Plan. Execute. Win. Activism and net neutrality

Net neutrality carried the day at the FCC. The years-long fight between certain sectors of business and a coalition in favor of an egalitarian internet is not over by any means, but a decision to treat the internet like a public utility is a clear win for activists.

FCC commissioners hold hands during a hearing on net neutrality today. February 26, 2015. Mark Wilson/Getty

As Waging Nonviolence writes, the grassroots campaign for net neutrality stands as an example of how to structure activism:

Today’s net neutrality rules would not exist without the tireless work of activists both in the streets and behind screens. Last year, I interviewed activists about how they planned to win on net neutrality, something that seemed impossible at the time. But they achieved today’s improbable victory by following those plans to the letter: having a clear and concise demand from day one, creating synergy between online and offline organizing, and framing net neutrality as a social justice issue.

Gene Sharp, which the New Statesman once dubbed “the Machiavelli of Non-Violence”, emphasizes one thing above all in his work: if you want to win, you need a strong, resilient plan (much of his works are available online for free here). In reality, most social justice movements are not fully planned out before they happen, but figuring out what the central demand is, what tactics will be used, and what the contingencies if there is a setback or repression is key. The move for net neutrality was impressive in its breadth and organization, and the structural basis for its success is what can be exported to other struggles.

As an activist states, this is just one step, and the fight to cement the victory continues with a new standoff:

“Our next goal is to undermine the telecom industry,” said Zeese. “We want to make them politically toxic so that anyone who does their bidding is seen as someone who is corrupted by a monopoly system.”

There’s always a next goal. Mobilization is power.

Holding back the tide: English education here and now

One of my high school English teachers posted this article describing the struggle on the job, including ever-falling expectations and aspirations for students regarding the English language. My comment was as such:

English class is a battle between one person attempting to uphold a linguistic tradition and a couple dozen attempting to normalize their errors.

One of the examples given in the article is the abuse of “literally” in non-literal statements. Despite that being a gross misuse of vocabulary, I pointed out that Google in the past year has amended its definition of the word to acknowledge misuse.

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Such is the ongoing journey of English, which is reminiscent of the Geocities-era Internet- unregulated (unlike many other languages which have some sort of academy overseeing things), fragmented across space, and full of contradicting opinions. At some future point I’d imagine a post facto classification change, where what is spoken now is called Later English or something, and its rules and idiosyncrasies frozen in time along with Middle and Old English. What English instruction boils down to is a defense of a particular hill- what grammar, usage, spelling, and pronunciation were in a particular place at a particular point in time. Those students who don’t want to learn or don’t take lessons to heart will over time dictate what is current and what becomes archaic.

I once played a game of pool in a Portland bar, teams of two. One member of the opposing duo was from the Continent. He had grown up playing a very strict, organized rule set. My friend Gavin and I learned pool incorrectly from other kids (during summer camp, in my case) and had never figured out a set way to play the game. Thus dubbed “American Rules”, technical questions were not answered with “yes” or “no”, but rather “sure go ahead” or “maybe not”. English is a great example of the American Rules mindset. And I have immense respect for those that attempt to corral all the that chaos and teach an interpretation of English that promotes clarity and precision. In my not-that-long life, slang and vocabulary has undergone a radical change in the digital age, that increasingly departs from a English curriculum that hasn’t changed nearly as much. Every teacher has to drag students out of that universe and make them write something totally different.

Tough work, because the English language marches on, in a different direction in each place and with each community.


The ellipsis

It’s fascinating to observe written material on the Internet- formal and informal. Not just that it’s often a grammatical mess, but what changes and why they might be changing. There are entire dissertations to be written about capitalization (why do conspiracy theorists, above all, have idiosyncratic capitalization?) and comma usage, but I’ll focus on one specific punctuation mark. The ellipsis.

On a technical level, there are only two reasons to use an ellipsis, defined by three periods with spaces between them ( . . . ) or with a bracket ([ . . .]).

  1. When quoting written material, to indicate that some content has been removed in the interests of space or keeping on a single subject. Used typically in the middle of a sentence; a quote rarely starts or ends with an ellipsis.
  2. When transcribing spoken material, to indicate some kind of pause or rest in what is being said.

Several people, such as posters on a forum I moderated several years ago, and a woman who comments on a Facebook page I run, have very creative uses for an ellipsis, or an ellipsis-like mark.

People often link full sentences with three periods (no spaces, so not a true ellipsis). Many rarely use a traditional period, ending each thought or post with a trailing triple-period.

Why do people write this way? I have a theory.

In spoken conversation, one has the benefit of tone of voice and body language. Some kind of trailing mark online could be a way to avoid sounding too direct (“We should hang out.” versus “We should hang out…”). Another is a way to encourage response without posing a direct question [Canadians use ‘eh?’ to turn a statement into a question, in a brilliant grammatical innovation]. It would be bizarre, however, to think that someone who writes a whole paragraph linked by triple-periods has some kind of larger statement they’ve whittled down for length. Maybe they have, and good on them for sparing us some unnecessary reading.

This post was created due to the copywriter author talking to another copywriter in a bar.

I hate books; t…

I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In the internet age, I find this quote by the famous French philosopher to be quite relevant.

Since we now have access to a huge portion of accumulated human knowledge through Wikipedia and news websites, people have a tendency to act like experts on topics they’ve only recently heard about. Go to any discussion forum, dating back to the days of Usenet, and you’ll see people critiquing academic subjects as if they just defended their dissertation on the matter.

And perhaps it’s worse than it was in Rousseau’s time. Most nonfiction books go through several revisions and a fact-check, the process of drafting and finishing a work can take years. Wikipedia crowdsources the editing process, but many topics don’t have enough interested parties to improve quality. And often when you stumble upon a topic, there’s currently an editing dispute going on between users. Or a disorganized article is being completely retooled to make it readable. It would be like reading a book in which half the pages had yet to be edited.

This isn’t to be crotchety and rail against knowledge. I’m a total information junkie and  enjoy having random facts at hand for each conversation I have. But it is to say that a small amount of reading does not an expert make. The internet is littered with laymen offering medical advice, legal advice, and public policy advice. This can be dangerous, and we should not think that the internet had made us master of all things.

Bitcoin: Tulip mania of the internet age

For us internet citizens, the story of the past couple weeks is bitcoin. It’s a virtual currency originally targeted towards anti-establishment libertarians and people looking to pay for things online that Visa and Mastercard won’t allow (read: illegal things). Ron Paul supporters who hate central banking, Wikileaks supporters trying to donate when major banks and credit card companies embargoed the site, and millennial hackers all got on board and kept the idea alive.

It’s now gone mainstream, as the first trimester of 2013 has seen an epic rise in what people will pay for a bitcoin. Observe:

Bitcoin over the past four months (wowza!)

Continue reading “Bitcoin: Tulip mania of the internet age”