Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Internet and US election

November 29, 2007

As we are nearing to launching beta testing of the WikiCandidate project, i start paying more attention to the coverage of the role of internet in the upcoming US presidential election. Interestingly, technology and politics are frequently associated with youth. Here is an example. This post is telling a story of Facebook overtaking MySpace in web traffic and immediately following it is a story about partnership between Facebook and MySpace aimed at targeting the US young voters (both appearing on the same blog).


Nigeria and OX

November 28, 2007

Just a small buzz from the blogosphere.  In the reader today i got two posts featuring both Nigeria and XO.

The first post, from OLPC-news, is telling a story of US-based Nigerian-owned company suing OLPC for supposedly patent infringement of their multilingual keyboard technology.  The other, from tech.blorge, is telling a story of a drastic change in attitude of Nigerian government to OLPC initiative (from intentions of buying a million laptops, to complete rejection of the basic idea of the program).

None of these is shocking news, but nevertheless i found the coincidence intriguing.

Counterintuitive blog battles

November 18, 2007

This may appear somewhat obsessive, but I’ve been following developments of my ban from the Sabbah blog. On a reflective side, I have to admit that being banned does not feel comfortable. I understand that there is nothing significant and i should let it go (which i will given the amount of things i have to finish before i leave for the winter break :), but there is something really bothering when you feel that injustice has been done. Gladly, this whole story seems to lead me towards some interesting thoughts about the unique aspects of the discourse in the blogosphere.

Going back to the ban story, an amusing part is that just a few days after deleting my comments and blocking me from further participation, Haitham published a post arguing against complains his blog-application received on Facebook (FB). The absurd of the situation for me was that a man who just actively practiced censorship himself, was complaining against potential censorship against him. But that was just a beginning, because i followed some of the threads reacting to his post to discover that it became sort of a rally against “Zionist censorship” on FB (and it is amazing what king of judgment people are able to make without knowing the subject matter, and how many people do not distinguish between FB profile and FB application while making claims about them).  For whatever reasons, I saw my case as playing into this discussion.

The comments led me to a community of what i think are rather radical left-wing bloggers (I conclude it based on the fact that one of them had to post a Daily Kos rule restricting allowed criticism of the site). I don’t know how big it is and how large its readership, but it is certainly a very active community, particularly in fighting with the equally radical right wing blogs.

Some of the links led me to an interesting discussion about Daily Kos banning a number of pro-Palestinian activist that happened a few month ago. Basically the argument I follwed was between Booman Tribune (BT) and Little Green Footballs (LGF). Following Sabbah’s post about complains on FB, BT published a long post questioning FB’s policies/tendencies of silencing the Palestinian activists and referring to the Daily Kos case as an example of “censorship of Israeli-Palestinian advocacy” in supposedly liberal media. LGF reacted with a sarcastic remark followed by a quote from the aforementioned post aiming it not so much towards Booman, as towards Daily Kos itself.

Here are some observations.

First, about potential impact. As i said, both communities appear rather active. The post on LGF generated 147 comments by the time of this post. The post on BT generated about 20 (and I engaged in a discussion there too), but it has posts with 70 comments and up. According to Alexa, 0.00755% of internet users visited LGF in the last three month and only 0.00125% visited BT (i have to read more about how they measure that, but it allows comparison). NY Times for example accounted for 0.498% of internet traffic in the last three month, whch actually puts the reach of both blogs in proportion.

Another point, which i think is particularly interesting and unique to blogosphere is linking. Both BT and LGF provide links to the original posts on the rivalry blogs. That makes sense and is in line with proper etiquette of online discussion. It also helps to make a stronger point for an argument, when you are quoting the opponent and showing them wrong. However, from the point of view of rivals this is also an irrational behavior, because by linking to the rival one contributes to the authority/ranking of the opponent (which i assume not the goal of either of them).

Here are some numbers. LGF is ranked 97 according to Technorati with an authority of 3,832, 195 fans, and 55,286 blog reactions. BT is ranked 906 with authority of 3,133, 15 fans, and 10,558 blog reaction. According to Alexa, LGF is ranked 25,485 based on a combination of traffic and page views, with 3,550 incoming links. BT ranked 147,195 based on a combination of traffic and page views, and has 619 incoming links. So, LGF appears as a clear leader between the two blogs thus contributing to BT by linking to it. This does not mean that BT does not contribute to LGF’s ranking by linking to it, but that contribution is relatively small compared to what BT gains from a revers link.

What can we learn about strategy of blog battles based on this post. Well, not much at all. It is a single case, it does not reveal anything, and it is confusing. What it does however is triggering some thoughts.

For example, to me, it resembles political campaigns where leaders contribute to the loosing parties by mentioning them in their campaign. This is why, one of the strategies of the leader is ignoring the opponent. According to this, it would make sense for LGF to stop linking to BT in order not to contribute to the opponent. However, there is an issue of creditability and the question is if such behavior would not undermine the creditability of LGF among its readers. At the same time, according to Alexa LGF lost 10% of its traffic in the last 3 months, while BT showed 155% grows. So what does it say about linking? Maybe i’s not worth it after all?

On a flip side, thinking about promotion of a blog, it makes perfect sense to bug the “big fish”. When it comes to political blogging, seems like it does not really matter if the response is positive or negative, the mare fact of a link from a bigger website, contributes to the authority of the linked blog. Thus, for BT the strategy seems clearer. Relating to the content published on the leading website and causing the to react (even if it’s just a critique) is a positive development in a sense of contribution to traffic and online ratings. If we are to measure impact in terms of links, hits, and page views, the strategy seems to be clear. However, in the particular case, BT doesn’t have a link to LGF, but that is probably because of the focus of the particular post, and not as a result of strategic decision.

This however, leads to some thoughts about the qualitative aspects of impact and the online political discourse. At the end of the day much more people are reading LGF than BT. This may be of course a matter of timin, LGF was found in 2000 and BT only in 2005. However i guess the issue is more complicated and i believe people behind both blogs have been active online and within their respective communities prior to launching the specific platforms (in other words, it is too complex to figure out at the moment). A more interesting question however, is about content generation. If i adopt rational theory for a moment and assume that the “bugging bigger fish” strategy is correct, then creating original content is not cost efficient for the smaller blogs. The question then, if it is so, and what does it do to the online discourse. And in the particular example, we are actually witnessing an opposite tendency where the leader is reacting to the content of the follower. Did we say confusing and counterintuitive?

OK, this post is getting too long and too dispersed, so i better stop here.

Any thoughts or comments? (assuming you made it so far :)

Is it hypocrisy or very short memory?

November 17, 2007

In the beginning of this year the Israeli students went on strike. In fact the strike was about potential rise in the tuition fees, however the rhetoric used by the student leadership and activists claimed that they are fighting for changing the national priorities and for saving the Israeli education.  The semester was in danger, but utilizing the high ideals and revolutionary spirit, the students were kept out of campus for about 5 weeks (if i remember correctly). The faculty showed solidarity, even if just limited, and put an effort to resume the semester that got prolonged because of the strike.

A few weeks ago, the Israeli senior faculty went on strike (HE). In fact the strike is about the material conditions of the faculty and to a degree the Israeli academia in general.  The core rhetoric is remarkably similar to that used by the students earlier this year.  Seemingly, one would expect the students to join the faculty and do what they were claiming they are doing just a few months ago.  However, there are different voices sound, at least in the media (HE).  The students are angry that there are no classes, and that their studies may be delayed, while the student leadership is getting organized to demand a refund of tuition fees.

And I am asking myself: is it hypocrisy of the student leadership, and to a degree of the students themselves, or they just got very short memory and once it is not their pocket, the high ideals are forgotten?

Obama on technology

November 15, 2007

Thanks to John Daly’s blog reference I had a chance to watch Barak Obama’s talk at Google yesterday. It is interesting to hear what the candidates have to say about their views of technology, and it is particularly interesting to me as someone who aims at studying this.

First, i think the fact that Obama was talking at Google is interesting. Just a few weeks ago Hilary Clinton, together with her husband, visited Microsoft campus. I find it a little bit symbolic how images of the candidates align with the images of technological companies they chose to visit. Obama went to the young, dynamic, and innovative Google. Clinton went to the established and experienced Microsoft. During his talk and the Q&A, Obama made a few direct references to his resemblance with Google founders.

Second, the rhetoric Obama used to talk about technology. I have to admit it was expectedly technocratic. He talked about the information age, about the inevitable connection between technoloy and progress, and did not forgot to talk about threats from outside to the US technological leadership. To his credit, i have to notice that he explicitly committed to net neutrality (and investment in basic research) and at the same time promised “intense” anti-trust to insure competition. The last point is interesting as Google itself is moving into spotlight of anti-trust authorities. The greatest applause was gained however when he talked about reforming the immigration policy, specifically referring to HB1 visas issue.

The last point i want to highlight is Obama’s reference to the digital divide. Interestingly, i don’t think he ever used the term, but it was a topic crossing his entire talk. Addressing the digital divide he framed it similarly to the mainstream discourse. He talked about access to technology as an issue worldwide and broadband connectivity as the main problem in the US. Literacy was briefly mentioned, but the main topic was still access. It is interesting because this discourse has dominated the US political arena for over a decade now. There was a shift from talking about just access to talking about broadband access, but the primary idea remained.

Somewhat unrelated, but still interesting detail was Obama mentioning that over 300,000 people have profiles on his website. This is not related to the point i was making in this post, but just an interesting fact. If you have the time, here is the video on YouTube:

And if you have extra time, here is a link to the Q&A session. It didn’t really deal with technology, but with more general topics.

Funny or not funny?

October 26, 2007

Tonight i saw a life performance of Stephen Colbert and here are my 5 cents*.

Up until about three hours before the show, i was certain that we are going to sit in a nice Bailey Hall with excellent acoustics and good stage view. However i learned that we are going to sit in a huge Barton Hall, which in fact is a sport facility. The place accommodated 5000 people, and Colbert was giving two of those shows tonight. That of course revealed some of the mystery as to how he was convinced to come here in the first place, after all the tickets were $25 and up.

But leaving the economic aspects of the show aside, how was it?

My initial reaction is that he is much funnier on TV compared to a live show. The jokes are more fluent and probably more rehearsed. You could see it when he would loose track of thought and actually read into the script. At one point, he didn’t have the script, which caused some confusion that was resolved quickly and positively in a jokily manner. More importantly however, on TV he doesn’t have to downgrade the humor to the college level. A few (rather anticipated) jokes about Cornell would do it, but he chose to dedicate about 1/3-1/2 of his talk to it. At some point, he went into sex jokes to a degree i was questioning if it was him on the stage, not to mention the excessive use of f-words. Something of the way he delivers the message on TV was lost when he tried to adjust, maybe a little bit too much, to the audience.

At the same time, it was interesting to see how he actually interacts with live audience. It seems like there are some questions he (and frankly I) really would like to know answers to, such as how come people do not distinguish his character from him and how come younger people tend to consume their news from him and the Daily Show. A few times, answering to calls for him to run for presidency he repeated that he is fake. It reached a point where he just said “I don’t really want to run, i just want to f@#k with people”, which seems to me a noble satiric goal. At the same time people were really obsessive with the idea of him running. At the end of the show he held a Q&A session using an interesting tactics. As verbose as he appears in his monologues, so concise and rather serious he was in answering the question. People were trying to get out of their skin to ask the more provocative/”smart” questions (like a girl who asked if he would give her a job or a fraternity guy who invited him to a party), but to many of those the answer was a simple “yes/no”. I think in this session you could see the John Stewart influences, for many times Colbert was making the joke simply by mimicking the person asking the question. However here you could see a little bit of the real Colbert the person passionate about what he is doing – when asked about career for starting comedian, he went into untypical lengthly and serious answer, and only towards the end remembered to make a joke out of it. The highlight of this session was of course a girl who claimed to be such a burn Colbert fun that her life wouldn’t be complete if she wouldn’t hug him (and yes, she got the hug).

During the whole evening a question about political role of current generation was kind of in the air. Colbert the character accused the current generation being active only digitally, not making influence in the real world. Colbert the actor, when asked again on the issue, tried to redeem himself by saying that this generation is not that bad, “look at the all money you guys raised online”. However, donating money does not demand as much as actually getting involved in convincing people in political opinion or even just voting. Poking in Facebok, or joining a group that supports Colbert for presidency, is by far easer than getting on the streets and getting involved in civic activism, trying to bring the change. So for me, the original question Colbert the character raised about the actual political participation of the youth remains open. And I think he is doing a good job in opening those questions.

A girl came up to make a point that he has a support pointing out at the great support he gained on Facebook, and Colbert sincerely asked “what does that mean?”. Although she tried to say that there are over million students supporting them, i remained with a questions. What does joining a support group for Colbert on Facebook actually mean? How much of it is done just for fun (similarly to the wikipedia changes that he so much likes to promote), and how much of this is actually support of people who think he can do it? And what does it mean if the people who joined the group, or who are using it to support their point, actually believe that he can is a potential candidate?

All in all it was nice, refreshing break with some light humor, but i keep on thinking is there more to political satire than just making us smile?


* It is historically 5 cents and not 2, since i made this mistake a long time ago and it stuck. Besides, using Colbert’s tactics, which seem to work, if everybody else’s opinion is 2 cents, mine has to be 5 cents for sure! :)

Australian PM race made it to the Israeli news

October 25, 2007

I was rather surprised to notice the following title today on the Israeli Ynet: “Australia: The leading candidate picked his ear and chewed” (my poor translation).  Frankly, i wasn’t really aware that there is a PM race going on in Australia (my apologies Lisa), so i was really curios (and entertained) what is there in the manners of leading candidate to cause him hitting international headlines.  Imagine my surprise to discover that the focus of the drama is a 15 sec YouTube video showing Kevin Rudd “scooping something from his left ear with his finger, which he then puts in his mouth” according to Washington Post.  You have to agree with me that this is a rather unusual news title/topic these days, and it looks so surrealistic to read about ear-picking Australian candidate in an Israeli newspaper.

The interesting point, newspapers claim, is that this 15 sec video has the potential of severely damaging his campaign.  And the truth is that there is a precedent of YouTube doing that (see George Allen’s “famous” macaca controversy).  However there are two separate issues in hand.  The first is the ability of (supposedly) grassroots media input influencing political discourse and actual campaigns, which is interesting and indeed worth the attention.  The second is the substantive issue in hand – can we equate ear-picking with racist comments?

As if it wasn’t enough…

October 14, 2007

I am following up on my post from yesterday about cancellation of the Jericho part of One Million Voices initiative. Today it was reported that the Tel-Aviv part of the event, as well as the concerts in other locations worldwide, were also called off out of solidarity. So much for the moderate voice…

A few “notes on the situation” (a sad post)

October 13, 2007

1. Who needs it?

A couple of weeks ago i attended a lecture Hanan Ashrawi gave here at Cornell (you can watch the video here).  The title of the talk was: “Peace in the Middle East: Who Needs It?” and I went there with hopes to hear some new ideas and fresh perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian situation (after all, she is the only woman in the Palestinian legislation body, she must be unique).  And indeed, she started the talk with a rather optimistic and yet pragmatic note, stating that all the parties in the region need the peace and that peace is reachable.  However, a few moments later she went into a rather standard (dare i say narrow and one-sided) spiel about Israel being evil, Palestine being miserable, and the international community being impotent.  From what promised to be an intellectual conversation, the meeting turned out to be into a scene of diplomatic propaganda.  Even when faced with questions, Ashrawi didn’t take the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation, but instead sticked to the familiar, cliched answers.

That whole experience left me disappointed.  Maybe i should not expect to hear from politicians anything meaningful, but their one-liners.  In that case there is little (if any) hope left for shifting the situation in the ME one way or another.

2. Do not let questions confuse you!

Actually this stroke me when i was watching the Ahmadinejad’s  talk in Columbia.  It reminded me too much about that previous talk i described above.  Every time Ahmadinejad was asked a question he didn’t find convenient to answer, he would go back to the few messages he decided to stick to in his talk.  Sometimes it was rather funny when the question and the answer were completely unrelated.

Ashrawi was a bit more sophisticated; probably also thanks to her good English.  But at the end of the day, she sticked to the same strategy and for a single moment did not allow the questions to distract her from the message she came to deliver.

3. October 18

This one was supposed to be more optimistic, but, sorry, it didn’t work out.

There is an initiative, called “One Million Voices” that seems innovative and different in the way it approaches the situation.  On October 18th they are organizing a demonstration that was supposed to take place simultaneously in Tel-Aviv, Jericho, and a number of cities worldwide.  In my eyes, the uniqueness of this initiative is in its focus on the solution, on the final goal, and on peace, as opposed on the endless debates about who was here first or who is more miserable or more righteous.  I think this is a very important difference that makes it to stand out compared to other peace (or so-called peace) initiatives.

The thought of seeing a first Palestinian demonstration that is not merely against Israel, but is actually for peace, was very inspiring for me.  However checking the website of the initiative today i learned that the Jericho part is canceled due to “security considerations”.  It is not clear what those considerations are, though people on the website hurried to blame Israel for doing that (which doesn’t really make sense to me, but ok).  Now it will be interesting to see if that will turn out to be yet another anti-Israeli demonstration or it will still remain a demonstration for peace.  I was actually looking forward to this event.

4. The absurd of boycotting

I wrote about my thoughts on using boycott as tool for promoting peace before.  Reading the comments on “One Million Voices” website, i witnessed another example for the absurdness of this approach.  Some people commenting on the website called for boycotting the event because it “falls under the category of normalization”.  It is accused in assuming “equal responsibility of ‘both sides’ for the ‘conflict'” and in being “sponsored by Israeli institutions (mostly from the private sector) and endorsed by mainstream Israeli political figures”.

I’s probably my ignorance, but i always thought that bringing people together and making them to step over issues of pride and prejudice is actually a step towards peace.  Boycotters on the other hand view cultural and political violence as the only way to solution.  Well, one thing this whole development does not add is hope for any change in the ME.


Digital divide in US election

July 20, 2007

Recently i came across the following interview by Andy Carvin with some of the democratic candidates, asking them about the the potential role of government in bridging the digital divide. Interestingly enough all the candidates mentioned access to broadband as the main issue constituting the divide in US with access to computers as the second one (Chris Dodd talked about bridging educational gaps through access???). Education came in occasionally, only if explicitly prompted by the interviewer. Gravel was the only one to mention net neutrality, but still in a very weird and local context. Richardson talked about the need of corporate involvement.

Of course the “digital divide” is not a major point on anyones agenda, but it is still interesting to see how it is framed in good old terms of access – give them computers and broadband and everything will be OK. But how? Why?