Thursday, March 30, 2006

Political Wiki Roundup

Giovanni Rodriquez of Eastwikkers is running a series on 33 Wikis, highlighting best practices in wiki-based collaboration.

He's already covered two great progressive political wikis, the Flu Wiki and Source Watch (formerly the Disinfopedia). Dkosopedia is already on his radar, too.

Giovanni has asked me for examples of other good uses of wikis in politics, so I'm passing on the question to you: if you are aware of progressive political projects making good use of wiki's, and especially if you are part of a progressive wiki project that you want to promote, contact Giovanni at giovanni at eastwick dot com, or leave a comment on the 33 wiki series intro post at Eastwikkers.

And if you're interested in innovative and effective use of Wiki's, check out the whole 33 wiki series.

Use their truth against them

I realize Hugh Hewitt's remarks setting himself up as "brave war journalist" for sitting in the Empire State Building are offensive, fatuous, and self-serving, but look at them from another angle: when you further collapse his words, you see he is saying that in a major American city, he feels in just as much danger as if he were in an open war zone in a foreign country in the full throes of insurrection.

In just as much danger. In America as in Iraq. In New York as in Fallujah.

What a revealing admission that even Republicans recognize the extent to which Bush has failed and endangered America.

Don't let Republican journlists frame their silly postures as poses of armchair warrior courage: hang the confessions around their necks that Bush has made even his stanchest defenders and syncophants afraid.

Americans do not trust Bush to keep them safe. That's what Hugh Hewitt just told America.

Hale Stewart of BOP News provides the following transcript of Hewitt's March 28 show with Time's Mick Ware:
MW: Let's look at it this way. I mean, you're sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right...

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that's what...

HH: I'm sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I'm sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it's not comfortable, although it's a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that's...civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.

As long as we allow Republicans to define the terms of public discussion, we can not win.

Their game right now, or to be more precise their full-out PR offensive, is denigrating the commitment, valour, and professionalism of real journalists on the ground in Iraq--in order to downplay the credibility of "bad news reports" coming from Iraq. It is the traditional Republican strategy of "shoot the messenger," instead of dealing with the reality of the message. At the same time, they set up their Republican talking head armchair warriors in pos stateside studios as "credible sources" on Iraq--to plant "good news" stories into the news cycle, and undercut the reality seeping into the American consciousness.(See also this video clip showing a CNN anchor equating journalist Lara Logan's 3 years on the ground in Iraq to Republican apologist Laura Igrahm's 8 days.)

If they want to play this game, when they bring the bring the spin to us, use their words against them to serve the truth back to them.

The truth is that even Republicans do not trust Bush to keep us safe from terrorists. That's the story here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

More Multiblogging

I added the link without any real fanfare to the subscription box a while back, but now that things are "official" I justed to share the good news that I have been invited to join The Agonist as a regular contributor.

I have a great respect for Sean-Paul Kelly, the site founder, and the tremendous team he has built at the Agonist. I am absolutely delighted to be writing there.

The Agonist has an impressively active, thoughtful, civil community, that is relatively troll-free--think Tsuredzuregusa, only a bazillion times larger. So please feel welcome and invited to drop by The Ag and take part in the discussions over there as well.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Domestic Repression alive and well--and documented

I expect that when Americans read the William Arkin column "Early Warning" in the Washington Post calling out members of the 902nd Military Intelligence Group to stand up and blow the whistle on military efforts to spy on domestic anti-war, anti-military and environmental organizations, the reactions of too many people will be (willful) disbelief fueled by the pervasive American cultural cognitive dissonance.

In response, I would like to point readers towards the revelation from the ACLU earlier this month of the first concrete evidence of FBI spying based solely on groups’ anti-war views: members of the Thomas Merton Center for Peace & Justice are being investigated by an FBI counter–terrorism unit for legally and peacefully offering anti-war leaflets to passersby. The ACLU has thoroughly, publically, and transparently documented the Merton Center case.

Background: Thomas Merton was an American contempletive trappist monk and mystic, known for his prolific writings, and his passionate advocacy of non-violent resistance during the 1960's civil rights movement and Vietnam War era. (There are theories, unproven, that he was assassinated in 1968 for his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War.) The Thomas Merton Center was founded as Pittsburg's peace and justice center in 1972. The Thomas Merton Center Anti-War Committee (AWC) was formed in 2003 opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq. These are folks who hold peaceful, legal rallies and marches.

The ACLU discovered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that the Thomas Merton Center Anti War Committee's activities are being targetted by the FBI. The FBI also placed an infiltrator inside the Anti War Committe in 2004 and 2005.

The ACLU made their FOIA request as part of their national campaign to expose domestic spying by the FBI and other government agencies (such as the Pentagon , the National Security Agency, and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force) comprising requests in 20 states on behalf of more than 150 organizations and individuals. The FOIA documents have revealed that the FBI and local law enforcement have targeted, monitored and infiltrated political, environmental, anti-war and faith-based groups.

Nota bene Under the illusion of the American constitution, these are organizations engaged in peaceful, law-abiding activites. Americans are being spyed on, by every level of their government, for expressing political dissent.

At what point do we say dictatorship? At what point do we say banana republic? At what point do we reach the tipping point where Americans will stand up and fight* to get their country back?

For those Americans not yet divorced from reality, the ACLU makes a compelling case that the time is now.

Further Reading

News in the Illegal Domestic Spying Cases

Illegal Pentagon spying on domestic peace groups and anti-war protestors

Illegal, Warrant-less domestic spying by the National Security Agency

FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations of political advocacy groups

*Gentle readers, I am an immigrant with an FBI file of my own. Please allow me to very specifically clarify that when I say "fight," I mean use every legal and non-violent method possible. And keep in mind that by advocation political dissent and non-violence, in this Republican administration's eyes I have just identified myself as a terrorist.

Think about that.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Disability Awarness Blogging

My Virginia blogging colleage "A Nut" is holding Disability Awareness Week over at her blog Welcome to the Nuthouse. A Nut works in "a non-profit whose main purpose is to train the up and coming medical professionals how to take leadership and advocacy positions for children with disabilities" and she's sharing her professional insights in some great posts so far on People-First Language and The Hierarchy of Insults.

Let's be honest: it's embarassing how little awareness there is in the top tiers of the progressive blogosphere or iprogressive political circles for that matter about the political issues that people with disabilities and their families fight with every day (and I'm counting myself here, too). Do yourself a favour and go take a free crash course at the Nuthouse. And if you know other blogs that address politics and advocacy by and for people with disabilities, please share your links here. Thanks!


Pew / Internet reports: Internet main news source for many broadband users

According to a new report released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "By the end of 2005, 50 million Americans got news online on a typical day, a sizable increase since 2002." Read the full report for yourself here.

I want to read the report thoroughly and report back but here are some quick initial thoughts:
- Among all respondants, 23% used Internet as a primary news source. That number differentiated to 26% of respondants who used dial-up, and 43% of respondants who used broadband.
- An informed population actively participates in Democracy, and voters who understand who issues really affect them consistently vote Democrat.
- Watch for increasing moves from Republicans to increase Internet costs, decrease access, and strangle bandwidth.
- If you are serious about progressive social change and healthy democracy, make protecting and expanding broadband Internet access a top priority -- and brace for a fight.

On this note, kudo's to Mark Warner for extending Internet access to rural Virginia while Governor.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

76 66 43 43 40 37 32 28 14 10 8 5 3

These are the ages of the 13 family members executed by American soldiers on Nov. 19 in Iraq.

From the AP Report on the miltary investigation of the massacre:
Ali, 76, whose left leg was amputated years ago because of diabetes, died after being shot in the stomach and chest. His wife, Khamisa, 66, was shot in the back. Ali's son, Jahid, 43, was hit in the head and chest. Son Walid, 37, was burned to death after a grenade was thrown into his room, and a third son, 28-year-old Rashid, died after he was shot in the head and chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Also among the dead were son Walid's wife, Asma, 32, who was shot in the head, and their son Abdullah, 4, who was shot in the chest, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Walid's 8-year-old daughter, Iman, and his 6-year-old son, Abdul-Rahman, were wounded and U.S. troops took them to Baghdad for treatment. The only person who escaped unharmed was Walid's 5-month-old daughter, Asia. The three children now live with their maternal grandparents, Rsayef and Hamza said.

Rsayef said those killed in the second house were his brother Younis, 43, who was shot in the stomach and chest, the brother's wife Aida, 40, who was shot in the neck and chest while still in bed where she was recuperating from bladder surgery. Their 8-year-old son Mohammed bled to death after being shot in the right arm, Rsayef said.

Also killed were Younis's daughters, Nour, 14, who was shot in the head; Seba, 10, who was hit in the chest; Zeinab, 5, shot in the chest and stomach; and Aisha, 3, who was shot in the chest. Hoda Yassin, a visiting relative, was also killed, Rsayef and Hamza said.

The only survivor from Younis's family was his 15-year-old daughter Safa, who pretended she was dead. She is living with her grandparents, Rsayef said.

The troops then shot and killed four brothers who were walking in the street, Rsayef and Hamza said, identifying them as the sons of Ayed Ahmed — Marwan, Qahtan, Jamal and Chaseb.

U.S. troops also shot dead five men who were in a car near the scene, Hamza and Rsayef said. They identified the five as Khaled Ayad al-Zawi and his brother Wajdi as well as Mohammed Battal Mahmoud, Akram Hamid Flayeh and Ahmad Fanni Mosleh.
Could someone please tell me how 3-year-old Aisha Rsayef qualified as a terrorist? As a soldier? As a military threat? Why it was critical to American national security and the liberation and democratization of Iraq to shoot her in the chest?

Can someone please explain to me just exactly how this constitutes winning hearts and minds? Or making the world safer?

Via Cathie from Canada

Sunday, March 19, 2006

my pioneer life

I;m just stopping by while the bath runs in the next room because I feel compelled to share that I have not one but two kettles boling in the kitchen.

Why? Because our hot water tank has decided we don't need much hot water, for reasons of its own, and if I want to have a bath in hot water, I need to heat it myself.

Fortunately, the apartment plumbing has not decided yet that we need to haul said water from the lake.

But we're moving in a month, so repairs be damned! And I'm off to play Susanhah Moodie* in the bath tub.

*FYI, I expect extra Canadian Content points for the gratuitous Susannah Moodie reference.

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casting call for the new politics

Eastwikkers has a two part series called "New PR Jobs for the Post-Blogging Economy" (Part I here; Part II here) that discusses new roles for PR professionals in "the blog age."

Lately I've been writing about to what extent voters can be and should be considered customers. In a similar vein, I find it useful to consider many political jobs (that either do exist or should exist) as PR professions -- that map in an interesting way to the list that Eastwikkers has created.

I'd argue that these roles need to be filled in progressive politics in order to build a progressive political machine. From my limited perspective (one foot inside institutionalized politics and the rest of me on the outside and dangling over a keyboard), it looks like these roles may be filled here and there at a micro level in regional political communities, but their value don't seem to be systematically recognized inside the Beltway. No news there: we're back where we expected to be, building our own progressive organizations.

My conclusion: making sure we cover these roles in the progressive ecosphere will help us build/boostrap more quickly and effectively.

The Researcher -- This one is way obvious. In this age of conversational PR, which is largely happening in the digital world, research and measurement people have a privileged place. They've always understood the value of listening, as well as the value of numbers. But unlike the pollsters and researchers of old, the new leaders will not use what they find to respin the message, but rather to enable the teams they support to enter the conversation truthfully. Historical role model: George Gallup. New-media role models: Katie Paine and Tony Obregon.

Are progressive bloggers the researchers? Or are we in a closed-loop with no one outside listening? Do the DNC, DCCC, DSCC, state parties, or presidential hopefuls have researchers whose job is to use social media tools to monitor blog conversations as well as conventional media? Who is the Katie Paine or Tony Obregon of progressive politics?

The Anthropologist -- corporate communications will learn a lot from the world of design that companies like IDEO has helped to evolve. Like the product and experience designers, communications people will go into the field and observe how people are actually using the tools (and we thank IDEO's Tom Kelley for the anthropologist metaphor). We'll see a lot more of this as companies accelerate the adoption of DIY community tools such as wikis. It's the social rule, not the tool, that many new communications professionals bring to the table. Historical role models: Margaret Mead. New media: Elizabeth Albrycht and Dianna Miller, who are studying wikis for SNCR.

Apparently inside the Belt Way, an athropologist is an intern who eats at Applebees. (A cheap shot, I know, but I couldn't resist.) I used different terms at the time, but I've written previously that the anthropoligists of progressive politics are our precinct captains. Where else are we, or could we be, filling this role? And do we have a Margaret Mead, an Elizabeth Albrycht, or a Diana Miller of progressive politics?

The Gardener -- to build and maintain communities, you need more than just anthropologists. You also need people who are talented in "caring and feeding" the community, and sustaining online environments that sometimes get fractious, unstructured, unproductive. This is a special talent, in rare supply, and the most enlightened members of this lot will always have work. Historical role model: Voltaire ("we must cultivate our garden"). New media: Constantin Basturea, Dan Forbush

I laughed when I read this, because I often play the role of Gardiner in online and offline communities, but I'd never thought about the role this way. I know that "Gardeners" have stood out instantly when I've met them smaller communities. For example, when I first started reading BOP News, Ian Welsh and Ellen Dana Nagler were both important and busy gardeners in BOP's community--they had a huge impact on why I stayed around as a reader, and how I eventually gained traction there as a writer. It strikes me that Gardeners can also play an important role as media spokespeople for the progressive political machine, to be the "good cop" that spreads the "good news." I feel like we must have a few people like this on a national scale, but I don't have any names coming to mind. Who am I overlooking here? Or who is a Gardiner who should be promoted to a larger scale or higher profile?

The Communications Architect -- Sometime the tools are just as important as the rules ... if you are smart enough to really know how to use them. A few folks in the PR world are way ahead of others on the technical side and are helping their clients to make sense of the technology tool kit so that they can actually do stuff, and build things (what a concept). Note: building is as much of an art as it is a science. The best folks in this group are creatives. Historical role model: Frank Lloyd Wright. New media: Phil Gomes, Mike Manuel, Jeremy Pepper.

In the world of online politics, I think of the folks at Drupal, and the tech teams from the Clark and Dean campaigns. This is a category that really interests me, because there is such a challenge in identifying and implementing cost-effective technical tools in grassroots and downballot campaigns. Who else is driving technological innovation for political tools,or, adapting tech innovation from other spheres for progressive political purposes? (And I look forward to Waldo Jaquith's ongoing commentary here.)

The Impresario -- some PR people will lead by the sheer force of their personality, their work output, or the artistry/fun of their writing (after all, blogging is a writer's medium). For these folks, it's an opportunity to define and shape a new industry. We expect a number of people to emerge here, each with a different strength or style. Historical role models: Ivy Ledbetter Lee and Edward Bernays. New media: Richard Edelman, Steve Rubel, Scott Baradell, Neville Hobson.

In 2003/2004, this was the Dean/Trippi team. Do we have PR Impresarios in progressive politics today?

The Connector -- Anyone who has read Malcolm Gladwell -- or who is familiar with network theory -- will recognize the role of the "connector." The PR profession has always been able to attract people who are exceptionally gifted at creating and maintaining vast networks of contacts. In the new world, this skill is in larger demand because we now have the tools to make networks more efficient, intelligent, dynamic. Historical role model: Dwight D. Eisenhower, who rose to the presidency by maintaining one of the biggest and busiest Rolodexes in history. New-media role model: Renee Blodget (Renee: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

The best online political connector I've ever dealt with is hands-down Matt Stoller (and I hope Matt's likewise okay with the implied comparison to Eisenhower). Surely we must have other people acting as hubs in progressive political networks: who are they? [And a related question that I plan to explore further in a separate discussion: are progressives in politics making optimim use of networking tools like Orkut and Ryze?]

The Professor -- Hey, we are talking about a major transformation -- if not a revolution -- and no transformation is real without the help of people from academia. A number of college professors are literally breaking ranks from the "old school" and making great contributions to the knowledge base. But note: you don't have to be a teacher to be a teacher. We can all use a professor -- and MaryAnn -- in our lives. Historical role model: Horace Mann. New media: Robert French, David Phillips, and Philip Young.

I am not up au courant with the academic scene. My only thought here is of the late and much missed Senator Wellstone.

The Social Reformer -- One of the most interesting things about social media is that they are, er, "social." And over the last year, we've noticed that some of the more ambitious social-media projects trend toward the promotion of social values. A few PR folks are taking this one step further and applying new media to promote social causes. This will benefit our world -- and the world -- in numerous ways. Historical role model: Eleanor Roosevelt. New media: Dan Forbush (for his work in education and Katrina), Brian Oberkirch (Katrina), and the gang at Eastwick for their work in 2004 on voting reform (they'll be doing more in the next few years).

I hope we are all social reformers!. In the context of a progressive political machine, I am trying to figure out how this maps out: issue advocacy groups? What aspects of the current progressive ecosystem are most obviously identified with social reform? Do we need to be more strongly identified with social reform in order to succeed? Do we need to keep social reform elements discrete and isolated? Is there a middle way?

The Critic -- Again, this is an industry transformation, and transformations always require people who are brave enough to do the job of destroying the old to make way for the new (reminds me of a friend of mine in college who studied architecture; he vowed to go into a related profession called "demolition"). This is a tough role, and you won't get much love. But the role is critical, especially in the context of general reform. Historical/spiritual role model: Shiva, the Destroyer. New media: Shel Israel and B.L. Ochman.

Well, I have to affectionately nominate Stirling Newberry for this with the rest of the extended BOP News family running close behind, since we have a tendency to grouse about not just the status quo in establishment politics but also in the progressive blogosphere--and regularly land ourselves in hot water as a result. (I can only imagine that Stirling will be delighted to be paired with Shiva the Destroyer.)

The Hub -- And after we destroy what shouldn't survive, we must get into the business of repairing and building the industry. To describe what's involved here, we need to invoke another network metaphor, because the most important builders are "queen bees" in their networks (alas, we may in fact have a monarch). They are among the few people in our world who have met most of the researchers, anthropologists, gardeners, architects, impresarios, connectors, professors, idealists, and critics. In fact, two of our new-media hubs recently brought our world together, and for a brief moment we were all in one place. Let's see what the future will bring. Historical role model: Abraham Lincoln. New media: Jen McClure and Elizabeth Albrycht (Jen and Elizabeth: I hope you are OK that I am pairing you up with a Republican).

I may be wrong, but I don't feel like we have a Hub in the sense that Rodriquez uses the term--and I think we desperately need these people (or these tools).

Finally, my question to you: after you read Eastwikker's list, where do you see progressives covering these bases? How do these roles map to the progressive blogosphere? What gaps are left and how do we go about filling them?

I am strongly interested in the topic and I look forward to discussing this with you. And, I'm not trying to say that Eastwikker's list is a road map to a progressive political future; instead, I am sharing it here in the hopes that it will springboard a productive conversation from a fresh perspective.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

An Invitation to Progressive Democratic Candidates in New Orleans

Dear Progressive Democratic Candidates:

You've got a logistic nightmare on your hands right now with your displaced voters. FEMA is withholding voters' contact information, so you don't know who your voters are, where they are, or how to contact them.  Your voters are a spread out all over the country, and you're trying to operate a campaign on a presidential scale, with a city council budget.

What you might not realize is that there are hundreds if not thousands of progressive bloggers, in the same communities as your displaced voters, who are committed to the integrity of the voting process, and who want to see all the voters of New Orleans cast their votes and make their voices heard in the choosing of their government and the rebuilding of their city.

I have a modest proposal for you.  I'd like to introduce you to each other.

I am a professional campaign consultant.  I'm contacting you to offer my services for free because I want to help, and because I believe strategic use of Internet resources can address some of your campaign challenges.  I'm not angling for paid work, and there are no strings here.

I would like to have a conversation with you on two points:
1. What would you like progressive bloggers to do to help you?
2.  I also have some specific suggestions for where Internet outreach might help address your logistic challenges, that I'd be happy to share with you.

Here's my specific offer, to any progressive Democratic candidates in this spring's municipal elections in Louisiana:

If you are a progressive Democrat, and you are interested, send me an email at nolanetroots AT gmail DOT com.  Please include a brief explanation of what makes you a Progressive Democrat, and a pointer to other resources (newspaper article, etc) that verifies your policy positions.  And, let me know who to contact on your team (I'm happy to talk to you, your campaign manager, or anyone on your staff), along with their contact information, and the best time(s) to reach you.

In return, for any genuinely progressive Democrats, I will send you an outline for a strategic Internet outreach campaign (that costs nothing to implement except for your time), and make an in-kind contribution to your campaign of 1 hour of telephone consulting.  You don't know me, so if you'd like to verify my online political writings, please do so; I'm also happy to provide you with references.

I realize that in the thick of a difficult campaign you don't have the time to surf online or read blogs, so I will also be looking up the contact information of all of the Democratic candidates and conveying this offer to you directly--but if by chance you see this blog post first, please contact me and let's get the ball rolling.

You live in a beautiful city that I only know through literature and didn't have the chance to visit before Katrina hit.  I wish you all the best on bringing everyone home, and this is the best way I can figure out to help.

I look forward to working with you,

Shaula Evans

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Calling All Bloggers for NOLA

Thousands of voters in the upcoming New Orleans municipal elections face disenfranchisement. Big money interests and Republican challenger candidates stand to gain, and Democratic incumbents, African Americans, and low income voters stand to lose. Individual candidates face huge logistic challenges in reaching out to New Orleans voters who are scattered all over the country.

In other words, there is a critical shortage of infrastructure, information, and human resources.

And that's where progressive bloggers come in.

More on the backstory and how you can help after the jump.

The Situation: This week (March 16), the Justice Department approved arrangements for the New Orleans municipal elections. The Louisiana Secretary of State will provide 10 satellite polling stations throughout Louisiana, but not outside the state.  Meanwhile, over half the city's 300,000 registered voters are still displaced around the country. 

To put the situation of those 150,000 people in perspective, last month FEMA evicted evacuees from temporary hotel accommodations and made them homeless all over again. Many evacuees are also struggling with bankruptcy.

National civil rights groups are concerned that displaced persons may not know how the absentee ballot process works, or will be unable to receive ballots because of moving between temporary housing arrangements. Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr has pointed out that reliance on absentee ballots amounts to an illegal literacy test for displaced voters.

FEMA ("Republican owned and operated!" TM) has released a list of voters' contact information to the Louisiana Secretary of State, but refuses to make the list available to candidates.

The 100+ candidates in the April elections face the logistic challenge of conducting a national campaign on a presidential scale, with the budget of a city council race--without knowing who their voters are, where they are, or how to contact them.  And as incumbent city council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell pointed out in an NPR interview today, incumbent elected officials can not do their jobs locally (i.e., keep an eye on all the agendas in the reconstruction efforts) and campaign nationally at the same time.

Who wins? Who loses?--The usual suspects. The voters most likely to be disenfranchised by the election arrangements are primarily low-income African Americans--who, coincidentally are statistically likely to vote Democrat.  The voters most likely to have returned to New Orleans already are more affluent residents--who are statistically more likely to vote Republican.  The candidates most disadvantaged by campaign and voting logistics are incumbents (mostly Democrats; for example, 14 out of 16 incumbents are Democrats in Orleans Parish) and small-money campaigns (read Democrats); the candidates that stand to gain are challengers and big-money campaigns (read Republicans).

What can Bloggers do? New Orleans Democratic candidates need a national grassroots team to help identify displaced voters.  Bloggers can publicize voter education efforts about the absentee ballot process on our blogs. Bloggers can also volunteer and/or use our blogs to recruit volunteers for on-the-ground, grassroots-outreach programs to identify and support displaced voters.

You can certainly fundraiser for the candidates of your choice on your blogs, too, but I need to point out that this isn't a problem that money will solve.  What we really need are grassroots volunteers on the ground.

I believe it is critically important to the future of New Orleans that the people who have been displaced by the hurricane get to cast their votes, have their votes counted, and have a say in the governing and rebuilding of their city.  So, I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I work in campaign politics (my "day job") and I am offering my services, free of charge, to any progressive Democratic candidates in New Orleans who want to use netroots outreach to contact their constituents across the country.  My homework this weekend is tracking down contact information for all of the Democratic candidates and contacting them directly.

If you are a blogger and you would like to get involved and make a difference in making sure displaced voters are not disenfranchised, please leave me a message here in the comments (I really appreciate if you use comments instead of email).   I'll also keep you posted on the project here.  And if you know a progressive Democratic candidate in New Orleans who might be interested, please put them in touch with me at nolanetroots AT gmail DOT com!

P.S.  This is about helping the voters:  it's not about me, and it's not about reinventing the wheel.  So, if you are already involved in this effort, or if you are aware of election integrity groups or advocacy groups that are working to make sure displaced New Orleans residents can vote, please leave me a comment.  I'll be thrilled to make your aquaintance and excited to work with you.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

What kind of writer are you?

You Should Be a Film Writer
You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind. You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life. Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling. And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Thanks to Watermark, the poet (really!) for the link.

I have to agree with Watermark--I don't fit image of the "typical" screenwriter that they've shown here. I only wish my thin, fine, dead-straight hair could do something that interesting and attractive, and my tastes in clothes these days run more towards "comfortable" and "machine-washable" than "hip" or "psychadelic."

But do I take joy in storytelling? Absolutely! And while I've only written for the stage so far, not the screen, I assume I'll get around to screen plays in due time... There's so much writing to do.

Do tell...what kind of writer are you? Do you "fit" the picture? And do you fit the profile?

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Email this! - I dare you

This week my various email conversations with different friends all spontaneously came around to the same subject: how disgusted we are at the national Democrats' lemming-like desire to emulate the Vichy government of Nazi-occupied France (hence the term "Vichycrats"), in their absolute inability to oppose anything, stand up for anything, or do anything other than appease, enable, and support the Republican party. 

Were these conversations triggered by the way (with a literal handful of notable exceptions) Democratic Senators left Russ Feingold hanging in the wind when he introduced a motion to censor Bush?  Yes and no.  Yes, in that their actions were despicable.  No, in that this is simply another straw on the rotting corpse of an abused camel.

For a refreshing outbreak of healthy democracy, go check out Crooks and Liars on Boston Legal to the Rescue, where they share a video clip from Boston Legal of actor James Spader delivering an impassioned monologue that covers WMD, to torture, Abu Ghirab, Guantanamo, and illegal wiretapping and points out the importance dissent. It's a read barnburner.  Go check it out.

My question is, why don't Democrats talk like this?  Why are the only people who sound like leaders around here fictional characters in pop culture?

And my challenge to you is: I dare you to email the link to your represent in Congress.  Send them the link and ask them:  why don't you talk like this?

Congressional contacts here.

Senate contacts here.

And don't just pick on Democrats--send it to your Republican representatives, too.  Why the hell should they get a free pass for supporting and enabling the shredding of the constitution and gross violations of human rights?

And then let me know if you get any replies at all. 

If the only role models we have in this country are fictional characters, let's work with that.  And let's turn up the heat.

I have the honour (sic) of being represented by Senator George Allen (R), Senator John Warner (R), and Congressman Eric Cantor. Here is the text of the email I sent to Allen -- the others received essentially the same thing, minus the presidential ambitions part:

Dear Senator Allen:

 I don't know if you watch the television show Boston Legal, so I wanted to send you this video clip directly:

The link goes to an excerpt from a recent episode of Boston Legal, where actor James Spader gives a tremendous speech railing against the gross violations of the constitution by the Bush administration, including extraordinary rendition, torture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, illegal wire taps, and of course the fraudulent case for the invasion of Iraq.

It astounded me that an actor is doing a better job of "playing" a politician than my elected officials are.

Since I have not heard you speak out against any of these atrocities directly, I am left in the position of assuming that you are in fact opposed to the constitution, opposed to the Geneva Convention, opposed to the basic rights and freedoms of Americans, and opposed to basic human rights in general.

If you ever wish to do a better job of "playing" a politician (it is, after all, an election year), perhaps James Spader or the writing stafff of Boston Legal could make themselves available to give you some pointers.

I realize that you have presidential ambitions and that it is strategically critical for you to pander to your base. However, I encourage you to search your conscience and question how your actions will affect Americans for generations to come.

I have nothing against you personally, I just wish you didn't hate America. I hold out the best wishes and highest hopes that you will experience a crises of conscience and put the best interests of America and Americans in front of your own party and career ambitions.


Shaula Evans

 PS I hope that you or at least one of your staffers actually clicks on the link and watches the clip. It's a helluva speech.

Please feel free to share your emails here as well.

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Desert Island Blogging

Mike Sansone asked an interesting question on his blog Conversations last week:

If you were stranded on a desert island (with a lap top and wifi), which 5 blogs would you take?

I didn't have a quick answer myself, so I'm thinking about the question. And, I'm passing it on to you. [Note, this is not a suck-up exercise, so please don't include Tsuredzuregusa on your list. I'm interested to know what else you read.]

I'll fess up my own list, too, once I figure it out.

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Proud to be a statistic


Monday, March 13, 2006

Undocument This!

Latino Pundit has a truly brilliant post up for the "framing files" on undocumented taxpayers:
There are revealing contributions of undocumented-essential workers to the U.S. economy. When the Social Security Administration collects payroll taxes for someone for whom a valid Social Security number cannot be found, these earnings go into a “suspense file.” Since 1937, this file has collected $265 billion in wages and, the report says, the file has grown $17 billion annually since 1990. This makes a good case that those workers that many like to call illegal aliens are really undocumented taxpayers.

I'm tucking this one away for future reference.

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Questions on Catholic politics of peace, 1965 to present

I confess, I have something of a history for affinities to mad monks.  So it is no surprise that I am so taken with Thomas Merton, now that I am reading him at long last, after many years of saying to myself, "I really ought to read Merton one of these days."

In an email back and forth with a writer-friend this weekend, we were both talking about "how we cope" with the emotional assault of following political news. Neither of us are "news chasers" in our writing--by opting out of the news cycle and choosing to write on broader trends and bigger themes, we both give ourselves the space, and importantly the permission, to limit our personal news consumption.  I realize that to seriously engage in local politics implies a commitment to not just read but dilligently devour local news: my answer for the moment has been to recognize that my health just can not take the strain of a massive exposure to political news, and so to choose instead to disengage temporarily from local politics. 

The other part of "how I cope" with the news that I do read is to counterbalance it with readings in non-violence.  I recently read and greatly appreciated Jaques Levy's "Cesar Chavez, Biography of La Causa." Some of my favourite books which I can read again and again also include all of Pema Chodron's books,  Robert Aitken's Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics, and Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Cookbooks.

How do *you* cope?  And what books do you recommend on the topic of non-violence?

My current reading is "Passion for Peace: The Social Essays," a collection of Merton's essays on non-violence, war, and racism, penned between 1961 and 1968. Don't be surprised if you find some Merton quotes in my posts in the next while.

However, the passage that grabbed me today was not by Merton, but by his editor William Shannon.  In the introduction to Passion for Peace, Shannon writes about Merton's anquish, as an American monk after the Second Vatican council, in his struggle to decide if he should speak out against the violence of war or keep discreetly silent due to monastic obedience:

It is not easy for us to grasp the anquish that this struggle posed for Merton.  It was a new question for a monk, indeed a new question for almost any Christian of the day.  We live at a time when it is not an uncommon thing for Roman Catholics to protest against war and to lobby for peace.  Pax Christi USA has been in existence for more than twenty years.  Many dioceses and parishes in the Roman Catholic Church hav peace and justice committees that are alive and active.  At that time no Catholic priest or bishop--at least none well known--had spoken out against war.  Roman Catholics by and large were a patriotic lot.  I remember a bishop of that time who in a public talk echoes the words of Stephen Decatur, the naval officer in the war of 1812, who said, "Our country . . . may she always be in the right.  But our country, right or wrong." Thirty years ago a Roman Catholic bishop could get away with such a statement. Today such crude nationalism on the part of a bishop would be intolerable, even scandalous.

Now to put that passage into a chronological context, William Shannon wrote that introduction in 11 years ago, in 1995, about the political, social, and religious circumstances around Thomas Merton's life 30 years before.

What struck me was that Shannon's description of the American Catholic church of the 1960's seemed much more familiar to me than the church of the mid 1990's.

I don't pretend to be omnicient (blogging would be much easier if I were), and most of the Catholics I know are fallen-Catholics, not active Catholics (with the notable exception of the handful of remarkable people like John Horesji and Gina Cerasani I met in Northern Virginia who are members of the Catholic social justice group SALT based out of the Arlington parish).  My perceptions of the Catholic church in America therefore are based on reports in the corporate media--where religious issues are generally very poorly reported.  I am hoping that some readers who are actively engaged with the Catholic church can discuss with me the points that Shannon raises from a first hand perspective.

I realize that Pax Christi is still going strong as an active, international movement--but I don't recall ever coming across them in the USA, nor hearing about activities by Pax Christi to oppose the US invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq.  I am guessing that Pax Christi may be more active in Europe than in the US; and also that any activities here are very probably ignored, downplayed or misreported by the corporate media.  Can anyone comment on what Pax Christi USA has been up to in the past 5 years? For that matter, have any prominent American Catholics spoken out against the invasion of Iraq?

I also wonder about the reaction of American Catholics to the partisan behaviour of some bishops in 2004--namely, those bishops such as Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker City, Oregon who made public statements that they would deny communion to John Kerry for his pro-choice political policies.  The church is a church--they can deny to communion to whomever they choose. That's their business. However, I was astounded at the time that the Catholic church would publically profess such a politicized double standard of denying one group of predominantly Democratic candidates communion over abortion policy, and yet ignore just war theory and the teachings of the sermon on the mount to give predominantly Republican candidates a free pass on the aggressive invasion of Iraq.  How did Catholic communities react to the blatant elevation of partisan considerations over spiritual ones?  Have the positions in communities shifted as Bush administration's fraudulent case for making war has come gradually to light and his polling numbers have dropped?  Will we see a repeat of Catholic officials playing partisan politics in the 2006 election cycle?  And what are individual Catholics represented by bishops like Vasa doing about the politicization of their church?

Jingoism always worries me.  And it seems that in the prevailing crude nationalism of 2004, there were few if any stories of Catholics being scandalized by this double standard.  Note I'm not saying there were no stories to report on, but only that the agenda-driven corporate media didn't report any that may have existed. 

Fortunately, we have the blogosphere and we have each other, to tell our own stories, and escape the filter of corporate media.

So I am asking the Catholics among you to educate me.  Does the American Catholic Church of today look more like Shannon's church of 1995, or Merton's church of 1965?  What are the stories does the corporate media ignore that you'd like to tell?  And what is going on out there?

I ask out of a genuine personal interest and I appreciate any replies you'd care to share.

For further reading on public-policy issues related to Catholic moral teaching, and a comparison of John F. Kennedy and John Kerry as Catholic politicans running for president, I recommend Religion and politics: battling over Kerry’s Catholic credentials by First Amendment Center senior scholar Richard Haynes.

On a related note, in 2004 Republicans in congress were trying to remove the IRS barriers to church involvement in political campaigns by watering down IRS rules that keep churches from endorsing or opposing candidates.  Has anyone kept tabs on what happened to that effort?

Likewise, in 2004 Americans United for Separation of Church and State called for an IRS investigation of Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, charging that his pastoral letter calling for the Eucharist to be denied not only to Catholic politicians who “stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia,” but also to any Catholic who would vote for them, had a “partisan political intent” designed to win votes for Republican candidates.  Does anyone know what happened to this story?

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Where to Stay in Charlotte, NC?

The huz and I are talking about taking a long weekend to go see Great Big Sea play Charlotte, North Carolina in April.

If you don't know Great Big Sea, you're missing out.  I first heard them live in a small club in Kelowna, BC around 1996.  A friend I met on a production of The Wiz lived in a house full of expat Nova Scotians, and they'd all spent their college years listening to GBS play local pubs on regional maritime tours.  GBS put on an incredible, high-energy show; everyone danced so hard that the speakers *bounced* up and down (beware dancing maritimers, I tell you); and my friend's cute roommate paid for my ticket, now that I think of it.  I've been a huge fan of GBS's Newfoundland-flavoured celtic rock ever since.  (True confessions:  back in my single days, I wouldn't have minded if any of them had followed me home, either.  But, before Alexander asks, they didn't.  On the other hand, I didn't fare so badly with the friend's cute roommate.) I narrowly missed a chance to see them play in Dallas a few years back--I didn't think my recently sprained ankle would survive a packed nightclub, let alone manic dancing--so my fingers are crossed that we can put a weekend together for their Charlotte show.

If you don't know their music, Great Big Sea is now podcasting - check it out. 

So, my question for you is, can anyone recommend a good place to stay in Charlotte?  We're partial to Bed & Breakfasts, and independent (i.e., non-chain) places to stay. 

And speaking of vacations! Great Big Sea is holding a contest to promote their current tour, with a grand prize of a trip for 2 to Newfoundland and Labrador.  I've been to the other nine provinces, but I haven't been to any of the territories or to the Rock yet, so my fingers are crossed. But go ahead and enter--if I don't win, I'd love to see the trip go to one of you.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

sounds like a set prop from a Stanley Kubrik film...

Which Color Are You?

"Your color is BLACK, mysterious and successful. Black symbolizes power and achievement. You are strong of character and able to attain your goals undauntedly. Your ambition and polished style exude a sophistication and grace that are unparalleled. These qualities are impressive to all, and intimidating to some."

I'm not sure what to think about that. And I don't know that it meshes with my Johari Window, for that matter.  Maybe I need to set up a dreaded Nohari Window as well to balance things out--what do you say?

At any rate, do take the test and share your results with us.

My only prediction:  out of the regular commenters here, I expect Alexander Wolfe to show up as plaid.

Many thanks to Gail (who herself is brown, by the way) at Arizona Eclectic for the link.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Tasting at the RSS Buffet

The time has come, the Walrus said, to read of many things.

In other words, the volume of my daily reads is escalating out of control and it is time for me, at long last, to start using an RSS reader.

I read a good review on Endo by Kula, the people who make the Ecto blog editor--but the initial release of Endo is only versioned for Mac, plus it costs money. And, in a world of excellent open source software and freeware, I just can't bring myself to pay for blogging tools.

I do realize that my attitude qualifies me as a cheapskate, as I'm now in a position to consider blogging costs as a business expense.  I have simply spent so much time in resource-strained environments (either personally, or working in areas such as the performing arts or grassroots politics) that it doesn't occur to me that I can spend money.

At any rate, I find I am now monitoring a number of development blogs (i.e., software development, not developing world development), and rather than clicking through them all, I want to aggregate the RSS feeds.

I am very curious:  what RSS readers do you use?  What do you like or dislike about them?  What do you look for in an RSS reader?

As always, I greatly appreciate any advice or input for The Experts Panel (i.e., you.)  Thank you!

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Personal Branding

Rajesh Setty had an interesting post up on his blog Beyond Code this week discussing 12  reasons why you might not be focusing on personal branding.  Rajesh is  a major proponent of personal branding, especially for people in high  tech industries.

Rajesh's post got me thinking about how one of the challenges campaign teams face is creating an organizational brand around a candidate who has never had a personal  brand, or been conscious about personal branding.

Does anybody remember the episode of WKRP where Herb Tarlek  was  trying to be a guest on the tv show Real Families (a take-off of Real  People), so he had prepped all his family and coworkers.  When the Real People staff interviewed them, they all said the *exact*
same thing, word for word:  

"Herb Tarlek is a hard worker, a loyal husband, and an all around fine person."

Granted, it was WKRP, so it was ridiculous--and the plot of that  episode ended in a tragic farce for Herb.  But, imagine how much easier  it would be to run a candidate if he or she had such a strong personal  brand that everyone of their acquaintances at every level would  spontaneously volunteer the description of "hard worker, loyal spouse,  all around fine person"--or something similarly positive.

[Let me be clear:  I'm not holding up Herb Tarlek as a model PR agent or campaign staffer!]

Back to Rajesh's article. When an actor is preparing for a role, one of the steps is to go through the script and identify "actor challenges"--aspects of a role that pose a personal challenge for the actor.  For example, years ago I played Brooke Ashton in a stage production of Michael Frayn's bedroom farce Noises Off -- the cheesecake role played by Nicollette Sheridan in Peter Bogdanovich's 1992 film version.  It didn't take any work to identify my main actor challenge for *that* role--Brooke spends most of the 3-act play running up and down staircases in a merry widow, garters, and heels.  The trick of course for me as an actor was to figure out how to *overcome* the actor challenge of public semi-nudity(1)--particularly when both my parents and my then-boyfriend were sitting smack dab in the middle of the audience on opening night. 

Rajesh's article can be viewed as a great list of "candidate personal branding challenges." The article doesn't explain how to overcome a candidate's personal  branding obstacles, but it does a good starting point to discuss and troubleshoot your candidate's challenges.  Once you know what you're dealing with, it is easier to fix.

1. Culture
I was born and brought up in India and was almost "trained" to be  humble. My parents didn't want me to get carried away by anything that  I thought was an achievement. I would always be told that bigger things  are yet to come and I should continue to work hard. Every achievement  was a stepping stone. So, celebrating moderate successes was not an  option. I don't blame anyone but that's the way life was. Everyone  around us were doing the same thing to their kids. The culture was to
not make a big deal about every other success. That in itself is not a  problem but growing up, you get used to what you learn when you are  young. You take it to another extreme and not make a big deal about any  of your achievements. Hence, personal branding takes a back seat.

Having lived and worked in five different countries other than India  and United States, I can say that what I talked about culture is not  unique to India alone. There are many other places where humility is  taken to an extreme.

2. Borrowing brand power and getting used to it
Last month I was in India and spoke at several companies. I got to meet  a number of software professionals as a group and also got to talk to  some of them 1-1. A simple question like "What do you do" would almost  elicit a standard response from many young folks there - something like  "I work for IBM" or "I work for Infosys"

It was almost as if they didn't want to go into the details of what  exactly they do but they were just proud that they were working for a  respectable company such as IBM or Infosys. Hats off to those companies  for making their employees feel that way. It takes a lot of hard work.

While I agree that you should be proud of who you work for, you should  not get carried away to permanently borrow your company's brand. You  will get used to it. How about making sure that your company is also  proud of the fact that you are working for them? That will be the beginnings of building a personal brand.

3. Don't want to "show off"
Personal branding and "showing off" are different. Many people that I  talk to don't want to "show off" and since they can't really make out  the difference, they put off building their personal brand. For now,  think of "showing off" as being in the lowest (or negative) end of the  "Personal Branding" scale.

4. Lack of Training
I have not seen "Personal Branding" as a subject that is being taught  anywhere. There are not many classes that are out there that cover this  topic. So, the quick way is to go and figure it out yourself by reading  books, blogs, mentors and other resources. I am confident that with  training, it gets easier to build a personal brand. The bigger problem  though is "What would motivate you to look for that training?"

5. No short-term benefits
When you say it takes nine months for a baby from concept to completion  :) nobody has a problem. When it takes years for a tree to bear fruits,  again nobody has a problem. However, if I say it takes years before you  see benefits from a personal branding exercise people somehow don't  like that idea. There are a number of things that may yield "short-term  benefits" but personal branding is not one of them.

6. Not a requirement to succeed
If you look at any job application, you will see that they don't  typically look for the strength of your personal brand. It is not a  requirement to succeed in life. However, if you want to thrive then the  game is different. The rules are different.

Personal branding can accelerate your journey there. Many times we look  at things that are required to succeed and not focus on things that are  required to thrive. No wonder they say "Good is the enemy of the Best."

7. Not comfortable with lot of attention
I have met so many people who are extremely successful but don't want  the attention that comes with personal branding. They don't want to  talk to the press, give interviews, share their stories - they just  want to lead a good life. This is a valid reason and if you are one of  them, it's easy to understand why the personal branding journey is not  for you.

8. Fear of losing friends
I have heard this several times. There are some people in your life who  will disappear if you are not one of them. Once you start focusing  personal branding, there is no option but to grow. If your friends are  not growing as fast as you are growing, chances are that some of them  will be not uncomfortable with you anymore. You may be perfectly OK to  continue your friendship with them but friendship is not a one-way
street. So, rather than suffering that loss, you might as well go slow  on the personal branding journey a bit is what you think.

9. It's hard work!
Yes, I have heard this reason too. You may already be working nights  and weekends in your job. It may be taxing on you and your family to  take on this journey. This is perfectly understandable. Although, I  have to say that personal branding is not hard work if you establish  the right configurations and get high leverage on everything that you  do. Well, that's a separate discussion for some other time.

10. Don't think it's important
You just don't think that personal branding is important. You have  heard about it from different sources and read about it but you are not  sold on the fact that you need to put in time and energy towards this.

11. No time!
You are swamped with work and you have absolutely no time to devote to  this exercise. When you get done with your immediate projects, you plan  to look into this in detail.

12. Not having enough accomplishments!
Personal branding is of no use if you don't have the "stuff" to support  your promise. It is important for you to GROW and BECOME that someone  that is worth creating a personal brand for. An entrepreneur can build  a personal brand for himself provided he has some valued  accomplishments in building successful companies. It looks obvious -  but I have seen many people trying to build a brand that is out of sync
with the speed at which they are growing. It is almost similar to  trying to build a super structure on a foundation that can hold only a  single family home. Won't work :(

Of course, as always - this list is not complete. This is compiled from  my observations and interactions with a few people during my speaking  engagements.

Granted, many of you are going to read this list and laugh, because when we talk abut politicians, most of us picture someone like Mayor Quimby on the Simpsons:  obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered, sleazy, and "all-about-me."  However, when you take a look at real politicians, especially people involved in *local* politics (think town council! think school board!), there really are people from all walks of life and a wide range of backgrounds. (Whether or not they can buy their way up the plutocracy food chain is another matter.)  And all those "regular folk" who *aren't* A-type personality lawyers, especially those who are "less traditional" candidates, may need some real help when it comes to personal branding.

Earlier this week in Eureka! Branding and Politics I wrote about how peanut butter taste tests and the recognition heuristic demonstrate why name recognition and visibility are critical to creating a strong, winning political brand.  (And in the process, I might add, hit a new personal level of surreal juxtaposition of superficially dissimilar ideas.  What can I say--I'm a fan of  John Donne.) I'd like to offer this post as another piece in that conversation; specifically, as a took kit towards the creation of a strong, winning brand at the individual level.

What's your personal brand?  Is the concept of personal branding something you give any thought to at all?

If you are curious, don't forget you can always try out your own Johari Window! (And if you do, let me know, so I can tell you how fabulous you are.)

And if you're serious about personal branding, add Rajesh to your daily reads list.  His blog is spectacular.

As a bonus, here's a link to quotes from the WKRP Real Families episode.  I had forgotten  about Johnny Fever making the Nietzsche reference.  And those of you  outside Virginia may not know that Tim Reid, who played Venus Flytrap, was a friend of former Governor Mark Warner's, lives in Virginia, and organized Warner's inaugural ball.  Tim Reid also married Daphne  Maxwell, who guest starred on WKRP in the "Real Families" episode.

(1) I would like to point out to the patient and charming Alexander Wolfe that I believe a blog reference to me running around in public in my skivvies counts towards the public nudity post that I owe him, and I humbly request that he credit my tab accordingly.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Eureka! Branding and Politics

Blink author Malcolm Gladwell defines heuristics as "mental shortcuts that have the effect of helping us better navigate the world." Better yet, the word heuristic is derived from the Greek work Eureka.

Decision Science Blog is devoted to heuristic, and last month Dan Goldstein published a fabulous post about the effect of brand recognition on how we buy.

The super short version of an already short article: Wayne D. Hoyer and Steven P. Brown conducted a series of peanut butter taste tests.

Part 1: In a blind taste test, participants could accurately recognize the higher-quality peanut butter.

Part 2: They gave a second group of participants samples in labeled jars--only the high-quality peanut butter was in a no-name jar, and the low-quality peanut butter was in a recognized name-brand jar. Guess which one participants said tasted better? The low-quality, name brand jar.

Part 3: The exact same peanut butter goes in three jars--the peanut butter is the same, but two jars have no-name brands and the third jar has a major brand. Guess which jar "tasted best?" The name brand jar.

What an incredible testament to the power of branding (and also to the gullibility of consumers).

Please erase the notion of taste-testing from your heads (for your own good), and we'll move this discussion over to the sphere of politics.

The point of the experiment was that if your brand is strong, it doesn't matter what is in the package. People stop believing their own taste buds, their own first-hand experiences, their own empirical evidence. They are swayed by the power of the brand.

In heuristic terms, the recognition heuristic makes a prediction that in specific domains, recognized (previously-encountered) items will be chosen over unrecognized (completely novel) items.

It seems that the Republican party has taken this commercial-sphere wisdom to heart more than Democrats have.

Republicans seem willing to vote for anything wrapped in the Republican mantle. For example, anyone who dispassionately and objectively compares Bush's policy positions in his first term of office could tell you that he has nothing to do with the traditional platform of the Republican party. (Anyone old enough to remember when Republicans *delivered* fiscal responsibility?) And yet, Republicans voted Bush back into office in 2004. Granted, a wide range of factors outside the purvey of this discussion affected that election. My point is that large numbers of Republicans in 2004, and even with Bush's plummeting polling numbers large numbers of Republicans today accept Bush as a "high-quality political" because they recognize Brand Republican.

So what is the lesson for Democrats here? -- Use the power of those heuristic mental shortcuts to help your voters navigate the political world.

The recognition heuristic explains why visibility and name recognition are so important in election campaigns.

Lesson: don't run no-name candidates. Don't recruit candidates at the last minute. Cultivate a farm team. Develop their following (and their political skills) at the local level and constantly expand their sphere of influence until they can run as shoe-ins for higher positions.

Get serious about branding. Can you spot a Democratic yard sign, or bumper sticker, or T-shirt at 50 paces? How about a Democratic web site? No, because there is no branding consistency. Can you spot a Democrat in a policy debate? Not reliably, and not on her or his own merits--only by eliminating candidates of obvious other affiliations. The Democratic party needs a recognizable platform of issues they will fight for at the federal, state, and local levels. They need a style guide for Team Democrat that includes policy, language, art design, best practices...they need a turn-key franchise manual so that every Democratic operation at any level in the country meets standards consistently for interacting with the public, serving the community, and representing Team Democrat to the country.

There aren't really any pearls of wisdom here that I and many others haven't written before...I just hope that bringing the discussion down to the level of rigged peanut butter taste tests will help it all make more sense.

I owe the fabulous Martha Bridegam an extended discussion on whether or not voters are consumers...Martha, I'm contributing this post to the discussion and hope you'll reduce my tab accordingly. ;)

Update This post also appears at The Broad View under the title "George Bush = Bad Peanut Butter" and at Tilting at Windmills under the title "Good Peanut Butter = Good Politics."

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The Great Qumana Experiment

Ever in quest of bigger and better (and cheaper) blog tools, I am trying my hand at the Great Qumana Experiment.

I should preface this by saying that I have temporarily abandoned the Great Performancing Experiment. Performancing's blog editor, although free, just doesn't ring my bell. It certainly fills in some feature gaps in Blogger, but I found their interface to be really awkward.

My next adventure is to try Qumana's free beta release of their blog editor. So far, I'm happy.

In addition to a WYSIWYG editor that includes spell check, I can insert tags, insert ads (I don't want to, but other may find that a useful feature, and enable or disable comments and trackbacks for individual posts. Their "drop pad" editing window floats (hurray!), and can resize and move around the screen.  They also pick up bonus points for an attractive, functional interface and nice design on the buttons.

Here's where the adventure comes in:  Qumana is offering a contest to beta testers. What you do is:

• download the new Qumana beta
• use Qumana for your next 20 posts (minimum entry amount, across any number of blogs, min 50 words to our discretion) between now and March 25th, 2006
• show off the “powered by Qumana” footer on each post
• write a creative post about your blogging landscape
send us [] the URL for your post and any blogs you've written on for the 20 post minimum

The prize is a vacation for 2 to Mazatlan or Whistler.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll want to let you know that I'm aiming to get in 20 blog posts to be eligible for the contest.  I've been busy with "real life" lately (imagine that!), and lost my blogging groove, so I am hoping this will be a motivation to write more often.  And, I certainly want to share the contest information in case anyone is interested.

My initial reaction to Qumana is that the blog editor seems like a good tool so far for people who use Blogger--and I am likewise impressed with the company's marketing savvy.

I'll report back at the end of the experiment, in other words by March 25, and let you know what I think of the blog editor after a few weeks of playing.

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infernal algebra

So, is 2/3 the fraction of the beast?

I'm just wondering.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Force More Imminent

I wrote last month about how excited I was to learn that the new Force More Poweful Game was launching and shipping soon.

Well, my copy came today. Wahoo!

Guess what I'm doing this evening...

I'll report back as soon as I can tear myself away. :)

Just in by Email

...courtesy of my lovely hacker mom on her new iMac:
Bush impersonator Roasting Jeff Foxworthy
If you don't laugh out loud, I'll be surprised.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Geek Love

"I'm making up a movement system for people surrounded by zombies."
--what my husband just told me over the top of his monitor

And now you know why I am so happy in my marriage.

American Taliban Town

Via Chuck at Just a Bump in the Beltway, we learn that Domino's Pizza founder and multi-millionaire Thomas S. Monaghan is funding a private town in Florida.

You got that. A private town.

It's going to be called Ave Maria.

And it's going to be based on (Monaghan's concept of) strict Catholic principles. In fact, Monaghan calls the town's construction "God's will."

By "strict Catholic principles," you might have been thinking that the town would be about social justice, liberation theology, ministering to the poor and needy.

You'd be wrong.

The "strict Catholic principles" that Monaghan has in mind are the ones based on hatred of women and fear of sex.

According to Managhan, town stores won't sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies won't carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television will carry no X-rated channels.

No word yet, however, on public stonings for adultery. But we're waiting with baited breath.

And, no one is surprised that Gov. Jeb Bush has publically praised the project.

Our conclusions:

1. As Chuck points out, when your order Domino's pizza, you're paying for that town.

2. Given Managhan's vision of "Divine Right, City Hall Style*," we expect him in due time to run for Governor of Florida and then president. If we are lucky, it will be in time to run as a Ross Perot-style independent spoiler candidate for '08.

3. Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU, said that Monaghan and his congregation townsfolk are "in for a whole series of legal and constitutional problems and a lot of litigation indefinitely into the future." I'd like to nominate Mr. Simon for the understatement of the year award.

4. This proposed "constitution-free zone" is oddly reminiscent of "right to work (sic) zones" and "free speech (sic) zones." And the same crowd seems to be in favour.

5. Women will be one of the groups hardest hit by the town. And if what it takes is millions of dollars to privatize little walled off areas of America in order to carry out their war on women, American conservatives are willing to ante it up.

6. We assume that if a group of fundamentalist Wahabist Muslims move to Florida, and decide to set up a town on "strict Wahabi principles," that Governor will likewise support the idea of a community "where faith and freedom will merge."

*I wanted to say "Municipal Manifest Destiny" but that isn't really an accurate use of the term. Alas.

Hats off to Melanie Mattson

Congratulations to Melanie Mattson of Just a Bump in the Beltway.

Not only is Melanie one of the GREAT women political bloggers in Virginia, but the FluWiki is also her brainchild. (If you want to know *anything* about birdflu, the FluWiki should be your first stop.

Her flu work has put her in the news this week, on CNN and, to her underwhelm-ment, on Fox.

Melanie, if you're reading this...I know it is a silly reaction, but I was delighted to finally see a picture of you (in the CNN article--we have no tv). I feel like I know you from blogging, but know that I can see you, you feel more real. Does that make sense? And I *really* like both your glasses and haircut.

If you don't know Melanie's work already, make sure you check out both Just a Bump in the Beltway and the FluWiki.

My kingdom for a (non-controversial) calendar

I need to show a business acquaintance an example of a blog that uses a (hot-linked) calendar as a way to navigate blog posts.

Do you know what I mean? The calendar that goes in the sidebar of a blog. Any day with postings is hotlinked. You can click on the date number and the blog will pull up postins from that date.

Only...most of the blogs I read are, shall we say, flamingly progressive...and would drive the conversation to a halt rather than moving them forward.

More importantly, while I know I've seen this on oodles of blogs, but right now, I can't think of a single one.

If you use this yourself, or you can think of a blog that does, I'd really appreciate if you could help me out here! Thanks!

PS I feel like I'm being really "secretive" lately, and only posting half of a story a lot of the time. That's not my style, and I apologize. I'm doing some light contract work while I work out the details on what could be a spectacularly cool new job. As soon as things are official, you know that I'll be excited to share the news with you, and I thank you for your forbearance and patience in the meantime!