Monday, November 29, 2010

Imperial Russian Maps and the Digital Peasant Project

Take a look at what I've just found on Wikimedia.

Tambov governorate 1822

This is the Tambov Province of Imperial Russia, circa 1822.  What makes this remarkable, at least to me, is that this high-quality image is available online, easy to access and share.  If curiosity took me to wonder how far apart villages described in police reports were from each other in the Tambov Province, I can now easily look this information up for myself using superb digital tools.  Before finding these maps, I had to find an archive that contained a copy of the Russian atlas I needed (there were a few made during the Imperial period), then schedule time to actually visit the archive and then I had to sit down and either take pencil notes on paper or use my laptop to record my thoughts.  Usually I could not even think of taking a picture for my own use and the reproduction fees could often be exorbitant enough to prohibit any more than a few copies to be made.  Now- poof! - via the magic that is the Internet, I can download these images and make much more detailed observations in my own time.

Total EU Subsides
Recently I wrote on the Digital Humanities and the potential this new avenue of sources could bring to the study of History, in particular noting a specific project involving Russian peasants that would utilize written records to create an accessible and searchable archive.  Although I did not have a specific model for this database of information to take, I was recently inspired by a EU project to make publicly available data on the money spent on fishing vessel subsidies among the various member nations.  The result is FishSubsidies.org, a website that has an interactive map giving the viewer a visual look at where and how EU money was spent, with additional details provided as to who received the money and for what specific purpose.

'Modernization' EU Subsidies
I love maps.  Even in digital form they immediately capture the imagination, giving shape and definition to spaces most of us probably will never visit.  Yet the underlying purpose of the map- to graphically display geographical knowledge with layers of additional meaning as provided by the cartographer- makes it one of the best tools for quick comprehension of data scattered over distances.  What makes the FishSubsidies map great is that I can easily see what areas command the most EU money in a given project area, be that modernization or construction of new vessels, as well as acquire a general feel for the importance of such money on local economies.  Without knowing specifics about the various nature of ports documented on the map, with a quick toggle of layers I can quickly grasp the 'industrial layout' of where certain industries related to fishing are concentrated.  Maps are simply superb tools for data comprehension and connection.

This brings me back to what I'm dubbing the Digital Peasant Project, by which I mean a concerned effort to document all available written resources dealing with the life of Peasants.  This is obviously a rather large field, so initial efforts could focus on well established records of, say, peasant disturbances noted in police or government reports as a starting point.  There would need to be a standard of notation, so that many people could contribute their specific knowledge or documented sources, and an online wiki or other easily modifiable and shareable resource in order to allow coordination and collectivization of materials.

Once the data begins to be collected, a similar mapping project akin to the FishSubsidies project could be implemented giving the viewer an easy to read visual map of various peasant trends.  Given enough data input one could dynamically view events such as peasant resistance to raising of labor obligations or the speed at which the post carried new edicts or news of foreign/domestic disputes.  The map would incorporate the ability to turn on/off multiple layers of data and a researcher could specify specific parameters of search and then view those results develop over time, much like watching a weather forecast map on tv or the internet.  This is the kind of power combining maps and databases of humanistic information could yield for future study.  To be sure, projects of this computational scope have been undertaken before yet the internet brings magnitudes greater ability to share and allow others to contribute to the project.

This is new territory for me- I am woefully inadequate at visualizing, at all, the programming needs to make the Digital Peasant Project possible.  But I do know about research and I have confidence that I could develop at least the beginnings of a standardization protocol for the potential data input.  This is something I think has tremendous potential and I would love to hear what others think about the idea.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stakeholder Similarity and the Mobility of Liberalism

While many people these days are eschewing their print magazines in favor of pdf, iPad, iPod (touch), iPhone and Android, I still maintain links to the pulpy published world of words via a few subscriptions, Foreign Affairs among them.  Like most of its bretheren, Foreign Affairs attempts with its end of the year issue to play the role of mystic and divine the future of foreign policy initivites in their tea leaves or burnt wax or whatever their menagiere of writers use to probe the murky depths.  Three essays in particular grabbed my attention, 'Irresponsible Stakeholders' by Stuart Patrick, 'Digital Disruption' by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, and 'Democracy in Cyberspace' by Ian Bremmer, because all address a topic of increasing relevance today, namely, the role of Western Liberalism in the increasing multi-polar geo-political landscape.  While Schmidt, Cohen and Bremmer address the role communication technologies play in societies and whether or not this bodes well for Liberalistic values, Patrick tackles the larger issue of the role America can play in guiding the 'emerging powers' towards responsible global stewardship.  However, Patrick's essay ultimately makes an unconvincing case, due mainly to his argument possessing two centrifugal forces disguised as a unified purpose; American Liberalism.

Specifically, Patrick advocates that the US must recognize that it no longer has the clout to effectively mandate unilateral change and must look to find engagement with the world through multilateral institutions, while at the same time ensuring, via our clout and unilateralism, that 'emerging powers' adhere to rules and standards required of the Western political order. (this includes countries such as China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa, etc...)  Thus, to quote Patrick, "the United States must link any extension of international status, voice, and weight of the emerging powers to their concrete contributions to world stability," (Foreign Affairs, 52) because many of these emerging powers "often oppose the political ground rules of the inherited Western liberal order..." (Foreign Affairs, 44)   What Patrick fails to take into account is that the Western liberal order discussed above is not a monolithic institution as much as it is a specific configuration of liberalism developed in the United States that incorporates elements of a 'similarity' discourse fused with an unfailing belief in the market as a divine arbiter of large spheres of human activity.  I want to take some time to look at how this conception of liberalism took hold in America, how Imperial Russia's experience with liberalistic values and institutions  in the 19th-20th centuries informs this inquiry, and, finally, how this analysis demonstrates that Patrick's essay flounders on contradictory goals.

Two Aspects of American Liberalism

I do not want to give the impression that the interweaving of ideas that is American Liberalism can be explained solely by two influences when serious debate on the subject could easily throw out dozens more.  What can be said with confidence though is that the complex beast of American Liberalism came to dominate, or at least seriously sway, the practices of other Western nations during the period of the Cold War when ideological battles between capitalism and communism waged supreme.  Since the end of the Cold War and especially in light of the recent financial meltdown led by faulty American debt instruments, American hegemony and thus American Liberalism have declined in their rhetorical power to shepherd the 'emerging powers' towards their ideological viewpoint.  This is the crisis Patrick highlights in his essay and it is my belief that the 'emerging powers' are not so quick to take up the 'Western liberal order' because they find elements within to be less appealing than they once were.

To begin, American Liberalism is built upon the idea of 'similarity', a concept I am borrowing from Philip Deloria in his work Indians in Unexpected Places.  Deloria convincingly argues that whites developed changes to language use and conception in order to accomodate the shifting phases of Indian-White relations; from fear to surround to outbreak to last stand to assimilation and finally invisibility.  When Whites began to assimilate the native population, they did so with a goal of producing 'similarity' and not fully accepted citizens.  Native children that attended Carlisle or Haskel were transformed into peoples 'similar' to the larger White society, but not 'exactly' like the larger White society.  This attitude infused itself within the core understanding of American Liberalism, finding later expression in the idea that spreading American style democracy and ideals around the globe would instil 'similar' governments and societal configurations that, while not exactly like America, could co-exist peacefully with America. This was the central idea behind such efforts like the Peace Corps or US AID, even the Marshall Plan- believing we had the best way of life to offer, many American foreign policy efforts of the 20th and early 21st century specifically endorsed this idea of promoting 'similarity' of American Liberalism around the globe.

Spreading 'Similarity'
via Ad*Access
The other major element of American Liberalism I want to briefly discuss is the role of the market as errorless referee of human affairs.  This idea comes from Michel Foucault and his series of lectures during the 1978-79 academic year at the College de France on the initial conceptions of what he termed 'Biopolitics'.  In but one of his intellectual forays into Liberalisms effect upon Western society, Foucault tackles 'Biopolitics' by probing how exactly Liberalism came to justify intervention in the expression of governmental power, his answer being faith in the market to act as a test governmental reason, a 'space' where reason could be pinpointed and measured.  Looking at two contemporary examples of how the 'market' arbitration element of liberal discourse developed, the German developments from 1948 to 1962 and the American innovations ushered in by the Chicago School, Foucault noted that American Liberalism increasingly came to accept the principle of market rationality in spheres of activity not generally considered economic.  A quote:
"First, the generalization of the economic form of the market beyond monetary exchanges functions in American neo-liberalism as a principle of intelligibility and a principle of decipherment of social relationships and individual behavior.  This means that analysis in terms of the market economy...can function as a schema which is applicable to non-economic domains.  And, thanks to this analytical schema or grid of intelligibility, it will be possible to reveal in non-economic processes, relations, and behavior a number of intelligible relations which otherwise would not have appeared as such- a sort of economic analysis of the non-economic." (Birth of the Biopolitics, 243)    
Here is a small clip from the PBS documentary Commanding Heights on the Chicago School and its influence on American economic culture.  





Yet, in the wake of the financial meltdown of 2008-2009, faith in the 'free' markets is mildly tenable at best around the world, with some non-conformist players like China demonstrating the power of strong central control in regulating the extreme fluctuations of the market.  The 'emerging powers', thanks in part to the communication technologies discussed in more detail in the essays of Schmidt, Jared and Cohen, now have the ability to pick and choose from among the state/society configurations debated about within the aether of the internet and this in turn is bringing about a shift in relations many nations have with the United States, as noted by Patrick in his essay.  American Liberalism, with its emphasis on 'similarity' and the arbiter 'market', quite simply is not the hot product it once was.  

The Russian Example

Peasants from Korobovo Village- from
For a more nuanced understanding of the problems discussed above one historical example from Imperial Russia provides needed background.  In response to the emergence of liberal ideas and institutions, such as increased franchise rights and submission of authority to the rule of law, Russian rulers, much like the 'emerging powers' of today, sought to incorporate these institutions on a limited basis in their domains, albeit on terms subject to total control of the tsar.  One area in particular, the nationalism question, plagued the autocratic rulers through the second half of  imperial existence, producing varied debate as to the defining qualities of a Russian citizen.  Russian elites rejected a more inclusive civil space that would allow for a wide diaspora of peoples to attain citizenship within the Imperial identity by instead focusing on promoting qualities shared by ethnic Great Russian people among the larger non-Russian population, a process covered in more detail by Laura Engelstein and her work on the interpretation of the 1897 Russian census results.  Far from accepting/rejecting the 'Western Liberal order' of the 18th and 19th centuries wholesale, Russian rulers selected forms and ideals palatable to their tastes and needs, creating a reconfiguration of the state/society relationship Liberalism sought to remake by incorporating both liberal and illiberal elements in a form unique to Imperial Russia.

The Mobility of Liberalism  

Underlying both the American and Russian reconfigurations of Liberalism, as well as the challenge by Patrick's 'emerging powers' to the current 'Western liberal order', is a transformational quality of ideas that I term 'Mobility' by which ideas/information circulates, becomes 'certified', undergoes mutation via 'certification' and application before being circulated again, repeating the process.


via Steve Jurvetson- Genetic Mutation in Y Chromosome tracks Familial Movement
Take a look at the Genetic Movement Map of the Y Chromosome above.  Science today can track the 'mobility' of early humans through the mutations in their genetic structure.  As Humanity moved out from Africa and into the wider reaches of the globe, their very circulation process prompted mutations resulting in the wide variety of populations today.  The same process occurs with the spreading of ideas, LIberalism being only one example noted in this post.  Societies, being complex organizations, rarely adopt in total new ideas or ideas forced on them from another source- almost all find a sort of amalgamation of old and new forms that suit their needs.  They first encounter the information, 'certify' its presence or transmission method which in turn mutates the knowledge that is exported and re-circulated.  Imperial Russia (also Soviet Russia) and the United States engaged in similar reconfigurations of Liberalism in the last century, and, as Patrick notes, a similar phenomena occurs today with the rise of 'emerging powers'.  

Technology and Circulation

Circulation and the mutation of Liberalism highlights the error of Patrick's argument, as he contends that the 'Western liberal order' is the gold standard of global stewardship and prerequisite of admittance to its ranks, when, as we look to the essays of Schmidt, Jared and Cohen, the rise of mass communications technologies makes such monolithic ideological dispersion and acceptance claims difficult to muster as new configurations of Liberalistic models will constantly, and with increasing speed, rise to challenge older models.  Schmidt and Cohen in Digital Disruption point out that China, who uses perhaps the most sophisticated censorship techniques with regards to Internet access, is attempting to give this controlled model of Liberalistic Internet more credibility by circulating it among the varied governments, some 'emerging powers', in order to give the model more credibility on the world stage.  In other 'partially connected states' such as Cote d'Ivoire, Pakistan and Guinea, Schmidt and Cohen discuss how,
"Today's activists are local and yet highly global: they import tools from abroad for their own purposes while exporting their own ideas." (Foreign Affairs, 82)  
In effect the increased access to information and desire to use global ideas in a configuration suited to local needs lowers the previous 'certification' level of these ideas, permitting increasing diasporas to not only access them but re-circulate them in a 'mutated' form, again globally accessible and capable via circulation of being 'mutated' again.  As noted in Digital Disruption, hyper-connected societies such as Israel, Finland and Sweeden, who invest a significant portion of their GDP into communications research and development stand to reap the benefits of this increased information circulation potential.  While Schmidt and Cohen acknowledge that digital communicaiton technologies can be abused by authoritarian regimes, they tend to side on the hopeful expression of more Liberal values citing the potential of 'flash mobs' organized by text, tweet, or social networking.  

Ian Bremmers's essay, Democracy in Cyberspace, takes a much more negative view on the potential of communication technology to facilitate the spread of liberal ideals and models.  While noting that such technology is 'value neutral', having only the moral characteristics of the users, Bremmer is quick to note that such neutrality also proscribes the belief that use of communications tools- many created in America- will lead to embracing liberal democratic ideals.  Instead what we are seeing is the enactment of 'feedback loops' in which world politics is fundamentally changing the internet.  Bremmer points out how threats of cyberterrorism forced governments to reconsider their telecommunications as critical infrastructure, which could lead to the integration of communication technology providers increasingly within the realms of the military-industrial complex fraught with secrecy and security.  Below is President Eisenhower and his famous speech on the Military-Industrial Complex.




Conclusion

Bremmer, along with Schmidt and Cohen, demonstrate how communication technology is facilitating the circulation of knowledge among diverse societies and governmental regimes, a process that allows once dominantly held views inherent in the 'Western liberal order' and American Liberalism to be questioned and possibly replaced with local configurations more suited to local needs.  These configurations may not succeed, just as Imperial Russia fell to the rigors of World War I due, in some part, to their inability to secure the allegiance of their diverse population with a definition of citizenry defined in Great Russian ethnic terms.  Yet they will exist, they will be studied, and they will be spread, spurring the development of even greater mutations producing truly varied configurations of ideals like Liberalism.  

While Patrick is mostly correct in his analysis of American needs to engage in multilateralism, his insistence on preservation of the post-World War II liberal order as a condition and qualifier for acceptance of 'emerging powers' into the global order ignores the fact that American Liberalism is far less attractive than it once was and that these rising nations are more than capable, using communication technologies, of reconfiguring Liberalism for their own needs.   

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Videos: Russian Landscape Edition 24 November 2010

I can't believe it, but its below freezing here in Portland.  Now before everyone collectively rolls their eyes I want to add I did live in Kansas for most of my life so I 'm no stranger to cold, wintery expanses of days passing with no hope of any sun or heat beyond that of your space heater (I was a poor student so no central heat for me!), so I know cold.

Inspired by this chilly morning, I present to you summer scenes of Russia and its landscape by Alex Beloff.

First, Saint Petersburg, where I spent my 2005 Summer studying Russian language at the Smolnii Institute.




The Second comes from the Russian countryside of Vyborg, Priozersk, Koporye.




The last video today is the Russian coast.



Makes me eager to return!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekend Reading 19 November 2010

I normally would like to give you only a few articles or texts to read on Friday, as it not only helps increase the chance you will actually read them but also allows me a chance to read ahead of time and provide some guiding commentary.  This week I found quite a few rather nice reading gems and will give you, gasp, more than two choices for your reading pleasure this (if you live in Portland) rainy/maybe snowy weekend.


Ethan Zuckerman's blog, My Heart's in Accra, writes on friend and mentor John Palfrey and his lecture on 'The Path of Legal Information'.  Palfrey argues that the newly emerging digital culture has prompted the emergence of a new form of legal information distribution.  A quote:
The codification of English law began under King Henry II in the 12th century, but a larger second wave of collection came into play with printing in the 16th century, and we began seeing both a collection of law and commentary on laws. A third phase, at the end of the 18th century, came about in part through the work of William Blackstone. Blackstone’s great insight was that these legal books – which could cost a year’s salary – needed to be much cheaper. His inexpensively printed books sold massively in England and in the US.
The fourth phase of legal information comes about with Christopher Columbus Langdell – for whom Harvard’s library is named – who introduced the case system of law. Palfrey suggests we’re now seeing an emergent fifth system, though it’s coming about in desultory fashion.
When a decision comes out, it’s been produced in a digital fashion – that we print it out is an artifact of our current system. We should release this information in an open, interoperable fashion so that we can generate new systems atop the law.
Zuckerman continues to summarize Palfrey's lecture, noting that the next step for the law would be to create a standardized form for digital legal information- thus allowing for enhanced ability to compare laws across legal regimes.  It is an excellent read, both from a digital culture and legal perspective.   


The Chronicle Review has an article by a professional who makes their living on writing academic papers for students at all levels.  When I was a graduate teaching assistant, grading essays became a major souce of my time spent on non-academic work and while I would like to think that I was never 'taken' by a ghost written paper this expose definitely proves it does occur.  A quote:
I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.
You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary.
From the International Journal of Design, an article on the Emotional Value of Distal Contact.  Definitely on the theory side of writing, but one that I feel is important nonetheless as design of distance networks that can effectively tap a persons emotional psyche has tremendous impact on the ultimate form of websites, apps, and future interfaces that will be used to facilitate our participation in a fully digital culture.  Once again, a quote:
But what exactly do we mean by “distance” and “proximity” on the level of an emotional relation? It is certainly not a physical proximity, as is indicated by the possibility of an emotional contact at a distance.
In order to bring clearly into focus the figure of touch that is relevant in the description of emotional relations, our key will paradoxically be precisely this situation of distal contact. The very possibility of “entering into contact” at a distance, using a technical interface, will allow us to bring out the important components of interpersonal contact, and in this way its links with the realm of emotions.
Good stuff.  So that's all for today- I guess three things isn't that much more than two.  Read, share and become better informed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The New, Improved, Fresh Beulah Links!

I know, I know- all two of you were thinking, "Hey, where did Jeremy put all the daily links on his blog?  I need my daily links!"  But the truth, always hard to swallow, is that most people don't want daily links because, really, we are bombarded with links everyday.  So last week or so I decided to group my worthy shareable links for distribution on Thursday- now, instead of eagerly awaiting every day for a few more clicks of internet-inspired bliss, you can just fire up the browser on Thursday and see whats available.  


Also, I changed the banner of the blog in an attempt to bring a little color and design aesthetic to your viewing experience, so if you like it or not let me know in the comments below. 


Time now for......Fresh Beulah Links on 18 November 2010.

From Torrent Freak: A little ditty on the practices of the law firm Davenport Lyons in actively targeting innocent people and accusing them of illegal downloading.  Of course, the firm offered these victims the ability to avoid litigation so long as they paid a fine to the firm directly- which 20%-30% did, even though they were innocent of any charge.  Scummy to the max, this firm is now facing a review from the UK's Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. 


From D-Lib Magazine:  A small intro to a larger project concerning the use of crowd-sourcing in libraries today.  An excerpt:
  When libraries first started delivering digital resources all these social interactions were taken away from users and they simply got an information transaction by downloading content. It has taken libraries a while to realise that users still want more than a simple information transaction and they want the same and more social interactions than they had in the 'pre-digital' days. In our digital library world they want to: review books, share information, add value to our data by adding their own content, add comments and annotations and 'digital post-its' to e-books, correct our data errors, and converse with other users. And now they are telling us they can do even more, they can organise themselves to work together to achieve big goals for libraries and make our information even more accessible, accurate and interesting. Why are we not snapping up this great offer immediately? How and why should we do it?

From CNN Editorial Page: A new action-hero has taken to the streets- Unemployed Man
After his confrontation with Superlotto, Unemployed Man goes on to meet many down-but-not-out heroes in Cape Town, USA, a tent city made of stitched-together capes. Together, this band of heroes for hard times goes on to confront larger and larger economic villains, including The Invisible Hand itself.
From Ars Technica: A nice piece on how we lose scientific data in the digital age.  In my lifetime, (not that long to be sure) i've seen large floppy disks, smaller hard floppy disks, zip drives, usb drives, cd's, DVD's, etc...  To make matters worse, the entire brew ha ha over IP rights and internet security often keeps many scientists from releasing their data at all.  I am all for sharing data among researchers- in History it would help tremendously if one could share documents they have analyzed with a larger audience in a manner more efficient than the footnote.  Tremendous challenge but also opportunity for real innovation in solving this problem.    


And last but not least, from Pro Publica: A story they worked on with Washington Post on the 'Man Behind the Mumbai Attacks'.  Pro Publica is a wonderful news resource and they cover, in-depth, many interesting stories and events that really shape our lives today.  If you don't already have it bookmarked, do so now because it will only help you in the quest to stay informed.


Now that's some links.  Get 'em while they're hot!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Videos

Wednesday Choices, submitted for your approval:


Robocop like you (probably) never saw him before- badass Ramen noodle maker.  (Thanks to my girlfriend for finding this video)



And just so you don't leave the Muse without some dose of American oratorical culture, the Gettysburg Address done in a creative way.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Digital Humanities

The New York Times published an article today dealing with the rise of digital sources in Humanities scholarship, a subject I am passionate about and have written on in this blog.  There are those who see this increasing trend of 'data mining' as just that, a trend, and dismiss such efforts as quantifiably impressive but lacking in qualitative analysis.  Here is a quote from the article that exemplifies this point:
Digital humanities scholars also face a more practical test: What knowledge can they produce that their predecessors could not? “I call it the ‘Where’s the beef?’ question said Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of the Center for New History and Media at George Mason University. 
What amazes me is that this question is being asked at all.  If I told you that the volume of a potential source base will increase to proportions only dreamed about in past generations, would that make you question the validity and applicability of the increase in sources simply because there was an increase?  Scholars who are quick to dismiss these new archives and digital sources are akin to those who upon discovering a back room in an archive refuse to enter the room or view its contents simply because previous knowledge of the room didn't exist.  Another quote to show how this attitude is prevalent in my own profession:
Most humanities professors remain unaware, uninterested or unconvinced that digital humanities has much to offer. Even historians, who have used databases before, have been slow to embrace the trend. Just one of the nearly 300 main panels scheduled for next year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association covers digital matters.
 This is ridiculous!  We finally have the capability to view larger networks of human interaction and thought, and only one panel will even discuss digital sources.  Yet the article goes on to discuss Humanities projects that are using digitization to great effect.  Martin K. Foys, medievalist, undertook a project to bring the Bayeux Tapestry to the digital realm, and his efforts have made this traditionally difficult source to view easily viewable by anyone with interest.  Or take this example:
When the collected published works of Abraham Lincoln were posted online a few years ago, the director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel W. Stowell, said he expected historians to be the most frequent visitors to his project’s site. But he was surprised to discover that the heaviest users were connected to Oxford University Press; editors of the Oxford English Dictionary had been searching the papers to track down the first appearance of particular words.
Bingo- in my post on the Geocities Archive I mentioned that with the increasing nature of available, digitized sources, the 'expertise' of the traditional historian is quickly being surmounted by the efforts of several 'citizen' historians.    I believe we will discover that in-depth knowledge cultivated by professional historians will be degraded to a large extent by the ability of the 'crowd-sourced' model to, over time, produce equally quality interpretation of available sources.  Historians need to step up and take charge in this newly emerging digital humanities, if only to ensure that our work and ideas are fed by the most up-to-date sources.  


I will leave you with a small example of how digital humanities could impact a field near and dear to my own heart- Russian peasant studies.  Recently in Science magazine an article appeared explaining the workings of an online social networking experiment that used an online health community to bring participants in and monitor their networking activities.  They concluded that 'clustered networks', containing several duplicating or reinforcing links, spread information much faster than de-centralized, or random, networks.  This kind of data has relevance today, as everybody knows, because social networking is very hot in terms of user participation and potential advertising targeting.  


But guess what?  This behavior is not new and easily could have been studied by looking at Russian peasant activities in the 19th century during a rent hike or other, similar, social crisis.  My own studies into the Inventory Law Reform of 1848 in the right-bank Ukrainian provinces demonstrated networking behavior in the organization of collective defense, when villagers from several neighboring locales gathered in one village to pressure reform, or spread of rumor, such as the often presented complaint that peasants in other Ukrainian villages paid less in rent or were free from labor obligations.  I would love to have a project that goes through known printed reports on peasant disturbances and maps out the location of disputes, the area of 'collective defense' evidenced by gathering of neighbors, the travel distance and speed of rumors vs. the post, etc...  Digital Humanities could greatly impact Russian scholars interpretation of a group of people often considered backwards and immobile; an interpretation I believe to be largely false and one that could be decisively argued with the introduction of mapping models and digital databases.     


Digital Humanities, for me, is more than a passing fad or trend.  It is the force that will reshape the profession of History and the practice of its craft at a fundamental level.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post on Culinary Carnivale

Yet another great reason to at least check out Twitter- you can sometimes find cool writing offers from other bloggers.  Dhympna du Maurier (@Dhympna) asked if anyone was interested in writing a review of board games for her blog Culinary Carnivale.  I snapped up the opportunity and produced something on Twilight Struggle and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers that was not quite like a review, but still informative as to the games discussed- you can check out my guest post here

Weekend Reading: 12 November 2010

Another Friday and another set of Weekend Readings.  I have two very interesting documents, the first, from the Department of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force, is seeking comments on their look into the relationship between availability and protection of online resources.  I read it last night and found several passages worth highlighting, particularly dealing with copyright infringement.  Here is the list of goals the task force identifies in their request:

By way of this Notice and a follow-on report, the Task Force seeks to identify policies that will: (1) Increase benefits for rights holders of creative works accessible online but not for those who infringe on those rights; (2) maintain robust information flows that facilitate innovation and growth of the Internet economy; and (3) at the same time, safeguard end-user interests in freedom of expression, due process, and privacy. 
While the document does seem bent towards greater protection and enlargement of intellectual property rights, there are some areas of concern regarding peer usage of materials to create new culture that could allow one to articulate a more progressive vision of future source use.  They are taking comments for another seven days, ending on 19 November, and the document is not long- only six pages- so give it a read and send some comments Commerce's way.

The second document is a white paper drafted by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy titled 'Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age'.  Here is a quote from the introduction of the report:
The information revolution is benefiting those in the middle class and up and, in a different way, many young residents of urban and suburban communities. They have never had greater access to more relevant information. But many Americans are in danger of remaining or becoming second-class citizens in the digital age, whether because of low income, language barriers, lack of access to technology, limited skills and training, community norms, or lack of personal motivation.  The poor, the elderly, rural and small town residents, and some young people are most at risk. Those who belong to more than one of these groups are especially vulnerable. To take perhaps the most dramatic example of an enduring divide: “Only sixty-eight percent of households on Tribal lands have a telephone; only eight Tribes own and operate telephone companies; and broadband penetration on Indian lands is estimated at less than ten percent.”
This is an increasingly important issue, as America is significantly lagging behind other developed nations in terms of the level of internet access provided and the availability for a wide range of people to actually interact with the network.  The digitization of our knowledge production efforts and the increasing movement of culture to the online realm certainly will leave those populations who live outside of major urban centers in the dust of an ever faster moving society.  I have written on this blog the need for Historians to become more engaged with the larger public regarding their use of digital sources- perhaps this is another area our profession can help contribute to, especially if it fosters the development and recognition of a larger commitment to reasonable, open access to information streams.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Video picks & some changes to Peasant Muse

I really enjoyed posting some videos last wednesday, so I think i'll make Wednesday my 'video' day on the blog.  I've also decided to group my 'Fresh Beulah Links' and post them once a week, maybe Monday or perhaps Thursday, mainly because I was tired of only saying 'hey I have new links today!' when I think most people care to read more in depth stuff.  I am working on new posts, but I have some nice videos to share with you today- including one I made myself.


Lets start with someone who is actually known to the larger world, Lawrence Lessig.  Lessig is one of those names you should definitely know, as he is one of the most outspoken advocates for reform of our copyright system in order to allow for greater ability to share and create new culture.  He has released his books for free on his website and makes his lecture publicly available on blip.tv which is where i'm grabbed today's video.  Here is his talk at a conference in Geneva on "Facilitating Access to Culture in the Digital Age":




The other video I want to share today is one I made yesterday.  I'm a super nerd when it comes to board games, and I recently received my copy of GMT Games' Labyrinth in the mail.  Since I prowl the forums on boardgamegeek.com, I knew that I was among the first wave to actually receive my copy so I decided to make an uboxing video!  I plan on using the same techniques that I used in analyzing Twilight Struggle and hope to have a more in depth review ready sometime next week.  Speaking of Twilight Struggle, I am working on my third post in the 'Boardgames as Complex Cultural Artifacts' series and should have that up soon.  But, enough rambling- here I am (well voice only) unboxing Labyrinth.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fresh Beulah Links- 9 November 2010

Oh yes, another rainy day in Portland that would perhaps make me glum were it not for the excellent coffee and public computer access provided at the oh so awesome Beulahland.  I am a big believer in having a coffee shop/diner to escape to, especially when you need to get some work done.  So, without much ado, I present the daily links:

The Open University released 100 new titles, for free download, on the ItunesU website.  This availability of information not only increases the opportunity for inquisitive minds to learn and engage but also just might push regular textbook producers into pursuing similar techniques for multi-media learning now at the core of the Open University texts.  A quote:
“For example, if you are looking at a course on genetics, as you read the narrative the embedded audio and video illustrate key points as you go along, and if you are learning about Schubert’s Lieder, with an OU e-book it’s easy, you can hear the music as you follow the score. This really helps to bring subjects to life and simplifies things for students, as you don’t have to be online or carry lots of different materials."
From the New York Review of Books website, a response to Harvard librarian Robert Darnton's call for a 'National Digital Library' and elaboration of just what a 'digital library' would look like.  A quote from Darnton:
If I could unvex the question of copyright, I would gladly do so, but heads wiser than mine have beaten themselves against it, to no avail. Nonetheless, I can assure Tony Simpson that the National Digital Library I propose would not violate copyright. It would be built incrementally, beginning with the digital files of books in the public domain, about two million works. To them, one could add all noncopyrighted material digitized from the special collections of libraries and museums.
Further ingredients could come from collections that have already been aggregated from networks of databases such as the National Digital Newspaper Program, Digital Collections and Content, Opening History, the National Science Digital Library, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Taken together, these sources represent many millions of items, and they might be supplemented by the still larger holdings of HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and PublicResource.Org.
The goal of a 'universal library' has been a dream of those who treasure such a collection of knowledge since the days of Gutenberg- so while I, too, desire to see a 'digital library' I also know this has been a goal for many decades, even centuries, and I don't expect a solution to arise anytime soon.  Still, good to see a practical elaboration of what such a digital library could look like.

And, to end, a little video about one of the awesome performers in the Big Apple Circus, now being explored in PBS's 'Circus'- this is the wire dancer from Germany and she rocks.  Check out the show on PBS or watch episodes online at pbs.org.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fresh Beulah Links- 8 November 2010

Hope everyone enjoyed their extra hour of sleep- I know I would have, had my dogs not been so keen to wake up at their 'regular' time.  Dogs. But I did enjoy the weekend, reading my newly arrived copy of Foreign Affairs and making time for a nice Saturday hike to Ramona Falls.  Thanks to that soul-charging hike and a lazy Sunday, I am fully pale, tested, and ready to give you your fresh Beulah links for today:

From @bookbench: Where have all the eccentric academics gone?  Robert Klose, writing for Inside Higher Ed, laments that the academic profession is sorely lacking in quality, memorable, and eccentric professors.  Klose points to a larger shift in higher ed towards 'business' and becoming marketable, (he quotes a poster "Students are our customers!") as one of the primary causes of less eccentric practicioners.  With the rise of the buzzword 'institutional fit', candidates are, more and more, seeking to be a normalized, down to earth professors in their job pursuits.  A quote from the article:
I have heard it said that nostalgia is a form of protest. And I suppose it is, because I feel a longing for something I once had and that I now miss. I realize that one cannot hire a new professor because he or she is eccentric, but what’s sad is that hiring committees no longer overlook eccentricity in their constant striving for institutional fit. Perhaps this is because eccentricity has become conflated with liability
I, for one, qualify myself as an eccentric so lets hope this trend abates before I go looking for a job.

From @henryjenkins: An interview with Rhianon Bury on the issue of fandom and discourses on gender, race, and sexuality found in fandom products- specifically comments made on discussion boards, where Bury noted the effect of 'textual gamekeepers' on shaping the 'narrative' found in discussion threads.  A quote:
My later analysis of the posts for the episodes of Season 4 (of Six Feet Under) revealed a remarkable pattern of interaction around every storyline in which David expressed explicit gay desire (e.g., giving a blowjob to a plumber in the funeral home; having sex with Sarge, a man he and Keith had picked up and played with after a paintball tournament). First the man-on-man sex scenes were flagged as "excessive," with negative references made to Queer as Folk. These were followed by complaints that David's expression of desire was out of character or morally questionable, and finally by complaints that there was too much "gayness" on television in general.
Of course not all fans responded this way but even the well-meaning comments made in defense of David's actions served to erase his identity as a gay man. I described these fans as textual gamekeepers. Unlike the slash fiction writers who poach by queering the characters that have been written by the producers as straight, these fans "straightened out" the gay storylines. I bet there's a whole lot more textual gamekeeping going on in fandom that has yet to be uncovered.
This is part two of the interview, which is a very cool read.

Finally, Evernote released the much improved version 2.0 of their Android app- I use Evernote everyday to keep tabs on posts I like or stuff I want to talk about on this blog.  If you have a smartphone, get a free account and download the app- it has helped me tremendously in this online data drowning world.

Okay- time to eat breakfast. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekend Reading

Another Friday, another installment of Weekend Reading.  To be honest, there are just so may interesting pdf's and text files out there it's hard to pick a few- but, of course, Twitter comes to the rescue and provides two worthy candidates you will, perhaps, judge worthy to be selected for your weekend reading.

From Read Write Web, The Age of Exabytes, on a topic I posted about yesterday, that being the current need to have tools capable of sorting through large data sets and producing useful information in a real-time demand situation.  Clearly something we need to contend with, as the daily amount of data stored and accumulated grows substantially every year.

Twitter is very useful to not only stay on top of news and events, but also to become aware of some very cool offers made by companies, individuals, and even university presses.  Did you know that the University of Chicago University Press makes one book of their collection every month available for free e-book download?  I didn't until receiving a tweet informing me that Deirdre McCloskey's book The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, was this month's offered download.  A revisionist approach to economic development of the west, it looks like a fascinating read, especially for free.

And, while not a text, this article from Phillip Barron on 'Inside Higher Ed' closely parallels the argument I made yesterday on my post about the Geocities Archive and its potential impact on 'professional' historians.  To quote Mr. Barron:
Detecting patterns, interpreting symbolism, and analyzing logical inconsistencies in text are all techniques used in humanities scholarship. Perhaps the digital humanities' greatest gift to the humanities can be the ability to invest a generation of "users" in the techniques and practiced meticulous attention to detail required to become a scholar.
I agree.  Historians can lead the way in this regard as the increasing amount of digital archives brings more people in the act of producing historical knowledge.  To quote (maybe paraphrase, been a while since I read it) Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid."

Thats all for today- enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Geocities and the Digital Archive Potential

Courtesy of Paul Townsend
The rapid and progressing digitization of our daily life, a process that is still reconfiguring relationships between culture and the individual, brings new questions and concerns to the practice of history.  While reading Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks, I was struck at how the model for old media distribution paralleled that of the traditional role historians played in the production of knowledge in our larger culture.  In old media, when a newsworthy source arose to the level of public concern it was often presented in a format that relied upon the faith of the viewer to trust in the summary produced, an example being the mainstream networks coverage of the Vietnam war.  Out of countless images and racks of video, network editors would select choice examples and present those pieces as the central discussion point; there was little room for viewer desires of alternatives outside that of the editorial selections for mass consumption.

In many ways, the practice of history continues to follow this same production model.  Archives are vast, expansive, full of narrative potential that is realized only through survey and exhumation, often requiring a trained professional to make sense of the written cacophony.  Like editors of old media, historians sift through hundreds of documents in order to select a few texts representative of the theme they pursue.  These themes turned narratives are then distributed via 'containers', books, journal articles, lectures, etc. in a manner that both reinforces and certifies the role of the historian in knowledge making and cultural production.  So long as the archives continued to be physical, geographically distributed, and organized in such a manner that significant time was required to plumb their depths, historians could continue to remain secure in their role as gatekeeper to the past.

However, just as digitization of news media threatens the 'certified' position of journalists, the same too is happening with historians.  It is a slower process, to be sure, as history does not rely upon production of up-to-the-minute information to remain relevant, but it is happening.  The crux of the problem is that as digital archives become more prevalent, the incumbent threshold of specialized knowledge required to sift their contents drops to the level of casual interest.  While a person may still seek out produced, authoritative historical works, their reliance upon the evidence selected and presented is greatly diminished with the availability of searchable digital archives.  Just as the discipline of journalism  debates the rise and role of 'citizen' journalists, so too must the historical profession contend with a similar rise and role of 'citizen' historians as the digitization of source materials becomes more available.

This is not to say I abhor the presence of 'citizen' historians.  Quite the contrary, I see the rise of participation in the production of historical knowledge a significan event that demands our attention and support.  However, as is the case with any participatory relationship, their arises the question of veracity and reliability of product produced, especially when using digital sources.  Take the example of the Virginian history textbook for fourth graders found to contain falsehoods perpetrated on the misuse of digital sources.  James Grossman, writing for the American Historical Association blog Historians.org, states that concern over the elementary school textbook goes beyond mear protection of professional turf and, instead, addresses a more fundamental issue of providing good models of proper digital source evaluation and use in historical research.  Not only do I agree, but further suggest that Grossman's statement could be one avenue historians should take to help redefine their role in an increasing digital culture.  Let me explain what I mean through discussion of the recently debuted Geocities Archive.



Thanks Wayback Machine- Geocities 1996, 1998, & 2000, respectfully

Geocities, an early web hosting site running from 1994-2009, had, for all practical purposes, been erased when Yahoo! decided to terminate the service in October of its final year.  I say had, because a group of like-minded individuals, Archive Team and others, began the process of copying the Geocities holdings prior to the announced shutdown.  While the total percent of archived webpages remains unknown, (Yahoo! has not released figure the various groups could use to check against their numbers) Archive Team felt that the efforts of all successfully saved a large portion of the Geocities contents.  Having compressed the files into a roughly 650 GB file, the group made the archive publicly available via BitTorent.

Why the concern?  Because of the relatively early life of the domain into the, then, emerging world wide web and its sustained popularity over its fifteen year lifespan, Geocities hosted sites amounted to a historical documentation of internet evolution in the cultural sphere.  An apt metaphor might be possessing recordings of the first radio broadcasts from across America and even the world.  Actually, this is stretching it a bit as Geocities did not host the entire web, yet its contents, nonetheless, were a snapshot of emerging digital culture.  As such, the released archive has the potential for several creative uses but only if the disparate information contained within can be intelligibly comprehended.  I believe two recent examples provide models for how we might begin to understand such data.

The first comes from a recent analysis of the Russian blogosphere by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.  Looking at a 'discussion core' of over 11,000 blogs, the researchers first analyzed the network of hyperlinks to generate a structural image of the data, then looked at where 'clusters' developed in the image to analyze concerns and viewpoints on politics and political affairs expressed there.  The result is a color coded figure "analogous to an fMRI of the social mind," (page 12 of report) that allowed researchers to clearly visualize public discourse occurring within the Russian blogosphere.  They discovered that Russian blogs generally were less 'siloed' in interest and less susceptible to an 'echo chamber' effect, containing a richer depth of cross-cutting debate than found in comparable systems in the US.  On the left are two illustrative examples from the report- the Russian blogosphere is on top and the United States on bottom.  Notice how the US picture depicts more divided clusters than the Russian picture does.

What if the same analysis was performed on the Geocities Archive?  Granted, the contents go beyond blog format, yet similar hyperlink analysis could be undertaken ultimately producing a dataset of network composition similar to that used by the Berkman study.  Even if the picture is hindered by an incomplete archive it could still produce a very useful baseline against which future findings compare themselves.  Not only that, but the themes of conversations/links archived could yield insight into the concerns of the public discourse for the period studied.  This could fill in background on historical moments, a way to measure the chatter leading up to a pivotal event.  As the Berkman study concludes, "there are far more questions about the impact of the Internet on collective action than there are answers."  Research on the Geocities Archive could help provide some of those answers.

Iraq War: A Wikipedia Historiography
The second example, a compilation of the changes made to the wikipedia entry on the Iraq War from 2004-2009, provides another avenue for research for the Geocities Archive.  James Bridle, who printed and bound the changes into a twelve volume set, commented on the neccessity for a discussion on history in our digital age, or, more precisely, historiography of digital sources.  His example of the changes made over the five years on the Iraq War wikipedia entry show how culture and digital sources are beginning to co-exist in an extensive manner, with particular sources reflecting public discourse through mutations of their form and content.  This change over time in both source material and public attitude falls squarely in the concerns pursued by professional historians, yet the Iraq War wikipedia entry is radically unlike physical archives in that the location of the 'documents' are not archived in one spot and require only a web browser and some idle time to view their contents.

For Bridle, the Iraq entry represents our current capacity to store digital culture but only if we are aware that viewing such an archive is viewing history in process, a means by which our culture could, in the words of Bridle, "talk about historiography, to surface this process, to challenge absolutist narratives of the past, and thus, those of the present and or future."  It is all too easy to lose these digital sources, to simply hit delete and obliterate the incorporeal form of peoples thoughts, words, and expressions captured on something as potentially mundane as a personal journal or collection of midi files; yet the ease of elimination belies the larger damage done to our potential for reflection and evaluation of these sources. 

This is where the Iraq wikipedia entry lends light to another use of the Geocities Archive, that being a means to examine the process of change inherent to the circulation of ideas.  Lines of logic could be traced over time to track their development, design standards of webpages could be compared and analyzed much like architecture, and distribution of information and its pliability in use could be analyzed, just to name a few speculative ideas.  Clearly, as the examples of the Russian Blogosphere and Iraq War wikipedia entries demonstrate, there are several reasons for wanting to preserve and study a digital source base like the Geocities Archive.  Having established relevancy, the question then becomes how to go about cataloguing and sifting the archive for ease of access and analysis.  Again, two examples from both Yochai Benkler and the recently released Wikileaks Iraq War logs assist in formulating an answer.   

From this....
Benkler is credited for coming up with the phrase 'peer production' to describe the phenomena of culture creation happening at the center of the developing information economy, now rooted in several developed Western nations.  This blog is one example of 'peer production', and Wikipedia is another.  As Benkler noted in The Wealth of Nations, the internet and relative cheap cost of excess microprocessing power enabled individuals of varying groups and beliefs to come together and not only consume culture but also produce it.  In particular, Benkler highlights ways in which 'peer production' can assist in performing large data analysis tasks, so long as those tasks are broken up into a finely-grained process   allowing for quick, but concentrated, interpretation.  This process is embodied in the recent release of the Iraq War Logs by Wikileaks.  

...to this!
Having previously released a straight 'dump' of around 70,000 documents relating to the war in Afganistan in the late summer of 2010, officials at Wikileaks sought to make the larger Iraq War logs release (around 400,000 documents) more accessible to those interested in reading the documents, be it for personal interest or research.  The result was two, separate webpages; the Iraq War Diary Dig and War Logs.  Both pages allow for 'peer production' of knowledge based on the document archive, the only difference being the Diary Dig allows for very specific document searches capable of using sophisticated filters to sift the contents, while the War Logs acts more like a social networking platform for discovery, allowing users to create an account, search for documents and then tag those documents for others to easily view and comment on.  In this way, users no longer have to rely upon major media outlets to sort and prioritize the information, they can do so for themselves.  With a robust searching and comment approach that allows for scalability of user interest (I could look at one document and comment, or I could look at thousands and keep tabs using my login account), Wikileaks ensured that the Iraq War Logs, an archive that is daunting in its composition, volume and documentation, would become something that average people could use and share with others and ultimately become a major source of reflection on a conflict that, so far, defines America's policy in the 21st century.   

The same techniques and approaches should be used on the Geocities Archive.  Preliminary sorting of the data could chronologically order the webpages, so that a user could focus on a particular year or grouping of years.  Users could then view the pages in their search selection and perform a tagging feature akin (albeit in a more narrow scope) to the process used by Pandora and the Music Genome Project.  Does the page have multi-media?  Are the contents political or personal or themed?  What is the structure of the webpage?  By allowing for redundancy of pages viewed and a growing list of relevant tags, 'peer production' could help bring the Geocities Archives into a more manageable form.  If maximum exposure is desired, then finding a way to make a mobile phone application to maybe verify tags or view pages in their own right would certainly help make the task more granular and less demanding on time required.  There are several paths to go down in using this archive, and I mention these few only as a means to jumpstart the conversation on what could be done.  

To bring the conversation back to my opening statement, the Geocities Archive represents a potential moment for historians to take the lead in defining their role in our increasingly digitized culture.  The efforts to catalogue and produce meaning from this data should not come exclusively from historians but should instead be lead by them.  As noted with the Virginia history textbook, the issue is not protection of turf but instead to promote an instructive model for how research and use of digital sources should be implemented.  If the profession fails to take charge on establishing this role, then their relevance in the knowledge making of digital culture will slowly diminish and, perhaps, become seemingly irrelevant to a large amount of participants in that culture.  This means, increasingly, that historians need to come equipped not only with familiarity of these newly emerging digital archives, but also the programming knowhow to create tools allowing for mass participation in sorting their contents in a manageable, productive way.  

Of course, the practice of history will continue regardless of the status of professional historians, yet I truly believe that 'professional' historians can serve the larger efforts of 'citizen' historians by demonstrating proper models of research and attribution in our increasing digital culture.  The Geocities Archive is just one potential source-base, but one I feel could prove to be a valuable testing ground for the development of future techniques.

(Authors Note: There is a post-script to this essay on analyzing one million syllabi collected online.)      

Fresh Beulah Links- 4 November 2010

So this post is actually being typed on the Beulahland public computer, a stalwart defender of strangers ability to look up random stuff online.  I have, yet again, a few good links to share and want the two followers (and countless lurkers, no doubt) of this blog to know that my post on the Geocities Archive is almost finished and will be posted today.  It's a doozy, and by doozy I mean awesome and somewhat longer than I expected.  Keep taps on Facebook/Twitter to know when I finally post the, um, post.

From @brainpicker: The CIA used modern art as one weapon among many against the cold, heartless, and uncreative Soviet Union.  (And the two fans of socialist realism go nuts)  So crazy it's true, as the CIA wanted to push the freedom-loving, open & creative image of America, especially against the backdrop of the Red Scare then circulating through American culture.  Will never look at a Rothko the same way again...

Have a burning desire to read John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' and support free, online education?  Look no further than the Virtual Philosopher.  Lots of interesting links here, plenty for an aspiring liberal theorist to take on.  

Finally, as tweeted by @jayrosen_nyu, turns out the newly elected Republican house majority has already planned to hold hearings on the 'fraudulent' science of climate change.  The author of the article states that such hearings are not necessarily bad and in fact could provide avenue to defend climate change.  Well, I think such hearings are just a means to get some press and sound-bytes to rev up the base that is looking for action now.  What an interesting two years it will be.

Okay gotta make room for others who need to get their internet fix.  Weekend Reading is tomorrow and I have a few choice texts to share.