Another Book About Me

ingot,metal,federated socket metal
Update: Just discovered that yet another book will feature my exploits / shenanigans. Can’t talk about it yet, but it sounds interesting.


Although I can’t sell a book to save my life, it looks like I can get in them easily enough.

First, I was quoted in Naked Conversations, then an abortive idea for an open-source Israel-Palestine peace proposal was included in Wikinomics and now Abby Schonenboom, a professor at the City University of New York, has discussed, and included a screenshot of, my post, “Statistics on Fired Bloggers” in Hiding Out: Creative Resistance Among Anonymous Workbloggers, an upcoming book based on her doctoral thesis.


Free Speech as a Human Right

[Cross-posted from OR318]

The two main arguments governments, and their supporters, make against free speech are these. First, that the outlawed speech is immoral. An example of this might be a blogger in Egypt who claims that Islam is a false religion or a blogger in the United States who maintains that killing people involved in overseas military operations is justified.

The second, and I think more common, argument is that allowing unfettered speech creates chaos that would significantly harm, and possibly ultimately destroy, a nation or society.

Neither rationale justifies the prohibition of speech because both are specious. There is, in fact, no legitimate justification for such a prohibition, because freedom of speech is not a cultural artifact, but rather a human right. By human right I mean that the need to express oneself, both on an individual and collective level, is a function of the human psyche, regardless of culture, subculture, geography, religion or even time. Try to think of a group or an era in which mankind did not attempt to express what was within its minds and hearts.



Lately, I’ve noticed an increasing number of bloggers I used to read for coverage of, or comment on, social media tools and strategy have gotten odder, more bilious and petulant (and sometimes outright nasty), full of gnomic utterances and pronuncamientos; moving from a giddy sense of discovery and moment to self-aggrandizement, ad hominem attacks and embarrassing revelations.

Perhaps social media has both an aggregating and an amplifying effect, so that simple mood swings seem like personality changes, and collective mood swings seem like trends. Perhaps the insulated world of social media produces the same hothouse effect that results in the cruel crones of a Lorca play or the bitter, back-stabbing faculty in any University you’d care to name. Perhaps it attracts the kind of cranks you used to see only in a newspaper’s letters to the editor. I don’t know.

Perhaps it will pass and they’ll remember that social media is a tool; that, in itself, it’s nothing, and the gatekeeper to nothing is nothing; and that social media is, by definition, inferior to the uses to which it is put and the content which it enables.

I imagine I’ll continue to find people who are still more excited by the possibilities of innovation than they are entranced by their own authority; people who think of the service they provide in surveying and analyzing new tools as a contribution to our larger public conversation, instead of as an end in itself or as an avenue to puffery. I imagine I’ll continue to find enough bloggers who don’t confuse traffic with merit (or who get too little of it to make that mistake) and that I’ll always have the information I need to continue to participate in the conversations I think are necessary and valuable in a difficult time.

And perhaps I’ll even learn how to fall quiet myself and restrict my opinions to the written page, where such things are perhaps best kept after all.

The Me Speech Movement

The cheerleading surrounding the transformative power of the new communications technologies, or “Web 2.0,” is masking an unacknowledged reality: The majority of men and women using them wish for free speech to extend only as far as themselves and no further. Blogging, podcasting, file sharing: all of it, they believe, should be in service to their specific ideologies and sensibilities and should be denied to others. Despite the rosy glow of the possibilities of the new technology, the same old countervailing forces are at work. In fact, the trend is against individual liberties. Governments and their supporters worldwide describe free speech as a right when it pertains to their supporters and no right whatsoever when the speaker has an opinion counter to the government’s or to the “sensitivities of a community.”

One example of this was my dealings as the director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers with bloggers and blog-readers in Malaysia over the issue of racist speech on two blogs and a bulletin board. I was asked over and over, “You don’t believe in free speech about anything, do you? Not about any topic at all? You must have limits when free speech goes against social values.” No, I don’t have limits, not in the sense that I believe government should step to end speech, regardless of the topic. No, I really do believe anyone should be able to say anything about Mohammad they wish—and yes, against Jesus, or Moses, or America, even against apple pie—without being arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed by, or with the connivance of, a government.

Where I live, in the U.S., for years the current (now past, Bush) Administration has consistently rolled back free speech guarantees and civil liberties. And its actions have been supported, either actively or passively, by the overwhelming majority of Americans, citizens and politicians both; this in a country whose identity, in large part, depends on its dedication to political and civil liberties.

Technology is pushing more and more toward enabling speech and amplifying audience. The mass of men, lead by (or leading) their governments, is pushing back. The U.S., the U.K., Australia, China, Iran, Malaysia, Bahrain, Egypt, Zimbabwe and many more are all engaged in some form of curtailment of speech with government power as its instrument. No technology can triumph over the collective will of the people.

I am pessimistic. I think too much cheerleading about this technology has in part led to dissembling and to outright self-deception. I do not have a solution to this problem other than, first, to acknowledge that the problem exists. Most of the bloggers around the world reading this, blinded by faith in the new technology which they are using and drunk on self-regard, will not want to admit it. They will state, categorically, that their political opponents or religious competitors are guilty of it in spades, but that they are not, have never been, never could be.

Unfortunately, 20-year-old kids still keep getting sentenced to state-sanctioned beatings and citizens still keep getting imprisoned extrajudicially, tortured and even killed.

So, what’s to be done about it? Holding hands and “creatively visualizing” a sea-change in the this ego-driven, tribal way of living? Or, alternatively, perhaps we can bomb the evil out of the world? Neither of those approaches has worked out too well so far.

I have only one concrete action I can recommend as a partial corrective to this: Actively disseminate the maximum amount of information on how to express unpopular ideas without being apprehended by misguided authorities. Provide this material especially to those with whom you do not agree. It’s that simple.

Tools and sites like BlogSafer are a start.

The Committee has agitated for fundamentalist Muslim, anti-U.S. Iraqis; for secular Egyptians critical of Islam; for racist anti-Islamic Malaysians; for left-wing Frenchmen and many others. We made a point of pride in defending people who have fallen afoul of governmental power regardless of whether or not we agreed with them; and we provided them, as much as we could, with information and strategies for avoiding the inappropriate attentions of their governments, their employers and the “decent people” surrounding them who would strip the skin from their backs because they indulge in any of a dizzying host of constantly shifting un-orthodoxies.

Regardless of the rah-rah for tech, the vast majority of governments, citizens and societies are against free speech and against the sharing of information that offends its political, social or religious sensibilities, and they have repeatedly proven themselves willing to encourage the improper use of government power to punish those who offend them. These people are in Iraq, Egypt, Iran and China—and they are reading this post right now.

Mirror photo from Geograph

Need a Free Nonprofit Blog Host

Because I is a idiot, I was considering reawakening the beast that is, or rather was, the Committee to Protect Bloggers. To do this, I need a free blog host. OK, they’re common enough. But since my techno-eyes are always bigger than my techno-stomach, I need a host that would also be available for constant bugging. Civiblog hosted us last time, and they are great. But since it’s student-run and volunteer, I was rarely able to get my questions answered in any kind of a timely fashion.

Do you know of such an outfit that would fit my demanding bill? If not, do you know of someone who would be dumb enough to set up say a WP blog on their own server and then be a techno-Lovejoy to my techno-Flanders? If so, leave a comment or email me at curthopkins/at/ or committeetoprotectbloggers/at/

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A Series of Tubes

Blogrolls are supposed to be dynamic, to change to reflect the ongoing history of the blogger, a kind of map of what the blogger is thinking, reading, watching and so on. I think they tend to grow rather static, though, on many blogs. So, every rare once in a while, I completely delete mine and start building it up again. Most of the time I add back in a core group of blogs and sites, but by doing that I refamiliarize myself with them. This time, I have left only with my friend’s horse company and added the site of a poet who recently left a comment on my sestina post.


Foreign Correspondents

In an excellent essay in the Washington post, “Demise of the Foreign Correspondent,” Pamela Constable writes about the “false economy” of newspapers and television news operations cutting out foreign bureaus.

In a speech at Columbia University last week, veteran TV news anchor Walter Cronkite warned that pressure by media companies to generate increasing profits is threatening our nation’s values and freedom by leaving people less informed.

Hrrm. That sounds familiar.

There’s a lot of talk about how bloggers can fill that gap. And I agree. But not given the way most currently work. In order for bloggers to become an effective network of news gatherers (as opposed to a latent one), two things have to happen.

First, they need to be paid. People work better for pay and they take the job seriously.

Second, they need to get off their asses. There’s a great deal to be said for multi-lingual bloggers who provide a digest of what their national or linguistic blogosphere is saying and for those who do the same for local press. But in the end, if you don’t get out and see what’s going on (and some do, of course), you are ultimately of limited value.

Cross-posted to Foam Finger Media.

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