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Member since: Wed Dec 11, 2013, 03:23 PM
Number of posts: 1,805

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Monsanto's Terrifying New Scheme: Massive Amounts of Data Collection

Imagine cows fed and milked entirely by robots. Or tomatoes that send an e-mail when they need more water. Or a farm where all the decisions about where to plant seeds, spray fertilizer and steer tractors are made by software on servers on the other side of the sea.

This is what more and more of our agriculture may come to look like in the years ahead, as farming meets Big Data. There’s no shortage of farmers and industry gurus who think this kind of “smart” farming could bring many benefits...

The big question is who exactly will end up owning all this data, and who gets to determine how it is used. On one side stand some of the largest corporations in agriculture, who are racing to gather and put their stamp on as much of this information as they can. Opposing them are farmers’ groups and small open-source technology start-ups, which want to ensure a farm’s data stays in the farmer’s control and serves the farmer’s interests.

Who wins will determine not just who profits from the information, but who, at the end of the day, directs life and business on the farm.

One recent round in this battle took place in October, when Monsanto spent close to $1 billion to buy the Climate Corporation, a data analytics firm. Last year the chemical and seed company also bought Precision Planting, another high-tech firm, and also launched a venture capital arm geared to fund tech start-ups.


Trickle-down Gentrification

Old, dense, transit-served cities like San Francisco and New York have excessive restrictions on new housing construction, making them increasingly inaccessible to all but the 1 percent. Newer, sprawling, car-centric cities like Dallas and Atlanta facilitate new development, helping to maintain lower housing costs. This is the argument advanced by economist Ed Glaeser in his much-cited 2011 book The Triumph of the City, a paean to creative-class urbanism...

There is some truth to these basic facts, but their interpretation has led to a pernicious claim about urban development: that the construction of any housing stock at all, even luxury condominiums, will relieve pressure on the housing market to an extent that will keep cities “affordable.” This reliance on a false cause and effect has become a common justification for urban gentrification. Once the new luxury condos are built, the argument goes, truly wealthy city-dwellers will move into them and leave open the market-rate apartments meant for good old middle-class families...

The fallacy of trickle-down gentrification also highlights the complications of the term “affordable,” used to describe housing priced below market rates. Affordable housing, often built by community development corporations like the one I work at, has largely supplanted government-funded public housing since the 1970s. Many units are paid for by Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), while some are covered by project-based Section 8 vouchers and other subsidies. But while public housing is home to people with incomes below 30 percent of the median, LIHTC units typically use 30 percent of median income as a floor. This means that while affordable housing is affordable to certain low- and moderate-income people, and plays an important role in allowing those people to remain in gentrifying cities, it is often unaffordable to the working poor.

Much has been written about the so-called failure of public housing in the United States, so I won’t take up the topic here, except to point out that a much-ignored cause of that failure was the inability of local authorities to actually maintain and repair their housing projects. While few would blame potholed roads on the drivers who use them, a great effort has been made to attribute the degeneration of public housing in the US to public housing residents themselves.

In other countries, however, public housing has been more successful. In the mid-1960s, the Swedish Social Democratic Party launched an ambitious plan to provide truly affordable housing and produce “good democratic citizens,” called the Million Programme. More than a million homes were built by the 1970s, and they now house approximately a quarter of the Swedish population. Though they have come under fire from liberal and conservative critics for their modernist superblock architecture, their peripheral locations, and their propensity to house newly-arrived immigrants, they have continued to provide quality housing for millions of low-income Swedes and to resist privatization...

Five thousand miles away in fiercely capitalist Hong Kong, nearly half of the population lives in government-subsidized housing...

Housing construction cannot be separated from the economic conditions that surround it — low-wage service jobs, stringent requirements on credit scores, and a pervasive opposition to rent control. Frederick Engels foresaw this problem in his essay on housing.

Whence then comes the housing shortage? It is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages; in which the workers are crowded together … at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can.

In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution.


Chinese Education System: Not Great

Wow -- kind of an eye opener.

It’s that time, again. Pisa released its notorious ranking of international education systems and yet again it’s bad news for the Swedes. I spent a long time scrolling down until the word “Sweden” appeared at a depressing 38th place...

When you notice "Shanghai" at the top of the Pisa list, it might look to you like the only beacon of hope. Sweden is desperate and learning from the Chinese educational system seems like the salvation. But let me tell you that this is not at all true. I know. For two years, I attended a local Shanghainese high school and this is the truth: the teaching is terrible.

In fact, in my view the Chinese education model is not just bad. It’s archaic. Believe me -- adopting the Shanghainese educational model would be a step backwards, not forwards.

Chinese children are masters at test-taking. This is because China has over 199 million students studying at elementary to high-school level and the best way to organize these masses is by testing, grading and categorizing them. Sans cesse.

Students in China are not treated like humans, they are treated like development statistics. The Chinese method is to totally abandon struggling students and to focus merely on the elite. Already in elementary school, there is a strict hierarchical system where some children are assigned the role of "class monitor" and are allowed to punish the students that do badly in class. My little sister was a victim of this...My nine-year-old sister left Shanghai in a state of near-depression. Today, in Sweden, she comes home excited to tell us about her day in school. It’s evident, Jan Björklund, that the Chinese system is beyond challenging, it leaves scars on a child's self-confidence.

Another weapon of Chinese education is humiliation. For several of my Shanghainese teachers it was OK to judge a student by their answers or by their appearance. My history teacher would not hesitate to mock you in front of your friends if you gave a stupid answer. In my sister’s grade, a boy who was struggling in class was given the nickname “fatty” by the teacher. In Sweden though, it’s different....

It’s ridiculously obvious that Shanghai’s Pisa result has nothing to do with the quality of Chinese education... The system breeds Pisa champions, but it ruins young lives. Should Sweden copy China? No. Should we feel threatened by China? No. It would harm us more to copy China than to continue as we are. Of course Swedish education needs improvement, but the truth of the matter is: all countries do...

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