The Yes Men, corporate trouble makers and designers of the WTO parody site, marked the 18th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster with the launch of Dow-Chemical.com, a straight-faced parody site using the design of the original, and a cheeky press release in the voice of the corpoation. Unfortunately, their cleverness got the best of them and the site was brought down in a matter of days. (Mirror sites are now up.)

bleeding Dow logoWhile funny at first, in context the parody Web site feels a bit thin. Sure it’s fun to parody the public relations language used to bathe coroporations in the soft glow of environmental and corporate responsibiliy. But also marking the anniversary were thousands of people marching in the streets of Bhopal.

An estimated 500,000 people were affected when 40 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide factory in Bhopal in 1984. Today, the number of deaths stands at 20,000. Virtually nothing has been done to clean up the site, and the water used by people for everyday needs is still contaminated. And via Reuters:

“Former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson faces charges of culpable homicide and Indian courts have repeatedly asked New Delhi to seek his extradition from the United States where he now lives in retirement. Anderson, considered a fugitive from Indian law for refusing to face charges in its courts, could be jailed for 10 years and fined if found guilty.”

So what of design and social change? Well, a bit of design forensics determined that it was a failure of design that led to the disaster. On December 2, New Scientist published an article on their investigation of the accident and recently released documents that identify the reasons for the failure and show that the company that built and owned the Bhopal plant cut crucial corners and safety features from its design of the plant.

“Union Carbide was forced to release the documents last month by a court in New York state that was hearing a class action suit filed by Bhopal survivors in 1999. According to New Scientist, Carbide’s 1972 memo specified that the US headquarters would either perform all design work for the plant, or approve designs done elsewhere. The report said that on the basis of fresh evidence, the US Company could be tried for negligence only if the Indian government joined the campaigners in the US lawsuit.”


Further info via rtMark press release:

“Burson-Marsteller, the public relations company that helped to ‘spin’ Bhopal, has meanwhile sued college student Paul Hardwin for putting up a fake Burson-Marsteller site, http://www.bursonmarsteller.com/, which recounted how the PR giant helped to downplay the Bhopal disaster. Burson-Marsteller’s suit against Hardwin will be heard next week by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Hardwin, unable to afford a lawyer, has composed a dryly humorous 57-page rebuttal to the PR giant’s lawsuit. On page 7, for instance, the student notes that Burson-Marsteller’s stated goal is

‘to ensure that the perceptions which surround our clients and influence their stakeholders are consistent with reality.’

Hardwin goes on to assert that his satirical domain is doing precisely that, by publicizing

‘academic and journalistic materials about Burson-Marsteller’s involvement with and relationship to, for example, Philip Morris and the National Smoker’s Alliance, a consumer front group designed to create the appearance of public support for big-tobacco policies; Union Carbide and the deaths of 20,000 people following the 1984 disaster in Bhopal; and political regimes such as that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and more recently Saudi Arabia following the events of September 11; and to properly associate them with the relevant Trademark so that they may be understood accordingly by Internet users.’

In response to the suit’s claim that ‘a substantial degree of goodwill is associated with [the Burson-Marstellar Trademark]’ Hardwin offers much ‘evidence to the contrary’ including ‘a newspaper headline in which the Complainant is characterized as “the Devil.”’

The primary goal of RTMark is to publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process. Just like other corporations, it achieves its aims by any and all means at its disposal. RTMark has previously helped to publicize websites against political parties, political figures, and entities like the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum.

>  7 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,


“Each December 1, World AIDS Day, the creative community observes A Day With(out) Art, in memory of all those the AIDS pandemic has taken from us, and in recognition of the many artists, actors, writers, dancers and others who continue to create and live with HIV and AIDS.

A Day With(out) Art was created by the group Visual AIDS in New York City. Link and Think For the last several years, Creative Time has organized a Day With(out) Art observance on the worldwide web, encouraging diverse website designers and administrators to darken their site and convey AIDS prevention and education information to their visitors.

In 1999, more than 50 webloggers took part in a project called a Day With(out) Weblogs. In 2000, nearly 700 personal weblogs and journals of all sorts participated. In 2001, the number was over 1,000. The personal web publishing community — weblogs, journals, diaries, personal websites of every kind — has continued to grow and diversify.

Once again, everyone who produces personal content on the web is invited to participate a global observance of World AIDS Day. In recognition of the variety of sites participating — E/N sites, weblogs, journals, newspages and more — and to differentiate it from other, similar endeavors, a Day With(out) Weblogs became Link and Think.”

Despite the corny name, Link and Think is one of the more effective online grassroots marketing campaigns I’ve seen. While a Day With(out) Weblogs was more of a memorial and show of solidarity, Link and Think also takes a more forward looking view.

Of the Web logs I check regularly, MetaFilter posted decent set of links. The facts, stories, and images are chilling, but it’s also nice to see a bit of perspective — for instance, asking why AIDS dominates the public health debate.

>  1 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Steal This Book

Starting A Printing Workshop

“Leaflets, posters, newsletters, pamphlets and other printed matter are important to any revolution. A printing workshop is a definite need in all communities, regardless of size. It can vary from a garage with a mimeograph machine to a mammoth operation complete with printing presses and fancy photo equipment. With less than a hundred dollars and some space, you can begin this vital service. It’ll take a while before you get into printing greenbacks, phony identification papers and credit cards like the big boys, but to walk a mile you must start with one step as Gutenberg once said.”


Underground Newspapers

“Food conspiracies, bust trusts, people’s clinics and demonstrations are all part of the new Nation, but if asked to name the most important institution in our lives, one would have to say the underground newspaper. It keeps tuned cover in on what’s going on in the community and around the world. Values, myths, symbols, and all the trappings of our culture are determined to a large extent by the underground press. Each office serves as a welcome mat for strangers, a meeting place for community organizers and a rallying force to fight pig repression. There are probably over 500 regularly publishing with readerships running from a few hundred to over 500,000. Most were started in the last three years. If your scene doesn’t have a paper, you probably don’t have a scene together.”


G.I. Papers

“A heavier scene than even the high schools exists in No-No Land of the military. None-the-less, against incredible odds, courageous G.I.’s both here and overseas have managed to put out a number of underground newspapers. If you are a G.I. interested in starting a paper, the first thing to do is seek out a few buddies who share your views on the military and arrange a meeting, preferably off the base. Once you have your group together, getting the paper published will be no problem. Keeping your staff secret, you can have one member contact with someone from a G.I. coffee house, anti-war organization or nearby underground newspaper. This civilian contact person will be in a position to raise the bread and arrange the printing and distribution of the paper. You can write one of the national G.I. newspaper organizations listed at the end of this section if you are unable to find help locally. The paper should be printed off the base. Government equipment should be avoided.”


Guerrilla Radio

“Under FCC Low Power Transmission Regulations, it is legal to broadcast on the AM band without even obtaining a license, if you transmit with 100 milliwatts of power or less on a free band space that doesn’t interfere with a licensed station. You are further allowed up to a 12-foot antenna or the use of carrier-current transmission (regular electric wall outlets). Using this legal set-up, you can broadcast from a 2 to 20 block radius depending on how high up you can locate your antenna and the density of tall buildings in the area.”


Free food, housing, education, and independent media. Shoplifting, pipe bombs, medical care, draft counseling... and graphic design.

It’s all there in the hipster slang of 1970. While downloading the complete Steal This Book as one big 413 Kb HTML file, read a little about its provenance.

The title joke still makes me laugh. Steal this book about destroying capitalism. But, while some items in the book are still relevant to movement building and perhaps real social change, others seem more like cheap thrills than liberation. 30 years later, Hoffman’s catalogue of techniques of resistence reads as a vision of a life of struggle. The introduction breezes through a snapshot of the ills of America, but get your nuanced political and economic analysis elsewhere — this is just a practical guidebook. Perhaps for those without a nuanced political or economic analysis? “The purpose of part two is not to fuck the system, but destroy it.” By fighting violence and theft with violence and theft? And then what?

Found via Boing Boing.

>  29 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Securing the Homeland through Culture

Hand over heart“[The Homeland Security Cultural Bureau] is protecting the interests of the country’s national security by employing efforts to direct and guide the parameters of cultural production.”

“Which artists and strategies may be most aligned with the agents of terror? Who are the postmodernists and do they really pose a threat? Again, here we present to you a cogent argument for rethinking our culture and for aligning our needs for security with a new relation to art.”

A very official-looking, straight-faced satire site.

See also http://www.whitehouse.org/ and http://www.gwbush.com, two other satire sites. I found whitehouse.org’s Department of Homeland Security page when searching for the real Department of Homeland Security page.

>  1 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Collective Agency

iStockPhoto is a collection of royalty-free files contributed by its members. iStock members are part of an international community of artists which has created a huge database, growing at an exponential rate. Members can download from a collection of images, audio, and Flash, browse through our forums on design and photograph.

Members can now download from a database of hi-rez images, audio, Flash and more for [U.S.] 25 cents per download - new members start with 2 download credits to get accquainted.

Download credits are accumulated either by depositing money into your iStock account or from download earnings. iStock uses $.20 from each download to cover its bandwidth costs, and $.05 (five cents) is returned to the member who uploaded the file. This ensures that regular contributors will always have download credits, and all others can download photos for only $.25 each.”

Most stock photography is out of the financial reach of individuals and organizations without a photo budget. Photodisc, the pioneer of the online stock photo market, charges $50 a pop for its cheapest images. iStockPhoto is a kind of mutual-support initiative providing imagery to its members practically for free.

And, through iStockPhoto the photographer, not the photo agency, retains the copyright of the images. Many stock photo agencies have increasly asked photographers to give away more and more of their rights for less and less money.

Unfortunately, for photographers who depend on income from their imagemaking this grassroots initiative is yet another contender in a crowded market. But for those who believe imagery should be free and who want to share it freely iStockPhoto is a beautiful thing.

>  19 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Free as in School

In April 2001 MIT President Charles M. Vest announced the plans to make MIT’s courseware freely available on the Internet. On September 30, 2002 MIT launched MIT OpenCourseWare. The online courses include lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments.

“MIT OpenCourseWare will provide the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education....”

The material is free for non-commercial use and is not for acaedmic credit. From an OpenCourseWare factsheet:

“MIT [OpenCourseWare] is not a distance learning initiative. Distance learning involves the active exchange of information between faculty and students, with the goal of obtaining some form of a credential. Increasingly, distance learning is also limited to those willing and able to pay for materials or course delivery.

MIT OCW is not meant to replace degree granting higher education. Rather, the goal is to provide the content that supports an education.

From President Vest:

“We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore, the quality of life worldwide.

The pilot falls short of the 500 courses initially planned for the launch, but it’s a very nice start.

We are opening our pilot to the public for review and feedback. It contains a sample of MIT courses, offering an early look at the content and design of OCW. As we pursue our intensive work to find the most effective way to make OCW a valuable resource for all who use it, we will continue to add courses, until virtually all are available.”

>  2 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

2002 MacArthur Fellows

The 2002 MacArthur Fellows were announced today. Here are a couple of bios of folks involved in projects I’d consider “social design”:

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer-ethnographer who uses time-lapse images to chronicle the transformation of urban landscapes across America. Trained as a sociologist, he reaches into the disciplines of architecture, photography, urban planning, history, and anthropology for tools to present the gradual erosion of late 19th- and 20th-century architectural grandeur in urban neighborhoods, their subsequent neglect and abandonment, and scattered efforts at gentrification. Repeatedly photographing, sometimes over the course of decades, the same structures and neighborhoods, Vergara records both large-scale and subtle changes in the visual landscape of cities and inner cities in the United States. Sequences reveal, for example, trees growing in abandoned libraries and decrepit laborer housing swallowed by advancing foliage. Over the years, Vergara has amassed a rich archive of several thousand photographs that are a rare and important cache of American history. These images, monuments to the survival and reformation of American cities, are a unique visual study; they also inform the process of city planning by highlighting the constant remodeling of urban space.”

See some of his World Trade Center related photos on the New York Historical Society site or a couple of photos from the New American Ghetto series.

Paul Ginsparg is a theoretical physicist widely known for creating a computer-based system for physicists and other scientists to communicate their research results. Ginsparg’s document server represents a conscious effort to reorganize scientific communications, establishing a marketplace of ideas of new submissions with minimal editorial oversight and abundant opportunity for commentary, supporting and opposing, from other investigators. Ginsparg circumvented traditional funding and approval mechanisms by developing the software in his spare time and running it on surplus equipment. This system [is] informally known as “the xxx archive,” currently hosted at Cornell University at http://arxiv.org.... All documents are available without charge worldwide through the internet, making the latest results available even for those without access to a good research library. Ginsparg has deliberately transformed the way physics gets done — challenging conventional standards for review and communication of research and thereby changing the speed and mode of dissemination of scientific advances.”

See some remarks about the project he delivered in 1994.

David B. Goldstein is a physicist with a passion for... improving global energy efficiency. His work, which consistently refutes suggestions of inherent conflict between economic growth and environmental quality, touches on a broad spectrum of energy-related issues — from appliance design, to building construction, to governmental policies in developing industrial nations, to housing and transportation planning — and on developing effective policies to address these issues. Goldstein recognized, for example, that early refrigerators wasted a significant fraction of U.S. electrical output due to poor design. He led the effort to hold an efficiency design contest and then successfully lobbied regional and national regulatory agencies to establish energy consumption standards based on the new design, thus creating a market for the more efficient devices. More recently, he has initiated a project to encourage people, through mortgage lending incentives, to minimize the amount of energy they waste driving unnecessarily. Over the last decade, moreover, he has sought to influence and improve building efficiency standards in Russia and China. Throughout his work, Goldstein draws from his scientific training to eliminate political and economic obstacles to greater energy efficiency, with constant attentiveness to the environmental penalties of energy waste....

Since 1980, he has co-directed the Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco.... In addition to his work at the NRDC, Goldstein serves on the boards of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, the Institute for Market Transformation, the New Buildings Institute, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, and the Institute for Location Efficiency.”

The mortages mentioned above are run through the Institute for Location Efficiency. The Location Efficient Mortgage is designed for “people who would like to purchase a home in an urban neighborhood and who would be willing to rely on public transportation and to use locally available services and amenities rather than own a personal vehicle.” Definitely not your typical envrionmental NGO.

Brian Tucker is a seismologist whose work focuses on preventing readily avoidable disasters in the world’s poorest countries by using affordable civil engineering practices. He founded GeoHazards International (GHI) after recognizing that multi-story residences, schools, hospitals, stores, and offices built from adobe, stone, or unreinforced masonry in many regions of the world are death traps when earthquakes strike. GHI is the only not-for-profit, non-governmental agency dedicated to preventing structural failures in developing countries. Tucker works on-site with local governments, artisans, and citizens to implement cost-effective measures to construct or upgrade schools and other public service buildings and to educate residents about damage-prevention measures. He is an expert at adapting techniques used by developed countries in risk-mitigation projects so that they fit within the social, political, and economic constraints of at-risk communities in the developing world. GHI’s principal focus on schools is particularly important because their typically poor construction makes them a common source for earthquake casualties. His current work to develop and apply a Global Earthquake Risk Index is designed both to estimate risk and to motivate risk-reduction measures. His efforts have dramatically reduced the potential for death and injury to children and others from earthquakes in vulnerable cities around the world.”

Stanley Nelson is a documentary filmmaker with over 20 years’ experience as a producer, director, and writer.

“His award-winning film, The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords, synthesizes biography and history, bringing clarity and dimension to the often neglected role of black journalists in chronicling American history. In Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind, Nelson examines an enigmatic African-American icon, illuminating character and cultural context. With Puerto Rico: Our Right to Decide, he probes still farther afield, considering the implications for political democracy arising from the historical trajectory of confluence and conflict among Anglo, Spanish, African, and indigenous social structures. He is currently working on a documentary about the murder of Emmett Till; other projects include the heritage of the African-American middle class on Martha’s Vineyard and on the international anthropology of the transatlantic slave trade.”

More of his film credits are listed here.

>  25 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Free U.S. Military Photos

Military photos in the public domain. That’s right, copyright free high-rez images of Bush & chums, fearsome gear, and our boys in action, all courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Great for patriotism, procurement, or parody.

Found via Barnbrook Design.

>  20 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

A Silent Revolution

From The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002:

“While the internet has affected most of us somehow, it has transformed the lives of deaf people, especially the young, by overcoming two barriers that make many deaf people feel isolated. One is the geographic barrier separating deaf people from each other: there are about 673,000 severely or profoundly deaf adults in the UK, spread all over the country. They can’t just pick up the phone and talk (although the introduction of textphones has made communication easier.)

...Technologies such as email, instant messaging and chat rooms mean that deaf people can contact old friends and make new ones anywhere in the world. There are plenty of resources on the web specifically targeted at deaf people, such as www.deafclub.co.uk and www.deaf-uk.co.uk - a set of Yahoo-based discussion groups where lively debates take place.

Another language barrier, that which divides speakers of British sign language and American sign language, also melts away. The internet touches almost every aspect of life. It’s much easier to shop online if you’re deaf than to make a shop assistant understand what you want. Similarly, the educational opportunities of deaf people, few of whom go on to higher education, could be transformed by distance learning. Even more significant is the chance to work. ‘Email has the potential to revolutionise the employment prospects,’ says Nathan Charlton, a consultant at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Email gives deaf people, who have twice the unemployment rates of hearing people, the ability not only to communicate with hearing colleagues easily, but to share in news they might otherwise be excluded from.”

While TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, and TTY, Text Telephone or TeleType, have been around since the 60’s, compatibility issues and competing standards have slowed widespread adoption. No doubt the expense of an additional technology to service a minority population has been a factor as well.

Electronic text messaging, however, is already integrated into most cellphones. The deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech are widely using Short Messaging Service (SMS) text messaging. Reuters reports that a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf showed that 98 percent of hearing-impaired people in the UK use SMS text messaging. Following the survey, a British police department adopted SMS to let hearing- and speech-impaired people report emergencies. This article tells of Chieko Takayama, an employee of Japanese cellphone company J-Phone, and her work at a store in Tokyo that specifically markets to hearing-impaired customers.

Guardian article found via plep.

>  17 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Uncle Sam Wants You

>  11 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

page 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Older »