“Life should seem a little easier with narration, shouldn’t it?”

What a great reason for blogging! It comes from a young man named John-Claude Futrell, AKA Panama Soweto, who is emerging as the spokesman and host for podslam.org. Here’s the context, where he describes what a “griot” is. To me it sounds like what goes on in the blogosphere:

A griot is defined as a person, usually from West Africa, who keeps the oral tradition of a culture.  They are the storytellers and gossipers, the conspiracy theorists, and blabbermouths, the speakers and the poets.  Our spoken word artists are our griots of the 21st century.  They speak to us of their pain, their triumph, our gains and our losses, they function as political analysts, teachers, psychologists and friends. 

I write for a very selfish purpose, I want to feel as if I am not alone.  So when I’m in front of a crowd I want to feel like I am telling a story that people can relate to, can feel.  Poetry can be therapeutic for all  involved, and life should seem a little easier with narration, shouldn’t it?  We can give explanation when there was none before. Without our poets our lives could be described as a sum of circumstances, with them we can tolerate the harshness of the world that we live in.

Best First Blog Post Ever.

I believe that is the first blog post Panama ever wrote – his previous posts have been short introductions of other PodSlam poets. Have you ever heard a better first post than that?

Each of the PodSlam poets answered some interview questions, including why they chose their stage name. Panama’s answer:

So they call me Panama Soweto. And I took the name Soweto as an attribute, as a stage name for a couple of different reasons. Probably the most important and most interesting reason to me is that I got my degree in African American studies from Metropolitan State College in Denver and while studying there I got to learn a lot about the township of Soweto in South Africa and the actual trials and tribulations that had to go with freedom from apartheid. The things that Steven Biko and Nelson Mandela went through. And, one of the things that made apartheid visible to the rest of the planet was the riots or the murder in Soweto of twenty-six children. I teach, so I believe that children are the only way that we can bring change into this world. And with that I just thought that Soweto would be a real good attribute to use because, you know, I am trying to change myself. Nobody’s perfect. 

The first name, Panama, just kind of came from the dichotomy of what I am and what I’m not. A lot of people growing up didn’t know whether to call me Dominican or Puerto Rican, and yada yada and this and that, so I got a whole bunch of nicknames and I got teased once and the name Panama came up and so I kept it.

11:31:32 AM    

“Something I must do”

I’m beginning to learn about the world of spoken word, which is becoming mainstream after decades of senescence. Maybe spoken word is a natural reaction to times of overwhelming straight-and-narrow thinking. I’ve been very involved in the new podslam project, which features 15 poets, performing their poetry in iPod-compatible videos with great production values. You really ought to check them out at the PodSlam site. You can subscribe to the podslam’s forum (blog) here. The ‘casts are embedded in the site feed and you can subscribe in iTunes.

The first podSlam is presented by Jeff Campbell, AKA “Apostle“. His message, which you can read at his Slam of the Day entry, is entitled “Something I must do”. And that’s where I think I’m barely beginning to get it. All but one of these poets is African-American, and so you hear the kinds of cultural grievances that anyone would voice as a member of that community. But I’m sensing something else in these lyrics: a determination for self-determination. In that sense, these poets seem to be taking more responsibility for themselves than most Americans, whatever our background:

In every step in every mile in the path of my journey
Spirits walk with me and turn me in the right direction
Protection from danger, they help me to control my anger
You see this world is full of stress and I confess
That I haven’t done enough how much time do I have left?
On this planet I never take it for granted
I examine my impact and make plans to expand it
Whether I’m beatin’ the concrete of the city streets
Or up in the mountains climbin’ 14 thousand ft. peaks

Yes, the PodSlam is based in Denver, and there may be something to the proximity of 14,000 foot peaks that inspires anyone (it’s known that Colorado has the lowest obesity levels of any state). I experienced that, living in Denver for a couple of decades, and wrote previously how Denver’s been a source of tough-minded, edgy voices since Neal Cassady basically invented the genre and almost instantly broke the mold.

Check out the podslam. Here’s Apostle’s poem, and here’s a direct link to his video.

Something I must do

In every step in every mile in the path of my journey
Spirits walk with me and turn me in the right direction
Protection from danger, they help me to control my anger
You see this world is full of stress and I confess
That I haven’t done enough how much time do I have left?
On this planet I never take it for granted
I examine my impact and make plans to expand it
Whether I’m beatin the concrete of the city streets
Or up in the mountains climbin 14 thousand ft. peaks
I’m shinin connecting to the energy of the galaxy
Cause mathematically it matches my anatomy
It feels like the universe is inside me
Relatives who have past on stand right beside me
And they whisper the secrets of the ages
And they guide my pen across pages 

It’s like the planets and stars align when I rhyme
And the universe speaks through me directly
I’m tuned in to frequencies
Hidden beyond their comprehension yet subliminally
Our bodies understand these commands
We dance for ritual purposes it’s advanced
Expressions of the culture connected to eternity
Memories of a past life return to me
And I swear you were right there in the cipher
We conjured deities with drums to ignite the
Rage inside of us all until we burned it down
Yet somewhere deep within the ground
Are the traces of our DNA?
It manifests in every generation in a different way
So now I’m back on display
From the plantation to the prison most us us on our way

But somebody’s watchin over me
guidin me ridin for me on the other side
There’s somethin I must do before I die
The ancestors provide the purpose of my life. 

9:39:32 PM    

Oops, It Didn’t Work!

On Friday, William F. Buckley threw in the towel. He speaks of the Iraq war when he announces It Didn’t Work, but he’s really talking about the conservative movement. In his constrained acknowledgment of the failure of neoconservatism’s most extreme expression, he’s really acknowledging the failure of the conservative movement. It’s falling back to earth now, like a spent rocket. It never deserved so much of our attentive energy, but it sounded so promising, to the more credulous among us.

I discovered William F. Buckley in 1965 at USAF Training at Williams AFB, AZ. Most of my classmates loved this guy, so erudite and impressive and reasonable sounding. But he didn’t sound reasonable to me. I remember asking my mates, “Can’t you hear the words he’s saying? It’s crazy.”

Even then, the idea of boosting the most capable by taking from the least among us made no sense to me, whether in a family or a society. But that didn’t matter to most of my fellow elitists – we had prevailed over most pilot training candidates, qualifying for The Fighter School – the most exclusive of the Air Force’s eight training bases. Like most elites, we didn’t spend a lot of time examining the accidents of birth or nurture that equipped us to qualify for those few slots at “Willy”.

Once you strap on that G-suit and start drilling holes in the sky, there’s no limit to your arrogance. You’re omnipotent and you know it, clap your hands.

Conservatism Didn’t Work. That’s Bill Buckley’s impending conclusion, but he can’t form his mouth around the words. It hardly matters which metric or cultural barometer you use, the Big-C conservatives (like the Big-L liberals before them) have had their turn at the wheel, and they’ve fucked up beyond all recognition. This shouldn’t be surprising, when you consider this insight from Buckley’s arch nemesis, Kenneth Galbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy;
that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

Galbraith’s exposé is literally true, not just clever satire. When the most powerful people in a society set themselves up to bleed the rest of the body politic, the culture’s in as much trouble as any body is when its most aggressive cells metastasize. Yep, that’s what unbridled conservatism is: a network of ambitious, well-connected cells sucking as much energy as possible from their host. Once you strap on that three piece suit and start drilling holes in the economy, there’s no limit to your arrogance. You’re omnipotent and you know it, clap your hands.

Self-interest is not the problem: it’s the primary source of energy in any society. Galbraith is exposing a deeper, cultural problem. Like alcoholics enabled by their admirers, our mutual dysfunction is that so many of us have placed our bets on the metastatic principle of self interest. Most of We the People Mortgage Holders have decided that we and our families will surely prevail if we work the pecking order just a little better than our less fortunate neighbors: we’ve decided that we will somehow buck the odds and will succeed if we advance ourselves to the detriment of those whom we’re in a position to slight. When selfishness is enshrined above the commons’ sense, the Tragedy of the Commons is as certain as if Shakespeare had penned it. And ultimately, just as deadly.

The flaw in this tragic logic is easy to see. Conservatism, like the stock market, systematically moves resources from the less informed to the more informed. Pick your sides. Only suicidal hubris allows people to assume they’re on the inside track of that power law.

Ed vs. the Coneheads

Ed Cone and his readers are conducting a spirited debate about Buckley’s capitulation over at Ed’s blog. Ed threw the gauntlet down by asking, “Why does Bill Buckley hate America?

Why does Bill Buckley hate America?

“One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed,” writes the father of the modern conservative movement in The National Review.

Well, of course, one can doubt it, if one ignores the facts.

And as the facts get harder to ignore, one can blame the media.

No fair blaming the richly-documented incompetence of the administration and widespread predictions that we would end up exactly where we are.

Ed is one of my heroes. He descends from a family of authentic American visionaries and capitalists who built a great textile business in North Carolina and struggled to keep the plants and workers together. Ed and I hung out together when he came up to document the Dean campaign and at a few subsequent conferences. It’s obvious he gets it. Maybe it’s because he now writes about IT and systems for Ziff Davis: People who think in terms of systems seem to have a larger view than those who think in terms of sound bites.

Checked by Mates

Conservatism has entered its end game and can no longer disguise its motives with platitudes and swell-sounding theories. Buckley hints at the sorry truth that this four-decade crescendo has been an intellectual exercise, sort of a stimulating debate not quite ready for prime time, unencumbered by concerns about consequences in the real world:

What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail — in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn’t work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

The shrine of American idealism. The horror! Can we ever abandon our precious conservative postulates! 

Even his headline speaks to the conservatives’ distance from real-world consequences: Saying “It didn’t work” is as reflective as saying “Oops”. It’s how you characterize a patio door broken by a softball, not how you describe a conscious assault on American values, culminating in a colossal, unilateral foreign adventure that guts America’s sense of fair play while killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of peopl
e, including our own. No wonder these people who’ve never seen combat don’t want us to see flag-draped coffins. They have no sense of participation in the real fight, for theirs is an ivory tower engagement.

I’ve often said that real combat is no place for dreamers and idealists. Nor is the hard landscape of geopolitical practicalities. Those who understand the realities of insurgent warfare knew all along that this Iraqi colonialism wouldn’t work. 

What will work, inevitably, is patience. A skillful idealist should realize that time is on our side, that our pervasive media and peer-to-peer Internet-based communications is the overwhelming power in the world right now, not these obsolete imperial adventures.

Claims Made for Selling, not for Using

Conservative promises are like the complex features we never use, on all the gadgets we probably don’t need. this “philosophy” (if that’s what you call a justification for selfishness) is a set of theories and visions that are worthless once you take the appliance out of the show room (Conservatism’s think tanks and heavily subsidized media outlets) and install it at home (government). Once put into service, there’s no way we’ll use that fancy control panel for anything but a timer, and that’s where conservatism’s questionable social compact breaks down.

The entire shaky premise of conservatism has been the “trust us” assurance that Bush trots out whenever the curtain is pulled aside to expose this most questionable wizard. Conservatism has predicated its promise on a complex set of features we might use some day, but which, so far, have provided no discernible benefits to We the Users. 


Impatience Alert – Flamers take a break

Comments are on, but for those of you who adore the passion around the tiresome Liberal/Conservative “debate”, please save yourselves the trouble. I’m a practicing capitalist, shot down in Vietnam, voted for Reagan and formed more businesses than most people have worked for. Conservatives can now empathize how it felt for the liberals as the air leaked out of their movement. Get used to years of this sinking feeling. Now it’s obvious to anyone:

This conservative movement has been an unbelievably expensive detour from the American Dream, which was forged in the late 18th century out of the Age of Enlightenment and Common Sense, reinforced by the realities we grasped thanks to Theodore Dreiser, two world wars and the Great Depression. Don’t embarrass yourself by siding with Warren Harding. Go do your homework and calculate the components of your grandchildren’s tax burden. Then ask yourself if those expensive, broadcast-era slogans have been worth it.

On the other hand, I-told-you-so liberals might ask why no one has a clue what you’re talking about.

1:20:20 AM    

Neal’s Town, Home of the First

PodSlam

Why Denver? How could podSlam‘s amazing, passionate, beat-like poetry come out of what most people think is a cow town? Is there anything more to Denver than a gateway to skiing and the home of Broncomania? Check out the poets at podSlam.org and you’ll wonder too.

Maybe the first PodSlam is from Denver because Neal Cassady’s from Denver. Don’t know who Neal Cassady was? Few do. Dead these 37 years, he was Jack Kerouac’s inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s great American Road Trip novel, On the Road. But Cassady was more than the book’s inspiration – he gave it his voice. Jack Kerouac was frustrated with the book’s tone of voice until he realized he had to write it using Neal’s: “He picked the project up again later, after a series of letters from Cassady gave Kerouac the idea to write the book the way Cassady talked, in a rush of mad ecstasy, without self-consciousness or mental hesitation. It worked: ‘On The Road’ became a sensation by capturing Cassady’s voice.”* 

So, while we call On the Road Kerouac’s book, it’s really Neal’s book. In fact, the area of Denver now known as “LoDo” – Lower Downtown –  Denver’s skid row for decades – was inseparable from Neal Cassady’s reality. There’s even an online tour of Neal’s Denver, suggesting all its grime and grit and passion and puke. It was put up a decade ago by Andrew Burnett, himself a poet. Here’s his intro to Neal’s Denver:

A Personal Exploration

and Beat Baedeker

by Andrew Burnett

“…all the city was to become my playground…”
Neal Cassady, The First Third

“Neal is a colossus risen to Destroy Denver!”
Jack Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg, As Ever

“who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes.”
Allen Ginsberg, Howl.

If you’re visiting Denver, or if you just wish you were, try one of these tours:

The Bona Fide Beat Train

The Beat Beatific Shuttle

The Beat Automobile Tour


In the winter of 1995, only two blocks remain of the Larimer Street Neal Cassady knew. For forty years Larimer used to stretch as one long skid-row for most of its 25-block length, but today only two true skid-row blocks remain, between 20th and 22nd: bars that open at eight in the morning (signs say “No children after 5:00”); pawn shops where Cassady very likely pawned anything he could get his hands on for quick cash; a 12-step recovery shelter, three bars, two liquor stores, a barber shop, and a Mexican bakery. At most, maybe three men are unconscious now on any given morning, where once there’d have been fifteen or twenty (gentrification has moved the shelters almost ten blocks north). Instead of Larimer, the men wait for the sun to come up at 23rd and Curtis.

Read the whole thing – it’s great. It makes you realize what no current visit can – that Denver was to the Beat Generation – and modern American poetry – what Kansas City was to the Golden Age of Jazz and, ultimately, to BeBop. I find it amazing that these two midwestern cities were the wombs for modern poetry and jazz, respectively.

As further inspiration to read Burnett’s guide, here are some more of his great phrases:

It’s hard to write about Denver and the Beats without persisting in a little city-wide anti-karmic self-justification. New York and San Francisco are true, hardcore beat sites — anything about Denver is going to sound as if somebody, somewhere is protesting just a little too much about a provincial capital with only peripheral links to Beat authors…

It’s hard, too, to write about Neal Cassady. He-man mercenary, neo-Proustian speed freak, devil incarnate, lost angel, part hipster, part huckster, half lost, half found…

He’s our Rimbaud without the luck Rimbaud had — and R. didn’t have too much. He’s an American R. behind the wheel of one of our century’s automobiles going way too fast down one of our streets. Close to a crew-cut, handsome as hell, jeans and a t-shirt, he’s got our drugs, our music, our idiom and our books…

It’s my guess that those who knew him and loved him were seduced by how vivid he was; how vivid his now was. Larimer (or Van Ness, or 116th Street) with Cassady was probably a pretty damned vivid, live and exciting place…

Literary Kicks curator Levi Asher talked about a mystique, too, in his original Denver page (“I’ve never been to Denver, but I’m dying to go. I’d get drunk on Tokay at a Larimer Street dive, and then go street-crawling in search of Dean Moriarty’s forever-lost father.”)…

Growing up in Denver, I always enjoyed having little secret Beat bits of knowledge to myself: ten years ago I’d eat lunch leaning against the Water Department building in Civic Center knowing that this was the Carnegie public library when Neal Cassady was jailbait pure and simple, in and out of juvy hall– devouring Kant and Schopenhauer when he wasn’t stealing cars and attempting to put the nth line over on the nth girl…

The best work of all about Denver and the Beats are the central texts: Cassady’s “The First Third,” Kerouac’s “On the Road” and “Visions of Cody,” Ginsberg’s “The Great Rememberer.” Buy them, come to Denver, walk these streets, get at American ghosts.

Or go to the podSlam, filmed at the corner of 15th & Wynkoop, right in Cassady’s hood, by (mostly) young poets who may not know a central truth: many of the same old white farts who now resent or regret the truth of the poet’s words once nodded to Neal Cassady’s words and spirit, channeled by Kerouac. 

Build that bridge, and the generations can be healed.

6:16:03 PM    

Retrospective

Here’s the article posted to the Berkman site after my Fellows’ Luncheon presentation there on Tuesday.


As I mentioned at the beginning of my comments at lunch, the best way to simplify your message is to sleep with Doc Searls the night before. please: don’t read too much into that declaration. I experienced a small epiphany last night while listening to Doc’s side of a conversation about the best way to characterize the open source movement.  “Open Source Software is an unprecedented explosion of productivity, with the demand side supplying itself,” Doc said. 

We all know the reasons for the high quality of OpenSource Software (OSS): many eyes squash all bugs, people working in public seeking peer cred, etc. But I hadn’t thought about why they’re so productive. Then I realized it’s because they never get bogged down with all the meta conversations that drag down Managerial Capitalism: “Who’s paying for this?” “When do we get approval?” “Who gets credit for this?” Yada, yada. I wasn’t really listening to Doc’s conversation, but the “OSS” acronym started rolling around in my head. Open Source Software. What about an Open Source Society? Only the first exists, but we can imagine two OSS movements:

OSS1 = Open Source Software (a result, but also a movement)

OSS2 = Open Source Society (a dream that needs movement)

And they both need organizational tools. OSS1 has a perfect match of organizational needs and organizational tools because the developers wrote those tools as they became a movement. SourceForge and Trac are great examples. OSS1 wouldn’t exist without the community’s organizational tools. But there’s more. Individual OSS1 Developers use dozens of disparate tools and websites to organize their work:

NEED RESPONSE
Personal soapbox Set up a blog
Public Index of their interests Blogroll
Media hosting Youtube.com
Interest profile – express their values Technorati tags, etc.
Collaboration; Action Requests Sourceforge; Trac
Group content and community-forming Drupal; MySpace
Events & invitations Meetup; eVite; WebDav calendaring
Dynamic news and thoughts RSS aggregators

But the developers of OSS2, whose work we desperately need if we are to escape from the political specialists who’ve hijacked governance, don’t behave like that. Many of the people who are best qualified to be producers of OSS2: a new Open Source Society, are grandparents. Yep. They’re society’s best judge of the core values we should maintain, but they’re also the least technical among us. The OSS2 developers we seek to serve are ready and able to form groups and describe their pain and hopes. Just like OSS1 developers, they need an organizing environment suitable to their skills. But in their case, we need to provide a collaboration mall with all the tools they might need as they become more engaged. We who seek to serve these producers of democracy must surround them with a suite of accessible collaborative tools that make sense to them and encourage them to be as productive in producing the imminent wave of people-produced government as are the producers of OSS1 – Open Source Software.

Dance with the one who brung ya’

All the organizing capabilities must be on the activist site that wants to energize its base. Unlike OSS1 developers, OSS2 people won’t go use some other widget to achieve your campaign’s goals on your behalf.

That simple truth is what kept the Dean campaign from scaling past about 600,000 members. We at Open Resource Group feel that the collaboration mall we’re rolling out over the next four weeks is the first campaign-in-a-box that’s good enough to criticize. Better yet, our suite of tools is flexible enough to quickly improve.

And, we’ll be sprinkling the OSS1 dust on it so we get some of that productivity that Doc brags about. Case in point: Our first volunteer developer showed up on Tuesday at Berkman.

1:28:01 AM    

The Walled-off Journal

Eye-witnessing a “journalist” cooking the books . . .

An article today in the Wall Street Journal illustrates how narrow-mindedly the press sees the world that has ended the market for newspaper-sized printing presses:

Every renaissance has the same problem. Just when people are beginning to get it that the earth orbits the sun, along comes some priest whose back story depends on the old model. I had a  pleasant ride up to Harvard on Monday with David Isenberg, except for the call from the Wall Street Journal reporter who wanted to hear about his role as an advisor to FON.

I didn’t pay much attention at first to a pleasant-sounding call about FON, but noticed David’s tone of voice changing as he asked, “Why do you keep asking about that? Like I said before, I blogged it because I blog things I’m involved in.” That’s when I realized that he was talking to a reporter and that he was enduring the journalistic dance that everyone does who’s close to a story that grabs their pressing attention. The real story is not often the one they want to print, so they go with the one they like. 

That’s what justifies my comparison with a priest. Reporters are rarely scientists, open-mindedly seeking an interesting truth. Instead they’re true believers, convinced that every story is hiding some juicy tidbit. What’s exciting about FON is that it could be disruptive if a few million DSL & cable subscribers started to trade bandwidth with each other in a, literally, open-air marketplace. It’s news to individuals and it’s sure as hell news to big telecoms and their executives. So it’s surely news to the Wall Street Journal’s readers.

Things went downhill from there, fast. David attempted to explain – patiently I thought – that FON’s Martin Varsavsky is the most open CEO he’s ever worked with and that the advisory board was under no obligation to blog the launch. In fact, he explained, the only mention about blogging had been pre-launch, when he’d asked them not to mention anything.

But it seemed to be for naught. Clearly the intention of this prospector on the other end of the line was to find some hook for her story. And it must have been frustrating for the poor dear that, like most things in life, there was no dramatic, conspiratorial hook purpose-built to build – or keep – circulation. (Doc‘s wife maintains that conspiracy theories are usually wrong, since they presume competence).

Chickens Roosting

And sure enough, the story appears today, Rebecca Buckman’s Blog Buzz on High-Tech Start-Ups Causes Some Static. Notice what is “news” in this story and what is by-the-by:

Most of the nine members of FON’s U.S. advisory board, including former newspaper journalist Dan Gillmor, technology author David Weinberger and Internet-law expert Wendy Seltzer, wrote about FON on their blogs late Sunday. That was right after FON founder Martin Varsavsky revealed on his own blog that the closely held company had raised $21.7 million in funding from Google, Skype and others, declaring it “a dream come true.”

Messrs. Gillmor and Weinberger disclosed on their blogs that they are advisers to Madrid-based FON and also said they may receive compensation for their services. But Ms. Seltzer and other advisory-board members who talked up FON’s prospects online didn’t mention they might be paid by the company, though they did note they were FON advisers . . .

The avalanche of blogging about FON, much of it from people now tied to the four-month-old company, highlights the rising influence of blogs in shaping opinions about tech start-ups, particularly in Silicon Valley. It also reveals the possible conflicts of interest such complicated relationships can dredge up.

It continues pretty much as you’d expect. The form of disclosures of each blogger’s status was inconsistent. Apparently they <backstoryTag>didn’t conform to the WSJ’s rigid protocols</backstoryTag>. The innuendo suggests that a secret cabal of insiders had laced their unsupervised blogs with improper enthusiasms, surely designed to hoodwink the public about the importance of this startup, never mind the Google and Skype investments. How many of her readers would bother to find Wendy Seltzer’s lead paragraph last Sunday, wording judged inadequate to this self-appointed priestess of disclosure?

Martin Varsavsky has just blogged about FON’s partnership with Google , Skype, Sequoia Capital, and Index Ventures as investors. FON is a startup, of which I’m on the board of advisors, that aims to put wireless internet everywhere by linking sharing and commercial installations.

Nor was it news that CEO Varsarvsky’s blogged on Monday that FON had grown to 9,000 members, compared to 25,000 for the largest wifi hotspot networks, adding:

. . . thank our American advisory board for all the tough yet constructive criticism, to thank the blogosphere whose comments both positive and negative help us be a better company, and to thank all of those who became foneros and believe that a global, unified wifi signal can be of great benefit to all.

I’m no reporter, so I know nothing about journalistic standards, but I know she had 2-1/2 days to research this puppy. Did she bother to follow Wendy’s link or go to fon.com and discover that the first nav link – “What’s FON?” At What’s FON, did she bother to click on the first substantive link – no scrolling required – that says, “Find out who is the team making FON possible worldwide.” Did she notice that all these furtive capitalists are named and described and pictured there – as prominently as FON’s executives?

Lemme step back for a second. 

  1. Imagine you’re an internationally respected thought leader and blogger who believes, devoutly, that we need to make broadband available as widely as possible. 
  2. The country you love, formerly a leader in all things technical, has broadband stuck at a 3rd world competency by telecom firms who employ more lawyers than engineers. 
  3. You’re invited to help conceive a novel peer-to-peer broadband distribution system with International leadership.
  4. Amazingly, within 90 days, the vision is validated by investments from Google and Skype.
  5. The company launches, and you’re probably pleased to see your picture and bio displayed prominently on the company’s Who We Are page.
  6. You blog the announcement, having stated in your own language that y
    ou have an advisory relationship with the company.
  7. The angle the Wall Street Journal comes up with is that you are involved in an unfair flogging of the concept and that the language of your disclosure doesn’t conform to their liturgy.

Perhaps the assumption is that the Wall Street Journal’s readers are so unsophisticated that they will become confused when seeing a person’s name associated with a company. They’re sure to assume that no one has a financial interest in a company they’re admiring.

If this level of reporting concerns you, you can write to Rebecca Buckman at the email address prominently displayed at the bottom of her article. But why would you bother?


DISCLOSURE: I AM ONE OF THE FIRST 3,000 PEOPLE TO QUALIFY FOR THE DEEPLY DISCOUNTED FON ROUTER. THE 25 BUCKS I’LL SAVE HAS PROMPTED ME TO WRITE THIS DEFENSE OF THE COMPANY’S ADVISERS, MOST OF WHOM I KNOW PERSONALLY.

1:43:11 PM    

Lessons from Burlington

I’ll be making a presentation at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society next Tuesday, February 7. The Berkman Fellows’ Luncheon (a series) will be webcast and on IRC at 12:30 Tuesday. The description:

Dean Done Right

For two years, Britt Blaser has sought a way to duplicate what Zephyr Teachout and Jim Moore and David Weinberger and so many friends of Berkman demonstrated was possible at the Dean Campaign. The Open Resource Group is releasing ORGware, but informally it’s called “Dean Done Right.” Britt will preview what the Dean campaign would have used if it had started three years later, in the age of Web 2.0. Background material here.

Some of the last few posts have been intended as background material for the presentation. They were:

In addition to the lofty goals and tech talk, I appreciate the archaeological aspects, remembering what it was like to be on the third floor of 60 Farrell Street, South Burlington, VT in late 2003. They were heady times and I felt privileged just to carry a few bags for those magnificent people. The Dean Campaign was the latest in a series of unsuccessful attempts to forge grassroots activism into a tsunami deep and strong enough to overwhelm the cynicism of politics-as-usual. 

One lesson is that those 3-4 dozen tech-savvy people were the Dean web service, in ways that no other enterprise would or could have attempted. Understanding that is key to understanding why Dean Done Right has not been built before.

Self-Indentured Servants

Dean’s almost-unpaid net slaves were able to maintain the illusion of an automated web service at deanforamerica.com and blogforamerica.com with a lot of hands-on tech kludges, customized TCP/duct tape and IP/baling wire. Fortunately for the campaign, we net slaves rowed our own boats to Burlington and chained ourselves to the desks for the duration(many of us were even cheaper than slaves, feeding and housing ourselves). None of us was paid anything like what we’d earn in private enterprise. 

Dean’s suite of impressive and smooth-running web services were so dependent on this human network’s packets of inspiration that few other organizations could have pulled it off. The Dean campaign spent almost nothing on the Internet, yet it employed resources that would have cost about $280,000 per month in Burlington alone (c. 40 people x $7,000 incl. benefits). It would have been worth it, but they never would have made that investment.

And the tech? Fuhgeddaboutit! A hodge-podge of Movable Type, Meetup, Convio, many disparate databases, etc., etc. Those amazing people made it all look to the world the way a web service should, but the rules were that there had to be at least 2 people on site at all times, and a SWAT team on call. One Saturday evening in December 2003, Halley Suitt and I had dinner in Burlington and discussed this (among many other things, as you can well imagine). We decided to return to the office at 11pm – on a Saturday – to do a head count, which I guessed would be at least 45. The actual was 67!

When we see a successful web platform, we assume there will be a couple of even-better copycats on line within a month. Maybe that’s why Dean’s people-power web illusion set up the dismay that so many organizers feel when they reach for a tool like Dean had and they discover that there simply aren’t any available. Here’s Susan Crawford‘s recent amazement, and Harish Rao‘s revelation from a year ago, and even Nicco‘s not sure where this is going

Andrew Rasiej‘s campaign also foundered on the shoals of promoting a social network for New York City that couldn’t be found on the campaign’s web site, and which never formed around his candidacy. You may recall that I promised Andrew and Micah Sifry that Open Resource Group would produce a web platform to support his political platform, but we screwed up and couldn’t deliver. We were all amazed that there is no campaign-in-a-box.

That is the problem that ORGware aims to fix.

Back to the Syllabus

What are the lessons for Tuesday’s Case Study of Burlington?  I had not studied this problem space before 2003, so I took the thrilling possibilities at face value. I’m glad I did, or otherwise my midsummer enthusiasms might have been prematurely chilled by Micah Sifry’s harsh mid-winter explanation: these enthusiastic efforts crop up periodically and have always failed. Micah shared this insight with Doc and me over coffee a couple of days after Dean’s New Hampshire defeat, citing the Goldwater, McCarthy and Perot campaigns. 

I’ve been working on the mechanics of the solution since then. Without something no worse than ORGware, we’ll never send Mr. Smith back to Washington.

Here are the overarching ideas that can help the next idealist overcome this pattern of excitement and rejection:

  • Have a Seed Crystal
    As with semiconductors, your social algorithm needs a seed to start crystallizing your social network. Howard Dean was such a seed crystal, but John Kerry was not. Barry Goldwater was conservatism’s seed crystal, but George H.W. Bush was a damper. Al Gore was nobody’s seed crystal. Bill Clinton is a force of nature, not a seed crystal – no movement persists. Harley-Davidson is, Buick isn’t.
  • Smart = Busy = Distracted = Unfocused = Stupid
    Design for the Largest Common Denominator
  • Roll the DICE
    Most users won’t adopt a new application or convene over at Me
    etup
    or Base Camp to do your work if you don’t provide all the functionality they’ll eventually need on your web site. Unlike techies and activists, they won’t go build their own blog or organize events at eVite. They need to be able to do everything on your site, so you need world-class programming in an interface that’s DICE-compliant:
        Deep
        Indulgent
        Complete
        Elegant
  • Stepping Stones
    People need to move to be a movement. Online activism is the wild west for most people, so they need to move in baby steps (from browser screen to browser screen) by which their slight interest evolves into an Aha! moment, on to active debate, to recruiting their friends, to investing money, to voting. Even a city slicker might feel secure standing on a flat rock in a roaring river. If there’s a similarly hospitable stone a short step away, flat and dry and not too smooth or mossy, you might just step on it if it’s in a direction you’re a little interested in. Pre-build these small safe havens that are worth visiting for their own sake. Make each one comfortable enough to hang out for a while. Your future advocates don’t know they want to cross your river.
  • Deputize Celebrities
    In the summer of 2003, People at Dean rallies wanted autographs from Zephyr, Matt and Nicco. The more celebrities you create in your movement, the greater its heft. Every celebrity is a new seed crystal and you need all you can manufacture.
  • Lattice of Engagement
    Locate every member in identifiable relationships. It’s a movement, so everyone wants to know someone who’s more of an insider (mini-celebrity) in this exciting enterprise, and they want to be important to others who are newer to the movement. The movement wants constant news about its movement and the members creating motion.

  • Strawberry Roots Activism
    Grass is nice, but your front lawn is dependent on you for seed, feed, water and weeding, each seed pushing out just a few blades for us to admire. Rhyzomes, like strawberries and crabgrass, are more creative. Once started, they shoot out opportunistic runners which put down roots in hospitable circumstances. If the new plant prospers, it puts out its own runners, and so on. Strawberry roots activism may be the future of politics.
  • Federation of Hierarchies – the basis of strawberry roots activism
    Mass movements have to be egalitarian, which many activists confuse with hierarchy-free. But your movement needs all the hierarchies you can spin off, because work-group hierarchies are the only way to get things done. Let your people form hierarchies on-the-fly, where they can meet and do the work of politics by collaborating in the three areas that every movement needs: Discourse, Growth and Money.
  • No one buys a Buick because GM needs the money, so . . .
  • Govern Early and Often
    Discover each member’s values and maintain her personal values profile. Inspire each member to manage their values profile as assiduously as they manage their address book. Discuss values constantly and money peripherally (except when giving it energizes your members). Tabulate and aggregate the policy preferences of the members to transform unwelcome email broadcasting into a vibrant conversation. The Dean campaign’s professional policy advisers were supremely disinterested in polling the campaign’s most committed supporters and tabulating their policy preferences. They refused to have the candidate “tied to the explicit interests of his base.” Naturally, they got what they wished for.
  • iTudes
    Movements need iTunes for Attitudes. Before iTunes, no one imagined that we’d need such a complex environment to buy and listen to music, but somehow we’re there now. It turns out that managing music was more complicated than we thought. So is democracy. With skill and luck, your people will spend as much energy expressing their political preferences as they now spend tweaking their music collection and publishing their favorites.

These are the background issues open for discussion Tuesday. I hope you’ll tune in to the webcast at 12:30 Tuesday and check in to Berkman’s IRC channel. We’ll save the chat log and will be setting up an ORGware site for all participants to extend the conversation.
1:47:28 PM    

Copping a ‘Tude

My friend and ORGware advisor, Brian Oberkirch is off and running with the iTudes meme from last time. He’s a leader of the MashPit project going on in Dallas as I virtually speak. They call it Social Attitude Tracking:

iTudes (thanks Britt Blaser)

AKA “How’s my driving?” – Social Mood Tracker

The Problem:

How do I gauge in real time a “community attitude” as it relates to a specific time, place or other point that can make it have more specificity (uniquely identifiable), or not. Tagging today can lead to too much information.

It’s hot-or-not for tags in context:
“your mother” = LOVE HER
“your mother, naked” = NOT SO MUCH

Contexts:

Event, function, project, company, service, person, meme, etc.

User Classes

Critics: can create free form, hierarchical tags, then rate them – critics can store models and provide them (via link) to others to use to rank a specific tag cluster/grouping

Consumers: can pull reporting via tag combinations, weighted to create unique models per consumer. Consumer modeling could then be locked in (here’s how I want to rank presentations) and used by other consumers for a true comparison.

Ranking Clusters: groupings of tags that generate statistical results based on user defined weightings of the tags – tags

Interface:

Sliders for rating (0 to 100 scale)
Invite a friend to rate — has potential to become a “Zoomerang tool”Tag cloud
Create a tag (app suggests tag combinations entered by previous users

Steal from the best

I know these guys will come up with something useful. I can’t wait to steal the idea back from them.

12:15:26 AM    

“Talk like Steve Jobs”

My good friend Jerry Vass is helping me explain ORGware. Jerry’s a patient man. He doesn’t start off as he should, with “Ferchrissake, Blaser! Stop with the features already! My head’s about to explode!

Nope. Jerry’s more measured: “You just need to talk like Steve Jobs doing a keynote. He demos some complicated, acronym-encrusted shit, man, but he always knows how to make it matter to his audience. He just says, ‘What that means is…’ And then he shows why every grandparent will have to own the new white plastic $500 iPictureframe.”

7 Technical Requirements for Rating Members’ Contributions (including ideas):

What that means is that management really cares what the members think and wants them to be a proactive Board of Advisors. It also indicates that management knows that idiots and grandstanders are present in any population (anyone who has served on a board of directors or trustees knows how true that is). Smart management of the future (Q3, 2006) will want the wisdom of its crowd to help pluck the flower of effective policy out of the nettle of vague, non-actionable theory.

  1. Comments on posts (or ideas) may be entered by registered members only
    What that means is that you can be a member if you’re an asshole, but at least the site owner knows you’ve got an email address. This is baby step 1 in trimming comment abuse.
  • All members get their own blog (idea description area)
    What that means is that you can reinforce your comments, in your own space, to straighten out the rest of the world.
  • Comments are entered on the commenter’s blog as a primary post
    What that means is that all your sins and graces are compiled for the village to see. Like in a village.
  • Every post can be quickly rated by a graphical slider
    What that means is that management lets the members promote their leaders and marginalize the jerks and grandstanders.
  • No one can rate an entry twice
    What that means is that no one member can stuff the ballot box.
  • Ratings generate a text comment and a standardized trackback entry at the rater’s blog
    (“bblaser rated this post 88%”)
    What that means is that a member can write a comment and a trackback and a primary post in about 1.5 seconds.
  • Like Slashdot, every member can set the minimum quality of entries she will be exposed to
    What that means is that, like visiting New York City, you can stay on a concierge floor in midtown so your sensibilities are unruffled (the Deborah Howell school of one-way discourse) or you can mix it up with the activists in Union Square or some dudes under a bridge.

9 Technical Requirements for turning viral conversations into Policy:

  1. Encourage members to create as many individual discussion groups as they like
    What that means is that there’s never a reason for minority opinion holders to feel marginalized.
  2. Groups have a shared blog with their own set of posting permissions.
    What that means is that there’s shared posting for members to help scaffold each other’s ideas.
  3. Support private, unmoderated group intranets (clean room mode)
    What that means is that members can huddle privately with kindred spirits to shape the next megaton mind bomb.
  4. Support public free-for-all group blogs (anarchy mode)
    What that means is that any member can create a totally public space to generate as much heat and light as their subject deserves.
  5. Support public blogs with designated contributors (performance art mode, like BoingBoing, Corante, etc.)
    What that means is that specialists can work together in public while receiving constant feedback from smart throngs.
  6. Provide a means to convert groups from one mode to another
    What that means is obvious – a technical footnote – but necessary for what follows.
  7. Switch from anarchy to performance art when a conversation goes viral and its leaders emerge, based on peer ratings
    What that means is that the system compresses the social processes governing any group or political subdivision, but it’s less susceptible to gaming the system. After the switch, the group’s newly-deputized leaders can focus on specifics in a way that the mob never can.
  8. The new discussion leaders develop specific policy solutions, calling on experts as required
    What that means is that the crowd’s brainstorming has become a project. All action requires this transformation.This is a bigger deal than it sounds, because brainstorm-to-project morphing is currently limited to open source mavens and entrepreneurs. This simple innovation is disruptive in the sense that Alex Moffat described almost 3 years ago, as quoted yesterday by Doc:
“Does the innovation enable less-skilled or less-wealthy customers to do for themselves things that only the wealthy or skilled intermediaries could previously do?

“Does the innovation target customers at the low end of a market who don’t need all the functionality of current products? And does the business model enable the disruptive innovator to earn attractive returns at discount prices unattractive to the incumbents?”
  1. The members continue to vote and comment and nag and make suggestions
    What that means is that the newly-designated elites are responsible to the community from which they have sprung, full-grown, like Minerva from Zeus’ forehead. This is meant to counter the centrifugal force of arrogance that drives so many celebrity writers away from her roots.

The iTudes Musing Store

There are a lot of parts to the ORGware collaboration/activism model. Is it too complex to be usable? Or is it so feature-rich that it’s complete enough to be useful? Who knows? Maybe what we’re building is iTunes for attitudes. Before iTunes, no one imagined that we’d need such a complex environment to buy and listen to music, but somehow we’re there now.

What that means is that I’d love to create an environment that inspires and empowers people to spend as much energy expressing their political preferences as they now spend tweaking their music collection and publishing their favorites.

4:29:52 PM    

Thanks for the F-bomb

In Thanks for Reading, Ed Cone writes today of the universal epidemic of rudeness:

The guy spewing high volume F-bombs into his cell phone in an airport terminal, the woman chomping her gum with bovine indifference in a doctor’s waiting room – they seem oblivious to the world around them, focused only on their own small spheres. If you ask them to stop, they would probably say, “Why?”

And Doc‘s pull quote from On the continuing end of civilization as usual conveys Ed’s larger meaning:

The sense of what is appropriate behavior — the sense that there is such a thing as appropriate behavior — is diminishing across our culture. Considering what other people will think has been replaced by a reflexive recitation of one’s rights to do as one pleases.

I’m Living in my Father’s Nightmare

I frequently utter that lament. The only reason it’s not my nightmare is that I’m inured to it. The universality of today’s obvious rudeness is matched only by the universality of millenia of elders wailing at the failures of the following generation to behave properly. I’m in no position to judge whether the wheels are falling off the cart of our social standards any faster than did my grandfather’s.

So let’s abstract the problem a little higher. The rudeness of the proletariat is a failure of the arbiters of taste and the people they might influence: social and business leaders.

Manners are the outward and visible sign of an inward and justifiable aspiration. We mimic those whom we admire in hopes of achieving their station. Only in that sense does the trickle-down theory actually work. There are only two explanations for the manners meltdown:

  1. The well-mannered are not admirable.
  2. The well-mannered are not really in charge.

In either case, they will fail to inspire polite behavior.

Case 1. Well-mannered people are not admirable.

It is unacceptably rude behavior to enrich oneself at the expense of the hourly workers: to do so is beneath the dignity that capitalists and upper management claim to possess.

It is boorish to torture enemies and to eavesdrop on fellow citizens: it gives the lie to the nation’s guiding standard of fair play and fair dealing by powerful people. True strength would never behave that way. Our most successful and best-dressed leaders have trashed our economic commons by their cavalier treatment of capitalism: on their watch, it has devolved into a sordid ponzi scheme whereby ambitious but uninformed middle class homeowners are abused by the slick hucksters employed by the financial industry.

Society’s best and brightest purposely thrive at the expense of the hoi polloi that destiny has entrusted to their enlightened treatment. Is there any behavior more contemptible?

Clearly, this is nothing new. What is new is that it’s become clear to everyone how poorly they’re being treated. As John Galbraith put it,

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy;
that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

Case 2. Well-mannered people are not actually in charge.

Under this case, we let go of the simplistic, tempting diatribes against the well-mannered. We get it that high-quality families like Ed Cone’s, who had cultural and economic sway over an entire region and impressive industrial efforts are not out to fleece us. Sure, they are as apt to defend their way of life as anybody, and they’re more skilled at it. But they did not set out to rob the poor, nor did they set up systems to do so. They just couldn’t help what has happened to the middle class, because they weren’t really in charge. Since we only mimic the behavior of those in charge, we find other prosperous people to admire and mimic, like rap stars and crack dealers.

Perhaps there’s a pendulum effect at work: good manners trickle down only when the well-mannered are in charge and admirable. Otherwise, boorishness bubbles up spontaneously.

11:58:28 PM