Archive for July 26th, 2004

Live and Direct from the Convention Floor


After some technical problems with the Wi-Fi address we are now online,
live and direct from the floor of the Democratic National Convention.
The photo above was taken this afternoon, from the small stage within
the Steel Cage designated as the official Protest Pen. Note the
razor wire and mesh netting designed to protect the regular democrats
from the protesters.

Right now, on the podium directly across from our seats, they are introducing
the last Presidential candidate the Dowbrigade voted for who actually
won – Jimmy Carter.

Of all of the players we have been able to identify so far, the protestors,
the police, the party big-wigs, the reporters and the convention organizers,
the most charmingly innocent and naive are the delegates themselves.  The
politicians may be sleazy and cynical, the reporters may be jaded and
unscrupulous, but the delegates, the rank-and-file, everyday Democratic
delegates, elected by their friends and neighbors in primary elections
or selected in statewide caucuses way back in the winter.  These
are real people, teachers and librarians, farmers and store owners. And,
amazingly in
this day
and age, they still
believe in the promise of the City on the Hill, the vision of the Founding
Fathers, and the good intentions of the leaders of the only political
party they have ever known, most of them, their entire lives.

Carter has made his slow dignified way to the podium and is about to
start his speech. Signing off, for now……



One Shot Blogs Don’t Make the Grade


The bloggers who have worked their fingers to the bone to get here
and understandably miffed that with the current cachet surrounding Blogging
everybody and his buddy has a blog up and running. At the Blogger;s Bunch
this morning we heard from one Senate candidate from Illinois who proudly
proclaimed :"I have a Blog now" but didn’t;t know the address and couldn’t
understand why we all sniggered when, upon being asked how much of the
blogging he actually did, declared "I guaranteed I’m at least reading
everything we;re putting up."

A few minutes later we heard from legendary AP writer and columnist
Walter Mears, who also, coincidentally, just started a blog.  He
couldn’t remember the address either, but noted it is available from
the AP web page.  This was the fourth or fifth time we have heard
from mainstream reporters that they have recently established blogs,
at the
behest of their employers, for the express purpose of blogging the convention
and campaign.

Three has been a minor epistemological argument going on among bloggers
as to whether these blogs really are blogs, whether there is room even
under the "Big Tent" theory of blog variety for these disposable, single
purpose blogs.  The consensus seems to be "No" and we tend to agree,
but not for the usual reasons.

Not because they are getting paid for blogging do their sites not qualify.
The employment status of the blogger is not what makes a blog.  Neither
is it the reverse chronological nature of the postings or the unedited
voice of a single writer. We have concluded that either form nor function
define what makes a blog a blog, since every time anyone proposes a limiting
definition, someone else points to a site which is outside the proposed
limitations and is yet clearly a blog.

Blogging is not any of these things.  Blogging is an attitude,
and these flash in the pan, media created blogs don’t get that, and so
they don’t got it.


Dean Addresses Bloggers Brunch, Attacks Press Objectivity


This morning at the fashionably late hour of 10 am, in the Fenway
suite of the Hilton, we attended the Blogger’s Brunch, an official welcome
on the part of some of the party joes who
are in
charge of keeping us on-line and out of trouble.  We can tell that
they are a bit nervous, slightly edgy, at the novel challenge of riding
herd on a bunch of in predictable bloggers.

Maybe their mates or drinking buddies have been telling them horror
stories, some possibly true, of the grazing and mating habits of bloggers
in general. But we were on our best behavior as a parade of quasi-famous
hacks and hanger’s on told us how important, and innovative, and exciting
we were.

The surprise featured speaker at the Brunch was the man who started
all this Internet in mainstream politics, Gov. Dr. Howard Dean. He bounced
into the room, seemingly completely recovered from the savage thrashing
he took at the hands of the enemies of the opening up of the political
process.  He opened by taking credit for all of our invitations
to the convention, and took it from there. He was more relaxed and convincing
than either of the times we had seen him in New Hampshire.

During an extended Q & A he revealed that he really did not blame the
Major Media for the failure of his campaign, and that he did more than
enough wrong to have blown it without any help from them.

When he started talking about the Internet is when things got interesting.
"The critical lesson has not yet been learned," he declared, "Blogs do
work!" He really seemed to  have absorbed the fact that it
wasn’t about the money, but about the INTERACTIVITY, and the capacity
of the internet to allow ordinary people to get involved in politics

When the Dowbrigade asked Dean if he had talked with Kerry or his campaign
about what the Internet is good for anything besides raising money, he
immediately got cagey and reverted to talking like a politician. "In
the past few months I have gotten to know John Kerry quite well, as a
friend, and I am indeed advising him and consulting closely with his
campaign,  And I don’t feel at liberty to discuss the contents of
those conversations."

We took that as a definite yes, although an evasive smarmy yes. Perhaps
seeing our frown, he softened and added, "Although discussions like this
might have been something we might have talked about."

But the thing that most impressed us and stayed with us was the fire
and resentment when a blogger asked him if our inclusion in the Convention
meant that we were :"real" journalists now. He responded by wondering
if it was really a designation we should aspire to, considering the major
media scandals of the past few years. He said that in many ways he found
the opinionated, from-the-heart ranting’s of bloggers more honest than
the affectedly "objective" reporting of the major papers and networks.

At this point he gave the most effective and succinct of what;s wrong
with modern American journalism we have ever heard.  "They say that
all of their coverage is objective, and sure, in the first few paragraphs
they present the basic who what when or where.  But by the third
paragraph they are speculating – If this happens, it means…… or,
The result could be that…… and what follows IS NOT FACT, IT IS SPECULATION.
It is opinion, and yet they are presenting it as objective news!  And
they are doing this over and over and over, throughout the newspaper."

Amen.  At least the Dowbrigade and his ilk let you know from the
gitgo that we are an opinionated son of a bitch, so take it for what
its worth…


Flash Mob Protests at DNC


There was a feeling of festivities in the streets of Boston as we
walked across Copley Square to pick up our credentials at the Westin
Hotel. Like New Year Eve’s Day, when people are packing in supplies
for parties, and the dozens of downtown stages are being set for the
Night performances and the artists are putting the finishing touches
on the ice sculptures in the Public Garden. Except, of course,
it is the middle of the summer. And the fact that we are surrounded,
on every corner, from every nearby roof and overpass, in parked cars
and patrolling above in helicopters and F-16s, by the forces or order.

Before we can even get to the hotel to pick up our Press Passes we are
confronted by a reporterly moment. As we come out onto the Square, we
see that it is awash in a thousand independent yet synchronized swirls
of yellow fabric. It takes a second to register, but it is indeed a sea
of inscrutable asians, easily identifiable to the reportorial eye as
members of the Chinese Martial Art/Philosophy/Sect Falun
, due to
the smooth synchronization of their stylized moments, and the fact that
they were carrying huge red and gold banners reading FALUN DAFA.

There were at LEAST 5,000 of them in the sqyuare.  They were behind
banner identifying them as being from Israel, Holland, Singapore, everywhere
else in the world.  We stopped to ask one of them what was going
on, and she said that they were protesting the treatment of members of
their movement at the hands of the Chinese government.

Which brought to mind the question, why if all of the other homegrown
groups wishing to influence the opinions of the opinion-makers had been
the infamous "Steel
", were the largest group of foreign protestors
being given the Red Carpet treatment, in the middle of Copley Square.  Obviously,
they had applied for and been granted a permit for this huge demonstration.  We
wondered if the Buddhists were by any chance major contributors to the
Democratic Party. We doubted that the Anarchists in the Black Tea
Society gave much this election cycle.

So no cage for the Gong Show, nor, it is beginning to appear, for most
of the other protest groups. Almost all have announced that they want
nothing to do with the Steel Cage, and will be doing their protesting
elsewhere, thank you. Where exactly that is going to be has not been
publicly announced, nor is it immediately apparent.  Given the
tight utilization of space around the Fleet Center, and the even tighter
layers of security, it is hard to imagine an organized group of protesters
getting within shouting distance of an actual, live delegate.

Yesterday afternoon we wandered around back of the Fleet Center to get
our first up-close and personal look at the Protesters
Holding Pen
.  We
were not disappointed.  Looking more like some high-tech slaughterhouse,
with double fenced chutes and narrow passageways to channel the theoretical
demonstrators past the huge empty parking lots where tour busses will
be off-loading the delegates each afternoon as they report for duty at
the Convention Center, it is hard to see the area as in any way affiliated
with free speech or the exercise of constitutional rights. It is a holding
pen, without water, electricity or toilets, better suited to animals
than human beings.

So where will the protesters go as an alternative?  How will they
be able to congregate, demonstrate and march if every street corner and
rooftop are occupied by the forces of order which have announced that
they will tolerate no protests outside the Cage?

The Falun Gong suggest one possible option, and we are not referring
to donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party. Surprise,
unexpected protests are something of a Falun Gong specialty, ever since
the group originally came to the alarmed attention of the leadership
in Beijing
on the legendary morning of April 25, 1999. The Central Committee of
the Communist Party had been investigating the organization for months,
and had recently rescinded its licence as a sanctioned martial art,
supposedly because of the philosophical (some say religious) nature
of its teachings.

As the early morning fog lifted that April morning, horrified officials
of the Chinese Government were astounded to see that the entire headquarters
building for the Communist Party was surrounded by blissed-out, hand-holding,
chanting members of the Falun Gong movement. Over 10,000 Gongists
had assembled silently in the pre-dawn darkness. The most alarming part
was that the ubiquitous Chinese intelligence services had
not an inkling of the impending mass demonstration, and that it had
all be arranged quickly and silently, within 48 hours, via cell phones
and pagers.

The ability of this mysterious organization to quickly mobilize tens
of thousands of organized, disciplined demonstrators scared the bejeezus
out of the Communists, as well it might, given China’s history of periodic
upheaval at the hands of fanatical religious movements and cults.

We felt anticipatory shudders of possibility during the short fifteen
minutes of fame alloted to "Flash
" about a year ago.  Remember
? Hundreds of participants would suddenly and simultaneously
arrive at a prearranged performance location, usually a busy city intersection
or inside a store or other public place, do some seemingly random and
bizarre act of Zen street theater, and then after a very few moments
melt away into the crowd or disappear into the urban underbrush.

An interesting phenomena, but as it seemed to serve no other purpose
than to get noticed and give a group of individuals who seemed to have
an excess of time on their hands something to do, it soon faded into
another half-forgotten phase of foolishness.

But what would happen, we remember wondering, if a political group started
using this technique to organize protests or demonstrations? Flash mobs
floating unseen through large crowds at major events, becoming organized
and visible
only at some
by cell
phone or wireless IM, performing an act of political protest or civil
disobedience, and then disappearing in seconds simply by stopping to
act in concert and blending into the background. How would the Forces
Order handle that?

If ever a situation called out for innovative methods of opening up
the political discussion and bringing to the attention of the general
public items which will not appear on the official party agenda, this
is it.  The authorized avenue of public protest is criminally inadequate
and effectively shut down. Alternative sites for protest are off-limits
and closely patrolled.  But
a Flash Mob Protest might have a chance of penetrating the public
consciousness.  At
the very least it would attract the press like flies.

Has anyone else been thinking along these lines?  Is the moment ripe yet for the first Flash Mob political protest? It
would be a shame to think that the voices of dissent have been successfully
silenced by such a transparent and cynical ploy as arranging for them
to give their speeches in a concentration camp.