How do you pronounce Chipotle?

David Weinberger expressed great puzzlement over this ubiquitous Texas term, when in Austin for SXSW.
Fortunately, Prentiss Riddle comes to the rescue with a pronounciation guide, a definition from a Spanish-language guide to Aztecisms, and links to the wikipedia entry on Nahuatl (the language used by the Aztecs, from which we also get the words “chocolate” and “tomato.”)
Thanks, Prentiss.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

Read A Canticle for Leibowitz, after having it on the shelf for maybe a decade.
If you haven’t read it, it is an early and classic work of postapocalyptic science fiction, published in 1959. The main setting is a monastary, after civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The book has three sections: the first set in the dark ages, when the monks preserve without comprehension a record of a technical civilization; the second set in a renaissance period, when society is starting to develop secular scholarship and aggressive, imperialistic political leadership; the third section is set in a rebuilt, high-tech civilization on the verge of destroying the world once more with nuclear weapons.
I liked the book as a work of art — the book builds a compelling and grim set of future worlds. Through those worlds, it explores a conflict between religion and science.
In the dark ages, the actions of the church are absurd. The monks revere every scrap of evidence from the fallen world, including the grocery list of the “blessed Leibowitz”. Leibowitz was a low-level engineer who tried to preserve technical knowledge when angry mobs try to destroy the people and knowledge that led to civilization’s destruction. He becomes a saint of the order, and there’s a bureacratic and absurd process of canonizing the “saint”. A simple and ignorant monk makes an illuminated copy of an ordinary blueprint circuit diagram, adding gold leaf, scrolls, shields, and curlicues.
But the book’s underlying philosophy is very Catholic; redemption through suffering; the values of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Despite the absurdity of elements of religious belief and practice, the author sympathizes with the monks. In the section set in the dark ages, he sympathizes with the simple monk, who suffers for his actions in discovering and preserving the mysterious ancient texts. In the section set in the renaissance, the author sympathises with the scholarly abbot, who sees the secular scholar character as a victim of hubris and a sellout. In the section set in the renewed technical civilization, he again sympathises with the abbot, who sees a secular doctor practicing euthanasia on victims of lethal doses of radiation as the self-deluded agent of totalitarianism and suffering.
I realized why I’d never gotten through the novel before. The first section is almost entirely without love and compassion. The main character is a simple, innocent, and ignorant fellow who is treated cruelly most of the time. It is hard to identify with the characters and hard to watch the cruelty.
The second two sections have more complex main characters, and some compassion in the interaction among characters. So it becomes easier to read, though the book on the whole is quite grim.
Individual characters suffer and die, humanity suffers from fatal hubris, the vultures have a great time.

Clear Channel: Whose Freedom?

According Salon Magazine, Clear Channel, the radio and concert behemoth, “barred protest groups from distributing literature at an Ani DiFranco concert in New Jersey — and threatened to pull the plug on DiFranco or anyone else who made antiwar comments from the stage.”
Clear Channel is trying to stop musicians and fans from speaking against the war, at the same time that they sponsor pro-war rallies.
Obviously their behavior is notorious. In the grand old Hearst tradition of yellow journalism, they’re flogging a war in order to sell add space. At the same time, they’re repressing anti-war speech.
But is this censorship? Censorship is typically construed to apply to government actions.
Does the concept of censorship also apply to commercial players who have overwhelming market share in a medium of speech? Or is Clear Channel free to make any business decision with their own property?
Clear Channel is the dominant player in radio. “Clear Channel owns over 1,200 radio stations and 37 television stations, with investments in 240 radio stations globally, and Clear Channel Entertainment (aka SFX, one of their more well-known subsidiaries) owns and operates over 200 venues nationwide. They are in 248 of the top 250 radio markets, controlling 60% of all rock programming.”
Clear Channel has enough market share in the radio industry to be able to silence musicians’ political speech at the cost of the musicians’ livelihood.
Do musicians have any recourse, other than to and make their living in another field? Do consumers and citizens have any recourse, other than to turn the radio off and not go to concerts?
Does freedom of the press belong to he who owns the press, over and out?

Internet and/or democracy

A muddled article on Spiked argues against the use of social software to increase participation in the democratic process.
Martyn Perks has a couple of plausible points, and one illogical conclusion.
He criticises a BBC-sponsored effort to spark online discussion of local issues. He thinks it’s astroturf. Online chat about the local organic food coop isn’t doing anything to help the democratic process.
And he argues against blind faith in technology. “The danger of such patronising thinking is that technology will have the final say, instead of us being smart enough to see otherwise. ”
Because internet democracy can be done badly, he argues that it shouldn’t be done at all.
“What both the mainstream politicians and the social software advocates fail to register, is that most people are unmotivated by politics because the content sucks. Innovation in networking technology is vital, but encouraging greater access to the political process isn’t going to reap the expected returns.”
“The real consequence of the discussion around social software is a cheapening of participation. Ross Mayfield, who runs a weblog devoted to discussing social software, argues: ‘as the cost for forming issue groups falls, expect similar groups and coalitions to form around otherwise less fundable issues.’ (9) For Mayfield, low-cost engagement brings more diversity to the table. But by reducing the meaning of political debate, we only reinforce the helpless feeling of being consumers first and foremost, and citizens second.”
This is a circular argument. If more people join the process and express their views, that might– gasp — change the content.
It doesn’t sound like Perks believes that citizen participation in government is a good thing. Perks isn’t arguing against internet democracy. He’s arguing against democracy itself.
(Ross Mayfield’s rebuttal is here.)

Blog-campaigning for Howard Dean

The Howard Dean campaign has a weblog, and it looks like they’re doing a good job of using the web to build a network of support.
They’re using Meetup to organize a local network.
The blog and Meetup are both soliciting money for the campaign.
The blog is written by supporters, not by Dean himself, but they seem to have access to the candidate. They’re doing a Slashdot-like interview, gathering questions from readers to report to Dean.
A recent post shows that the blog-campaigners get the point. They’re using the web to help organize a national grass roots network and national funding.

A big reason why McCain lost in 2000, besides SC, was that he lacked a nationwide campaign structure that might have benefited from his NH win. The combination of the very crowded early primary schedule and the massive nationwide influx of volunteers (see Meetup.com) supporting Dean have made it possible for the Dean campaign to build a national campaign much earlier.

Social Network Analysis is Dangerous Knowledge

HP analyzed email data to trace the real lines of influence in the organization, as reported in this Natureasks: “will people risk getting laid off if their email usage patterns indicate they not as important as they think they are?”
No, people will risk getting laid off if their email patterns indicate that they are MORE important than the organization thinks they are.
Think about departments where the person who’s important on the real org chart is junior, or female, or the administrative assistant, or a nurse?
Even when an organization discovers the real org chart — the organization still might not be able to cope with the difference between what’s nominally going on and what’s really going on.
This is dangerous knowledge.