QC-L Version 4.0

Yes, welcome to my lair of evil thoughts and incorrect speech where I don't let go and move on and I talk about whatever I please. On a blog no one ever tells you to shut up. If you don't like what I say, just go elsewhere.

This blog now has a new background and a new theme. It is also using a remotely loaded style sheet. That is a first. It is lush, heavy, and uses a background that has a theme I have never used here before, though I have used it for pressies. Let the show go on! It always does anyway. And yes, we are powered by Blogger.

I am putting a temporary illustration here until I have a logo for this design. Watch this space.

temporary illustration

LET'S ROLL THOSE OTHER SITES

The Backfile: this blog's archives.

Ajayu, home of my story, The Sneezeweed Chronicles. Yes, I do fiction.

It will have Oneiro, my own little role play.

Unfettered Soul, my flagship site.

The Silk Purse, my play pretend Brainstorms.

Failed Messiah Religious news never sounded so good.

New York Times. Read the news and be smart.

Monday, October 30, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

OK, here are tonight's readings. Do you want to ask me if this is still fun? It's not. It is getting way too much like work, but I believe in discipline. Discipline beats tears! That is my slogan. Onward and upward. Loud and proud. Let's have those readings.

The Network Empowered Citizen by Stephen Coleman

From the Screen to the Streets In These Times, October 28, 2003.

Reading Howard's article was not as bad as I thought. It went to press right around the time (probably a week before I joined Brainstorms -- Oh what a mistake that was! It is an interesting article to read in light of that fact. Howard stresses that not all progressive blogs and web pages are created equal. The conservative, centrist, and libertarian ones do not exist of course, but that is another story. Drivel, last night's topic du jour is also off his map. Well one can't have everything. To sort out the best, one needs ranking tools like Google page rank. Is this middle school where we are back at popularity contests? He also suggests reputation systems.

Most tellingly, and most elitist, he suggests that those online need to form communities with norms of etiquette to keep conversation civil. Eight months after Howard published these words, I was on the receiving end of some very civil due process in Brainstorms. I was exonerated but kicked out any way. Some civilty and due process. It guess it shows that communities need rules as well as norms. At least if they have rules, they have to break something before they treat polite well behaved members like dirt.

This is why hierarchical top down organizations have appeal. Being a subordinate is not all bad, if you know where you stand and have your rights and duties laid out for you. Most MSN Groups are hierarchical with their cadre of managers and assistant managers and of course there is MSN itself whose word is law whether you are right or wrong. They don't mess around with due process. If they hear a complaint, they shut down your group. We all know where we stand out there in the managers' group to which i belong. We clue in the newbies and life goes on. It beats MSN saying there are norms and you are violating them and then sitting around and debating the norms. Sit on your tail like that and of course nothing gets done.

This brings me to Coleman's article. Coleman leaves a lot of people out. He reminds me of Habermas that way. Those who are in numerous mom's groups on MSN are in the commercial sphere and therefore not part of his informal networks. Any one with a Runboard, Proboards, Invisionfree, and yes, let's not forget Blogspot is also inside the commercial net. One of the things that makes lefties like Coleman want to stick fingers down their throats and gag is the fact that for ordinary people (Yes, people who like to circulate drivel) the free enterprise system makes having a social network on the web possible. If you want the capability of Caucus and you are an ordinary user, MSN Groups is currently the place to go.

Second, just because people talk and share information doesn't make the government have to deal with them by sitting in their chat rooms. If people want to interact with government, most elected officials had email addresses last I heard. Let them write. There, that was not so hard. There are also town meetings and school board meetings. Politics is local. Say that three times fast. There is a lot more an active citizen can do besides vote.

Now as for social capital and bridging capital, this is a nice idealistic idea. In practice it can be as rare as hen's teeth. Thadea at one time was the tenth or eleventh best site fighter in the world. Thadea ended up on Ringo with lots of other site fighters. It soon became clear that site fighters seldom had full time work and they had almost no friends outside the fights. Vote exchange creates a tight and incestuous social netowrk. Vote exchange happens when site fighters trade votes with each other. If you want to see site fighters in action, try here and here. Remember most of the successful ones buy their votes by trading with other site fighters.

The problem with this kind of network is that it makes it very difficult to recruit new fighters. Those with huge vote exchange loads are too busy and all they know are existing fighters. You can recruit existing fighters to your competition, but there are only so many fighters and this can support only so many competitions.

Also has any one reading this blog tried to provide bridging social capital? In plain English this means joining a group (or several of them) in which you are an outsider. This means the norms change. Why should every group have the same norms? This also means learning a whole different language. The people who become your new friends (and they had better be friends) don't eat the same food, draw the same pictures, read the same books, or spend their days the same way that you do. Now try to gain something from them (If they have nothing to give why are you there and how can you respect them?) and give them some of your expertise. I believe this can be done. It is part of my vengance against Brainstorms.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I guess I am making up for lost time, as I blog my tail off at the weekend's end. I want to start out with a bit of talk about the bubbles. Maybe there are places and cultures where people do not have bubbles. These would be nice idyllic tribal villages or old time family clans, claustrophobic nasty zones where everyone knows your business or people mostly think alike. In a diverse industrial or post industrial society like ours you get a bubble.

You get a nice fully blown bubble as soon as you can move out, afford your own place, and more or less pay your own bills. What you do is your own business and you arrange your life outside of work and the other demands of others as you like it. Your bubble is yours and in it are the things you enjoy doing, that you value, your food preferences, your religious beliefs, your politics, your other interests etc... When you meet people and more importantly when you date them, you open up your bubble door and you also get a glimpse inside a stranger's bubble. I could tell some great dating stories, but the guy about whom I'd tell them is dead and it just isn't fair. I still remember a visit to his apartment. Crazy people have the most interesting bubbles. Most of the ones who function keep their bubble doors closed most of the time, as do most of us.

So why am I going on about bubbles. Well, you don't just get a look inside of other people's bubbles when you date. You also get a look inside colleague's bubbles (Bubble doors sometimes swing open at odd moments.) and you get to see inside prospective internet friends' bubbles. That is what is happening on my MSN Groups. I'm learning bits about the personal lives of the women in my two craft groups. I draw. We have something in common. That is all we have in common, but it is real. That is what counts. It motivates me to draw. They so far seem excepting of a younger working single female in their midst. We'll see how we do with swapping recipes some time tomorrow. Cooking may or may not be something we have in common. Chances are very good we do not eat the same foods.

The other bubble issue is sex. Quite simply, adults love to write about it and draw images related to it. If they don't draw the images they simply use the. The sexy female sig-tags are proof enough of that. Then there are the endless dirty jokes in some of my groups. I read them and wince. I ask myself: "didn't we get over that in seventh grade?" I think that my grandmother used to tell such jokes. I feel no need of sexy sig-files. I think they show a lack of restraint. I find the dirty jokes leave me cold. I'm not a prude.

What I think I am is a class one sublimator. I have a long distance boyfriend and dread the meat market of dating. Putting the whole business out of my mind and spending the energy elsewhere is what makes sense for me. I guess this is more bubble stuff.

Now that I see bubble doors open and shut with some regularity, I see a lot of loathesome food, too much sex, and people who are living very different lives than I (and not all of this in the same group so if you recognize your group or yourself here, you don't!). I wonder how those who see inside my slid open bubble door feel about what they find. Are sublimators boring? Am I the first Jew they have met? Do they think the veggie dishes I make are fake? Do the old prejudices about "career women" resurface? I wish all this garbage did not have to get in the way of becoming friends with new people.


by Eileen Kramer

All right here are the first and second readings for Howard's course for this week:

Deanforamerica.com

"Indymedia.org: A New Communications Commons" Dorothy Kidd IN McCaughey, Martha, and Michael D. Ayers. Cyberactivism: online activism in theory and practice. New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 47-70.

I won't kick a site when it is down and Deanforamerica.com is just that, down, gone, and probably kaput. I guess that says something. You can draw your own conclusions.

Dorothy Kidd's reading is another matter. The fact that she likes hackers and other low lifes and has not respect for private intellectual property does not endear me to her. I also disagree with her low view of the Free Enterprise System.

But all that aside, Ms. Kidd or Dr. Kidd, gets so much wrong it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with history post 9/11. The weeks and months following 9/11 were a time for a weird sort of openness. Susan Sontag made comments about blow back that earned her some very harsh criticism but the New Yorker published them any way. A liberal talk show host got in trouble for saying that the hijackers were not cowards. He got in trouble, but he was able to get his comments out on the air. There were teach-ins along with the memorials and a renewed interest in the Middle East on many college campuses. It took a year or two to harden up the fear and clamp down.

No doubt the mass media, especially Clear Channel radio, had a hand in that hardening but something else was also at work and I'll get to that below.

First, I want to take a long, hard, look at Indymedia. Indymedia is an ELITE institution. Look at the people who write for it and keep it together. College students and recent graduates who do not have families to support and who do not have to worry about having a job to meet the car payments or take care of parents and siblings are generally educated upper middle class or aspirint-to-be middle class. Say that three times fast.

If you are a real have not who is lucky enough to go to college, you are either going to be preoccupied with making it in school, earning enough to pay tuition, and later earning enough for the good life or at least a nice middle class life. The idea of becoming a starving intern to stop globalization won't have much appeal when you've been a starving person trying to get through school. There are of course a few exceptions to this, but by and large I think this is true.

The real common person in the United States somteimes goes by the name of Joe (or Josephine) Six Pack. He or she may own a small amount of property? Sad books like The Trouble With Kansas have been written about how Joe and Josephine Six Pack don't vote their economic self interest, but instead vote their aspirations and their social conservativsm.

Joe and Josephine Six Pack have their own form of net media. I call it drivel because I am a member of the elite. I'm not a member of the corporate elite, but I'm small time elite just like those folks at Indymedia. The small time leftist elite are a serious bunch. They/we like to think we stay informed and read our news. That is why we have sites like Anti-War.com and of course IndyMedia and Counterpunch for op-ed pieces.

For Joe Six Pack, the best propaganda vehicle is not one thing like news. Attractive propaganda does not need any facts, just an appeal for the senses and emotions and a few well oiled truisms. Drivel seldom has any provable facts. It may even be patently untrue, but it rouses the right sentiments all the same. By the way, Joe Sixpack is unlikely to read the Nation, American Spectator, Reason, or Lew Rockwell.org He could but he usually doesn't. He or she may get forwards from Focus on Family, but again these don't do as much as drivel.

There are no Drivelmedia web sites. There are sites where individuals have posted drivel and drivel often finds itself caught on such sites as Snopes.com where those it annoys can discuss it and rip it to bits. Instead, those who enjoy drivel pass it on via their email address books and the groups to which they belong on Yahoogroups.com and at MSN Groups. Sit in the right spot and drivel will rain down. If you don't know any ordinary working Americans then you won't see any drivel. There is no editing board. There is no one renting or borrowing web space. The drivel spreads democratically through social networks and among friends and acquaintences in a manner so nonhierarchical and democratic, it should give media activists and lovers of the public sphere paroxysms of joy...unless of course they read the stuff.

Unlike the mass media, drivel does not have to pretend to be polite or even politically correct. Now some talk radio hosts can get away with being mildly racist. Chris Krok here in Atlanta is a great example, but drivel can be xenophobic, jingoistic, and just plain ugly.

Let me show you some examples:

In Praise of RedNecks

The Disgruntled Katrina Volunteer

Dr. Pepper Cans without "Under God"

Enjoy....

OK, Jeff asked me to sum up Howard's course thus far and what I think of it. First, I don't think I can really do this because we only have access to about a third of the course, the third that is public, mainly the readings.

That said, there is something not right with Howard's course. First, the course hurts for serious overall internet metrics. Saying that site X gets Y hits per day, week, or month does not cut it. How does political site X do compared to other popular nonpolitical internet sites? Is CNN twenty or a hundred times more popular than the Daily Kos? Does EBay reach a thousand times more people than Instapundit? I still have no idea how big a segment of the internet political sites comprise.

Second the course needs more network theory. I started reading more of Doug Watts, Six Degrees. It seems that just lining up the bodies and hooking them to your node does not do it. You need to find people who are weak connections so that you use them to bridge to other nodes and make for a robust network. This according to Watts is how people find jobs. It was also how those who managed to keep people from seeing Stolen Honor on Sinclair TV stations managed to stage a successful boycott. A blog bumped in to an activist with real world experience.

It would also be nice if the theory behind social networks on the net were not Marxist. Communism is pretty well dsicredited. Why does it still hang on in sociology? Does the business literature have anything about forming internet networks or have articles about how to get the word out through the net? I realize taht the more conservative social science research is often done as business research.

On another level, Habermas' definition of the public sphere, on which this course leans so heavily is woefully incomplete. It leaves out religion. For most Americans religion matters an awful lot. It also leaves out small time commerce and may leave out pet ownership. That is leaving out a lot which matters to many ordinary people.

The course concentrates on sexy internet technology such as blogs and wikis to the exclusion of web boards and email. Web boards are still very much in use at Invisionfree.com, Excoboard, Proboards, and MSN Groups.

Finally, I don't think Howard's course (and I could be wrong here since I am not privvy to class discussions) does much to address how to reach ordinary people (not members of one's own elite who are not the corporate elite but clearly educated and middle class socially if not in terms of income) through the net. The course does not ask where one might find such people, the kind of things they discuss, and what fora they choose?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

OK, here is tonight's reading. This is the last reading for this week. I'm kind of glad of that because I do have other fish to fry if you'll pardon the cliche. Well here it is....

The Development and the State Control of the Chinese Internet by Xiao Qiang, before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Commission.

I liked this reading. Xiao, your prose is enjoyable, and your reading left me with a lot of questions. First, what about the other eighty-five percent or more of the Chinese population who currently have no internet access, the peasants and factory workers? One of the great things about the internet in the last few years in the United States is you can meet people from all walks of life on it. In China it seems that only the elite are on the net.

Once you leave behind the cocoon of "intelligent conversation" communities and academia, the landscape of the net changes. Images become important. People find it difficult to churn out long posts. Traditional religion and patriotism become important. I have a bit of trouble stomaching the latter, and the former should fit just fine with me except for one small problem: I'm Jewish and there are almost no Jews at most nonelite web sites just as there are almost no Jews in most of the United States.

I've never met a Chinese peasant. I've met the descendents of Mexican peasants and ranchers. What was interesting about them is these were the people who did not emmigrate or immigrate. Imagine living in the same area for several centuries. Well East Texas Hispanics were classic "stay puts." I had a Black boss on my last job who was also a "stay put" No one in her family immigrated north during the early and mid Twentieth Century and she of course returned to Florida after finishing library school. I would suspect that Chinese peasants are "stay puts."

I've only known two Chinese people (as opposed to Chinese American) really well. One was my first boss about whom I don't wish to speak. He was a good boss. He is dead now and has been for nearly fifteen years. The other was a fellow graduate student in library school. She was working on an IRM and came from Beijing. Her college had no core or distribution requirements so she had little general knowledge. She was also a princess of the first order.

From her I learned that China is far more like Georgia than New York State. New York is multicentric. The big city in the Mohawk Valley is Syracuse, not New York City. New York has many regional cities and they are elegant cities in their own right. Georgia has one big city, Atlanta. China has just a few big cities and the rest is a bit like Lisle and Center Lisle outside of Ithaca, towns one doesn't visit because nothing is there but this huge yard full of porta-potties. I suspect the porta-potties are still there. They have to keep them somewhere and land between Ithaca and Whitney Point is cheap.

I remember shopping for a winter coat with Yi. She bought one that was way too tight. I was shocked. Did she know nothing of Syracuse winters? I finally said (and I knew she would wear the coat after she graduated): "what if you get a job in Sinkyang out west? You're going to need to put a big thick sweater under your winter coat." Yi recoiled in horror. I did not mean Yi would be exiled. I meant that she would get a job in the boonies to begin toiling in the vinyards as was the fate of many middle class American students.

I also remember how surprised Yi was when she saw my resume. On a Chinese resume or what they used in place of a resume in the mid to late 1980's one put information about one's family. I explained taht such information was NOT a potential employer's business. Yi slowly caught on to the fact that I was knocking on door after door with my packets run off on a Mac. I did get my job in the boonies, but at least Utica was a city on the Throughway. It was in some respects lovely and civilized as are nearly all Upstate New York cities, but it was also very much part of the Third World. The water carried a coliform advisory.

The upper crust of China and probably their new elite are very different from even upper middle class Americans. Peasants and factory workers have to be even more different. What kind of online world do such people build?

This brings me to point number two tonight. I looked at the restrictive rules for the Chinese internet and for a moment all I could think of were Neorules. I'm not sure you can get to these without an account, but over a million users (probably at least a hundred thousand active users) are subject to these. They remind me of the Chinese rules, or maybe the Neorules are worse.

Then there are the terms of use at places like AngelFire and MSN which runs MSNGroups is not the best landlord either. Such is the cost of doing business or having pleasure on someone else' private property.

One last question for Xiao: What about India? India is a bit more than half the size of China, partially English speaking, and the world's biggest democracy. If there is hope for political use of the internet, why not think of India instead of China? India is also where all the call center jobs have gone due to outsourcing. I wonder if China will be the next outsourcing sight. Then there is Mexico with all its immigrants to the United States. Isn't Mexico City one of the largest cities on the planet. Mexico recently broke with one party rule so again, there is a country ripe for more democracy. Oh well, enough questions for tonight.

I'm changing my tack on MSN Groups. You'll notice this column is over on the right hand side. It is here for good reason. I realized that in five weeks, Howard's course will be over, and there will be no more readings to discuss. Well I have to do something. I remember what I swore I would do when I intially swore vengance against Brainstorms and all things Brainstormish. Well, I think I have a shot. No, nothing has happened except in my head, but that is good enough for now. No, I won't tip my hand entirely.

Suffice it to say, a few days ago I got invited to a group that belongs to someone I met in my Managers group on MSN. I must be earning a good reputation. I must be adapting to the new environment though not completely. Well, I have something to offer, and I think I figured out how to make something of it so that it is not just ego gratification for me.

By doing the readings for Howard's course, I've learned that there is a lot of arcane knowledge that doesn't spread down to ordinary people. Technical knowledge is also in short supply. Put knowledge in to the right hands and... That is one third of the current project. The second third is secret. Some things do have to be secret on this board.

The last third is me. I may have the solution, but the problem is my background leaves me with a completely different way of seeing the world. Most people can't write or don't feel comfortable pouring out the written word. I not only write, but find it pleasurable. Someone has to I suppose.

Throw in graphics and the situation gets worse. You've all seen the famous Silver Beaches cheese cake. Well even when my fellow MSN Group denziens don't make cheese cake, more than half the sigs or about half feature female glamour images. There are just so many things to draw and/or steal. The world is full of interesting objects, shapes, animals, and plants. I used to rail against neoteny which is also a big feature of graphics. When people draw and create different images, they see the world in fundamentally different ways. I wonder if my fondness for simple objects and for reptiles, insects, and plants comes from math and science courses. Perhaps I've learned a certain reductivist way of thinking that translates in to graphics of a completely different style. I also cut my computer graphic teeth in the early 1980's using MacPaint. Can people who do not see the world the same way coexist? Can they form friendships and benefit each other? Can I learn to see it there way? I just detest glamor images.

This is why people don't leave their comfy enclaves. It is hard to retool. I think I know that there is no trailer park on the net or rather as Danny Brooks, my boss at Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners, once told me: "Trailers are excellent. They let people own their own homes." The recent Cornell graduate got an education in two sentences. To this day, I admire Danny Brooks. My double wide is nice and cozy. Now it's time to meet the neighbors and befriend them. I expect to have some genuine friends and colleagues when all of this is over and if I am really successful....


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Here is tonight's reading....

Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere: A New Force in American Politics by Chris Bowers and Matthew Stoller, August 10, 2005

I don't have a lot to say about this reading. This one was short, sweet, and for a change, it made sense. Bowers and Stoller realize that politics is local and that blogs have to work with existing party campaign structures. I like the way he casts bloggers as somewhere between journalists and supporters. They say in Europe that newspapers are very partisan unlike here where they at least try to be in the middle of the road.

I still think of blogs more as Op-Ed than news. If I want news, I go to the BBC or listen to NPR. I should read the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, but I think the New York Times is more fun, especially the magazine which I call the juicy morsel.

I have a question how do hits at political blogs compare to those at popular sites such as CNN, Ebay, and yes, MSN Groups? I have looked at one ranking site, but I'm not sure that it was all that accurate.

I have a second question? Are blogs a good way to reach poor folks? If you can get them registered (and that is a big if since renters lose their registration if they move to new digs especially if they move from one county to another!) they have the same vote as an upper middle class wealthy politically astute blogger. Politics needs to include every one at least on election day and preferably before down at party headquarters.

I do have to go and clean up my little entry at Campaigns Wikia. I filled in some vital information for Georgia. That felt good, but I can't spell for beans and I always misspell people's names. Oh well...I should do that before election day. I hope someone did the editing for me.

Meanwhile, I'd like to talk about vengance and closure and what those things mean. Apparently, they are not mutually exclusive. I haven't played pretend in ages, more because blogging and reading the readings and finding the readings takes time. Time is finite. I am also trying to make a place for myself among MSN Groups and that takes time. Something has to give.

More puzzling is my inability to write a mast head. OK, for those who haven't seen the mast head that periodically is part of the left hand side of this blog when it is divided which it is not right now it goes like this:

IT WAS WORTH IT! It was worth it to be kicked out of Brainstorms. It is worth it to be who I am, to do what I do, to say what I said even though God knows I was polite as pie until then end when I gave them all what for. My avatars and self expression are worth more to me than any membership in any cybercommunity. I live by my faith in my self expression which is a form of my faith in God. God does not mind vengance. Read the Old Testament of your Bible. I have a play pretend Brainstorms (currently inactive) that is ten times better than the original.

IT WAS WORTH IT! IT IS WORTH IT!

to have my Roanna_np account frozen on Neopets. Self expression is more imprtant than Neopoints and I can still play my virtual pets on Pets Allowed though I haven't done it in a while. I just don't have the hours in the day.

There, I wrote a mast head. There is much to be said for affirmations like this every two weeks to one month. I don't know why this was so difficult now that I have done it. I guess it was just a matter of remembering my faith, but seriously I just could not do it for the longest time. I'm not sure why. I think taking apart the readings in Howard's course and having the two exBrainstormer boards, The Veldt and Banging Your Heart and working wtih MSN Groups is providing a kind of closure.

Closure, however, does not meant giving up and moving on or letting go. What it means is continuing the fight. I held on for two years and was the rock that could not be moved. Now that inert stone has come to life. With luck my new found friends and I can make our stand against the secret hidden elites of the net, Brainstormers and others. A disgruntled exmember is a powerful force especially if she keeps her dream of vengance alive. My vengance still lives.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Work at the circus long enough and you will acquire a taste for the smell of sawdust, stale peanuts, and elephant and donkey droppings. Political campaigns are circuses. That is why it is no fun to rip up the following reading:

Dean Space, Social Networks, and Politics John Lebowsky

It jumps off the page how absolutely and positive clueless Joe Trippi and Zephyr Teachout were. Wikis and blogs all interconnected to form a spontaneous grass roots movement to bypass those hoary old heads down at party headquarters, or "more prgmatically" the hoary old heads are supposed to "get it" and welcome the "perfect storm" with open arms.

This does not work for so many reasons, I have a hard time knowing where to start. First, politics is LOCAL. Even Presidential campaigns are LOCAL. Election laws (RULES!) and procedures vary from state to state and even county to county. Getting people from California involved when the first primary is in New Hampshire and the first caucus is in Iowa is to some degree a waste of energy. The Californian may provide money, but she can't work unless she travels and she knows nothing about campaign procedures in Iowa which is a caucus state. The Californian is similarly useless for getting nominating petition signatures in New Hampshire in the late fall and dead of winter (If they need nominating petition signatures. They need them in New York, and I'll be getting to that.).

Experienced campaign workers, party bosses, hoary heads, call them what you will know all about this stuff and they teach it to any one willing to work unless they are from such a dominent party that they have too many volunteers or are so disorganized that they don't know what they themselves are doing or they have been given secret instructions to "throw" the campaign via malign neglect. This means that a hierarchical "military" structure is effective because so much campaign work involves traning newbies, especially in a Presidential election year. New people do not know what it takes to make a petition signature valid in Oneida County New York. They do not know about poll watching or voter registration laws. If they are high school kids, they may want to pile everyone in to their car (all six of them) and drive somewhere (er uh...do you know what will happen if there is an accident even if no one is hurt?) At a larger level, someone has to rent or borrow prominent space for a party headquarters, schedule volunteers, obtain and maintain computer equipment etc.... All this takes people in the know and frequently people with connections in the county seat or at the town level. Did I say "local elites" or "old boys and girls?" Well I said it.

A bunch of people sitting around and communicating on a Wiki or series of interconnected blogs are not going to be getting done the work of the campaign. Unless someone with experience happens by as they did with the Sinclair boycott, there will be no one to do the necessary training. Also many of the people the social software reaches are going to be in the wrong state at the wrong time. Only some links in a social political network are worthwhile early in the race.

Also, general syndicated conversation is NOT the kind of information most political campaigns need. Lebowsky at least mentions "voter files." I guess he deserves points for that, but every election I have ever been through has hurt for good solid demographic data, whether derived from the census or from the computer printouts at the Board of Elections. If someone could figure out a way for the Board of Elections computers to communicate with campaign headquarters computers in a read and download only fashion then the headquarters could maassage neighborhood data and integrate it with census data and know where to go campaigning that would best bring results, where voters need to be registered, where a get out the vote effort would do the most good. This is somewhat proprietary information. You would not want the other party to see it. It is absolutely useless outside one's own county as well, but boy would it be nice!

Third, political campaigns exist to train party faithful and to elect a slate of candidates not just a President. The big pay off even if you don't win is an intact organization of trained campaign workers for mid-term and local elections and in four years the next Presidential elections. I have worked on campaigns on and off since I was seventeen years old. I was even a delegate for Tom Harkin in 1992, not that he was on the ballot any more by the time the New York primary rolled around. I tromped through the snow getting signatures to get Harkin on the ballot, not that it did any good. I did, however, learn that ball point pens freeze at fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Roller ball pens are sloppy but at least they work in cold temperatures. Deanspace, did nothing to build a local structure of experienced campaign workers.

Let us not forget that Dean's campaign imploded in a single moment of mass media soundbyte, the "scream." Lebowsky does not mention it, but it was one of those memorable moments from the 2004 campaign. It proved that the mass media trumps the blogosphere and Deanspace any day of the week. Then we have CivicSpace the heir to Deanspace. Rather than helping work for a Democratic Congress or at least a more balanced Democcratic/Republican ratio, Trippi and Teachout are in the open source software business. I guess real politics was too much for them.

Finally, I was on one very grass roots campaign years ago. I was seventeen and taking Seminar in Politics, a course I had waited four years to take (I wanted to take it freshman year but had a scheduling conflict). It was 1979, an off year election. Westchester County which theoretically was a four party county (Yes, this is New York State with fusion, candidates running on two party lines) but was in fact a Democratic stronghold. The Republican party was in disarray. I don't know and did not think to ask whether the national party was funding them or considered Westchester a lost cause.

Local businessespeople and people who may have had campaign experience elsewhere in New York State went to work. The Democrats were THE PARTY. They had more volunteers than they could handle. I made phone calls and begged for a slot. I needed it for the course. Finally, the teachers seeing that their good little Democratic pupils in Ardsley, New York could not get slots unless they knew someone and most of us didn't, agreed to let them follow the campaign in the newspaper and write essays. They also brought in Ms. Zive to speak. She was the head of the local Republican campaign and they needed volunteers. I had also tutored her son two years before in chemistry but that did not etner in to my decision. I was desperate. I had wanted to be on a campaign. I thought the Democrats were treating me like excrement.

After a weekend of thinking about it, I jumped off the Democratic ship and went to work for the Republicans. I think of 1979 as year one for the Republican party in Westchester. Maybe it was year zero. I remember stuffing envelopes at big tables in what had been an abandoned supermarket in Elmsford. Like most campaign headquarters it was on a main drag, White Plains/Tarrytown Road. I worked in a phone bank late at night and was told to say I was twenty-one years old if asked for my age. There were kids working, little kids, Ms. Zive's two nine year old sons. Ever see a nine year old kid haul a mail bag? This was as raggle taggle as it got, except I got to meet the man running for County Commissioner. Needless to say we got trounced, but we did manage to keep Con Edision a private company which was a victory for the free enterprise system. These days of course there is a viable Republican party in Westchester and even though I don't agree with my politics, I am glad I was there to see it get its start.

I never asked Ms. Zive how she got her start as a Republican campaigner. I suspect now she got the same type of training the Democratic party in New York gave me. Maybe she had been active on campaigns before. Maybe she had been doing this kind of partisan volunteering since college. My training by the way is worthless in Georgia which plays by different rules, but Ms. Zive was a local person, a mother of kids who went to my school, an ordinary person who had risen through the ranks. That is how campaigns run, and I can't call the model under which we worked military. Those who teach, teach those willing to learn, who in turn teach others and who build up lifelong habits of activism and really knowing how the political system works. Yes, it is dirty. No it's not perfect. It can look byzantine and arcane but that's democracy, a circus complete with the sweet smell of saw dust, rotten peanuts, and of course excrement. Social software is not a shovel.


Monday, October 23, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Well I got two readings done this morning and am finally getting to write about them now. I guess that tells you just how busy I am. Here are the readings...

Public Diplomacy, Propaganda and Information Intervention by Monroe E. Price

Wikia Campaign Mission Statement

I don't know what to say about Price' speech. It scaird me a bit. I know back in later 2001/early 2002, the government asked our Government Documents Librarian to remove certain CD's from our partial depository collection and the government took down certain web sites about dams and powerplants for "security reasons." I know it left up a fairly detailed site on nuclear physics.

Actually, one of the problems with the government trying to control media in other countries or even our own is that there are ways to either retaliate or route around damage. One could jam outside signals. Then no one gets any radio at all. Then we have DVD's. If you couldn't see Stolen Honor because a boycott kept it off your television network, you can always obtain the DVD. There is no reason a dissident group could not always hand out DVD's in the market place if they could not get their message out thruogh a TV transmitter.

Of course there's monitoring the net. I've written about sabotage and security before, but basicly if you are working in the open, it is easy to get seen, and infiltrated. Vandals and agent provocateurs are all a possibility. This is why sites with no security such as Wikis are really not great ideas when you need to communicate and organize. I'll get to more about how vulnerable Wikis are further down.

Suffice it to say, I think Price is on to something, but the enemy (even when it is us) doesn't go down without a big fight.

Jim Wale's mission statement for Wikia sounds great and looks even better, until one starts to dig. First, television politics is NOT dumb. Any one who has to repeat something three times is spouting a truism rather than truth. The last time I looked candidates' debates were a routine part of television politics. Those are bigger than sound bites and then we have PBS and documentary shows like Sixty Minutes which can do long segments on candidates. Sure commercials are not too bright, but commercials are not the only part of any campaign.

Of course the real fun with Mr. Wale's Wikia came when I took it out for a road test. I went looking for the two big races, a congressional race and the race for governor in Georgia. No campaign in any of these races had taken notice of Wikia. I finally found a voter guide page for Georgia and it linked to the voter guide in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and did not even bother to link to the Leauge of Women Voters. I should ahve started out with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution to begin with and not wasted my time with the stupid Wiki.

Clearly, one should ask do Wikis work for campaigns if campaigns in the United States use so few of them? I think the answer is that Wikis are more trouble than they are worth. Left to their own devices, Wikis are messy ugly things. They grow organically. A campaign requires order. A Wiki requires an editor or someone in charge to make sure the floaters are connected. On a web board, newly created posts don't float. They are connected to the whole by default. On a Wiki new pages are floaters unless the person making them includes both a back link in the new page and goes back to the page behind it and attaches it. Needless to say, Wikis can turn in to tangled messes pretty fast.

Couple Wiki filthiness with the fact that a typical Wiki has all the security of a sodden pee-pee sponge. All it takes to gain editing rights on a Wiki is a throw away email address and a warm body that can see the spam prevention message. I just edited the Georgia page because the folks putting this site together did not know who either the Governor or Senators from my state were. I wonder if California receives more extensive coverage. It does. Oh well, Georgia and California are worlds apart some times.

Anyway, any one running a Wiki has to be on the constant lookout for vandals. The thing has to be proofread if you want to keep it looking professional. With all this trouble, isn't a forum with categeories all ready set in place and a nice looking static web site better for most campaigns? After all political campaigners have a lot more to do than babysit a wayward Wiki.


Friday, October 20, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I would rather be drawing or trying to make textures for GIMP. I guess that is par for the course. Anything that is routine like this blog takes discipline. I value discipline. No, I'm not in the mood for a mast head. It will come back when I'm ready to write it.

Meanwhile, I want to talk about tagging. Tagging is reinventing the wheel. All right, I don't expect you to believe me. You feel like my old Bio Research Methods students. You know a controlled vocabulary is helpful to finding items in a big pile of data. In the case of my students, the big pile was Medline.

Bio Research Methods students did not know a lot about using the library, or at least they thought they didn't, but they were mainly premeds and illness fascinated them. My favorite way to teach controlled vocabulary was to ask them: "How many words do we know for cancer?" I'd have a list of eight to ten synonyms in no time. Then I'd ask: "wouldn't it work better to have all the articles about cancer under one of the synonyms?" Well that was how subject headings worked.

Indexing, the art of applying subject headings, is more than a hundred years old. It predates computers. When done consistently and well as in Medline, Wilson databases, the New York Times Index, and oddly enough Library of Congress Subject Headings for many subjects (There are some awful exceptions) it yields fantastic results. What it does is find you things you did not know existed but that you want and need, articles in journals and magazines of which you have never heard (Even Reader's Guide does this!), articles using terminology with which you were unfamiliar, and articles using alternate spellings (usually British) for terminology.

When those creating indexes do not apply subject headings in a consistent and accurate manner, this is called dirty indexing and the resulting index is filthy. With the exception of ERIC and Medline (and to some degree Psychinfo) which Ebsco does not index, Ebsco's databases are dirty.

The problem with tagging is that it yields dirty indexing. Yes, you and your six friends can agree to use uniform tags, but there is the whole rest of the world and what they have might be interesting, that is of course if the whole rest of the world tags.

I am finding Del.ici.ious frustrating. I ran several basic searches and found myself hobbled by the poor quality of the indexing and the rudimentary search capability. I searched for cancer and found hundreds of pages on the psychosocial aspects of the disease mixed up with a few pages on possible cures, articles from questionable sources, and one very good article on false positives in mammograms from the BBC. I switched to neoplasms and my results had zero overlap. Neoplasms by the way is Medline's term for cancer. Tumors yielded yet another very different pile of results.

What I could NOT do was use two terms at a time, for example cancer AND epidemiology or cancer AND clusters to narrow down athe junk piles. I also can not (by and large) retrieve copyrighed licensed content. If I am serious about finding information other than consumer information or something entertaining, I'm better off on GALILEO which has licensed databases created by professional indexers filled with copyrighted content, much of it full text.

The other problem with Del.icio.us is that it is not very inclusive. This has to do with what Watts (Six Degrees of Separation) called the small world problem. People on the net are connected in a kind of hub and spoke node system. Del.ici.ous is a big node, but so too is Neopets, MSNGroups, Inavisionfree.com, both of the large web ring providers etc... People who hook to one of these nodes are probably not hooked up to other major nodes. Why should they leave all their friends. The range of interests and sites about those interests is fairly limited at Del.icio.us. I was the first person there to bookmark Burpee Seeds. Now this is a major seed company, but just not of interest to the Del.ici.ous crowd. I'm also one of the few GIMP users at MSN Groups. Del.icio.us users who garden want fancy heirloom varieties and seeds. Traditional seed companies don't get linked. And there are no LOTHlings or RAOKsters on Del.icio.us

There are good online alternatives to Del.icio.us if you need web information on nonacademic subjects. The Open Directory is not as sexy as Wikipedia or Del.icio.us but it has real human editors. Yes, it is old fashioned and hierarchical, but you can travel through subject headings or choose from a list that the search engine generates above the results. About.com has live human guides and has edited and screened results. It works very well for clip art and midi because it cuts past a lot of the pop-ups, topsites, and other distractions. I think About.com and Dmoz, both offer more balanced and inclusive and in the end fruitful results than Del.icio.us

Now for the other news: My experiment at Angelika's group is derailed. Angelika is back so I am just going to shelve it. Her group stayed nice and warm in her absence and it is even doing well at the Web Leagues.

I haven't had time to do much Dale Carnegie type stuff today at White Wings or Fire Ball. An annoying urban legend on the General Board sticks like sand in my shoes. I haven't had time to draw either and now I'm almost too tired. I need some rest and then it is on to services in the morning. I need to remember that participating in organized religion is antiBrainstormish. The world is full of little vengance victories.


by Eileen Kramer

This is going to be a short blog because I sleep walked last night and need to get to bed. I don't sleep walk two nights in a row. I found out about the sleep walking because there was a broken cassette tape case on my living room floor and when I found the label for the tape, it was one that had been in the tape tiers which are drawers. My cats can't open drawers so I got out this tape and broke its case while I was sleeping. I have no memory of the incident. I sleep walk once every few weeks. It is just part of life.

I have a bunch of new drawings to scan and several more I'd like to add color to with colored pencils. I went to a conference today and used the pad they gave me because it has a different texture. The book about making colored pencil art that I bought at Utrecht's Art Supply store says that different paper textures work differently. I'll have to try copier paper and also construction paper and even paper towels. I'm doing heavy layering now which is closer to the way I have used colored pencils, laying it on like crayon or paint. I have a nastily heavy touch with the things. Learning to layer with a light touch is a more interesting technique because it is so different from what I normally do.

I am too tired for a mast head tonight. I'll be in the mood for one again soon. Meanwhile, circumstances and going to a really good conference have caused me to reavaluate my philosphy towars my MSN Groups. First, I am over extended and will probably lose a few groups to attrition. The group with the current experiment will get its experiment done gently. If it stimulates the group which it might, great. If I get my head bit off, there are other groups, though I'll genuinely miss this one.

As for the other groups, two of them finally noticed my existence and I wrote back. Yay! This gives me an idea. These are the people who are considered sheeple in the whole communistic critical theory type scheme of things. They are considered inconsequential. Well, one day they will have to stand up to the Brainstormish elite who are currently well hidden and I want to help them fight. That means we have to make common cause. Yes....you know all the stuff I've written here. Well, it's an old story isn't it? How does one reach out and befriend those who are very different? One has to find common ground. I draw so the craft group feels more hospitable. We'll see how I fare as a full time working professional childless nonmarried female.

White Wings' leader also noticed me even if all he gave me was a routine thankyou message. That perks me up a bit. Well, I'm going to have to figure out a way to fit in. I know that Dale Carnegie had good ideas for this. I'll get his book at work tomorrow. One of the things he said was to find something you genuinely liked and compliment people on it. The beauty of this is you don't have to lie and it brings me one step closer to making common cause. True it takes discipline but what doesn't.

One issue that is lurking under the surface is religion on line. Howard's readings have been absolutely useless on this. Habermas does not include religion in the public sphere and Lull thinks it's hegemonic. Well, the problem is I'm Jewish. In the United States Jews are two point five percent of the population but we are concentrated. The net is worse. One of the really nice things about Brainstorms was the large number of Jews there. The Perfect World is nice that way too. In most MSNGroups I am the only Jew.

This makes a difference in case I get exposed to some of the "The USA is or should be a Christian country and religious minorities should put up and shut up" forwards that circulate via email an the web. I am a religious minority. The other issue is there are tons of Chrstian religious graphics out there and very few Jewish ones. I make Judaica to fill the gap. The image I was coloring in during my lunch break at the conference today was a havadalah candle. I already have a chai.

Praying for you Chai

I can make Stars of David, Torah scrolls etc... I also talk about my faith. I talk about attending services, different holidays etc... Jews have a very neutrally toned religious talk. Thadea has this down pat. I get a bit more passionate, but most of my faith talk is neutral: "I got over my cold so I can go to schul this weekend." "They had trouble getting a minyan at services."

I make no assumpations any one shares my faith though I do use technical terms. I'll often define them or people can pick them up in context. Christians on the other hand, often assume everyone shares their faith and usually I end up having to remind them sooner or later. I'm not sure how zealous the folks at White Wings are in their Christianity. Angelika's faith is straight forward. I haven't seen any one create religious art or talk about faith on any of the other MSN Group boards. I'll see where all this goes.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

For those who forgot. Here is Lull, this week's reading in Howard's course.

Excerpts from James Lull, Media, Communication, Culture a global approach. p 13-96

Well I finally finished the end of Lull. He does a fairly nice treatment of rules and norms. Those in authority use their ideology and hegemony to set up rules. People don't mind rules, especially the sheepish kind of people. The creative rule breakers are always the good guys in Lull's estimation. According to Lull, hegemony works so it appears that those obeying the rules do so out of choice and they often really do choose to obey the rules, though their consent means they are dupes to patriarchy.

Even though Lull has a Y chromosome he is disloyal to half the human race. I mean men have came up with some pretty neat inventions plus the free enterprise system, the best method of economic organization there is. Would you really prefer some kind of socialism or primitive tribalism?

Anyway, Lull has clearly never sampled female culture. I have, and to tell you the truth, I prefer men. I think Thadea does too. Thadea is one of the avatarot. Haldis, the other active avatar, also likes men. She majors in engineering science and was on the math team in high school. Being in a majority male world suits her.

The avatars who after all are my creations, but there's a grain of truth in their fictitious lives. I've been in the belly of the beast of female culture. One of the great things on the net is that like minds and hearts can come together and women have built some of their own communities. Yes, these are called ladies groups, but MSN Groups which are often female run are similar.

The problem with these groups, is that women view work differently. Not all of them work and not that many of them have been primary breadwinners. There are retirees, stay at home mom's who in the year 2006 are fairly militant, women with scrubby secondary jobs, etc... I'm forty-four. I've never married or had a child. I'm what in the old days people perjoratively called a "career woman." I haven't heard any one use that phrase in a long time, but I can feel it in some of my MSN Groups. We did an occupational survey in my MSN managers group and I found out I was the only one or one of the few with a professional credential and a fancy job. Yes, my job is fancy.

I am not imagining it. I tell myself I am not imagining it, but women who work and who do not mother and women who mother and do not work or work as a secondary part of their lives do not like each other. How this translates in an MSN Group I am not sure. I can put up with pronatalist glurge. I am no fan of glurge but I can avoid the rip tear shred trip wire or take it to a safe place to rip tear and shred a copy of the stuff. Glurge is a sweeet but creepy story with an ideological axe to grind. Here is a definition of glurge. If you haven't seen it don't worry. Just count yourself lucky. Actually glurge is related to another topic, but I'll get to that.

I know from my experience with RAOK and to a lesser extent with LOTH that nonworking women get their revenge against us "career women" on the net in a very ingenious way. OK, if you are in Howard's class, you all have nice impressive credentials. After all the I-school at Berkeley is no slouch of a place. Out with your resumes. Don't be shy. Now imagine that the criteria by which those in power to accept or reject you have reversed.

It does not matter where you went to school. It does not matter that you were a good student or had a single digit class rank. It does not matter what you do for a living or the things you know how to do because you learned them on the job.

What matters are relationships, nurturing, and being nurtured (Nurturing after all goes both ways). That all sounds very sweet, except as a single working adult and/or student and as a professional person, you don't do very much nurturing and your achievements run laps around your relationships. Also, the actions that those with the power to accept and reject prize, may simply be things you just haven't done: having children, taking care of aged parents, getting sick and recovering, getting sick and not getting healthy, being married, being a grandparent, getting bereaved. If you're not old enough, unmarried, have healthy parents etc... that's too bad. You've just gone from hero to zero in five minutes. I call this kind of value system the "reverse resume," and many groups dominated by "female values" use it.

Of course there are two ways around the reverse resume. The first is to come up with the credentials it requires. I got admitted and even recruited for the now defunct group Life's Survivors because I had made memorial pages about two cats that I lost. I was considered to have credentials even though my experience was not comparable to a woman who had fled an abusive marriage or who had lost a child. That woman who had lost a child would have to accept me as an equal even though my loss was smaller but we won't get to that. Younger single, childless women who want to get in to groups with "female values" often talk about nieces and nefews upon whom they dote, pets, volunteer work, a fiance, attempts to conceive, a health condition should they be "lucky" enough to have one etc...

The second method of dealing with the "reverse resume" is to proudly proclaim one's zero status. This older version of my "about me" page is an inverted reverse resume. The emphasis on my single status and good health are meant to be honest about where I stand. In a "female value" cutlure, the place of a woman with no status is as one who serves. I did tons of support work for RAOK and one or two other organizations. I made graphics and contributed to quilts and support pages for others who needed and merited attention. I thus had a place and was glad I did not have to fake being something I wasn't to get it.

Would you like to live in a world that functioned like RAOK on a good day? Remember, RAOK did have financial troubles twice and might not have had them had someone with more real world business experience or economic sense had run the organization. I don't think any of us would like to live in a world that functioned like RAOK on a bad day, especially when the bills came due.

According to Lull, rules routinely obeyed create behavioral conventions (I say traditions) or norms. Norms are normality, the way things have always been done etc... the way we do things around here etc.... It is easy to stretch and tear norms when new people from outside come in. I am the outsider in many of my MSN groups. Move to another part of the country or world, or bring in immigrants with different backgrounds and you quickly learn that norms depend on shared upbringing, social class, socialization, ethnicity, religion, tastes etc... None of this stuff is given. The newcomers may obey all the rules, but bust a large hole in the norms which they challenge the minute they open up their mouths or put fingers to keyboard or mouse to pad.

The group with a hole in its norms than has to figure out what to do with the challengers. Accepting her is an option especially if she is law abiding and the group has a pretense of being public, but there is no reason a group has to take its norm challenge lying down. It can ignore the norm challenger. Often this gets her to reduce her activity and ultimately seek greener pastures. The group can then purge her for lurking or inactivity. This is the most popular way to deal with norm challenging. The group can appear friendly and those in it will say of course it is. The norm challenger finds she is staring at a blank wall as she does her daily sign-in and makes small talk and shows off her creations.

There are other ways of getting rid of a member who is a bad fit. Suggesting she start her own thread buries her postings though she still has the opportunity to post and may even not mind the situation. The long timers get her out of their hair. There is diversion where the old timers turn any thread the norm challenger starts back to general conversation more suited to their group.

Nearly all of these ideas avoid expulsion and with good reason. The old timers think of themselves as nice and nice people who are fair minded do not expell law abiding members. They can purge for inactivity or expel a member for gross rule violation, and they don't want to throw out some one who will bad mouth them later either due to an injustice. Freezing a member out and isolating her until she goes of her own accord is a less morally taxing and much more appealing solution.

Needless to say, I believe in self expression and continue to make my visits to White Wings a part of my daily routine. They'll have to kick me out if they don't want me. Welcome to the world of "female values."

Now, that we've seen some norms and rules in action, and what happens when you get far from your native country on the net, I want to talk a bit about Del.ici.ous. I have it downloaded on the work machine. I am on dial up at the house so keeping this connection lean and mean is in my best interest. So far, Del.ici.ous leads me to other people's bookmarks and the big name sites such as Tiltomo are the most popular. I was the first person, however to bookmark Herzog Veneers. I guess there are not many wood workers on Del.ici.ous

This kind of proves an idea I have. The net is not a seamless web of interconnections. Herzog Veneers, the Veldt, Burpee Seeds etc... are all in "Out Land". If you've been spidered you can be reached from Google so you are in "Out Land". If you put a Google search form on your site, you are in "In Land" or if you have a link to Yahoo, CNN, Ebay etc.... If you do both, you are in the center of the bow tie. The tendrils are reserved for locked sites, sites with robots.txt files on them, or sites with copyrighted material such as Ebscohost and Wilson Web.

Despite all of these being respectably "Out Landish" sites, the chances of people knowing about them drops to nothing if they do not move in the right circles. There are almost no GIMP users (not enough to start their own group) at MSN Groups, and very few woodworkers at Del.ici.ous. There are also a comparatively small number of gardeners too. I bookmarked Jung's Seeds and found it had only ninty other bookmarks while some sites get in the thousands.

In short, it is hard to reach "every body" on the net. Of course do you want to reach every body? Is most of every body, sheeple who need to be liberated from the dominent ideology as Lull would say or can the new elite or liberators ignore the sheeple if they don't want to be liberated or if they acively resist liberation, or maybe they are not supposed to be liberated in the first place. Maybe the world of the web is something like Columbus Georgia and the new net savvy types are like the crowd at my local syangogue. For years, Jews in Columbus were not allowed in the Country Club or to hobnob with the best of the business elite, so we made our own elite and boy was it better. I once went in to the Columbus Country club to use the toilet and that place smelled like a high school cafeteria. How could any one pay to eat there? The food at our schul do's in the most gorgeous and posh houses of Sears Farms, Green Lakes, and other tony neighborhoods was the stuff of legend. We even published the menus in the newsletter. I remember some writer bragging that there was a salad that featured hearts of palm. The schul do buffet was legendary for its delicacies. Well, if those who want to create a new elite or liberate the masses on the net are aiming to have a schul do, I'll be happy to join you. I'm bringing the killer kasha kasserole.

A schul do, however, is an insiders' only event. The folks from MSN Groups won't eat at your table or even care that there are hearts of palm in the salad. The ladies with their own culture of reverse resumes won't care about crones and they'll find Willendorf Venuses repulsive. Those who attend church regularly or who would like to go more often, might not take kindly to the fact that you consider their faith primitive or that you consider those with strong traditional faith, dupes to power. They will be especially shocked when you laugh at their desire to have the comfort of religion in the public square. It's going to take more than a schul do to dialog inclusively. I'm failing at it miserably even when I'm playing by the rules.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I'm still not finished with Lull so I'll have to wait until tomorrow night to take the rest of him apart. Meanwhile, I'm finding some of what I am learning very useful in my MSN Groups, particularly the managers group.

Concepts of rules and power and perhaps hegemony though I'd never use the word seem to apply to a debate on copyright. There are good moral reasons for obeying copyright. That it is well or uniformly enforced is not one of those reasons. Choose a source for graphics that is not in the elite head of the J-curve of sites that Paint Shop Pro groups rely upon for their "tubes" and "art" and chances are good you can take what you please and use it as you please. Of course just becuase you can take something doesn't mean you should.

Copyright law is Byzantine on good days. There are some very weird biases in what is fair use and what is not. Fan fiction and sig-tags are derivative work and not protected by fair use. Criticism, refutation, review, and just good old fashioned harshing, are absolutely fair use. Whoever set up this law valued journalism and essay writing over writing stories and creating collage style art work. Essays and reportage get special protection while fun uses of others works don't. All of this feels somehow quaintly Nineteenth Century.

On the other hand, very little harshing would happen if one had to ask permission to use excerpts of others works for critique and refutation. Who in their right minds would give such permission? Maybe harshing is precious indeed.

Still it's part of the spirit of the law, quaint and primitive though it is, that one's art work should be one's own. In the Nineteenth Century when young ladies carried sketch diaries and children were taught realistic rendering in school, maybe this was not a dumb idea. Maybe it is still a good idea even today. There is no shortage of what you can create as fiction or art. The supply of real things to critique is definitely finite.

This is not what I wanted to talk about tonight. Note: I removed these paragraphs because I have since had contact with Candi of RAOK. It looks like I may end up as a member there after all.


Monday, October 16, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I'm taking a break from writing about readings tonight. I have one more chapter of Lull to go. I was going to talk about RAOK tonight, but I'll give it one more day. Part of me very much wants to let the secret die which is weird because a week ago when I promised Candi a week of silence to see if she would straighten out matters, I wanted to tell the whole world. Now the whole thing feels so sad and small, it does not feel worth the telling.

I want to talk tonight about my adventures on MSN Groups. No one has done anything evil to me, and I've stayed out of fights. I want to make MSN Groups my place. It is the place for the little guy and gal. It is where they'll take any one who doesn't have two heads and maybe a few who do and you don't have to have social influence or be on anyone's A-list to start or belong to a group that has all the privacy and power of a bunch of interlinked caucus boards. Whatever else, Bill Gates has done MSN Groups are a great thing. Also having standardized software and browsers everywhere is pretty good too. Imagine if we didn't. Bill Gates is one of my heroes.

I like the graphic aspect of MSN Groups. I wished other boards where html was allowed, welcomed sig tags or sig images. Some of the Invisionfree.com boards in fact do that as do Proboards. Motet based systems and Caucus boards, however, don't. I think everyone should use a whole stable of sig-tags. They identify you much better than words ever could. They are like a coat of arms. They illuminate your text and with computers with five hundred and twelve million colors of graphic at our disposal we are now free from the tyranny of black and white. Images should be a part of even the most intellectual circles' communication.

Notice, the "should." What is and what should be are two very different things, but forget the snobs. I'm writing about MSN Groups. I managed to join a whole bunch of them and I'm fulfilling the activity requirements. I even made new sig-tags. I have a book on drawing in colored pencil so I was able to do some serious drawing and scanning this weekend. During the week, my tags tend to be mainly pixel art or a scanned sketch that I then paint and decorate in the GIMP.

I am finding out that of the five or six sig-tag groups I joined, I don't fit in to any of them. One group is hardly moving. The owner posts a daily Bible verse and admits she is a Christian. If that is to scare off the Wiccans fine, but doing things out front is not scarey. I'm Jewish. I can live with her easily marked threads and avoid the inspirational claptrap.

Then we have the White Wings (No, I'm not using any one's real name tonight). The manager emails his group daily. We have to keep our addresses hidden from each other. How do you say unfair? I participated in a creative activity, asked the manager a question privately. I am being absolutely ignored.

I can say the same for the Fireballs and the Purple Flames (Sorry no real names!). This is a very slick strategy. A person without a strong faith in God which becomes a faith in oneself is likely to give up on doing the daily sign in and/or other regular activity and just get purged for inactivity. The group managers never have to raise their virtual voices or expell any one except for walking away. In an inactivity purge, the fault always lies with the member who "refused to participate."

Then we have the issue of copyright and creativity and the smaller issue of representation of the female body. MSN Groups has a lovely piece of slang: "copyright aware." This means you don't make derivative work from other people's work without permission. Fine, I can go along with that. I too am prointellectual property and pro private property and pro free enterprise. I believe that those who violate property rights ultimately tread heavily on human rights. Good and moral people respect property including others' creative work. I also know what FAIR USE is, but let's leave that aside.

Beyond the very basic definition of copyright awareness, my MSN Groups colleagues and I part company. I don't believe in making derivative work from other people's art without permission. I simply don't use the art. I make my own! This has turned out to be near blasphemy. Board after board has been filled with threads about securing artists' permissions and artists rescinding their permissions etc... The artists are all known to the point where there are sometimes no links to their sites. I feel like asking: "why not simply put these creeps out of a job. You can make abstract designs without their work and you might even be able to draw your own material. Then it's yours from top to bottom."

"Why put a piece of someone else in your sig file when it can be all yours?" I don't have to tell you that I feel like I've almost landed from Mars with that idea. A lot of the art these A-list artists crank out is not even that good. It's kitsch or else it is cheese cake, but apparently someone told all the MSN Group members that human faces are the most important thing and that they all have to look a certain way or they are no good.

Again, I'm not sure of any of this, to challenge a deeply held assumption is to challenge ideology. This gets people very upset. I signed up with two craft based groups hoping I'll be a better fit.

Then we have the issue of text on the boards. I am treading lightly in all the groups. I don't mind the Bible verses. I believe in prayer and am happy to chime in on prayer requests. I don't even mind Christian religious graphics, but what hurts is that there is no back and forth, no conversation, and in the words of some "no debate." Recently this story appeared on White Wings. This story creeps me out. It is one thing to help a kid do some of the things his or her normal peers would do. It is quite another to carry him around in athletic events so that he can participate and win. The kid, by the way, is now an adult. His father is in great shape, but the kid who is not retarded, must know that he's not really doing any of the work except that his presence helps build up his dad's ego.

I can't say what I really think of the story. And there is another thread on White Wings called "Keep this Train Going." It looked like an innocuous cut and paste game, until I opened it and found a lovely piece of ASCII art that said "Holy Spirit Express" on it. Well, that wasn't coming any where near my schul. I wondered how or if I could explain that and if my membership would survive.

I have also seen this letter on another board at a different group. I felt like replying: "thanks for letting me know. I'm going to go out and not only buy Pepsi but also some stock in the company and write to corporate headquarters congratulating them on their good taste." Well, it turns out to be an urban legend. Thankyou Snopes. I don't think my mmebership would have survived there either.

I know that these are my people. I want them to be my people, but as I've learned with my vengance work against Brainstorms, one can only push or twist one's beliefs so far. There is a breaking point. I know that ultimately, these people who right now are as nothing to the Brainstormish elite, are going to one day get mown down. We need to be ready to fight when the time comes, but how can I make common cause with those so different from myself? Routing around damage and being ignored are going to get old pretty fast.

Of course, I have the option of giving it a few more days, raising the issue before some of thsee groups disappear. They will disappear which is how you get kicked out of them. I don't care about the glurge. I can resist ripping tearing and shredding it but I do care about making my own art and I think others should at least try. That means publishing tutorials (I hate the idea of doing anything in such a cookie cutter manner) I care about making sure people have the technical skills and resources to be ready to fight in their own way and on their own terms.

I know that people are not dumb or limited because they don't visit museums (I can't afford to do that either though I have gone to several art galleries. These are cheaper and there are virtual museums) or zoos or look at science books. I think a desire to honor private property is laudable even if it is born out of fear or a desire to use others' work legally rather than having been hurt by those who trumpet that information wants to be free. I want these to be my people. I'm not at the breaking point yet. I'm going to keep trying. I don't give up that easily.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

It feels strange to be blogging again after one day away. Anyway, here is the reading. I am two thirds of the way through with it.

Excerpts from James Lull, Media, Communication, Culture a global approach. p 13-96 (Reader)

I am probably reading a bit more than the people in the class. I was able to get Lull's book from Georiga Tech. It is great to have reciporical privileges.

Now this reading has been a very strange experience. I feel I have found a book that is meant only for the initiated. The only equivalent I can think of is Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson and the Jewish martyrdome stories told around Orthodox and Lubavitch sabbath tables. All of this stuff is published. It is available, but your chances of stumbling on it are going to be very low unless you have a strong interest in the subject or in the case of the two academic books, are a major taking a two to three hundred level course.

Lull's book also upholds the stereotype of the ivory tower being a harborage for lefites of all stripes. I suspect if you are a student with conservative or profree enterprise beliefs and you get a strong enough sniff of "media studies" you change your major either to something in the sciences or if you are not the science type you switch to business. Self selection happens early enough and is bloodless enough that one hears very few stories of students who fight with professors in media studies courses. One hears of it more in anthropology or sociology. I am not even sure what schools offer media studies majors or whether these courses are electives within a wider journalism or public relations curriculum.

Anyway, what does one make of a politically biased book like this especially when one thinks that the free enterprise system is the best economic system out there? Well first, Lull does a job on free will. He later back pedals because quite simply if what he were saying about free will were true, there would be no interesting story to tell and nothing that would be fun to study and a bunch of leftie academics would be out of work.

Lull believes that those in power inculcuate their ideology and foist it on the consciousness of most people. This is a "dominent ideology." Put in more common language, Lull believes most people are sheep. The reason they are sheep is that they agree with the dominent ideology or believe that what is good for big business might be good for them. Can you see how insulting this is to a typical working or middle class person in a red state or flyover country?

If I can agree to counter the hegemony of the domiment culture and espouse that as part of my ideology, why am I not also free to agree with it. I can think of many reasons that ordinary people support the dominent culture of their own free choice. First, wanting to be rich and/or beautiful is a good thing. Why shouldn't people want good things for themslves. Second, a person might very well have a rational reason for believing that what is good for a big corporation is good for him or her. He or she may be a property owner. True it may only be a bungalo or a double wide, but it is his or her private property so when big business holds up the sanctity of private property, the little guy leaps right on the band wagon. As for "supporting the troops" which is really more a meme than an ideology, a person with friends and relatives in the service might believe that supporting the war means their friends and loved ones will come home victorious. Self-interest can take one in a variety of directions.

In addition, the media are not monolithic. In his chapter on hegemony, Lull finally gets to this point, but before that, he feels we are so immersed in commercials particularly (Lull has no use for the free enterprise system.) that we can't even think straight. The we here are of course the sheeple, not the valient counter hegemonic fighters who I assume in this course we will learn are out there on the web. The large number of commercials though and their effect and the large presence of mass media, DOES NOT, however mean we lack free choice.

First, the messages we get from different places conflict. I can remember when I went to a bar mitzvah at Piedmont Park and since there were no prayer books and I did not know the family I walked out and found myself way up on the northern end of Peachtree near the Ainsley Mall. On the way there, I saw a poster on the side of a spa showing men stripped to the waist and women wearing brasieres or camisoles and jeans. All had gorgeous bodies. After having been exposed to a lot of Orthodox Judaism my first thought was: "why are they exposing all that flesh? THAT'S IMMODEST!" Modesty is a traditional Jewish value. It is not a value that exists in commercial advertising.

Of course any one can turn off the television and go out for a walk. There are all kinds of magazines for sale, even at the local supermarket and certainly at the news stand in Barnes and Noble or Borders Books. There are libraries. In Atlanta for most people, these are public libraries. If you are affiliated with the University System of Georgia, as I am, these include academic libraries. You can always go out and take a walk, play a sport, draw pictures, talk on the phone etc... With all that choice, you have to be in some kind of control of how much you want to believe and how much noise you let in.

That means I think that everyone is responsible for the ideology they espouse. There are no sheeple out there led around by a small elite. That also means that no one in any media studies course, or library school course, or even MBA course can hope to knock out the existing elite and take their place or if that does not appeal, no one can free the poor misindoctrinated and deluded souls. They are neither deluded and they are all ready free.

All that said, I wonder how much ideology effects our conceptions of beauty. Let's have another look at my favorite graphic.

Cheesecake by Beaches of 
Silver Beaches

This graphic is by Beaches, manager of the MSN Group, Silver Beaches, who threw me out probably for posting this graphic. Well, here we see what is the acceptible kind of female body to display. She has enough padding to be feminine, but she is fairly thin. In real clothes she is some sort of reasonable Misses or Junior size. I'd probably see her shopping in the same places that I do. She is not plus size. She has her hair done regularly and wears makeup. She also shows off everything she has except for what panties and a camisole cover, but she is stretched out in a pose that would put most odalisques to shame.

The ideal woman as shown by Beaches'graphic is supposed to be seductive and sexy. She is also lying down. I'm not sure if that is a submissive pose or just a comfortable one that coyly hides her breasts. She is displayed among plenty of fake machine script and gold. Dark red is the color of royalty and also suggests something hot and sultry. This is an ideal woman at least according to Beaches' ideology. By the way, I presented this graphic in FAIR USE.

What happens if one does not look like the ideal conception of feminine beauty or if one has heard of such ideas as modesty or if one has hopes of making everyone use sig-files so they need to be a bit less provocative? Well, I'll tackle the first question. Dieting is possible. I lost twenty-five pounds over a year and a half. It has stayed off (at least partially). There are beauty salons and a whole beauty products industry and even plastic surgery. If it matters enough, I say shut up and do something about your looks.

More often than not, though, people who don't make the image can often just feel miserable. I heard a whole Satellite Sisters show about this. Someone had written a "funn" book about women and aging. The ideal woman in Beaches' picture never grows old. Trying to stop aging is futile, but there is hair dye, botox injections, the gym etc... As I wrote above, if it bothers you then do what you can about it. Just sitting there and bemoaning lost youth, one milimeter of sad body image at a time, reminds me way too much of the way I felt about my body when I was fifteen years old. I think that is where some of this conception of the ideal woman leads.

By the way, I bet Lull would consider the "size acceptance" movement as counterhegemonic. I used to have a joke at work (This was two jobs ago) that all the older overweight ladies could lose at least some weight if they stopped talking about food in the work place. I still stand by that. You don't have to be a sheeple and chances are you're not. Where there is a will there is a way.

One last point: I am beginning to learn from my MSN groups that there is an A-List of artists just like the supposed A-List of bloggers. Don't ask how one makes that A-List. Maybe it is the ideologies people hold. I suspect that just like most people don't get to go to a zoo regularly (Here it is too expensive and when I lived in Columbus the only zoo, the expensive one, was a hundred and ten miles away. I finally went after Georgia, my eighteen year old blue cream half Siamese alpha kitty girl, died in 2004. I have not been since.) they don't get to museums and see real art. Museums and galleries are not always choices unless you live in a large city. Real art doesn't always get a fair competition with kitsch and maybe some people make a free choice to prefer kitsch because it is friendly and easier to understand or embodies their ideals for the human form.


Friday, October 13, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I'm up to my eyeballs in vengance setbacks, most of them not of my own making. Tower Records' web site seemed fine and they took my order but they have no merchandise. They are going out of business but acted as if everything was fine and now...I'm stuck with eighty some dollars of back ordered CD's.

At least I was able to order my tupperware. If I were in better shape physically, I'd plan a trip to Wal-Mart. That is always good vengance consumption.

I guess I have to cancel my Tower Records order and try Amanzon.com. I'll see if I can find all three of the albums I want in one place. Who knows, I may even find them cheaper. I'll then have to call the Customer Care line and see about canceling the order with Tower. Well, I'll still be honoring intellectual property and that is what counts I suppose. When the going gets tough, the tough just try harder. Shout it out loud and proud.

I'm in no mood for a mast head, so I'll skip one tonight. This would be a good opportunity for one though. I wonder if I should add Silver Beaches to the mast head. I don't think I was there long enough for them to be more than a blip.

Tomorrow I start in on the world of media studies. I have to read ninty pages worth of media studies and learn about something called hegemony. I always thought hegemony was when one country took over another like Spain trying to take over Holland until the Dutch fought back in the seventeenth century. It was a concept that had to do with crowned heads of Europe. Oh well, critical theoretical historical sociological linguistic philosopher types can make words mean whatever they want them to mean. I'll learn their meaning.

All this helps in a roundabout way to break the Brainstorms code. I have plenty of vengance work to do so onward and upward. Shout it out. Passion and joy are the order of the day, even though right now I am bushed and still have to head over to one of my MSN Groups.

Well, I did some checking around and it is official. I got kicked out of Silver Beaches for critiquing Beaches' graphic on this blog. Of course, she never said anything. She could have decided the fact that I serve graphics from my own rented web space was suspect. She could have disliked the "do my homework" question. She could have Googled this blog and found the offending post.

The weird thing is she could have asked me to take the graphic down or at least confronted me. Because she asked me to hide my email address, she too had no back channel outlet to talk to me. MSN Groups started life as the web based back end of mailing lists called Listbot. These days they are a jerry-rigged set of boards.

Well I am going to be more suspect this time around. I have three new graphics groups. They are not as heavily sig-tag oriented. Still, the idea that you should make your own sig tag art, is alien and I'm going to push it lightly if at all except to lead by example.

Joining the Purple Flames graphic group (Not their real name this time around. I don't need a bunch of spiders bringing in evesdroppers who get pissed off and kick me out.) is very much a ritual. I have to sign one post that says I have read the rules. I have to respond to my official welcome. This last is just good etiquette. I have to open a mailbox because we don't use outside email addresses with what I have learned are not good consequences.

As a result, I've been making fresh graphics left and right. I will soon have to open another graphic gallery. In a way that is good. These graphics have my reusable MSN nickname on them or my real name and no organization name. I can use them over and over again, no matter which group I call my own or which group keeps me.

I think I've also been making graphics because I am glad of the reprieve from doing readings for Howard's course. That all ends tomorrow with a trip to Georgia Tech and then with a trip to Utrecht's Art Supplies. Yes, I'm going to be buying more goodies. I went to Utrecht's on Yom Kippur but due to the holiday could only look. They give you a long break in the afternoon.

Wow, Yom Kippur was the last time I was really healthy. I can't believe I've been sick with this draggy cold (well now at least it is just draggy) for two weeks.

Meanwhile, I think I have gotten past the hazing ritual in the two groups that require it. The third group is not in to hazing fortunately. The next step and the hardest one will be finding a place to post on their boards. That is not always easy. Cut and paste the sig tag games bore me to tears. My solution is not to play them. I like the weather and plans for the day and show off your creation type threads better. I still don't feel as if I have gotten to know any body, but I joined most of these groups the beginning of September and they dilute each other and in four weeks, what does any body know? The only good part about hazing rituals in MSN graphics groups is that there is no honeymoon period. You get through the hazing and breathe a sigh of relief about having arrived.

I am having trouble promoting the Veldt at the Managers Helping Managers MSN group. It is very conservative and the Veldt is a little too crazy for their taste becuase it is a mature rated group (If an adult rating were still available at MSN, I would choose it so I did not have to censor posts. I hate playing cop.) but uses Miller instead of a body parts standard to decide what is appropriate. Managers Helping Managers is G rated. G stands for general at MSN Groups. Why any adult would create or want a G rated group is beyond me, but each to his or her own tastes.

Anyway, I can't have a permission code to include a link to The Veldt in my sig file and I can't in good conscience use the Promotion Board. Fortunately there are other promotion groups taht are less particular. I joined one that looks a bit like it is struggling. I have to get to know it better. I can, however, only cover so much ground in one day.


by Eileen Kramer

The avatarot and I have almost put three competitions to bed, and all three of us are beat. Actually as the only flesh and blood being of the three of us, I am the one who is beat because I am still recovering from that retched cold.

The cold means no services again this weekend. I am still contagious and the rabbi has a three week old baby. Fortunately, it looks like the one big reading for the October 20th class is readily available at one of my favorite libraries.

Meanwhile, I have some research results to report. The plea I posted at Silver Beaches went utterly and completely unanswered. No one wanted to critique my poor pomegranates. Maybe my language was off. Maybe people have consideration for others' feelings even when others are willing to put those feelings on the line to gain knowledge.

I guess my experience with the pomegranates is what happens when you start out in one part of the net and leave your comfy well known node and venture out among very different people. I do share something in common with the good folks at Silver Beaches. I love making graphics. After that, my aesthetics and theirs take widely different turns. I am also learning that my language and theirs are different. I wish I knew how to ask for and get feedback. There just is not that much spontaneous writing in the group and I think criticizing another's artwork is considered taboo. It would be better to have words to go wtih the difference in the pictures.

I am not the only one facing language and cultural difficulties in a new group of very different people. Thadea is on a board that should be confidential. No I won't tell you where the board is and it is closed anyway. She reads the posters' accounts of there days and they could be writing a laundry list:

I went to X store.
I ran Y errand.
I went to play group.
Then it was lunch and naps.
These people have no afternoons.
We went out for dinner or hard carry out.

Thadea does not and will not write like that. Her very existence are the words I give her. Her posts nearly always include commentary along with a sketchy schedule. One of the reason I keep Thadea's schedule intentionally sketchy is that she is the only active member on the board that should be confidential that works full time outside the home. Her kids never had play group. They went out to play at their day care center and later their pre-K and after that the after school program at the Y. If Thadea mentions this too often, she is likely to strike face first in to the center of the Mommy Wars.

But Thadea also always injects commentary in to her posts. She complains about the lack of decent produce at the Hy-Vee, the chain of supermarkets in Iowa City where she lives and the price of produce. If her husband gets sick, she worries about his runny nose sullying his mustache and his giving the cold to the rest of the family. If she falls off a horse at horseback riding lessons, Thadea mentions the unmentionables in the riding ring's saw dust.

By the way, this blog has a new visitor. Her name is probably Beaches or she is a friend of Beaches. When I logged in to MSN Groups to check whether any one had responded to my question on Silver Beaches, I found the group was not among my listed groups. I'd been kicked out. Sig-file groups at MSN are like trains. Another one can easily come along. I wasn't a great fit.

Beaches if you are here, I have two words for you: FAIR USE! It's your group, but I did not behave dishonorably. I gave you full credit for the graphic. Since I was criticquing it, I did not need to ask permission. Fair use sounds pretty, but what it protects is the rights of scholars, amateur scholars, independent scholars, and wannabees to stick the knife in and rip up someone else' work. That's called refutation and criticism. That's a classic use of FAIR USE.

It's your group, Beaches. I won't miss it all that much. I won't say it was awful. I won't say it was great. If someone from Brainstorms led you to my blog, watch those people. They can't be trusted. I suspect a Google search got you here since this blog is heavily spidered.

I'll probably have your group replaced before the night is out. I may even find somewhere where people actually talk about what they make besides lining up a list of perfect images of beautiful scantily clad female bodies and thinking that is the one good aesthetic or the one kind of image worth having.

I hope there's no black list among siggy groups. I suspect that MSNGroups is just too large and diverse for that. I guess I get to find out when I send out a raft of applications. Easy come. Easy go. Let's see if I can get replacement for Silver Beaches. MSN is no longer sa searchable as it once was.

This leads to an interesting question. If you are in search of a group or some form of social links other than an academic or professional mailing list leaked by word of mouth or for that matter a snob fora also recommended that way, how do you cold call your way to a new group? This is where indexing come in, but on Yahoogroups, a search for "mothers" for example yields more than fifty percent porn sites. The new search engine on MSN does not yield porn sites since they have banished those to World Groups, but it does yield some very obtuse results. Well...this will be interesting.

I decided it was best to do a bit of social networking and see what people are promoting on the Promotions Board at my Managers Helping Managers group. Actually, I need some sleep. It is odd that Beaches did not take the time to chew me out with a ding letter. Oh well, there are people who don't like that kind of ceremony. There will be other PSP groups.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I don't have any readings tonight, so I want to talk about the language of graphics. Before 1995, some people drew, but in this country according to a New York Times article I read a while ago drawing has become a spectator sport except for a few enthusiasts.

Then came the internet and suddenly it was as cheap to produce material with graphics and decoratives as it was to produce plain black and white. We are ten years in to the world of illuminated texts and back with the way the written word has looked throughout most of human history, more or less. The web set and sig-tag have their roots in the scriptoria of Europe though now they are for the most part secular.

But mostly the web graphics I deal with have no roots or roots in places that are strange to me. Decorated web work is not part of academic culture or intelligent conversation fora, also known as snob fora. Out in the wilds of MSN Groups and on Geocities web sets, decoratives, and sig-files flourish. Inside ladies groups the calls go out for quilt squares or graphic gifts. At web site competitions, those with sites in play collect graphic charms.

To fill the void left by RAOK which closed down in late July and has recently reopened, I joined several MSN graphic groups and started working on graphics mainly with the GIMP. I like the GIMP because I think its path tool is very forgiving and I like the way it makes transparent background images. I also like the idea that it makes free graphics software available to any one willng to download it. PSP (Paint Shop Pro) costs close to a hundred dollars, and I think everyone should do graphics.

That was how I noticed that I speak a different graphic language. This is a graphic by Beaches of the group Silver Beaches. I am not including a URL link because the group is closed and unreachable. I am presenting this graphic in fair use with full attribution. Fair use includes the writing of essays such as this as well as more formal education.

Cheese Cake by Beaches

This is typical sig-tag fare. I don't draw anything like this. In fact, I don't use artists work and have to include their URL's because I actually do draw my own art. I also don't use images of sexy women who are not me. I'm not awful looking but there is no way I'd want a picture of some stranger in underwear as part of my sig file. Why do I need a fake face? Well here is one of my sig file's.

a carrot peeler

I draw a lot of plants and some tools and occasionally an animal or too. I both scan and sketch and use something called pixel drawing. I am a minimalist because I like the transparent backgrounds that are possible and also because having less is more because a simple image actually draws more attention to itself. Often extra techniques are just distracting. Who wants distraction?

Clearly Beaches and her friends speak a completely different graphic tongue. The problem is I can't ask them about their language. It is hard to ask about someone's art work that took a long time to put together and which looks that way. It comes out as a challenge: "What do you see in that? Why do you like that?" etc.... Try those questions out for yourself. I have an idea that may get some of the makers of this type of graphic talking, but it's going to mean making my work the subject of attention and challenge.

Then in the last few days something has happened at my Managers Helping Managers MSN group. (Note: this group may also be closed from public view so no link) where after hearing the tales of woe about groups being shut down by MSN for copyright violation and harrangues about the need for "copyright awareness," a relatively new manager asked if it was possible simply to run a group without siggies. I said it was. The idea makes sense for a text based group, but others especially those with PSP (Paint Shop Pro) groups for whom this is not an option chimed in and yet others said that sig-files "livened things up."

For some time, I have realized that most threads about copyright deal with getting artists' permission (Notice the link back on Beaches' sig from her artist, Sonja Roji.) There was one thread I remember that featured a copy of a particularly nasty cease and desist letter to owners of Yahoogroups tube groups. Tubes are premade images you can use like brushes in Paint Shop Pro.

I read the letter and cringed. I am very pro-copyright and zealous as you can get on the issue of intellectual property, but an obvious solution occured to me which I did not post but also did not read from any other poster. "If an artist was this nasty and heavy handed over intellectual property, then why buy any rights to use his work and why use his work at all?" It is possible to draw human figures. They may not be quite as nice as the art one sees requiring permissions. One can also use an electronic camera to take photographs or scan in photos taken wtih a regular camera. One could even have a glanmor shot taken. Why put up with this? There is a big difference between being "copyright aware" and being supine in the face of ugly behavior.

Then tonight, I realized that there are nearly no pixel drawing tutorials or tutorials on how to scan in and massage ones's own art work. This too avoids the whole sordid realm of permissions and creates copyright safe work. There are also precious few tutorials aimed at creating abstract designs from the ground up with no preexisting art work. If copyright and permissions are such a problem why aren't there tons of tutorials or example sig-files that help other sig-tag makers become self sufficient?

Then I realized something else. I did not become a zealot over intellectual property because I got caught by MSN or received a cease and desist letter from some artist or commercial entity. My conversion on copyright occured due to my misadventure at Brainstorms. I learned that those who disregard intellectual property rights often run roughshod over human rights. I destroyed a pile of copyrighted images I kept on server space. I went out and bought a sketch pad and art supplies and I became my own artist.

Before I became "copyright aware" though,I used to gather and use visual material from the four corners of the net. I still have favorite web sites, but I won't list them here. Again, I had no problem. The work with questionable copyright origin is still all over my web site. Any of the older galleries contain images simply taken and scraped and reused in pressies for guest book signing. My newer pressies are quite different. The art work is completely my own, yet some of the older graphics are six and a half years old and those who owned the original photos, have never contacted me. I did have contact from one of the gentelman whose midi music I feature and RAOK's access to the trademark &qut;Random Acts of Kindness" did get challenged, but the image owners never bothered my pressies.

For most images, copyright infringement of graphics is a victimless crime. It is possible to steal images with impunity and never get in trouble. I am loathe to share my secret on any MSN Groups since I have reformed my behavior. If you are curious, I will probably be taking down those older galleries in a few days.

Still my secret says something. For some people, one kind of image is far more valuable than a whole world of other images, even when those images are far safer to use or when there exist alternatives that require no permissions. Why is this so? How did the field of what is good and acceptible (I'm not sure of the adjective here) get so small? How did those other myriad possibilities simply cease to exist? I guess I have to start asking questions.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

OK, tonight's reading is....

Weblogs and the Public Sphere by Andrew Ó Baoill

The odd thing is I actually found a reading I partially agree with. I do think that political blogs are not a perfect place to discuss politics. I think it's hard for the little guy to get thruogh which is where faith comes in. If you believe in God, you know you always have an audience so you believe in yourself enough to write.

Second, I think O'Baoill, has it right when it comes to the costs of entry. Of course I would add that if you want your blog not to look like everyone else' learning some web design does help.

As for RSS news services, I tried putting one together once for a site I did about E-cards. It was way more trouble than it was worth. I never look at RSS news feeds except for the neat little one I have at The Web Hut, and the one Haldis has at her team at the Webleagues. Neither of these RSS readers go to any blogs. Both go to media sites, either the BBC World Service or Common Dreams.

O'Baoill proves again that political blogs are an acquired taste. I guess they are a taste I haven't acquired since I like news. I think if you live outside of Washington, DC, New York City, or a few other big metro areas, as I have done for most of my adult life, a lot of what is on political blogs is not relevant. It's Washington insider news or it's New York City news rather than world news or local news. If you want a really good variety of World News the BBC World Service is the place to go.

Now on to other concerns. O'Baoill taught me a little more about Habermas' conception of the public sphere. It is very narrow and leaves out a lot of legitimate human social endeavor. Houses of worship and religious activity is NOT part of Habermas' public sphere. Say that three times fast. If you go to an adult education class at your synagogue, you are being manipulated not participating in cultural discussion. If you are involved in your church's charity drive to help the homeless, that just doesn't count as public sphere activity.

Habermas also excludes all commerce from the public sphere. Now think about that. The devil is in the detail and the detail is the "all." Sure going to the mall is an act of fairly mindless consumption and work can be...well work, but isn't Ebay different? There is something very social in buying an item from another ordinary person. I bought two winter coats over Ebay and wore one to job interview. Then we have the freebie list on Craigslist.com. There are people who give away excess stuff and people who want to acquire it. There are no big corporations to be seen except in the initial manufacture and sale of the good and that is ancient history. And what about garage sales and swap lists like Secret Angel Friends? It just doesn't feel right to lump all this sociable selling with the mall and the factory.

For those with a concrete turn of mind, talking about things might be easier and more productive than talking abstractions, politics, or even current events. Is their talk not worthy of bieng in the public sphere?

And what about the sites that encourage the adoption of homeless animals? Are animals "stuff" according to Habermas or is finding homes for homeless pets a political issue. Would you exile Meows Without Moms or Just Strays to the cold hard world of commerce? Habermas might. Of course we also have the Cat Fanciers' Association. Habermas would also claim they are engaging in commerce though most of the cats at shows are loved pets. I'll state as a cat owner with two great furr kids that I don't think of animls or their care as commodities or production and I don't care if Habermas disagrees with me! He is just plain wrong!

Now I'd like to discuss another topic. This is not the topic that is raging through my online life. I have to wait a week before I can post on that topic. After that you will be hearing a lot. I may even divide my blog in two so you can get both sets of essays.

Instead I want to talk about intellectual freedom on MSN Groups. Is it in oxymoron? Well sometimes it is and I'm not talking about MSN which for me has been a distant landlord with a bad reputation. I'm very "copyright aware" but it wasn't MSN who made me so. It was my misadventure with Brainstorms. I woke up to the fact that those who dishonor private property, also often are not very nice to people. Decency begins with honoring property and that means intellectual property.

My concerns about MSN Groups lie elsewhere. I wonder what would happen if I wrote a long screed against US imperialism or a froth at the mouth piece against the US military or drew pictures (with genetalia covered of course!) of people being tortured at Abu Gaharaib prison with the caption: "should we support the troops?" or came out in favor of someone accused of terrorism and wrote an essay in defense of their freedom?

MSN has no political policy but they own the printing press. The rest of us are just tennants there. That any one can be a tennant in first rate real estate is not something to be taken lightly, but we are tennants nonetheless and MSN does NOT have to give the same freedom of expression as afforded by the US Constitution. They are a private organization.

This brings me to another threat to free speech on MSN Groups, managers. Now if you manage an MSN Group you might not be like this, but bear with me. If you are tolerant of a broad range of political views more power too you, but there is a graphic that I can not show on most MSN Groups. I made it in response to a thread about keeping a candle burning until all our troops are back from Iraq. How could someone be against burning a candle? Well you can....

out of patience

The candles run out eventually. If I ran this graphic in any group except the Veldt, I'd get told, that it was "disrespectful" of our troops and the post would be pulled. Disrespectful means "shut up!" It means some topics are off limits even though they are nonsexual and many groups have a mature rating for discussing serious adult conversation. It does not have to be like this in many MSN groups. Respect should not equal silence.


by Eileen Kramer

OK, I have two more readings done. The last, which is only six pages long, won't print out nicely. Sometimes this just happens. That is why it is good to mirror sites in a print-friendly fashion.

Let's have the readings.....

Habermas Heritage: the future of the public sphere in the network society by Pieter Boeder
Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention by Douglas Kellner

I have a lot more to say about Kellner than I do about Boeder. I found Boeder nearly unintelligible. I also don't worship at Habermas'feet. Quite frankly if you want to decide how and whether the internet changes the public sphere, get a definition of the public sphere. If you want to leave out Ebay, be my guest, but then go see who is where and what they are doing. Review articles are fine, but when they are full of ten year old articles, they are too old. Now I know Boeder's article went to press in 2002. That means the references in any review article are going to be dated.

And it is easy to observe and count beans on the net. If all those links are as open as Barbasi and Watts say they are, then it should be very easy to just explore, count, and report back. One can also be a fly on the wall. Remember all that stuff about espionage I wrote in my last post. Well you can use it for research. It is not hard to find out who goes where and what they like to discuss most of the time and what rules they make for getting along among themselves.

Articles like Boeder's make me think of academia as a great big gravy train that just let people shoot off their mouths full of jargon.

Kellner, showed me that Habermas and he both have their virtual thumbs up their virtual posteriors. There is a nice live and functioning public sphere right here in the good old USA. If it is a bourgois public sphere so much the better since most Americans consider themselves middle class. I am also not sure that America is a welfare state capitalist country any more. We had Welfare Reform in 1996. I know government scholars and critical political sociolinguistic philosophers like to give common words obscure meanings, but the government gives percious few free handouts any more.

Now for that public sphere. Let's visit my place of work where a colleague is signing up people to vote. You can say voting is part of "the state" and that it doesn't count for anything, but getting more people to vote is pretty public sphere if you ask me. There are also lectures on issues of the day on a regular basis. Yes, I work in academia.

Now I'm going to take you across the street to the local high school. They probably have some sort of student government (Please don't laugh), political club, volunteer groups, and they may even give credit for working on political campaigns or service learning. They start them young in the public sphere.

Then in addition to Zoning Boards and School Boards, we have churches, syngagogues, and mosques of every shape and size. I heard somewhere that forty percent of all Americans attend religious services. Bush won his last election by mobilizing the conservative Christian churches. Recently there was a rally in support of Israel at the largest conservative synagogue in Atlanta. Nearly all the authors I've read whom I suspect are anti-religious, never once mention the role of religion in the public sphere. The one exception is Agre.

Now let's get a newspaper. I know Habermas says it is full of lies, spectacle, and designed more to sell ad space than to bring you the news that will enhance your critical thought. What's that? It's usually near the end of the first section. It's an Op-Ed page and on it are...yes.... letters to the editor. It cost those creating them, ordinary citizens more or less, only their time and thirty-nine cents for a stamp and the newspaper has an Op-Ed section or page every day of the week.

Well that is a pretty full public sphere, but of course you ask the question I've been asking about the internet public sphere, who is in there? How many people? What proportion of the general population and what are they doing? Sad to say the participation rate is not that great. Well you knew that all ready, but I'll answer you with another question. Why is the participation rate so low in the flesh and blood public sphere? Habermas and his leftie critical theory buddies would say that the big bad media and the free enterprise system manipulates people in to silence by making news entertainment and the same with politics etc...

But what if people were just lazy? What if they prefered entertainment to news? What if they hadn't worked on a campaign in high school and made it a point always to have their absentee ballots when they went off to college? People are not going to enter in to the political end of the public sphere unless they follow current events no matter whether they read the paper, watch the news on TV, hear it on the radio, or enjoy it on the internet. We'd know a lot more if we put down the review articles and started counting heads and listening to what the heads said.

Of course, there is another real and disturbing question lying underneath the question of how many users are there on the net and where do they go and what do they say and how do they regulate their conversations. The question is do you, as an educated person and therefore one of the elite really want to extend the public sphere of the internet to the great unwashed. Fraser would like to stick them (for their own cultural good of course) in "subaltern publics." But this is a serious question.

Do you really need the great unwashed to get your political goals done? The folks who got California to reconsider their Diebold machines did not worry about the people with Geocities pages or who hung out on Neopets. Instead, they talked among themselves and recruited more of their own and made the most of security links and public squirrel holes for data. I'm not sure whom the Boycott Sinclair campaign actually reached.

But face it, those unwashed folks are scarey. First some of them are like Habermas' students back in the late 1940's, the ones with "authoritarian leanings." There are unwashed in those filthy red states. There are unwashed who worry that the presence of Mexican workers will drive down the wages for native born. There are unwashed who think English should be the official language of the United States. The lefties write these people off as manipulated. I think that is disgustingly patronizing. In a democaracy, people hold different views.

Then we have the PSP ladies. Usually these are women and for some reason they don't experiment with the GIMP. They make sig-tags, useful art for signing messages in MSN groups and image rich email. Hmmm.... Maybe you are like that author Boeder cited who thinks images are unimportant. Perhaps you don't know how to use the software or don't think it's important. Maybe you think that these women have no taste and what passes for art amongst them is kistch. I'll leave that argument for another time.

The fact is these women do something I bet most graduate students don't or can't do. I was an exception to this rule because the first microcomputer software I learned to use was McPaint in 1983. Being graphicly literate gives you another language and a way to enhance and enrich social bandwidth. What kind of graphics would you add to the public sphere if you could and how would you add them? How does it feel to be outclassed and at a loss for words?

In addition, the unwashed folks you let in to the public sphere with you, the big one that counts, not some virtual version of the overflow room, might have different ideas of what is important. Illness and nuturence are what makes news. The kind of argument where the object is to leave an opponent wounded and hamstrung is not something that most of them know. We have something to learn and something to teach and the same is true for them. That's not patronizing. I wish I could say more about this. In the coming weeks, I might. I want to keep some of my online history a bit in the shadows tonight. Even the good folks at Brainstorms do not know everything.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

OK, I have another Benkler reading to process. Here it is:
Emergence of the Networked Public Sphere, The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler p212-272. (Reader)

Where do I begin? I am so full of questions and a bit of very acid commentary, no make that a lot of very acidic commentary. I have to deal with Benkler's boring style so it makes me mean.

Let's start with the first question. The Pew report says that only eleven percent of American internet users read blogs at all, at any time, on any subject, and in any amount. That means that roughly one in ten users in the US at most read political blogs. Can something that reaches ten percent of the population be much of a force?

That leads to another question: What are the ten or twenty most popular web sites? Since there is a power distribution of visits and links, it would be good to know where the vast majority of visits go.

Second, are the victories that Benkler cites outliers and how really good are those victories. Let's start with Diebold. I live in Georgia. In less than a month, I will be voting on a Diebold touch screen voting machine and so will many others in states where the Boards of Elections kept the machines. Why did my state's Board of Elections turn a deaf ear to what were fairly good watch dog sites and some real evidence that leaked out of Diebold like dirty water from a raunchy sponge? Simple, my state is controlled by Republicans. Georgia is a very red state, the first state in fact to go for Bush in 2004. Being in an Eastern time zone of course helped, but if you go any deeper in to the South than some parts of Georgia, you fall in to the Gulf of Mexico. To paraphrase Scripture, sometimes the best seeds fall on stoney ground. Georgia is stoney ground.

Then we have the Sinclair boycott. The good folks at TalkingPoints who happened to get an anonymous tip about how to talk to sponsors and in turn hit a broadcaster where it hurts, did prevent the documentary, Stolen Honor, from being shown. I don't know how Democratic this was since there were people who were probably looking forward to seeing it who did not get it. Fortunately, they can rent or buy the DVD and see it at home. It is still available.

In reality though, the Stolen Honor incident was a side show. Two years after the 2004 election, the name, Swift Boat Veterans, is still a household word. The Bush campaign did an excellent job getting those commercials out and the Republicans in general decalred open season on veterans during that camapign. Chickenhawk is also a household word. In Georgia Mat Clelland, who lost multiple limbs in VietNam lost out to Saxby Chambliss for Senator. Chambliss, I believed also attacked Clelland's VietNam record. It looks like the RNC scored far more hits than misses and the Boycott Sinclair crowd got one tiny hit.

Now let's look at an usuccessful political web site. It's still in business and probably will be forever since its owners feel they are on a mission. The owner is now the daughter of the site's creator. He died several years ago, but she has lots of support. Anyway, here is DORWay.com. I think all of us would agree that pure food and drug laws are part of the public sphere. Some of you may also try to avoid artificial sweeteners, including aspartame. The late Mr. Rietz and his family have amassed volumes of data, all of it from public sources (Senate Hearings, Medline, and the like).

After several years of unsuccessful work, people like to dismiss Rietz and company as cranks, but aspartame DOES NOT have an entirely clean record. It is also still on the market. Why hasn't the DORWay.com crew had the same success as those trying to get Sinclair not to show a particular movie or the groups getting at least one state to think twice about Diebold voting machines? One could say that DORway never happened upon the same savvy activist as TalkingPoints found. One could also say that DORWay's cause is as worthy as that of the antiDiebold or Boycott Sinclair factions.

I have another reason though: MONSANTO. Monsanto is a tougher customer and opponent than either Sinclair or Diebold. Nearly everything on the DORWay site is publicly available. Monsanto appears to be leakproof. Of course Mosanto has had to defend its geneticly modified crops and its Roundup Herbicide so dealing with DORWay is no problem. Monsanto keeps its gates shut tight. DORWay can not get a smoking gun and without it and without the ability to threaten real world damage in a credible way, they remain unable to reach their final objective, banning aspartame.

There is a lesson to be learned in the DORWay story: money buys influence in the world of the "networked public sphere." In the case of Monsanto, money buys improved security to guard against embarassing leaks springing. Good security, a tight intrantet for example, costs.

There are also mundane ways to buy public sphere influence on the net. What good after all is a site if you don't go there, even if a site if of pressing local interest? What if you need people in your local community to support smart redevelopment of an abandoned shopping mall or stop high rise development next to single family homes, or just want to make your city walkable? Well you need lawn signs? Yes, these advertise your site to its local audience, but lawn signs cost money. Enough said. By the way, I found all three of these sites by stopping and reading signs on people's lawns within a two mile radius of my apartment. Lawn signs work at least with me.

Then there are creative ways to spend money to influence the networked public sphere that are probably excellent uses for cash. The first is espionage. Pay someone, a consultant, an under employed college graduate, etc... to watch enemy blogs. Since the net is networked, it should not be that difficult to map out enemy nodes where information percolates from the fringes toward the center in a very public and form of peer review. The professional flies on the wall can catch a trend before it snowballs and those on the other side can be ready to spring in to action at their own sites where their spokespeople are also monitoring. Yes, you are going to have to pay your spies and your mouthpieces and neither comes cheap.

Hand in hand with espionage comes sabotage. There is a crude form of sabotage useful in authoritarian countries and maybe here as well. It is almost vandalism. It involves polluting the public sphere with spam and defective or corrupted copies of leaked documents. With email spam, reading email becomes a major slog on all but the government's or the big corporation's spam-free well filtered provider based or web based server. This will discourage the use of regular email. The counterfeit and corrupted document strategy is an antidote to a leak. It works very much like the release of sterile male screwflies in Florida long ago. With enough bad pieces of document around on a Freenet or similar document sharing service it will be very difficult to put together an entire viable copy of the document or code. Better yet, the corrupted document parts could contain a trojan or worm. Hiring programmers to create the corrupted pieces and mount them and eyes to monitor the Freenets and other public circles again is going to cost money, and saboteurs are not cheap.

Finally, there is the sophisticated and risky strategy of the agent provocateur. He or she will of course be an avatar. I know from experience that avatars are not that difficult to construct and fairly easy to slip under the radar. They can even function in environments with a participation requirement. The avatar enters, becomes a trusted member of the enemy blog and then proceeds to give carefully crafted and difficult to detect disinformation or give bad policy advice. That is what the enemy gets for doing business in public. Of course agents provocateur and their support crews do not come cheap either.

I am willing to predict that in the next few years you will see: better security, more use of off net advertising, spies or flies on the wall, sabotage, and agents provocateur operating throughout the networked public sphere. The result will be a push not to do as much operational business on the open net where one is very very vulnerable.

And you know, I'm not finished. Most of what I just described does not effect the average net denzien who neither contributes to nor reads a political blog. Still, their part of the networked public sphere is heavily under the influence of the all mighty dollar. Now, I love the free enterprise system. I think it is the best economic system out there, but even so, monopolies or near monopolies can become corrupt, and private property is just not the best place for free speech.

For your average Joe or Joesephine who wants a presence on the net, the choice is frequently a handful of free web site providers or MSN Groups, and for Joe or Joesephine Junior we have Neopets. Let's talk about both MSN Groups and Neopets. Neopets (who does not get the benefit of a link for good reason) is a behemoth with over a million members and probably thousands who are actually active. Twenty percent of Neopians are adults and the actual percentage of active members who are adults is probably higher. In addition, why shouldn't kids be in the public sphere too, especially teenagers.

Besides offering a lot of cute graphics and a virtual pet, and endless mindless Java games, Neopets offers web boards which are always active and have absolutely zero spam. They are the place to meet and greet and have something approaching a quickie discussion or role play (fiction!). What no one has at Neopets is free speech. I'll refer you to my essay on Neopian censorship for the details. Restrictions on free speech in Neopia go way beyond what is required to provide a clean well lighted site for either children or adults. I've had one Neopets account frozen over intellectual freedom issues, and if you want to use the children's site excuse, remember that over one in five Neopians is an adult and many are older teens. Neopets is probably in the head of any J-curve of internet sites. When a site this large restricts speech this much, it is scarey.

Now let's move on to MSN Groups. I adore MSN Users. They give the ordinary user who does not have the gift of glibness or credentials that will sink a table access to web boards and storage for remote loading. The posts can be graphicly rich. The problem is MSN has a very ugly reputation. MSN routinely closes down boards for copyright infringement or so I have been told. It does this even if the poster has a fair use exemption, which by the way is available to any one writing nonfiction such as this essay. It does this even if the cease and desist order is questionable. It may also close boards for political speech or something that is too risque and enforcement is selective and heavy handed. Personally, I have never had a group I've run pulled for anything but inactivity and MSN did give me plenty of fair warning.

It feels freakish to operate in an MSN milieu and have to worry about whether a piece of fiction about soon-to-be trophy wives or a Willendorf Venus pushes my board from the Mature to the forbidden Adult territory. I also wonder what sort of political speech and graphics are off limits.

The saddest part of all is that many Managers (Group owners are called Managers at MSN Groups) have internalized MSN's rules or at least the atmosphere of fear that surrounds their heavy handed enforcement. Members are proud of their "coypright awareness." I too am copyright aware (I do like the sound of that!) but not out of fear of MSN. I believe that those who do not honor individual private property end up not honoring individuals. I learned that the hard way at Brainstorms. I also feel that copyright encourages creativity.

Now all this leads to a sixty-four thousand dollar question? Why don't disgruntled Neopian adults and MSNGroup owners/managers go elsewhere? There are other social venues on the net. There are tons of role play boards at Invisionfree and there are numerous other remotely hosted web board providers if a web board is what you want.

Well picture being told that you can't gather signatures for a petition or even pass out leaflets at your favorite shopping mall. Of coruse you can't. The mall is private property, the cornerstone of the free enterprise system. You are free to pass out leaflets on the lonely highway outside the mall or from your own front yard. Somehow these last two options don't sound that appealing or effective, do they?

Now let's move on to the net. We are going inside that J-curve. MSN Groups where members overlap and have memberships in each other's groups is a big fat shining node. Neopets also is a shining node compared to an Invisionfree.com board with five or six active members or one's personal blog or web site with just you and God. How many people want to go out in to the darkness of the long tail when there is a big, bright, shining node so that big bright shining node which is run by a corporation that makes a fair amount through advertising and in the case of Neopets product tie-ins, has a captive audience. So much for a democratic networked public sphere.

OK, I'm not finished yet. I am just done with the criticism. I have questions? At what age does one enter the public sphere? No one has said anything about children or teens in the public sphere. When I went to middle school we discussed politics in current events and in high school I took Seminar in Politics where I got credit for working on a political campaign. I worked for the Republicans because the Democrats had all the volunteers they needed. I knew a lot of kids with more scruples who did not get a campaign slot that fall. At seventeen and over a year away from voting for the first time, I was in the public sphere or was I? Arguments about what older minors can hear, see, and read are a big part of life in the public sphere and usually take the form of book challenges at libraries.

Second, what part does religion play in the public sphere. Churches sold great blocks of tickets to the movie, Passion of the Christ, back in 2004. Christian organizations have mobilized my sister in spirit, April, not to shop at either Target or Wal-Mart. She boycotts Target because they "discrinminate against Christians" and won't shiop at Wal-Mart because they support a Gay and Lesbian Agenda and because they tell their workers to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." For April this is a financial sacrifice. I admire April's courage of convictions.

That is pretty much it. I have two and a half readings to go. I really don't want to move on a net where one has to wade through spam, fear the wrong set of eyes seeing what you do, and worry about those you entrust with great responsibility. Oh well...I guess the real world is like this, so why should the net be any different. I guess I am just cynical tonight.


Friday, October 06, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

First I'd like to make a correction about the last entry. I can get to Columbus State University's professors at Rate My Professors. My computer at home was having a fit of "the slows." By the way, sorry for no entry yesterday, but I have a disgusting head cold. Fortunately, it is just a head cold.

Fortunately, I don't have to go traveling hither and yon for readings this weekend, but before I sink back in to the world of new readings again, I want one more go at Fraser and her definitions of what should and shouldn't lie outside the public sphere. I want to talk about death, not assassination, capital punishment, or deaths of the great and famous. I want to talk about ordinary deaths of ordinary people. You've all seen the site Jill Rozell and if you haven't here is your chance.

When someone dies, the local newspaper publishes an obituary or at best a small newspaper article. In the worst case scenario, a big pile up on the highway or a murder, an ordinary person's death makes front page news. Thus, for most people and certainly before the net, death only entered the public sphere in a very limited way. There was good reason for this. Unless you know them or they are famous, other people's lives and deaths are not that interesting. Ordinary people are just that. Even other people's children are ordinary.

Come the net, all that has changed. Now ordinary people craving more exposure and opportunity for their grief can create sites like this. Of course even friends and family tire of hearing about a dead loved one, but if one wants an audience, there are always web site competitions. There is a chance that this site is being campaigned. It's owner is buying/trading for votes by agreeing to vote for other sites. In site fighting lingo this is called vote exchange. It is a very wretched and poor substitute for real support. If Fraser wants to call support groups for the bereaved, "subaltern replubics" well then let her.

There are some things that don't belong in the pubic sphere. And yes, I've lost loved ones and no I'm not being heartless, far from it in fact. As I said above, buying support one vote at a time is a terrible way to have your story heard. The primary reason for this is that one grows tired of the effort involved in site fighting, one has nothing. The support stops. It was there only to buy votes. This is especially true if one joins a vote exchange board or club. Then one trades ones votes wholesale. Yes, one of my avatarot, Thadea, used to be the tenth best site fighter in the world so I know about a lot of this from her experience.

Even now if you look at Jim's Memorial Page's guest book, you will see that most of the postings are made by Site Fights Faeries whose job it is to sign guestbooks. They get a certain number of them per week to sign. If you lose someone is this what you want? I guess for some people the answer is yes. Anything may beat obscurity. Also outside of larger cities and towns, there may not be support groups or the support group may meet at a church you detest or be run by people you can't stand. The open net and vote exchange is better than nothing.

Personally, both Thadea and I think sites that are memorial pages DO NOT BELONG in web site competitions. You can argue by the way that web site competitions are "subaltern republics", but that is another story. We think that fighting the pages ultimately hurts the person who grieves because false support and shallow support is worse than a small amount of real support. There are resources such as Griefnet for the bereaved. If you want online support, go there. Don't buy sympathy one vote at a time. All you'll get will be a captive audience and a pile of votes.

I have a head cold. It is making me sneeze all the time and cough some of the time. My nose runs a mile a minute. At least I can breathe through it today and the world has a smell. The library smells dusty. My lemon coke did not taste as good as I remembered them tasting. Maybe taste changes with one's mood. The apple tasted good though. Cortland apples can't be beat. They are not too watery and not too sweet and nice and big and just tender enough that you don't have to fight with them to eat them.

I can't go to my Rabbi's Succoth reception tonight. His wife had a baby (number five) two weeks ago and this cold is not the kind of baby present one brings to someone's home. I also may not go to schul tomorrow. There are too many parents of babies, too many old people, and also young children in the congretation. The fact that someone in this congergation probably gave me the stinking cold is not withstanding.

I am thinking a lot about the Chabad Rabbi and me. His English is flawless even though he grew up in a bilingual home (at least he became bilingual. His home might well have been completely English speaking. There was an Orthodox revival right after the Second World War and in to the 1950's). My rabbi was raised either Orthodox or Lubavitch. His parents might well have become Lubavitch as adults. I read a book called The Unchosen and it has explained a lot to me that I did not know and was glad I did not know when I was younger.

I suspect that my rabbi's family may have come to the US the same time my own did. My own family though made very different choices. Unlike the typical Lubavitch ancestor story/dream, my family went down the secular road. Some of this had to do with running away from families full of bucharim (My great grandmother and family legend, Rebeccah Magid, did just that.). Other times they were just more interested in becomiing American. They tweaked their traditions and kept a lot of them alive. They were an adventurous lot and the new country was a place for learning new traditions and reworking old ones.

No assimilation and adaptation are not all bad. I've learned this by watching the food at schul. Our food expletive deleteds. It is served in an unspiring way. It is the same thing week after week regardless of season and it is feh to use a Yiddish term. Sorry, and yes I eat plenty of it. I have a big appetite and I get hungry but I also have a discerning palate.

I don't know what the food will be like at the Rabbi's home tonight. I can't go because I am ill. I don't know what his wife makes. I don't know if the family are all super tasters which would explain why the bland food tastes good to them. I ate lunch with a family of left handed supertasters up in Toco Hills. That's Gedaliah in case any of you are curious.

The tragedy is that Jewish food just does not have to be this dull. My ancestors when they came to this country learned about a whole array of perfectly kosher American foods and adapted and loved them. On this list comes winter squash. It is bright orange and sweet and doesn't have to be slathered with butter like mashed potatoes. Another food hero is the black eyed pea. They didn't have them in Europe but a people who ate arbishe (chick peas), soon found a new friend. Eaten with butter for dairy meals or mixed in to salad with Thousand Island dressing for "cold supper" the black eyed pea was a delicacy especially when bought frozen. Along these lines, edamamme have shown up on Orthodox tables. A good pareve treat is hard to turn down.

Then we have what poor Jews really ate. People have forgotten that bagels and lox and for that matter cholent made with expensive kosher beef are both high priced treats. Poor Jews ate other things. My grandmother told me about rice salad made during the depression. Yes here is what it is: cooked rice (It needs to be long grain but it can be brown. It was probably white back in the old days), your favorite salad dressing, fresh or left over vegetables. It can include leftover cooked dry beans or a can of drained beans for protein or bits of cheese if you want it to be dairy. It can even have peanuts in it since peanuts are pareve.

Another poor immigrant Jewish dish is "spinach" and potatoes. My father grew up eating this and his mother learned to make it from her mother or either of them learned to make it in "domestic science class" in New York City. Secondary laws of kashrus forbid Jews from eating greens, though if htey wash them well, they can get around this. The greens used in this dish were probably kale which was available all winter and which can indeed be bitter if it is old. Old spinach tastes sour. The green in "spinach" and potatoes was reputed to be bitter. Bailey's horticulture book also says that kale was considered a low class vegetable, something it is not today.

What I think happened was the domestic science teahers (Domestic science is home economics) got the girls together (There was no such thing as bachelor foods in those days) and taught them how to make greens. New York City was fairly multiculturally sensitive at least as far as white kids were concerned and the schools new that a large proportion of their students had dieteary restrictions about pork. Also meat is expensive, so the recipe makers at the time came up with cooking greens with potatoes. This dish was something everyone could eat. It was economical and nutritious and the adventurous Jewish girls brought it home to their parents and it entered the vernacular.

Another domestic science dish you'll find in a lot of cookbooks (and probably made by some Jewish families though not mine because they did not push peanut butter in New York City despite it being pareve) is peanut soup made with peanut butter, vegetables and sometimes milk. The whole world eats peanut stew or soup. I'm not sure why this one was not taught and why it is not a poor Jewish dish.

I know that none of my grandparents ate or liked peanut butter. I introduced my grandparents to it. I only learned about peanut butter through a Swiss friend who lived up the street. They ate it the right way, the crunchy style (which I can no longer have due to my diveticulosis, but I can enjoy the creamy version) with fruit preserves on whole wheat bread. No grape jelly for us. By the way, my grandparents on my father's side both liked peanut butter though at the time I could not understand how they ate it without fruit preserves. They probably would have enjoyed peanut soup.

Somehow the rabbi's family seemed to skip all this gastronomic adventure (None of which is treif in the slightest) and stay to flavorless food. I am not sure why. Is there a fearfulness in leaving one's own culture, a willful blindness to aesthetics that makes me see red, or something else maybe supertasting involved? The reason I get stuck on supertasting is that I think that the Ashkenazi gene pool is extremely skewed and full of plenty of odd outlying traits.

I don't have any scientific evidence for it except my own OCD which crops up all over my father's side of the family. During the Shavuous Fabrengin at Chabad InnTown we read from Tanya in which the Alte Rebbe devotes pages and pages to intrusive and evil thoughts during prayer. Now my red flag shot up through the ceiling when I read this. First, if you have unwanted thoughts during prayer one of three things are happening, none of which should merit pages of solution: First, those thoughts are there for good reason. An example might be, you've walked four miles to schul in the heat and are hungry and thirsty. Your thoughts of hunger and thirst are real. Eat a light breakfast before you leave the house. Second, those thoughts are there also for a good reason because you have a legitimate worry or they are something you want to think about. They are entirely rational in either case. You are worried so pour out your heart in prayer or you are excited and it is pleasant to think that way so just don't tell any one. This last category can be pleasant so no one would report it as a problem. Third, you have intrusive thoughts so stop thinking them. Don't you have control over your head.

Here is where the red flag went up. If you don't have a rational reason for your thoughts and you can't stop them they are intrusive or ruminative thoughts and that is a symptom of OCD. There are also religious obsessions about not finishing prayers correctly that play in to this as well. I wondered if the Rebbe could not have been dealing with a population with an unusually high incidence of OCD. His cure for obsessive/ruminative/intrusive thoughts during prayer is surprisingly compassionate. Since psychiatry did not exist in Eastern Europe and there would not be any medication for OCD for nearly two hundred years, he suggested that those with intrusive thoughts during prayer simply ask God to forgive them and go on. God, he assured them would forgive them their weakness.

By the way, I really ought to look at Medline to see if any one has answered these genetic questions. People study Ashkenazi Jews as a homogenious genetic population quite a bit.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

Well I guess we are still on the theme of political web pages. Let's visit one very dirty "subaltern public space." I saw this one mentioned in a Guardian article whom I received through email. Hang on and make sure there is no one faint of heart nearby. Send your children and other sensitive souls in to the next room and visit RedWatch.

I don't endorse this place, but according to the Guardian this is one very politically effective web site. Leftists pictured here have been attacked by right wing thugs. I am glad this site operates in England and not the United States. I suspect if one can catch the site owners plotting and planning attacks one can prove what in New York state used to be called "coercion."

I feel as if these folks are almost stalking their victims. This is very very different than visiting publicly available web sites and then commenting on readings that are available either for any one to download or available at libraries in my city. Any one can read books and comment. That isn't lying in wait to beat someone up.

Of course publishing hate lists and publicly villifying people one doesn't like is not a new phenomenon. Here is another much older hate site. This one is entirely legal and the academics who find themselves on it even consider it a mark of prestige. That is because the decisions to award tenure or rehire academics from one year to the next are entirely local and everyone loves their own eccentric professors. Getting villified on a national web site doesn't mean squat.

CampusWatch has the look of a respectable web site with a blog out right on the front page. I even clicked on what looks like a news story. It takes several clicks to reach the hate lists which are buried under individual institutions. Somehow Cornell did not make the list. I'm not sure why, but in a way I actually feel relieved.

Perhaps a bit closer to home with more local politics (if one wants to descend in to the realm of academic politics) we have Rate My Professor. This is another rating site, and I've actually seen students use it and ask where they can find it. They say they "have to get their tuition worth." Of course one wonders how reliable such a site is. Actually given that a lot of schools, in fact the majority of schools here in Georgia are NOT listed, one has to wonder how reliable such a site is. You also have to become a member to view all the ratings.

Finally, these kinds of sites lead to consumer sites such as Craig's List. I've never used Craig's List much but there is someone in my MSN Managers group who shops there regularly. I still do most of my shopping at the malls or online, but people say a recommendation on Craig's List is make or break. I'm not sure I believe any of this.

On another note: I have a bad cold, so there may not be as much blog here as there usually is, I need to lay down and get some sleep. I have an eight am class to teach. Wish me luck.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I figured I would write about politically influential blogs tonight. The one that comes to mind is not exactly political, but I visit it quite a bit: Failed Messiah. I found this blog particularly useful after a job interview nearly a year ago in Lakewood, New Jersey. I have always liked Chabad. In fact, I still do though the local rabbinate and I have our differences. They are not as deep as those of Shamyra and the Lubavitchers.

I read Failed Messiah and think how possible it is to fall in love and how betrayal is one of the bitterest of feelings out there. Still Shamyra helped me make sense of my Lakewood experience and to a limited extent, he still helps me make sense of the Chasidim in Atlanta.

I know that Failed Messiah would not be possible without access to the web. Shamyra is part of a movement of disenchanted Orthodox, Haredi, and Chasidim who use the net to get their message out safely without discovery. These dissidents also help those who are learning about Orthodox from the outside in like me. Network science though would probably give a very poor estimate of Failed Messiah's importance. Here is why. I don't have his page linked anywhere, though the URL is easy to remember and I can just type it in. I may have it bookmarked. How many other of Shamrya's readers also simply type in the URL or keep it bookmarked without letting any one else know they go there. Remember there are people whose reputations and livelihoods would be at stake if their, friends, family, employers, and teachers found out they read Failed Messiah. Yes, it can be that bad.

I don't link to Failed Messiah or tell my colleagues at work about the site because I don't want any one to know how much I remember of that trip to Lakewood or how much I am involved with the Chasids. I don't want them to know all the dirt that I know because they'll wonder why I still go to Chabad for services. Well, the answer is that as far as I'm concerned the better well outweighs the bitter. Having an open seating service for the High Holy Days more than cancels out the odd quirks of Chasidic belief.

Well, that is half of tonight's blog. The other half has to do with this page. The The old version of this page was two years out of date and since I believe in personal experssion before communmity, it was therefore only fair and right to give this page an update.

The first thing to go in to a page update is the graphic. In this case, this design takes an odd sized deocrative that is much larger than what I'd normally use. That was good because I happened to make just the thing...

white marigold

After that I basicly redid the page from the ground up. I kept the same basic design because it works with an oversized decoartive and it still looks fresh. I think that was one reason I was so loathe to tinker with the old page. Now all the new page needs is nusic. I want it to be as anti-Brainstormish as possible. That presents a challenge since military music is pretty anti-Brainstormish but finding the right march has never been easy. I finally got a march for my newest image gallery, but it takes some work finding a good one. Here is a site by the Dallas Wind Symphony with all hundred and thirty six of Sousa's marches.

Of course the best midi are often not American. This site features some Peruvian gems. Oh well, I guess I had better pick something out. I suppose old Broadway standards would also be anti-Brainstormish. This is where Hamienet.com comes to the rescue.

Well now all I have to do is upload my new page and rename the present Beach Head and I am good to go. By the way, personal pages with their color, decoratives, music, and space for words and links might just carry a lot of social bandwidth.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

by Eileen Kramer

I don't know where to start with this week's readings. I guess the first thing to do is list them:

Nancy Fraser, "Rethinking the public sphere: a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy." Habermas and the Public Sphere. Ed. Craig Calhoun. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1991. 109-142. (Reader)

David Zaret, Origins of Democratic Culture: Printing, Petitions, and the Public Sphere in Early-Modern England, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, Pp 3-17.

Phil Agre, The Practical Republic: Social Skills and the Progress of Citizenship

First, I'm glad. When I'm glad it is bad news, but right now I am glad I never took a government course. The terminology is the most confusing I have ever seen, and I've done some legal reference, and lawyres' undefined squiggles that show up all the time in legal codes are tame stuff compared to government terminology. The same word can have absolutely opposite or just plain different meanings depending on which scholar uses it. According to Agre, conservative means deferent to authority and hierarchy. It is in his words a state of "darkness." On the other hand, I always thought convervatives were out to preserve ideas and traditions including freedom and liberty. To Agre conservatism and democracy are opposites.

Likewise to Fraser, liberal does not mean a political movement based on willingness to change and on increased government intervention in the private sphere and subsidies for the common person. Fraser talks about something called "liberal democracy" which she got from Habermas which means democracy as we know it. This is clearly not the same thing as the first definition of liberal.

So where does all this leave me? It leaves me with a lot of questions and comments and with Yom Kippur coming up, I won't have time to get to them all. I think Zaret was right and I liked his nuanced approach. The media is not the message when it comes to print helping with the emergence of "liberal democracy." Besides Seventeenth Century England had a civil war which is why we ended up with Puritans in the New World and Jamestown in Virginia.

What I do know is that like it or not, I think the web, and to a lesser extent the net as a whole is doing terrible violence to the written word. I think it is so easy to post, edit, and fix things that people write sloppily on the net and less formally in email. Also pictures and color come cheaply. I argued long ago, right after I put up my first web page which by the way is still around I wrote an essay on IPCT-L called Back to the Dark Ages. The black and white world of just print and nothing else and print that was expensive enough that it had to be good, was an artifact of the printing press. The web and the color monitor changed all that. We all have any where from two hundred and fifty-five to five hundred million colors at our disposal. The result is pages like this. This has got to change the way ordinary people communicate.

Talk about ordinary people brings me to Fraser. She is a master of finding idiosyncratic meanings for words or giving otherwise decent words, unpleasant connotations. Take bourgoise for example. It means middle class. Last time I looked, being middle class was an excellent thing. I have also heard that most Americans consider themselves middle class. Therefore, why shouldn't a bourgoise public sphere work? Sure, at one time women could not vote or own property, but that was then. This is now. Blacks have had the vote for over a generation. Is America an egalitarian society? Not entirely, but I would not say it is entirely stratified either.

In smaller towns and cities, people of different cultures and genders do just fine sharing public space. I used to be a Democratic committeewoman in Muscogee County, Georgia and before that in Oneida County, New York. The Democrats were a nice inclusive bunch, especially in Georgia. We had white university folks like myself. We had blacks from South Columbus. We didn't have many Hispanics, but Columbus did not have many and not too many military but the military tend to be largely Republican. I'm sure we had veterans and I know we had good ole' boys. We formed one group because there weren't enough of us to go elsewhere.

I think what happens more often than the well-to-do pushing out the poor and marginalized is that the elite, don't want to share their public space with the hoi polloi. Therefore, they set up country clubs and other public spaces of their own where the unwashed are permitted but oh...uh...don't have the money for membership fees, or they are in a part of town where the unwashed do not go except to work for the rich. These include the malls and restaurants in Buckhead, Lenox, and Dunwoody. Big cities can be physically segregated. Then we have the Atlanta business newspapers sits in its dispenser like a USA Today or a Sunday Paper, but it costs two dollars and fifty cents and one only sees it in tony neighborhoods like Toco Hills.

Fraser also does not discuss religion at all. The establishment if there is such a thing says we have separation of church and state and to work against that is a fools' errand no matter how you may feel. Clearly the audience for the Diamond Rio video would respectfully disagree, while those in power would more often than not (as does any "main stream" party with its activists) shunt them off to their own "subaltern" public spaces.

Fraser really hit home about issues that are off limits for public sphere discussion. The issue that came to mind as I read her was health and illness. To me, illness no matter how terrible is personal. My grandfather, for whom I am named, died of complications of hypertension and diabetes in 1959. My mother has hypertension and keeps it under control with medications. Medical science has advanced to the point it keeps her alive and well, but you don't see me out drumming up money for the Heart Fund or "raising awareness about heart disease." Face it, heart disease runs in my family. People get sick. My family members get sick, but to me that is not a public cause. Angelika clearly disagrees with me.

Now, I'd like to come back to Agre. He would like to see a society where everyone has the social skills to network, sell themselves and their issues, and hustle to form coalitions to fight it out in the public sphere. Well, fine... most people I know just aren't that political. They are interested in television, graphics (bu not drawing), music (but not singing or playing an instrument), pets, family, etc... I suppose Agre would say that interest comes with an increase in "social skills" but I wonder if it is possible to have the skills without the interest.

Finally, I'd like to show off one man's political soap box. The Major, also known as William J. Whatley, fights at the Web Leagues and also has a web site competition of his own. The page is interesting for its graphic weight and the fact that one guy in a trailer park in Wyoming can put out what it used to take a four color printing press to produce. Site fighters tend toward the right end of the political spectrum, so there is a good chance this page even has an audience.