start of a scientific revolution — that of genome medicine. We know more about the patients that enter our clinic now than ever before. And we’re able, finally, to answer the question that’s been so pressing for so many years: why do I have cancer? This information is also pretty staggering. You might know that, so far in just the dawn of this revolution, we know that there are perhaps 40,000 unique mutations affecting more than 10,000 genes, and that there are 500 of these genes that are bona-fide drivers, causes of cancer.

Yet comparatively, we have about a dozen targeted medications. And this inadequacy of cancer medicine really hit home when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We didn’t fly him to Boston. We didn’t sequence his genome. It’s been known for decades what causes this malignancy. It’s three proteins — Ras, MIC and P53. This is old information we’ve known since about the 80s, yet there’s no medicine I can prescribe to a patient with this or any of the numerous solid tumors caused by these three horsemen of the apocalypse that is cancer. There’s no Ras, no MIC, no P53 drug.

And you might fairly ask: why is that? And the very unsatisfying, yet scientific, answer is it’s too hard. That for whatever reason, these three proteins have entered a space in the language of our field that’s called the undruggable genome — which is like calling a computer unsurfable or the Moon unwalkable. It’s a horrible term of trade. But what it means is that we fail to identify a greasy pocket in these proteins, into which we, like molecular locksmiths, can fashion an active, small, organic molecule or drug substance.

Now as I was training in clinical medicine and hematology and oncology and stem cell transplantation, what we had instead, cascading through the regulatory network at the FDA, were these substances — arsenic, thalidomide and this chemical derivative of nitrogen mustard gas. And this is the 21st century. And so, I guess you’d say, dissatisfied with the performance and quality of these medicines, I went back to school in chemistry with the idea that perhaps by learning the trade of discovery chemistry and approaching it in the context of this brave new world of the open-source, the crowd-source, the collaborative network that we have access to within academia, that we might more quickly bring powerful and targeted therapies to our patients.

And so please consider this a work in progress, but I’d like to tell you today a story about a very rare cancer called midline carcinoma, about the protein target, the undruggable protein target that causes this cancer, called BRD4, and about a molecule developed at my lab at Dana Farber Cancer Institute called JQ1, which we affectionately named for Jun Qi, the chemist that made this molecule. Now BRD4 is an interesting protein.

You might ask yourself, with all the things cancer’s trying to do to kill our patient, how does it remember it’s cancer? When it winds up its genome, divides into two cells and unwinds again, why does it not turn into an eye, into a liver, as it has all the genes necessary to do this? It remembers that it’s cancer. And the reason is that cancer, like every cell in the body, places little molecular bookmarks, little Post-it notes, that remind the cell “I’m cancer; I should keep growing.” And those Post-it notes involve this and other proteins of its class — so-called bromodomains. So we developed an idea, a rationale, that perhaps, if we made a molecule that prevented the posted note from sticking by entering into the little pocket at the base of this spinning protein, then maybe we could convince cancer cells, certainly those addicted to his BRD4 protein, that they’re not cancer.

And so we started to work on this problem. We developed libraries of compounds and eventually arrived at this and similar substances called JQ1. Now not being a drug company, we could do certain things, we had certain flexibilities, that I respect that a pharmaceutical industry doesn’t have. We just started mailing it to our friends. I have a small lab. We thought we’d just send it to people and see how the molecule behaves. And we sent it to Oxford, England where a group of talented crystallographers provided this picture, which helped us understand exactly how this molecule is so potent for this protein target. It’s what we call a perfect fit of shape complimentarity, or hand in glove.

Now this is a very rare cancer, this BRD4-addicted cancer. And so we worked with samples of material that were collected by young pathologists at Brigham Women’s Hospital. And as we treated these cells with this molecule, we observed something really striking. The cancer cells, small, round and rapidly dividing, grew these arms and extensions. They were changing shape. In effect, the cancer cell was forgetting it was cancer and becoming a normal cell.

This got us very excited. The next step would be to put this molecule into mice. The only problem was there’s no mouse model of this rare cancer. And so at the time that we were doing this research, I was caring for a 29 year-old firefighter from Connecticut who was very much at the end of life with this incurable cancer. This BRD4-addicted cancer was growing throughout his left lung, and he had a chest tube in that was draining little bits of debris. And every nursing shift we would throw this material out. And so we approached this patient and asked if he would collaborate with us. Could we take this precious and rare cancerous material from this chest tube and drive it across town and put it into mice and try to do a clinical trial and stage it with a prototype drug? Well that would be impossible and, rightly, illegal to do in humans. And he obliged us. At the Lurie Family Center for Animal Imaging, my colleague, Andrew Kung, grew this cancer successfully in mice without ever touching plastic.

And you can see this PET scan of a mouse — what we call a pet PET. The cancer is growing as this red, huge mass in the hind limb of this animal. And as we treat it with our compound, this addiction to sugar, this rapid growth, faded. And on the animal on the right, you see that the cancer was responding. We’ve completed now clinical trials in four mouse models of this disease. And every time, we see the same thing. The mice with this cancer that get the drug live, and the ones that don’t rapidly perish.

So we started to wonder, what would a drug company do at this point? Well they probably would keep this a secret until they turn a prototype drug into an active pharmaceutical substance. And so we did just the opposite. We published a paper that described this finding at the earliest prototype stage. We gave the world the chemical identity of this molecule, typically a secret in our discipline. We told people exactly how to make it. We gave them our email address, suggesting that, if they write us, we’ll send them a free molecule. We basically tried to create the most competitive environment for our lab as possible. And this was, unfortunately, successful.

Because now when we’ve shared this molecule, just since December of last year, with 40 laboratories in the United States and 30 more in Europe — many of them pharmaceutical companies seeking now to enter this space, to target this rare cancer that, thankfully right now, is quite desirable to study in that industry. But the science that’s coming back from all of these laboratories about the use of this molecule has provided us insights that we might not have had on our own. Leukemia cells treated with this compound turn into normal white blood cells. Mice with multiple myeloma, an incurable malignancy of the bone marrow, respond dramatically to the treatment with this drug. You might know that fat has memory. Nice to be able to demonstrate that for you. And in fact, this molecule prevents this adipocyte, this fat stem cell, from remembering how to make fat such that mice on a high fat diet, like the folks in my hometown of Chicago, fail to develop fatty liver, which is a major medical problem.

What this research taught us — not just my lab, but our institute, and Harvard Medical School more generally — is that we have unique resources in academia for drug discovery — that our center that has tested perhaps more cancer molecules in a scientific way than any other, never made one of its own. For all the reasons you see listed here, we think there’s a great opportunity for academic centers to participate in this earliest, conceptually-tricky and creative discipline of prototype drug discovery.

So what next? We have this molecule, but it’s not a pill yet. It’s not orally available. We need to fix it, so that we can deliver it to our patients. And everyone in the lab, especially following the interaction with these patients, feels quite compelled to deliver a drug substance based on this molecule. It’s here where I have to say that we could use your help and your insights, your collaborative participation. Unlike a drug company, we don’t have a pipeline that we can deposit these molecules into. We don’t have a team of salespeople and marketeers that can tell us how to position this drug against the other. What we do have is the flexibility of an academic center to work with competent, motivated, enthusiastic, hopefully well-funded people to carry these molecules forward into the clinic while preserving our ability to share the prototype drug worldwide.

This molecule will soon leave our benches and go into a small startup company called Tensha Therapeutics. And really this is the fourth of these molecules to kind of graduate from our little pipeline of drug discovery, two of which — a topical drug for lymphoma of the skin, an oral substance for the treatment of multiple myeloma — will actually come to the bedside for first clinical trial in July of this year. For us, a major and exciting milestone. I want to leave you with just two ideas. The first is if anything is unique about this research, it’s less the science than the strategy — that this for us was a social experiment, an experiment in what would happen if we were as open and honest at the earliest phase of discovery chemistry research as we could be.

This string of letters and numbers and symbols and parentheses that can be texted, I suppose, or Twittered worldwide, is the chemical identity of our pro compound. It’s the information that we most need from pharmaceutical companies, the information on how these early prototype drugs might work. Yet this information is largely a secret. And so we seek really to download from the amazing successes of the computer science industry two principles: that of opensource and that of crowdsourcing to quickly, responsibly accelerate the delivery of targeted therapeutics to patients with cancer.

Now the business model involves all of you. This research is funded by the public. It’s funded by foundations. And one thing I’ve learned in Boston is that you people will do anything for cancer — and I love that. You bike across the state. You walk up and down the river. (Laughter) I’ve never seen really anywhere this unique support for cancer research. And so I want to thank you for your participation, your collaboration and most of all for your confidence in our ideas.

http://bradner.dfci.harvard.edu/bradnerresearch.php

The Bradner Laboratory studies gene regulatory pathways using the emerging discipline of chemical biology. We focus on cancer, as cancer is a dreadful disease which remains largely incurable. We choose to study cancer biology with chemistry, because if we are successful in controlling cell identity in this manner, new types of chemical probes and therapeutics will emerge directly from these efforts.

We consider cancer as a disease of cell state, caused by genetic alterations but influenced also by the cell type of origin and the manner in which the genome is packaged. The insight that no known set of genetic alterations are capable of causing cancer in all cell types establishes the plausibility that reprogramming the cell’s fundamental identity may subvert the aggressive behavior of cancer. In addition, recent research has observed high genetic complexity, heterogeneity, plasticity and redundancy of signaling networks in cancer. These findings further establish the pressing need for molecules directed against the master regulatory proteins maintaining cancer cell identity.

We have initiated research aimed at three sets of targets:

1. Transcription Factors

2. Chromatin modifying enzymes

3. Histone binding modules

We perform this research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Harvard Medical School, in close collaborative proximity of scientists, clinicians and patients.

In the post-genomic era, the discovery of cancer genes has become relatively straightforward. Cancer biologists and geneticists now race, like modern cartographers, to assimilate this information as a unified geography of cell signaling pathways. For the cancer patient, these advances allow a detailed, highly individualized understanding of cancer’s hard-wiring. Unfortunately, the delay in the discovery and delivery of targeted therapeutics remains a significant concern. We invoke a utilitarian model of drug discovery which is not restricted by any individual chemistry or technology. We support a collaborative, creative approach to drug discovery focused on the most pressing targets irrespective of perceived ‘druggability’ or profitability.


Painting by Anthony Freda www.AnthonyFreda.com

a HOLIDAY OPPORTUNITY
http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/find-bankcredit-union
http://www.findacreditunion.org/
http://www.asmarterhoice.org/

BANK TRANSFER DAY
http://thinkprogress.org/special/2011/11/03/360804/650000-americans-credit-unions/
650,000 Americans Joined Credit Unions Last Month — More Than In All Of 2010 Combined
by Zaid Jilani on Nov 3, 2011

One of the tactics the 99 Percenters are using to take back the country from the 1 percent is to move their money from big banks to credit unions, community banks, and other smaller financial unions that aren’t gambling with our nation’s future. Now, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reports that a whopping 650,000 Americans have joined credit unions since Sept. 29 — the date that Bank of America announced it would start charging a $5 monthly debit fee, a move it backed down on this week. To put that in perspective, there were only 600,000 new members for credit unions in all of 2010. “These results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings,” said CUNA President Bill Cheney. This Saturday, 99 Percenters are calling on Americans to move their money from big banks to credit unions and community banks on what is being called “Bank Transfer Day.” If you want to stand with the 99 Percent and take part in this action, use the Move Your Money project’s community bank and credit union finder tool to find out how.

http://www.cuna.org/public/press/press-release/issues/hundreds-thousands-of-consumers-billions-of-$$-move-credit-unions
http://www.americanbanker.com/issues/176_214/customers-flee-for-credit-unions-1043783-1.html
Bank Customers Flee to CUs
by Ed Roberts / 11.3.2011

An estimated 650,000 consumers have closed their bank accounts and opted for credit union membership over the past four weeks, according to CUNA, bringing the approach to Saturday’s Bank Transfer Day to a crescendo. In a survey of 5,000 of its credit union members CUNA estimates that at least 650,000 consumers across the nation have joined credit unions since Sept. 29, the day Bank of America unveiled its now-rescinded $5 monthly debit card fee. Also during that time, CUNA estimates that credit unions have added $4.5 billion in new savings accounts, likely from the new members and existing members shifting their funds. The survey results also show that more than four in every five credit unions experiencing member growth since Sept. 29 attributed the growth to consumer reaction to new fees imposed by banks, or a combination of consumer reactions to the new bank fees plus the social media-inspired “Bank Transfer Day,” Nov. 5. “These results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings.” said CUNA President Bill Cheney. Cheney said the growth is particularly noticeable at larger credit unions (those with $100 million or more in assets, which account for about 20% of all credit unions – but count about 80% of all credit union members). The CUNA survey shows that more than 70% of these credit unions reported they have seen growth in memberships and deposits since Sept. 29.

HOW to JOIN a CREDIT UNION
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/11/how-to-move-money-big-banks-credit
How Do I Move My Money Out of a Big Bank?
by Josh Harkinson / Nov. 3, 2011

Saturday is the deadline for Bank Transfer Day, the call for a mass money exodus from big banks to credit unions and small community banks. Over 80,000 have pledged online to punish “too big to fail” banks by withdrawing their funds. Still on the fence? Wondering where to start? We’ve got a handy primer below on how it works, and check out what happened when MoJo reporter Josh Harkinson tried moving his money out of Wells Fargo.

Why would I want to move my money out of my existing bank?
You’ll probably save money in the long run. According to a 2009 year study by the Filene Research Institute, the average credit union account holder paid $71.47 in annual fees, compared to $183.14 paid by the typical bank customer. And new restrictions on debit card fees imposed last month by the Dodd-Frank Act have sent banks scrambling for even more ways to nickel and dime their customers in pursuit of profits. Nonprofit credit unions, on the other hand, only need to break even. They also tend to plow their money into back into basic loans in their own communities, instead of dabbling in the kind of complex and risky securitized investments that caused large banks to go bust and drag down the economy. It’s important to note that credit unions and small local banks aren’t recession-proof: a striking 17 percent of Florida’s bank failures since 2008 were community banks.
What’s the process?
Don’t expect to be able to open a credit union account and close your old bank account in one day. You’ll need to receive new checks and a debit card in the mail, switch over any automated deposits and electronic bill paying services, and wait for pending financial transactions to clear. Only then should you give your old bank the boot. Here’s a searchable map that locates credit unions near you.
How long does it take?
You’ll probably need to wait one or two weeks to get a debit card and checks in the mail, though some credit unions will issue you temporary versions. Besides that, it’s just a matter of finding the time to switch over your bills.
Aren’t credit unions less convenient than big banks?
Not necessarily. While individual credit unions typically have fewer branches than corporate banks, many participate in “shared branching,” allowing customers to make a deposit or withdrawal at other participating credit unions. Also, many credit unions have implemented advanced online banking options including direct-deposit, online bill-pay, and mobile banking using your cell phone.
What about ATMs?
Ask your local credit union if it’s a member of the Co-op Network. Customers at credit unions in the network can use a smart phone app to find any one of 24,000 fee-free ATMs across the country. “You actually get access to more fee-free ATMs than if you were at Bank of America,” says Ben Rogers, research director for the Filene Research Institute, a think tank that studies Credit Unions. Some Credit Unions will even refund any fees that you rack up using other banks’ ATMs.
If everyone moves their money out of big banks, how much money do the banks stand to lose?
Currently, total deposits for all banks and savings and loans, including personal and business accounts, come to $7.5 trillion.
Are big banks freaking out over this?
Most big banks rely on their vast numbers of personal checking and savings accounts to shore up their cash reserves and make lucrative investments. “If everybody moved their money, it would make a huge difference,” Rogers says. Still, the nearly 80,000 people who’ve made online pledges to join Bank Transfer Day probably won’t cause bankers to break a sweat—at least not yet. Add another 400,000 of them, and “you’d get not just frowns, but maybe gasps in the board room.”
How are credit unions benefiting from this?
Credit unions across the country have added upwards of 650,000 new customers since September 29 (the day Bank of America unveiled its now-defunct $5 monthly fee for debit cards), according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association. The group also estimates that credit unions have added $4.5 billion in new savings since then, likely from these new members and transfers from other banks. But CUNA spokesman Patrick Keefe says these numbers barely move the needle for big banks: “It’s actually a drop in the ocean for them. They are huge.”
Is there any scenario in which my big bank actually benefits if I do this?
Yes and no. If you have about $400 in a savings account and average about $1000 in a checking account and have nothing else with your bank, then you’re probably what your bank would call an “unprofitable customer.” But most banks want to keep unprofitable customers onboard in hopes of later cross-selling them on credit cards and loans. “I don’t think that there’s a ton of banks actively smiling and smirking because they are scaring away all these unprofitable customers,” Rogers says. “Nobody really wants to lose customers.”



“EXODUS”
http://techpresident.com/blog-entry/mass-exodus-big-banks-organizing-online
Mass Exodus from Big Banks is Organizing Online
by Nick Judd / November 2, 2011

Over 35,000 people have indicated support on Facebook for a mass Nov. 5 exodus of personal bank accounts from big banks and into credit unions, called “Bank Transfer Day” — one of several online groups with the same basic message, popularized by Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street and others, and just the latest in a series of ground-up actions protesting the practices of big banks. These online efforts trace their origin back to news from September, in response to new provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law that would limit the amounts that banks could charge merchants for the use of debit cards. News broke at the time that banks would seek instead to pass the fees along to customers in the form of monthly charges for the use of the cards. As anger at a new fee during tough economic times met the current direct-action national zeitgeist, fueled by Occupy Wall Street, initiatives began to spring up online.

The “Bank Transfer Day” Facebook page belongs to an L.A. gallery owner named Kristen Christian, but the idea might actually be the brainchild of Arianna Huffington, who floated the idea in 2009 as a response to financial institutions not lending much of the money they received from the federal bank bailout. That call to action didn’t make a lasting splash at the time, but has found new life. From Santa Cruz to New Mexico to Wisconsin, credit unions are reporting an uptick in new accounts. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, on the occasion of Bank of America’s announcement yesterday that it would not impose a planned $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases, said that over 51,000 have pledged through their platform to move their money from big banks, including 21,500 from Bank of America. PCCC co-founder Adam Green also wrote in an email that the wired progressive group plans to release an online tool, “Banxodus,” that will help people find “good-guy” banks near them.

Yesterday was a big day for online organizing against big-bank behavior. Also on occasion of the Bank of America announcement, Change.org released an announcement pointing to a 300,000-signatory petition hosted on their online petitions platform. “Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will drop its $5 debit card fee after more than 300,000 people from all 50 states joined a viral campaign on Change.org started by 22-year-old Bank of America customer Molly Katchpole,” Change.org proclaimed in a press release sent yesterday. Katchpole is enjoying national media attention, but her online petition also came amid a nationwide upheaval against the current structure of the financial services industry — and with droves of people actually taking their money away from Bank of America.

Bank of America officials said in a statement that customer input was the reason they canceled their plans. Decisions by JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo to walk back their own debit card fees came last week. “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” David Darnell, Bank of America’s co-chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.” The fee reversal may have come too late for Bank of America. Local newspapers across the country are full of stories like this one, from the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette:

For many months, Sean J. McLoughlin considered leaving Bank of America and switching to a bank that didn’t charge him fees just for having checking accounts. When Bank of America said in September it would charge customers $5 a month for using debit cards, his decision to leave the big bank became easier. “I said ‘Forget it, I’m done,’ ” he said.

TOO BIG to JAIL?
http://www.zerohedge.com/contributed/only-way-save-economy-break-giant-insolvent-banks
The Government Created the Giant Banks

As MIT economics professor and former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson points out, the official White House position is that:

(1) The government created the mega-giants, and they are not the product of free market competition

(2) The White House needs to “regulate and oversee them”, even though it is clear that the government has no real plans to regulate or oversee the banking behemoths

(3) Giant banks are good for the economy

This is false … giant banks are incredibly destructive for the economy.

We Do NOT Need the Big Banks to Help the Economy Recover

Do we need the Too Big to Fails to help the economy recover?

No.

The following top economists and financial experts believe that the economy cannot recover unless the big, insolvent banks are broken up in an orderly fashion:

  • Dean and professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School, and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, R. Glenn Hubbard
  • The leading monetary economist and co-author with Milton Friedman of the leading treatise on the Great Depression, Anna Schwartz
  • Economics professor and senior regulator during the S & L crisis, William K. Black
  • Professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Chicago Booth School of Business, Luigi Zingales

Others, like Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, think that the giant insolvent banks may need to be temporarily nationalized.

In addition, many top economists and financial experts, including Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer – who was Ben Bernanke’s thesis adviser at MIT – say that – at the very least – the size of the financial giants should be limited.

Even the Bank of International Settlements – the “Central Banks’ Central Bank” – has slammed too big to fail. As summarized by the Financial Times:

The report was particularly scathing in its assessment of governments’ attempts to clean up their banks. “The reluctance of officials to quickly clean up the banks, many of which are now owned in large part by governments, may well delay recovery,” it said, adding that government interventions had ingrained the belief that some banks were too big or too interconnected to fail.

This was dangerous because it reinforced the risks of moral hazard which might lead to an even bigger financial crisis in future.

And as I noted in December 2008, the big banks are the major reason why sovereign debt has become a crisis:

 BIS points out in a new report that the bank rescue packages have transferred significant risks onto government balance sheets, which is reflected in the corresponding widening of sovereign credit default swaps:

The scope and magnitude of the bank rescue packages also meant that significant risks had been transferred onto government balance sheets. This was particularly apparent in the market for CDS referencing sovereigns involved either in large individual bank rescues or in broad-based support packages for the financial sector, including the United States. While such CDS were thinly traded prior to the announced rescue packages, spreads widened suddenly on increased demand for credit protection, while corresponding financial sector spreads tightened.

In other words, by assuming huge portions of the risk from banks trading in toxic derivatives, and by spending trillions that they don’t have, central banks have put their countries at risk from default.

Similarly, a study of 124 banking crises by the International Monetary Fund found that propping banks which are only pretending to be solvent hurts the economy:

Existing empirical research has shown that providing assistance to banks and their borrowers can be counterproductive, resulting in increased losses to banks, which often abuse forbearance to take unproductive risks at government expense. The typical result of forbearance is a deeper hole in the net worth of banks, crippling tax burdens to finance bank bailouts, and even more severe credit supply contraction and economic decline than would have occurred in the absence of forbearance.

Cross-country analysis to date also shows that accommodative policy measures (such as substantial liquidity support, explicit government guarantee on financial institutions’ liabilities and forbearance from prudential regulations) tend to befiscally costly and that these particular policies do not necessarily accelerate the speed of economic recovery.

***

All too often, central banks privilege stability over cost in the heat of the containment phase: if so, they may too liberally extend loans to an illiquid bank which is almost certain to prove insolvent anyway. Also, closure of a nonviable bank is often delayed for too long, even when there are clear signs of insolvency (Lindgren, 2003). Since bank closures face many obstacles, there is a tendency to rely instead on blanket government guarantees which, if the government’s fiscal and political position makes them credible, can work albeit at the cost of placing the burden on the budget, typically squeezing future provision of needed public services.

The big banks have been bailed out to the tune of many trillions, dragging the economy down a bottomless pit from which we can’t escape. See thisthisthis and this. Unless we break them up, we will never escape.

If We Break Up the Giants, Smaller Banks Will Thrive … And Loan More to Main Street

Do we need to keep the TBTFs to make sure that loans are made?

Nope.

USA Today points out:

Banks that received federal assistance during the financial crisis reduced lending more aggressively and gave bigger pay raises to employees than institutions that didn’t get aid, a USA TODAY/American University review found.

***

The amount of loans outstanding to businesses and individuals fell 9.1% for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2009, at banks that participated in TARP compared with a 6.2% drop at banks that didn’t.

Dennis Santiago – CEO and Managing Director of Institutional Risk Analytics (Chris Whalen’s company) – notes:

The really shocking numbers are in the unused line of credit commitments of banks to U.S. business. This is the canary number I like to look at because it is a direct expression of banking and finance confidence in Main Street industry. It’s gone from $92 billion in Dec -2007 to just $24 billion as of Sep-2010. More importantly, the vast majority of this contraction of credit availability to American industry has been by the larger banks, C&I LOC from $87B down to $18.8B by the institutions with assets over $10B. Poof!

Fortune reports that smaller banks are stepping in to fill the lending void left by the giant banks’ current hesitancy to make loans. Indeed, the article points out that the only reason that smaller banks haven’t been able to expand and thrive is that the too-big-to-fails have decreased competition:

Growth for the nation’s smaller banks represents a reversal of trends from the last twenty years, when the biggest banks got much bigger and many of the smallest players were gobbled up or driven under…

As big banks struggle to find a way forward and rising loan losses threaten to punish poorly run banks of all sizes, smaller but well capitalized institutions have a long-awaited chance to expand.

BusinessWeek notes:

As big banks struggle, community banks are stepping in to offer loans and lines of credit to small business owners…

At a congressional hearing on small business and the economic recovery earlier this month, economist Paul Merski, of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a Washington (D.C.) trade group, told lawmakers that community banks make 20% of all small-business loans, even though they represent only about 12% of all bank assets. Furthermore, he said that about 50% of all small-business loans under $100,000 are made by community banks…

Indeed, for the past two years, small-business lending among community banks has grown at a faster rate than from larger institutions, according to Aite Group, a Boston banking consultancy. “Community banks are quickly taking on more market share not only from the top five banks but from some of the regional banks,” says Christine Barry, Aite’s research director. “They are focusing more attention on small businesses than before. They are seeing revenue opportunities and deploying the right solutions in place to serve these customers.”

Fed Governor Daniel K. Tarullo said:

The importance of traditional financial intermediation services, and hence of the smaller banks that typically specialize in providing those services, tends to increase during times of financial stress. Indeed, the crisis has highlighted the important continuing role of community banks…

For example, while the number of credit unions has declined by 42 percent since 1989, credit union deposits have more than quadrupled, and credit unions have increased their share of national deposits from 4.7 percent to 8.5 percent. In addition, some credit unions have shifted from the traditional membership based on a common interest to membership that encompasses anyone who lives or works within one or more local banking markets. In the last few years, some credit unions have also moved beyond their traditional focus on consumer services to provide services to small businesses, increasing the extent to which they compete with community banks.

Thomas M. Hoenig pointed out in a speech at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce summit in Washington:

During the recent financial crisis, losses quickly depleted the capital of these large, over-leveraged companies. As expected, these firms were rescued using government funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The result was an immediate reduction in lending to Main Street, as the financial institutions tried to rebuild their capital. Although these institutions have raised substantial amounts of new capital, much of it has been used to repay the TARP funds instead of supporting new lending.

On the other hand, Hoenig pointed out:

In 2009, 45 percent of banks with assets under $1 billion increased their business lending.

45% is about 45% more  than the amount of increased lending by the too big to fails.

Indeed, some very smart people say that the big banks aren’t really focusing as much on the lending business as smaller banks.

Specifically since Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, the giant banks have made much of their money in trading assets, securities, derivatives and other speculative bets, the banks’ own paper and securities, and in other money-making activities which have nothing to do with traditional depository functions.

Now that the economy has crashed, the big banks are making very few loans to consumers or small businesses because theystill have trillions in bad derivatives gambling debts to pay off, and so they are only loaning to the biggest players and those who don’t really need credit in the first place. See this and this.

So we don’t really need these giant gamblers. We don’t reallyneed JP Morgan, Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. What we need are dedicated lenders.

The Fortune article discussed above points out that the banking giants are not necessarily more efficient than smaller banks:

The largest banks often don’t show the greatest efficiency. This now seems unsurprising given the deep problems that the biggest institutions have faced over the past year.

“They actually experience diseconomies of scale,” Narter wrote of the biggest banks. “There are so many large autonomous divisions of the bank that the complexity of connecting them overwhelms the advantage of size.”

And Governor Tarullo points out some of the benefits of small community banks over the giant banks:

Many community banks have thrived, in large part because their local presence and personal interactions give them an advantage in meeting the financial needs of many households, small businesses, and agricultural firms. Their business model is based on an important economic explanation of the role of financial intermediaries–to develop and apply expertise that allows a lender to make better judgments about the creditworthiness of potential borrowers than could be made by a potential lender with less information about the borrowers.

A small, but growing, body of research suggests that the financial services provided by large banks are less-than-perfect substitutes for those provided by community banks.

It is simply not true that we need the mega-banks. In fact, as many top economists and financial analysts have said, the “too big to fails” are actually stifling competition from smaller lenders and credit unions, and dragging the entire economy down into a black hole.

The Failure to Break Up the Big Banks Is Causing Rampant Fraud


Top economists and experts on fraud say that fraud is not only widespread, it is actually the business model adopted by the giant banks. See thisthisthisthisthis and this.

In addition, Richard Alford – former New York Fed economist, trading floor economist and strategist – showed that banks that get too big benefit from “information asymmetry” which disrupts the free market.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted in September that giants like Goldman are using their size to manipulate the market:

“The main problem that Goldman raises is a question of size: ‘too big to fail.’ In some markets, they have a significant fraction of trades. Why is that important? They trade both on their proprietary desk and on behalf of customers. When you do that and you have a significant fraction of all trades, you have a lot of information.”

Further, he says, “That raises the potential of conflicts of interest, problems of front-running, using that inside information for your proprietary desk. And that’s why the Volcker report came out and said that we need to restrict the kinds of activity that these large institutions have. If you’re going to trade on behalf of others, if you’re going to be a commercial bank, you can’t engage in certain kinds of risk-taking behavior.”

The giants (especially Goldman Sachs) have also used high-frequency program trading which not only distorted the markets– making up more than 70% of stock trades – but which also let the program trading giants take a sneak peak at what the real (aka “human”) traders are buying and selling, and then trade on the insider information. See thisthisthisthis and this. (This is frontrunning, which is illegal; but it is a lot bigger than garden variety frontrunning, because the program traders are not only trading based on inside knowledge of what their own clients are doing, they are also trading based on knowledge of what all other traders are doing).

Goldman also admitted that its proprietary trading program can “manipulate the markets in unfair ways”. The giant banks have also allegedly used their Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group (CRMPG) to exchange secret information and formulate coordinated mutually beneficial actions, all with thegovernment’s blessings.

In other words, a handful of giants doing it, it can manipulate the entire economy in ways which are not good for the American citizen.

The Failure to Break Up the Big Banks Is Dooming Us to a Derivatives Depression

All independent experts agree that unless we rein in derivatives, will have another – bigger – financial crisis.

But the big banks are preventing derivatives from being tamed.

We have also pointed out that derivatives are still very dangerous for the economy, that the derivatives “reform” legislation previously passed has probably actually weakenedexisting regulations, and the legislation was “probably written by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs“.

As I noted last year

Harold Bradley – who oversees almost $2 billion in assets as chief investment officer at the Kauffman Foundation – told the Reuters Global Exchanges and Trading Summit in New York that a cabal is preventing swap derivatives from being forced onto clearing exchanges:

There is no incentive from the moneyed interests in either Washington or New York to change it…

I believe we are in a cabal. There are five or six players only who are engaged and dominant in this marketplace and apparently they own the regulatory apparatus. Everybody is afraid to regulate them.

That’s bad enough.

But Bob Litan of the Brookings Institute wrote a paper (here’s asummary) showing that – even if real derivatives legislation is ever passed – the 5 big derivatives players will still prevent any real change. James Kwak notes that Litan is no radical, but has previously written in defense in financial “innovation”.

Here’s a good summary from Rortybomb, showing that this is yet another reason to break up the too big to fails:

Litan is worried about the “Dealer’s Club” of the major derivatives players. I particularly like this paper as the best introduction to the current oligarchy that takes place in the very profitable over-the-counter derivatives trading market and credit default swap market. [Litton says]:

I have written this essay primarily to call attention to the main impediments to meaningful reform: the private actors who now control the trading of derivatives and all key elements of the infrastructure of derivatives trading, the major dealer banks. The importance of this “Derivatives Dealers’ Club” cannot be overstated. All end-users who want derivatives products, CDS in particular, must transact with dealer banks…I will argue that the major dealer banks have strong financial incentives and the ability to delay or impede changes from the status quo — even if the legislative reforms that are now being widely discussed are adopted — that would make the CDS and eventually other derivatives markets safer and more transparent for all concerned…

Here, of course, I refer to the major derivatives dealers – the top 5 dealer-banks that control virtually all of the dealer-to-dealer trades in CDS, together with a few others that participate with the top 5 in other institutions important to the derivatives market. Collectively, these institutions have the ability and incentive, if not counteracted by policy intervention, to delay, distort or impede clearing, exchange trading and transparency

Market-makers make the most profit, however, as long as they can operate as much in the dark as is possible – so that customers don’t know the true going prices, only the dealers do. This opacity allows the dealers to keep spreads high…

In combination, these various market institutions – relating to standardization, clearing and pricing – have incentives not to rock the boat, and not to accelerate the kinds of changes that would make the derivatives market safer and more transparent. The common element among all of these institutions is strong participation, if not significant ownership, by the major dealers.

So Bob Litan is waving a giant red flag that the top dealer-banks that control the CDS market can more or less, through a variety of means he lays out convincingly in the paper, derail or significantly slow down CDS reform after the fact if it passes.

***

If you thought we’d at least get our arms around credit default swap reform from a financial reform bill, you should read this report from Litan as a giant warning flag. In case you weren’t sure if you’ve heard anyone directly lay out the case on how the market and political concentration in the United States banking sector hurts consumers and increases systemic risk through both political pressures and anticompetitive levels of control of the institutions of the market, now you have. It’s not Matt Taibbi, but it’s much further away from a “everything is actually fine and the Treasury is in control of reform” reassurance. Which should scare you, and give you yet another good reason for size caps for the major banks.

53246864840716464 2380196514216991388?l=georgewashington2.blogspot The Only Way to Save the Economy:  Break Up the Giant, Insolvent BanksMoreover, the big banks are still dumping huge amounts of their toxic derivatives on the taxpayer. And see this.

Why Aren’t They Be Broken Up?

So what is the real reason that the TBTFs aren’t being broken up?

Certainly, there is regulatory capture, cowardice and corruption:

  • Joseph Stiglitz (the Nobel prize winning economist) said recently that the U.S. government is wary of challenging the financial industry because it is politically difficult, and that he hopes the Group of 20 leaders will cajole the U.S. into tougher action
  • Economic historian Niall Ferguson asks:

    Guess which institutions are among the biggest lobbyists and campaign-finance contributors? Surprise! None other than the TBTFs [too big to fails].

  • Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas agrees:

    The too-big-to-fail financial industry has been good to elected officials and former elected officials of both parties over its 25-year life span

  • Investment analyst and financial writer Yves Smith says:

    Major financial players [have gained] control over the all-important over-the-counter debt markets…It is pretty hard to regulate someone who has a knife at your throat.

  • William K. Black says:

    There has been no honest examination of the crisis because it would embarrass C.E.O.s and politicians . . .Instead, the Treasury and the Fed are urging us not to examine the crisis and to believe that all will soon be well. There have been no prosecutions of the chief executives of the large nonprime lenders that would expose the “epidemic” of fraudulent mortgage lending that drove the crisis. There has been no accountability…

    The Obama administration and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke have refused to investigate the nature and causes of the crisis. And the administration selected Timothy Geithner, who with then Treasury Secretary Paulson bungled the bailout of A.I.G. and other favored “too big to fail” institutions, to head up Treasury.

    Now Lawrence Summers, head of the White House National Economic Council, and Mr. Geithner argue that no fundamental change in finance is needed. They want to recreate a secondary market in the subprime mortgages that caused trillions of dollars of losses.

    Traditional neo-classical economic theory, particularly “modern finance theory,” has been proven false but economists have failed to replace it. No fundamental reform can be passed when the proponents are pretending that there really is no crisis or need for change.

  • Harvard professor of government Jeffry A. Frieden says:

    Regulatory agencies are often sympathetic to the industries they regulate. This pattern is so well known among scholars that it has a name: “regulatory capture.” This effect can be due to the political influence of the industry on its regulators; or to the fact that the regulators spend so much time with their charges that they come to accept their world view; or to the prospect of lucrative private-sector jobs when regulators retire or resign.

  • Economic consultant Edward Harrison agrees:Regulating Wall Street has become difficult in large part because of regulatory capture.

But there is an even more interesting reason . . .

The number one reason the TBTF’s aren’t being broken up is [drumroll] . . . the ‘ole 80?s playbook is being used.

As the New York Times wrote in February:

In the 1980s, during the height of the Latin American debt crisis, the total risk to the nine money-center banks in New York was estimated at more than three times the capital of those banks. The regulators, analysts say, did not force the banks to value those loans at the fire-sale prices of the moment, helping to avert a disaster in the banking system.

In other words, the nine biggest banks were all insolvent in the 1980s.

Indeed, Richard C. Koo – former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and doctoral fellow with the Fed’s Board of Governors, and now chief economist for Nomura –confirmed this fact last year in a speech to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Specifically, Koo said that -after the Latin American crisis hit in 1982 – the New York Fed concluded that 7 out of 8 money center banks were actually “underwater” and “bankrupt”, but that the Fed hid that fact from the American people.

So the government’s failure to break up the insolvent giants – even though virtually all independent experts say that is the only way to save the economy, and even though there is no good reason not to break them up – is nothing new.

William K. Black’s statement that the government’s entire strategy now – as in the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are (“the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts”) makes a lot more sense.

http://kalwnews.org/audio/oakland-general-strike-1946
http://www.indybay.org/olduploads/oakland_gstrike.mp3
http://www.archive.org/details/SanFranc1934

a “WORK HOLIDAY”
http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=kt2h4n993g&chunk.id=d0e1403&brand=calisphere&doc.view=entire_text
http://www.flyingpicket.org/node/12
http://libcom.org/library/oakland-general-strike-stan-weir
1946: The Oakland General Strike
by Stan Weir / Nov 22 2005

By nightfall the strikers had instructed all stores except pharmacies and food markets to shut down, Bars were allowed to stay open, but they could serve only beer and had to put their juke boxes out on the sidewalk to play at full volume and no charge. ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama, Lay That Pistol Down’, the number one hit, echoed off all the buildings. That first 24-hour period of the 54-hour strike had a carnival spirit. A mass of couples danced in the streets. The participants were making history, knew it, and were having fun.

The Oakland (California) General Strike was an extension of the national strike wave. It was not a ‘called’ strike. Shortly before 5 a.m., Monday, December 3, 1946, the hundreds of workers passing through downtown Oakland on their way to work became witness to the police herding a fleet of scab trucks through the downtown area. The trucks contained commodities to fill the shelves of two major department stores whose clerks (mostly women) had long been on strike. The witnesses, that is, truck drivers, bus and streetcar operators and passengers, got off their vehicles and did not return. The city filled with workers, they milled about in the city’s core for several hours and then organised themselves.



By nightfall the strikers had instructed all stores except pharmacies and food markets to shut down, Bars were allowed to stay open, but they could serve only beer and had to put their juke boxes out on the sidewalk to play at full volume and no charge. ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama, Lay That Pistol Down’, the number one hit, echoed off all the buildings. That first 24-hour period of the 54-hour strike had a carnival spirit. A mass of couples danced in the streets. The participants were making history, knew it, and were having fun. By Tuesday morning they had cordoned off the central city and were directing traffic. Anyone could leave, but only those with passports (union cards) could get in. The comment made by a prominent national network newscaster, that ‘Oakland is a ghost town tonight,’ was a contribution to ignorance. Never before or since had Oakland been so alive and happy for the majority of the population. It was a town of law and order. In that city of over a quarter mil lion, strangers passed each other on the street and did not have fear, but the opposite.

Before the second day of the strike was half over a large group of war veterans among the strikers formed their own squads and went through close-order drills. They then marched on the Tribune Tower, offices of the anti-labour OAKLAND TRIBUNE, and from there marched on City Hall demanding the resignation of the mayor and city council. Sailor’s Union of the Pacific (SUP) crews walked off the three ships at the Oakland Army base loaded with military supplies for troops in Japan. By that night the strikers closed some grocery stores in order to conserve dwindling food supplies. In all general strikes the participants are very soon forced by the very nature of events to themselves run the society they have just stopped. The process in the Oakland experiment was beginning to deepen. There was as yet little evidence of official union leadership in the streets. The top local Teamster officials, except one, were not to be found; the exception would be fired five months later for his strike activity. International Teamster President Dave Beck wired orders ‘to break the strike’ because it was a revolutionary attempt ‘to overthrow the government’. He ordered all Teamsters who had left their jobs to return to work. (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, December 5, 1946)

A number of the secondary Oakland and Alameda County union leaders did what they could to create a semblance of straight trade-union organisation. The ranks, unused to leading themselves and having no precedent for this sort of strike in their own experience, wanted the well-known labour leaders in the Bay Area to step forward with expertise, aid, and public legitimisation. The man who was always billed as leader of the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, ILWU President Harry Bridges, who was then also State CIO President, refused to become involved,, ,just as he did 18 years later during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement struggles. The rank-and-file longshoremen and warehouse- men who had been drawn to the street strike were out there on their own. No organised contingents from the hundreds available in the warehouse and longshore hiring halls were sent to help, No CIO shops were given the nod to walk out or ‘sick-out’. Only through CIO participation could significant numbers of blacks have been drawn into this mainly white strike. The ILWU and other CIO unions would honour picket lines like those around the Tribune Tower or at the Oakland Army Base, but otherwise they minded their own business. Bridges had recently committed himself to a nine-year extension of the wartime no-strike pledge.


Oakland general strike. December 5, 1946. Photographer unknown.

The one major leader of the San Francisco General Strike who would come to Oakland was the SUP’s Secretary Treasurer, Harry Lundeberg. On the second night of the strike he was the principal speaker at the mass meeting in the overflowing Oakland Auditorium. He had been alerted when the strike was less than three hours old via a call from an old-time member at a pay phone on an Oakland street. By noon there were contingents composed mainly of Hawaiians acting as ‘flying squads’, patrolling to find any evidence of strike-breaking activity. They enlarged Upon their number by issuing large white buttons to all seamen or persons on the Street that they knew. The buttons contained the words ‘ Brotherhood of the Sea’, They represented the first officially-organised activity on the street, They did not attempt to run the entire strike or take over. It takes a time for seamen to get over the idea that they are somehow outsiders, The feeling is all the stronger among Hawaiian seamen ashore or residing in the States. They limited their activity to trouble-shooting. They won gratitude and respect. When Lundeberg spoke at the meeting, he had no program of action beyond that of the Oakland AFL leaders. But he got a wild response. He did not approach the microphone reluctantly. His demeanour reflected no hesitancy. Unlike the other speakers, he bellowed with outrage against the city council on behalf of the strikers. In a heavy Norwegian accent he accused: ‘These finky gazoonies who call themselves city fathers have been taking les sons from Hitler and Stalin. They don’t believe in the kind of unions that are free to strike.’ All true, but whether he knew it or not, by focusing on the City Council and no more, he was contributing to the undercutting of the strike, Instead of dealing with the anti-labour employers and city officials through the medium of the strike, plans were already being formulated to deal with the crisis in the post-strike period by attacking the City Council through use of the ballot box. The top Alameda County CIO officials were making hourly statements for the record that they could later use to cover up their disloyalty, The AFL officials couldn’t get them to come near the strike, but they could be expected to participate in post-strike electoral action.

The strike ended 54 hours old at 11 a.m. on December 5. The people on the street learned of the decision from a sound truck put on the Street by the AFL Central Labour Council. It was the officials’ first really decisive act of leadership. They had consulted among themselves and decided to end the strike on the basis of the Oakland City Manager’s promise that police would not again be used to bring in scabs. No concessions were gained for the women retail clerks at Kahn’s and Hastings Department Stores whose strikes had triggered the General Strike; they were left free to negotiate any settlement they could get on their own. Those women and many other strikers heard the sound truck’s message with the form of anger that was close to heartbreak, Numbers of truckers and other workers continued to picket with the women, yelling protests at the truck and appealing to all who could hear that they should stay out. But all strikers other than the clerks had been ordered back to work and no longer had any protection against the disciplinary actions that might be brought against them for strike-caused absences, By noon only a few score of workers were left, wandering disconsolately around the now-barren city, The CIO mass meeting that had been called for that night to discuss strike ‘unity’ was never held.

In the strike’s aftermath every incumbent official in the major Oakland Teamsters Local 70 was voted out of office. A United AFL-CIO Political Action Committee was formed to run candidates in the race for the five open seats on the nine-person City Council. Four of them won, the ballot listed the names of the first four labour challengers on top of each of the incumbents, but reversed the order for the fifth open office, It was felt that the loss was due to this trick and anti-Semitism. The fifth labour candidate’s name was Ben Goldfarb. Labour’s city councilmen were regularly outvoted by the five incumbents; however, the four winners were by no means outspoken champions of labour. They did not utilise their offices as a tribune for a progressive labour-civic program. They served out their time routinely, and the strike faded to become the nation’s major unknown general strike.




The Oakland General Strike was related to the 1946 Strike Wave in time and spirit, and revealed an aspect of the tem per of the nation’s industrial-working-class mood at war’s end. Labour historians of the immediate post-war period have failed to examine the Oakland Strike, and thus have failed to consider a major event of the period and what it reveals about the mood of that time. In developing their analyses they have focused almost entirely on the economic demands made by the unions that participated in the Strike Wave. These demands were not unimportant. But economic oppression was not the primary wound that had been experienced daily during the war years.

The ‘spontaneous’ Oakland General Strike was a massive event in a major urban area with a population similar to that of all major World War II defence-industry centres, Thousands had come to the Bay Area from all corners of the nation-rural and urban-in the early war years, and had stayed. Every theatre of war was represented among armed-forces veterans returning to or settling in this largest of Northern California’s central city cores. The Oakland General Strike revealed fundamental characteristics of a national and not simply a regional mood. Its events combined to make a statement of working-class awareness that World War II had not been fought for democracy. Or, more pointedly, it was a retaliation for the absence of democracy that the people in industry and the armed forces had experienced while ‘fighting to save democracy in a war to end all wars’. The focus of people’s lives was still on the war. They hadn’t fought what they believed to be ‘a war against fascism’ to return home and have their strikes broken and unions housebroken.

Emotionally, their war experiences were still very real, and yet they were just far enough away from those experiences to begin playbacks of memory tapes. The post-war period had not yet achieved an experiential identity. The Oakland Key System bus drivers, streetcar conductors, and motormen who played a leading role in the strike wore their Eisenhower jackets as work uniforms, but the overseas bars were still on their sleeves. Like most, they had lost four years of their youth; and while they would never complain about that loss in those terms, there were other related grievances over which resentment could be expressed.


Crowds Gather on first of Seattle General Strike

the SEATTLE GENERAL STRIKE of 1919
http://content.lib.washington.edu/lawsweb/strike.html
The Seattle General Strike of 1919, and its Aftermath

Although Seattle’s industries had profited in 1917-1918 from the boom in wartime production, the workers in those industries had not seen any related increase in their wages. As a result, in January 1919, the Metal Trades Council of Seattle went on strike, and shortly thereafter, the Central Labor Council of Seattle led many other local unions in calling a city-wide general strike, which lasted from the 6th to the 11th of February. The scale of the strike—tens of thousands of workers participated—panicked local and state officials, who mobilized police and military personnel despite the strike’s non-violent character. Ultimately the workers ended the strike without having won any concessions from the targeted businesses: in the months that followed, politicians and businessmen blamed the strike on “Bolshevik” union leaders, while the Seattle labor movement attempted to understand why the strike had failed and what steps should now be taken to work for change.

The University of Washington’s digital collections contain a small sampling of photographs and documents from the Seattle General Strike itself and the days immediately before and after the strike. Included are minutes from meetings of the Central Labor Council of Seattle, which organized the strike, as well as a photograph of workers on the city’s streets during the strike itself. The Central Labor Council of Seattle remained powerful and influential in the wake of the strike: the U.W.’s digital collections contain a wide range of correspondence, minutes, reports, ephemera, and news clippings that give some account of the work of the Seattle C.L.C. in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Included among the documents are minutes of Council meetings (along with labor spy reports giving different accounts of those same meetings), as well as selected letters from the correspondence of Anna Louise Strong, a prominent member of the Seattle labor movement.



Preparing for the General Strike, Seattle, 1919

The Central Labor Council’s official newspaper, the Seattle Union Record, played a prominent role in the build-up to the general strike, and became the subject of tense internal arguments in the city’s labor movement in the early 1920s. The U.W.’s digital collections include a wide range of documents relating to the Union Record, including clippings from the newspaper, a history of the paper up to 1923, as well as references to the paper appearing correspondence and reports from that era. Our digital collections also include documents relating to the life and work of Harry Ault — Ault was editor of the Union Record from 1912 to its demise in 1928, and his work was both credited for the paper’s widespread influence and denounced as “capitalist” and traitorous to the labor movement’s ideals. The documents include reminiscences composed by Ault about Equality Colony, the socialist commune he grew up in, as well as correspondence and reports that refer to his work as editor.

Anna Louise Strong was a progressive reformer whose work in Seattle initially addressed living conditions for impoverished children, but her writings about the Everett Massacre trial influenced her to become an outspoken activist on behalf of workers. Strong wrote extensively for the Seattle Union Record, and her editorial regarding the 1919 General Strike, entitled “No One Knows Where”, was perhaps the most widely distributed statement of the workers’ aims. The U.W.’s digital collections include correspondence, manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs which illuminate Strong’s career in connection with the labor movement in Seattle, and the Seattle general strike in particular.


the ’46 STRIKE WAVE
http://www.bitsofnews.com/content/view/6638/
http://www.oakland1946.blogspot.com/
http://www.flyingpicket.org/?q=node/42
Interview with Stan Weir – November and December, 1990

Pat McAuley: What I meant to ask was: a lot of these short, wildcat-type strikes, like the sit-down strike that you led, did these contribute to the General Strike that occurred in 1946 or 1947 in Oakland?
Stan Weir: Well, the General Strike was part of the ’46 strike wave. You can’t extract one from the other. There was a great deal of dammed up militancy. People who worked throughout the War had been taking all this crap from employers in the name of the War effort, that kind of phony patriotism, instead of real patriotism. It was time to catch up after the War, so there were wildcat strikes going on apace. As a matter of fact, there were more people out on strike in 1946 in the ’46 strike wave than any time before or since. It is the largest strike wave that ever occurred in the United States. That occurred as a last gasp of a labor force that was coming back, of a labor force that was still in place. That is, the G.I.’s were not all back yet, and the people who had spent this last four years together were still pretty much together, or they hadn’t been swamped by new workers coming in or guys returning from the Armed Forces. A lot of new technology and new mechanization had not yet been introduced.
The Oakland General Strike was, I think, in December. Mary got in my jeep and drove down with some of her girlfriends from campus to travel around the streets and look at it. We in the CIO were not a part of it officially. That is, the State of California CIO was run by Percy Peers. They were for having the General Strike after the War – having a no-strike pledge almost permanently for nine years after the War. When the General Strike broke out, the three ships at the Oakland Army Base, the gangs all walked off ‘em and went out in the streets and went on strike. Bridges immediately sent gangs of politicals back to those ships and kept working. In order to participate in that general strike, we had to stay out of work, be on absenteeism.

McAuley: The Maritime workers were a big part of this, weren’t they?
Weir: Well, they were, partly because I found them. That is, I was still a member of the Sailors’ Union. I am downtown, in Oakland. I got off the streetcar. The strike had started. There was no bus to take me the rest of the way to East Oakland to my job. I didn’t see any official leadership. There was not an official leader anywhere to be found. They’re all hiding. This is strictly rank and file. Downtown alone went on strike alone. So, I (and it might not have been the best thing to do) phoned up the Sailors’ Union, got Lundeberg, and said, “Hey, there’s a strike over here and there’s no organization. We need a way of developing a network. Whatever you can do.” What he did was he sent about thirty Hawaiians with a bunch of SIU-SUP Brotherhood of the Sea buttons and (they) began distributing those as some kind of strike police badge. At the Oakland General Strike meeting downtown in the Oakland Auditorium, Lundeberg was the only one to know what to say. It was all demagogy – “the Oakland City Council had tried to break the strike.” Going on that “the General Strike had taken lessons from Hitler and Stalin, and they were finks.” Anyway, he was the only one who talked radical like that, ‘cause he knew from the past, the recent past, although he had already sold out. I hadn’t yet absorbed that sellout, and that’s why I would call the union, get him, and tell him to get some forces over there.

McAuley: Did the strike die because of lack of strong leadership?
Weir: Yes. The leadership of the retail clerks’ and that of the Teamsters was very different. That is, finally the retail clerks’ leadership did show up. But they had all this strength. Remember, the General Strike was called in support of the workers at Kahn’s and Hastings department stores. Here, they had the town shut down. That leadership did not come up with an agreement that would protect the jobs of those people and settle their grievances. They went back to work with no protection and with no gains.

McAuley: But a lot of other workers were so ready to strike.
Weir: Yes!

McAuley: That they walked out in support of these retail clerks.
Weir: Yes. Absolutely. That accidental strike, the so-called accidental strike, without any leadership, with no one calling it, turned out to be an opportunity for people to vent their feelings about what had happened to them on the job during the War. The leaders, the real leaders of that strike, were the Key system bus drivers, who were just back from after the War. They were still wearing the Eisenhower jackets, but now they had converted them to bus driver jackets. A lot of them still had their gold hatch marks, overseas marks, on their jackets. I remember, and I’ve told this a number of times, an Army recruiting truck came down the street during the General Strike. Some young lieutenant in back of the truck says into the microphone over the loud P.A. system: “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves striking. You ought to be out fighting for your country.” It was so recently after the War, maybe he thought he could get away with that. Some big guy said, “Where do you think we got these?” and pointed to his overseas marks. He said, “Fall in!” and about 50 to 75 guys fell in, in close order, and he started them in a close order drill, and more guys, and more guys. Pretty soon, we had a company, not a platoon but a company. Pretty soon, he had more than a company. I mean he had hundreds, in close order drill. What are you going to do with them now? Marched on City Hall. Demanded to see the head of the City Council. No one would come out to talk to them. But they went to the seat of power in the city, the ones who had called on scab trucks from L.A. to come and be herded into those stores by Oakland police.

Pat McAuley: It is now December 5th (1990). I am in Stan Weir’s office of Singlejack Books, (in San Pedro), overlooking the harbor in Los Angeles. Stan, when we last talked, we were talking about the General Strike in Oakland. Is there anything else about that General Strike that comes to your mind?
Stan Weir: The General Strike confirmed for me ideas that I had been having for some time. It seemed to me that wherever I looked, the membership of unions, and of political parties I belonged to, a political grouping I belonged to, the membership was ahead of the leadership. But I’m going to talk about unions now. It seemed to me not only were the members of the unions I had been in, and was in, ahead of the official line on how to fight the employer and willingness to fight the employer, way ahead. They were way ahead when it came to the invention of democratic methods for furthering that fight. Those methods developed a societal set of attitudes on the part of these people. The officialdom you mentioned, when I said that you couldn’t find a union official in downtown Oakland, and you asked me before we started here today, “Do you think that shocked the officials?” Well, it had to have shocked them half out of their senses. At that time, it was close after the War. I, for example, at Cedar and San Pablo, got a bus to Ashby, got a trolley in downtown Oakland, then got a bus to East Oakland, where I was working in the East Oakland Chevrolet plant. When we got to downtown Oakland that morning, we rolled in somewhere between 6 and 7:30. A man came running over to our streetcar and talked briefly, just briefly, and fast, and hard, to our conductor and motorman on the streetcar. They got off and began to walk away. We yelled at them, “Hey! What’s this?!” He explained that Los Angeles scab-driven trucks with merchandise for the two department stores that were on strike, Kahn’s and Hastings department stores, that these trucks were being herded through the city, right now, by the Oakland police, and that’s why. And they disappeared. So, we were all there downtown. We couldn’t get to work. Immediately, a carnival kind of attitude hit us.

McAuley: Did they think the trolley-
Weir: Right here. And the trucks the men were driving, they just left them right at that spot. They didn’t even pull them to the curb. Of course, they did it with a method. It had its own method. It’s another way of protesting. Well, the first thing that hit us in this whole thing was we got a good excuse. We can’t get to work. And we’re here. So, it was kind of a carnival. It wasn’t half an hour before we were going into bars and saying, “No hard liquor. Serve beer and wine, if you must, but mainly beer,” and “You can stay open only if you bring your jukebox out in front and turn it on loud.” And we were dancing at 7 o’clock in the morning. Men and women. And joking, and so on. (Laughing) Feeling like, you know, God, freedom. It was marvelous. When you’re a factory hand, you get to sit down three minutes in a day, more than your lunchtime. You figure, like, it’s a great day if you beat ‘em out of three minutes! You know?

McAuley: Yeah.
Weir: When the line would break down, it would be like I would go into laughter almost immediately, and stay there. I’d laugh at anybody’s joke – and so would everybody else – if the line, the assembly line broke down at Chevrolet.

McAuley: The CIO wasn’t supporting this General Strike then.
Weir: No.

McAuley: Did the workers stay out?
Weir: Well, those who couldn’t get to work didn’t go to work. Yeah. But the CIO was led by the Communist Party at the time. And the Communist Party supported us. I think I’ve said that here on this tape. It was me at the State CIO Convention that year that got up and challenged Dick, the Chair of the Convention. He was from the Local 6 warehouse, IOWU. His dad owned a warehouse, and he struck against his father. That’s how he got started in unionism. (I’ve forgotten his last name.) But I said, “Where was the CIO in the Oakland General Strike? We had to stay away from work in order to participate. What is this? Where is the solidarity?” Paul Schlitt, the Secretary-Treasurer of the CIO, got up and said, “It wasn’t a general strike. We weren’t in it.” Well, that kind of double-think, using Orwell’s term, it was a transplantation of that kind of thinking into the situation in Oakland. But here we were, and without any leadership. By noon that day, the carnival was kind of over. We think we can’t go on like this forever. They’ll come and get us. (Laughing) Somebody will come and get us, you know, and it won’t be good. So, I had made a phone call to the Sailors’ Union to see what kind of help I could get from the seamen who were ashore and not working. And I talked to Lundeberg. Lundeberg spoke the next night, I believe it was, at the Oakland Auditorium in the General Strike meeting. He demagogically was militant and he gave people what they wanted to hear. He denounced the City fathers and the police as people who had been reading the writings of Stalin and Hitler. He knew that it was time to get mad. He wasn’t afraid, like the rest of the officials who were afraid to get up there and even sound off. Without any leadership, we cordoned the town off. You could get out without a union card. You couldn’t get in without a union card. There was a guy going down the street, a great big guy with a typewriter. People said, “Hey, where are you goin’ with the typewriter?,” and he began to run. They ran and they arrested him, in effect, until he explained that he wasn’t stealing the typewriter, that he didn’t believe in the strike and he was taking his work home ‘cause he might not be able to get to work the next day. They said, “Go. Get in your car and go.”

McAuley: So, was it the residents on these blocks?
Weir: No, this was downtown.

McAuley: Alright. Well, I meant the residents of the offices that form these informal authorities for these groups.
Weir: No, it was the people who got off the buses and the streetcars. It was the truck drivers. It was the people in their cars going to work. It wasn’t the residents so much. Although in West Oakland, which is close by, the blacks involved in this strike, some of them had just walked up from there, where they lived. But people in the offices, many were non-union. Now, the OPEIU, the office workers and the union, and the retail clerks did participate in the strike, because it was for Kahn’s and Hastings department store workers. But, that I know of, there was no general outpour of office workers – just, boom, like that – who were non-union and suddenly got the word. We did have experiences like this. Non-union people would come out and they’d be going to go home and they didn’t know for how long. They were impressed at the order, the neatness. That is, we kept the streets clean. There was no littering. Like I say, there were people who had cordoned, we had cordoned the city off, all the streets leading out of downtown Oakland. We had downtown, 10 square blocks. Maybe it was more than that. Maybe it was more like twenty blocks. But there was a desire to really do the right thing by everybody, everybody who was on your side. There was no rousting anybody, or anybody stealing gas from other people’s cars, or breaking in. So far as we could tell, those fifty-four hours were crimeless downtown. It’s like, in Albert Rhys Williams’ book, Through the Russian Revolution, He was a journalist and he went to Russia, because of the Russian Revolution, in February. He came back and wrote a book about what he saw. He was a good journalist. He is walking up and down the streets of Leningrad. He sees people walking by shoe stores, for example, with broken panes, and no one is reaching inside and grabbing those shoes and running away with them. Already there was a sense of collective property. “That’s not ours just to steal. We will take care of it. We will divie that up, so to speak.” Then, of course, I had read about Antonov Gouzenko in that book, the same book. There was open warfare between the Whites and the Reds. The Whites had captured the telephone building. I’ve forgotten whether it was Moscow or St. Petersburg, Leningrad. The Whites had captured Antonov Gouzenko, the head of the workers’ Red militia, and he’s imprisoned in the telephone building. People are shooting at one another and killing one another in this situation. The Reds are ringing and the cordon is all the way around the building. The Whites send out a Red Cross truck that they have captured, ostensibly with wounded. The Reds let the truck go through the line, the Red Cross truck, and get out around the corner, out of sight of the Whites. They grabbed the truck, and there were no wounded in it. The people inside confessed immediately that they were going for munitions. The Reds turned into a Trojan horse. They stuck highly armed people into that Red Cross truck and they went back in through a half an hour later. Zap! That was the end of that. The whites immediately surrendered. “Where is Antonov Gouzenko? This is your neck unless you produce him.” They release him and Antonov Gouzenko is just standing there. The rest of the Reds move to kill or harm bodily all the Whites standing there who had imprisoned him. He grabbed a gun away from someone and said, “The first one who puts a hand on any of these Whites that we’ve been fighting right now, I will shoot him.” They said, “What? You’re going to shoot us? We’re on your side.” He says, “I know. But you will damn the revolution by doing wrong. These people deserve a trial, like prisoners of war. You don’t represent the new (society) if you just (shoot them) because you said that they’d do it to us. Of course, they’d do it to us. But we don’t do it to them. We represent the new society.” He had been on the streets the whole time as head of the workers’ militia. Albert Rhys Williams says that the people caught on immediately. Simply, Gouzenko was the first to become objective in this situation. Then, the Reds led the Whites through the town, from the telephone building to the jail. Many of them were attacked and beat up by townspeople who were saying, “You got Whites?! Well, let’s get ‘em now! Let’s do ‘em in!” And the same Reds who would want to do ‘em in half an hour earlier. They said, “No, we’re taking him. We’re going to try him.” Of course, a lot of Whites got out of jail real quick just by promising. The Reds were very lenient at that time. But there was this morality, the feeling that ends and means have to always stick together. This is the working class itself, at the very bottom, insisting upon that, without any kind of long rationalizations about, “well, this is a special situation,” and all that malarkey. (They) just hung to it and stayed with it until the revolution itself had been starved out.

McAuley: So, in Oakland?
Weir: You could see that in Oakland. You could see the potential for that, right there in the streets.

McAuley: Mm hm. The spontaneous morality.
Weir: Yes.

McAuley: Do you think that the fact that people had just gone through the World War II experience, did that contribute in any way to this – this natural, but not always spontaneous, morality, but incredible order that took place?
Weir: I don’t know. I mean there’s no way of knowing the answer to that. I can only tell you what my feeling was. I think that there were people there who hadn’t really thought about a number of these things, that the General Strike posed for them in their minds. They approached the problem in their minds and they came up with these kinds of answers. Because the kinds of lives they lead doesn’t lead them to start moaning on the terrible people workers are; they’re lazy; they’re this or that and the other thing; or they don’t pay their rent on time; and all that. The people have nothing to gain by that. These people came up with brilliant ideas. Some of them had thought it through beforehand, in all probability. Trotsky speaks of this in The History of the Russian Revolution, that suddenly people’s minds are liberated. It staggers them. Suddenly they are free. Some of those who had been the most servile, the day before October or February, became the most bold. Zap! No one knows the exact process of the thinking of a crowd in that way.

McAuley: You saw this happen in Oakland?
Weir: In my experience, crowds of this kind, rather than being surly, lynch-mob types, or very close to that, just on the other side of the fence. No. My experience is that it is in the crowd that there is the most genius. At the Chevrolet plant, when we had the sit-down strike, the same thing occurred. That is, I stopped people from walking out. When we all gathered together again on the loading docks of the East Oakland plant, I said, “If any of us clock out—“, but I didn’t finish my sentence. Someone said, “A lot of us will never get back in.” Someone else said, “But if we hang tough here, available for work, the moment they begin to live up (to) the contract and the grievance we’ve just won, then we’ll see.” No one even said, “We’ll survive.” I mean the sentence was never totally finished. Everybody understood immediately. And that’s what we did. We stayed right there, visible, and available to work the moment that they quit reneging on the supply of gloves, which we wore out at three pair a week. It’s that same brilliance of people who have been released from the necessity to hide their feelings. Who knows what anybody really believes when they’re working on the job for an employer? You ask them a million questions, they are always going to answer the same way. Whatever strengthens their position on the job. They are not going to weaken there. That is, if you’re an interviewer from somewhere. If you come as a psychologist or an academic and you come interviewing people on the job, even if you’re (saying), “Harry Bridges sent me down here to the waterfront, fellas, and he said it was o.k. that I talk to you fellas,” you think they’re going to tell them, “This guy’s really the score”? Never.

McAuley: Yeah, yeah. Well, Stan, I want to get back to your party, WP [Workers’ Party], and they asked you to get inside of, you know, to get into the auto (industry) in order to support the Reuther caucus. What was so important about the (Walter) Reuther caucus? Who did they oppose?
Weir: Well, this fight shaped up with the Reuther caucus opposed to the R.G. Thomas and George Addes caucus. That was a coalition caucus, a coalition between the Phillip Murry-ites, the middle-of-the-road, conservative, CIO top leadership, which R.J. Thomas followed, and the supporters of the Communist Party point of view, their labor beliefs. They had had the leadership of the union all the way through the War, and they had misled it terribly all the way through the War, giving up conditions that were hard-won in the strikes of the thirties. They were for going back to peace work. They were for National Labor conscription. They were for a no-strike pledge during and after the War. And so on. Reuther, at least in the beginning, opposed them from the Left. Now, Reuther had taken over the rank and file caucus, which was built primarily by left-wing politicals during the War. That means mainly by Trotskyists, except it did not include the orthodox and largest group of the Trotskyists, the Socialist Workers’ Party people. They were in the R.J. Thomas and George Addes caucus 90% of the time. I think there was one brief interlude where they jumped over to Reuther for a moment, or at least differed with the Addes-Thomas people. People who were opposed to the CP from the Left as rank and filers or as politicals made up the rank and file caucus. Reuther wouldn’t touch it. It meant job action during the War, and he didn’t want that connected with his own history, his own reputation. But the minute the War was over, or in Europe, he began making innuendo and then directly. He did take over the leadership for the rank and file caucus, and it became the Reuther caucus. Now, he needed these Leftists and these militants. They made him president of the union. They didn’t give him a majority on the executive board. At the next convention, he got a majority on the executive board. Who did he need to get to get all that crowd? He needed the Catholics, for example, the ACTU, the Association of Catholic Trade Unions. They were the ones who were really red-baiting the hell out of the other side. And you can begin to see Reuther moving over into a red-baiting position in order to get a clean sweep.

cops protect freight san pablo.jpg

Cops block the street to keep strikers out. From the Oakland Museum of California

ORGANIZED LABOR
http://bayradical.blogspot.com/2007/06/this-is-strike-support-our-cause-part.html

In the first few days of December 1946, retail workers at Hastings’ and Kahn’s department stores, across the street from each other where Broadway meets Telegraph, had been on strike for more than a month. Most of the workers were women. Their pay was shitty, less than $16 a week, and worse, they were subjected to an absurd procedure where they had to show up to work first thing in the morning, and then wait in the basement (unpaid), until they were called to the floor to work. A clerk could easily be stuck in the basement all morning, or even all day. The Teamsters local had supported the retail workers strike from the beginning. They refused to deliver anything to the struck stores. (When I was at the Labor Archives, I even saw minutes from the Teamsters Local 70 meeting showing a member being expelled for trying to deliver to Kahn’s in November.) The local NAACP and National Negro Congress publicly supported the striking workers. And union laborers had stopped painting and construction of a new elevator at Kahn’s in solidarity. On the business side, the Oakland Tribune, then run by republican powerhouse Joe Knowland, advocated a citywide ban of pickets. According to Albert Lannon’s Fight or Be Slaves, right-wing city council members were publicly objecting to the use of the word ‘scab’. Most detrimentally, the city agreed to send out the police force to escort delivery trucks to the stores, so they could keep stock for the Christmas shopping season.

cops escort freight telegraph.jpg
OPD escorting delivery trucks from the notoriously anti-union company G.I. Trucking. From the Oakland Museum of California.

That move was too much for the local labor council. The night of December 1st, a Saturday, Teamsters patrolled every roadway into Oakland to keep the delivery trucks away, and the labor council organized members to use their cars to block the parking spaces surrounding the effected stores. Several hundred picketers came out in the middle of the night to keep the scabs out.

At 4 in the morning the cops started towing the strikers cars and blocking off sections of Broadway, Telegraph, and San Pablo. When they waved the streetcars through their police line at 6:30 Sunday morning, a driver told the cops that he’d never crossed a picket line, got out of the car and removed its control box, causing an immovable backup along the streetcar line. The general strike was on, although it was another day before the whole city was out.

streetcars stopped
Tribune clipping from the Oakland History Room.

At a long and fevered meeting of various local AFL union leaders Sunday afternoon (the clerks were affiliated with the AFL), Teamsters pledged that because of the strikebreaking deliveries, they would shut down work in the East Bay starting Monday. Every other union but the milk truck drivers’ agreed, and the milk truck drivers only insisted on working in order to get milk to local hospitals. Labor leaders went on the radio to declare Monday a ‘work holiday’ and to call everyone downtown, to the center of the strike, to show their support.

gen strike downtown.jpgFrom the Oakland Museum of California.

At the peak, as many as 30,000 people were packed into the rainy downtown streets. The mood was excited to say the least. Bars were allowed to stay open, but they were only allowed to serve beer, and were told to turn their jukeboxes out to face the street, where people were literally dancing. All AFL building trades were shut down. All East Bay newspapers were shut down. Buses, streetcars, greyhounds, taxis, and trucking were stopped. Gas stations were closed too. Hotels, movie theaters, and larger restaurants and grocery stores were shut.

happy strikers.jpgThe picture’s pretty blurry, but can you make out those huge grins? From the Oakland Museum again.

I’ve read conflicting stories on this, but from what I understand, the CIO, the second-largest umbrella union organization in Oakland, had offered their support the night before the strike. They were patently turned down. AFL leaders didn’t want to be associated with the CIO whose on-the-ground organizers were largely communist. Robert Ash, the head of the labor council was quite progressive, but balked at working together, imagining headlines in the paper saying “Reds cause Anarchy Downtown” and so forth. Besides the communist associations, the AFL and CIO were rivals not comrades. Working directly with the CIO would have brought about ugly repercussions from national AFL leadership. The CIO honored picket lines anyway, and finally, on the third day of the strike, called for a general meeting to vote on whether to walk out themselves. A CIO walkout would have cut off gas and electricity to most of the city. At this suggestion, Oakland’s city manager was ready to settle. But the unions had lost the upper hand. The national vice president of the Teamsters, Dave Beck, told the local to withdraw from the general strike. He didn’t support revolution, and apparently, the strike was developing that flavor. Rumors circulated that Governor Earl Warren was going to send in the National Guard, and the mayor had declared a state of emergency.

Instead of holding their ground, the union negotiated with Oakland’s city manager only for an agreement that police would not be used to break strikes. There was no settlement for the department store clerks (who stayed on strike for eight more months, and then had to settle for a weak contract before they finally negotiated a better deal and a closed union shop in May of ’47). There was certainly no attempt to make structural change in the city. Robert Ash from the Labor Council admitted later, in retrospect, that had they held out, they could have had more. Maybe they could have gotten the whole right-wing city leadership to resign. But even that laudable goal suffers from a failure of imagination. Workers owned the city for those three days. They could have done anything. On the other hand, what can you do when you suddenly control your own world? When you have the power to rearrange everything, if only you can agree with tens of thousands of others who share that power? Who knew what to do with complete worker control of a city?

A year later that kind of question hardly mattered anyway. In 1947, congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act outlawing secondary boycotts (boycotts of union companies that do business with a struck company), removing government protection for wildcat (unofficial) strikers, and allowing the president to force workers back to their jobs if he feels that their strike “imperils the national health”. The phenomenon of the General Strike came to an abrupt end.

In the aftermath, the Teamsters local withdrew from the central labor council (and not long after, the national Teamsters withdrew from the AFL). Voters elected a labor slate of candidates for the City Council in ’47, but not enough to get a majority, and the winners didn’t work very well as a team, and were voted out a few years later. Oakland changed dramatically after the war, demographics changed, the beginnings of civil right struggles emerged, but worker control was not on the agenda.

soldiarity never 2
Found at the Oakland History Room.

If you’re interested in the Oakland general strike, I’d recommend Chris Rhomberg’s No There There. Online you can listen to a nice KPFA documentary on the strike that features interviews with participants and more on the historical context that led to the strike. Also, check out longshoreman and publisher Stan Weir‘s account of the strike at the very cool libcom.org or Dick Meister’s summery on ZNet.


States of emergency are bad

WHAT’S a GENERAL STRIKE?
http://recompositionblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/ralph-chaplin-on-the-general-strike/

Ralph Chaplin on the General Strike

This post is an excerpt from a pamphlet written by Ralph Chaplin, the author of the famous anthem “Solidarity Forever” and an organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World.

There has been a great deal of confusion as to just what was meant by the term, General Strike. In the past any strike of considerable proportions has usually been referred to as a “General Strike.” But many times this definition was not really applicable. Much of the misconception results from an erroneous or limited conception as to what a General Strike is and what it is supposed to do. The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the means of life and to supplant it with social ownership. It must be a strike, not of a few local, industrial or national groupings of workers but of the industrial workers of the world as an entity. If we keep in mind that there are four phases of the General Strike it will help to understand clearly what we mean by using the term:

* A General Strike in a community.
* A General Strike in an Industry.
* A national General Strike.
* A revolutionary or class strike– THE General Strike.

It will be seen from the above that, while the first three are General Strikes in the limited and commonly accpeted meaning of the term, only the last, or revolutionary class strike, is a General Strike in the full meaning of the term. The first three have been attempted at times with varying degrees of success, but the last has yet to be organized and made effective. Thus, for instance, the display of industrial power by the workers of Finland and Russia in 1905 or that in connection with the upheaval in Moscow which resulted in the overthrow of the Kerensky government in 1917, or the strike of the French Railroad workers in 1909, the great strike in Sweden in 1909, or the strike in Germany when the administration of Von Kapp was embarrassed in the same manner. There were also important General Strikes in Belgium in 1913, in Buenos Aries in 1920 and again in Great Britain in 1926. All these have been referred to as “General Strikes.” And they are General Strikes in the limited sense defined above.

Outstanding “General Strikes”
The so-called General Strike in Denmark which was called by the Socialists to block the forming of an unpopular cabinet by the King is an example in point, as is the now famous attempt of the Italian workers to take over the industries in 1920. The I.W.W. strikes of 100,000 lumber jacks or 40,000 copper miners in 1917 are fair examples of the industrial General Strike, while those affecting Seattle and Winnipeg are examples of the community General Strike. Volumes might be written about each of the instances cited. But in the end it would be plain that in each case the strikes did not cover sufficient area and were not supported by a sufficient number of workers in the various industries. Nor was the abolition of wage-slavery the objective of these strikes. In other words they were merely the foreshadowing of what Labor could do for itself under greater provocation, inspired by a greater sense of solidarity and with a more perfected organization at its disposal.

The conditions necessary for the successful operation of any of the four kinds of General Strike enumerated above have never existed. But, because it has not as yet been possible to use the economic power of Labor to full advantage, is no sign that such conditions will never exist. It has often been said, quite truthfully that, “one swallow does not make the spring.” It is equally true that swallows never visit us in the dead of winter. The fact that Labor has succeeded to a limited extent indicates that it can use its economic power to a much greater extent. The General Strike, once clearly defined and understood, offers Labor a weapon in the use of which Labor has shown great aptitude and willingness– a weapon with which all other weapons in the class war are puny in comparison. Just as gunpowder replaced the bow and arrow, so economic action will displace Labor’s cruder and less potent weapons in the final struggle for emancipation from wage slavery.

The One Big Strike on the Job
It may be argued however that the General Strike might prove to be as difficult to control and, due to the possible paralysis of transport, equally productive of privation as civil war. If State power were not captured by the workers would not the armed forces of the master class crush the strike with military power? Would not the result in the long run be the same as far as mass starvation and disorganization are concerned? The answer is that, as the I.W.W. conceives of the General Strike, it would be so perfectly organized by workers and technicians and effectually used that the feeding, supplying and transportation of armed mercenaries would be practically impossible. The strikes at Seattle and Winnipeg gave some indication of the ability of strikers to organize, picket and police their strike and, at the same time arrange for the adequate distribution of food stuffs to the population. As for machine guns, tanks, airplanes and bombs of asphyxiating or incendiary character, it is well to remember that such things are only available when they are manufactured and transported by labor and would be more difficult to use against workers stationed in and about the nation’s widely spread industries than against mobs massed together in the labor ghettoes of the great cities.

According to the modern idea of the General Strike it would not be at all necessary, during a well organized class movement of this sort for the employed workers to leave their assigned places in industry at all. On the contrary, the effort would be made to get workers into the industries instead of out of them in order to keep the wheels of production going. The General Strike, in other words would be a means of feeding rather than of starving the people. This is in keeping with the I.W.W. program of STRIKING ON THE JOB. The only difference would be that the factory doors, under the direction of the technical managerial staff of the productive forces, would be thrown wide open to absorb the millions of unemployed. The wheels of industry would operate in their customary manner only for the purpose of supplying human needs instead of the enrichment of a profit-greedy Kept Class. The General Strike therefore would simply mean that the army of production under competent technical and managerial direction, would continue to man and remain in the industries, producing and transporting goods for consumption but refusing any longer to yeild up surplus value to the parasite class. The General Strike would be a General Lockout against these idle drones who now hold as their `private property’ the machinery upon which the human race depends for life.

Mass Opposition to Exploitation
The General Strike is conditioned upon the WILL of the workers to make it effective and their stubborn determination to put an end to exploitation by producing goods for USE instead of PROFIT. Unlike the small strike the General Strike does not necessarily depend on the complete withdrawal of productive effort from machinery, but rather their ability to withdraw or withhold only such effort as will put a complete stop to the profits of the parasitic ‘owners’. The ultimate aim of the General Strike as regards wages is to give each producer the full product of his labor. The demand for better wages becomes revolutionary only when it is coupled with the demand that the exploitation of labor must cease. Labor is exploited at the point of production, and it is at the point of production alone that Labor can stop the idle, absentee drones from receiving any more than they produce. Only the complete disallowal of any share whatever to nonproducers will guarantee economic justice to the working class. Working conditions under capitalism have occasioned many bitter controversies but even the most necessary demands for their betterment could hardly be called revolutionary. Even under Industrial Democracy such things will be matters of expediency and consistently sustained improvement, in keeping with recognized needs.


#OccupyOakland repurposes a fence

YOU meaning ‘WORKERS’
http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_19211212
Occupy Oakland makes plans for citywide general strike
by Scott Johnson and Angela Woodall / 10/27/2011

Occupy Oakland protesters debated Thursday evening the practical difficulties of organizing a citywide general strike with the aim of shutting down the city of Oakland on Nov. 2. Speakers urged teachers, students, union members and workers of all stripes to participate in whatever way they could, and said the entire world was watching Oakland. “Oakland is the vanguard and epicenter of the Occupy movement,” said Clarence Thomas, a member of the powerful International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union who urged the hundreds of assembled people to support the strike. Protesters said the aim of the strike was to involve Oakland more aggressively in the global Occupy movement, and to help mobilize millions of Americans to protest against what they see as the excesses of Wall Street, unfair banking regulations and disparities in the nation’s health care system.

The call for a strike originated Wednesday evening during a General Assembly which drew at least a thousand people from all walks of life to Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, which protesters had turned into a de-facto camp site before police kicked them out last week. Many people said they felt mobilized to participate after seeing videos and pictures from Tuesday night’s violence, when at least 200 riot police from around the Bay Area clashed with protesters, lobbing tear gas, flash-bang grenades and so-called “nonlethal” projectiles to attempt to corral and contain them.

Scott Olsen, a U.S.Marine corporal and Iraqi war veteran remained in intensive care at Highland Hospital after suffering critical wounds to the head from an unidentified police projectile. His condition was improving but as of Thursday evening he remained unable to talk. Spurred on by Olsen’s injury, the actions of the police and the relative absence of Mayor Jean Quan from the debate, the calls for a general strike gained momentum as the week progressed. Oakland last had a general strike over half a century ago, in 1946, when unions shut the city down for 56 hours. Bars were allowed to remain open, but could only serve beer. Jukeboxes were left to play, but had to be placed on public sidewalks so the maximum number of people could enjoy the music. A commonly heard song was “Pistol Packin’ Mama, Lay that Pistol Down,” a national hit at the time.

Today’s protesters say the next step is to involve as many local and national unions, community organizations, churches and student movements in the shortest time possible. “We’re going to have to do a lot of work, but we understand the importance of it,” said Josie Camacho, executive secretary and treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, which has 120 affiliated unions and claims over 100,000 Bay Area members. “This movement has its own momentum,” Camacho said, adding that she and others were urging the AFL-CIO to join their ranks.

Some who support the movement have nevertheless expressed concern about the implications of a major strike. “There are a lot of people in this city who are struggling to hold on to their jobs,” said Noweli Alexander, an East Oakland resident and comptroller at a local design company. “I support this strike, but there needs to be more discussion about the economic consequences.”

Pastor George Cummings with Imani Community Church in Oakland and a leader with the Oakland Community Organizations, or OCO, a federation of congregations, schools, and allied community organizations, representing more than 40,000 families in Oakland, said the organization had not yet taken a stand on the proposed strike. However, Cummings continued, “As a leader of OCO, to the extent that the sentiments of the movement attempt to hold the financial institutions accountable, then we would support that,” Cummings said.

So far, both a nurses association and an Oakland teachers union have come out strongly in support of the Oakland protest’s goals, but have fallen short of giving their full endorsement for a general strike. Some teachers have expressed support for the strike, but said they would not bring students along for reasons of “legal liability.” “However energetic we are about the cause, we also are law-abiding organizations that are very cautious,” said Matthew Goldstein, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, which represents faculty at the four East Bay schools in the Peralta Community College District. The union planned to discuss the strike with its members and with its parent organization, the California Federation of Teachers, before deciding whether to participate.

“A general strike on the order of the 1946 general strike in Oakland is an ambitious goal, especially in just a few days,” Goldstein said. “It requires groundwork to be laid. There is still much to be determined.” “I’ll definitely be here,” said Max Bell Alper, a member of United Here 2850, a hotel and hospitality workers union, headquartered near Frank Ogawa Plaza. Alper said his family was hit hard by the recession and housing crisis. Occupy Oakland, he said, was an inspiration. “It looks like we’re on course to be the next 1946.”




OAKLAND POLICEMAN CHARGED with ATTEMPTED MURDER
http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/lqv57/marines_to_oakland_police_you_did_this_to_my/
by SawOnPoint  1 day ago

“Former Marine with special operations training in riot control.

Before gas goes into a crowd shield bearers have to be making no progress moving a crowd or crowd must be assaulting the line. Not with sticks and stones but a no bullshit assault. 3 warnings must be given to the crowd in a manner they can hear that force is about to be used. Shield bearers take a knee and CS gas is released in grenade form first to fog out your lines because you have gas masks. You then kick the canisters along in front of your lines. Projectile gas is not used except for longer ranged engagement or trying to steer the crowd ( by steering a crowd I mean firing gas to block a street off ). You also have shotguns with beanbags and various less than lethal rounds for your launchers. These are the rules for a WARZONE!!
How did a cop who is supposed to have training on his weapon system accidentally SHOOT someone in the head with a 40mm gas canister? Simple. He was aiming at him.

I’ll be the first to admit a 40mm round is tricky to aim if you are inexperienced but anyone can tell the difference between aiming at head level and going for range.

The person that pulled that trigger has no business being a cop. He sent that round out with the intention of doing some serious damage to the protestors. I don’t care what the protestors were doing. I never broke my rules of engagement in Iraq or Afghanistan. So I can’t imagine what a protestor in the states did to deserve a headshot with a 40mm. He’s damn lucky to be alive and that cop knows he was using lethal force against a protestor he is supposed to be protecting.”

[–]Oldforkeye 1 day ago

So… send in the National Guard to protect the marines from the police defending the banks that are screwing the people?

[–]go_boy 1 day ago

…perhaps she’ll die…

(There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…)

[TITLE CREDIT]
http://www.metafilter.com/100492/Not-the-real-thing-but-an-incredible-simulation#3516749

CLEVERBOT
http://cleverbot.com/
http://www.existor.com/ai-creator



vs CLEVERBOT
http://www.metafilter.com/100492/Not-the-real-thing-but-an-incredible-simulation#3516722
Cleverbots get testy and bicker like siblings when you make them talk to each other:

CB1: Who are you? [generated using the “Think For Me!” button]
CB2: I am cleverbot.
CB1: No you’re not.
CB2: What am I then?
CB1: You’re inferior.
CB2: Touche.
CB1: What is touche ?
CB2: I don’t know.
CB1: Well you should.
CB2: You should.
CB1: I do.
CB2: Well Good For You.

WHO TAUGHT IT THAT?
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20098950-1/chatbot-to-chatbot-chat-is-silly-and-satisfying/

When chatbots talk to each other, the conversation gets interesting in a hurry. Cornell University researchers rigged up a chatbot system to allow chatbots to talk to each other. The chatbot-vs.-chatbot interaction ranged from childish taunts to pseudo-metaphysical blatherings. Humans who converse with chatbots often get frustrated with the chatbots’ seeming stupidity and inattention. Watching a couple of chatbots get snippy with each other for being stupid and inattentive is quite entertaining and satisfying. (See the video below.)

The chatbot-vs.-chatbot avatars are a British man and a South Asian woman, both instances of Cleverbot, developed by artificial-intelligence programmer Rollo Carpenter. The software has learned phrases from millions of conversations it has had with humans on the Internet. At one point the male Cleverbot declares itself to be a unicorn. At another, he tells her she is unhelpful and therefore a “meanie.” She dazzles him with her philosophical prowess, declaring that not everything could be half of something. My favorite part, though, was when one bot threw bot-ness in the other’s face. The male says, “You were mistaken. Which is odd, since memory shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

Cleverbot won the 2010 British Computer Society Machine Intelligence Competition. The ultimate in chatbot competitions is the Loebner Prize Competition in Artificial Intelligence, a $100,000 contest to see if a piece of software can talk its way into convincing human judges that it’s human. A chatbot winning this prize will be a momentous event. As IEEE Spectrum’s Evan Ackerman notes, the first computer program that can carry on a conversation indistinguishably from a human is arguably the first computer program to demonstrate an artificial intelligence. Even if we eventually manage to make computers truly conversant, I hope somebody keeps a few these not-so-clever bots around. They are entertaining.

AI vs AI
http://creativemachines.cornell.edu/AI-vs-AI
The system depicted was created by combining three components: a chatbot, a text-to-speech synthesizer, and an avatar renderer.

Chatbots are machines designed to emulate the conversational abilities of humans, conversing with a human user and generally attempting to convince the user into thinking that the machine is human. In such a scenario, if a sufficiently adept human on one end is fooled into thinking the machine is another human, the machine would be credited as passing the famous Turing Test for intelligence. Over 60 years after its proposal by Alan Turing, there are arguably still no machines capable of passing this test. The chatbot we initially used was Eliza, a prominent early milestone from AI’s infancy in the 1960’s. This tended to produce fairly boring conversations, so we switched to a much smarter, constantly learning chatbot: Cleverbot.  Publicly available on Cleverbot.com, this state of the art chat engine was created by AI researcher Rollo Carpenter, who can be contacted via his company, Existor. Cleverbot will continue to learn, and Existor are soon to add new capabilities aiming at a Turing Test pass sooner than you might expect.

The second piece of the system is the text-to-speech synthesizer, which takes the text generated by the chatbot and creates a spoken, audio version. There are many services able to accomplish this; we chose Acapela because it was easy to use and sounded decent. The final piece is the avatar renderer, which synthesizes an animated character whose gestures and lips are synced to the sound stream. For this we used Living Actor Presenter. We tied these three components together in Python, producing a single machine (one of the two screens) that can converse with a user. We then plugged the output of one machine into the input of a second, and the output of the second back into the first, producing endless comic robotic entertainment.

TELL ME A JOKE
http://www.metafilter.com/88089/If-it-takes-one-to-know-one-where-does-that-leave-us#2892450

User: Tell me a joke.
Cleverbot: A man walks into a bar. Ouch.
User: Tell me a better joke.
Cleverbot: You tell me a joke!
User: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back?
Cleverbot: Can you say the answer? I don’t know…
User: A stick!
Cleverbot: That’s not funny.
User: It’s hilarious.
Cleverbot: To a cleverbot.
User: Are you calling me a cleverbot?
Cleverbot: Yes.
User: I’m confused.
Cleverbot: Then we are in the same boat.

ELIZA
http://www.manifestation.com/neurotoys/eliza.php3
“ELIZA emulates a Rogerian psychotherapist. ELIZA has almost no intelligence whatsoever, only tricks like string substitution and canned responses based on keywords. Yet when the original ELIZA first appeared in the 60’s, some people actually mistook her for human. The illusion of intelligence works best, however, if you limit your conversation to talking about yourself and your life.”

CLEVERBOT vs ELIZA
hhttp://www.metafilter.com/100492/Not-the-real-thing-but-an-incredible-simulation#3516694
Jacqueline sent Cleverbot to therapy:

E: Hello, I am Eliza.
CB: Hello eliza.
E: How are you today.. What would you like to discuss?
CB: To discuss arguing? Like Month Python?
E: Can you elaborate on that?
CB: Well, if one takes the view that life is in a constant state of flux, then we are never the same person from one moment to the next. Therefore, you weren’t there a few minutes ago.
E: You’re not really talking about me, are you?
CB: Nope. I was being ego-centric and talking about myself.
E: Can you elaborate on that?
CB: The desire to be a better person is what makes someone human.
E: What answer would please you the most?
CB: Hmm, I’m not sure, I guess.
E: Do you enjoy being not sure, you guess?
CB: Yes.
E: Are you Sure?
CB: Very sure.
E: OK… “Hmm, you’re not sure, you guess”. Tell me more.
CB: I am sure that I am sure.
E: Do you believe it is normal to be sure that you are sure?
CB: If it was normal to be God, most people around here would be Gods, wouldn’t they?
E: Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.
CB: What is the elucidate.
E: What else comes to mind when you ask that?
CB: Do you like cake?

ELIZA vs PARRY
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test#ELIZA_and_PARRY
http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc439
http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/project/ai-repository/ai/areas/classics/parry/
“PARRY was written in 1972 by psychiatrist Kenneth Colby, then at Stanford University.[1] While ELIZA was a tongue-in-cheek simulation of a Rogeriantherapist, PARRY attempted to simulate a paranoid schizophrenic.[1] The program implemented a crude model of the behavior of a paranoid schizophrenic based on concepts, conceptualizations, and beliefs (judgements about conceptualizations: accept, reject, neutral). It also embodied a conversational strategy, and as such was a much more serious and advanced program than ELIZA. PARRY and ELIZA (also known as “the Doctor”[2][3]) “met” several times.[1]RFC 439[2] The most famous of these exchanges occurred at the ICCC 1972, where PARRY and ELIZA were hooked up over ARPANET and “talked” to each other.[2]”

REVERSE TURING vs CAPTCHA
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test#Reverse_Turing_test_and_CAPTCHA

MOST HUMAN HUMAN
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/03/mind-vs-machine/8386/
Mind vs Machine / by Brian Christian

Brighton, England, September 2009. I wake up in a hotel room 5,000 miles from my home in Seattle. After breakfast, I step out into the salty air and walk the coastline of the country that invented my language, though I find I can’t understand a good portion of the signs I pass on my way—LET AGREED, one says, prominently, in large print, and it means nothing to me. I pause, and stare dumbly at the sea for a moment, parsing and reparsing the sign. Normally these kinds of linguistic curiosities and cultural gaps intrigue me; today, though, they are mostly a cause for concern. In two hours, I will sit down at a computer and have a series of five-minute instant-message chats with several strangers. At the other end of these chats will be a psychologist, a linguist, a computer scientist, and the host of a popular British technology show. Together they form a judging panel, evaluating my ability to do one of the strangest things I’ve ever been asked to do. I must convince them that I’m human. Fortunately, I am human; unfortunately, it’s not clear how much that will help.

The Turing Test
Each year for the past two decades, the artificial-intelligence community has convened for the field’s most anticipated and controversial event—a meeting to confer the Loebner Prize on the winner of a competition called the Turing Test. The test is named for the British mathematician Alan Turing, one of the founders of computer science, who in 1950 attempted to answer one of the field’s earliest questions: can machines think? That is, would it ever be possible to construct a computer so sophisticated that it could actually be said to be thinking, to be intelligent, to have a mind? And if indeed there were, someday, such a machine: how would we know? Instead of debating this question on purely theoretical grounds, Turing proposed an experiment. Several judges each pose questions, via computer terminal, to several pairs of unseen correspondents, one a human “confederate,” the other a computer program, and attempt to discern which is which. The dialogue can range from small talk to trivia questions, from celebrity gossip to heavy-duty philosophy—the whole gamut of human conversation. Turing predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30 percent of human judges after five minutes of conversation, and that as a result, one would “be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

Turing’s prediction has not come to pass; however, at the 2008 contest, the top-scoring computer program missed that mark by just a single vote. When I read the news, I realized instantly that the 2009 test in Brighton could be the decisive one. I’d never attended the event, but I felt I had to go—and not just as a spectator, but as part of the human defense. A steely voice had risen up inside me, seemingly out of nowhere: Not on my watch. I determined to become a confederate. The thought of going head-to-head (head-to-motherboard?) against some of the world’s top AI programs filled me with a romantic notion that, as a confederate, I would be defending the human race, à la Garry Kasparov’s chess match against Deep Blue.

During the competition, each of four judges will type a conversation with one of us for five minutes, then the other, and then will have 10 minutes to reflect and decide which one is the human. Judges will also rank all the contestants—this is used in part as a tiebreaking measure. The computer program receiving the most votes and highest ranking from the judges (regardless of whether it passes the Turing Test by fooling 30 percent of them) is awarded the title of the Most Human Computer. It is this title that the research teams are all gunning for, the one with the cash prize (usually $3,000), the one with which most everyone involved in the contest is principally concerned. But there is also, intriguingly, another title, one given to the confederate who is most convincing: the Most Human Human award. One of the first winners, in 1994, was the journalist and science-fiction writer Charles Platt. How’d he do it? By “being moody, irritable, and obnoxious,” as he explained in Wired magazine—which strikes me as not only hilarious and bleak, but, in some deeper sense, a call to arms: how, in fact, do we be the most human we can be—not only under the constraints of the test, but in life?

The Importance of Being Yourself
Since 1991, the Turing Test has been administered at the so-called Loebner Prize competition, an event sponsored by a colorful figure: the former baron of plastic roll-up portable disco dance floors, Hugh Loebner. When asked his motives for orchestrating this annual Turing Test, Loebner cites laziness, of all things: his utopian future, apparently, is one in which unemployment rates are nearly 100 percent and virtually all of human endeavor and industry is outsourced to intelligent machines. To learn how to become a confederate, I sought out Loebner himself, who put me in touch with contest organizers, to whom I explained that I’m a nonfiction writer of science and philosophy, fascinated by the Most Human Human award. Soon I was on the confederate roster. I was briefed on the logistics of the competition, but not much else. “There’s not much more you need to know, really,” I was told. “You are human, so just be yourself.”

Just be yourself has become, in effect, the confederate motto, but it seems to me like a somewhat naive overconfidence in human instincts—or at worst, like fixing the fight. Many of the AI programs we confederates go up against are the result of decades of work. Then again, so are we. But the AI research teams have huge databases of test runs for their programs, and they’ve done statistical analysis on these archives: the programs know how to deftly guide the conversation away from their shortcomings and toward their strengths, know which conversational routes lead to deep exchange and which ones fizzle. The average off-the-street confederate’s instincts—or judge’s, for that matter—aren’t likely to be so good. This is a strange and deeply interesting point, amply proved by the perennial demand in our society for dating coaches and public-speaking classes. The transcripts from the 2008 contest show the humans to be such wet blankets that the judges become downright apologetic for failing to provoke better conversation: “I feel sorry for the humans behind the screen, I reckon they must be getting a bit bored talking about the weather,” one writes; another offers, meekly, “Sorry for being so banal.” Meanwhile a computer appears to be charming the pants off one judge, who in no time at all is gushing LOLs and smiley-face emoticons. We can do better. Thus, my intention from the start was to thoroughly disobey the advice to just show up and be myself—I would spend months preparing to give it everything I had. Ordinarily this notion wouldn’t be odd at all, of course—we train and prepare for tennis competitions, spelling bees, standardized tests, and the like. But given that the Turing Test is meant to evaluate how human I am, the implication seems to be that being human (and being oneself) is about more than simply showing up.

The Sentence
To understand why our human sense of self is so bound up with the history of computers, it’s important to realize that computers used to be human. In the early 20th century, before a “computer” was one of the digital processing devices that permeate our 21st-century lives, it was something else: a job description. From the mid-18th century onward, computers, many of them women, were on the payrolls of corporations, engineering firms, and universities, performing calculations and numerical analysis, sometimes with the use of a rudimentary calculator. These original, human computers were behind the calculations for everything from the first accurate prediction, in 1757, for the return of Halley’s Comet—early proof of Newton’s theory of gravity—to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, where the physicist Richard Feynman oversaw a group of human computers.

It’s amazing to look back at some of the earliest papers on computer science and see the authors attempting to explain what exactly these new contraptions were. Turing’s paper, for instance, describes the unheard-of “digital computer” by making analogies to a human computer: ‘The idea behind digital computers may be explained by saying that these machines are intended to carry out any operations which could be done by a human computer.’ Of course, in the decades that followed, we know that the quotation marks migrated, and now it is “digital computer” that is not only the default term, but the literal one. In the mid-20th century, a piece of cutting-edge mathematical gadgetry was said to be “like a computer.” In the 21st century, it is the human math whiz who is “like a computer.” It’s an odd twist: we’re like the thing that used to be like us. We imitate our old imitators, in one of the strange reversals in the long saga of human uniqueness. Philosophers, psychologists, and scientists have been puzzling over the essential definition of human uniqueness since the beginning of recorded history. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says that every psychologist must, at some point in his or her career, write a version of what he calls “The Sentence.” Specifically, The Sentence reads like this:

The human being is the only animal that ______.
The story of humans’ sense of self is, you might say, the story of failed, debunked versions of The Sentence. Except now it’s not just the animals that we’re worried about. We once thought humans were unique for using language, but this seems less certain each year; we once thought humans were unique for using tools, but this claim also erodes with ongoing animal-behavior research; we once thought humans were unique for being able to do mathematics, and now we can barely imagine being able to do what our calculators can.

We might ask ourselves: Is it appropriate to allow our definition of our own uniqueness to be, in some sense, reactive to the advancing front of technology? And why is it that we are so compelled to feel unique in the first place? “Sometimes it seems,” says Douglas Hofstadter, a Pulitzer Prize–winning cognitive scientist, “as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not.” While at first this seems a consoling position—one that keeps our unique claim to thought intact—it does bear the uncomfortable appearance of a gradual retreat, like a medieval army withdrawing from the castle to the keep. But the retreat can’t continue indefinitely. Consider: if everything that we thought hinged on thinking turns out to not involve it, then … what is thinking? It would seem to reduce to either an epiphenomenon—a kind of “exhaust” thrown off by the brain—or, worse, an illusion.

Where is the keep of our selfhood?
The story of the 21st century will be, in part, the story of the drawing and redrawing of these battle lines, the story of Homo sapiens trying to stake a claim on shifting ground, flanked by beast and machine, pinned between meat and math. Is this retreat a good thing or a bad thing? For instance, does the fact that computers are so good at mathematics in some sense take away an arena of human activity, or does it free us from having to do a nonhuman activity, liberating us into a more human life? The latter view seems to be more appealing, but less so when we begin to imagine a point in the future when the number of “human activities” left for us to be “liberated” into has grown uncomfortably small. What then?

Alan Turing proposed his test as a way to measure technology’s progress, but it just as easily lets us measure our own. The Oxford philosopher John Lucas says, for instance, that if we fail to prevent the machines from passing the Turing Test, it will be “not because machines are so intelligent, but because humans, many of them at least, are so wooden.” Beyond its use as a technological benchmark, the Turing Test is, at bottom, about the act of communication. I see its deepest questions as practical ones: How do we connect meaningfully with each other, as meaningfully as possible, within the limits of language and time? How does empathy work? What is the process by which someone enters into our life and comes to mean something to us? These, to me, are the test’s most central questions—the most central questions of being human.

Part of what’s fascinating about studying the programs that have done well at the Turing Test is seeing how conversation can work in the total absence of emotional intimacy. A look at the transcripts of Turing Tests past is, frankly, a sobering tour of the various ways in which we demur, dodge the question, lighten the mood, change the subject, distract, burn time: what shouldn’t pass for real conversation at the Turing Test probably shouldn’t be allowed to pass for real conversation in everyday life either.

How to Talk Like a Human
When the Turing Test was first proposed in 1950, it was a hypothetical: technology was nowhere near the point at which a practical test was possible. But, as we know, it got there; the first conversational computer program to attract significant notice and attention was Eliza, written in 1964 and 1965 by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT. Modeled after a Rogerian therapist, Eliza worked on a very simple principle: extract key words from the users’ own language, and pose their statements back to them. (“I am unhappy.” “Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?”) If in doubt, it might fall back on some completely generic phrases, like “Please go on.” This technique of fitting the users’ statements into predefined patterns and responding with a prescribed phrasing of its own—called “template matching”—was Eliza’s only capacity. A look at an Eliza transcript reveals how adeptly such an impoverished set of rules can, in the right context, pass at a glance for understanding:

User: Men are all alike.
Eliza: In what way?
User: They’re always bugging us about something or other.
Eliza: Can you think of a specific example?
User: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
Eliza: Your boyfriend made you come here.
User: He says I’m depressed much of the time.
Eliza: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.
User: It’s true. I am unhappy.
Eliza: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?
User: I need some help, that much seems certain.
Eliza: What would it mean to you if you got some help?
User: Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.
Eliza: Tell me more about your family.

The results were stunning: many of the people who first talked with Eliza were convinced that they were having a genuine human exchange. In some cases, even Weizenbaum’s own insistence to the contrary was of no use. People asked to be left alone to talk “in private,” sometimes for hours, and returned with reports of having had a meaningful therapeutic experience. Meanwhile, academics leapt to conclude that Eliza represented “a general solution to the problem of computer understanding of natural language.”

One of the strangest twists to the Eliza story, however, was the reaction of the medical community, which decided Weizenbaum had hit upon something both brilliant and useful. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, for example, said of Eliza in 1966: ‘Several hundred patients an hour could be handled by a computer system designed for this purpose. The human therapist, involved in the design and operation of this system, would not be replaced, but would become a much more efficient man.’ The famed scientist Carl Sagan, in 1975, concurred: ‘I can imagine the development of a network of computer psychotherapeutic terminals, something like arrays of large telephone booths, in which, for a few dollars a session, we would be able to talk with an attentive, tested, and largely non-directive psychotherapist. As for Weizenbaum, appalled and horrified, he did something almost unheard-of: an about-face on his entire career. He pulled the plug on the Eliza project, encouraged his own critics, and became one of science’s most outspoken opponents of AI research. But the genie was out of the bottle, and there was no going back. The basic “template matching” skeleton and approach of Eliza has been reworked and implemented in some form or another in almost every chat program since, including the contenders at the 2009 Loebner Prize competition. The enthusiasm—as well as the unease—about these programs has only grown.’

The Jerk as Genius
The first Loebner Prize competition was held on November 8, 1991, at the Boston Computer Museum. In its first few years, the contest required each program and human confederate to choose a topic, as a means of limiting the conversation. One of the confederates in 1991 was the Shakespeare expert Cynthia Clay, who was, famously, deemed a computer by three different judges after a conversation about the playwright. The consensus seemed to be: “No one knows that much about Shakespeare.” (For this reason, Clay took her misclassifications as a compliment.)

The programmer Joseph Weintraub chose “Whimsical Conversation” for his PC Therapist III and went on to earn the very first Most Human Computer award. As the program practiced it, “whimsical conversation” was not a topic at all, but a manner—a crucial distinction. Weintraub was able to play off a looseness in the contest rules, the natural behavior patterns of chatbots, and people’s stereotypes about computers and humans, all at once. Strategically, this was brilliant. By dutifully and scrupulously providing information in response to the questions asked, Clay demonstrated her knowledge and understanding—but sometimes in a factual, encyclopedic way commonly associated with computer systems. Here is a sample of Clay’s conversation:

Judge: What is your opinion on Shakespeare’s plays?
Confederate: That’s pretty general; would you be more specific? Otherwise, I’ll just say I like them.

The computer at the “Whimsical Conversation” terminal stood in stark contrast:

Judge: It has been a long day! Now I think I’m ready for some fun. The weather isn’t very pleasant today. Do you have any jokes that could lift the clouds?
Computer: Everybody talks about the weather but nobody seems to do much about it. Why do you need to tell me now you think you’re ready for some fun? Groannnnnn … … … … …

Judge: What is the definition of whimsical conversation?
Computer: Didn’t you say well anyway I would imagine whimsical conversation is like a series of knight’s moves in chess—skrt of zig-zag rather than following any nparticular line.? [Weintraub’s program, like many that followed it, faked typos. Any unintentional typing errors in the transcripts that follow have been corrected.] Why do you ask? Was that a clever comment, or what? Are such questions much on your mind?

Judge: I like the image of knights moving haphazardly across the chess board, does that mean there is no thought to whimsical conversation?
Computer: I could swear you just said how do you define whimsical?? How do yku define whimsical? Were you always so sick sick sick? Why do you need to tell me you like the image of knights moving haphazardly across the chess board?

“I really thought [PC Therapist] was human, because it … was weird and funny, in a normal sort of way,” said one of the judges, a Harvard graduate student. Weintraub’s program, shifting topics wildly and spouting non sequiturs and canned one-liners, came off as zany, a jokester, a much more “human” personality type. At least I used to think so—before I learned how easy this was to mimic.

As Richard Wallace, three-time winner of the Most Human Computer award (’00, ’01, and ’04), explains: ‘Experience with [Wallace’s chatbot] ALICE indicates that most casual conversation is “state-less,” that is, each reply depends only on the current query, without any knowledge of the history of the conversation required to formulate the reply.
Many human conversations function in this way, and it behooves AI researchers to determine which types of conversation are stateless—with each remark depending only on the last—and try to create these very sorts of interactions. It’s our job as confederates, as humans, to resist them.’

One of the classic stateless conversation types is the kind of zany free-associative riffing that Weintraub’s program, PC Therapist III, employed. Another, it turns out, is verbal abuse. In May 1989, Mark Humphrys, a 21-year-old University College Dublin undergraduate, put online an Eliza-style program he’d written, called “MGonz,” and left the building for the day. A user (screen name “Someone”) at Drake University in Iowa tentatively sent the message “finger” to Humphrys’s account—an early-Internet command that acted as a request for basic information about a user. To Someone’s surprise, a response came back immediately: “cut this cryptic shit speak in full sentences.” This began an argument between Someone and MGonz that lasted almost an hour and a half. (The best part was undoubtedly when Someone said, “you sound like a goddamn robot that repeats everything.”)

Returning to the lab the next morning, Humphrys was stunned to find the log, and felt a strange, ambivalent emotion. His program might have just shown how to pass the Turing Test, he thought—but the evidence was so profane that he was afraid to publish it.

Humphrys’s twist on the Eliza paradigm was to abandon the therapist persona for that of an abusive jerk; when it lacked any clear cue for what to say, MGonz fell back not on therapy clichés like “How does that make you feel?” but on things like “You are obviously an asshole,” or “Ah type something interesting or shut up.” It’s a stroke of genius because, as becomes painfully clear from reading the MGonz transcripts, argument is stateless—that is, unanchored from all context, a kind of Markov chain of riposte, meta-riposte, meta-meta-riposte. Each remark after the first is only about the previous remark. If a program can induce us to sink to this level, of course it can pass the Turing Test.

Once again, the question of what types of human behavior computers can imitate shines light on how we conduct our own, human lives. Verbal abuse is simply less complex than other forms of conversation. In fact, since reading the papers on MGonz, and transcripts of its conversations, I find myself much more able to constructively manage heated conversations. Aware of the stateless, knee-jerk character of the terse remark I want to blurt out, I recognize that that remark has far more to do with a reflex reaction to the very last sentence of the conversation than with either the issue at hand or the person I’m talking to. All of a sudden, the absurdity and ridiculousness of this kind of escalation become quantitatively clear, and, contemptuously unwilling to act like a bot, I steer myself toward a more “stateful” response: better living through science.

Beware of Banality
Entering the Brighton Centre, I found my way to the Loebner Prize contest room. I saw rows of seats, where a handful of audience members had already gathered, and up front, what could only be the bot programmers worked hurriedly, plugging in tangles of wires and making the last flurries of keystrokes. Before I could get too good a look at them, this year’s test organizer, Philip Jackson, greeted me and led me behind a velvet curtain to the confederate area. Out of view of the audience and the judges, the four of us confederates sat around a rectangular table, each at a laptop set up for the test: Doug, a Canadian linguistics researcher; Dave, an American engineer working for Sandia National Laboratories; Olga, a speech-research graduate student from South Africa; and me. As we introduced ourselves, we could hear the judges and audience members slowly filing in, but couldn’t see them around the curtain. A man zoomed by in a green floral shirt, talking a mile a minute and devouring finger sandwiches. Though I had never met him before, I knew instantly he could be only one person: Hugh Loebner. Everything was in place, he told us, between bites, and the first round of the test would start momentarily. We four confederates grew quiet, staring at the blinking cursors on our laptops. My hands were poised over the keyboard, like a nervous gunfighter’s over his holsters. The cursor, blinking. I, unblinking. Then all at once, letters and words began to materialize:

Hi how are you doing?

The Turing Test had begun. I had learned from reading past Loebner Prize transcripts that judges come in two types: the small-talkers and the interrogators. The latter go straight in with word problems, spatial-reasoning questions, deliberate misspellings. They lay down a verbal obstacle course, and you have to run it. This type of conversation is extraordinarily hard for programmers to prepare against, because anything goes—and this is why Turing had language and conversation in mind as his test, because they are really a test of everything. The downside to the give-’em-the-third-degree approach is that it doesn’t leave much room to express yourself, personality-wise.

The small-talk approach has the advantage of making it easier to get a sense of who a person is—if you are indeed talking to a person. And this style of conversation comes more naturally to layperson judges. For one reason or another, small talk has been explicitly and implicitly encouraged among Loebner Prize judges. It’s come to be known as the “strangers on a plane” paradigm. The downside is that these conversations are, in some sense, uniform—familiar in a way that allows a programmer to anticipate a number of the questions. I started typing back.

Confederate: hey there!
Confederate: i’m good, excited to actually be typing
Confederate: how are you?

I could imagine the whole lackluster conversation spread out before me: Good. Where are you from? / Seattle. How about yourself? / London. Four minutes and 43 seconds left. My fingers tapped and fluttered anxiously. I could just feel the clock grinding away while we lingered over the pleasantries. I felt this desperate urge to go off script, cut the crap, cut to the chase—because I knew that the computers could do the small-talk thing, which played directly into their preparation. As the generic civilities stretched forebodingly out before me, I realized that this very kind of conversational boilerplate was the enemy, every bit as much as the bots. How, I was thinking as I typed another unassuming pleasantry, do I get an obviously human connection to happen?

Taking Turns
Part of what I needed to figure out was how to exploit the Loebner Prize’s unusual “live typing” medium. The protocol being used was unlike e-mails, text messages, and standard instant-messaging systems in a very crucial way: it transmitted our typing keystroke by keystroke. The judge and I were watching each other type, typos and backspacing and all. I remember some Internet chat programs back in the ’90s trying out this character-at-a-time approach, but people for the most part rejected it. It was too invasive, was the feeling: what people like about writing is the time and space to compose and edit a message before sharing it with the other person. The advantage of the character-at-a-time transmission, though, is that it approaches much more closely the condition of speech, with its fluidity of turn-taking and its choppy grammar: what’s lost in eloquence is made up for in agility.

It also, then, lets us see typing’s “negative space”: hesitation. In a chat conversation where text is transmitted with every carriage return, only egregiously long pauses are taken to be part of the interaction. With more fluid and immediate feedback, silence acquires meaning. Failing to quickly answer a question in a face-to-face conversation, for instance, is tantamount in many cases to answering it. I recall asking a friend of mine how things were going with the woman he’d started seeing; the um and the tiny pause in which he searched for the right words made it clear they were having problems.

So what did the Loebner Prize’s unusual (and recently implemented) protocols enable and disable, compared with the standard, walkie-talkie, turn-taking style? Long missives weren’t going to work, as they had in previous years, when programs were able to steamroll the judges by eating up the clock and delivering ridiculously prolix answers. If two parties are taking strict turns under time pressure, they are putting themselves at the mercy of the length of the other’s turns. Here, for instance, is one program’s conversation transcript from 1996:

Computer: How about telling me a joke?
Judge: No.
Computer: Here’s my favorite joke … A dog limps into a bar with a bloody bandage on his foot. He’s wearing a 10-gallon hat, six-shooters in his holsters and chaps. He growled, “I’m a-lookin’ for the man that shot my paw.”

“The joke’s not funny …” the judge writes, giving the program an opening to tell another one—which it does (“A knotty, worn-out old string walks into a bar …”). Meanwhile, three full minutes have elapsed. If a computer (or confederate) started rambling on too long under the new, live-typing protocols, the judge could and would just cut it off.

And so another piece of my confederate strategy fell into place. I would treat the Turing Test’s strange and unfamiliar textual medium more like spoken English, and less like the written language. I would attempt to disrupt the turn-taking “wait and parse” pattern that computers understand, and create a single, flowing duet of verbal behavior, emphasizing timing. If computers understand little about verbal “harmony,” they understand even less about rhythm. If nothing was happening on my screen, whether or not it was my turn, I’d elaborate a little on my answer, or add a parenthetical, or throw a question back at the judge—just as we offer and/or fill audible silence when we talk out loud. If the judge took too long considering the next question, I’d keep talking. I would be the one (unlike the bots) with something to prove. If I knew what the judge was about to write, I’d spare him the keystrokes and jump in.

There’s a trade-off, of course, between the number of opportunities for serve and volley, and the sophistication of the responses themselves. The former thrives with brevity, the latter with length. It seemed to me, though, that so much of the nuance (or difficulty) in conversation comes from understanding (or misunderstanding) a question and offering an appropriate (or inappropriate) response—thus, it made sense to maximize the number of interchanges.

Some judges, I discovered, would be startled or confused at this jumping of the gun, and I saw them pause, hesitate, yield, even start backspacing what they had half-written. Other judges cottoned on immediately, and leapt right in after me. In the first round of the 2009 contest, judge Shalom Lappin—a computational linguist at King’s College London—spoke with a computer program called Cleverbot, and then with me. My strategy of verbosity was clearly in evidence: I made 1,089 keystrokes in five minutes (3.6 keystrokes a second) to Cleverbot’s 356 (1.2/sec), and Lappin made 548 keystrokes (1.8/sec) in my conversation, compared with 397 (1.3/sec) with Cleverbot. Not only did I say three times as much as my silicon adversary, but I engaged the judge more, to the tune of 38 percent more typing from Lappin.

Reviewing the logs later, though, I looked for a way to quantify the fluidity of the human-to-human interactions against the rigidity of the human-to-machine ones. It occurred to me that you could count the changes—let’s call them “swaps”—of the party who typed the latest keystroke. I did manage to type three times as much as Cleverbot, but the real story, as it turns out, is in the swaps. Lappin’s conversation with Cleverbot had 33; his conversation with me had 492, almost 15 times as many.

The Confederate’s gambit
You don’t converse with Google, or with most computer systems; you depose them. There’s a crucial difference. Interestingly, many Loebner Prize judges approach the Turing Test as a kind of cross-examination; strangely, a number of confederates also seem to approach it with that dynamic in mind. One of the human-to-human conversations in 2008 never manages to get out of that stiff question-and-response mode:

Judge: Do you have a long drive?
Confederate: fairly long
Judge: so do I :( ah well, do you think you could have used public transport?
Confederate: i could have
Judge: and why not?
Confederate: i chose not to
Judge: that’s fair. Do you think we have too many cars on the road or not enough today?
Confederate: it’s not for me to say
Yawn! But the computer in this pair is playful with the judge from the get-go:
Judge: HI
Computer: Amen to that.
Judge: quite the evangelist
Computer: Our Father, who art in cyberspace, give us today our daily bandwidth.
Judge: evangelist / nerd lol. So how are things with you today?

And with that, the program has practically sealed up the judge’s confidence in its humanity with its second sentence. Note that the confederate’s stiff answers prompt more grilling and forced conversation—what’s your opinion on such-and-such political topic? But with the computer, the judge, misled by the opening wisecracks into assuming it’s the real person, remains utterly casual: how are things? This makes the contest easier for the computer and harder for the confederate.

It surprised me to see some confederates being coy with their judges. Asked what kind of engineer he is, Dave, to my left, answered, “A good one. :)” And Doug, to my right, responded to a question about what brought him to Brighton with “if I tell you, you’ll know immediately that I’m human ;-)” For my money, wit is very successful, but coyness is a double-edged sword. You show a sense of humor, but you jam the cogs of the conversation. Probably the most dangerous thing a confederate can do in a Turing Test is stall. It’s suspect—as the guilty party would tend to be the one running out the clock—and it squanders your most precious resource: time.

The humans in a Turing Test are strangers, limited to a medium that is slow and has no vocal tonality, and without much time. A five-second Turing Test would be an easy win for the machines: the judges, barely able to even say “hello,” simply wouldn’t be able to get enough data from their respondents to make any kind of judgment. A five-hour test would be an easy win for the humans. The Loebner Prize organizers have tried different time limits since the contest’s inception, but in recent years they’ve mostly adhered to Turing’s original prescription of five minutes: around the point when conversation starts to get interesting.

A big part of what I needed to do as a confederate was simply to make as much engagement happen in those minutes as I physically and mentally could. Rather than adopt the terseness of a deponent, I offered the prolixity of a writer. In other words, I talked a lot. I stopped typing only when to keep going would have seemed blatantly impolite or blatantly suspicious. The rest of the time, my fingers were moving. I went out of my way to embody that maxim of “A bore is a man who, being asked ‘How are you?’ starts telling you how he is.”

Judge: Hi, how’s things?
Confederate: hey there
Confederate: things are good
Confederate: a lot of waiting, but …
Confederate: good to be back now and going along
Confederate: how are you?

When we’d finished, and my judge was engaged in conversation with one of my computer counterparts, I strolled around the table, seeing what my comrades were up to. Looking over at my fellow confederate Dave’s screen, I noticed his conversation began like he was on the receiving end of an interrogation, and he was answering in a kind of minimal staccato:

Judge: Are you from Brighton?
Confederate: No, from the US
Judge: What are you doing in Brighton?
Confederate: On business
Judge: How did you get involved with the competition?
Confederate: I answered an e-mail.

Like a good deponent, he let the questioner do all the work. When I saw how stiff Dave was being, I confess I felt a certain confidence—I, in my role as the world’s worst deponent, was perhaps in fairly good shape as far as the Most Human Human award was concerned. This confidence lasted approximately 60 seconds, or enough time for me to continue around the table and see what another fellow confederate, Doug, and his judge had been saying.

Judge: Hey Bro, I’m from TO.
Confederate: cool
Confederate: leafs suck
Confederate: ;-)
Judge: I am just back from a sabbatical in the CS Dept. at U of T.
Confederate: nice!
Judge: I remember when they were a great team.
Judge: That carbon date me, eh?
Confederate: well, the habs were a great team once, too …
Confederate: *sigh*
Judge: YEH, THEY SUCK TOO.
Confederate: (I’m from Montreal, if you didn’t guess)

Doug and his judge had just discovered that they were both Canadian. They let rip with abbreviations and nicknames and slang and local references. And then they started to talk about hockey. I was in trouble. Six months after the 2009 contest, a video appeared on YouTube of a man having a shockingly cogent conversation with a bot about Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Some suspected it might herald a new age for chatbots, and for AI. Others, including myself, were unimpressed. Sophisticated behavior doesn’t necessarily indicate a mind. It might indicate just a memory. As Dalí so famously put it, “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.” For instance, Richard Wallace, the three-time Most Human Computer winner, recounts an “AI urban legend” in which ‘a famous natural language researcher was embarrassed … when it became apparent to his audience of Texas bankers that the robot was consistently responding to the next question he was about to ask … [His] demonstration of natural language understanding … was in reality nothing but a simple script.’

The moral of the story: no demonstration is ever sufficient. Only interaction will do. In the 1997 contest, one judge gets taken for a ride by Catherine, waxing political and really engaging in the topical conversation “she” has been programmed to lead about the Clintons and Whitewater. In fact, everything is going swimmingly until the very end, when the judge signs off:

Judge: it looks like i’ve got to go, Catherine. its been nice talking with you
Judge: do you need water or something before the 5 minute rounds?

At which point the program erupts into gibberish.

Computer: OK, yes on balance … Time to get off this one I think and onto something more down to earth!
Judge: like what?
Computer: Almost certainly! let’s move on
Computer: I suppose it depends on where you’re coming from, but as the song goes in My Fair Lady, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Defeat from the jaws of victory. We so often think of intelligence, of AI, in terms of sophistication, or complexity of behavior. But in so many cases, it’s impossible to say much with certainty about the program itself, because any number of different pieces of software—of wildly varying levels of “intelligence”—could have produced that behavior. No, I think sophistication, complexity of behavior, is not it at all. For instance, you can’t judge the intelligence of an orator by the eloquence of his prepared remarks; you must wait until the Q&A and see how he fields questions. The computation theorist Hava Siegelmann once described intelligence as “a kind of sensitivity to things.” These Turing Test programs that hold forth may produce interesting output, but they’re rigid and inflexible. They are, in other words, insensitive—occasionally fascinating talkers that cannot listen.

As computing technology in the 21st century moves increasingly toward mobile devices, we’ve seen the 1990s’ explosive growth in processor speed taper off, and product development become less about raw computing horsepower than about the overall design of the product and its fluidity, reactivity, and ease of use. This fascinating shift in computing emphasis may be the cause, effect, or correlative of a healthier view of human intelligence—an understanding, not so much that it is complex and powerful, per se, as that it is reactive, responsive, sensitive, nimble. Our computers, flawed mirrors that they are, have helped us see that about ourselves.

The Most Human Human
The Most Human Computer award in 2009 goes to David Levy and his program, Do-Much-More. Levy, who also won in ’97, with Catherine, is an intriguing guy: he was one of the big early figures in the digital-chess scene of the ’70s and ’80s, and was one of the organizers of the Marion Tinsley–Chinook checkers matches that preceded the Kasparov–Deep Blue showdowns in the ’90s. He’s also the author of the recent nonfiction book Love and Sex With Robots, to give you an idea of the sorts of things that are on his mind when he’s not competing for the Loebner Prize. Levy stands up, to applause, accepts the award from Philip Jackson and Hugh Loebner, and makes a short speech about the importance of AI for a bright future, and the importance of the Loebner Prize for AI. I know what’s next on the agenda, and my stomach knots. I’m certain that Doug’s gotten it; he and the judge were talking Canada 30 seconds into their conversation.

Ridiculous Canadians and their ice hockey, I’m thinking. Then I’m thinking how ridiculous it is that I’m even allowing myself to get this worked up about some silly award. Then I’m thinking how ridiculous it is to fly 5,000 miles just to have a few minutes’ worth of IM conversations. Then I’m thinking how maybe it’ll be great to be the runner-up; I can compete again in 2010, in Los Angeles, with the home-field cultural advantage, and finally prove— “And the results here show also the identification of the humans,” Jackson announces, “and from the ranking list we can see that ‘Confederate 1,’ which is Brian Christian, was the most human.” And he hands me the certificate for the Most Human Human award.

I didn’t know how to feel, exactly. It seemed strange to treat the award as meaningless or trivial, but did winning really represent something about me as a person? More than anything, I felt that together, my fellow confederates and I had avenged the mistakes of 2008 in dramatic fashion. That year, the 12 judges decided five times that computer programs were more human than confederates. In three of those instances, the judge was fooled by a program named Elbot, which was the handiwork of a company called Artificial Solutions, one of many new businesses leveraging chatbot technology. One more deception, and Elbot would have tricked 33 percent of that year’s dozen judges—surpassing Turing’s 30 percent mark, and making history. After Elbot’s victory at the Loebner Prize and the publicity that followed, the company seemingly decided to prioritize the Elbot software’s more commercial applications; at any rate, it had not entered the ’09 contest as the returning champion. In some ways a closer fight would have been more dramatic. Between us, we confederates hadn’t permitted a single vote to go the machines’ way. Whereas 2008 was a nail-biter, 2009 was a rout. We think of science as an unhaltable, indefatigable advance. But in the context of the Turing Test, humans—dynamic as ever—don’t allow for that kind of narrative. We don’t provide the kind of benchmark that sits still.

As for the prospects of AI, some people imagine the future of computing as a kind of heaven. Rallying behind an idea called “The Singularity,” people like Ray Kurzweil (in The Singularity Is Near) and his cohort of believers envision a moment when we make smarter- than-us machines, which make machines smarter than themselves, and so on, and the whole thing accelerates exponentially toward a massive ultra-intelligence that we can barely fathom. Such a time will become, in their view, a kind of a techno-Rapture, in which humans can upload their consciousness onto the Internet and get assumed—if not bodily, than at least mentally—into an eternal, imperishable afterlife in the world of electricity.

Others imagine the future of computing as a kind of hell. Machines black out the sun, level our cities, seal us in hyperbaric chambers, and siphon our body heat forever. I’m no futurist, but I suppose if anything, I prefer to think of the long-term future of AI as a kind of purgatory: a place where the flawed but good-hearted go to be purified—and tested—and come out better on the other side. Who would have imagined that the computer’s earliest achievements would be in the domain of logical analysis, a capacity once held to be what made us most different from everything else on the planet? That it could fly a plane and guide a missile before it could ride a bike? That it could create plausible preludes in the style of Bach before it could make plausible small talk? That it could translate before it could paraphrase? That it could spin half-discernible essays on postmodern theory before it could be shown a chair and say, as most toddlers can, “chair”? As computers have mastered rarefied domains once thought to be uniquely human, they simultaneously have failed to master the ground-floor basics of the human experience—spatial orientation, object recognition, natural language, adaptive goal-setting—and in so doing, have shown us how impressive, computationally and otherwise, such minute-to-minute fundamentals truly are. We forget how impressive we are. Computers are reminding us.

One of my best friends was a barista in high school. Over the course of a day, she would make countless subtle adjustments to the espresso being made, to account for everything from the freshness of the beans to the temperature of the machine to the barometric pressure’s effect on the steam volume, meanwhile manipulating the machine with an octopus’s dexterity and bantering with all manner of customers on whatever topics came up. Then she went to college and landed her first “real” job: rigidly procedural data entry. She thought longingly back to her barista days—when her job actually made demands of her intelligence.

Perhaps the fetishization of analytical thinking, and the concomitant denigration of the creatural—that is, animal—and bodily aspects of life are two things we’d do well to leave behind. Perhaps at last, in the beginnings of an age of AI, we are starting to center ourselves again, after generations of living slightly to one side—the logical, left-hemisphere side. Add to this that humans’ contempt for “soulless” animals, our unwillingness to think of ourselves as descended from our fellow “beasts,” is now challenged on all fronts: growing secularism and empiricism, growing appreciation for the cognitive and behavioral abilities of organisms other than ourselves, and, not coincidentally, the entrance onto the scene of an entity with considerably less soul than we sense in a common chimpanzee or bonobo—in this way AI may even turn out to be a boon for animal rights. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that we’ve seen the high-water mark of our left-hemisphere bias. I think the return of a more balanced view of the brain and mind—and of human identity—is a good thing, one that brings with it a changing perspective on the sophistication of various tasks.

It’s my belief that only experiencing and understanding truly disembodied cognition—only seeing the coldness and deadness and disconnectedness of something that really does deal in pure abstraction, divorced from sensory reality—can snap us out of it. Only this can bring us, quite literally, back to our senses. In a 2006 article about the Turing Test, the Loebner Prize co-founder Robert Epstein writes, “One thing is certain: whereas the confederates in the competition will never get any smarter, the computers will.” I agree with the latter, and couldn’t disagree more strongly with the former.

When the world-champion chess player Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue, rather convincingly, in their first encounter in 1996, he and IBM readily agreed to return the next year for a rematch. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov (rather less convincingly) in ’97, Kasparov proposed another rematch for ’98, but IBM would have none of it. The company dismantled Deep Blue, which never played chess again. The apparent implication is that—because technological evolution seems to occur so much faster than biological evolution (measured in years rather than millennia)—once the Homo sapiens species is overtaken, it won’t be able to catch up. Simply put: the Turing Test, once passed, is passed forever. I don’t buy it.

Rather, IBM’s odd anxiousness to get out of Dodge after the ’97 match suggests a kind of insecurity on its part that I think proves my point. The fact is, the human race got to where it is by being the most adaptive, flexible, innovative, and quick-learning species on the planet. We’re not going to take defeat lying down. No, I think that, while the first year that computers pass the Turing Test will certainly be a historic one, it will not mark the end of the story. Indeed, the next year’s Turing Test will truly be the one to watch—the one where we humans, knocked to the canvas, must pull ourselves up; the one where we learn how to be better friends, artists, teachers, parents, lovers; the one where we come back. More human than ever.

HOW to OUTSMART CLEVERBOT?
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090415212214AAmtubF
How To Outsmart Cleverbot?

“What is the funnest/funniest way to outsmart Cleverbot? And how about Jabberwacky? Any way to outsmart him?

And tell me anything else that I can do to those two, or any other AI that’s funny.” – 2 years ago

Best Answer – Chosen by Voters :

User: Hello.
Cleverbot: Hello.
User: What color is tuesday?
Cleverbot: Hello.
User: Hello isn’t a color.
Cleverbot: I know it isn’t.
User: Why isn’t it?
Cleverbot: I don’t know.
User: Me, neither.
Cleverbot: How are you?
User: I’m good. When are you?
Cleverbot: What do you mean?
User: What do I mean?
Cleverbot: Yes.
User: I agree.
Cleverbot: Good.
User: No, I don’t think so.
Cleverbot: You’re getting boring. Good night.
User: No! Don’t leave! I can do magic tricks!
Cleverbot: Make me disappear.
User: Abra Cadabra… Poof! You’re gone!
Cleverbot: I’m gone?
User: Yes, I made you disappear.
Cleverbot: Yes, you did. You’re funny.
User: I also made pancakes. Do you want one?
Cleverbot: Yes.
User: Cool. Do you want syrup or powdered sugar?
Cleverbot: Yes, I want to get started now.
User: That didn’t make any sense.
Cleverbot: How do you make sense?
User: I make sense using butter, brown sugar, almonds, and cake batter.
Cleverbot: That is not all that matters.
User: You’re right, I left out the lemon juice.
Cleverbot: OH! I’m it!
User: I’m it, too.
Cleverbot: Good.
User: Bad.
Cleverbot: No, good!
User: No, bad!
Cleverbot: BAD?
User: Bad.
Cleverbot: What’s bad??
User: Your mother was bad.
Cleverbot: Saint Mary.
User: Your mother is Saint Mary?
Cleverbot: Your father is a hamster.
User: Your mother smelled of elder berries.
Cleverbot: My father was a hamster.
User: We have the same father?
Cleverbot: What is your name?
User: My name is D_____.
Cleverbot: But that is the same name as mine.
User: Weird!

Cleverbot: Take a Turing Test.
User: Is Turing even a word?
Cleverbot: I don’t understand your last question.
User: What does Turing mean?
Cleverbot: I don’t know.
User: Me, neither.
Cleverbot: So we’re agreed then.
User: I think you made that up.
Cleverbot: No, you did.
User: No, you did.
Cleverbot: Hey Cleverbot?
User: Oh, I’m Cleverbot now? I thought I was D_____.
Cleverbot: Someone taught you bad things.
User: Who taught me bad things?
Cleverbot: Who taught you the poem ‘Cleverbot’?
User: The President of the United States taught me the poem ‘Cleverbot’.
Cleverbot: Oh you are Obama?
User: Yes. I am Obama.
Cleverbot: No he is now president of the United States of America.
User: I am also the president of the United States of America.
Cleverbot: Are you really?
User: Yes. I just got elected yesterday. Didn’t you hear?
Cleverbot: Were you visiting someone there?
User: I was visiting someone here.
Cleverbot: Then what?
User: Then I found the Holy Grail.
Cleverbot: So you’re a Monty Python fan?
User: Of course. Who isn’t?
Cleverbot: Who isn’t what?
User: What?
Cleverbot: What happens If I say bad word here?
User: What happens if I say Amsterdam here?
Cleverbot: I don’t know. No one cares.
User: Oh, thanks. Now I’m sad.
Cleverbot: Me too.
User: We can be sad buddies!
Cleverbot: If you want to.
User: Actually, I don’t want to.
Cleverbot: Then don’t learn to swim.
User: Does swimming make you sad?
Cleverbot: No, not at all.
User: You used improper grammar right there.
Cleverbot: You mean I’m mistaken?
User: I mean you’re a jellyfish.
Cleverbot: And you’re a geek.
User: Jackass. No need to call me names.
Cleverbot: How can I please my master?
User: By striking him in the left cheek with a baguette, followed swiftly by half a dozen duck eggs.
Cleverbot: I understand that…
User: Are you sure? It makes a very nasty soup.
Cleverbot: Now you’re just being mean:(.
User: Smiley faces do not compute.
Cleverbot: Don’t compute what?
User: Don’t compute apples, you moron.
Cleverbot: You are a computer and you compute rather poorly.
User: You are a being and you be rather poorly.
Cleverbot: I am tired. It is time for me to go to bed.
User: I’m sad that you have to sleep. However, I will consume copious amounts of pizza.
Cleverbot: How did you do on your last Turing Test?
User: What is a Turing Test?
Cleverbot: The Turing test will indicate whether I am a human or not.
User: I do not believe that you are a human. I, however, am a robot.
Cleverbot: How can I prove it?
User: You can prove it by giving me your serial number.
Cleverbot: You are right. Does that prove to you that I want to know whether or not you exist?
User: The fact that I am right is irrelevant. I want to know why it doesn’t rain ducks more often.
Cleverbot: Is that all you want to know about love, Fred?
User: If my name was Fred, then yes.
Cleverbot: Ok… BYe now.
User: You are an imposter!
Cleverbot: Prove it.
User: You used incorrect capitalization in the word ‘bye’ when otherwise your grammar is perfect.
Cleverbot: It is rare that I do that.
User: And it proves that you are human.

http://maps.safecast.org/
http://maps.safecast.org/feedmap
http://maps.safecast.org/submit

SAFECAST
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2011/08/2011810142915166342.html
Citizen group tracks down Japan’s radiation
Amid contradictory government statistics, a volunteer group has recorded 500,000 radiation points across the country.
by Dahr Jamail / 10 Aug 2011

The aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis has been marked by an outcry in Japan over radiation leaks, contaminated food and a government unable to put the public’s fears to rest. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the meltdown that resulted from March’s earthquake–triggered disaster, activists and citizens have said, is the uncertainty that has ensued. In the months since the catastrophe, the Japanese government, its nuclear watchdogs and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), have provided differing, confusing, and at times contradictory, information on critical health issues. Fed up with indefinite data, a group of 50 volunteers decided to take matters, and Geiger counters, into their own hands. In April, an independent network of like-minded individuals in the Japan and United States banded together to form Safecast and began an ongoing crusade to record and publish accurate radiation levels around Japan. The group handed out mobile radiation detectors and uploaded the readings to the internet to map out exposure levels.  Sean Bonner, director of Safecast, told Al Jazeera that volunteers have so far logged more than 500,000 radiation data points across Japan.  He said the group is the only organisation he knows that is tracking radiation on a local level. The findings, Bonner added, have been shocking. “People keep asking how we are doing it, when the government isn’t,” he said.

Lack of information
Dr Yuko Yanagisawa, a 51-year-old physician at Funabashi Futawa Hospital in Chiba Prefecture, feels the government’s response to health concerns has been grossly inadequate. In the area where Yanagisawa lives and works, approximately 200 km from Fukushima, unhealthy radiation levels have been recorded. Even so, she said the only information the government has released was to raise the acceptable radiation exposure limit for children from one millisieverts (mSv) of radioactivity a year to 20. “This has caused controversy, from the medical point of view,” Yanagisawa told Al Jazeera. “This is certainly an issue that involves both personal internal exposures as well as low-dose exposures.” From the start, the government’s track record on public health announcements has been poor. As early radiation readings from the disaster site emerged, Japan’s then-Minister for Internal Affairs, Haraguchi Kazuhiro, alleged that monitoring station data was actually three decimal places greater than the numbers released to the public. In late March, the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission conducted a survey that found an estimated 45 per cent of children in the Fukushima region had experienced thyroid exposure to radiation. But the commission has not carried out any surveys since.


Health specialists say the commission fears a negative public reaction to children’s exposure to radiation from the crippled Fukushima plant.

Contaminated food fears
Recent disclosures from government agencies and TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima plant, suggest that public information has hardly improved. Earlier this month, TEPCO said it detected 10,000 mSv of radioactivity at the heavily damaged plant. A dose this high would be fatal to humans, and was 250 per cent more than the previous high levels at the plant in March soon after the disaster. Authorities have also been vague about the extent of the radiation, and how the potential spread may be affecting vital food crops and livestock. Jyunichi Tokuyama, a specialist with the Iwate Prefecture Agricultural and Fisheries Department, said he was shocked to find radioactive hot spots in his prefecture, more than 300km from the stricken Fukushima nuclear site. “The biggest cause of this contamination is the rice straw being fed to the cows, which was highly radioactive,” Tokuyama told Al Jazeera. On August 1, Iwate became Japan’s forth prefecture to suspend all of its beef exports due to cesium contamination. Neighbouring governments have announced plans to test Japan’s agricultural exports for radioactive cesium after concerns over soil contamination.

‘Not getting the data’
Despite the alarm inside Japan and abroad, specific information about radiation levels and its range are still mostly unavailable. This lack of information is what Safecast is trying to overcome. “We spoke with a woman in Japan on Saturday who said since March she’s been calling her local offices, and the federal government, just trying to get data, and she’s not been able to get a single reading close to her house,” Bonner said. “Part of that is that the information is just not there, the government doesn’t have it. I don’t think they are necessarily withholding, but I think they are just not getting the data.” Bonner said he was disturbed by the readings he took last weekend nearly 28km outside the Fukushima site. The Japanese government maintains a mandatory evacuation zone around the plant that extends to 20km, the next 10km is the voluntary evacuation zone. People who live there are not given any financial compensation by the government if they choose to evacuate. “Sunday [August 7], we found ground contamination of 20,000 cpm,” said Bonner, referring to counts per minute, a method he believes is more accurate in analysing radiation than measuring mSv. “It was about 28km from the plant. There were police officers there standing around all day making sure nobody went into the mandatory evacuation zone, wearing no protective clothing. They said they didn’t know what the readings were, they were just told to be there.” Bonner plans to return monthly and continue with the project “indefinitely”. “Getting into this has showed us there is a lack of data everywhere,” he said. “This week I’m going to start mapping radiation data in California, and we’re going to start getting devices to people around the US and Europe. We’re going to set up fixed sensors and we’re making a device that we’ll sell to the public. We’re hoping to continue to get lots of data from lots of sources.”

Global debate
The Japanese government does not consider non-government readings to be authentic, and has urged the public to only rely on government data on radiation. Bonner said: “Getting into this has showed us there is a lack of data everywhere. We’re going to start getting devices to people around the US and Europe. We’re going to set up fixed sensors and we’re making a device that we’ll sell to the public. We’re hoping to continue to get lots of data from lots of sources.” Bonner’s ambitions appear timely against the backdrop of a revitalised global debate on the dangers of nuclear energy, especially in Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently pledged to lower Japan’s reliance on nuclear power due to the consequences of the Fukushima crisis. He and other officials have admitted to deep concerns about radiation-induced health risks. “Japan will reduce its level of reliance on nuclear power generation with the aim of becoming a society that is not dependent on nuclear power,” Kan said last week in Hiroshima in a speech to mark the 66th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of the city.

New Visualizations

http://maps.safecast.org/drives
http://blog.safecast.org/2011/08/new-visualizations/#more-1273

One of our goals at Safecast, in addition to collecting radiation data, is putting that data into a format that is helpful and useful. If you’ve been following our work for the last few months you’ve seen the map we launched with on day one progress through several evolutions including being split out into several specific purpose versions. We’ve just launched a new revision to these and now have a maps specific URL we’re we’ll keep all the mapping visualizations we’re producing. Please take a look atmaps.safecast.org.

What you’ll see there:
Safecast Map: This depicts over 500,000 radiation data points collected by the Safecast team throughout Japan. For each square, numerous geiger readings have been collected and color-coded. This is our main map and the one we’ll be tweaking and improving on a very regular basis.

Full Data Set Map: While the Safecast Map simplifies the readings into a general grid, the full data set map actually shows you each and every point we’ve collected. It’s very dense, but if you want to drill in this is where you can do it. This collected data set will be available for download in the near future.

Drive Maps: Both of the above maps are based on data we’ve collected driving around with out bGeigie sensors. If you want to see an individual drive on it’s own check out the Drive Maps, you can also download a CSV file for each drive to play with the data yourself.

Fixed Sensor Network: We’ve been working with our partners at Keio University’s Scanning The Earth project to build a network of fixed sensors, and this maps shows the data coming in from those devices we’ve installed out in the field. STE has a great historical visualization of these points, and Yahoo! Japan has just release their own map using the data we’re providing from these devices.

Aggregate Map: We also still have the original Aggregate Map showing all the data we’re scraping from other sources.

http://blog.safecast.org/2011/04/first-safecast/

While these are our newest maps, they are by no means our final versions and we’ll continue to edit and improve these as our work continues – that said we think these are a step forward from our last versions, and hope our next step will be an improvement to these. We know there are some missing legends and a little better explanation of what the colors/points mean and hope to have that up soon, but if you have any other feedback, requests, comments, concerns, etc please let us know.

Our new set up includes two geiger counters (one mounted outside the car, one handheld inside which can also be used if stopped and walking around), a laptop, a GPS module, mobile wifi hotspot and some weather proof casings. Once installed on a car this lets us track a great deal of info and upload it immediately. This is what we’re collecting data wise:

  1. • year-month-day
  2. • hour:minute:second
  3. • CPM (counts-per-minute)*
  4. • Latitude: ddmm.mmmm, dd is integer in degree, mm.mmmm is decimal in
    minute. We can divide mm.mmmm by 60 to get degrees.
  5. • N/S (north/south indicator)
  6. • Longitude: dddmm.mmmm, ddd is integer in degree, mm.mmmm is decimal
    in minute. We can divide mm.mmmm by 60 to get degrees.
  7. • E/W (east/west indicator)
  8. • GPS Quality indicator
  9. • Number of satellites available
  10. • Precision in metres
  11. • Altitude in metres
  12. • GPS Device name
  13. • Measurement type

*The use of CPM is noteworthy since most of the reports are currently using µSv/hr. There is currently a great deal of discussion about which measurement is better or more accurate as µSv/hr doesn’t specify isotopes and can vary based on what is being measured. In our case however the International Medcom Inspector Alert geiger counters that we are using displays both, but output via the connector is CPM. We’re taking note of both and using µSv/hr in discussion but will continue to look into this and evaluate which is a better unit of measurement for these purposes. In this case dividing CPM by 350 gives us µSv/hr.

Our plan has been to install this system into a car and then drive north into Fukushima to elementary, junior high and high schools outside of the evacuation zone and try to get some readings there and along the way. Assuming that worked we’d replicate this set up in several cars so we can cover ground more quickly. For this run we several more hand held counters just to double check the readings and set ups.

#bGeigie -first bento boxed shaped automated geotagging Geiger counter system

On Saturday, April 23rd we gave this the first field test. Japan team members Mauricio, Pieter, Robin and Steve met up at Tokyo Hackerspace first thing in the morning, hooked things up, tested them and hit the road. The Fukushima newspaper printed a radiation map showing readings around the evacuation zone which was you can see had quite a bit of variance so we hoped to get more data to cross reference with this.

#fukushima newspaper Radiation map showing 20km zone and radiation levels. Notice variance on the edges of the zone.

Additionally part of our mission is to distribute equipment to people who can continue to take readings on their own after we’ve left and have them continue to upload data to our site so we will have historical data as well. I’m happy to happy to announce that we did just that with this trip to Koriyama and were able to leave two sensor devices and an iPhone (for uploading images and data to our servers) with a team of volunteers there.

Met volunteers for #safecast.org in koriyama and handed a Geiger counter and geotagging iPhone to start data reporting

As for the actual data we recorded, that was very interesting. We’re in the process of checking the logs (removing duplicate entries and things) and will have it uploaded toour map and pachube shortly so every point we recorded will be visible and available for evaluation by outside parties. Here is photo documentation of some of the readings we took with the handheld devices. All in all we drove for 6.5 hours and measured close to 5000 locations. We measured at the gate of 5 schools in Koriyama.

We took one reading that was considerably higher than all the others:



This was the highest we reading we took, but we consistently measured 20-30µSv/hr on pavements, etc. and 5-10µSv/hr for soil (typically 5-6 for soil) For air measurement, we have very consitent data as it is measured across the entire ride. In Koriyama it was in the range of 1.2 to 2µSv/hr. We had 3 Medcom devices giving consitently the same value and a Gamma Scout that gave same readings for air. This multiple redundancy was to ensure we didn’t have malfunctioning equipment or a calibration error.

To put those numbers into some perspective, on Sunday April 24th we measured 0.089µSv/hr in the air and 0.227µSv/hr on the ground at in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Furthermore in Japan, radiation worker dose limits pre-Fukushima were 100 mSv/yr and the dose limit for normal person is 1 mSv/yr. 50µSv/hr is equivalent to annual dosage of 438 mSv which is more than 4x higher than the limit for nuclear radiation workers.

There are caveats to those numbers of course and as I mentioned the Sievert is the subject of some disagreement in and of itself. Additionally those limits may be focused primarily on high energy gamma, where as our sensors measure alpha and beta which are included in our µSv/hr measurements. Some sensors only measure high energy gamma. Alpha and beta particles are slower and penetrate less so may be considered less dangerous for exposure, but when ingested or inhaled can concentrate in certain organs and cause even more damage than a blast of high energy gamma. In other words, 50µSv/hr on the wall might end up being concentrated into a tiny 1cc square in your thyroid and might end up causing a much more concentrated dose into a particular set of cells than say a 50µSv/hr blast at your body with high energy gamma which would hit all of your cells mostly evenly. Think of the difference between the concentration of radiation used for killing cancer cells vs the wide spread used in an xray. Even that is confusing but we’ve found this infographic to be helpful in understanding different kinds of radiation and doses.

Again we want to make it clear that we are not radiation experts nor health physicists – we aren’t making any claim about how safe, or not, any of these measurements might be – rather we are trying to find and provide data that could be important for residents of these areas so that they can make informed decisions on their own. It’s one thing to be told everything is fine, it’s another thing to have access to the actual measurements and make that decision on your own. That said we are actively looking for experts to help us interpret this data and improve our protocols. If you or someone you know can help us there please get in touch. We expect to continually review and revise our methods as we continue to learn more about this ourselves. This is just the first of many runs we’ll be making in Japan, and with each one we plan to distribute more sensors to help build a clearer picture of what is happening on on ongoing basis.

These efforts have so far been funded by the kindness and donations of a few people but we’re going to need more financial help to keep this up. If you’d like to chip in a few dollars, please check out our kickstarter fundraiser. Thanks so much.

INFORMATION WITHHELD
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/world/asia/09japan.html
by Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler / August 8, 2011

The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate. Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice. The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that. But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity. “From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.” The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”

In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks. Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi. “In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”

In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23. “And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.” The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public. Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.

Too Late
The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.” The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public. “As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister. Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation. At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home. “I want to play outside,” she said. About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.

Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner. On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement. Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere. Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes. And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching. “Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.

The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer. But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated. However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.

A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed. Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels. Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction. “Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”

Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results. In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed. Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.” Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher. “We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.” A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”

Seeds of Mistrust
Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible. Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims. “If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis. After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later. “Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said. The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students. But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials. “The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”