Campaign blogging as jazz and blues

Brilliant piece by Scott Henson comparing the the prose form of campaign blogging to the musical forms of jazz and blues.
Mass media campaigns are fixed compositions, where the same notes are played over and over again. (Scott uses the analogy of classical music, but I’d say Top 40, Clearchannel, focus-group-tested, endlessly-repeated pop.)
Campaigns using bottom-up media are more like blues, where the theme is repeated with enough variation to keep things interesting, enough repetition to be satisfying, and a folk culture transmission in the music community.
Thinking out loud, the cultural parallels may extend to social organization. Group blogs like Daily Kos and RedState are like bands with leading soloists, and background players who occasionally take front stage. The group structure is in flux, with soloists heading off to start their own band, like Billmon from Kos, and the creation of supergroups like Tagsonomy, which can be more or less than the sum of the parts. There are informal but distinct “schools” connected by interlinks — Texas bloggers, liberal bloggers, conservative bloggers, environmental bloggers.
Like musical traditions, blog communities are about affiliation. Blogs are language, not music, and one of the primary roles of language is persuasion.
Scott’s argument is targeted at traditional campaign managers who are antsy at giving up control to the free-wheeling blogosophere. Just as ClearChannel is losing market share to services with greater diversity, like iTunes and satellite radio, Scott argues that campaigns based on fixed repetition will lose out:

Message-makers who resist the change, especially those who stick to the repeat-it-ad-nauseum approach, will increasingly cause their campaigns to lose the message wars. Those who’ve learned to vary their message and rhythms to accomodate the changing environment along the line of the 12-bar blues model possess greater flexibility to operate in the new era.

Coming from the opposite “emergent democracy” side of the conversation, which celebrates the “bottom-up”, improvisatory spirit and scorns the rigorous practices of organization, Scott’s focus on campaigns is rather refreshing. Campaigns are unabashedly, er, purposive. Evangelism and persuasion are part of the blogging genre, whether the domain is politics, technology, or something else. Ants get other ants to swarm with pheremones; humans get other humans to swarm with ideas.

Civil liberties schwag

Yesterday, the House decided not consider an amendment to the Patriot Act which removed the secret searches of libraries. The measure that passed by bypartisan majority earlier today. The House bill extends the notorious Section 215 for 10 years, allowing the FBI to search business records, library records, bookstore records, medical records, commercial purchase records without probable cause.
However, you can compensate with civil liberties schwag:
Handy fourth amendment totebag, protected in theory from searches and seizures. Now sold out, but you can ask the seller to make more.

Disappearing civil liberties coffee mug:

When will IM standardize?

What about other communications protocols?
Telephone interconnection is mandated by law. For example, Texas law says:

Sec. 60.204. INTERCONNECTION. A telecommunications provider shall provide interconnection with other telecommunications
providers’ networks for the transmission and routing of telephone
exchange service and exchange access.

The law is needed because there are strong temptations for vendors not to interconnect. A very quick search suggests that legal requirements for interconnect go back to 1913/
Internet email standardized back when academic institutions were the primary users of the internet. This is very good — connectivity became universal. And bad — the protocols were very trusting, creating a medium for spam.
Fax was born from a standard. In the 1970s, the CCITT (now ITU) created a standard for digital fax that allowed the creation of an industry.
Thinking about these examples, the non-standardization of IM is an artifact of history and business model. IM is a free rider on top of the internet, and is offerered for free. Because the underlying network already exists, IM didn’t need the jumpstart of a standard in order to proliferate, unlike fax. Because IM is offered for free, it is only a minor inconvenience for end-users to connect to a contact, using whatever IM service that contact prefers. So far, the business IM market hasn’t been large enough to force standardization.
It seems plausible that IM will standardize someday. But the current situation could persist for a long time. Currency is an example of persistent lack of standards. There are well-established methods of currency exchange, so differing currencies don’t pose a huge barrier to commerce. And currency providers have a strong interest in controlling their stock of currency, since regional money supply is a tool by central banks used to steer the economy.
Just thinking out loud. It’s interesting how the patterns of standardization trace the social structure and power structure of the underlying community.

FBI spies on ACLU

According to this AP story, the FBI has amassed thousands of pages of records about the ACLU, Greenpeace, and other civil rights and advocacy groups.
If nothing else, the FBI is proving the case of critics concerned about expansion of domestic police powers to investigate terrorism. Of course, it’s probably easer to investigate the ACLU, which has offices in the phone book and leadership that makes regular media appearances, than to investigate Al Qaeda sleeper cells.

Hotel free wifi

Lately, I’ve been choosing less fancy hotels with complementary wifi over nicer hotels with similar discount room rates, but add-on charges of $10 – $20 per day for network access. The algorithm worked splendidly, resulting in a number of quite comfortable, moderately priced stays thanks to the Orbitz search engine.
Until this past week, when I stayed at the Guest House International Inn & Suites in Santa Clara.
The bathroom door had a rather disconcerting fist-sized dent, which seemed like the traces of a highly unpleasant visit for someone.
bad hotel 001.jpg
The in-room menu was for the enticingly named “Last Chance Restaurant.” Not kidding.
bad hotel 006.jpg
To be fair, the pizza from this ominously named outfit was more edible than the name suggests.

Life on a Young Planet

The author of “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” cited Life on a Young Planet as a source, and one of his favorite science books.
Harvard paleontologist Andrew Knoll weaves together geology and paleontology to tell the story of life before the Cambrian Explosion. “Life on a Young Planet” explores scientific mysteries that don’t yet have clear answers.
In the Proterozoic age, 600 to 800 million years ago, there are clear signs of life, with bacteria and algae with colonial living patterns similar to their descendents in tidal flats today. Rewind to 3.5 billion years ago, and there are much more cryptic signs of life that can’t be conclusively distinguished from non-living processes.
Fast forward to 540 million years ago, at the end of the Proterozoic era, and there is a profusion of Vendobiont animal forms, strange and unlike the predecessors of recognizable organisms that proliferated during the “Cambrian Explosion.” Scientists still don’t know how or whether these alien creatures are related to the generations that followed.
One of my favorite sub-plots of the book is the story of the co-evolution of life and the planet. Early in earth’s history, oxygen was scarce. Early bacteria metabolized methane, sulfates, and other chemicals. The proliferation of cyanobacteria helped create the oxygen-rich atmosphere that allowed large and complicated life forms to flourish. Here, also, scientists still have unanswered questions about how the earth’s atmosphere evolved.
The book is clearly written, without condescension or the purple prose that affects some scientists freed of the constraints of journal articles. One of the strengths of the book is the way Knoll explains how scientists figure out what they know — the dating methods, chemical analysis, comparisons with modern life forms, geological mapping, and other techniques used to piece together the stories of ancient life.
I really enjoyed this book — it left me with a sense of awe about how much scientists have learned about the evolution of life, and how much is still unknown.