May 30, 2006
# What makes together?

For the first time since graduating, I wrote something that could be referred to as "philosophy". The series of observations about collective organizing in the broadest sense appeared in "What Makes Together," a zine edited by CASA kids Anna Feigenbaum and Adam Bobbette. The web layout mimicks the excellent choices made by Adam, who did the layout and fabrication of the beautiful print edition (which is to say, there is no web edition that I know of). Sylvia Nickerson, of course, did the illustrations.

I don't have much to say about the text, except that it started as a series of observations jotted down while reading a bunch of different things. The idea is to state the obvious, but in a way that isn't immediately recognizable as obvious, and which arises from observations and experience.

posted by dru
November 15, 2005
# Kellan on Religion

Laughing Meme: "So Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all represent successive waves of innovation to produce a more viral ideology that could better leverage network effects. It's an idea that has fascinated me since an off hand comment in a college history class that monotheisms were better able to displace traditional pagan cultures because monotheists were able to bring their God with them rather then being tied to a series of local, non-portable phenomena."

posted by dru
October 16, 2005
# Ford on the net

Paul Ford: "This is not to condemn blogs. They are often great. But there are so many of them, and I will be dead for a long, long time. And on my deathbed do I want to say, I sipped mightily of Metafilter, and saw many video clips that made fun of Rosie O'Donnell, and I am richer for it? Or should I try to make contact with the culture that existed before 1992? The Internet makes it so easy to think that nothing of importance ever took place before the ARPANET was created."

Incidentally, Paul's novel is out. Congrats.

posted by dru
August 25, 2005
# Response to Stewart Brand

Someone asked me to comment on "Environmental Heresies", by Stewart Brand -- wherein he says that the environmental movement should "reverse its opinion" on population growth, urbanization, biotech, and nuclear energy. As I am wont to do, I got carried away, so I'm posting the response, sans editing, below.

1. Population growth & urbanization -- he's right about the facts as far as I know, but his account doesn't emphasize the right things. Developed countries are indeed declining in population, but are using urban immigrant populations to replace the low-end of their work forces, creating a tier of second- and third-class people who are denied basic rights, starting with security. The fight for those basic rights is primary in any consideration of how the environmental movement is going to address issues related to urbanization. Immigration laws and borders are the tools that are used to deny those rights.

Brand's focus is obviously on the (implicitly white, middle class, northern) environmental movement, but he misses the point when he cites Neuwirth’s Shadow Cities. The assumption that "environmentalists" should take a leadership role is one that needs to be shattered in a lot of ways. I haven't read Neuwirth’s book, but my sense is that he is saying that the rich north has a lot to learn about from the hundreds of millions living in slums worldwide. Before the environmentalists "get out in front of" urbanization, they need to understand what urbanization is, on the ground. (The agenda of "we need to get other movements to support us, because we know best" is rampant. I outlined these tendencies in another context in my critique of the National Conference for Media Reform --

Another problematic claim Brand makes is the false distinction between cities and "small towns"--as if those are the only two options. In the context of the status quo, "cities" means "massive megalopolises". In a corporate-driven world, this just happens to be the most efficient way to put the largest number of workers in the same place, resulting in optimal competition between workers for jobs and low infrastructure costs. It's also great for landlords and real estate moguls, due to inherent, perpetual housing shortages. Small coincidence that slum dwellers regularly have their entire neighbourhoods bulldozed, as happened recently in Mumbai, where hundreds of thousands of people had their homes destroyed overnight. If we're going to imagine sustainable (and thus humane) cities, we have to be able to imagine what they will look like when priorities other than those of capital are taken into account when planning takes place. In this respect, Cuba is interesting at least as a counterpoint. Instead of compounding housing shortages in Havana, the government has decentralized development to focus on smaller cities of thousands, not millions.

Brand and his ilk might respond that moving away from the grande ville capitaliste model is not *practical* or feasible. But if we're going to impoverish our imaginations before we ever get to questions of practicality, we're only ever going to make small tweaks to the status quo.

2. Biotech -- Brand writes:

"Why was water fluoridization rejected by the political right and 'frankenfood' by the political left? The answer, I suspect, is that fluoridization came from government and genetically modified (GM) crops from corporations. If the origins had been reversed —as they could have been—the positions would be reversed, too."
Inexplicably, Brand ignores all but the most superficial objections to genetically modified food, limiting his scope to the much-stereotyped middle class environmentalist concerns about monarch butterflies, while ignoring a massive international movement of farmers who oppose GM crops for very concrete, material reasons. It's not a sentiment; it's the fact that corporate takeover of the food system and GM crops are so closely intertwined that livelihoods, cultures and ways of life are being threatened. Whether it's indigenous farmers in Mexico or organic farmers in Canada, corporate control of food is a war over ways of life and the future of agriculture, not a debate between people with differing opinions.

Does this mean that Brand is wrong when he says that "the best way for doubters to control a questionable new technology is to embrace it"? Sort of. For farmers and social movements (rather than "environmentalists"), the fight has never really been about genetic engineering, but about their livelihood, intellectual property as theft, sustainability, self-determination and their ability to grow crops without contamination. So they're way ahead of the curve, there.

Though Brand doesn't quite say it, it is true that regardless of whether genetic engineering is used for good, the white northern environmentalists have misused their considerable media clout to frame the debate as being about "frankenfoods" rather than corporate control over the food system, the damage of pesticide-driven monocultures, and the erasing of cultures and livelihoods. Now we're in the situation where the pro-GM side "wins" the debate if there isn't enough evidence to say that "frankenfood" is inherently bad. Big mistake.

My question to Brand is this: what does "embracing it" look like on the ground. How do you productively embrace Monsanto's development of terminator seeds, for example? There might be some interesting answers, but as to whether they're more effective than burning fields of GM crops, putting pressure on governments, and staging massive demonstrations--the burden of proof is on Brand.

3. Nuclear Power -- This is the one I'm least sure about. I'd like to see numbers on how much of our oil use is a) unnecessary and b) how much could be replaced by sustainable systems. It strikes me that arguing for nuclear power at this point distracts from the need for creating cheap, decentralized, sustainable sources of power. (Nuclear power *isn't* at least two of those things, at least for now.) It seems to me that nuclear power will be used if it is needed, but high-profile environmentalists talking about it now distracts from the much more pressing issue of cutting down our consumption overall. In the current setup, nuclear power would also be under corporate, as opposed to community or neighbourhood control, which is exactly what we don't need in an energy crisis.

posted by dru
April 15, 2005
# Indymedia, Past and Future

Rabble and Chuck0 have posted thoughts on the stagnation of Indymedia, noting a failure to take things to the next level, organizationally and technologically.

I suppose that Indymedia can be seen in one of two ways: as an amazing success, given its origins, or as a collossal failure to live up to its potential.


A small group of people came together at the right place at the right time and created a form of organization that ended up turning into over 100 local collectives all over the planet. Many of these collectives continue to do extremely valuable work, and the idea isn't going away.

In the Maritimes, for example, recent months have seen yet another resurgence of folks putting new energy into the web site. Notably, none of the people now working on it now were involved four years ago when the web site launched. The idea has survived an open attempt to shut it down by one "uncompromising" member, and is still going. I can only assume that this is because a critical mass of people still find it to be a worthwhile effort.

In other locales, Indymedia seems to be similarly resiliant. The Québec IMC managed to break off from the NGO that was controlling it and is now providing solid daily coverage of the massive student strike here. The Irish IMC seems to be alive and well, the NYC collective is doing good things, and many others seem to also be kicking. Indymedia has also spread across dozens of languages and different character sets. The idea and precedent of Indymedia have had major, incalculable effects, inspiring and influencing numerous variations and offshoots.

And the network doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Despite its many, many problems, the core ideas have lasting appeal, and there will be many cycles of renewal.


Spamming, disorganization, infighting, burnout, chaos, free speech absolutism, endless debates where the people change but the arguments don't, an inability to make any significant moves at more than a snail's pace.

Did I mention burnout? And the resulting turnover?

The case can be made (and should be made) that the network should be developing new tech, supporting new projects, moving more quickly into new areas instead of chewing up committed activists and spitting out vaguely supportive but mostly embittered Indymedia ex-pats.

Some of these problems (e.g. spamming) have been dealt with creatively and effectively, without compromising Indymedia's Open Publishing mandate. Some (e.g. excessive turnover, burnout, endless entrenched debates) have not.

Dealing with what's there

There are lots of ways to deal with all of the problems that I've listed, but I don't think that that's what is needed. The people on the ground (which, as regards indymedia, is not me right now) will know best how to fix immediate problems--at least potentially.

But if we're talking about Indymedia's unfulfilled potential, we have to dig deeper. So here's my sketch.

(It would probably be gratuitous and pretentious to quote a phrase from Empire that keeps popping into my head as something important, but I'll do it anyway, if only for my own future reference:

...many defenses of the local adopt the terminology of traditional ecology or even identify this "local" political project with the defense of nature and biodiversity. This view can easily devolve into a kind of primordialism that fixes and romanticizes social relations and identities. What needs to be addressed, instead, is precisely the production of locality, that is, the social machines that create and recreate the identities and differences that are understood as the local. The differences of locality are neither preexisting nor natural but rather effects of a regime of production.

I have a vaguely similar intent with what follows.

The Core

I would argue that without the following things, Indymedia would not be recognizable in its current form:

  1. Web sites that allow anonymous posting of text, images and video with immediate availability
  2. Locally-based collectives, organized autonomously on the basis of inclusion
  3. The magical availability of seemingly unlimited bandwidth and server space
  4. The idea that anywhere, a collective can form and enable people to tell their own stories, to represent themselves to a potentially global audience

To make Indymedia more successful without changing it into something that it's not, these core goals/areas of strength need to be refined and improved, and fed back into the positive feedback loop.

I would suggest the following corollary actions:

  1. Figure out what the most useful applications of open publishing are (along with areas that show potential) and redesign the software and interface to do that, really well.
  2. Synthesizing the collective experiences of some of the collectives and creating a "how to start an IMC" manual. Have people continuously on tour, explaining the history of IMC and exhorting people to start their own. Figure out what the best definition of "inclusion" is, and get to work. The popularization of the culture of Indymedia is just as important as actually starting collectives. After all, who cares if they're called Indymedia if they accomplish the goals of local empowerment and global solidarity?
  3. Figure out if the current hosting scenario is financially sustainable. Build whatever is needed for it to be sustainable into the aforementioned manual.
  4. Build better, open source, decentralized versions of TypePad, Flickr, Odeo,, and whatever else, put a common interface and a one-click install on it, and give the tools to people who will use them. Privilege raw information over rhetoric, and get the tools out to as many people as possible

I think that I've inadvertently highlighted just how big an undertaking the "full potential" version of Indymedia is. But a worthwhile one.

A Network

I may have still missed the key to Indymedia's success, though. I don't think it has that much to do with local collectives or web sites (though these are obviously crucial). Those things exist on their own, without the impact or extremely rapid growth that Indymedia has had.

Without discounting those factors, what makes Indymedia unique is that it connected all of these local forces into a global network. A few of the strengths that come from this, which make Indymedia unique:

  1. A "brand". Hate to put it that way, but I can travel to a lot of places and say I'm involved in Indymedia, and people have an immediate frame of reference. They have an instant, concrete conception of my politics, what kind of work I do, the kinds of people that I work with, and the processes that I use. I have the same conception of other Indymedia activists. This allows us to start working on things together quickly, and it allows me to jump into an Indymedia site anywhere on the planet and not have to spend a few hours figuring out what their agenda is and where they're coming from. I know that some very basic things can be taken for granted (not to say that one shouldn't proceed with caution). It should be noted that the brand was a matter of timing as much as anything: Seattle exploded, and Indymedia was a key source, if not the source, for online information about what was going on. The mainstream media totally botched it, and a global activist brand was launched. I wasn't very involved in activists circles back then, but my weblog posts reveal that I knew about Indymedia. Like many others, no doubt.
  2. Linking. If I want to find out what activists are up to in Ireland, it would take me a good while to figure it out if I couldn't just load a random Indy site and click on "Ireland"
  3. Contacts. When I wrote a story about Argentina's economic collapse, I was able to find contacts who were in Buenos Aires, had some connection to people that I know enough to trust, and were willing to do an email interview. I can visit a lot of cities not knowing anyone, and immediately have contacts with whom I have a basic connection, despite never having met them.
  4. Solidarity. If something's going on in Chiapas, I may read about it on the Houston or SF Indymedia site (linking, of course, to the Chiapas site.) Information travels globally, and a lot of resources can be mobilized quickly. Being a part of the network has incalculable value to the people who can make effective use of it. This is not even close to being realized fully, but the precedents are there. Folks in New Zealand can have the information necessary to organize a march on the South African embassy to protest their grim privatization policies, and the photos can show up on the SA Indymedia site, hopefully for broadcast via local newsletters or radio.

The bottom line, as I see it: we need to be better connected globally, but certain things need to happen before that's possible. Another list:

  1. We need to know who the possible contacts are. No names, no contact.
  2. We need some contextual information to establish reputation, linking the contacts back to some mechanism that we trust
  3. We need media through which to communicate (i.e. not the prohibitively expensive international phone system). Sometimes this needs to be secure.

A better network

While some emphasis has to remain on the creation of content (though ideally, I think that this would be deemphasized among IMC collectives), the core strength of Indymedia is as a network with fast-replicating nodes that enables the strengths listed above.

As such, indymedia sites should be primarily nodes--one way for information to flow in and out of a community. Add some rudimentary reputation management stuff with more prominent links to local activist groups, continue to provide a commons for open publishing, and syndicate content (RSS-style) from other local independent media (vetted by the IMC collective, and possibly hosted by the IMC).

So the local IMC site would maintain a newswire, but also host and syndicate all kinds of other open- or sort-of-open-publishing newswires that the IMC collective would organize with something like reblog, creating a meta-newswire of all the trusted sources in a region, while highlighting specific stories. The IMC would serve as a filter on what's available; all the more important then, for it to have broad support and input and be democratically run. A tall order, but not out of the question. Despite not having an active collective for long stretches of time, the Maritimes IMC site continued to be visited and used by a wide range of folks.

This would broaden the network (and thus its value) in a democratic way, while allowing for small fast moving groups (like Rabble's description of GNN) to plug into this network. IMC collectives would be what they were always supposed to be--a core group that is accountable to (and reliant on) a broad base of community support. They provide tech for open publishing and collaborative editing, host sites (from weblogs to newspapers) of more advanced projects while channeling traffic to them, and be the focal point of political decisionmaking about how much should be included.

Restated, this is what Indymedia already does. I'm just emphasizing certain crucial roles that are not explicitly (but are very much implicitly) a part of the current state of Indymedia: connections, reputations, and the relocalization of media production.

Hmm. Maybe it's time to get involved in Maritimes Indymedia or CMAQ (again).

posted by dru
November 27, 2004
# Orkut Media

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

posted by dru
November 10, 2004
# 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 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 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 Fun.

I think the aspect of speed is crucial. Maintaining a website like, 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 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, 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. 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
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
September 20, 2004
# Two on Indymedia

Via Anarchogeek, two recent articles about Indymedia:

Jeremy Scahill: The New York Model: Indymedia and the Text Message Jihad

Biella Coleman: Indymedia's Independence: From Activist Media to Free Software

posted by dru
January 24, 2004
# silent space on the internet

Micah: "People keep asking me why I haven't added anything here for some time, and I point out that this isn't blogneglect, I was with full intention creating a silent space on the Internet for people to come and not have to read something new."

posted by dru
January 08, 2004
# Crichton: Environmentalism is a religion?

In a recent speech, Michael Crichton calls environmentalism a religion based on lies.

It's not really to his credit that much of the speech consists of straw man arguments. He names specific names approximately twice.

His main point is that environmentalism needs to be based on scientific facts, which are checked and rechecked by multiple independent scientific studies.

Fair enough; there is, no doubt, room for improvement in the way environmental science is carried out.

But he also makes a number of radical claims. Two examples:

"Second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it.

"Environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s."

He doesn't bother to cite a source or justification for these claims. Nothing but one vague reference to a few magazines, no date or issue number provided. The version of the speech on his web site cites no sources. There is simply no substance to the argument that is available to the listener or reader.

And the categorical nature of his claims are hardly scientific. "Not a health hazard to anyone and never was"? Such a claim is so easily refuted: a person suffering from asthma walks into a room filled with second hand smoke. We can categorically say that this person is not experiencing a health hazard?

Ok, so Crichton just misworded his speech. But it is a basic principle of science that there can be no ultimate certainty about any such claims, much less something as broad as all second hand smoke in all environments, given any possible person. To say that something like that is provable beyond doubt, even if it is true, is unscientific.

In the best of cases, it's like saying that under any conditions, gravity will exist on Earth. In actuality, we can only ever conclude that under the conditions present while we have conducted experiments, there has been something we refer to as gravity on Earth. Maybe there are conditions under which gravity does not exist on Earth. All we can say with certainty is that as far as we have experienced, it is a consistent presence.

If Crichton knows this--which is among the most elementary principles of science--then he doesn't let on.

Instead, there's this:

I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigeous science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won't impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependant on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.
Translation: I'm not making unsubstantiated claims, you are. And if you'd only listen, I would give you the evidence. But you won't listen, so I don't have to. QED!

I am willing to entertain the possibility that some of these claims might be true. Certainly some of the less flamboyant claims are true. But is it not shamefully hypocritical to advocate scientific rigour, only to flout it in obvious ways when it is convenient to do so?

Crichton accomplishes one thing: he introduces a great deal of doubt. This can be very useful, scientifically. But my guess is that, in the current political climate, the take-home message for anyone who hears it is "environmentalists are full of shit -- don't believe them." That, or they just shut Crichton out, and keep believing, despite his preemptive admonitions.

Neither option is desireable.

There's plenty more that Crichton didn't do, or even hint at. Like encourage his listeners to be more scientifically inquisitive. He didn't bother to explain one simple way in which they could be productively skeptical in relation to specific scientific claims. He just said: it's all a religion, based on huge, massive lies.

He doesn't even mention that there are a large number of environmentalists out there who are serious about science. No: they're all wrong, except for Crichton.

How about citing the work of one or two of the thousands of environmentalists whose view of nature and science is in many ways close to sentiments expressed by Crichton in the more lucid (if painfully obvious) moments of his speech?

Why does Crichton not spend so much as a single sentence offering an explanation for the massive obfuscation of scientific fact that he accuses "environmentalists" (who are, apparently, all the same) of perpetuating? One hypothesis I could venture based on these preliminary findings is that his ego is big enough to keep him believing that he's the only one with acess to the real truth. Another might be that he spends far less time (read: approaching none) practicing science than he does talking about science.

In the same breath that he says that the environment and politics are so complex that we need to be "deeply humble", he reduces all of environmentalism to one set of oversimplified beliefs.

If there's a way to start a rational debate about environmentalism as a whole, this isn't it. Crichton tears down far more than he builds, and contradicts himself so much in the process that he sacrifices his credibility before he gets to his important points.

posted by dru
by JP

Nice analysis. Although I think doubt is very important, the way you counter "religious thought" in science is by contradicting accepted science with contradictory facts! You attack specific theories.

At least, that's the way I've always understood it.

December 26, 2003
# Conferences on Independent Media

I'm researching conferences on Independent Media that have ocurred over the past few years.

The National Conference on Media Reform

NYC Grassroots Media Conference

NYC Media Conference (same as above?)

Independent Media Convergence Project

Annual Allied Media Conference

Know of others? Post a comment with pointers!

(On a side note, this is the 1000th post to misnomer, and this weblog has been going for four years, as of this month.)

posted by dru
December 13, 2003
# Top Down Grass Roots

Kellan says, decisively:

Will the 527s (MoveOn, Americans Coming Together, etc.) turn into yet another clutch of big-money funded, unaccountable interest groups? - Probably the most important question facing liberal/progressive organizers right now.
A sentiment worth amplifying through my now-read-by-maybe-three-people weblog. Most things that start from scratch, with grassroots support, Mean Well and even Get Good Work Done. But if they're centralized in their decisionmaking and not accountable to the people supporting them, these kinds of organizations tend to take on their own internal logic, gradually stretching and severing their connection to the urgent reality that inspired their creation in the first place.

Careerists take over, and institute ways to recognize each other and, feel good about themselves, and "have more power" (to do more good, of course). Having more power ends up being an illusion, though. A tarbaby.

These days, I see three basic ways of dealing with this problem:

  1. Set up democratic structures and practices that keep everyone anchored to reality, and the real concerns of the day.

  2. Provide the means for controlled revolutions, while maintaining the useful institutional structure and amassed resources and networks.

  3. As soon as an institution stops being responsive, wipe it out and start something new.
I think these are all important parts of the same solution. As choices for how to act today, these options correspond to how bad things have gotten. As parameters within which to plan for the future, they correspond to politics, and probably temperament.

I tend to favour #3, as I'm something of an idealist and not usually keen on compromising a radical understanding for short term comfort. At the end of the "Basic Plan" for the Dominion, I wrote that the final success of such a project would be to

Surpass Globe and Mail and Toronto Star in circulation. Quit, start a new national paper.
I simply am convinced that by the time any kind of major breakthrough had been reached, the paper would have acquired it's own internal logic, it's own unaccountable reason for existing, and there would be a need for something to rise anew from the margins.

But that's a personal decision. When it comes to mass movements, things are more tricky. By deciding to quit and start over, one risks losing momentum or making major concessions to political opponents. These decisions can have major consequences.

My only useful thought in this context is micropolitical: there is a need to cultivate democratic practices at the level of everyday existence. By consistently devolving and redistributing power as widely as possible, one keeps the possibilty of responsiveness (or less profoundly, accountability) open. It might even inspire others... while taking on its own unintended, unpredicted evolution.

Making things more democratic on the local level ought to be priority #1 for all progressives... regardless of how successful or unsuccessful organizations like MoveOn are.

All this makes me want to find out more about Cuba. From the evidence presented by Isaac Saney in Cuba: a revolution in motion, it seems that when (with the collapse of the USSR) the country lost over half of its trade, it responded by becoming more democratic. As a result, many grassroots solutions to major problems (like a total lack of chemicals and equipment for agriculture, for example) were developed.

This seems counter to the tendencies of most modern democracies, which seem willing to defer to "leadership" at the first sign of a crisis. That is, of course, exactly wrong--though understandable in a society raised on the presumption of scarcity and the glorification of greed.

In any case, if there's anything to the Cuba example, it ought to be better understood.

posted by dru
August 29, 2003
# Intellectual Property isn't Free

Some open source types and activists suceeded in convincing the World Intellectual Property Organization to sponsor an international conference on the place of free software in the "intellectual-property landscape", but Microsoft shut it down.

posted by dru
August 01, 2003
# Refund from Microsoft

Linux Journal: Getting a Windows Refund in California Small Claims Court

A very complete explanation of how the author got a $199 refund for bundled Microsoft software that came with his PC... through small claims court. Apparently, there is a line in the license agreement that says you can get a refund if you don't agree.

The main thing to remember throughout this process is to remain calm and reasonable. The more reasonable you seem, the more silly they seem. Remember you're dealing with a large company, and the larger an organization, the higher its potential for collective stupidity.

When that stupidity crosses the line and the company won't follow the law, that's where small claims court comes in. In court, most of the time common sense and reasonable win, even when it's a small guy against a big big company. And the case always ends with those magic words, "It is so ordered."

My refund check will be arriving this month.


posted by dru
July 23, 2003
# September Kept Going

AOL is going to provide blogging tools to all users of version 9 of its software.

One of the nice things about weblogs is that they don't operate in a common space, but rather allow everyone to create their own space. So AOL doing this won't create anything quite as bad as the September that Never Ended:

All time since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plunging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These relatively small drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few months. But in September 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the old-timers' capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the period before hand, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of discussions on newsgroups."
Still, there is plenty of room for the cultural norms of web site stewardship to decline or otherwise degenerate. Thankfully, there will be less of a lowest-common-denominator shift than there was with the popular/mainstream groups on USENET. This same "everyone has their own soapbox" structure leads to a significant echo chamber effect, but I'm pretty sure that this just reflects the reality of how unoriginal people are in general, rather than necessarily encouraging it.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that there won't be much of an increase in the number of people asking, as Paul Ford did:

How could the Weblog "form" be expanded in regards to narrative, not technology, to become exciting and valuable over time?
In that article from way back in 2000, Ford proposes a number of new forms of weblogs that could be taken up. He also offers an explanation of why "so much of the web is so bad", which will almost certainly continue to be true:
Many people who create personal Web sites believe that by becoming famous, they will become less lonely.
Alternatively, people do things because they want recognition for doing them, not because they love doing them.

Would it be too pretentious to quote Rilke?

And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.
If one feels one could live without writing, then perhaps one shouldn't write at all.
(from Letters to a Young Poet, 1903)

Rilke wrote that one hundred years ago; technology hasn't changed that much. But maybe, from those 34 million AOL users, a few hundred will find a place to share and develop some authentic or original work, or share interesting work or research. The rest will keep doing what "opinionated" people have been doing for years, slightly emboldened by new technology.

posted by dru
July 16, 2003
# Netfuture

The most recent issue of NetFuture has some good articles, including a series of aphorisms about computers and learning, extracted from previous NetFuture articles on the subject, and Notes on Genetic Engineering, a strong criticism of corporate science. Here are a few of the aphorisms:

Lack of information has not been the bottleneck in education for decades, or even centuries. Rather, the task for the teacher is to take the infinitesimal slice of available information that can actually be used in the classroom and find some way to bring students into living connection with it.

Computer labs have been displacing art, music, craft, and physical education classes. Does anyone pretend to have shown that the exchange is beneficial?

Given how many hours a day children pursue mediated experience through cinema screens, television screens, and video game screens, it hardly makes sense to add a computer screen to the mix while saying reassuringly, "Let's make sure the children use it in a balanced way".

The quality of kids' play is correlated with their later cognitive, aesthetic, and social skills. There is no demonstrated connection between these skills and early computer use.

The task of schools is to encourage the development of children who can decide what sorts of jobs are worth having in the coming century, not to train children to fit whatever jobs the system happens to crank out.

The computer is often used as a gimmick to lend a touch of glamor or excitement to a subject. Why is this artificial glamorization more appealing than making the subject itself exciting -- something good teachers have no difficulty doing?

posted by dru
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Thank you.

by Mona

I want to do an argument paper on this subject for my 122 class, but I need facts and statistics to support my argument. Where can I get this information? As I work in the education field, I see the negative effects and how the spending for this technology is taking away from and affecting our children. I hope you can help.

Thank you.

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June 16, 2003
# Last chance to democratize before closing

mediareform : stop the FCC!

That links to a page which allows you to send a letter to your representative or senator, asking them to overturn the FCC's insane "deregulation" of cross media ownership, among other things. Apparently, the Senate Commerce Comittee is actually considering a bill that would do just that.

posted by dru
by kellan

Interesting historical note, the people behind provided material support for the fledgling Boston IMC, as well as being generally cool folks.

And they've got an RSS feed:

(off topic: are we doing to see a Dominion RSS feed someday?)

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June 12, 2003
# Cheap? Efficient? Get rid of it.

Jeffery St. Clair: Why the Generals Hate the A-10

Of course, the most damning factor against the A-10 in the eyes of the generals is the fact that it is old, ugly and cheap-especially cheap. The Air Force generals are infatuated with big ticket items, new technology and sleek new machines. The fastest way to a promotion inside the Air Force is to hitch your name to a rising new weapons system, the more expensive the better. When it comes time to retire, the generals who've spent their careers pumping new weapons systems are assured of landing lucrative new careers with defense contractors.

posted by dru
by adam

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May 06, 2003
# Participatory Media

Chris Shumway: Participatory Media Networks

All of the previous arguments clearly point to the need for a healthy public sphere in which free and spirited communication can take place so that individuals can recognize their connection to the greater community and thus make genuine democracy possible.  In accordance with this need, a group of radical media activists, calling themselves the "immediast underground", advanced the idea that an underground media democracy movement should attempt to reconstitute the public sphere using modern communications tools and old-fashioned community organizing.  Actually, to be more correct, they suggested that it was necessary to liberate public space not so much by rebuilding one public sphere, but by creating a network of hundreds of non-commercial, local public spheres for the exchange of political, economic and cultural news.  These spaces would be physical, working newsrooms, or "public production libraries" in which citizens could produce their own stories and disseminate them through grassroots media networks.  Further, each autonomous node in the network, each point of resistance, could be connected by the Internet.  These newsrooms could also serve as community organizing centers where activists, journalists and citizens could meet to exchange notes and discuss strategies and tactics for advancing their movement.

posted by dru
# Direct Action vs. Direct Whining

Mediageek: "I contend that $4 million spent on free speech and disobedience like underground newspapers, pamphlets and pirate radio could be worth way more than $40 million tossed down the drain of lobbying Congress and the FCC. How do we test this contention?"

posted by dru
April 13, 2003
# personal incomes near zero

The April issue of Netfuture has a decent piece on the meaning of income in third world countries.

Norberg-Hodge depicts in great detail and with superb expertise the transition from a rich, remarkably well-adjusted, traditional culture (with monthly personal incomes near zero) to a culture under development where rising money income was paralleled by an impoverishment of the standard of living according to most meaningful gauges. All too often, when you see minuscule average-income figures for third-world locales, you are safe in assuming that they do indeed represent a lot of misery -- the misery that comes from the disruption of a traditional economy by a money-centered one.

An important point: global capitalism (and "development") creates scarcity as a necessary condition for its own existence.

posted by dru
March 11, 2003
# NGO Cultcha

Geert Lovink's The Art of Being Independent is an interesting critical summary of the problems that activists have with Non-Governmental Organizations and their embracing of corporate structure and culture.

(via laughingmeme)

posted by dru
March 10, 2003
# Luddism

Thomas Pynchon: Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?

The knitting machines which provoked the first Luddite disturbances had been putting people out of work for well over two centuries. Everybody saw this happening „- it became part of daily life. They also saw the machines coming more and more to be the property of men who did not work, only owned and hired. It took no German philosopher, then or later, to point out what this did, had been doing, to wages and jobs.


posted by dru
# Another Democracy?

From Nettime: An online action for the Spanish local elections

Creating a legal political coalition called Otra Democracia Es Posible and presenting candidatures in towns, so the Electoral Administration must print ballots saying that "another democracy is possible" and must distribute them to all the voting locations of the towns where lists are presented. So many voters will see them just before performing their almost single act of active democratic participation of the year (if so).

There is no aim to obtain votes, nor representants, nor we expect to change anything in the current Spanish """democratic""" system. We don't even pretend with this action to answer the question "what other democracy??". We just want to contribute spreading the question to the society.

I have a fairly high predisposition towards this kind of direct action: it's simple and easy to implement, it spreads quickly, a lot of people can feel confident participating, and it opens up (if only a little) the possibility for questioning and discussion on topics of crucial importance.


posted by dru
March 07, 2003
# Dinner with a Billionaire

Ftrain: Dinner with a Billionaire

That night, I wrote him an email, thanking him, hoping he'd write back and I'd get - a job, a benediction, a ride in his whirlybird? I didn't know. I intuited, because I have over 5 million years of experience as a tribal pack-monkey, that the right thing to do, when faced with his great power, was: be entertaining and obsequious, do not challenge or threaten in any way, appear useful, and say, gently, "hey, if there's ever anything I could do...." In previous generations, it was an oath of loyalty; before that, a gift of cattle and daughters; before that, the presentation of the soft belly; here, in civilization, it was a thank-you email for dinner.

posted by dru
February 22, 2003
# Star System

Over at Mediageek, Paul reckons:

Fame, celebrity and mass audiences are the products of inequality. They're the product of a monopolization of the tools and resources for making media. When there were only 3 TV networks, anyone appearing on one of them immediately became a star. It's even sort of true with 150 cable networks. But it becomes less true with 10,000 or 10,000,000 channels.

Personally, I have no use for stars or celebrity. If expanding the accessability of media tools creates more voices and chips away at the power of celebrity then I'm all for it. Let's recognize that democratizing the tools of communication means eroding our own inflated egos.

posted by dru
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January 30, 2003
# Yes Magazine

Yes! Magazine looks like an interesting magazine. Recent issues have tackled themes like living economies and what would democracy look like?

The Grassroots Economic Organizing ("Democratic Workplaces and Globalization from Below") is a good source of similar alternatives.

Some of the folks who put together the Climate Change Caravan are pooling their money to buy 100 or so acres of land and turn it into a land trust, which is a good way to live on and use land without needing to be wealthy, while ensuring that the land gets used responsibly for the forseeable future.

posted by dru
January 16, 2003
# Eldred

Kendall: Why I Don't Care About Eldred

I've been a bit excited about/interested in the Eldred case, but mostly because if it had won, it would mean that the translation that one of my profs did of Heidegger's Being and Time would be legal. Now, the likelihood that it will get published at all is pretty slim. But like Kendall says, it's a symptom, not a root cause.

posted by dru
December 17, 2002
# US values in Propaganda

NYTimes: Pentagon Debates Propaganda Push in Allied Nations

The Defense Department is considering issuing a secret directive to the American military to conduct covert operations aimed at influencing public opinion and policy makers in friendly and neutral countries, senior Pentagon and administration officials say.


Such a program, for example, could include efforts to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that have become breeding grounds for Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism across the Middle East, Asia and Europe. It might even include setting up schools with secret American financing to teach a moderate Islamic position laced with sympathetic depictions of how the religion is practiced in America, officials said.


Senior Pentagon officials say Mr. Rumsfeld is deeply frustrated that the United States government has no coherent plan for molding public opinion worldwide in favor of America in its global campaign against terrorism and militancy.

The addition of the word "militancy" is interesting. It affirms that we have absolutely no problem with not holding ourselves to the standard to which we hold everyone else, and it expresses our explicit willingness to crush nations who defy our interests (e.g. Bush's support of the coup attempt in Venezuela).

Washington Post: Casey Kasem or Freedom?

After an Iranian court sentenced the reformist academic Hashem Aghajari to death last month, the largest and most sustained student demonstrations in years erupted in Tehran. As they grew, day after day, U.S.-operated Radio Azadi, or "Radio Freedom," was their favorite medium. Every day, student leaders would call by cell phone from the roiling campuses to the radio's headquarters in Prague and narrate the latest developments live. Each night the radio would broadcast a roundtable discussion, patching together students and journalists in Tehran with exiled opposition leaders to discuss where the reform movement was going.


In an act that mixes Hollywood arrogance with astounding ignorance of Iranian reality, the board has silenced the most effective opposition radio station in Iran at a time of unprecedented ferment. In its place, at three times the expense, the United States now will supply Iran's revolutionary students with a diet of pop music -- on the theory that this better advances U.S. interests.

Maybe the US will build a series of Mosques which feature televised prayers by Brittany Spears, followed by a day of music videos.

posted by dru
December 11, 2002
# lefTech tech activism links

posted by dru
by kellan

Looks like info pulled from

December 10, 2002
# Stalling

Richard Stallman: Can you trust your computer?

Proprietary software means, fundamentally, that you don't control what it does; you can't study the source code, or change it. It's not surprising that clever businessmen find ways to use their control to put you at a disadvantage. Microsoft has done this several times: one version of Windows was designed to report to Microsoft all the software on your hard disk; a recent "security" upgrade in Windows Media Player required users to agree to new restrictions. But Microsoft is not alone: the KaZaa music-sharing software is designed so that KaZaa's business partner can rent out the use of your computer to their clients. These malicious features are often secret, but even once you know about them it is hard to remove them, since you don't have the source code.

posted by dru
December 07, 2002

Radical Urban Theory: "writings on the modern urban condition" (via Anarchogeek)

posted by dru
December 06, 2002
# code

Stuart Hall: Encoding/decoding*

posted by dru
December 04, 2002
# Participate?

Hypergene MediaBlog, all about participatory journalism.

posted by dru
November 23, 2002
# Barney

Darin Barney (the author of Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology) gave a great talk on campus yesterday. He talked about Canada's long, unmatched tradition of democratic participation and public consultation in government decisions about communications technologies, starting with telephone service at the turn of the century, and the creation of the CBC.

He then talked about the public consultation regarding regulation of the internet. The committee in charge of that consultation, as it turns out, was dominated by corporate execs. The committee (along with the Liberal govn't) categorically determined that in all cases, the market would provide the best distribution of communications infrastructure. At the end of the fairly short talk, he concluded that if there is diminished or eliminated democratic control over the implementation of technology, then the outlook for the democratic potential of the use of these technologies was the more grim for it.

During questions, I pressed him on what could be done about this, and he came out with a fiery exhortation to a "long march through the institutions," from national governments to the WTO, to render them democratically accountable. The sad bit is that it will take decades of hard work and sacrifice if any progress is to be made at all.

Barney's look at the policy around communications technology was very David Noble-esque, exposing ideology in practice, so I'm psyched to look at some of his other stuff, as much as it's good to know that there are young intellectuals out there doing the intellectual legwork for social change. I also asked him for an interview, and he sounded enthusiastic, so that may also be in the works.

A related article: Internet Illusions, a NYRB review of several books on the net and politics, including Barney's, by James Fallows.

posted by dru
November 14, 2002
# David Noble

Transcript of a Q&A with David Noble

There is no question whatsoever that Wall Street perceives education as the successor to health care as the major target for investment. It's for that reason that they talk about EMOs (educational matienance organizations) as the analog to HMOs. As all Americans know, any analog to HMOs will be a disaster. The intentions are clear and, indeed, explicit, but I don't accept the future that they propose. And so I don't use the language of "trends." The future will be what we decide we want it to be, which is why I spend as much time as I do fighting these agendas and trying to forge a different one.

A Talking History interview with Noble (realaudio, scroll down).

A Democracy Now! show with David Noble as a guest (realaudio, scroll down).

Another collection of quotes and interview bits with--you guessed it--David Noble (part 2). Including this interesting bit on why he doesn't use email:

"Quite. It's funny, I'm assailed in one way or another -- in jest or not -- every day on this issue. I don't say e-mail is horrible: I just say 'no, thank you.' I don't want to play the game. The game is supposed to be that there's a choice: 'this is technology, this is a tool, you can use it or not.' Well, that's not true. The peer pressure is enormous. The employment pressure is enormous.

"When I came to Harvey Mudd and they said 'here's your e-mail address,' I said 'thanks but no thanks. I don't do e-mail.' And they didn't understand what I was saying. It was almost incomprehensible to them.

"It's a decision I make based upon my experience: I find that I don't want to be accessible, especially to my boss. Most workers spend a lot of their efforts trying to avoid being accessible to their boss; that's a very important part of working. The idea that someone can e-mail me and say, 'I e-mailed you an hour ago and I haven't heard from you' is appalling. Now they say, 'where's Dave?' And that's the way I want it!

"By not having e-mail, I have a tremendous filter, so that people who want to get in touch with me have to go through the arduous labour of, like, dialling a telephone or writing me a letter, and that filters out a lot of stuff. And I think we all desperately need filters. You don't spend your time answering e-mail because you don't have e-mail. You don't spend your time going to meetings because no one ever tells you about them. It's a real virtue!

"Yet how is it that I'm the one sounding these alarms? I just was talking to some guy yesterday: there's a conference and I'm supposed to be there, and I said 'I can't' and he said, 'but the whole conference is about you!' What is all this about? I'm the guy who's not online! How come I'm the guy with all the information? Funny, isn't it? During the strike at York we had a daily bulletin and I was writing all the exposés, all the information. Why was it me, when everyone else has all this information at their fingertips?

"It's very interesting. And I think that information is not what it's about. You've got to know what your questions are.

posted by dru
by Kendall

Hmm, Noble is right about Wall St wanting to "privatize" education, of course. But, at least for now, it's been a complete disaster. To wit, The Edision Project has failed utterly just about everywhere. Dallas kicked them out, and Philly is about too.

It's a shame that actual kids had to suffer from these disasters, but I'm happy they've been disasters. Though it's naive to think that will matter in the long run, I suspect.

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November 12, 2002
# Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul might be described as an anarchist, philosopher of technology, and christian. An interesting guy, in any case.

Ellul's Anarchy from a Christian Standpoint is fun.

posted by dru
November 08, 2002
# We're for free trade, except when we're not.

Forbes: High-tech smells success in Republican Congress

With Republicans in the driver's seat after Tuesday's elections, tech firms can expect a sympathetic ear on a wide range of issues from free trade to taxes to stock options, lobbyists said, while Bush administration officials will likely face less scrutiny over efforts to relax media and telecommunications regulations.

posted by dru
November 05, 2002
# History of Science I



(Part of an ongoing series of collages about the history of science.)

posted by sylvia
October 19, 2002
# Making Media Democratic

Yesterday was Media Democracy Day, but it's never too late to make media democratic!

posted by dru
October 14, 2002
# Lessig's take

Lawrence Lessig discusses the oral arguments in the copyright extension case on his weblog.

The most important first indication that was absolutely clear from the argument is that our fear was misplaced. The Court clearly got it. Though the other side had written literally 300 pages trying to show all the good CTEA did (and pronounce it like it is a disease -- sateeeya), the Court hadn't bought any of it. Congress was not acting to promote progress, it was acting to reward "court favorites." The only question the Court was struggling with is whether it has the power to do anything about it.

Now pause for a second to think about how important and good this struggle is. First: It is a rare but valuable exercise for any branch of government to worry about the scope of its own power. And the greatest virtue the Court exercises is the virtue of self-restraint. This is a reason to respect the Court, not criticize it (though how they exercise their restraint, or where, can be criticized, as I suggest below). But the general idea that it will restrain itself, despite believing a law is stupid, is a feature, not a bug in our constitutional tradition.

posted by dru
October 10, 2002
# Copyleft Newspaper

Apparently, a Spanish newspapers has adopted a copyleft-style license for all of its online content.

posted by dru
October 07, 2002
# Countdown

In two days, Lawrence Lessig's challenge to Congress' 1998 copyright extension goes before the Supreme Court.

Good luck, Larry.

The arguments for the copyright extension that claim to be based on public good are pure noise, as far as I can tell. If you're arguing that corporations' rights to make as much money as possible is synonymous with the public good, then the status quo arguments are airtight. But not otherwise. Here are the arguments (as far as I can tell) that Congress and everyone who is not opposed to the copyright extension is making:

1. Without guaranteed intellectual property right, there won't be an incentive for companies to invest in content.

This is true to some extent, but 20 years is probably enough to make back even a massive investment, with plenty to spare. After 70 years (the current copyright term), things start stagnating. Why should Disney invest in new original characters (not ones lifted from public domain work) when they can keep milking Mickey? In this sense, limiting the term actually incentivizes creativity.

2. Congress can do whatever they want with copyright law.

This may or may not be true. But the fact that some people think that Lessig has even a tiny chance of winning means that we can't be totally sure that there isn't legal recourse in this particular case. I'm leaving out, of course, the fact that Congress is corrupt and undemocratic by design, but that's another story.

posted by dru
by Genevieve

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October 05, 2002
# ebooks

Kellan also has a good rant about the unrealized possibilities of eBooks.

posted by dru
September 29, 2002
# Paying for content, part 256

Open Content List: A proposal to Microcontentnews

what if you did a user-base plea, like Kuro5hin's Rusty did recently, and said, ok, love doing this, but it's taking up all my time and keeping me from my paying job, so anyone out there who likes this, contribute to the pool, and every time it hits, say, the $100 mark, I'll commission a new article. You could even have a queue of story ideas to which readers could contribute. The lesson from Kuro5hin and such seems to be, be very honest and transparent, make clear your revenues and expenses, and turn the donating process into a highly visible and dynamic story in itself. (big red progress bar on the page! watch it move!).

posted by dru
September 28, 2002
# Technology and Revolution

Rabble's essay on Militancy and the Sovereignty of Technology, which I finally got around to reading all the way through, has a lot of good ideas about what it means to be a revolutionary software engineer.

posted by dru
September 27, 2002
# Into The Gap

In the recent NetFuture, Kevin Kelly and Steve Talbott try to bridge the gap between humanists and engineers.

posted by dru
September 24, 2002
# Equador

Evan's project got some good press from Salon. "Anti-globalization activists in Oakland, Calif., are recycling old machines, loading them with free software and shipping them off to Ecuador."

The project seems like a perfect example of mutual aid (or something along those lines)... People volunteer and learn how to build and set up a cheap linux box, and people in Equador get free computers.

People come to Free Geek because they want to "remove the mystery" of how computers work, Sano says. "And that's the thing that prevents many people from interacting with computers, that mystery. It's what keeps them on that side of the digital divide." After a volunteer has assembled five computers, or "Freek Boxes," he gets to take the sixth one home.

posted by dru
September 20, 2002
September 16, 2002
# Royalty Buffet

SFGate: Jimmy Buffett rocks the major-label boat

The record industry may have more to fear from Jimmy Buffett than the Internet. Buffett picked up his marbles and walked away from the game last year -- putting out an album on his own Mailboat Records that sold more than a half million copies and hit the top five. Now he's inviting others to join him, sharing proceeds like a pirate splitting up spoils instead of paying measly royalties.

He has already signed big-hair rockers Poison, an alliance that cuts across stylistic boundaries about as far as you can go.

"We make as much money if we sell 100,000 copies this way as we made when we sold a million copies through a major label," Poison bassist Bobby Dall told Billboard magazine.

posted by dru
by Les Dabney

Good for Jimmy. It is a wonder someone hasn't done this sooner.

August 23, 2002
# plus de rien

I'm off to Metsaulikool next week, for a week, so there shall be no updates.

Randomwalks on consensus Wikis.

First, it was the DeepLeap people inviting all the "A-list" bloggers to their party. Now the PR hordes are talking about how to pitch to weblogs. Synergistic leverage!

Open letter to America from a Canadian. "You would rather pay through the nose for your insecure comforts, wouldn't you America, and make others pay with their blood."

posted by dru
August 07, 2002
# Common Forum

Common forum aims to "build an ideal technology for civil discussion and democratic discourse."

A whole lotta Linux PDAs.

Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in 1988.

posted by dru
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July 26, 2002
# Media: abuse and ownership

Robert McChesney: The Place of Politics

Dean Baker proposes that all taxpaying Americans be entitled to divert $200 from their federal income taxes to any IRS-recognized nonprofit medium. This would constitute a multi-billion-dollar subsidy for the nonprofit media sector, without any government official determining the flow of funds. Crucially, recipients of these funds would be required to place their work in the public domain; it would not be covered by copyright laws. This is a brilliant way to think of media in the Internet age: provide for payment at the beginning and then have open access. This approach seems vastly superior to putting up electronic barbed wire all over the Internet, and converting our computers and television sets into vending machines.

The coverage on The Global Indymedia site is quite good these days.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow: The Meaning of the Gaza Bombing

One possible answer is that the Israeli government thought it so important to kill these two leaders of Hamas that it did so DESPITE the consequences to be expected: that Palestinian civilians wouild die, that suicide bombings would continue, Israelis would die as a result of retaliataory attacks, negotiations would become impossible again, the Palestinian Authority's authority again be undermined and its painstaking efforts for a cease-fire go for nought.

There is another, even more dreadful possibility: That the Sharon government took these actions not despite but BECAUSE it expects these consequences.

Norman Solomon: Will This Be an "Official Scandal" -- or Something More?

"Despite all the hand-wringing, the press avoids basic questions that challenge institutional power and not just a few powerful individuals."

Yes, some former private-sector heroes are becoming prime-time villains. And in Washington, after flak-catching functionary Pitt gets tossed overboard or decides that he must spend more time with his family, the ex-captain of (the U$$) Halliburton is likely to face increased pressure as more becomes known about Dick Cheney's former lucrative role as head of that particular books-cooking firm.

But the nonstop flood of corporate money into the coffers of the two major parties has not slowed. And while the latest "official scandal" shows no indication of abating anytime soon, there's still a shortage of high-profile reporting on the nation's extreme disparities of power.

On a less serious note, some guy named Jay Krasne has threatened to sue Kendall because a reply to an email criticizing an article of Kendall's now shows up on google. He claims that his name is "registered service marks" [sic], and that a reply to his email is libellous! If that wasn't bizarre enough, the guy could easily be mistaken for a rejected American Beauty subplot.

Village Voice: Buying Trouble

As John Ashcroft's Citizens Corps spy program prepares for its debut next month, it seems scores of American companies have already become willing snitches. A few months ago, the Privacy Council surveyed executives from 22 companies in the travel industry—not just airlines but hotels, car rental services, and travel agencies—and found that 64 percent of respondents had turned over information to investigators and 59 percent had lowered their resistance to such demands.
I'll look over my shoulder twice and pay with cash next time I buy an Edward Said book.

posted by dru
July 25, 2002
# Duper

The first issue of the superman comic is pretty interesting.

The Nation: A 12-Step Program for Media Democracy

posted by dru
July 22, 2002
July 16, 2002
# You don't need to take the power back if you already have it.

John Garside: The potential political power of weblogs. Washington Post offers MP3's of local bands

The Post's MP3 site

links via New Media Musings

posted by dru
July 05, 2002
# What's wrong with the record industry, part III.

A rather convincing argument that freely shared music hurts big musicians a little, and helps non-top 40 musicians a lot. Also includes extensive details on how the record industry screws artists.

See also:

The Problem with Music, by Steve Albini and Why CD's are so expensive, by the band Negativland. Negativland has more good stuff on their web site.

So, the question must be asked: how much long term harm would really be done if the record industry disappeared overnight?

posted by dru
July 04, 2002
# "covergence"

Ian Hanomansing: Where's the Coverage of Convergence?

ICANN, the supposedly democratic body that is in charge of governing internet domain names, seems to be avoiding the most basic principles of transparency. Salon's interview with John Gilmore has details, and bit of interesting history of the domain name system.

The strings that were pulled before and during the Clinton administration's "Green Paper" and "White Paper" process, that ultimately resulted in the creation of NewCo, also known as ICANN, were pulled by SAIC. SAIC is a very interesting for-profit company with a multibillion-dollar annual revenue, most of which comes from classified contracts with the U.S. military. What's even more interesting about SAIC is that there is no external control on it: It is "employee-owned," i.e., there are no outside stockholders. If you leave the company, you have to sell your shares in it. SAIC's board of directors reads like a who's who of the military-industrial complex (former secretaries of defense, spy-agency heads, etc.). When you read about the government wasting billions on "homeland security," guess who gets it. SAIC's home page features their new brochure on "SAIC -- Securing the Homeland."

Somebody at SAIC noticed that a tiny company had gotten the temporary monopoly to run the domain name system, and was being paid a few million dollars by the government, over a few years, to do all the work. In March 1995, SAIC acquired this company (Network Solutions) for $3 million, from its founder, who had won the bid because his five- or 10-person company was "minority owned." (He later complained bitterly that they'd screwed him.)

Within the next six months, somebody inside the U.S. government suddenly decided that Network Solutions (the new SAIC subsidiary) could charge every domain name holder $50 per year, extracting hundreds of millions of dollars from Internet users. That policy was instituted despite the best efforts of the Internet community to stop it. That's one string that was pulled. Who exactly pulled it? Sounds like a job for an investigative reporter.

I helped to design and build the infrastructure for CORE to become a domain name registry. It cost us less than 25 cents per year per name to run. Even if you added the likely legal bills from NSI suing us, it amounted to less than $2 per year for each domain name. NSI is still charging $6 per year, and doing it in much higher volumes, where it should actually cost them less than 1 cent per year to do the work.

posted by dru
June 18, 2002
# Fundraising

Since Kuro5hin ran out of cash, it has started doing some interesting things with fundraising. Pledge drives!

posted by dru
June 05, 2002
# Journalism?

Ted Rall talks about journalists in Afghanistan (via DailyChurn), and asks "Why didn't the truth about the extent of civilian casualties get out?":

A brilliant war reporter for a big American newspaper-he'd done them all, from Rwanda to Somalia to Kosovo-filed detailed reports daily from his room down the street from mine as I charged my electronic equipment on his portable generator. The next day we'd hook up a satellite phone to a laptop to read his pieces on his paper's website. Invariably every mention of Afghan civilians killed or injured by American air strikes would be neatly excised. One day, as a test, he fired off a thousand words about a 15,000-pound "daisy cutter" bomb that had taken out an entire neighborhood in southeastern Kunduz. Hundreds of civilians lay scattered in bits of protoplasm amid the rubble. His editors killed the piece, calling it "redundant."

posted by dru
June 03, 2002
# Norne

The Open Content List has a bunch of links that I should read.

Tom Tommorrow's Guide to debating the Enron scandal.

Andrew Sullivan: The Overclass. Sullivan starts out making sense, but then degenerates into vague assertions that the uber-rich are an inevitability, culminating in this bit of incoherence:

Class warfare is tired and old and ineffective. Politically speaking, it's all but dead. Every single politician in America who has tried to rally working class resentment of the very rich in order to make it to the White House has failed. Tony Blair is very smart not to resort to it. For as the ranks of the very rich grow, the more it seems possible that the rest of us might eventually join them.
Concentration of wealth among a tiny minority may be an "irresistible tide", but if it is, it's not for the reasons that Sullivan (sort of) gives. Explaining that would require analyzing the power, influence, and ideology that shapes the media, politics, etc.. A great example is Paul Hawken's story of the republican congressman who actually read a trade agreement and then decided for himself to vote against it. The fact that the media constantly spew forth wisdom about "irresistible tides" instead of actually thinking about what gives such an economic force so much momentum has as much to do with the problem as anything else.

Come to think of it, it is necessary not to explain why something is "irresistible". In explaining why, say, corporate globalization is irresistible through a rational account, one has already denied it's inevitability. If one explains that it is irresistable because of the enourmous power of the corporations, then the answer -- however unlikely its eventuality -- becomes "sieze the power from the corporations and replace their function with something more benevolent". At this point, it remains tremendously likely that globalization will continue to spread, but its "irresistibility" is denied by the very ability to imagine an alternative. The annoying irony is, of course, that the people who state it as an inevitability are themselves perpetuating and ideologically entrenching it as an inevitability, whatever "it" may be.

posted by dru
May 07, 2002
# Two times two parts

Ted Rall's new graphic novel, "To Afghanistan and Back", has a few preview pages online: 1, 2.

Eben Moglen: Enforcing the GPL: part 1, part 2.

A Peruvian politician apparently knows more about Free Software than Microsoft does.

posted by dru
May 05, 2002
# Internet Radio

Well, so much for internet broadcasting. According to this indymedia report, a drastic increase in royalty rates would put most internet broadcasters (of music) out of business. How they're going to enforce this on everyone with a server and some bandwidth, I don't know, but it's scary enough that they're gonna try.

posted by dru
March 02, 2002
# Tech and Revolution

I started out writing a response to this thread on weblogging as journalism at, but I ended up with yet another articulation of my thoughts on technology and the possibility of positive social change. So here it is for posterity... and your reading pleasure, I guess.

posted by dru
February 02, 2002
# A more serious CUP proposal

A little writeup of my ideas of how CUP could do its part to create an alternative to the corrupt media.

posted by dru
by Dru

If you respond on the listserv, please post a copy of your response here.

January 03, 2002
# Good ole M$

The Register caught Microsoft in the act commissioning a study to show how much better Windows is over Linux from a "research" firm that publically advertised that their "Custom research reports position your product against competitors", i.e. give us money and we'll make you look good under the guise of independent research. The page disapeared shortly after the story ran, so the google cache will probably run out soon.

posted by dru
November 28, 2001
# Roots

More in the "normal" vein of misnomer links...

The Grassroots Economic Organizing newsletter, an interesting little publication about methods of democratizing the workplace, setting up community-owned cooperatives, and the like. Very practical. Definitely an antidote to the wide array of bickering over various theories and positions that passes for anarchist thought these days.

I totally forgot to talk about the IMF, World Bank, and G20 meetings that went down in Ottawa two weekends ago. Not that's I've had time to read about it.

posted by dru
September 02, 2001
# To:

The most recent issue of Shift Magazine features a 5000 word article called why technology is failing us [and how we can fix it], by Chris Turner. The following is my response to the article, in which I rant about environmental reform, oil companies, and hip technology magazines. I'm posting it here for feedback (and quite possibly, amusement) before I send it to the folks at Shift.

posted by dru
by kendall

Good stuff, Dru.

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August 23, 2001
# IP freely?

Intellectual Property and the Organization of Information Production [100k, pdf] looks interesting.

...increased protection benefits commercial information producers that vertically integrate new production with management of large-scale owned inventories of existing information, and that have incentives systematically to misapply human capital to information resources. This benefit comes at the expense of alternative strategies, both commercial and noncommercial.

The Purpose of Copyright

As the Supreme Court has recognized: "The immediate effect of our copyright law is to secure a fair return for an 'author's' creative labor. But the ultimate aim is, by this incentive, to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good."


Modern-day copyright harbors a dark side. The misunderstanding held by many who believe that the primary purpose of copyright law is to protect authors against those who would pilfer the author's work threatens to upset the delicate equilibrium in copyright law. ...this pervasive misconception is turning copyright into what our founding fathers tried to guard against - a tool for censorship and monopolistic oppression. This may sound extreme to some, but consider the beginnings of copyright in this country. The first Copyright Act in the United States granted only the exclusive right only to print, publish, and vend a copyrighted work, and it lasted for only fourteen years, with the possibility of a second fourteen-year term. No exclusive rights to perform the work or to create an adaptation of the work were granted, only the right to print, publish, and vend for, at most, twenty-eight years.

posted by dru
August 13, 2001
# Full Coverage for the People

Full Coverage for the People, a design for a transparent, collaborative, and somewhat more democratic way of organizing news coverage, loosely based on Yahoo's Full Coverage. Comments welcome and encouraged.

Which little boy will grow up to be President?

Nader on Online Voting Records. "New technology is beholden to old politics and power structures, just like the old technology." That's worth repeating., an old Wired article about why Congress still doesn't put most of their documents online.

The Congressional Accountability Project is still working on it, apparently.

Capitalizing on the Anti-Capitalist Movement.

posted by dru
by Kendall

Or as I put it recently:

Technology...reflects institutional and social structures far more

often than it changes them. Technology is only possible within the context of the social and political practices that create, maintain, and extend it. And the social and political practices that constitute social institutions are the limits within which technology can mean or be anything at all.

My take on online voting -- The Folly of Internet Voting, or Democracy and Disenfranchisement.

August 07, 2001
# fun ding

Who Pays for Content? Funding in Interactive Media.

The Deconstructed Journal: a new model for Academic Publishing.

posted by dru
by David Grenier

Read that "who pays for content" piece. Pretty good but I think very outdated. The internet has changed so fast, the market has changed so much, and the demographic of users has expanded so rapidly in the past few years that 1996 predictions are worthless now.

July 15, 2001
# the newness of tech.

Keep your Typewriter, but Don't Forget Use of Pen

PENMANSHIP will not become a lost art--at least for many generations--in the opinion of local educationists. T.A. Brough, assistant municipal inspector of schools, and W.K. Beech, principal of the High School of Commerce, were inclined to disagree with a statement of Talcott Williams, formerly of Columbia university, who has declared that:

"The prime deficiency in the whole teaching of children in our schools is that they are allowed to use te [sic] pen when they ought to begin with the typewriter."


"I don't agree with that at all" said Mr. Brough. "We have not all typewriters. Many people cannot afford to buy one and in any case they are too heavy to carry around."

Authors and poets would be under a severe handicap if typewriting should displace hand-writing entirely, pointed out Mr. Brough.

"Many writers dictate their books, but persons with the poetic temperament are likely to be siezed with a desire to write when they are far from the nearest typewriter. They would be at a loss if they had never learned to use pen or pencil. Typewriters will have to be practically pocket-size before they can take the place of penmanship."


"I think that man is talking through his hat," continued Mr. Brough. "The art of penmanship will never be lost altogether."

Mr. Beech went right to the heart of the question when asked his opinion regarding the Talcott Williams pronouncement.

"If you went out to interview someone, you would hardly take a typewriter with you; would you?" he asked.

"Penmanship still has its uses."

"The typewriter is indispensable in office work, but the pen is still used to a large extent," said Mr. Beech. "Indeed, we find that more emphasis is placed on good penmanship than ever. To prove this it is only necessary to point to the way in which business firms, in seeking office help from among students, insist that they should apply in their own handwriting."


"The modern system is better than the old," he continued. "The muscular movement is of great assistance in the learning of shorthand. The psychological effect of combining the teaching of penmanship and shorthand leads to a better result. A great deal of the world's work is done with the pen yet," he concluded.

(from the Vancouver Sun, April 22, 1923. Thanks to Amanda making me a photocopy.)

posted by dru
June 26, 2001
# marketing

Four Web Sites Control Half of Surfing Time. "marketing and advertising power has replaced infrastructure investment as the main barrier to entry and success on the Web." Yikes. Robert McChesney warned us about this back in 1999, so who is surprised?


A lot of predictions made with great idealism didn't pan out. After a brief first wave of innovative new sites -- Hotwired, Feed, Word, Suck, Salon and Slate -- the notion that the Web would foster a renaissance of independent publishing quickly withered in the face of some hard truths about Web media: Yes, it's easier and cheaper to put up a site than to print a newspaper or magazine or start a TV station, but journalism and information still cost money. And once you hang out your Web shingle you still have to figure out a way for people to find out that it's there.

posted by dru
June 18, 2001
# McCloud's Magic

In his most recent edition of I Can't Stop Thinking, Scott McCloud does the math on micropayments, and leads the cheer to pay artists for their work.

But I wonder if seeing a micropayments as a technological solution to a social problem isn't just a little naive. It's not impossible for artists to get paid directly for their work now, it's just that the idea has been marginalized or shut down by people who make a lot of money by being middle men. Organizing not-for-profit mail-order distribution points for CD's and Comic books where people order through a catalogue or online, and a maximum percentage of the price goes to the artist -- besides what is needed to pay the employees a living wage -- is entirely possible, now. Such a project would require a lot of overhead -- something that artists have a hard time providing. However, the point is, if artists really want to protect their interests and not have to have a corporate-mediated relationship with their audience, they need to be willing to do something about it, and so does their audience. This fact is easily as relevant online as off.

The net can make it easier to set up shop directly to the audience, but if there are millions of dollars at stake, it's not unlikely that the record industries (and others) will find tricks up their sleeve that will leave them with more control of online distribution -- starting with taking chunks of payment to artists right off the top, which is already doing. I'll go so far as to say that as long as a micropayment initiative is for profit (and maybe even if it's not), the more success it demonstrates, the more likely it is to be consolidated, co-opted, or copied by some corporate megalith. Consolidation is demonstrably the rule, rather than the exception in the media biz. I wonder if McCloud's artists' utopia is a little farther off than the nearest technological fix?

The Ralph Nader quote I posted a few days ago is quite relevant:

In the absence of a mobilized constituency, even structural reforms will inevitably fall short of achieving their democratic purposes. Corporate interests will reassert themselves (or new corporate interests will arise) to corrupt even a decentralized media, and eventually chip away at the structural limitations on media concentration.

posted by dru
by David Grenier


Every "micropayment" system has had ridiculously high comissions.

We need to create a not-for-profit open source micropayment system.

by impto

That would be great. I was thinking the same thing but then my thinking ran into a very large wall.

"Selling" a free client to users that would allow them to pay pennies for their favorite web sites will avoiding nagging ads/subscription fees would be easy. Offering this free service to the content providers would also not be a difficult task.

The barrier comes in when you try to coordinate with financial institutions. I think that any group that wanted to interact with banks/creditors is going to have a large problem unless you come at them with big dollar signs.

There is currently no way to bypass these institutions and they are not going to offer a solution like a universal credit system that would cut them out of the process. And I definitely don't think they would offer this solution to an open source system although it would be nice.

eh, just my two bits while I wait until I can go home from work.


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June 16, 2001
# Music

Some interesting analysis of the music industry.

In earlier years, Napster may have garnered much less attention- people could have been disgusted at the many poor or incomplete files, people could have ignored the whole thing knowing that they could buy the real CDs at a real store.

But in the modern world, the consumer cannot do that: the pressures of the music business have led to a wild constriction of consumer choice in mainstream retail outlets, on mainstream radio- in every respect. The degree of control is so extreme that it's no longer possible to buy stuff unless it is mainstream, and record label execs forthwith proceed to study the market and try their level best to produce composite, synthetic musicians and bands that can appeal to the largest or most profitable sections of the market.


But- as illustrated by what happened to the Electronic genre- the Internet is not a physical store. Given the capacity to copy music at no significant cost from any of a million different storage places, the natural tendency for any consumer is to begin the process of differentiation. Once this starts it doesn't stop- the person cultivates their own tastes and pursues additional differentiations among what is available to them.

posted by dru
June 10, 2001
# Cuban food, yum.

Did you know that Cuba has converted from large-scale, "modern" agriculture to small-scale organic agriculture over the past decade, and is doing quite well? I didn't.

...contemporary Cuba turned conventional wisdom completely on its head. We are told that small countries cannot feed themselves, that they need imports to cover the deficiency of their local agriculture. Yet Cuba has taken enormous strides toward self-reliance since it lost its key trade relations. We hear that a country can't feed its people without synthetic farm chemicals, yet Cuba is virtually doing so. We are told that we need the efficiency of large-scale corporate or state farms in order to produce enough food, yet we find small farmers and gardeners in the vanguard of Cuba's recovery from a food crisis. In fact, in the absence of subsidized machines and imported chemicals, small farms are more efficient than very large production units. We hear time and again that international food aid is the answer to food shortages—yet Cuba has found an alternative in local production.

Cuba Organic Farming Group Wins Alternative Nobel Prize

Cuba’s organic revolution

Organic Farming in Cuba

The Greening of Cuba

Urban Agriculture in Cuba

Project Censored lists Cuban organic farming as 12 on its censored stories list. The media coverage that did occur wasn't quite objective.

posted by dru
June 02, 2001
# Digital Music

The Revolution Will be Commercialized. Well, I wouldn't say that the "MP3 Revolution" ever occurred, if only because distributing the same old song for free and faster is still distributing the same old song (and thus totally not revolutionary, or substantial break from the status quo). The Salon article saves the most interesting bit for the last paragraph:

The collapse of the independent digital music industry brings us back to the beginning, back to the truly do-it-yourself indie roots of the Net's earliest days. Collective projects that are free from any corporate ties are still flourishing, and small companies with nifty ideas lurk on the fringes. The major record labels, in turn, will do what they've always done: They'll take advantage of their newly acquired Internet start-ups to develop music services designed to reap an already profitable industry even greater profits.
Exactly. So, once again, let us shed any pretense that big corporations are going to do anything interesting (in the "revolutionary" sense, anyway), and start writing more Wired Magazine-style profiles of people who are doing interesting things on a small scale: those collectives and small companies mentionned above. If interesting ideas (i.e. ideas that change the status quo) ever do come out of big companies, then I'll be pleasantly surprised (emphasis on surprised).

What the article didn't cover is the real hope for digital music distribution, which has little to nothing to do with bands signed to major labels. It has to do with the fact that people don't have to rely on the radio to find out about new music. In addition to all the copyrighted music that one has to download illegally, there are a large number of recorded live performances available online, if you know where to look.

Corporate control of the internet starts with the capacity to make people aware of a certain set of music, and to control what how people find music. If alternatives can be created, it has little to do with what the technology is, but rather how it is used. For example, non-mainstream music scenes have flourished through the old music distribution mechanisms, so they will most likely continue to do so through the new ones. Whether a system is created that can support a significantly greater diversity of local and niche artists, is up to the small collectives and local organizations that got all of one sentence in the Salon article on the "digital music revolution". And their success is up to... us.

Wow. That sounded preachy. And yet, I believe it.

posted by dru
May 30, 2001
# the weblog article

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of articles written about weblogs. Here's big list. There's also an annotated history of weblogs. [both links via camworld]

posted by dru
May 27, 2001
# weblogs != journalism

Weblogging as a New Form of Journalism, from Online Journalism Review.

Weblogs are a kind of formalized, broadcasted banter. Weblogs aren't journalism any more than hearing a friend summarize their views on a recent event is journalism. People who maintain good weblogs generally find diverse sources for a given topic, but they rarely talk to primary sources, much less interview a number of them so as to present a balanced account of the different perspectives on a given issue. Granted, newspaper and TV journalists don't do this well at all, but that's hardly a reason to call weblogs journalistic.

For me, weblogs (as well as emailed links and other ways of distributing pointers to interesting stuff) are useful because they create an infrastructure that lets readers' attention be directed to information not for the reason that some editor decides that it's important, but because people are interested in it. Such an infrastructure creates the possibility for internet users to bypass the corporate-controlled propaganda and focus their friends' and readers' on particular alternative coverage. Just as easily, it can be used to maintain the status quo; the majority of folk who maintain weblogs probably don't think twice when linking to a CNN story as a reliable account of a given event, and the same people probably think I'm some kind of crazed anarchist conspiracy theorist.

(If I sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist when I refer to corporate propaganda, please read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman before dismissing what I say :> It's available from fine bookstores everywhere.)

Journalism can change a lot (for the better) because of the net, but coverage in weblogs isn't how that will happen. An easy way for journalistic coverage to improve would be to recognize the lack of space constraints and take advantage of them. Right now, editors have to be selective about the amount of information that goes into a publication because space has to be used well. The result is a series of executive summaries of issues or events, written in the inverted pyramid style. Online news reports tend to be even more headline and summary driven -- more about condensing coverage to small newsbytes. The problem is, there tends to be no material lying beyond these super-compressed summaries. But why shouldn't there be? If a news story features a few select quotes from a news conference, why not provide and link to a transcript of the same news conference for the readers who want more than a summary? Similarly, why not provide links to relevant transcripts of interviews, primary documents, etc.? There is a place for summaries, but now that we can -- with a relatively small added cost -- the in depth information should be available as well.

Until the news organizations start doing it, weblogs provide a good way bring the summarized and in-depth material together.

posted by dru
by Bijan Parsia

Does more information help? It often doesn't sell. Speaking as a blatherer, sometimes space constraints *help*. After all, *attention* is way more finite than space...on paper or on the net.

Yahoo Full Coverage actually is one of the more amazing things going. It totally trashes any weblog I know of (at least for world events and politics) forgiving the mainstream (and some fringy) spate of views...and yet there's no commentary. It's just a very well organized newswire, topic driven. And there's a hell of a lot you can learn just from studying that!

(What it *really* sucks on is background. Yahoo doens't have writers and researchers working on the topics...only editors. Maybe that's good (I shudder to think what they'd produce), but I'd love to see some sort of synthesis of the articles listed with links back to the sources. E.g., if you had nothing but what yahoo FC pointed to...what would you believe?)

Ah Xanadu...where art thou?

May 24, 2001
# Social and Technological Change

Kendall Clark: Technology and Social Change, Or: Three Myths of XML.

While computer technology might be used to aid radical social change... it's always already embedded in very particular social and historical contexts, most often ones in which radical social change is unlikely. After all, technology doesn't fall, as if a gift of the gods, from the sky. Except in extraordinary circumstances, computer technology is developed and deployed by corporations, i.e., institutions fundamentally opposed to radical social change and, so, fundamentally committed to maintaining the status quo (or to changing it only to benefit their entrenchment and aggrandizement).

posted by dru
May 13, 2001
# Critical?

This tirade against Scott McCloud could probably be summed up in a few sentences: "Scott McCloud's optimistic view of the future 'level playing field' of digital content distribution should be framed in a larger context of corporate power and influence over the internet and information distribution in general." There is, however, little need to attack McCloud's rhetorical, even hyperbolic style, unless you're trying to attract attention to yourself.

I would add that there are still reasons to get excited about the possibilities of digital distribution. When distribution is diminished as point of control and extortion, then more attention can be focussed on the artist and the work itself. However, with fewer limits to distribution comes a greater emphasis on promotion. This is why in the long run, it's crucial to not let Microsoft (or whoever) to control the way we look for information on the net, just as it is crucial not to let commercial radio stations have monopolies on what is broadcast over the air.

Both Microsoft (and Yahoo, Excite, etc.) and commercial radio stations are focussed on one thing: profit. This means that, for example, the record industy's chokehold on distribution can be transferred to a chokehold on the ways people find out about tunes, by dictating what is played on the radio (which they do now), by dictating what options show up when you use the RealAudio or Quicktime player (which they also do now), or by gaining greater influence over what content is featured prominently on popular web sites like Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Excite (which happens to a large extent on MSN and more on AOL, and slightly less on the likes of Yahoo and Excite). There's always the Open Directory and Google, which are in many ways vastly superior to their more commercialized counterparts.

In this sense, the "revolution" of online distribution isn't likely to be as clear cut as we might like, since powerful (read: moneyed) interests aren't interested in losing control. If they have money, and AOL and Microsoft want money, then it's only a matter of degree to which the "revolution" is marginalized by selling control of "eyeballs" to the highest bidder.

This is not to say that things won't change for the better with online distribution. To what degree they change, or are revolutionized, is dependent on the alternatives that are built. And that's up to me, and you.

posted by dru
by jessamyn

other internet initiatives are working to turn the tide away from the moneyed corporate interests. my favorite movement in this direction is the distributed DNS movement where root level DNS is dealt with as more of a P2P interaction among trusted nodes, not a tiny fiefdom ruled by ICANN.

March 16, 2001
# On my Radio

Salon on why (commercial) radio sucks. "The days are long gone when a DJ made an impulse decision about what song to spin."

They also mention that this is "a time when the Federal Communications Commission has seemingly given up on regulating radio." Unfortunately, that's just false, unless one is referring only to big corporations. Low-Power FM radio stations that would be legal under regulations that didn't blatantly favour the corporations are forcibly shut down on a regular basis. In fact, it happened again yesterday.

Gore pulls ahead in Florida. I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would vote for either one.

Why online writing is so bad. I've been working on an interesting way to do collaborative editing online, which might clear up some of these problems. Hopefully I'll have the time to put it into some kind of coherent form in the next while.

For some reason, I had never visited Kuro5hin before. They cover interesting topics. Their Diary feature has some interesting possibilities - kind of a big collaborative weblog, where the difference between the individual space and collective space is blurred. E.g. from what I can see, individual member's diaries can be viewed seperately, but new posts show up in a pool on the page linked above. Cool.

Some links about journalism culled from a thread on Kuro5hin:

posted by dru
by Kendall

Interesting, Dru, that you're doing radio stuff today; I'm going to a meeting on Sunday that will be something of a Pirate Radio HOWTO. It's being given by a pirate radio organizer, in hopes that we'll establish a low-power station in Dallas.

I'm interested because, well, Dallas sucks, and this will make it suck a bit less; and also because I have this hankering to read Monkeyfist commentaries -- mine and others -- over the airwaves! Call it my megalomania at work...

March 11, 2001
# The Paper

The Paper and are both projects that use internet distribution as a way to establish a decentralised global independent media.

An interesting interview with Shane MacGowan, the ex-lead singer of the Pogues. I'm trying to figure out if there's more to him than his self-destruction these days.

posted by dru
March 02, 2001
# [white male] internet utopianism

Internet Culture Review is a great essay by Paul Ford about the history of internet utopianism and the recent uber-commercialization of the net. It is evident that Ford has thought a lot about this subject; he keeps things in perpective very well. A really fun and informative read.

Which reminds me, I've been meaning to start keeping track of the really good essays that I read online, and somehow distinguish them from the constant flow of links that comes through misnomer. Soon.

There are some interesting reactions to "Internet Culture Review" in the Metafilter discussion.

Short piece about e-books, also by Paul Ford, says in some detail what I've often said in discussions about screen-based publishing of any kind: If you try to make an eBook that is better at doing what a paperback does than a paperback itself, you're automatically going to fail. The only way that e-books will be compelling is if they offer something that is unique to the medium, and that becomes something that people want to have while reading. E-books in their current form are only interesting for people who want to have more than a couple books/texts available to them, and are willing to pay the price in clunky-ness.

That's one of the reasons I bought a Palm Pilot - so that I could read longer texts that I found online without having to sit in front of my computer to do so. So far, it's been marginally successful. Translating and transferring files is reasonably fast, but takes a few minutes nonetheless, and the process requires too much technical expertise (cleaning up formatting in BBedit) to be ok for everyone.

posted by dru
by an old granny

Thank you! At last I can read Misnomer again!

by kendall

When you're following an angel

Does it mean you have to throw your body off a building?

by Ola

About the inconvience of translating ebooks and the like; it seems that now there are PDF readers for the Palm OS. That way you can just copy the whole thing over and not worry about translation foolishness. Of course, this doesn't account for that nagging issue of space, or the possibility that you are reading something other then PDFs, but that seems like a pretty universal format.

by Allocco Kate

Advertising is 85% confusion and 15% commission.

February 25, 2001
# Utopia

A really interesting feature about concensus decision-making from

It's also good to see that the folks at Indymedia are expanding into traditional media with the forthcoming global pdf project. I've been thinking that while the internet is a great medium for collaboration and distribution, it isn't the best way to get information to people. Print is good at that, if only because people prefer to read paper, or because it's more portable by default. A good combination, then, is publishing a Global Indymedia Newspaper in PDF format, and letting anyone who wants to print it locally.

I've had similar thoughts for setting up internet radio stations. A really cool project would be to set up a site for independent radio syndication, a sort of clearinghouse for freely (or small fee-ly) available shows. All the shows, PSAs, and even individual news stories would be available in digital audio format, and put into a database with descriptions, ratings, and license information. Like TUCOWS for radio shows. Stations could then have centralized easy access to the show that they wanted to play regularly. A potential side-effect of this would be the possibility of local radio stations (that is, if they were legal) playing 90% independent content from all over the world, but distributing it locally, and catering to the wants of a local audience - all on a . Meanwhile, locals could produce shows in easily set up (with a bit of grant money or donations) computer labs, play them locally, and the ones relevant to a broader audience could get picked up by other stations.

This is how it already works within organizations like NPR. The main difference, however, is that the distinction between professional content and amateur content is based on (locally perceived) merit, not how much the people who produce it are paid. Also, control over what gets played gets brought back to a local level, at least in certain contexts (micro-radio, for instance). This sounds like a totally utopian plan, but it could very easily be set up, if only micro-radio wasn't killed by congress. Bum deal, that. (being a corporate slave must be so boring).

Even if it doesn't ever happen (with radio, anyway), this little thought-spew is worth something for this simple point: there is a distinction to be made between the internet as a medium of distribution and a medium of delivery. In the case of the former, the net is almost always a very efficient way to do things. With the latter, however, there remain much better media for reaching lots of people, like airwaves and printing presses.

That reminds me, Jessamyn posted a while ago about these cool Anti-FTAA graphics, suitable for framing.. er, printing. :)

posted by dru
by plebian

it sounds like a lovely idea.

um. first post?


by John Abbe

Second post, and this is the future i plan to live in.

by maffew

interesting. you might like to check out the radio4all project, which predates indymedia. it's an online archive of radio pieces, interviews and stuff. you can add to it and download from it online.

i think the address is, ah no it's this:

nice to see it is linked both ways with

anywa, the thing that really made me write this comment is your point about distribution.

i think distribution online is good if you have long distances involved, and small files.

if you have big files (e.g. video), or a big audience, or many people in the audience are close to you, then offline means might be simply cheaper. e.g. burn a few CDs and post them. or use a cable TV channel.

by incest tgp

It You can quickly.

by incest tgp

It You can quickly.

February 16, 2001
# Tips

The United States and Britain continued the systematic destruction of Iraqi society today.

No, I'm not just posting that every day because I'm some kind of left wing wacko (though that may hold true by some definitions). The US and UK bombed Iraq again today. Notice how only the Pentagon is quoted, along with some selected facts? I hope so, because it's certainly not an aberration.

I saw a locally-produced performance of the Vagina Monologues on Wednesday night, and I have to say I was very impressed. Both by the talent of my peers and by the turnout. The show sold out, and there was a lineup for standing-room ticket. On Valentine's day. I thought that was pretty great.

idea: Web based discussion boards should have a "me too" widget. That is, a way to express agreement with a point made by an author without using a whole message to say "me too". Under each posting, there could be a link: I agree with what is written above. After the first person clicks on it, another link would appear: X readers agree with this post. That link would lead to a page (or pop-up window) listing the people who have expressed agreement. This has already been done with little systems like 'karma', or Amazon's 'was this review valuable to you?' widget. However, this could introduce an interesting element into discussions, especially where decisions are being made. It could also degenerate discussion into popularity contests, but in specific contexts, it could serve as a running indicator of opinion within a group.

NYTimes on Amazon's honor system.

A scary but interesting article about bugs from New Scientist.

Microsoft, Free Software and the neo-McCarthyist connection?

"I'm an American; I believe in the American way," continued Allchin. "I worry if the government encourages open source, and I don't think we've done enough education of policymakers to understand the threat." --Jim Allchin, Microsoft Veep.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Threat to national security? Nope. Threat to government productivity? I doubt it. Threat to Microsoft's profits? Quite likely.

And shame on Microsoft, for asking the government to bail it out of a situation in which it suddenly seems unable to compete.
Yup. But really, could we expect anything less than shameless hypocrisy from a power-hungry, corrupt institution? Really though, being power-hungry and corrupt are really ideal qualities in a near-pure capitalist system. Socializing costs and privatizing profits is a great business plan. And what's good for the corporations is.. oh, nevermind.
posted by dru
February 02, 2001
# Bangor. Payback for Playback. For some reason, I hadn't heard of this before.

Kendall Clark: The Politics of Schemas.

Against Method, by Paul Feyerabend

Bijan Parsia: Starting Black History Month with a bang.

YT on Monkeyfist: When it comes, it will be quick.

Ralph Nader's account of his presidential campaign is worth a look.

We sent open letters to Bush and Gore, challenging them (in a nice way) to take positions that would enrich the presidential campaign dialogue -- on farm policy, genetic engineering, corporate welfare, the living wage, even simply urging all members of Congress to post their voting records in an easily searchable fashion on their websites, as none currently does. There were no responses from Bush and Gore, and there was never, to my knowledge, one media attempt to elicit such.

posted by dru
December 27, 2000
# Absolute Power.

Information Liberation, a book by Brian Martin. Well written and interesting, so far.

I just saw The Insider. I was quite impressed. I also saw Cast Away the other night, at which I was less impressed, but impressed nonetheless. Somehow, I seem to be avoiding the morass of bad movies that I know are out there. It's almost enough to restore my faith in the capacity for corporate entertainment to provide quality material. Almost.

Cast Away should have been an hour longer than it was. It didn't really resolve what it set up. I have a feeling that the director's cut was probably pretty darned long, but is Hollywood going to make a four hour movie for some pie in the sky idea like artistic integrity? I should have given up before I started writing.

Berkeley's J-School.

What Journalism Students need to learn for work in New Media

posted by dru
December 20, 2000
# New Monkey Content

I finally finished my interview with Ann Clark this morning. It's about corporate control of biotechnology research, and scientific issues around genetic modification in general. In concerns you. Go read it.

I also put together the Best of the Churn, a monster list of the best links to be posted to the Daily Churn, Monkeyfist's irc-driven weblog. It's also a kind of retrospective of the last four months, through monkey-coloured glasses.

Salon: Being Martin Heidegger.

Somehow, I never heard of Arts and Letters Daily until today. Their microcontent seems quite well done, for what it is. But really, it's all about having links to a large number of quality articles in one place.

posted by dru
December 12, 2000
# Mechanical Reproduction

The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, by Walter Benjamin.

Stephen King makes an oblique reference to Ted Nelson's writing in his article about e-publishing in Time magazine. That makes him a few notches more cooler in my book.

He made $600,000 on his 'lectronic serial book, "The Plant". But he ends on a monetary note, which is wierd, because if I had as much money as Stephen King, I think the last thing on my mind would be making more money. Then again, I don't.

David Grenier recounts some of his bad ideas.

posted by dru