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October 10, 2009

Obama’s dignity

Robert Fuller has a good post at DailyKos that speculates that the Nobel committee was rewarding Obama for his “dignitarian” politics. “Dignitarian politics represents a modern synthesis of libertarian and egalitarian politics.”

Dignitarianism is Robert’s political philosophy. I don’t know the specifics of it, but I like the word it’s based on.
The term has come to connote someone who remains polite and proper, no matter what the occasion, because of a sense of self-worth and confidence. That’s part of what Obama manifests as “coolness” — not in the hep cat sense (yes, I just said “hep cat”), but in the way he refused to rise to the bait the way many of his supporters were hoping he would during the debates with McCain.

Even more important than being dignified is treating others with dignity. Being dignified can be a trick of manners or a technique for self defense, but consistently treating others with dignity is a profound statement of what you think matters in this world. That is what many around the globe are responding to when they hear Obama, especially when they remember the cacklin’ cowboy who came before him. (Pardon me. When it comes to GW Bush, I make an exception to the rule of dignity. I am no Obama.) It is also what many in our national political scene respond to negatively about Obama, confusing it with compromise, appeasement, weakness, or triangulation.

Treating people with dignity is an acknowledgment of the equality of worth aspirations. Your life and values are as serious to you as mine are to me. Dignity is thus hope’s social self. But, for peacemakers, it is also highly pragmatic. If you will not accord opponents dignity, then your only alternative is to conquer them. Sometimes that is required. But a peaceful world is built on dignity accorded to others.

That is what President Obama brings. Coming from the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, it is worth a Nobel Peace Prize if only as a legacy to be fulfilled.

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July 3, 2009

Coup Coup Catch You?

Ethan is once again knowledgeable and provocative, this time about what it takes for a coup to get some attention in this country. He compares the media’s interest in Honduras’ institutional coup (as a guy called it last night on The News Hour) with the almost complete ignoring of various coups in Africa.

Ethan concludes (but read the whole thing):

So why does Honduras get the Iran treatment, while Niger is ignored like Madagascar? Proximity? Strategic importance? (though Niger’s got massive uranium reserves – you remember yellowcake, right?) It’s not population – Niger’s roughly twice the size of Honduras. Expectation? Perhaps we’re sufficiently accustomed to African coups (Madagascar, Mauritania and Guinea in the past year) that Niger’s not a surprise.

Or perhaps all the pundits are still trying to figure out which one’s Nigeria and which one’s Niger…

Ethan conspicuously leaves out racism — the soft racism (as that ol’ phrase President George W. Bush once put it) of not knowing, not caring, and not bothering to develop a narrative.

(By the way, be sure to click on the link in the quote from Ethan. It leads to one of The Onion’s funniest videos ever.)

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June 2, 2009

[berkman] Lokman Tsui: Beyond objectivity

Lokman Tsui is giving a Berkman talk called “Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the future of Journalism.” This is based on research he’s been doing for his doctoral dissertation.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Lokman has been long interested in the Chinese Internet. He was born and raised in Amsterdam, and says that the Dutch often don’t like difference and diversity; they’re struggling with the idea of cultural complexity. After wrestling with what to study, he talked with Andrew Lih and came away wanting to study something that works but that we don’t understand well. Lokman chose Global Voices.

He’s interested in “how the world comes to know itself.” Lokman thinks journalism is crucial to this. James Carrey [sp?]: The public is what forms when people get together to talk about the news. Now, with the Internet, we have strangers everywhere. “What does that mean for the kind of journalism we want?” Lokman cites Habermas. We need to re-think journalism. “My purpose here is not to celebrate the Internet” or to dismiss the dangers, but to see it as an historic opportunity. By thinking about the global nature of communication, we can design better institutions.

His research begins with a study of GV as a a “newsroom.” What are the journalists’ routines? How do they socialize? How do they get news? E.g., it used to be easy and convenient to get info from gov’t sources, leading to a bias towards those sources. But the GV newsroom is different. Multicultural, global. And the newsroom is online, which leads to different interactions and shapes the news. We need a new conceptual toolkit to understand it.

Is GV journalism at all? GV is the trickster of journalism, in Lewis Hyde’s sense: it provokes us to respond and develop. GV and journalism are both ways of seeing. There are three ideals of journalism, intertwined with ideals of democracy. (1) Professional J, with liberal democracy, aimed at providing information. (2) Alternative media, with participatory democracy, aimed at representation. (3) Public journalism along with deliberative democracy, aimed at conversation.For a long time, we’ve taken objectivity as the “gold standard” of journalism. But this doesn’t make sense for public journalism; it makes no sense to ask whether a conversation is objectivity. How do we judge conversations? GV gives some hints. GV supports “communicative” democracy (a la Iris Young) , aiming at conversation, and replacing objectivity with hospitality. Habermas was thinking of coffee houses where people have to bracket differences to enable conversation. Hospitality enables conversations even when there’s a disparity of power. Differences can be very useful in having a good conversation. E.g., the powerful host serves the guest, subverting the power relationship. That’s hospitality. It’s a way of judging journalism as well, seeking to include difference and diversity.

Hospitality goes back to Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” His third law suggests that hospitality is a right based on the fact that we share a world. Kant says we cannot refuse a visitor if it will lead to his/her destruction. Hospitality is about access, recognition, and appropriate response. Arendt wrote about intersubjectivity as a way toward truth. We now have an abundance of stories on line. The constraints have changed, so the way we judge journalism should change. The challenge is that, while the cost of speech as gone down, our attention is still scarce.At RottenTomatoes.com, the objectivity is in the dry summary. But the subjective reviews are more interesting and useful. The professionals should aggregate and amplify all these voices. You need to put them all together. What would an aggregation site look like for the news? It’d look a bit like GV. You get curated news and posts and tweets, and then comments and conversation.

Q: [me] Why has the term “hospitality” become less used precisely when we are most in contact with different cultures?
A: It may be partially due to the paradox of choice, and a fear of the unknown that’s come about in recent years. We’re very happy to send our products, our TV programs, and our money everywhere. But the flow of people is restricted. And it’s a matter of being able to listen, which some places are better at than others. I’m playing with the hospitality ratio: how much you listen vs. how much you speak. E.g., how many films you import vs. expert. A few years ago I looked at how many links link back to you and how many links to others. I compared a-list blogs and newspapers. Newspapers didn’t link out much at all.

Q: How do we train people for journalism?
A: J is a craft as well as a profession. The Internet is making us think about J as a craft: pursuing excellence for its own sake in something you care about. Most GV people think of themselves as craftspeople. Q: Where’s the hook in what you’re saying? And, btw, journalist didn’t come out of people seeking the truth but hard-drinking people who were getting paid to present a point of view. Also, you might look at Erik Erikson.

Q: Hospitality is reciprocal. How might the concept of respect apply to journalism?
A: Reciprocity is a huge part of hospitality. It means journalist need to include more views.Q: There are many public spheres, even within GV.
A: Yes.

Q: Does GV connect to other kinds of civic spaces, other than journalism?
A: GV isn’t just a bunch of people trying to do journalism. It’s an infrastructure for other sorts of projects, such as translation, herdict.org… There are tons of other civic practices there. Q: [ethanz] I want to temper some of your optimism. I think it’s great that you’re offering a new criterion — hospitality — for evaluating journalism. I think these ideas get stronger in combination. My main criticism of your work is that you’re not critical enough of GV [which Ethan co-founded]. GV is at best partially successful.

[I missed the last few questions. Sorry.] [Tags: ]

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May 13, 2009

TED translates

TED has started a great new project: Distributed translations of TED Talks. Taking a page from Global Voices, it’s crowd-sourcing translations.

This is exactly what should happen and is a great solution for relatively scarce resources such as TED talks. Figure out how to scale this and get yourself a Nobel prize.

By the way, TED has also introduced interactive transcripts: Click on a phrase in the transcript and the video skips to that spot. Very useful. And with a little specialized text editor, we could have the edit-video-by-editing-text app that I’ve been looking for.

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May 1, 2009

On being a fool in a foreign public

Yet another important post from Ethan Zuckerman. He’s working through what it takes to connect with others who are unlike us, and why the Internet has not done much of a job replacing airplane tickets as the way to learn to love difference. Most of the post — which proceeds by telling several stories — puts it in terms of the value of dorkiness. But at the end, Ethan expresses its fuller form: We have to be willing to be a fool in public — and a foreign public, in this case — if we are to forge the bonds that will let us love the difference in others. And all I’d add to this magnificent post is that (it seems to me) in the moment we let ourselves become the fool, we acknowledge the dignity of the place, and we become the foreigner in a homeland.

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April 26, 2009

Did the telegraph bring peace?

In his book The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage presents two quotations (pp. 103-104) prompted by the creation of transatlantic telegraph cables. The first is from Henry Fields:

“It brings the world together. It joins the sundered hemispheres. It unites distant nations, making them feel that they are members of one great family…An ocean cable is not an iron chain, lying cold and dead in the icy depths of the Atlantic. It is a living, fleshy bond between severed portions of the human family, along which pulses of love and tenderness will run backward and forward forever. By such strong ties does it tend to bind the human race in unity, peace and concord…it seems as if this sea-nymph, rising out of the waves, was born to be the herald of peace.”

The second is unattributed:

“The different nations and races of men will stand, as it were, in the presence of one another. They will know one another better. They will act and react upon each other. They may be moved by common sympathies and swayed by common interests. Thus the electric spark is the true Promethean fire which is to kindle human hearts. Men then will learn that they are brethren, and that it is not less their interest than their duty to cultivate goodwill and peace throughout the world.”

The obvious lessons are, first, that our enthusiasms are sometimes wildly wrong, and, second, that technology by itself doesn’t determine its effect.

And yet I wonder if the tele-utopians were entirely wrong. It is undeniable that the 150 years between the deploying of the telegraph and the rise of the Internet have been unimaginably bloody. So, in that sense, the telegraph heralded the opposite of peace.

That correlation — more communication, more war — certainly means that communication technology doesn’t bring peace. But communication technology may still be an instrument of peace. Peace — IMHO — ultimately comes from understanding that we share a world about which we care differently. The only feasible peace is a noisy peace. We only get there via communication. And I believe that overall communication technology has made us more aware of the unresolvable noisiness of the world. Simple-minded colonialism is no longer in vogue. There is an increasing understanding that no one religion or form of government is going to sweep the table (although those who think it’s their way or the highway to hell are still working their horrors). Our hearts and minds are closer to the conditions of peace than they were before the telegraph, although our governments, religions, and economic systems still have a long way to go.

No, the world is still a mess, and the warriors still tend to rise in power. Yes, communication technology enables armies to deploy on new and vast scales. But also: Peace comes from the recognition of difference that communication makes possible. The tele-utopians were comically wrong, just as are cyber-utopians who think the Net will automatically create peace. But both are also right to rejoice. The threading of the world through communication is the most fundamental condition for a noisy peace, which is the only type of peace possible in a world characterized by difference.

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April 11, 2009

World music

I know I’m late to the PlayForChange.com party, but this is a pretty impressive video, on several grounds. Don’t be misled by the opening; it’s not really just about a street musician.


In a semi-related story, the YouTube orchestra is getting ready to play Carnegie hall. To join, you had to post an audition video on YouTube…

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April 6, 2009

Ethanz at his best

Ethan Zuckerman has a fantastic post about Paul Simon’s South African collaboration. It’s a long, complex story that Ethan tells with his usual clarity and gusto, but it’s not about Paul Simon so much as about the nature of paths between cultures. The simple is complex because cultures emerge from (and shape) history, and history is everything there is plus some more on top of that.

Few can combine his simultaneous grasp of details, his breadth, and his ability to synthesize context. There’s also his vast heart. Read the post. Only Ethan could have written it.

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February 2, 2009

The gun markets of Pakistan

Here’s a 7 min travelogue of a trip to a gun market in the Khyber Pass. It does make you wonder if there’s a solution that doesn’t require outgunning ’em.

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December 19, 2008

Support GlobalVoices

GlobalVoices needs your help. Need convincing? Check out GV’s bloggage about the Mumbai attack. Or, perhaps more important, check GV any day. The world speaks at GV. Worth a listen. Worth some support. [Disclosure: I’m a volunteer adviser.]

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