Hightower Day

This afternoon, at 4:30, Jim Hightower will do a book signing for his new book Swim Against the Current. It will be in West Hartford as a fundraiser Common Cause. There will also be a reception in Darien in the evening.

In a different email, it was announce that Jim has joined the Progressive Democrats of America national board. One other email caused a bit of a panic. Air America sent out an email saying that Jim would be on Rachel Maddow’s show this evening at 7:30, smack in the middle of the fundraising reception in Darien. It turns out, however, Jim’s segment on Air America is supposed to be a taped segment, so it won’t interfere with the fundraiser.

Stay tuned for more information about the events.

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#hashtags and other stuff

Well, it is Thursday, and another good chance to catch up on sites that have caught my interest recently. The first is http://hashtags.org/. One of the nonprofit technology lists was discussing hashtags. If you are a Twitter user, simply follow hashtags, and hashtags will follow you. When they follow you, they search your tweets for a hashmark (#), and if there is one in your tweat, they track your tweat based on whichever tags you’ve used. If all goes right, this post will end up on Twitter via TwitterFeed, and since it has a hashtag in the title, it should show up in hashtags. As an aside, according to Tweetvolume Hashtags has appeared in 4,720 tweats as of the writing of this blog post.

On the politics side, or perhaps more accurately, the governance side of technology, Steve Clift sent around a link to an online dialog the Toxic Release Inventory Program of the EPA from last year. He notes, “This is so rare in the U.S. (shouldn't be) I thought I should point it out.” Wouldn’t it be great if the committees of the Connecticut General Assembly had online dialogs?

In Connecticut yesterday, http://www.ctpen.org/ had a website launch party at the Capitol. I suggested that Kim attend, but I think she was too busy dealing with the Jim Hightower event coming up tomorrow. While I’m talking about Connecticut events, I want to highlight the Shoreline League of Democratic Women Green Lifestyle Fair which will take place on April 5th in the lower level of the Clinton Town Hall.

One final highlight from recent emails, the Disaster Accountability Project has a post up about the lack of diversity hampering its response to Hurricane Katrina.

Enough for this mornings mail bag and assorted websites. More soon.

Wordless Wednesday

Fiona and Lightning, originally uploaded by Aldon.

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FreeExFest 09

As I check out Tweats about South by SouthWest (SXSW) and hear about NPR broadcasting REM at SXSW, I wish even more that I could be there. Perhaps participating online is the best that I can do.

Yet yesterday, I stumbled across a comment about how SXSW started back in 1987 as a battle of the bands. Hmm, that is not the only thing that has cross my attention recently that started as a battle of the bands. Things clicked, gears whirred. The old phrase, “If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed” came to mind.

Years ago, when I first heard that phrase, it seemed like a good way to make a mountain come to Mohammed was to first, return the mountain to its shape as a molehill, which many mountains are made out of, then transport the molehill and make a mountain out of it again.

So, the mountain of Freedom of Expression, which was made out of the molehill about when and where a high school battle of the bands could take place might be just the way to bring the mountain to Mohammed.

Freedom of Expression Festival 2009, FreeExFest, North by Northeast, whatever you want to call it. What if we were to take the Lewis S Mills Jamfest that was the starting point for the Avery Doninger case, combine it with Poets and Writers for Avery in Litchfield, the State of Student Free Speech symposium at Quinnipiac, and perhaps add in some additional fine arts, film, or other additions?

We could have our own festival celebrating the Freedom of Expression, right here in The Constitution State. You wanna help?

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Modeling Responsible Online Speech

How do we deal with people we disagree with online, with people who say something offensive, or possibly damaging? I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and writing about this issue recently.

The New York Times has an article about Paul Tilley, the creative director of advertising firm, DDB Chicago. He had received anonymous harsh criticism on two advertising blogs. To what extent are the people who posted those comments responsible? To what extent are the moderators of the blog responsible for not doing better moderation? To what extent are the companies responsible for hosting these blogs responsible? What is the appropriate way of dealing with these sorts of comments?

I’ve spent a lot of time arguing this with various friends online. I worry about companies and schools restricting the free expression of ideas. Yet I also believe that people need to learn civility in their online writing. The same question applies to the Avery Doninger case. What is the best way, the right way, to help people like Avery learn to be more civil in their blog posts?

Recently, Chris Gingrich wrote a harsh blog post about how the Doningers have handled this. It was based on very incomplete information from newspaper articles. I wrote a comment addressing some of the misconceptions he had about the case and challenged him on the way he presented some of his arguments. On Sunday, he removed the original post and put up this post.

A commenter pointed out that the news articles I had based my post on left out some important facts. And, in a number of areas, he was right. Worse, my tone was harsh and unfair.

He then explores many important points. Should this be viewed as a censorship case? How do we help people to become more ‘moral’? What can we do as parents, people of faith, as members of our communities? How does it apply to specific issues in his community?

I would like to suggest that his response is part of the answer. Adults need to model constructive, wise and caring ways to dealing with issues in our community. Mr. Gingrich has done exactly that. He is strong enough to admit when he is wrong and to look for better solutions. If Superintendent Schwartz and Principal Niehoff had done this in the first place in the Doninger case, it would not be in court. It would not be a censorship case. Instead, it could have been a case study in how better to deal with conflict in an era when people can easily express their feelings online.

Mr. Gingrich writes,

My frustration with such issues stems from recent efforts to try to organize volunteers to help out in a local school where discipline is a major problem (think knives, gang assualts, arrests, threats against staff and epidemic rudeness and disrespect). I am hoping to start up after school programs and eventually mentoring type programs.

Avery’s difficulties started when she tried to organize citizens of her community to address one of her concerns. Whether or not bands should get to play in a new auditorium is not as significant a problem as gang assaults in schools, yet the aspect of organizing volunteers is the same.

So, let me propose a radical idea. Mr. Gingrich, reach out to the kids that bring knives to school. Get them to deal with their anger and frustration by using words like “douche bag” on blogs instead of knives in schools. Over time, you can get them to use more civil words and become more effective in dealing with their anger and frustration.

Chris Gingrich has modeled constructive online behavior in his blog. I believe that Avery has already learned from her mother how to be more constructive in her speech online. I do not believe that Schwartz or Niehoff have yet learned how to deal constrively with online speech, and it sounds like there are a lot of youth in Mr. Gingrich’s community that could learn similar lessons. Let’s all try to learn from him.

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