Monday, June 30, 2008

Another Experiment in Participatory Democracy

Of the electronically mediated kind.

The Cause Caller site give you tools for setting up a "virtual phonebank" namely auto dialing software for contacting politicians and a wiki to provide callers with a script for guide their phone calls.

I used it to set up a page people can use to call Senator Obama's Senate and Campaign offices to express their disapproval of the FISA "compromise" that lets telecom companies off the hook for helping President Bush spy on us.

So far the response has been a little underwhelming, only about 6 calls or so generated, but I'm going to see what happens.

If you would like to give it a try, click this link to go to the page I set up. Read through the script, then enter your phone number in the box provided and click "start calling." The site will call your phone, then connect you to the first office. Stay on the line when they hang up and the site should connect you to the next office.

Thanks for the help!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I for one would like to welcome our lolcat overlords.

Some of you are probably familiar with the lolcat phenomenon - that curious internet practice of affixing silly captions to photographs of cats. One website seems to have risen to be the largest center for the practice, namely the strange and wonderful Lately, they've branched out, applying their online captioning technology - they call it the lolcat builder - to a variety of other subjects, including politicians.

Henry Jenkins, eat your heart out... here's remix culture in modular form easy to use as a mouse click. And here's what it gets you:

Pop-culture meets politics meets modular distributed production. Here comes everybody.

Firefox Download Day

If you run Firefox as your web-browser, you should know they have a new version (firefox 3.0) available. If you download before 1pm EDT today, you will help them in their bid to set the World Record for a software download.

If you don't run Firefox as your web-browser, you should. It is available free of charge and under a fairly reasonable open-source license (the MPL - I prefer the GPL, but I am a purest). Lots of fun add-ons and gadgets are available. Security tends to be a bit better than IE.

My ad campaign for Firefox aside, I think the map they provide on their page documenting their ongoing world record attempt, the map which shows the number of downloads from locations worldwide, shows some interesting data points. It is possible these numbers have inaccuracies that keep them from being really meaningful, clearly they were not collected with a rigorous scientific methodology, but it doesn't seem entirely foolish to accept them as somewhat accurate (say, within the right order of magnitude) estimates. As such, they paint an interesting picture of how connected to the global network various places are in the current moment. Some things about this picture are not very surprising - they are the same features Castells noticed 15 years ago - but important to note as evidence of persistent inequality. A few features are surprising, however.

Nations of the developed world tend to have fairly large numbers of downloads. The US is first by far, with over 2 million downloads - though this must be at least in part a result of native pride (Firefox project is organized by the US based Mozilla foundation) and the fact that download day was set from 1pm EDT yesterday to 1pm EDT today, a time span convenient for users in most U.S. time zones. Western European Countries tend to have 100,000 downloads or more - sometimes much more, Germany has over 400,000 - Australia, Canada, Japan, China, and Brazil (Brazil actually beats out its fellow BRIC developing economies here, with more downloads than Russia, India, or China. This may be browser preference in part, but clearly shows the strength of Brazil's economy as well) round out the "over 100,000 club" with one more, somewhat surprising addition I will get to later.

Compare this wealth of downloads to the dirth of downloads on the content of Africa. Only South Africa has over 10,000 downloads. Only Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya and Egypt have over 1,000. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation of 62 million people, claims only 45 downloads. That's 33 fewer than Greenland. Somalia claims only 10. There is one, lone Firefox downloader in Chad.

The Caribbean also is a low download zone, though it seems signifigantly better connected than Africa. The Dominican Republic, with about the same population as Chad, has almost 4,000 downloads. Of course, they also have about the same population as Belgium, which has 46,000 downloads. Cuba lags, but is not the total blackout zone it would have been a few years ago. They have 860 downloads as I write this and may pass 1,000 before the end of the day. Haiti is by far the least downloadingest Caribbean country, with only 86 downloads (for 8 million people)!

The middle east is also a relatively low download zone. Saudi Arabia, with about 7,000 downloads, is at about the same per-capita download rate as the Dominican Republic. Iraq has fewer than 200 downloads (does the US army run Internet explorer, then?). Israel and Turkey have healthy, if not astounding, download rates (25,000 and 50,000 respectively). The real shocker is the surprise I alluded to earlier. Iran. Iran has 185,000 downloads - more than Pakistan, India, Russia, China, Australia or Brazil. I suppose this might be some sort of fluke or bad number or IP geolocation flaw or something, but if it isn't... well, it says something about what sort of "closed society" Iran is running these days, I think.

Oh and speaking of closed societies, the only country I could find on the map with 0 downloads was.... North Korea. I guess they win at being isolated.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Rest of my yesterday

Now up on flickr... or at least the shots I liked.

Blur 3

Red Red Radishes

MD, his spousal unit, and I went to the Radish festival in McClure, Ohio. MD was disappointed, apparently you shouldn't let your anticipation for a regional festival build up over the course of four years. I thought it was alright... fun polka and some interesting things to take pictures of. Like this sack of radishes: Fresh From the Sack

More on my flickr page.

Obama on Gay Marriage

I'm curious what JS, MP and others who have expressed some concern about how forcefully Sen. Obama would support gay rights as President will think of this report, which suggests that the Senator expressed cautiously worded support for gay marriage in a meeting with Protestant ministers. Brave for sticking to his guns in the face of a hostile crowd, or wimpy for using "cautious" language?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fragments from a 21st Century Travelogue

Binghamton, New York

My grandparent's home. They are dead; the upper floors lay vacant; a few belongings are piled in the center of the living room on the odd chance someone wants them. My mother has already removed paperwork, documents, photographs. Among them the stamped passbook that brought my great-grandfather through the checkpoints of the British Army in occupied Germany after the first world war.

In the basement is another mass of detritus: the tattered remains of board games that entertained me, my sister and my cousins when we were children, ancient appliances in various states of disrepair (probably awaiting some promised fix when my grandfather's stroke hit), black rotary Bell Telephone telephones in classic semi-gloss bakelite. My Grandfather, a plumber, had hoarded great masses of pluming fixtures, nuts and bolts, pipe hangers, valves. My mother, aunt, and I sort them carefully and haul them to the local scrap dealer. We make 300 dollars on two hundred pounds of copper and brass. We wait behind a long line of thin, leathery men in pickup trucks at the scrap dealer unloading pipes, refrigerators. One is knocking the wood and foam out of an aluminum boat with a sledgehammer. My part of America is mining its cities for raw materials, selling itself off by parts. I think of electrical lines being run to ultra-luxury hotels in Dubai, of data centers going up on south Pacific islands with no natural resources remaining but their lack of anything resembling coherent structures of legal jurisdiction.

Enfield, New York

My mother's fiance has four years of firewood stacked in front of the post and beam home he designed himself and built with the help of friends in the early 70s. The house is small inside, but comfortable and surprisingly well lit. He brags that he made it through the winter last year without even expending a full year's worth of firewood, all while showing me the massive pile of new wood he will add to his stock this year. I ask about the apparent oversupply of fuel and he shrugs and says, "its poor man's capital, i guess," and compares it to the scrap cars a friend keeps on their lawn, or my grandfather's pipe fittings.

Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

This is the last morning my girlfriend and I will spent in this central Pennsylvania town, with its views of the Appalachians looming low and green over the Susquehanna. I look up from the air mattress on the floor of her empty apartment and see swallows cutting through the pale yellow morning light. Will there be swallows in the Southern City we are moving her to, I wonder? I suspect not. The swallow, I believe, is a natural cliff-dweller and nests among the habitations of humanity only when they are old and quiet enough to mimic their ancestral environs. The low slung brick and concrete and stone buildings of this old river town are swallow heaven. How long until we tear them down, for copper conduit, for steel rebar?

In a 21 foot Truck, West Virginia

If you are a novice truck driver and decide to attempt to maneuver a 21-foot Penske moving van containing all of your beloved's worldly possessions along the narrow and winding roadway that is US 70 in West Virginia, here is what the experience will be like: the world dissolves into one long moment. Your human ability to reflect on the past and plan for the future goes away, except insofar as "the past" refers to the last bend in the road and "the future" refers to the next one. Your conscious mind will grab hold of some tiny piece of thought. Perhaps even this very notion, that "this is one long moment." It will repeat this thought over and over (this is one long moment this is one long moment this is one long moment this is one long moment) a sort of cartesian checksum, a way for it to verify for itself that the truck has not slid from the highway and with it your being into nothingness. This slim thread of ego is all that remains, the rest of you is devoted to the needs of the body, to holding the bouncing truck on its narrow and twisting course, to fighting off the dull ache growing ever sharper between your shoulders. (Some smarty pants may have noticed that I have mixed my philosophical systems in a manner that may not be completely internally consistent. Fuck you! I survived the truck-rodeo! I am among the living! I will appropriate dead men's philosophy as I see fit.)

Unnamed Southern City, North Carolina Piedmont

The girlfriend is a private person. I'll call the city she has moved to "Unnamed Southern City" out of respect for her not to be exposed to the stark gaze of the massed denizens of the global networks. Unnamed Southern City is a riot of growth, both botanical and artificial. Dense green hedgerows are interspersed with sprawling strip malls, apartment complexes, gated communities. The original ecology meets capital's emulation of its supposed darwinian imperatives.

There are no swallows here. The old brick factory shells that harbor them back home never existed in this place. Instead the sprawl sports small, vertical clumps of concrete and glass office towers, new workplaces for a new economy in the new south. Note to the ghost of Bill Faulkner: today the it is the North that is old and vanquished, the South has become young and victorious.

Unnamed Southern City, a small jet aircraft, Regan airport, another small jet aircraft, Syracuse, New York

The aircraft from Unnamed Southern City to Regan is so small I cannot fit my backpack in the overhead bin, and completely full. I have lucked out and drawn a bulkhead seat. I watch the frazzled flight attendant escort a hopeful standby passenger onboard, only to discover that someone was in the toilet for the headcount and there is no seat for her. She escorts her back off the plane. Her bag must be withdrawn from the plane by the crew. There is a delay. My fellow travelers groan. The plane spends less than an hour in the air. The truck and I spent 5 hours making this distance a few days ago. We pass Richmond on our way to Washington. A ten minute flight, a century and a half ago, the distance between two warring Americas.

Regan sits so close to the city you can almost touch it from the tarmac. There is a forest of cranes along the Potomac, between us and the silhouette of the Capitol dome. New construction for the security state. The war, it seems, is still hiring. I spend two hours in the airport, watching the constant motion of arrivals and departures, the thousands of pieces of aluminum kept always moving by the energy of our dwindling petroleum supply. Amazing that it works at all, flinging people through the stratosphere on a daily basis. More amazing when it is gone.

The plane to Syracuse is both larger and less crowded than my previous flight. It seems unlikely this could be a profitable venture for those operating the airline. Again we are less than an hour in the air. I touch down in Syracuse, my mother picks me up from the airport. A few minutes later I am standing at the sandwich counter of my childhood grocery store, remembering looking at the Washington monument a few hours before. A strange juxtaposition of the familiar and novel.

I step outside. It is cool here, and quiet. Swallows are swooping from the old brick office building standing beside the Owasco outlet. A yellow Faye drugstore ad fades and peels from its side. There is no traffic, except for a single dumptruck belching thick black diesel smoke. In its bed are appliances, copper pipe, aluminum conduit...