Archive for September 2nd, 2004

Categorically Speaking

5

Categories are one of the features of blogging
which hold the most promise for expanding the utility and range of application
of blogs, especially in the area of information management. Ambitious
bloggers like Dave Winer and Shimon
Rura
have created elaborate and ingenious
taxonomies to organize and cross reference their postings, and emerging
applications of RSS feeds allow readers to subscribe to specific categories,
or even make category feeds from one blog automatically load into a predetermined
text box or column in another blog. By allowing postings to be cataloged
into multiple categories along different axes, and by allowing sharing
of category feeds among blogs which have similar categories, a much more
three-dimensional information tree is possible, revealing connections
heretofore difficult to appreciate or note.

Needless to say, as an organizationally challenged individual,
the Dowbrigade rarely uses the vestigial categories we set up during the
early days of the Dowbrigade News. The cruel irony of this kind of feature
is that those who need its benefits the most are the least likely to use
them, at least until they become so transparently intuitive and easy
to use that it is almost harder to NOT use them than to do so.

The closest scheme to this ideal we have seen so far is
the implementation in Dave Winer’s beta Channel
Z,
in which at the moment
of posting the blogger can assign multiple categories via many-leveled
pull-down menus. Quick, easy and effective.

However, barring access to the still unreleased Channel
Z, we are disinclined to take the time and effort needed to create and
remember to use our own detailed personal taxonomy of categories, we
have been thinking of trying a dumbed down version involving a grand total
of two categories.

Our motivation is renewed "constructive criticism" that
the Dowbrigade News lacks focus. An even passing acquaintance with this
site will confirm that we are guilty as charged.  Keen political
analysis is mixed willy-nilly with stupid pet stories, anecdotal tales
of teaching English to speakers of other languages, frustrated sports punditry,
weird and disquieting photos, Andean legends and the occasional embarrassing
personal revelation.

On one hand, we understand those readers who find some
of the more idiosyncratic posts distracting. Since the political season
hit its stride, and especially since we were invited to blog the Democratic
convention from the inside, the Dowbrigade has picked up a lot of new readers
who are apparently interested in or amused by our political dementia.

On the other hand, as we have written in the past, all
politics all the time makes for a deadly distortion of anyone’s world view.
As the unedited voice of an individual, a blog needs to reflect the
multi-dimensional reality of the author, and in our opinion needs a healthy
variety of interests and subject matter. Our very first statement of purpose
was that if we could make our readers think once and laugh once every
day, our blog would be a success.

However, it seems to be possible, within the present technical
abilities of the tool we are using (Manila), to present various editions
of our Blog. For example, suppose we created two categories: Politics and
Oddball. At the top of our header we could prominently feature two formatting
buttons – Read the Political Version, and Read the Oddball Version.

Clicking the "Read the Political Version" button would
reload the blog, with just the items which have been assigned to the Politics
category.  Clicking the "Read the Oddball Version" would reload the
blog WITHOUT any of the politics postings. That way, those interested only
in one aspect of our work could peruse the subject material they are interested
in, and a chronologically longer list of those postings would be accessible
as they would replace the removed stories up to the story capacity of the
Manila layout we use.

The default view would still be the full, integrated version,
with all of the stories arrayed in standard reverse chrono order.

One of the items we put at the top of our "Blogging Wish
List" at a previous Thursday
Night
discussion of what we would want to
tell developers creating the next generation of blogging tools was the
ability to offer different versions of our blog to different readers with
different interests, bandwidths, learning styles or aesthetic tastes.  This
crude and gross application of categorization to filter out certain stories
at the click of a mouse button could be a first step in that direction.  If
there is time at tonight’s meeting, we plan to ask those who know if such
a thing is technically possible.

Compassionate Fascism

9

They have activated the transponder in our
head again. They are messing with our brain. We know this because during
the past two nights, we have been watching the Republican National Convention
on television, and their twisted version of reality is starting to sound
reasonable and righteous.

Watching in rapt solitude with Norma Yvonne
sleeping sweetly at our side, it all began to make sense.  We have
been swept away into a safe and happy place where America is strong
and respected,
and our President is a wise and judicious leader, strong, brilliant
and a paragon of moral virtue, where opportunity exists for all, the
economy is in a strong recovery mode, and our revamped educational system
is leaving no child behind.

We could be very happy living in this vision of America,
if
only it was true.  But
politics has never been a truth-based game, and this Republican team
is proving
brilliant
at
weaving a heartwarming and self-affirming fantasy which has taken the
country by storm, offering it a cozy, safe place to feel good about itself
again.

You’ve got to hand it to these guys, they are playing the
media and the masses like Isaac Stern on a Stradivarius. They know
exactly which buttons to push to pull that precious 47 or 48% of the
votes (thanks, again, to that rascal Ralph Nader) under the Big Tent,
and win four more years, despite the fact that most of the rest of the
country is drowning in debt and running wild in the streets.

It is positively Orwellian the way they have used the lens
of the government and the media to distort the image they project, turning
it almost upside down. A rush to war becomes a drive to peace. Apparent
peace becomes secret war. Billions to the rich become the only way to
help the poor. Spending more than you are making becomes fiscal prudence.
Imposing religious and moral values on others becomes protecting personal
freedom. Personal freedom becomes the freedom to be poor.

Meanwhile, the show they are putting on in New York is
masterful. Watching it, it is obvious that the Republicans are the party
of compassionate progressives, supporting immigrants, women and minorities,
championing diversity and scientific progress. These guys are obviously
trustworthy. We are so used to welcoming media superstars like Arnold
Schwarznegger and
Rudi
Guliani
into our
living rooms that we feel comfortable with them in a way we never could
with "real" politicians.

We guess the point is that modern Americans are conditioned,
like no group of human beings in the history of the species, to the will
full
suspension of disbelief. A lifetime spent in darkened movie theaters and
glued to the tube have taught us that the idea that a horse can talk,
or that all human beings were being kept alive in some sort of suspended
animation like giant Everready batteries to feed the energy needs of
a race of machines, seems eminently reasonable, at least for the duration
of the show, or movie, or series.

Reagan pioneered the art of politics as Hollywood Production,
but since then the process has accelerated to the point that today the
theatrical responsibilities of being President are so time consuming
that they mostly leave the actual running of the country to less important
figures, like the Vice President. The picture painted by the current
regime is an obvious and outrageous fantasy to those left out of its
warm embrace, but is no problem to sustain for the happy campers who
have jumped aboard the bandwagon.

And the show is endlessly, shamelessly entertaining.  Exhibit
"A" – the Bush twins. Could they have been any more charmingly vacuous
than they were last night? Their parents think Sex in the City is something
adults do but NEVER talk about? Please! They even went so far as to allude
to their own and their father’s irresponsibility in youth, as though
that were a selling point! What balls!

All the while, half of the viewers were undressing them
with their eyes, assuming equal numbers of queers and lesbians. America
has always had a sick sexual fascination with twins, and Barb and Jenna
are certainly nubile and comely enough to fulfill it. Their disingenuous
Bimbohood (they weren’t;t allowed to say anything serous) brought to
mind the lascivious
ads for
Coors Beer which list archetypal American fantasies, and always ends
with, "…and TWINS!"

Not coincidentally, the Republican candidate for the US
Senate seat in Colorado this year is – Pete Coors! Who can doubt that
the Coors beer "Twins" campaign was a brilliant three-year set-up for
the
unveiling
of the Bush MTV generation secret weapon.

Personally, the Dowbrigade would pay serious money to see
the Bush twins take on the Kerry sisters, say in the wading pool on the
Capitol Lawn, filled and flowing with light Arabian crude. No holds barred,
winner-takes-all,
America votes for the winners over the Internet.  It would probably
be as productive, and certainly more entertaining and revealing, than
the campaign we have to look forward to for the next 60 days.

The Republicans are definitely going after the younger
generation, and the swing voters, and even whatever "soft" or stoned
Democrats they can snare with their movie star and minstrel show. They
figure their core constituency is NEVER going to vote for Kerry, even
if the President were to spend the time until the election washing oil
off whales with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, so they might as well trot
out the most spectacular and simpatico speakers they got, despite their
ideological
divergences from the party platform.

Plus, both their speech writers and speech coaches are
doing a much better job than the Democrats, whose speeches (with the
exception of Al Sharpton’s)
sounded like they had been squeezed from the same soggy oratorical
sponge.  The
Republicans are speaking slowly and clearly, and pausing in the right
places and for the optimal amount of time, unlike the Democrats who
rushed through their overly-long speeches as though afraid of getting
cut off by a commercial if they went over their limit.

Yesterday on the radio we heard Bush say, "Freedom is
not America’s gift to the world, rather it is God’s gift to all Men
and Women".  Damn, if that doesn’t sound Presidential. With
a better script and better actors, the Republicans are putting on a
much better show, especially for the TV audience in the heartland,
than the dopey and depressing Democrats.

Perhaps
their most masterful stroke was getting the Democrats to bet the
farm on a comparison of records during the Vietnam war.
This strategy was doomed from the start for a variety of reasons: the
Swift Boat controversy has muddied the waters sufficiently so that it
no longer matters WHO is telling the truth, Kerry and the Dems are
seen
as fixated in the past while the Bushies are looking towards the future,
and the President was able to stay spotless by declaring that personally
he
believed Kerry and respects him for his service.

There is mounting evidence that this entire brouhaha was
a cleverly laid trap by the Republicans, knowing that the one attack
Kerry would not be able to rise above would be an attack on his personal
honor and war-time record. David Fuller writes in Fullermoney.com

At the beginning of the year, Thomas Lifson, who was at Harvard Business
School with George W Bush, made an interesting observation about
the President. He notes that young George "was a very avid and skillful
poker player" when he was a Business Administration student and
that "one of the secrets of a successful poker player is to encourage
your opponent to bet a lot of chips on a losing hand. This is a pattern
of behavior one sees repeatedly in George W Bush’s political career".

Indeed one does. In the months following Mr Lifson’s observation, the
President sat back, as John Kerry’s consultants, the Iowa caucus voters,
the Democratic
Party at large, and the media convinced themselves that the one card that
trumps Bush’s leadership in the war on terror was Kerry’s four months in
Vietnam, and bet everything on it. They have just lost that hand.

So we are starting to entertain fantasies of turning Republican,
making influential connections, and joining the ruling class.  We
can only hope that before we fall irretrievably under the spell of these
masterful
media
magicians
and
vote for a Republican
for the first time in our long electoral career, we will have the sense
to pull the plug on the set or somehow disable the damn transponder
they have planted in our brain. For we know after a lifetime of research
that even the most engaging and persistent hallucinations eventually
fade, and one comes crashing back to cold, hard reality. George Bush
may be
a Master Poker player, but we are far from sure we want him playing our
hand when
all of OUR chips are on the table.  He is, and always has been, playing
with House money.