Monday, April 30, 2007

Carnival of Conflict, First Edition

Welcome to the May 1, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Conflict. Thank you to all who participated in this Carnival, and we look forward to your responses.

For information about the Carnival including a description, archives, and instructions for submitting your posts to the next carnival, visit here.

This Carnival begins with a song. Madeleine Begun Kane's Serenade For The First Sufferers (Political Song Parody) draws creation from conflict. Her satire confronts a deadly serious issue: the monstrously hollow sympathy she sees in the Bush administration for those sacrificing and dying for them. But humor disarms the monster and gives us the space to discuss the problemsas they really are.

Creation out of conflict is a pervasive theme of this edition, as well as the notion that conflicts have a profound influence on producing the political character of a society. The posts here react to a wide variety of conflicts. Writing about issues from global political strife to personal transformation, these bloggers illustrate that conflict (whether political, personal, and in one case, even physical) can be fertile ground for new ideas, deeper reflection, and more nuanced conversation.


TheGoodGovernor writes about the structure of democracy in A framework of politics and democracy - Part II Democracy relies, the author articulates, on many forms of opposition - political dissent, diverse parties, economic competition and more.

Phil for Humanity identifies conflict between human society and our environment in How long can the world sustain the world's population? To a question like this, there is no single answer to be found. It seems to me the point of such a question is guide inquiry, not end it. Is describing a framework of democracy similar?


Al Nye's Senator Collins whines on YouTube criticizes the Senator's position on the Iraq war and her response to criticism (she posted on YouTube). Here is good and bad of the politics of a democracy like TheGoodGovernor describes. Political fights can be ugly, but when democracy works well, those fights are fodder for public conversation.

Michael Boldin offers a perspective on responsibility for the military's actions. And he goes on to argue that standing armies themselves often become a tool for states to create armed conflict. They do this, he argues, to perpetuate their own authority. Conflict here is productive, but not in a positive way, according to most measures. His post is Leaders don't kill people.

Council Elections May 2007 by Save the Ribble illustrates another kind of contention in democracies. Politicians want a citizen group's supporters and the group wants its autonomy from electoral politics. Every influential group must negotiate this relationship with institutional power.

Santhros tackles the war in Iraq with Do we need more troops in Iraq? The question of American policy in Iraq has proven to be a divisive one the world over. But it also fuels new kinds of citizen cooperation and debate across state borders.

Whether sex education has a place in schools is, according to Good As It Gets, a major debate in India today. Good As It Gets argues a position in favor of supplying kids with information at Its all about sex baby. The debate is a useful metaphor for democracy in general. "Information is power," the author says, and values, power and political manipulation all intersect in debates like this one.

Chris Gragsone presents his perspective on a debate that shapes American politics - gun control. In his post, Guns are not the issue, he argues that without guns, criminals can still be violent, and crime in society will persist.

Yid with Lid , in French Jews Should Get Out of France While They Still Can , argues that antisemitism is increasing in France. Like many others, this is an issue that involves many kinds of conflicts and other social mechanisms - racial politics, power consolidation, economic frustration, and more.


Chris discusses using conflict in an explicitly nurturing way in his post, Conflict Resolution: A casualty of non-violent martial arts. Genuine physical conflict in a training space is the key for developing a host of skills for managing and resolving conflict outside of the space. Forbidding conflict inside the dojo robs it of its instructive role.

Katie writes about a very personal and well known conflict: debt. In today's economy, there are good reasons for avoiding debt, and good ones for incurring it (education, investments). What to do? Many turn to advice in the public sphere. Katie's blog caters to those seeking financial advice who are also interested in using their money in socially responsible ways. The post is An age old idea still rings true...just hard to accomplish

The last post will echo the first - with satire. Jon Swift responds to the recent uproar over Alec Baldwin's insults directed at his daughter. Clearly, he explains in Alec Baldwin's Daughter is a Disgrace , its the kid's fault.

There are many shapes to conflict, and there are many ways we react to it. In this first edition, we've started to talk about a few of them. What needs to be said next?

Thanks for coming to the carnival, and I look forward to your responses.
Find out about submitting to the carnival here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Can YouTube improve politics?

This video is evidence of the moment we have today - to develop a new kind of participatory, responsive and responsible politics. But this is just the very beginning of the process. Does a dorm room interview indicate elites and non-elites engaging in two way conversations? Or is it just evidence of a new kind of elite? An i-lite? (grin)

Religious conflict in US Society

This conference from features three religious leaders and formidable intellectuals. They spend the hour of their conference discussing religion in American society and politics today. There is much in what they say that is worth extensive discussion. What I choose here to mention, I choose more because it's what I remember from watching the video yesterday, than from a decision that its the most interesting point.

I thought Rabbi Michael Lerner's point about secularism as a religion was an interesting one. He argues that a secular, science-based world view is one religion among many. It isn't based on anything more fundamental than any other world view. Many have rebutted this point on the grounds that secularism a) doesn't preclude religious faith, and b) follows different rules for establishing truth (religious truths are established, and science is a recognition that scientific truths are mostly unknown)

There is a public sphere argument for distinguishing secularism and religion as well, and that discussion fits well here. A secular society, whose institutions do not give explicit preference of one religion over another, will be more successful in establishing a public sphere where groups of many faiths can interact on equal footing. A secular approach to governance is not a religious approach. Instead it can be a meta-religious approach, in that it allows the creation of a space for organizing how religions interact with each other within that space.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Youth vision for Columbia's future

Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a meeting organized by U Maryland senior, Brandon Koch, to build youth participation in Howard County Politics. The ten present offered a variety of perspectives. Most were young college students or recent graduates like me. Three adult community members came, one long-time Columbia resident and one new arrival from Illinois. The third was Mary Kay Sigaty , County Council Member, District 4.

We sat for over an hour and a half talking about how Columbia should develop in the next years. Should we have a dense downtown? What would it look like? How do feel about Columbia now? I was particularly interested in the discussion of identity. Role models for successful downtown areas such as Annapolis and Old Ellicott City are special for their distinctive architectural, cultural and historical identities. It seemed to be a consensus that Columbia develop based on its unique personality (or maybe townality?).

What is Columbia's personality? Like any culture it is open to contention. It is what we make it to be, and every moment residents, by their actions, remake it. One reocurring theme was that we did disliked development for only the sake of profit - development, we felt, should contribute to the overall life and values of the town. Concern for diversity, accessibility, and other principles should guide development as well as the need for profit. I hope that meetings like this will continue and multiply. And I hope that the rest of the County Council pays attention too.

This could be a moment, in Columbia, to learn whole new ways of building participatory local government. By talking to each other and listening to each other about how to make our town better - more prosperous, more welcoming, more beautiful, more environmentally friendly, etc. - we can develop that unique personality that makes Columbia such a good place to call home.

New segment: That movie's got class!

So we all know that Hollywood is a tremendous money-maker, and one of the most well-known emblems of American culture. But Hollywood (and the rest of America's film industry) has a relationship to society that reflects and influences society all the time. In fact, movies and the rest of us have always had an ongoing conversation about American values and politics.

But today, how much do we think about that conversation? How much do we participate in it explicitly? There are plenty who talk about how terrible it is there is so much sex and violence on the screen. Conversations usually don't go much farther than that.

Introducing, "That movie's got class". In this irregular segment, I want to talk about particular movies, and things they reveal, suggest and advocate for American society. Of course, its a movie, and there could never be a definitive statement about what is or isn't in a film. But its worth thinking about, and its worth thinking about how our own lenses shape what we see in films, and how films shape the lenses through which we see the rest of the world. For example, I'm particularly interested in how films deal with the struggles between poor, marginalized groups and powerful, dominant ones. That's where the name of the segment comes from.

Please feel free to suggest movies to talk about. If you want to write your own analyses, thats great too. Just send your link to me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Carnival of the Liberals

BogsBlog , an excellent source for political commentary, and host of this Carnival of the Liberals included a post from this very blog. Its a diverse and well chosen edition of the Carnival, so be sure and check it out.

Host Pete Bogs suggests I might have a response for Spitfire by Lill Hawkins . Her contribution to the Carnival describes her frustration with those who, like her son, feel uninspired and unable to change the world.

She responds with the plain facts that explicitly changing the world is possible. Once there were no spittoons, until people decided they'd had enough of spit everywhere. We could add many, many cases of a few dedicated individuals who were able to convince and cajole an apathetic populace to change their ways. It'd be worth collecting a compilation of such stories, if it weren't that there are so many.

The myth is not that one person can change the world - the myth is that she can't.

But as Lill points out, the perception remains that one against the world is old-fashioned and too difficult to be worthwhile. How can social activists deal with that perception?

I think this is a question important enough that it deserves not an answer, but a conversation. I have a couple ideas to get the ball rolling. One I'm stealing from Alexis de Tocqueville. He says that people need to have particular skills and habits to participate in civic life. And these skills and habits must be learned and taught. And futhermore, they are often learned through other kinds of associations. A person used to working with others in one kind of association, like a sports team, a club, or something else, will be ready to bring those tools to the table when confronted with problems that require civic participation and association. Soccer on saturday mornings may be better for our democracy than we realize.

Second, I think people can be drawn to or pushed away from civic participation by the culture of civic participation. If its appealing, fun, entertaining, and sociable to participate in the civic life of a community, maybe people will be more likely to do so. We found at college that the best way to get students to our political discussion was to make them fun. And sometimes, they liked us enough to come back to the boring ones!

There are many sides to these issues, so I hope you'll read the sources: the Carnival of Liberals and Lill Hawkins, and continue the discussion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Madison quote from Smart Mobs

This quote from Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs was, I thought, pretty provocative. So does the Library of Congress - its the words of James Madison it inscribed in its marble walls:

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy: or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives" (205)

I think its a complicated quote. For all its rosy "knowledge is power" rhetoric, it also is not too far away from justifying all kinds of oppression and condescention rampant in western European culture. I mean, "knowledge will always govern ignorance"? If the principle of subjugation called "white man's burden" ever needed a motto, this would work pretty well.

But on the other hand, it says some great things to our current society, too. In our society where intellectualism is equated with nerdy elites out of touch with reality, and where many view science and education, and spending money on them, as superfluous and silly unless immediate financial returns are possible, its helpful to hear this voice from America's past.

Its okay to be thoughtful and to be a leader. Its okay to be thoughtful and to be a citizen. In fact, our democracy, Madison says, depends on our citizens having the tools and resources to think critically, to be skeptical, to question and to dissent. Our democracy requires us to learn to accept being wrong, to consider new ideas, even transformative and radical ones.

Knowledge is power, says Madison. Today we can add that nuance, compassion and introspection are knowledge.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Net Neutrality

I think its time to start talking more about Net Neutrality . In a nutshell (sorry if you're familiar with it already), the issue is that the big telecom companies that own the cables (the tubes) through which the internet's data flows have found a new way to make a buck. They can charge users differently for priority access to bandwidth - that is they can make websites pay them to allow fast access to their sites, they can make users pay them to have access to all kinds of services. The end result is an internet where, instead of users picking the most well used sites based on their content, internet service providers decide who has access to what based on how much content providers and users pay.

The magic of the internet today is that it allows anybody to contribute high quality content, and it allows anybody to choose freely what content they use. You want to use Google? Fine. Yahoo? Fine. Something else entirely? Hunky dunky. But if the big telecoms have their way, big search engines, for example, would pay for faster access. So if Google payed more than Yahoo, Google would be faster to use, and Yahoo and any other start up search engine would be too slow to compete. Goodbye, fair competition. (Well, competition on the internet is hardly equal now, but imagine how much worse this could make it!)

A much better explanation of the issue was written by Jevon at

And if you are inspired to learn more, and get involved in supporting net neutrality, visit

For the sake of executives' revenues, the internet's cultural, democratic and creative potential could evaporate. Hopefully lawmakers can be brought to their senses first.

New motto for Talk Lab

What do you think?

Talk Lab:

Creativity. Experimentation. Analysis.
Politics, culture and technology under a microscope and on a workbench.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Now with a Diigo meta-page!

So I'm trying this out - I want to add something to Talk Lab that will provide a space for conversation, not just about a particular post, but about the whole page. i.e., you'd be able to push a button and on the page would appear comments people have made about any part of it - the title, a post, a widget.

I've found one way of doing this, although its not perfect.

is a social annotation service. Its plus comments. With Diigo, you not only keep bookmarks and share them with others, you also can highlight and comment on sites. These annotations can be public or private. The public annotations are, as Diigo puts it, its like "a giant transparency overlaying on top of all the web pages."

Its not ideal, though, because in order to see the annotations, you have to sign up with Diigo. Its free (I wouldn't use it otherwise), but its a pain, if its not something you want to do anyway.

But to see this page's Diigo meta-page, use the "Diigolet" here. There is no download necessary, just drag the appropriate image to your bookmark bar. I haven't tested it yet, but they may require you to sign up to use it.

This is an experiment, so your feedback is very valuable. What do you think of this? How does this work? Do you know of better alternatives?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Smart Mobs: Impact of the mobile

I've started reading Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs . Some of it falls into the category of future-oggling (talking about how cool technology is, how great collective action is, etc. without giving much thorough analysis), but that's to be expected. And there are also a great many interesting ideas and discussions in the two chapters I've read so far.

Rheingold's discussion is of the mobile internet - of people keeping connected to their social networks with technology. Right now that technology is cell phones, but it doesn't have to be. He, citing others, compares the difference between the mobile internet and the solid-line internet to the difference between telephones and the telegraph. They used the same infrastructure, and at first many thought the second would be just an extension of its predecessor. But because of the way it was used, it became a technology that transformed society. Could the "mobile internet" be so influential?

There are hints of the social transformation that a mobile-web-connected society might undergo. One sociologist studying youth culture in one well-connected city discussed how the constant text-messaging among teens has changed their approach to space and time. People can be late to a party and skip entirely, but as long they are still texting, they are present. There is a virtual 'place' that really matters, and being in a particular physical place is unnecessary if they are connected to the virtual place.

That seems pretty transformative. Does it get any better? Dunno yet.

Thursday, April 19, 2007, Forum on Sustainable Economy. is an exciting new addition to the Web 2.0. It is a site that offers videos of lectures from all across the country, from professors in their armchairs to conferences to actors' interviews to politicians' speeches. It also invites users to comment, add new content, and discuss on forums.

Its motto: "The World is Thinking". It (and similar programs) demonstrates there is a mass market for thoughtful, thought-provoking, educational media., linked with YouTube, could support some deep conversations.

I recommend a video that I watched. Capitalism 3.0 is a panel hosted by the California Commonwealth Club with leaders in the field of Fair Trade and socially responsible business.

They made the two most important points for advocates of a socially responsible economy:

1. There are great things happening, and capitalism IS compatible with social responsibility, and

2. But don't let down your guard - building a responsible, sustainable economy requires constant work. And there will be cheaters, companies that try to capitalize on the popularity of "organic" products or "all-natural" or "fair-trade". One speaker stressed that advocates must constantly work to raise the bar, to re-define and improve the requirements for sustainability.

The backbone of the sustainable economy is consumers choosing to buy sustainable products from responsible companies, even if they cost more.

And the other point I liked: Workplaces in a responsible economy must nurture and develop the creativity of their employees, must make their working environments pleasant and healthy. Factories for products and services are out - boutiques are in.

One last thing: Does anybody know what kind of effects all this web 2.0 stuff is having on the habit of association-forming of Americans? Is all this digital connectivity sparking other kinds of organizing as well?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Structure of Activism: Corporate or State goverance?

I wrote recently about student activism in the 1960s. Today I found a great description of student activism in the 1930s.

The activism of the 60s, it turns out, was very much indebted to that of the 30s. Students for a Democratic Society, the famous SDS, was funded for years by the League for Industrial Democracy. It was the Students' League for Industrial Democracy that was one of two founding organizations of the American Student Union. And activist extraordinaire, Walter Reuther was one of the student leaders of the movement in the 30s. According to the site, the movement boasted 500,000 participants at its height.

What brought the movement to an end? If you know, please share! It seems likely that World War II played a big part. But I suspect also that all movements, and student movements in particular have a very short active period of their life cycle. It took 20 years for students to organize on a large scale again (and it wasn't just the Viet Nam war. The student movements of the 60s started before anti-war protest was popular)

Flash forward to today: There are plenty of problems for young people to organize around. Why don't we? We have, I think, a kind of culturally pervasive distaste for formal activist organizations. The non-profits that dominate American Civil Society are organized like corporations. There is an Executive Director, a Board and a strict hierarchy of employees and bosses. Supporters are the consumers - they buy/donate the advocacy or service of the non-profit.

The SDS and its bretheren derived their organizational structure more from government. Members voted on a President, elected a Secretary, paid dues/taxes and debated and voted on the organization's actions.

Perhaps this holds part of the answer to why mass mobilizations of students haven't happened for 40 years? That's twice as long as the last gap. SDS asked new recruits to become citizens of the organization. Non-profits today ask them to be either professionals or consumers.

Today across America we have plenty of professionals, and we have consumers out the wazoo. But do we have enough citizens?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

V Tech - Small World

I came across this story in the Times of India: "Sudden death of an Indian Dream"

I thought it was poignant because of the way it illustrates how close we are to each other all over the world. I think there is something else here, too, but I am not sure what - It could be that it refutes some bloggers' cynicism that media coverage of the shooting has been hypocritical. Not just a ratings draw, this event was particularly traumatizing in a way death on a larger scale in Iraq (or Darfur, or plenty of other places) has not been.

Can we make the connection?

Iraq, VT, and Violence

Manila Ryce at The Largest Minority today posted about the media's response to the shootings at Virginia Tech. He points out well the hypocrisy of the media's coverage of the shootings. After all, "the death of 32 innocent civilians would be considered a good day in Iraq."

This hypocrisy is hardly the fault of the news media - we all care more deeply and viscerally about terrible events that are either a) closer to us or b) a change from the norm. My high school physics teacher said our bodies are not spedometers, they are accelerometers. Our emotions are similar, measuring changes in our environments rather than absolute values. Who was it that said that "if a million people all the way around the world die, its a shame, but if I stub my toe, I curse the heavens for an hour"? It was somebody famous. And that was pretty close to what he said, anyway. Should this be how we are? Maybe we can't hope to cope with reality if we take every tragedy to heart. That is a sad thought about the world.

But maybe in this case we can use what happened yesterday at VT to guide us towards better dealing with our problems in Iraq. This is what it feels like to lose 32 bright young adults with any combat missions or terror cells. And there families in Iraq that know this pain every day. Or worse: in Iraq maybe it is possible to become deadened to terrible loss of life, day in and day out - to see, hear and touch death, but not feel it. What kind of country is our conflict shaping? What are we making its people become?

So towards answers, and steps forward. Do we stop the violence by shooting more? Do we stop the process of desensitizing by sending more soldiers?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Carnival Button

Thanks to CoolText:

Cool Text: Logo and Graphics Generator

I made a nifty little button for the Blog Carnival:

The "N"s could look a little better, but...

Feel free to post it on your own site. The code is:

< a href="" >
< img src=""
border="0" / >
< /a >

You will have to get rid of the extra spaces though - if you know of a more elegant way for me to make the code available, please tell!

Coriolanus and Class Conflict -or- The Aristocracy: Screwing the Plebians by Screwing Each Other

Yesterday I went to see Shakespeare's Coriolanus . (Is this one of the plays that the Reduced Shakespeare Company refers to as on of the "apocrypha"?) The production was excellent , with massive, beautiful sets. (Although in retrospect, the sets didn't use space that creatively - door, balcony, that was about it.) The acting was marvelous, too. The program even included a synopsis of the development of alternative interpretations of the text from Shakespeare's day to now.

Coriolanus is a fascinating play because at different times it has been adopted by right and left wings of society. Sometimes the play tells the story of a noble hero, destroyed by the small-mindedness of the madding crowd. Other times it tells the story of a authoritarian brute who detests and betrays the Roman people, for whom he is supposed to act, and whom he is supposed to love.

It is a political play, so much so that Brecht would have been very proud (believing, as he did, that drama should not offer escape from political problems but rather urge people into discontent and action about them). Indeed Bertholt B. may have been proud, since he staged his own version.

Based on my experience, Coriolanus seems to be a decent lipmus test of one's political affiliations. One of the people I saw the show with felt that Coriolanus should have been played more nobly. We ought to be shown, my companion said, his inner strength of character and nobility. I thought he was an animal, more loyal to the aristocrats with whom he waged his games of war than to the people. These he disdained to the point of an irrational hatred (hating that which he fears he is, maybe?). I saw in the play a portrait of how the community of the aristocracy was more loyal to itself than to the people over which it was supposed to be steward. After all it is the aristocrats who speak with common language, common manners, common education. And when the people of Rome take away Coriolanus' nobility? The aristocracy of Rome's enemy welcomes him with open arms (and in this version, even fondles him a little bit)

So there, packed into just a few hours of blood and dialogue, is an excellent example of the re-hash-ability of culture. Its one play, but directors, scholars and viewers can swing it in many ways. Is it too post-modern to say that there is no single meaning for a work of theater or literature or art, but rather a constant struggle over meaning, one generation after another?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reviewing my favorite office 2.0 form designer applications

The greatest shortcoming of the Blog Carnival site and infrastructure is that it doesn't make it easy for people who don't have blogs to participate in the carnivals. Now I know its a Blog Carnival and not a magazine, but we're out to lower barriers to participation, yes?

So for the Carnival of Conflict I decided I'd make a simple form for people to submit their own text. Then I'll post it to a new blog that exists just for holding these posts and link to them in the Carnival. Thus if you don't have a blog, or if you just don't want to have your work be posted on your blog (if its a blog for work or something) then you could still make your voice heard.

Of course I quickly found that its harder than I thought to make a web form. Its easy to do the basic code that would make it functional. Just a dash of html and a sprig of php make it taste just right. But those spammers out there - a form has to have all sorts of security built into it to keep people from using it for their own dark purposes.

So I turned once again to the Office 2.0 database , and specifically to the form designer tag. Here is a list of a number of online applications that will let you design a form online, manage the submissions you get to it, and will host your forms and responses for you. And most will do it all for free (as per my MO, the ones that charged for any service, I basically ignored).

So you don't have to, here are summaries of what they offer, and my recommendations.

FormLogix is very powerful but not as friendly to use as it might be. Its form designer looks and feels a lot like a MS application. That makes it look familiar, but it also makes it look cluttered, boxy, and complicated. FormLogix offers great free service as well as a lot of free templates. Plus you can control all the pieces of the form you write. And their publishing options are as good as anybody else's. All in all its very functional, but not a lot of fun to use.

FormSpring has a fairly limited but easy-to-use free service. Its form design tool is less complicated than FormLogix's, but it is still plenty powerful. It makes it easy too add skip/branching logic to your forms - i.e. "only show this field if user says yes to this question". You can edit the appearance of your forms, and you can post them as links, as iframes, and as the full html of the frame. However the free account only lets you do one form, one template and 50 entries. While its good, I can do better --

The form designer I ended up using is: WuFoo . Like the others, it offered a form designer that was of the same style as Formsprings, and it also offers tiered service. But its free service is better than that of other apps. It is easy to write the functional part of the form, and I could (fairly) easily edit the appearance, too, by creating an appearance template and applying that to the form. The publishing options were also varied: I published it online and linked to it as well as posting the code here. On many free services, when people submit, they see a thank you page that also features advertisements. WuFoo's thank you page is pretty nice, and any advertisements are unobtrusive. Managing submissions is easy too, with a tool for reading and editing submissions. (My one complaint is that you can edit what people submit. Why did they do that?) I think what draws me to it the most (besides that its services are mostly better than those of its competitors) is the fun and lighthearted atmosphere of the user experience. Bright colors, curved borders, cartoon logos and informal language make WuFoo an entertaining place to work online.

Nothing is perfect, and all of these services leave something to be desired here and there. But they are almost all good enough (and free enough) that it is easy to be glad they are available. And they show that what is true of restaurants is true of internet sites: the atmosphere is everything.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Excellent article on activism technology

The excellent blog of (colon: Tools Models and Ideas for building a Bright Green Future) has posted an even more excellent article about mobile phones and activism. You can (and please do) read the article here.

I really appreciate the implied point about how significantly the civic culture is influenced by the available technology. It reinforces the point that the community of people working on improving civic culture in the united States has a really big stake in paying attention to and working on improving communication technology.

In the US, because we use mobile phones differently (because of how the system is set up), digital activism seems to be limited to people on their computers. We haven't had episodes of mobiles being used to create instant protests. Maybe there are other reasons for that too - maybe our social groups are too fragmented and diffused to use digital means to contact people who could protest locally?

I dunno. But that is one of the great things about the article - it raises a lot of fascinating questions.

Office 2.0 and activism

One of the purposes of this blog is to explore and develop better technology tools for civic participation (not just activism, not just discourse). Many of the applications I come across written for "the non-profit community" are pretty ugly, and not that nice to use. Barely functional, but without the kind of easy, glossy interfaces that would make the lives of organizers and activists much more pleasant.

However there are gajillions of free web apps out there designed for everybody. Blogger is one, Google has all kinds of apps that can serve organizers, and there are many others that can be adapted for civic projects.

I've come to think that a powerful and highly customized suite of applications can be cobbled together from the pieces of all the free web apps that are available. Why pay for web hosting when, for the time to learn just a little bit of html, you can get other companies to provide you with web hosting and many other services besides?

These online applications for business, individuals, and any other group are collectively called Office 2.0. The Office 2.0 Database has an excellent collection of dozens of products. There are online voice mail services, there are online database services, there are word processors and web conferencing apps. With a little creativity these applications can make a powerful platform of tools.

The future for activism and the internet lies not in building cathedrals - single websites that provide the user everything they need on a single page on a single server, but in bazaars, where sites mash together services from all over the web and trade ideas and techniques for new combinations of applications.

The Carnival is open to everybody!

If the form below does not show up, you can find the form for submitting to the carnival here. The best way to submit is still to send me your blog entry's address, but if you don't have a blog, or for some reason don't want to use yours, you can still post to the Carnival of Conflict with this form.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Drum circle and Inescapable Order

I came across this video on YouTube, and it has a pretty interesting comment thread (which is unusual for YouTube, I know :) ). The one that caught my eye most was:

You'll notice much of it is centered on the one cute long haired brunette!

It highlights a complaint that emerged in the SDS in its later years, and something I've noticed elsewhere too. One of the principles of drum circles is that its an attempt to get rid of hierarchy,formal rules and forms, etc. Out with rules for dancing and let everyone be equal. It mirrors the philosophy that politics should be just as equal and un-ordered.

But the problem is that this philosophy overlooks that unordered-ness and formlessness and lack of imposed structure is not the same as equality. This dance is an excellent example of that.

The drum circle gets rid of patterns, rules, anything that resembles rules imposed on any dancer. But you get rules just the same. Every drum circle in every youth movement finds dancers moving in the same jangly style. And rules and patterns emerge to how people interact, too. In this one, and in many others I expect, the center of focus becomes a particular dancer or two. Thus in the style of dancing and the distribution of attention and influence in the group, an oppressive regime of rules and hierarchy emerges.

This was a problem for the SDS forty years ago. They rejected in their organizational rules formal regulations like hierarchy and voting. They believed in rule by equals arriving together at consensus. Nothing should be imposed on the individual from an authority, be it dictates for behavior or values. Eventually many saw the error of the philosophy. It worked badly for women, for example. Misogyny was rampant, according to some.

If you throw a pile of blocks on the floor, you've imposed no order, no structure. But when they land, there are reasons the blocks stay in the pile they are in, and do not shift to some other kind of pile. There is structure, though it may not look like it.

Isn't it better, then, to talk about the structure? In block tossing, dancing and social organization, isn't it better for us to discuss and decide the precise rules that will govern the structure connecting elements (blocks or people)? We don't need to be afraid of creating laws, and authorities and rules. In fact we must have them, and they must be good, and responsive to input, and they must seek out injustice and reform themselves to correct it if we hope to have a society that is free and equal.

Monday, April 9, 2007

N. Gingrich's Contest Announcement

While Mr. Gingrich's message makes my skin crawl , it (along with the responses it has generated) presents a very interesting possibility for the role of elites on YouTube. Its worth pointing out that for all YouTube's "democratizing influence", Newt's stardom gives him instant credibility and influence in an environment that is ruled by searches for already popular content.

But that aside, he is creating a space for anybody to participate in a national conversation about a political issue. And that part I like. Maybe we could get some elites with good ideas for America to start similar conversations?

Carnival of Conflict


We find conflict everywhere in our lives. Brothers fight with sisters, kids argue with parents, parents bicker. Every neighborhoods has its share of arguments. National politics seems like its defining characteristic is argument. There is conflict in businesses up and down the ranks. There is international conflict that at times can turn deadly. But no matter in which community a conflict occurs, all conflicts share a few characteristics. Always it is individuals doing the fighting, the dissenting, the arguing. Always in conflict there are choices about how to behave, and serious consequences for those choices.

We tend to understand conflict as a weakness in a community. If our allies disagree with our policy, they're no longer to be trusted as friends. If our significant others dispute with us, there is something wrong with the relationship.

But conflict is not all bad. In fact conflict is an essential part of making any community strong, dynamic and healthy. When conflict is well managed, it makes all parties to it, as well as the community as a whole, more powerful and more cohesive. We need conflict in our politics and society. And we need to understand how to use it, too. We need to understand how dissent becomes resentment, and disagreement becomes violence. Our society needs conflict, and it needs it to be well managed and productive, not destructive.

The Carnival of Conflict is for sharing perspectives, experiences, opinions and research on conflict of all kinds. The Carnival is for making connections across disciplines, genres and all kinds of other barriers. It is for exploring how people cultivate positive, healthy kinds of conflict into our lives and politics.

Rules for submission

The Carnival of Conflict is open to all perspectives on cultivating healthy dissent.
Personal stories, scholarly analysis, vlogs and much more all can share equal space on the Carnival.

The Carnival will post on the last Tuesday of every month. More often if there is enough volume. Send your submissions to nathan dot c dot vogel at

The host (for now, that's me ) will read all the submissions and include as many of them as possible. Its the host's discretion if posts seem inappropriate, or if there are too many and some must be left out.

The bottom line is: we want to hear your point of view. Who knows what associations of ideas and principles and people are possible? So have fun, submit your piece, and enjoy the Carnival.



UPDATE: If you don't have a blog, but would like to contribute, no problem! Of course, you could just start a blog here or here. But if not, you can email me your submission to nathan dot c dot vogel at (In the future I'll look for a more elegant way of helping you post without having an actual blog) I look forward to hearing from you.

UPDATE 2: You can add the badge for this carnival using the code here

Friday, April 6, 2007

Port Huron Statement and infighting in the Left

This most recent section of James Miller's book describes the creation of the Port Huron Statement by the SDS and the subsequent fight over its content (and the independence of SDS from its parent organization the League for Industrial Democracy, an old school bastion of the left that had cut its teeth fighting to create a political left that was not corrupted by Communism and Stalinism.

In the Port Huron Statement, the SDS reflected a spreading political feeling of the time - that Communist Russia was not as insane and malevolent as the previous generation of politicians and activists had thought. Dis-armament and Detente might be possible, and the left no longer needed to be so rabid about its anti-communism. But the LID's leadership wouldn't have it, and many of its leaders tried to condemn and even destroy the SDS for its unwillingness to completely shut out anyone remotely associated with the Communist Party. This infighting within the left almost (and perhaps indirectly did) destroyed the nascent student movement.

I've noticed that a lot at conferences and meetings, both on the left and at non-partisan gatherings (I'm underexposed to deliberations of the right, but I bet the same problems exist). In-fighting is a terrible danger.

Now we shouldn't stop arguing with each other. Disagreements are the lifeblood of an organization. Of any relationship, really, even romantic ones. So we shouldn't try to eliminate disagreements. What we need are norms and practices for dealing with them effectively. We need to learn to USE disagreement - make it fun, make disagreement an expected and normal PART of the experience of being in a community.

We have a tendency to think that disagreement is a sign of weakness within a group (international relations and everywhere else). But its not. What is important is how we deal with disagreement in such a way that everyone still feels a stake in the community whether they get their way or not.

Monday, April 2, 2007

everyplace is everyplace else.

Here in Kansas. Could be md or pa. must technology and culture always homogenize place?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Project proposal

Dear Reader,
I'll be away for a couple of days visiting family in Missouri. So besides an occasional cell phone photo + caption I won't be posting. But while I'm away, I would like to start a discussion about a project I am thinking about.

I'd like to share the stories and strategies of a range of student leaders - across the US, if I can. There are a few different reasons why I'm interested in this. First, there are so many stories that deserve telling, including many worthy stories of the triumphs and tragedies of creative students, and I'd love to help get a few of them told. Second, my own experience has shown me, and this book about the SDS and Haber (and many other works) has reinforced, that one of the major reasons that student movements don't last, and the creativity, hard work, experience, energy and intelligence of student leaders doesn't accumulate in the projects they begin is because of the lack of a community of youth social leadership whose memory is longer than the few years of the average college education. There are so many programs for creating that community - Idealist, Campus Progress and so many more. And they are all doing a wonderful job. But it'd be nice, I think, to have one more voice talking about what young people are doing to develop participatory politics. And what if it caught on as, like, a thing to do? To share and talk about stories and strategies for local, regional and national activism? Activism doesn't have yet very effective tools for sharing, developing and critiquing ideas and action. Maybe the best way to do that is to help the community develop the tools, and maybe this could help that process.

So that's my idea. I'd love to hear what you think of it, and if you have suggestions for people I should interview, I'd love to hear those ideas too. You can comment on the blog, and you can also email me: nathan dot c dot vogel at