October 2006

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Stunning article.

The last paragraph:

The New York Review of Books: A Country Ruled by Faith
There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.

So, I couldn’t help myself and googled my recent ASIS&T Bulletin Article, and I’m awfully gratified to see people reading it, in spite of its hideous length, and really thinking and talking about it. Makes me want to have a dinner party, give them some wine and gyoza, and sit back and listen to them discuss this stuff, because they obviously have a lot of great knowledge to add to the conversation.

My favorite line out of all of them comes from the blog pie and aphasia: “I always avoided online gaming communities for the same reasons I avoid tiramisu and heroin. I am afraid I would like them, and then where would I be?”

Another post at “Any World” blog, called ““A new metaphor?”, brings up some fascinating connections like this:

This interactive mingling of stuff and information is important, reminiscent of early man’s use of words to order the universe, giving things meaning beyond their simple existence and providing humans with an abstract perspective on the world.

Note: I need to look up the stuff mentioned in that post like Johan Huizinga and Chris Crawford.

And perhaps most flattering of all, this post lumps my writing in with the excellent games studies work by James Paul Gee. I think it’s just because my article was assigned at the same time to a class or something, but I’ll take the compliment anyway :-)

I was looking for the verification of a quotation from Billy Graham (evidently it was in a David Frost interview in 1997) where he says, “We’re not a Christian Country. We’ve never been a Christian Country. We’re a secular Country, by our constitution. In which Christians live and which many Christians have a voice. But we’re not a Christian Country.” (Originally saw the quote over at Andrew Sullivan.)

And in looking, I ran across various mentions of Billy Graham and how his articulation of his faith has evolved over the last 10 years or so. Among them I found the page linked below, and its ensuing comments, where a certain Rev Josh Buice derides Graham for not having frozen his faith in amber at the age of 20 and kept it there until death. (I wonder which servant Buice would praise in Jesus’ parable of the talents, since Jesus didn’t seem to have much truck with the servant who buried the sum entrusted to him in the earth so as to avoid all risk…)

He maligns Graham as an apostate, doddering and weakening in his faith. This seems, to me, the absolute height of self-righteousness, that one might not learn a subtle lesson from someone he professes to be a lifelong ‘hero.’ It makes me wonder if he ever learned anything from Graham earlier, or if he just saw what he wanted to see in him?

The post and discussion are here: When a Hero Falls.

Here’s the ironic and funny part to me: the post is essentially an inerrantist making a statement on the motivation, meaning and intent of the statements Graham made in an interview with Newsweek back in the summer. Basically, he’s looking at a text, interpreting what he thinks Graham means by it, and reacting to that.

I think, personally, he gets Graham all wrong on this, but I can see how he’d read what he sees into it — but of course I would since I’m not an inerrantist and I think human beings read their own meanings into texts all the time. We can’t help it. It’s baked into how we process communication. Human language is as flawed as humanity, and our own mental processes are as unique and varied as we are as individuals — it’s simply impossible for everyone to understand a single text in exactly the same way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have conversations about coming to shared understandings, but it does mean we can’t measure that kind of meaning the way we measure drill bits and shirt buttons.

Anyway, what then ensues is a debate among a bunch of people (who essentially agree with each other on inerrancy in general) over the various ways in which to interpret Graham’s apparent dismissal of inerrancy. It seems to me that the fact of their disagreement is itself proof against their assumption.

Well, I thought it was funny. Then I realized: these are real people, and they actually believe the tripe they’re typing. And they’re willing to essentially excommunicate Billy Graham for saying these things, and at least ignore him and be undeterred by his newfound understanding of the subtleties and complexities of scripture.

It’s that attitude I find horrific: the arrogance and dogmatic self-righteousness that says, “My faith is a good faith if it remains untouched, unchanged.” Because they really do believe that faith is equivalent to a list of codified ‘beliefs.’ When, to my thinking, any list of codified beliefs is essentially idolatry — a graven image not of a god’s face but of human words worshipped in place of the god they supposedly point to.

If these guys check their Gospels carefully, I think they’ll find a Jesus who reserved his most vitriolic condemnation (what little there was of it) for the self-righteous, those who judged others without looking hard at themselves, those who would have contempt at best and condemnation at worst, for those of a different point of view or place in life.

[Edited to add: yet more irony from the inerrantist camp — Albert Mohler, itching to further dismiss Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, gleefully quotes at length from a review written by Terry Eagleton in The London Review of Books. I guess Mohler has no qualms swallowing the opinions of a Marxist literary theorist as long as they’re in the service of discrediting another heretic.]

I must seem Second-Life obsessed… there really are other things going on in my life. (Getting over a horrible horrible cold, for one.)

But this seems to be the week of Second Life. They just hit a million registered users … and their media coverage has hit the tipping point. It’ll be amazing if they really have the hardware to keep up.

I had the pleasure of going to a big-time media event last night. The W Hotels company was promoting their Virtual Aloft hotel prototype thing, and it was in partership with Sony promoting Ben Folds’ new album. I lucked into a ticket in their ‘lottery’ and got to go chill on the new Aloft island (and the new Sony Media island). Apparently only about 60 people were able to go (mainly because of limits on how many avatars a given ‘sim’ or region in SL can handle at a time).

At first there was dancing to your basic dance stuff, and then Ben Folds showed up and they played music from his new album. He didn’t perform it or anything, he just introduced songs and danced with us. They had some sound issues here and there, but he was a blast — he really got into the zaniness of having an avatar that allows you to do whatever you want. (Like run around shirtless with a can of Duff beer, falling all over the floor, then attacking people with a lightsaber.)

We all got to give questions to a guy beforehand that he’d ask him (they were doing the interview live at Sony BMG in NY and streaming it). Since I kept telling myself I wished my kid could see this, I put one in that I thought my daughter might ask — who is Ben’s favorite character in Over the Hedge, the movie he did the soundtrack to. Turns out it’s Hammy :-)

ben folds secondlife 1 Ben Folds on stage Ben folds with lightsabre
Pictures (click for the big version): First one shows Ben Folds on stage greeting everyone, and me in the bottom left evidently pretending I’m a bouncer or something. Second one is a closer look at BF. Third is BF after some partying, having ‘slain’ a fan with a lightsaber somebody handed him.

What’s very strange to me about all this is that it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re really there. The avatar eventually blends into your sense of self in a powerful way, and it’s like you really did ‘go’ to an event like this.

More SL related stuff:

The Infinite Mind public radio program has had a series going on:

The Infinite Mind programs
We here at The Infinite Mind relished the opportunity to enter the 3D arena of virtual technology and within eight weeks had constructed our own 16 acre virtual broadcast center in Second Life. From our virtual studios we went on to produce live broadcasts with guests including author Kurt Vonnegut; singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega; internet visionary Howard Rheingold; and world-renowned designer John Maeda, of the MIT Media Lab, along with others who plan, build, live, work and play in on-line “virtual worlds.” The series was taped for broadcast, in front of a live audience, from inside The Infinite Mind’s virtual studios and broadcast center on Second Life.

I haven’t heard it, but I’ll listen to the podcasts (hm, I’m not sure if they have them though).

To support Suzanne Vega’s visit, they got an SL resident to construct a beautiful guitar model for her that will supposedly help her look as if she’s really playing it along with her performance. Here’s a pretty amazing video of the guy building it in-world … I suspect this is tricked out animation wise, because I can’t see that he could possibly build that fast, no matter how good he is. Still… it’s very pretty to watch: http://secondlife.com/showcase/ (that may not work later, when another showcase item is up, and they didn’t have a permalink… but you should be able to see the Quicktime version here.)

First of all, there’s the 3D meta world about Shakespeare that it’s giving a quarter million to Ed Castronova to develop:

Shakespeare coming to a virtual world | CNET News.com
On Thursday, the MacArthur Foundation is [announced] a $240,000 grant to Castronova and his team to build “Arden: The World of Shakespeare,” a massively multiplayer online game, or MMO, built entirely around the plays of the Bard.

But that’s the tip of the icebert. The MacArthur Foundation has gone whole hog on digital learning (and it’s a $50 million hog), with a significant focus on virtual environments and games as an ‘ecology.

Just a quick mention here, as if I need to add another blog link to the hype, that Popular Science has an in-depth article about Second Life — add that to the other articles recently in Wired and elsewhere).

Also, Reuters now has a news feed dedicated to Second Life. Here’s the LINK. Interestingly, their first big story is about Congress launching a “probe into virtual economies” — get ready for your pose-balls and chain mail to show up on your IRS long form.

I’m not a huge fan of hype, really, though I get caught up in it like anybody. I have qualms about Second Life, though.

I’m not going to go into depth right now, but my qualms include the way Linden Labs’ head Philip Rosedale seems to have very idealistic ideas about what SL is and can be (another Web! just like Burning Man!).

Rosedale doesn’t seem to get that the Web and Burning Man weren’t and aren’t owned by a single company, and that they grew in cultures of (mainly) free sharing of ideas, experiences and knowledge. But, since it has had a ‘real’ economy that exchanges with real dollars, in Second Life you can hardly get anyone to share a decent teleport script or clothing texture without being charged money for it.

My hat’s off to their efforts, but I hope nobody’s planning to do anything mission-critical in SL just yet, if for no other reason than it’s highly unstable. Maybe that’s a necessity — but the hype isn’t acknowledging the downsides.

Still … I’ll probably be in there again at some point this week, figuring out how to make things float, talk and look cool. *sigh*

I’m a big believer that money talks and bs walks. I used to be more idealistic: that money wasn’t everything, and that (outside of very healthy friendships and family relationships) how someone values you wasn’t necessarily dependent on the money they were willing to give you or trust you with.

But the older I get, the more I believe that unless someone is willing to put up, they should shut up. This goes for employers, for example: they can talk all they want about how great a place theirs is to work and how much they want your talent. But if they aren’t willing to pay the price for your talent, they don’t value it as much as they say.

The same goes for talk about political “values” stuff. Which points to what I think is the Bush administration’s biggest lie exposed in David Kuo‘s book “Tempting Faith.”

Kuo is coming under massive fire from all fronts, including the supposedly ‘liberal’ media. Personally, I believe the guy when he says that he really wanted to believe in the administration, and was disillusioned by the machinations he found within. He keeps trying to tell people that this isn’t a gossip book, but a memoir reflecting on what it meant for him to mix faith and politics and to grapple with that question.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I keep hearing things about it, like this post on Faithful Democrats that explains how the administration, while it wouldn’t shut up, definitely didn’t “put up.”

Faithful Democrats – Slings and Arrows

When it came time to send the budget up to Capitol Hill, however, “those charity tax credits weren’t listed by the White House as must-haves,” writes Kuo, so they were left out. Senator Charles Grassley put them back into the Senate version, because “he assumed that the White House had omitted the charity provisions by oversight.” Alas, no. During negotiations over the final budget bill, Bush’s chief congressional liaison told Grassley “to get rid of the charity tax credits….The White House didn’t want them anymore.”

To make things even worse, the tax credits were bumped aside in order to make room for elimination of the estate tax. One popular way of getting around the estate tax for many wealthy individuals has been to donate money to charities and write off the gift. Eliminating the estate tax not only prevented $16 billion of new giving from being stimulated, but it cost more than $5 billion per year in charitable giving by those wealthy Americans who could keep their money to themselves now.

I wonder where, in the Gospels, Jesus says to take promised money from the poor and give it to the rich — and to do so in a way which discourages the rich from giving to the poor either?

I’m pretty sure it’s not in there. Neither is any mention of homosexuality — and yet the Republicans have managed to galvanize such fear of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular over the last eight years, they’ve had scared Americans voting in droves.

I suppose championing the poor with your dollars and not just your mouth doesn’t motivate people to vote?

Edited to add: Here’s a good interview with Kuo at Newsweek. In it he says the following, which I think sounds very sensible, and like the kind of thing Christians I’ve looked up to all my life would say:

The Christian political leaders have been seduced. If you look at their comments that they know what they’re doing, I’m not quite sure how to read that—is it wonderful or a little troubling? That’s one of the reasons I call for this fast from politics. I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t vote, which is going around on Christian talk radio. But for a period—I personally think it should take two years from after this election to the presidential election—evangelical Christians should take a fast from giving their money to political causes and from giving much of their time as well. Take that money that is currently fueling all those wonderful hate-filled ads, the hundreds of millions being spent, and spend that money on the poor and inner-city kids. Instead of spending time lobbying, spend your time with your neighbor, saying love your neighbor as yourself.

How can you argue with that?

Google now has spreadsheets and documents (from Writely) combined… and awesome Discussion and Collaboration capabilities baked right in.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

A combined list of documents and spreadsheets
You can see, create, and share all of your web-based documents and spreadsheets in one place. As your collection grows, you can manage and find them using tags, stars, and searches.

SL old-timers are already getting antsy about all this branding happening in-world. But it’s part of the deal, really.
What I’d like to see? Advertising from big brands and corporations supplementing the more or less free activity of others — allowing regular people to be able to have more objects on their land, for example. Watch me not hold my breath.

Adweek Magazine In Print – Advertising News – Advertising Information

Last week, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s virtual office, created by the agency’s London headquarters and London production company Rivers Run Red, was officially up and running. And Leo Burnett Worldwide and its marketing-services partner Arc Worldwide are developing an “ideas hub” in Second Life that is expected to be operational by next month. Both agencies expect their virtual offices to offer both private and public spaces, and see the possibilities for client and agency involvement as “limitless.”

Thanks E, for the link!

Two remarkable things get said in the recent Boing-Boing post Disney exec: Piracy is just a business model

First, Disney’s co-exec chair admits they’ve had an enlightened paradigm shift on piracy:

We understand now that piracy is a business model,” said Sweeney, twice voted Hollywood’s most powerful woman by the Hollywood Reporter. “It exists to serve a need in the market for consumers who want TV content on demand. Pirates compete the same way we do – through quality, price and availability. We we don’t like the model but we realise it’s competitive enough to make it a major competitor going forward

Pretty amazing that. The fact that they realize this isn’t so much criminal activity as it is the collective effort of its customers emerging as a competitive entity that routes around the impediments of traditional media delivery.

But evidently she also said Disney’s strategy is primarily about content because “content drives everything else.” And Cory Doctorow (who posted this at BB) makes a stellar point:

Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

I love that… he nails it.

For example, American Idol’s content isn’t what makes it a sensation — it’s the fact that it inspires conversations among people. It’s set up as a participatory exercise — regular people competing, and regular people voting. The same with sports, serial drama television and even video games. Content can be engineered to be more or less conducive to conversation — and I guess in that way it ‘drives everything else’ — but that has as much to do with the nuances of delivery (the ‘architecture’ of the content, if you will) as it does with the content itself.

And in that sense, you could see piracy as not only a business model, but another form of discourse. Piracy is a sort of conversation — people share things because they’re seeking social capital, influence, validation, or even just shared communal experience.

HBS prof and Enterprise 2.0 thinker/blogger Andrew McAfee back in July, commenting on the implications of people being fired for what they say on personal blogs or otherwise (as in the Axsmith case).
Andrew McAfee

Smart organizations will accept and embrace the fact that Enterprise 2.0 tools will be used to voice dissent within the community. And they’ll realize that this is more than just OK; it’s important.

Let’s close this post with a quote from Theordore Roosevelt, who wrote about dissent and the American President in a 1918 Kansas City Star editorial:

“… it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

I’d love to hear a presidential candidate quote that in the coming months.

Jordan Frank, at Traction Software (something I just saw demoed recently and found really impressive) makes a point on their blog about how Wikipedia isn’t strictly speaking a “bottom up” emergent entity, but the result of carefully considered guidelines, standards, roles and other governance that is still being refined.
Best Practice and the Wikipedia Big Brain

Collectively, there are a set of rules that govern what can be done in this wiki and people who manage the structure through the list of possible categories and who enforce the rules, though sometimes with differing philosophy, but all with common governance.

My thought is that these things he’s describing are, in large part, the information architecture of this participatory framework. Where does the “site” end and the “governance” begin? It’s really all part of the same whole.

It’s a thought I’ve been having and saying for a while, but it still feels slippery in my head and when I try to articulate it, so I guess I’m drawn to statements where other people are articulating something similar.

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