The Boot Knows No Bounds

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By JOHN F. BURNS

Published: August 26, 2010 in the New York Times

LONDON — With his canary yellow Ferrari at rest in the forecourt of one of the most expensive hotels in London’s upscale West End, its eight-cylinder, race-bred engine burbling, a young Arab man who gave his name as Khalefa spoke with whimsical regret about the array of even faster, more expensive super cars parked nearby that belonged to other young men like himself from the Persian Gulf oil states.

“Me, I only have the Ferrari,” he said. “I am a poor man.”

The Dowbrigade is by no means a car fanatic, but we are Male, and American, so yes, we have the Car Gene.  When we saw a version of this article in the London Evening Standard back in July, we decided to check it out. The rumors were undeniably, spectacularly true – parked illegally on the street, outside a couple of exclusive coffee and pastry shops built into the back of Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge, were a collection of automobiles, some of which we had never heard of and some we had, but never imagined seeing face to face.

The results of that little expedition can be seen in the Picasa album linked below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/dowbrigade/Cars#slideshow/5502726379097442658

On our honor, all of the cars shot therein were spotted in a single afternoon walk around Herrods Department Store on the evening of July 22.  The story is that this summer the kids and cousins of the Omani royal family, which just bought the store from Dodi al Fayed, who never got a chance to be princess Di’s father-in-law.  They had their hot car collection transported en masse to London for the summer, and we’re sure they were SHOCKED when they came out of the cafe after sucking on a hooka for an hour or so, that their rides were not only ticketed, but had GOTTEN THE BOOT!

This summer we found London awash in robed women.  Most of the Arab men wear European clothing, only a very few go around in the long white nightgown, but the head-to-toe Burka babes are all over.  They are desperately trying to save the Western economies by buying as much of our shit as possible, but its getting harder all the time.  They were keeping ahead of the curve until the price of oil tripled in the past few years, and so now they have been forced to re-triple their efforts to spend enough to keep us afloat.

According to the article, the rich Arabs are all in London because they “Don’t feel comfortable” in New York after 9/11.  Go figure.

Duuuh Scientific Study of the Day

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Excess weight gain during pregnancy linked to bigger babies

Mothers who gain more weight than recommended during their pregnancies tend to have babies with higher birth weights than normal. But medical researchers haven’t known whether it’s the expectant mother’s weight gain or perhaps her genes that influence how much her baby will weigh.

From “White Coat Notes” in the Boston Globe Aug.6

Well, duuh. If you ingest enough calories to gain 50 pounds, your baby is going to get his or her share of them. You’re connected, remember? What really blows the mind is that the Dowbrigade spent much of one career (we have had several) doing research into birthweights in various environments within the developing world, all places where LOW birthweights were the blight to be obliterated and the whole concept that birthweights could be too HIGH was non-sensical. Even here in the US, when we were little, back somewhere in the past century, people bragged about how much their babies weighed. Fat babies were GOOD. Future NFLers. How times have changed.

High in the Andes, Time Stops

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When one returns to a city after 33 years, one expects some changes and surprises. When the Dowbrigade pulled into scenic Cuenca, Ecuador after a spectacular 3-hour van ride up into the Andes Mountains from Guayaquil, the biggest surprise was that it looked and felt absolutely the same as it had on our last visit here, in 1977.

That visit was admittedly a little rushed. It was during our brief, spectacularly unsuccessful career as an import-export magnate between college and graduate school, trying to turn our nascent anthropological expertise into a profitable business venture.

We had glommed onto the intensely handcrafted Panama Hats of Cuenca as our ticket to magnate status.  Contrary to popular belief, the authentic Panama Hats come from Ecuador, not Panama, many of them from the sprawling fabrica of Humberto Ortega y Hijos in Cuenca.

We had somehow convinced Señor Ortega that despite our hippy accouterments and bastard Spanish we were capable of representing his line in the United States, and got him to sign an actual contract declaring the Dowbrigade as his exclusive North American distributor for a period of two years.

The hats were magnificent. Woven underwater so that the straw strands were flexible and firm, the tightened when dried into a smooth, fabric-like softness. With wire brims, a variety of colors and crowns, and styles for both men a women, they couldn’t miss.  The most expensive models came rolled up in their own sliding-lid balsa wood boxes.

With the backing of a gullible Harvard Buildings and Grounds employee who invested most of his savings, we booked a booth at the big deal New York Gift Fair the week before Christmas, where the buyers for all of the chains and deparment stores commit to stock for their summer sales lines.
We ordered a dozen each of the 15 styles we thought would be the most popular, and printed up stationary and order forms for the expected flood of orders.

A week before the big show in NYC the samples still hadn’t come. In a panic we called the factory in Cuenca. Yes, the hats were there, ready to be shipped. Why hadn’t they shipped them already? One of the Ortega sons had just gotten married, and they shut down the factory for a week.

“Don’t send them now,” we screamed into the phone, “we’ll come get them!” And so we bought a quick roundtrip ticket from New York to Ecuador, arriving back in New York the morning of the opening of the gift show.

We remember walking the streets of midtown Manhattan the day the flight left.  It was Christmas week, there was no snow on the ground but you could smell it in the air, the store windows were surreal winter wonderlands and people rushed by burdened by packages and trailed by scarves and small children.

18 hours later we were high in the Andes, waiting in a tiny two-table coffee shop for the Ortega offices to open so we could grab our hats and rush back to Manhattan. It was a surreal juxtaposition, the kind of cultural dissonance that we lived for, an unmoored state of being when expectations are upset, the unusual becomes normal, and consciousness gets a chance to rise above and between the ley lines of world views.

We got the same feeling yesterday, as we walked among the tiny storefronts and churches and plazas of the aged center of this Colonial city (a UN Patrimony of Humanity site). Perhaps not as strongly, and hopefully leading to a more productive conslusion, for although we arrived at the gift fair 33 years ago with our hats intact, we sold not a single one at the show.

For all of our expertise, we discovered in ourself an absolute lack of salesmanship or business sense. After a year in the business the only hats we had sold were a few we hawked sitting on the street in Harvard Square the following summer trying to raise enough cash for lunch and a beer. We would arrive at about ten and set a museum-worthy Andean weaving on the sidewalk in front of the long defunct Harvard Trust bank, arranging the sombreros in neat piles in anticipation of having to quickly relocate at the whim of the Cambridge Police Department. Most days we met our quota of 2 or 3 hats well before noon, giving us plenty of time to select a watering hole for the rest of the day. That fall we decided to move on and go to grad school. So much for entrepreneurship.

But now, 33 years later, here we were back in Cuenca. We were hit by a wave of the same cultural dissonance – yesterday morning, we thought, we were in Manhattan, and in a blink of the eye, a different world.

Some things never change, and it appears that Cuenca is one of them.  Upon checking into the Hotel Macondo (Wi-fi and breakfast included, $18) we were handed a xeroxed sheet titled, in English and Spanish “For your security” and reading, in part:

‘A New Form of Robbery

In general, in the City Center and the Plaza Calderon (in front of the Cathedral) we have been experiencing a new form of robbery. Thieves bump into tourists, spilling mustard or mayonnaise or any liquid on them.  Then, feigning embarrassment, they try to help the tourist clean their clothes.  Instead, they pick their pockets and run.”

What new form of robbery? We’d be willing to bet our passport that this method of robbery has been common since the ancient Greek Agora three thousand years ago. We were relieved of our passport and billfold by just this technique 25 years ago in Chimbote, Peru.

Forewarned and forearmed we wandered the steets of this historic old city. The sense of familiararity was overwhelming. Not only did it seem familiar, we felt completely at home. The city blocks were dense and busy, but the individual stores, packed 20 to a block, were completely different than what one would find in a typical American city. A tiny TV-electronics repair shop crammed with old CRTs and lose curcuit boards, not a flatscreen in sight, and the elderly technician seated on a wooden stool peering through retro magnifying goggles as he soldered a piece into place. A dingy two-chair barber shop with a yellowing poster in the window displaying 12 head shots of the most popular cuts of the day, the day being, as far as we could tell, frozen somewhere in the 1960’s. A six-foot purple dinosaur – yes it was Barney – standing guard outside a store that sells party supplies and piñatas and rents costumes for childrens birthdays. Cuenca, we thought, where old Barney costumes go to die.

The stores themselves are tiny and cave-like, no more than 15-20 feet wide and the same deep. However, one of the things we love about Andean urban architecture is the mystery of what goes on in the middle of each city block, since these shallow stores only ring the circumference leaving the hidden heart of each a riddle.  Some of the stores, an occasional residence, or a hotel like the Macondo feature back passages that open into mazes of corridors and storerooms, beautiful gardens and patios, entire other covert enterprises or luxurious family mansions.

Eventually, we wandered into the infamous Plaza Calderon and Cuenca’s main tourist attraction, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción. We have been repeatedly told that upon its completion, in the 1880s, it was the largest cathedral in South America, and although we kind of doubt that, it is undeniably huge. According to Wikipedia:

“Its towers are truncated due to a calculation error of the architect. If they had been raised to their planned height, the foundation of this church to the Immaculate Concepcion, would not have been able to bear the weight. In spite of the architect’s immense mistake, the New Cathedral of Cuenca is a monumental work of faith that began to be built in 1880. It is in Neo-Gothic style, and its blue and white domes have become a symbol for the city. Its facade is made of alabaster and local marble, while the floor is covered with pink marble, brought from Carrara (Italy).When the Cathedral was first constructed 9,000 out of Cuenca’s 10,000 inhabitants could fit.”

No more. Cuenca is now a city of almost half a million. When we wandered into the Cathedral yesterday, the several hundred worshipers were swallowed up in the vast vaulted spaces and numerous nooks, alcoves and secondary shrines. The magnificant gilded altar gleamed in the distance, a couple of football fields away down the axis of the enourmous central area. Between the door and the altar, itself at least 60 or 70 feet high of twisted golden columns there are six separate worship areas on each side of the central hall, each the side of a normal American church, and each with its own shrines, pews, confessionals religious art and iconography and votive candle stands.

It was late afternoon; crespular light filtered through the
stained glass and round windows around the bases of the three huge blue domes that formed the poles of the roof. There was a smell of insence, votive
candles, flowers and floor wax the components of which varied with intensity
from alcove to alcove.

If the interior could hold 9,000 of the faithful is seemed vast and empty with only 2 or 3 percent of that number. The main altar, with the fantasmagorical golden columns reaching for the sky like an angel’s four-poster, was dark and mostly roped off; set aside for holidays or other mass ceremonies. Only two of the 12 side chapels were occupied. In one, a white-robed preist was leading a congregation of a couple of hundred in a series of chants which we assumed were either in Latin or Quechua, the native American language, since we couldn’t decipher a single word.

Not being familiar with the Catholic liturgy in any language, we have no idea what they were doing, but it sounded like a call and response format, and with our eyes closed and the droning voices echoing off the vaulted ceiling and assorted architectural recesses it could almost have been “OOmmmmm padi hummm”.

The cogregants were all of Native American stock, mixed over the centuries with European and Asian imports but easily categorized by dress and behavior and degree of acculturation. The “Town Indians” were mestisized, a word we just invented to verbalize the term “Mestizo”, an individual of mixed Native American and European heritage. They dressed pretty much like city folk around the world: button-down and T-shirts, belted pants, socks and shoes, maybe a sweatshirt or jacket. The “Country Indians” were dressed in their traditional garb; men in blue pants with sewn-in string ties and white shirts covered by ponchos, women in multiple puffy blue ankle-length skirts, frilly white blouses, multiple strings of tiny beads whose color, number and arrangement carry as many messages as gang signs and colors, and peculiar feathered, banded hats which identify their home village, marital status and other secret data beyond the imaginings of this amateur anthropologist.

Another way to tell them apart is their haircuts: the country folk all, men and women, have waist length jet black hair, tied in a single braid and hanging down their backs. The city folk had a healthy variety of modern cuts and do’s, in and out of fashion, kempt or unkempt but all the same black, straight hair.

They were standing and swaying, chanting their hearts out, supplicating and singing praising the Lord. They paid no heed to the Gringo in their midst. Indeed, we seemed to be the only tourist in the entire Cathedral.

The only other niche being used was right next door, the last remaining alcove between the chanters and the darkened main stage. There, a tiny skinny middle-aged Japanese teacher was leading a group of 13 uniformed school-girls into the first two rows of pews facing a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary.

The teacher spoke to a Nun of similar stature, dressed in a simple gray habit. They could have been sisters.  We imagined the teacher had been a novice in her youth who had abandoned the nunnery to pursue an ill-fated romance with a long-gone Galan, and now dedicated all her energies to her students.

The girls looked to be 12 or 13, and showed none of the coltish exuberance common to groups of girls or boys at that age.  In fact, they were all kneeling in front to a statue of the Virgin Mary, standing in a striking blue silk gown on an alter of her own on the left side of the alcove. The girls were speaking or praying in voices which were swallowed up by the cavernous space before they could reach our ears.

The tiny nun walked off into the shadows in the wings of the main altar, far from the main pulpit and gilded tower. A minute later she was back carrying what appeared to be a two-foot-long test tube of translucent glass shining in the dim light. It appeared to be half-full of some silvery liquid. What, we wondered, is that? Some arcane Papist ritual we have never seen before, or some melding of indigenous superstition and Catholic worship?

As the nun carefully places the glass cylinder on the floor next to the statue of the Virgin, we finally made out that it was a simple glass flower holder. We noticed for the first time, a few meters behind the girls, a slightly older, taller young woman carrying a full bouquet of pink roses.

The students finished their prayers and moved back into the first two rows of pews facing the Virgin.  The teacher took the roses from the tall girl and carefully distributed them, one to each of the 13 students. After the last student had a rose, there was one left over.  The teacher gently handed it back to the tall girl, who refused to take it. The teacher leaned over and spoke softly into the tall girls ear. She shook her head but stood her ground. Her hands were in her pockets. She wouldn’t take the rose. The teacher seemed to sign and turned back to her charges.

One by one, the girls got up, approached the Virgin, knelt, crossed themselves, seemed to say a short prayer, placed her single pink rose in the vase the nun had placed on the floor, and returned to her seat.

The teacher gave the last rose to the first girl, who got to go through the whole routine again, whether as prize or punishment we haven’t a clue. Meanwhile, the chanting in the next alcove over had given way to rousing hymn singing, although again, the 30 or 40 voices were lost in the echoing reaches of the gigantic Cathedral.

After surreptitiously taking a few snapshots we walked out into the Cuenca twilight.  The Plaza Calderon, outside the church, was full of people hurrying home or enjoying the evening. Two doors down we found a classic Ecuadorian high-class restaurant with an Andean air of faded elegance, a small coterie of obvious regulars and a smattering of tourists. We ordered a fried fresh mountain trout, a local specialty, with french fries, rice (always), a salad we stayed away from, a Papaya milkshake (for the stomach) and a cold Club, the local premium beer (very good, German family brewery). The bill – $6.70.

From there, back to the wified Hotel Macondo to catch up on correspondence and the news, and see if we can get out of the Medical Pavilion in Bioshock on the Macbook. Killing time in the most marvelous way while waiting for Norma. Thus ends our first day in the Andes.

See some slides of the Cathedral and the wedding.

That’s Gotta Hurt

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Cornada

From ELPAIS.com (Spain)

In our tireless pursuit of sports thrills participatory and vicarious, the Dowbrigade came across this graphic graphic of revered Spanish bullfighter Julio Aparicio getting gored in Madrid.  PETA aside, any athlete who risks this kind of injury on a regular basis can wear any kind of pants he damn well pleases without raising the least question, in the mind of this observer, as to his masculinity.

DNA Determines Dork Destiny

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For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/0/77/599289-beagle_large.jpgPoverty, greed, anger, jealousy, pride, revenge. These are the usual suspects when it comes to discussing the causes of crime. In recent years, however, economists have started to investigate a different explanation for criminal activity: physical attributes.

A small band of economists has been studying how height, weight and beauty affect the likelihood of committing — or being convicted of — a crime. Looking at records from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, they have found evidence that shorter men are 20 to 30 percent more likely to end up in prison than their taller counterparts, and that obesity and physical attractiveness are linked to crime.

from the New York Times

OK, so just because of an abnormally high concentration of short, ugly fat guys in prison over the past 200 years, we can conclude that being an unattractive dwarf leads to a life of crime, or at least a propensity to crime, or at the very least a propensity for getting caught, convicted and sent to prison for a crime. No wonder Danny Devito was so convincing as the Penguin.

Actually, the Dowbrigade has been working on a research project of his own over the past several years which would fit into this category of sociological speculation. After rigorous field research and biometric measurement, we have determined that short, overweight and physically unattractive individuals are statistically overrepresented among the MIT student body. The clear conclusion is that these physical traits increase the danger that a given individual will develop into a genius.

Our methodology was impeccable.  In a classic double-blind study, subjects were shown mixed sets of photos of the MIT freshman class and the freshman class at the Barbizon School of Modeling. When asked which photos showed individuals they would like to meet in a mosh pit, subjects overwhelmingly chose the Barbizon students.  However, when asked which photos represented individuals who were also geniuses, the subjects also identified the Barbizon group.

To insure experimental integrity, both the subjects and the questioners were recruited from the Perkins School for the Blind in nearby Watertown, guarenteeing impartiality. Of course, the results should not be construed as supporting biological determinism. Clearly, not all short, chubby pug-uglies end up at MIT. Some, like Quasimodo, feel the call of the cloisters.

Big Jake Bound for NBA?

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http://www.lodivalleynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/WorldRecordAttempt2320.jpgPOYNETTE, Wis. — Big Jake might be taller than any other horse in the world, but his owner Jerry Gilbert describes him as a gentle giant.

The 9-year-old Belgian gelding is the Guinness World Record-holder for world’s tallest living horse at one quarter inch short of 6-feet, 11 inches.

That’s 2.75 inches taller than the previous record-holder, a Clydesdale from Texas named Remington.

Gilbert and his family own Smokey Hollow Farm near Poynette, Wisconsin. He usually shows Big Jake as a draft horse in four-or six-horse hitches and he raises money for the Ronald McDonald House.

Gilbert says Big Jake, who weighs about 2,600 pounds, is good with people and even likes to goof off. He says people are astonished when they see just how big he is.

from the AP

Turning your Blog into a Book

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Back at BarCamp, another drizzly morning, perfect for brunch in bed or a bracing geek-fest brunch, which consists this morning of complementary Starbucks coffee, Skittles, pretzel sticks and Eden Garden Salty ‘n Sweet Snack Bars.

First session up is a woman named Claudia Gere, telling us that getting a traditional publisher for your book is harder and harder these days.  We feel a pitch for self-publishing coming up.

We may not last as long today at the conference today, but let’s see what surprises the day will bring……

Birth Tourism

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http://media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper404/stills/qmon9sgi.jpgBirth tourism is the phenomena of babies convincing their mothers to travel to the US pre-partum so that they can be US citizens, as well as take advantage of our swell pay-if-you-want medical system. A recent ABC News article says:

Thousands of legal immigrants, who do not permanently reside in the United States but give birth here, have given their children the gift of citizenship, which the U.S. grants to anyone born on its soil.

The number of U.S. births to non-resident mothers rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2006, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

What they fail to mention until the 14th paragraph that “[o]f the 4,273,225 live births in the United States in 2006, the most recent data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics, 7,670 were children born to mothers who said they do not live here,” That works out to 0.17% of all live births in 2006. Big deal.

Actually, we are surprised that the numbers aren’t much higher.  It sounds like a good deal to us.  We may just take out ads in major dailies in megacities like Mumbai and Sao Paulo offering birth tourism tours and services.  Out of 20 million residents there ought to be a few fools gullible enough to think that in a few years a US passport is going to be anything more than a blue badge of cowardice and a neon sign flashing “kidnap me”.

Food or Socialism

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Afternoon sessions at Barcamp Boston. The turnout this year is impressive. What started as a small 50 geek gathering has turned into a 500 geek stampede.  The Dowbrigade’s personal scorecard at this point looks something like this: Fascinating sessions we understood – 1; Boring session we understood -1; fascinating sessions we understood very little of – 1; sessions where we had absolutely no idea what they were talking about – 2.

Currently trying to decide whether to go to see Connecting the world of cooking with Plummelo.com or The Next Big Issues in Social Media, but since the latter has just begun while this is being posted this and the former seems to feature a pretty intuitive web site, we believe we will stay where we are.

Here is the schedule

http://wiki.barcampboston.org/index.php?title=2010_Schedule

Live from Bar Camp

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Blogging live from Bar Camp Boston 5, the latest iteration of my favorite Geek conference, which is at the Stata Center (Frank Gehry designed monstrosity/masterpiece near Central Square) at MIT. Very cool stuff, only some of which I can understand, but it is an “unconference” with sessions and agendas set by the attendees upon arrival, which covers topics including technology, marketing, cooking, startups, sci-fi, social media, gadgets, communities, design, hardware hacking, UI design, entrepreneurship, AJAX, open source software, robotics, art, mobile computing, bioinformatics, RSS, social software, programming languages, the future of technology, for starters.

In the past we have presented with varying degrees of success, but this year we don’t plan on speaking, feel more in the mood for spacing out and sitting in the back fishing for WOW moments and light bulbs flashing on in the comic strip balloon above my head, which always happens once or twice at these shindigs. Here is the early board of session ideas, and the first few sessions already slotted into rooms and times. Stay tuned for updates and reviews.


Spark One Up for the Tea Party

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Well, the Dowbrigade broke down and went to that big Tea Party protest on the Boston Common yesterday. We’ve been going to the 420 shindigs at the same place for years, and they rock. We’re not sure if they had just changed the name and moved it up a week, or if we’d have to come back next week to do it all again, but hell, the Dowbrigade is never one to turn down a chance to party in public.

We even dug out our old rose-colored granny glasses to get that whole aging hippie thing going. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the “Tea” Party didn’t have anything to do with “Tea”! We noticed just in time to avoid a potentially fatal fox paws in the form of sparking up a huge fatty in the face of the Hot Hockey Moms from Holliston.

Then we thought it was one of those “tea-baggers” conventions, which we don’t actually understand but think is some sort of gay pride thing. Turns out we were wrong again.

But there were some really nice folks there, and after all, a protest is a protest, so we decided to stay, at least until we could savor the sweet stink of tear gas on the breeze, always guaranteed to bring back a rush of nostalgia.

We were talking to an excited plumber in a Boston Bruins jersey (and since when does the Prince of Darkness play on Causeway Street?) who seemed to have the United Nations confused with the US government when suddenly the show got much more interesting. That Saturday Night Live chick from 30 Rock was on the stage! It was hard to get closer and there was a whole firing line of papparazi in the way, so I couldn’t see if any of the other actors were there. We would have liked to see that Steven Baldwin,who cracks us up.

We couldn’t hear too well either, but her routine must have been pretty funny because everyone was cracking up and applauding. In fact, the whole protest was kinda funny, and not exactly in a good way. No tear gas, no police lines of gleaming riot gear, no phalanx of black-clad anarchists. The cops that were there were standing in the sun, joking with the protesters. Instead of patchouli and tear gas, the air was redolent with Polo cologne and fried dough. It was like, well, a day at the park.

The people were interesting, though, and we learned a lot of interesting stuff from them. I met some graphic designers from Grafton, some psalm singers from Saugus and a few framers from Framingham. From the framers we learned that the US Constitution contains a whole bunch of secret clauses we never knew about, like the ones that says we don’t need to pay taxes we don’t like and that ordinary citizens have a hidden veto over the Supreme Court. We can’t wait to spring that one on our law students.

Many of those in attendance were wearing American flags in some form or format, which hearkened back to “Easy Rider” and an old Army surplus jacket I wore in high school with an American Flag hanging over the back, covering an embroidered, extended middle finger. Pulling on a string up the sleeve raised the flag.
All in all it was a spaced out morning in the park, but we plan on coming back on 5-20 for the real Tea Party. See you there, Dudes…

All the World’s aTwitter

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Discussing logistical matters on Twitter is simply going to attract unnecessary attention of the government and other detractors. This is why most such discussions take place on secure private platforms like e-mail or instant-messaging….Thus, Iran’s regime is quite knowledgeable about social media. Perhaps we should not read too much into the government’s reluctance – or, some have argued, inability – to ban tools like Twitter. The reasons for these may be much more banal: These tools are simply too useful as sources of intelligence about what is happening in the country. Not only do they help the Iran government to follow the events closely (as well as to understand the perception of the government’s actions) in every single locality with an Internet connection, they also help it to understand the connections between various activists and their supporters in the West. From the intelligence-gathering perspective, Twitter has been a gift from heaven.

Evgeny Morozov in Boston Globe

It occurs to the Dowbrigade that our previous posting, arguing that there is nothing inherently beneficent or liberating in the digital revolution, was a bit one-sided. It argued that the internet was just a new tool that could be used to ends both enlightened and nefarious, by the full gamut of human wielders. However, as we used to say in our salad days, the mark of true intelligence is the ability to simultaneously entertain irreconcilably contradictory concepts. So let us consider the flip side.

As someone undoubtedly noted (the unattributed quote is in my head and Google won’t help) the Power of the Printing Press accrues mostly to those who own one, which used to be a pretty rarified slice of humanity.  The paradigm-busting characteristic of the digital revolution is putting that power in the hands of a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Recent events in Iran seem to argue for the status quo quashing potential of digital tools, as Twitter, blogs (Iran has the most blogs in the Muslim world) and general wiredness of the population seems to be a crucial factor in the most serious opposition to the rule of the Ayatollas since the Islamic Revolution thirty years ago. The majority of the current population of Iran never knew the Shah and grew up on the Internet. Surely that makes governing 66 million people according to a set of laws from the 9th century a bit of a challenge.

Yet, as Evgeny Morozov noted in the Globe, quoted above, the Ayatollas and Revolutionary Guard know how to use computers as well, and we are currently seeing a pretty virulent counter-attack on the ground and in cyberspace on the part of the Iranian authorities. Perhaps, rather than a stairway to freedom, the web is just another battlefield for the age old struggle between – who? The authorities and the rebels?  The ins and the outs?  The ensconced elders and the upstart youth? Good and evil?

At any rate, it appears Twitter is here to stay, for better or worse. And we finally get it.  After a couple of years of dismissing it as digital telegrams for twits, the currently vogue term “microblogging” helped me wrap my head around it.  But it’s not “micro” exactly, more like “mobile”. The distinguishing characteristic of Twitter is that it can be, and is usually, done from a cell phone.

Blogging, of course, is usually done from a computer.  It is a ruminative, contemplative occupation, best accomplished alone, in a quiet, controlled environment, like the Dowbrigades Electronic Command Center, with its multiple screens connected to all manner of digital information, rats-nest of cables which Norma Yvonne constantly threatens to cut and throw out, super-comfortable Ikea suspended chair and easy access to refrigerator, restroom and sleeping facilities.  Hence the iconic image of the unshaven, pajama-clad blogger burning the midnight oil. Many bloggers are comfortably into middle age.

Twitter, however, is a youngster’s game. It is out and around, not stogily baracaded in a basement bunker. It is done on iPhones and Blackberrys, in short frantic bursts, on the scene, furitively in crowds and meetings, on the fly, in the moment, and as such captures a different aspect of the cutting edge and a different slice of daily life than blogs. It produces different kinds of insights and thrills.

For example, this Twitter-related story came into the Dowbrigade Command Center this morning:

TORONTO (AP) – Police have charged the tour manager of the Black Eyed Peas with assault after he allegedly gave celebrity blogger Perez Hilton a black eye outside a Toronto nightclub.  Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, complained about the incident on the microblogging site Twitter. He tweeted at 4 a.m.: “I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke.”

from the Associated Press

The Dowbrigade thinks he will stick to blogging. Actually leaving the Command Center is becoming increasingly dangerous. No joke.