My very last classmate response blog goes to Shari, who is no doubt about to pass out from the excitement of this great honor.  Since she was the first person in class I talked to, I figured it only appropriate to end this portion of my blog talking about hers.  I only wish there was some virtual way for the two of us to share an international flavored coffee as we celebrate this milestone.  Maybe in Web 3.0? 

I will admit that I’ve been a little conflicted about some of the things we’ve talked about in class.  Well, not conflicted, exactly, but hesitant to embrace Web 2.0 as fully as some others (Garrett) have.  I definitely understand the hugely important role the Internet and other “wired” applications play in everyone’s daily lives.  I also agreed with Garrett’s comment that those who refuse to embrace Web 2.0 will end up looking a lot like those who rejected electricity. 

Yet , something Shari wrote in her latest blog posting reminded me of my conflicted feelings, especially as our discussion grew more political.  Responding to a story about Hillary Clinton not following anyone on Twitter, compared to the 23,000 Barack Obama “follows,” Shari said “he must have a lot of time on his hands.”  In just one line, she managed to sum up my thoughts on Web 2.0 and political campaigns. 

It’s no secret that I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter.  I was either annoyingly precocious or amazingly nerdy as a child.  I was the only first grader with a Mike Dukakis pin stuck to the front of my jacket and four yeras later, during the ’92 campaign, I begged my dad to take me to a Clinton rally.  I was 10-years-old and too big for piggy backs, but I somehow persuaded him to hoist me on his shoulders so I could better see Bill, Hillary, Al and Mario Cuomo, who reminded me a lot of my grandpa. 

Hillary, however, reminded me a lot of my mom.  When she later lashed out at Republicans who questioned the non-tradiational role she played in her husband’s campaign, I heard my mother talking.  Both were (and are) smart, fearless women with a feminist sensitivity so inate and so true to their character that it could never be confused with any sort of contrived activism.  

Looking back not at the 2004 campaign, but that 1992 campaign, and contrasting it with the one in which we are currently engaged, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve perhaps lost touch with certain sensabilities in our rush to embrace every new gadget, every new service, every better, faster stronger entity Web 2.0 can produce. 

Has the Internet made us so easily amused that we embrace or reject a political candidate based on the entertainment value of their YouTube video

Has the ability to share every last detail of our lives with a public we can only assume care made us so selfish we embrace or reject a political candidate becuase they don’t indulge that narcacisstic assumption?  

Has the almost infinite amount of information available to us at any moment we may want it made us so impatient that we simply want a Cliff Notes version of everything, packaged in the most exciting way possible? 

The power of the Dean campaign wasn’t just its online stylings, but the substance behind that online activity.  If we forget the two need to go together, we’re just squandering all the potential it provided. 

In another entry I said more people needed to view the world around them with a Technicolor lens.  That includes the onilne world.  I think Web 2.0 is far too immense an entity to say it’s either good or bad for us, or for politics.  I think it’s quite fine to just declare that it might be both and recognize that our task is an ongoing mission to adapt its use for the better and not for the worse.    


Breadsticks and Broadband

April 23, 2008

I love the Olive Garden.  I’m not sure why.  It isn’t really all that good.  There’s only one in the immediate area which is always crowded.  It’s also a little pricey for what is basically the Wal Mart of Italian cuisine.  As the product of a very Sicilian family who wouldn’t, as even the decidely non-Sicilian Roseanne Conner once remarked, “pay $12.95 for spaghetti if they had Mr. Chef Boyardee himself in the kitchen,” I should really run screaming from the Olive Garden. 

But no, there I was last Saturday, lunching alone (because the same friends who poke at my bourgie taste in clothes, cars and bottled water refuse to join me at the OG) but for the company of Garrett’s fine book, the thoughtful intellectualism of which lent a certain sophistication to a table that included a plastic basket of never-ending breadsticks. 

I remember our first class, when I finally figured out (I’m slow sometimes) that one of the required books was actually written by Garrett.  If I didn’t already feel unaccomplished, given that he’s just six days shy of being exactly a year older than me (Credit: Facebook) I surely did after some Googling revealed his book was reviewed in The New York Times.  Not just reviewed, but reviewed by the same woman who reviewed Carrie’s book on “Sex and the City!” 

I immeidately wondered if Garrett woke up earlier than he had for Princess Diana’s wedding on the day the review was printed, just like Carrie?  Then I thought two things: That Garrett was 18-days-old on Princess Diana’s wedding day (thanks, Windows calculator!) and that sometimes I am super gay.  Anyway, the reviewer must have also been intrigued by Garrett’s young age, since she declared our Mr. Graff “astonishingly young.”  To me, though, that sort of proves the book’s point.  

This time in which we live, with the technology available to us, allowed a kid fresh out of college to play an enormously important role in shaping the campaign of a major presidential candidate.  While Dean (likely) had his own Carvilles and Deavers playing important advisory roles, I was struck in the opening pages to learn how close Dean kept his communication staff to his own office.  Then I reflected on how risky it all was, putting one’s presumably long-held dreams in the hands of some kids and a foul-mouthed know-it-all who planned to take those dreams online, then much more a novelty venue than we currently know it to be. 

Web 2.0 has given the astonishingly young a huge amount of responsibility.  Really, it’s given anyone ready to take it a huge amount of responsibility.  Matt Drudge isn’t particuarly young (or particularly worthy of oxygen), but the portion of TFC that addresses his role in breaking the Lewinsky story shows just how easy it is for one person to plunge the nation into a story, for better or worse. 

I don’t think my generation will engage in the sort of endeavors that produce the iconic images of Normandie or Iwo Jima.  Frankly, I hope we won’t be called upon to make the sort of sacrifices our grandparents made.  But it will be our challenge to navigate a wired world increasingly few of their generation are here to see.  We may not produce a Murrow or a Cronkite in a mold our parents knew, but we will produce countless Ted Sorensons and Peggy Noonans, who will make their political views known not from behind the scenes of power, but openly, in a way that demands attention from the powers-that-be in the way the originators of this long-running experiment in representative democracy intended. 

I’ve enjoyed reading PFB’s blog since we all started this little adventure back in January.  Not that I don’t enjoy reading other people’s blogs (I do, really!), but I especially enjoy PFB’s wit – So a big buzz blog going around currently (oh daaaaaamnnnn, did you feel that alliteration? Awwww yeah) – and his ability to get a whole post out of topics such as Ballston –In a year, I’ve seen a lot from my 6th-floor window and my conclusion is that Ballston is weird.  I was not surprised to find a recent post equally enjoyable (and relateable).  In it, PFB talks about how the Pope was in town (I hope I don’t have to link to this) and how even though he’s not the best Catholic, he still would have liked to have seen him ride by.

The post reminded me of a recent conversation I had with my friend, also not the best or most practicing of Catholics.  My mom told me that I should go see the Pope.  I explained that it was pretty hard to actually see the Pope, unless you stood in the street and caught a drive-by, and she seemed concerned I hadn’t put more effort into chasing him down.  It was a little surprising, considering she’s more liberal than I am (and I pretty much called the POTUS a draft-dodging cokemonkey in an earlier post) and wasn’t particularly pleased in Benedict’s succession because she thought it would delay the Church’s much-needed modernizing.

Anyway, considering my friend was technically Catholic and was super excited to partake of the bizarre spectacles that are Congressional Baseball games, I thought that an equally bizarre chance to see an 80-year-old man in a big hat and red possibly-Prada loafers drive down the street in a modified Mercedes-Benz ML 350 would provide ample motivation for his accompaniment.

Yet, he had no interest in seeing the Pope, who he said was a propagator of dangerous ideas (using less elegant language…this isn’t “Dawson’s Creek”).  I pointed out that despite the Church’s completely misguided positions on condoms in HIV-ravaged Africa and gay-marriage, and its complete bungling of the U.S. sexual abuse scandal, the Church still stood against the Iraq war, capital punishment and was a general source of spiritual and material comfort for 1/6th of the World’s entire population.  His response was that while Hitler had some good ideas (Volkswagen, the Autobahn), he wouldn’t go to see him, either.

Seeing the world in black-and-white is the hobby of people like Dick Cheney, people who decide an entire segment of the World’s population hates America “for its freedoms” and from that conclusion refuse to take into account any other thoughts or ideas that might lead to a more intelligent, appropriate and developed response to that population.   I personally think George W. Bush is dumber than a box of rocks and is quite possibly the worst president in American history, but I still shudder when someone compares the draft-dodging cokemonkey (there, I said it) to Hitler, and I likewise shudder when I hear someone compare the Pope to a madman who slaughtered six-million people.

It is perfectly fine to disagree with some, most or all of a person’s positions.  It’s also perfectly fine to just plain dislike someone.  But in an information age such as this, it’s sort of dim to just dismiss someone with whom you disagree, someone who is likely, as most are, a mere combination of good and evil.

While my friend’s Hilter statement was mostly in jest, it still made me think.  First, about how great an idea Volkswagen really was (seriously, only Hitler could approve of charging $30,000 for a completely unreliable car with “leatherette” seats), but also about why in a world where modern technology makes so much information available to so many more people than at any other time in World history, we all, at some point, still come to black-and-white decisions about people or places or events that so beg to be seen through a Technicolor lens that’s now available to anyone who just cares to look through it.

Not Sorry For…2004…

April 21, 2008

By the time Howard Dean came to national prominence, I was entirely sick of George W. Bush’s “wartime leader” pretensions.  I found it hard to believe that the mainstream media barely scrutinized the almost comical absurdity of someone who’d spent the Vietnam era in Texas, the silver spoon he was born with firmly up his nose instead of in his mouth, heroically landing on an aircraft carrier to celebrate the resolution of a war that was clearly not over, and which he started himself.  I doubt the 19th century press would have credited Lincoln with saving the Union if he’d fired the first shot on Fort Sumter  But, I digress.

What I most admired about Howard Dean was his boldness.  His leadership on the gay-marriage issue was courageous, and at a time when mainstream politicians of both parties pussyfooted (emphasis mine) around Iraq, Dean’s opposition to the invasion was brave and much-needed.

If Barack Obama deserves applause for his alleged opposition to the war at a time he was a politician of no real consequence whose opinion no one yet cared about, then Dean deserves a standing ovation for opposing it as a presidential contender whose opinions a large segment of the population was still ready to Dixie Chick him over.

I don’t think it entirely off-base to suggest that Dean’s opposition opened the door to serious debate about the Administration’s lies and mistakes before, during and after major combat operations in Iraq, but I will admit that Howard Dean was the first candidate to really make me feel like I was a part of something.  I could be a little biased.  I was 18-years-old when I gave my very first presidential vote to Al Gore and was almost as disillusioned by the media’s ridiculous treatment of “the scream” as I had been with the Supreme Court after that first vote.

But I think there’s something to be said for the argument that Dean’s loss was everyone’s win, if in fact his legacy proves to be a lesson in how modern technology can again make the political process mean something to everyone.  If young people used to being treated as props by campaigns who want to “protect them” have a way to be a part of real political conversation online, it has much to do with the Dean revolution of 2004.  If union members used to being treated as props by campaigns who want to “protect them” have a way to “meetup” and find a candidate who knows traditional industry has a place in a global economy, it has much to do with the Dean revolution of 2004.

Most importantly, perhaps, if we ever have the opportunity to sit at home in our underwear, filling out our presidential ballots with a few tabs and a couple mouse clicks while telling Diebold to suck it, it will have much to do with the Dean revolution of 2004.

Twitter Revisited

April 19, 2008

With the help of Garrett’s very useful listing of all the things we must turn in so as to not be screwed, I realized I had yet to write any of the blogs responding to another person’s blog.  So, after my Internet came back to life (Comcast, I wish I could quit you and I would, were it not for my free year of digital cable) I started strolling through posts and came across Rosie and Gregg’s varying perspectives on Twitter.

I remember agreeing with Rosie in class when she asked why anyone would care about Twitter.  Well, not about Twitter, but why anyone would be that interested in following someone on Twitter.  Now, I’m all for e-stalking, especially when it comes to dating.  It’s just much easier to Google someone’s name and find out they voted for Bush (especially the second time) or hate puppies or had to alert local residents before moving into a new neighborhood or any number of other equally horrifying dealbreakers before you bother picking out a cologne.

 In researching the final project, I read about and then explored Clinton and Obama’s Twitter pages.  My explorations sort of confirmed my original thoughts about Twitter.  A lot of dull, one-sentence entries about the mundane ins-and-outs of a person’s daily life.  But in thinking about how Hillary, in particular, could better use Twitter, I also started to think about how, in general, Twitter could be interesting.  I thought to myself, “Waterlily, (shameless Golden Girls reference) Garrett seems to like Twitter.  Why don’t you explore HIS page?!”  

So, I did.  While I sort of thought I was more in-line with Gregg’s thoughts on Twitter (that it might be useful if I needed the calvary to come free me from unjust inprisonment, but fairly lame otherwise), I sort of came around to Rosie’s view after exploring Garrett’s entries.  Twitter helped me discover our fearless leader is an anglophile who enjoys horticulturepancakes and who might in fact be addicted to chocoloate milkshakes (which he treats as a beverage just like soda pop).

I have a feeling people would like Hillary much more if they knew she was a horticulturalist lover of breakfast foods with a possibly debilitating sweet-tooth (although a former first lady running for president probably shouldn’t talk about serving tea).  If people were to like a political candidate more for her sharing the random tidbits of information that make up her day and ultimately shine a light on who she is as a living, breathing, human being, then perhaps our own relationships can likewise be enhanced by taking a few seconds to drop (literally) a line about a funny argument we witnessed, an amazing cupcake we tasted or a beautiful flower that caught our eye.      

Call Me Monsieur Curie

April 10, 2008

In my very first post I wrote about my fondness for “This American Life” contributor Sarah Vowell.  Her informative and hilarious book, “Assassination Vacation,” made me feel much better about my desires to someday visit Dealey Plaza and drive the John Wilkes Booth escape route.  Unfortunately, Vowell has yet to write about any trips to nuclear wastelands, so I guess my desire to visit Chernobyl will leave me an embarrassed party of one.

For those who don’t spend their sleepless nights reading about Soviet-era disasters, this month will see the 22nd anniversary of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.  On April 26, 1986, reactor four at the Ukranian Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded.  Six-million people were exposed to fallout levels 30 to 40 times higher than the victims of Hiroshima.  Although Soviet officials refused to list “radiation” as a cause of death, it’s estimated 56 people died as a direct result of the explosion, 4,000 “extra” deaths can be expected among the 600,000 most exposed and 5,000 deaths among the entire six million.  Credit Wikipedia for those facts, which should be generally reliable given the topic.

Two decades on, the area is still not habitable, but with proper monitoring, can be visited for short periods of time.  Perhaps I misspoke earlier about being an embarrased party of one.  There is actually a rather unabashed Chernobyl tourism industry.  I remember wondering, when reading Anderson Cooper’s great book, in which he described his travels to various war-torn, disaster stricken parts of the world, why anyone would choose to visit such desolate, harrowing places?

Cooper engaged in “extreme tourism” as a way to escape the pain of his own childhood.  Really, though, a visit to Chernobyl isn’t that extreme.  Tourists aren’t in the area long enough for radiation to build up within the body and cause any major health issues.  Especially dangerous areas are forbidden.  Food and water are brought in from other places.  As someone who once called a pharmacist to make sure his Benadryl wouldn’t adversely mix with his Claritin and kill him in his sleep, I can say that even if Chernobyl were as risky as, say, a late-night drive though NE DC, that wouldn’t really be a motivating force in my wanting to visit.

Chernobyl presents an amazing opportunity to peek past (literally) shattered windows onto a world off-limits to Americans though decades of Cold Warfare.  There is no propaganda, no rhetoric, no public relations productions designed to promote communism or attack democracy.  Those who visit Chernobyl, not just the plant but also the abandoned ghost town of Pripyat, bring back amazing pictures of a place frozen forever as a museum to Soviet life in the empire’s last years.

The museums’ exhibits surely aren’t on the walls of Pripyat’s stripped and looted apartment buildings, but rather are the rusted out playgrounds abandoned by children who are now hopefully young adults, or the crumbling pool, brand-new in 1986, where parents planned to teach their children to swim on lazy Saturday mornings.  Those relics, along with the ruined bumper cars of an amusement park that never had a chance to open, or the panes only a twisted doll has peered through for the past twenty years all show the human side of a culture Americans weren’t previously supposed to appreciate or acknowledge.

I really encourage everyone to use the links in this post to explore the writings and photo albums of people who have made the trek.  There are many, many more and all of them make for fascinating reading/viewing.  In a time of hot rather than cold war, it’s humbling to see that, when everything else falls away, what’s left are human beings, leading lives not that unlike those we experience and recognize ourselves.  It might be helpful to think of “enemies” of the past when contemplating those we’re engaged with in the present.

I’ve always thought it would have been really exciting to have lived in America during Vietnam.  Of course, I’d have likely been drafted, because my dad isn’t George H.W. Bush and couldn’t have found me a job keeping the Viet Cong out of Texas, but still, exciting times.  I suppose it’s a slightly selfish thought, given what a painful experience it was for so many American families, but the engagement of the public in such an important matter was something I’d never seen growing up but found completely fascinating.    

In high school, years before Iraq II and the comparions between it and Vietnam, we learned about Walter Cronkite’s role in shaping American opinion about the war in the late 1960s.  With the exception of veterans, the American homefront had no idea what war really was.  War was a series of battles fought by brave men defending noble causes in far away lands.  The horrors of the London blitz or the Nazi concentration camps weren’t beamed into American living rooms.  When the horrors of Vietnam were brought to American dinner tables, namely by Walter Cronkite, perceptions changed.  The public trusted Cronkite and his honest assessment of America’s engagement in Asia turned the tide against Lyndon Johnson. 

Perhaps the lack of a Cronkite-like figure is part of the reason public sentiment hasn’t been enough to bring America’s engagement in Iraq to an end.  No one is turning to Katie Couric for, well, anything, but certainly not for guidance on the war.  The first engagement of Web 2.0 is the first war in which the mainstream media hasn’t been the sole voice covering it.  While 60 Minutes II and The New Yorker broke the story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, their reports were censored compared to what could be found on the web (warning, graphic).  Their coverage no-doubt depicted a horror show, but the sanitized images were not nearly as effective in changing public opinion as Cronkite’s frontline coverage during Vietnam. 

If the mainstream media had taken a cue from their own past and paid a bit more attention to the future, their coverage could have ended this war years ago, when things first started going really, really wrong and before we’d dug ourselves a hole so deep it is impossible to just crawl out of it and go home.  Now that more people are turning attention toward bloggers and other opinions from outside the mainstream, they want an end it’s much more difficult to reach than it would have been if they’d sought or discovered those opinions in 2003 or 2004.     

To me, it is hugely important that the American people are allowed access to the frontlines of wars they commit themselves to emotionally, physically and economically.  It is unbelievably easy for an angry hillbilly whose only exposure to war was “Saving Private Ryan” at the $1 theatre to put on an embarrasingly retarded Toby Keith song and support whatever the president says is necessary to protect America from legitimate danger.  It is far more difficult to support an effort with the horrific reality of that effort is forced in front of you in all its agony.     

…was Bill Maher’s take on political bloggers calling for the Democratic primary race to end.  I know he’s not a big fan of the Internet in general, but it made me chuckle…

J Stands for Jordan

April 1, 2008

When I saw this week’s assignment, to explore the blogging culture of a country that starts with the same letter as your name, I immediately thought of Japan.  I’ve always been interested in Japanese history and culture and Japan is certainly a place people around the world identify with modern technology.  When I went to Global Voices Online, I actually only had two other choices, anyway: Jamaica and Jordan.

Japan certainly had a lot of entries on a wide range of topics.  Some of the posts were political.  There was a post about the failure of “Second Life” in Japan.  Others focused on sports.  While there was a lot to read, nothing really stood out as being that different from what one would expect from Western bloggers. 

When I went back to the site today, a story on GVO’s home page caught my eye.  Jordan’s Queen Rania is using YouTube to create a dialogue on differences between the Middle East and the rest of the world.  Her Majesty, who is clearly contending with the late Princesses Grace and Diana for the Hottest Royal by Marriage title, wants web users, especially young web users, to submit not only their questions about the Middle East, but to also share stereotypes about the region in the form of vlogs. Between now and August 12, i.e., International Youth Day, the queen will address the submissions with, she hopes, input from others in the online community. 

This might seem insignificant to a nation who saw all of their 2008 presidential candidates grilled on national television by random YouTube users.  Another entry from Jordan, discussing the conflict in the region over Valentine’s Day, puts Queen Rania’s idea into more significant context.  What the Western world takes for granted as a simple, even silly way for one human being to express their love for another is officially shunned in several countries in the region.  Those who disagree have found a way to voice their dissent through blogging.  One such person, “Shopaholic Q8eya,” did so with the following blog entry:  “And they say this is the religion of ease!!  Where is the ease in this?  If this is your religion, I don’t want it!!”.

We tend to think of the Internet’s ability to bring people together in a very casual light.  We fool around on Facebook and Myspace and use blogging to laugh at a politician’s misstep or a celebrity’s horrible outfit or as a learning tool in a class we freely elected to take.  People in other parts of the world have adopted blogging as a way, perhaps the only way, to freely share their thoughts, feelings and opinions with compatriots and foreigners alike.  Queen Rania’s adoption of YouTube, vlogging and online communication in general is a brave attempt to break down, figuratively and literally, international barriers to communication and an important step in applying real meaning to the first two of the three “Ws” we type on a daily basis.