November 27, 2004
# Orkut Media

With little fanfare, Google has made a foray into the participatory journalism business with Orkut Media.

posted by dru in politicsoftech
November 26, 2004
# Responding to Goff (3 of 4)

[I just finished reading Stan Goff's Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century; I'll post a series of elaborations and responses to his arguments here.]

3. Wars do not allow for subtle moral calculations. The goal is to eliminate the enemy, and you either go all the way, or lose. (Goff: "When any conflict, regardless of its social and political content, escalates to war, war itself asserts a stark logic. All other objectives are sublated into the choice between destroying the enemy's capacity and will to fight or perishing as a viable military force.")

Goff sympathizes with the humane inspiration behind pacifism, but admonishes leftists who would impose pacifism on others. Especially when to not fight back violently is tantamount to cultural--not to mention physical--suicide. Here, he says:

Non-violence can be an effective tactic, but so can violence. Itís only liberal hypocrisy that denies the latter. For Iraq, it is the only tactic.
And it seems that people in Haiti, Palestine, Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere have come to a similar conclusion: nonviolence means getting mowed down. Which can help you win, but doesn't necessarily.

A major difference: the US empire tends to fund paramilitaries and death squads (accountable to no one but their funders, who deny their status as funders, or get away with it despite direct connections), while Ghandi was dealing with the British Empire, which had a lot of face to lose with massacres. People are killed regularly in Haiti, but there's not a lot of coverage. Even less in Colombia.

I have a bit of sympathy for this position, insofar as it is straightforward: living in abject misery and humiliation, or dying of starvation or preventable disease is worse than fighting back. The problem, as Goff is well aware, is that fighting back involves killing civilians. He reduces the decision to the initial choice: either a war is worth fighting, or it is not. But once you've chosen to go to war, you have to go all the way... or lose.

As realistic as it seems, this kind of thinking makes me very nervous. It's too easy to say "war is hell, but we need to be realists", though admittedly less easy when the person making the decision is also risking her life. It can't be said loudly or often enough that war is an absolute last resort; a failure of creativity. Some aspire to a failure of creativity, some have a failure of creativity thrust upon them.

The biggest creative difficulty for me--one which will become even more important if things get as bad as Goff (and others) say they are going to--is negotiating the area between unconditional support for armed struggle against imperialism on the one hand, and exhortations to find ways to rise above violence on the other.

The polarization between the two is intense, and politicized. The mainstream press is constantly finding new ways of condemning violence on the part of Palestinians, Iraqis, Aboriginals, Afghanis and Haitians, while "reluctantly" taking a "realistic" stand in support of violent invasions, bombings, sanctions and murders that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths (not to mention policies that deny the right to self determination to millions).

But Goff is right on his first premise: war reduces, and sucks you in. As soon as war starts, the logic of "with us or against us" inevitably applied. And it doesn't matter what the "social and political content" is.

But where Goff sees that as grim reality, I, through basic ethical necessity, have to see it as a challenge.

Questions, then: how can one simultaneously resist the reductive, inevitably violent nature of war while supporting a side? How does one consistantly assert the need for nonviolent resistance while supporting violent resistance?

Posed that way, it's probably impossible to answer. But if there is an answer, it will come on the basis of thorough understanding of the history and motivations of those who have decided to use violence. I would suggest that very few people have this understanding.

A short version of the answer, I suppose, is that you just do it. When you're there, you do what you can. It's only when one is so far removed from the situation in question that this becomes a problem.

Here's Iraqi novelist and former prisoner of Saddam Hussein's regime Haifa Zangana, writing in the Guardian:

Every day of occupation brings fresh atrocities. But the architects of that occupation claim that it is Iraqis themselves who are beyond the reach of democracy. They are "militants" and "insurgents", bent on terrorising their own people and destroying hopes of reconstruction. Why can't they get involved in the peaceful democratic political process?

But they did, and they continue to do so. Over the last 19 months there have been protests, appeals, initiatives to set up a reasonable programme for elections, the opening of human rights centres, lecturing at universities, even poetry writing. This torrent of activism is still being practised by a broad variety of political parties, groups and individuals who oppose the foreign occupation. And they have been ignored. Newspapers were closed. Editors were arrested. Demonstrators were shot at, arrested, abused and tortured.

My friend Jon Elmer, who runs FromOccupiedPalestine.org, says that solidarity with Palestine in particular is a matter of making space. A matter of not giving in to the constant demands to "condemn" suicide bombing, but to assert that civilian lives should not be harmed or ended, while explaining the circumstances under which suicide bombings are used as a tactic.

It seems kind of infantile, how simple the conclusion always ends up being: that we should understand something before forming judgements. It's amazing how elusive that utterly straightforward goal ends up being. So much easier to slip into polemic, or simplified and essentialized explanation. But it's true: the ways in which we can slip into comfortable unrealities are infinite in supply. Reality is always more complicated, we might say, but then the complexity itself is mobilized as a method of covering up basic truths. Within the pundit-meme echo chamber, it is recursive and endless.

So just as Goff the ex-soldier brings it all back to the military, Dru the editor and media activist brings it all back to the public discourse.

Luckily, Goff's writing stays close enough to the ground that it (mostly) provokes dialogue, instead of perpetuating entrenched ideological squabbling.

posted by dru in war
# Responding to Goff (2 of 4)

2. We're going to run out of oil, and there will be--nay, already is--a global economic decline. This, also, has been discussed elsewhere. Goff spends far more time explaining the implications than he does laying out the evidence. Basically, there are finite resources and a system (capitalism) that has to grow. Both can't happen. The balloon has to pop.

Goff is adamant that the system will collapse under environmental catastrophe and resource scarcity, and it's going to suck no matter what. The status quo will keep cruising along until we drop off a cliff.

Goff doesn't make anything like a thoroughly documented case for this, but he seems reasonable and that he is convinced is enough to make me look at all those arguments a little more closely.

I'm interested in the ways that capitalism might or might not transform itself to deal with hitting the wall, energy-wise. Can alternate energy catch up? (Hydrogen? Biodiesel?) Can capitalism "complexify" (a la Kim Stanley Robinson's future) by turning in on itself and reusing its former waste as a source of replenishment? I certainly have no idea, but all these possibilities make me think that energy collapse is a bit more complicated than a simple story of decline. The question is one of timing, and speed. Energy might not disapear, but I don't see how the growth of business as usual is going to continue apace.

At the very least, Goff made me return to these problems and take them seriously. It is, after all, easy to forget that there even is a looming oil crisis. Goff's bottom line:

It is only metropolitan self-centredness that allows us to ignore (while we still take hot showers and and watch television) that for most of the world, the collapse has already happened.

posted by dru in war
November 22, 2004
# Responding to Goff (1 of 4)

[I just finished reading Stan Goff's Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military in the New American Century; I'll post a series of elaborations and responses to his arguments here.]

1. The US is in economic and military decline. This is extremely dangerous.

Goff says that the US military is overextended after Afghanistan and Iraq. It has, he says, tipped its hand to the rest of the world, which now sees that the US is overextended, vulnerable, and racking up a massive debt. But as the US loses its grip on power militarily (Goff says it has already lost its grip on economic power, due to the hollowing out of the domestic industrial capacity), it still has the power to bomb a lot of people and things out of existence. The content of the nuclear arsenal does not follow any graphs. If it ever does, graphs will be the least of our concerns.

Emmanuel Todd and Immanuel Wallerstein have both made a similar case, and Robert Fisk has said that the war in Iraq was necessary for the US to maintain strategic control over oil (without the war, he said, the EU would have naturally gained influence in the region). Heck, the Project for a New American Century bases its entire plan on the idea that the US will naturally decline unless it spends insane amounts of cash on its military.

Wallerstein writes: "The real question is not whether U.S. hegemony is waning but whether the United States can devise a way to descend gracefully, with minimum damage to the world, and to itself."

Goff is a bit less hopeful; he thinks that Rumsfeld et alia are going to try to use their new tactical "bunker buster" nukes to maintain US power (possibly trying them out in N. Korea), with a disastrous cascade of results and responses that no one wants to imagine.

A fundamental irony is pointed out by Goff, Todd, and others: only now that the US Empire is in decline, is anyone talking about the building and maintenance of an empire. Before, even during the Cold War, it was ubiquitous to the point of invisibility--for the US elites, I mean.

Goff's take on the neoliberals (as contrasted with neoconservatives) is that they long for a return to the multilaterally-enabled feeding frenzy of the rich countries on the third world, enabled by the IMF, World Bank, and others. Goff predicts that the Clinton days won't return, because the Democrats are substituting effect (Bush and the Neocons) for cause (decline of US control globally).

I don't have a lot to add to what Goff says. His accounts of warfare are fascinating as an inside look at the mechanics of empire, and convincing as an argument that this dangerous decline is happening. At this point, I just think that this should be more widely adopted as a first premise for analyses of what to do, and how to respond to what's there.

posted by dru in war
November 10, 2004
# From Wittgenstein's On Certainty

Two paragraphs from Ludwig Wittgenstein's On Certainty, which he wrote in the last two years of his life. A translation is also available online in its entirety.

* * *

185. It would strike me as ridiculous to want to doubt the existence of Napoleon; but if someone doubted the existence of the earth 150 years ago, perhaps I should be more willing to listen, for now he [sic] is doubting our whole system of evidence. It does not strike me as if this system were more certain than a certainty within it.

[...]

676. "But even if in such cases I can't be mistaken, isn't it possible that I am drugged?" If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says "I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream "it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

posted by dru in excerpt
# Credibility: rough notes

Bits and pieces which will hopefully form the basis of a discussion about journalistic credibility.

MediaGeek:

Mainstream news organizations, like the Washington Post, are very concerned with creating an air of authority and maintaining the illusion that their reporting is utterly consistent, complete, fair and authoritative. Indeed, it requires authoritarian methods to get tens to hundreds of writers, reporters, copyeditors and editors to absorb and mimic the approved style and approach (something for which journalism school has prepared them well). And regardless of how well a story is researched, reported and written, it cannot be singularly authoritative -- any such appearance is the just the effect of style that we have been trained to read as "objective" or "true."

It appears that the mainstream press can't or won't understand the deficiencies of this approach, or why people would want something different, even if it appears less definitive.Indymedia is interested in creating no such illusions of authority or compreshensiveness. Indymedia challenges the reader to think, "is this bullshit?" And, if so, challenges her to respond directly to the item in question, or, even better, create her own piece that responds to, expands on or explicates the first.

AnarchoGeek: (lots of geeks):

Credibility doesn't reside in the article itself but rather it's source. This is how the corporate media constructs it's credibility. They provide a uniform editorial 'voice' upon which they base their credibility. By having indymedia forcing every poster to be anonymous we are shifting the credibility away from the author in two directions. First and foremost we are pushing it on to 'indymedia' itself which means really the editorial collective which is tasked with hiding the 'bad' posts. Secondarily, credibility also is derived from the post itself, the form and content of the post must be judged by every reader.
[...]
The NY Times is the bastion of credibility, their stories always reinforce a hegemonic perspective despite adherence to the 'facts.' Now many in alternative journalism want to out do the NY times, using the same objectivity but just replacing it with another paradigm for viewing the world. I don't think this will work for two reasons. First off they have almost all the money. Secondly we aren't advocating the kind of world that will fit neatly in to one modernist perspective. Unlike the Marxist-Leninist of old who had THE answer, today we have many answers and even more questions. For a credible media to be created in this new networked, postmodern if you like, world we need to fully reconstruct what we mean by credibility.

And some comments by Bastard, of IMC Portland:

Corporate and other journalists are deemed credible because they theoretically will be held accountable for not reporting the facts. Accountability is thought to come from their peers, from the courts, from the community. Obviously, in today's environment, today's journalism, this is clearly not the case. There is no accountability.

I've included the whole (somewhat sloppy) discussion (which happened in SubEthaEdit!), below, as it contains more bits that I want to refer to in the future, and which might be useful to others.

If I had to name the topic I want to deal with, it'd be "the rhetoric of authority", and how it fits into liberatory practices of journalism.


posted by dru in journalism
# Against Interpretation

From Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation:

And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call "form" is separated off from something we have learned to call "content," and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory.

Even in modern times, when most artists and critics have discarded the theory of art as representation of an outer reality in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression, the main feature of the mimetic theory persists. Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first. The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content. Or, as it's usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. ("What X is saying is. . ., " "What X is trying to say is . . .," "What X said is . . ." etc., etc.)

posted by dru in excerpt
# Everyone's an Editor?

I think I realized it sometime after Evan set up Anarchoblogs, and mentioned how easy it is to set up: widespread syndication through RSS feeds is setting up the conditions for (the possibility of) another major shift in how information is distributed and organized.

The vaguely corporate line (which I've been admittedly stuck in) was that having everything in a feed will be great, because we can set up a "daily me"--a customized set of feeds--and serve it up to customers. This has been realized and then commoditized by apps like NetNewsWire, which are lovely, and quite useful.

But I think that some exciting prospects come from giving everyone the ability to make their own feeds. The implications are particularly interesting for open publishing, where I could see "everyone gets to make a selection of the interesting articles" complement the chaos of "everyone gets to post" quite well. I told this to Kellan, who politely informed me that blogs (and del.icio.us feeds) already provide this functionality, which is of course true... and to some extent, weblogs already do this.

My impression is that other, interesting possibilities could be unlocked by speeding up and automating the intermediary bits of the interface, and making the end result more sophisticated.

I'm fascinated by the idea of setting up an entire newspaper site that consists only of articles fed in from elsewhere. Ideally, I would use a program like NetNewsWire, and whenever I click on an article, contextual use of keyboard presets would let me stream that article into any number of preset categories (opinion, local news, international news, analysis, etc.). These would accumulate on a list as I went through, and a simple verification at the end would let me cull duplicates or missteps before posting. All these would show up in the relevant columns of a site laid out like... the Guardian, or whatever.

I'm particularly interested in this in the case of IndependentMedia.ca. It would work a lot better if all the sites had RSS feeds; as it stands, very few of them do. This, in turn, could be fixed by using an easy interface to assemble a list of url/title/description/category, with a tool like del.icio.us. Fun.

I think the aspect of speed is crucial. Maintaining a website like PaulMartinTime.ca, when I was still doing it with the help of two other people, was a constant drain on my mental faculties. The daily process of posting a few articles required that I find the articles, log in to MT, copy the text, format it, post it, check it again for formatting errors, and then repeat for any other articles. It's only a few minutes a day, but the amount of stuff to keep track of is taxing. However, if all that was automated (or rendered unnecessary), it could just be a piece of my normal news-browsing activity, taking maybe 10-15 extra minutes.

This is the difference between my being able to maintain a couple of site to my being able to maintain a couple more sites. For other folks, it might be the difference between running no site and running a site. (Then again, I've been trying to get my environmentalist friends out of forwarding crappily-formatted emails to using the web for years... to no avail, so who knows what motivates people.

The other really interesting possibility, as I mentioned, is moving custom feeds closer to the indymedia interface. What if people who browsed an Indymedia site while logged in saw a little widget at the top and bottom of every article that said "add this article to feed". (Again I think speed details are important: clicking on the widget should not open a new window--amazon.com sets a good precedent here with their in-place rating system.) The feed would be useful for the reader and anyone they sent the feed page to, but it would also provide a service to all the other readers.

A list of feeds could be available at the top of the newswire page, sortable by frequency of activity, indicating the possible subsets of a busy newswire that are available for reading. A list of the most-selected articles could also be useful. This could fit well into the recent development of regional Indymedia centres, like indymedia.us, which already provides one selection of articles--those chosen by local editorial collectives.

If I wasn't too impatient and preoccupied to learn how to write basic scripts, I could probably accomplish these things on my own without too much trouble at all. But as usual, I'm fascinated not so much by the possibility of someone like me being able to accomplish this (I already can), but in the final layer of details: the political effect of making these capabilities ubiquitous.

Some details that could use some smoothing:

  1. The amount of time it takes to post something (why not just grab the title/url/desc with one keystroke?)
  2. Moving away from the one- or two-column format of weblogs, slash, etc. (why not have some prominent headlines, a few news stories, a photo, and so on?)
  3. Ease of use (geeks tend to make the technology, and have their own speedy ways of making things work... the speed should be popularized)
  4. Integration (if it's built in, a subset of the users will end up making use of it... if they have to go find it and set it up, fewer will)

This is born out in experience, at least mine. Monkeyfist.com had a lot of these kinds of features running in Bijan's irc interface, which had the benefit of being somewhat collaborative, existing in a social context, and being speedier than any popup window-based web interface... but I still found myself not posting things due to the amount of concentration involved, however tiny. I think that this is a test of technology (though the result implies nothing of its social value): the extent to which it can fade into the background, being an afterthought, rather than requiring forethought.

Update: I'm embarassed that I forgot about Full Coverage for the People, an idea I had a few years ago about a collaborative newsfeed, based on the technologies and considerations available to me at the time.

posted by dru in politicsoftech
# cAts and further thinking

One good thing about travelling all the time is being able to finally put faces to the myriad personas and names that I encounter online. I lucked into being in Seattle for the Cascadia Anarchist Tech Skillshare (cAts), where lattice, kellan, evan, and gaba and many others who I hadn't "seen" before, online or off, spent the weekend geeking out and talking radical tech. I also met Paul Ford when I was in Brooklyn. One of the many benefits was a cool tshirt:

debiancatsanarchy.jpg

...which probably makes a lot more sense if you're a Debian user. I'm not, but I managed to absorb enough from the skillshare that I vaguely know that apt-get is a neat command that makes updating software easier or otherwise better on Debian than other Linux distros.

I also had some good discussion about open publishing with Salaud of the Portland IMC, using SubEthaEdit (formerly Hydra), a very cool little app that does one thing really well: it lets multiple people to edit the same text file in real time. Now, they just need to combine it with the hypertext capabilities and wiki interfacing of VoodooPad, and we'll be on our way to Xanadu.

Ideas

Some ideas I meant to discuss, but didn't get around to, due to a persistant headache, overflowing Dominion work, and other web work... not to mention the packed schedule of geekery and many exciting ideas that the cAts people had lined up.

Syndication everywhere
[Moved to its own seperate post, because it's long]

Voice Over IP
Someone made a comment about Cyberpunk becoming reality--the internet becoming its own world that you jack into, with its own norms, points of reference, etc. I find myself increasingly fascinated with the opposite direction: the internet as something that ties two ends together, but becomes increasingly invisible. Thus my focus on a newspaper that draws from online independent media but is aimed at the physical space we inhabit, on ways radio stations use the net to collaborate, and so on.

The latest technology to connect meaningfully to the internet is the phone, as seen in Jeremy Scahill's dramatic description of the work Evan and Co did in NYC during the Republican National Convention.

That's all. Just something I want to think about and learn more about.

The idea of credibility, which will also get its own post.

posted by dru in activism
November 09, 2004
# Distributed Library Project

"The Distributed Library Project is an experiment in sharing information and building community in the San Francisco Bay Area."

posted by dru in politicsoftech
November 06, 2004
# Well the first thing I want to say is...

A post over at ZBlogs reminded me of the most simple and potent reaction to Reagan's (and now Bush's) claim of a "mandate".

That came from Gil Scott-Heron:

Well the first thing I want to say is 'mandate my ass'

The track is called "B" Movie, and should be played early and often.

posted by dru in us
November 05, 2004
# War/Election Blogging

I can't believe I'm using the word "blogging" now, but it seems to best describe what I'm doing over at the Dominion Weblog, where I've been collecting links and quotes about the aftermath of the election.

In other news, I'm on the west coast for a month. I'll be going to cAts this weekend, and attending a few sessions of the Karen is giving a paper at some point.

But before that ensues, I need to get the November issue of the Dominion up. Almost there (minus a few bouts of procrastination, like this one).

As usual, if you're in Seattle (or Vancouver, where I'm heading in a week or so), drop me an email if you want to chat. dru at dru dot ca.

posted by dru in blog