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Bill Ayers' confrontation with 'sound-bite' culture

Bill Ayers' New York Times Op-Ed explains why he felt the need to steer clear of Election 2008's attempts to suck him in. He was being called a "domestic terrorist" and he was described as someone Obama was "palling around" with. But he saw no viable way to enter the discussion:

With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.

Faced with a rhetorical infrastructure of speed, Ayers "sat it out." He saw no path to "rational discussion." I would not argue with Ayers on this one. I don't think there was a useful way for him to join the conversation. However, it raises some interesting questions: What are the ethical implications of sitting things out? If rational discussion is not an option, then how do we proceed? Do we attempt to slow down "sound-bite" culture, or do we develop new rhetorics?

I have no real answers to these questions, but they interest me. I'm hoping to address some of this in my 4C's presentation, but I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts. What other rhetorical options were available to Ayers?

Thanks to Matt for the link.

"Building the community"

Change.gov recently posted a guide to commenting for those wanting to contribute to various policy discussions. The guide gives five general rules:

1: Know the comment policy
Our comment policy lays out the basic guidelines for material that should and should not be part of the Change.gov online conversation.

A diverse group of commenters with a variety of opinions post their thoughts on these pages. We won't censor any ideas based on their content as long as the comment is respectful and adds value to the discussion.

Change.gov Goes With CC License.

We asked, and they acted. Change.gov, the Obama Transition Website, is now published under a Creative Commons license. I'm pretty amazed at how quickly this change happened. The Obama Transition folks heard the call and answered quickly.

Link via Lessig Blog.

The Centripital Force of Obama Wikipedia Page edits

Check out jamiew's visual representation of edits on Obama's Wikipedia article, and note that "users who edit a lot drift toward the center." That is, the "community" of users here slowly congeals and communes around its center (Obama). But also note that those "other" community members on the outskirts never fully go away. They're always gnawing away at the edges of the center. This is what community looks like. It never communes fully...however hard it tries.

Obama Wikipedia page edits from jamiew on Vimeo.

Link via All the Modern Things

Wikipedia and Looking Good on Paper

Nate Silver at 538.com has dubbed Sarah Palin the "Wikipedian Candidate":

The problem is that Palin's faults have been precisely those sorts of things that might be difficult to detect from a Wikipedia page. For instance: her tendency to let her nerves get the better of her in interviews, her seeming lack of intellectual curiosity, and the way that her mannerisms, fairly or not, could easily become the butt of jokes. When I saw her debut event in Dayton, I was underwhelmed, asking "how will SNL and Jay Leno react?" and declaring that "this is a pick that looks better on paper than in practice".

Why the Obama Model is Working

This morning, I made another donation to the Obama campaign. I have probably donated more than I should given my financial situation, but this is the first time I've ever been a "part" of a political campaign (I volunteered during the primaries). When Obama turned down public funding, I was skeptical. I was worried that this would cloud many voters' view of his stance against corruption in politics. However, I think it's fairly clear that a majority of Obama's donations are coming from individuals and not PACs, and I think this is a good thing.

McCain Speechwriter Might Have Used Wikipedia Without Attribution

There is speculation that a McCain speechwriter lifted some phrases about Georgia from a Wikipedia article (link via Wikipedia Blog).

According to Taegan Goddard of Political Insider, here are the three instances that people are focusing on:

First instance:

one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion (Wikipedia)


one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion (McCain)

Second instance:

John Edwards, Scandal, and Wikipedia Revisited

Last week, I wondered whether adding information about the John Edwards "love child" controversy to Edwards' Wikipedia article was way to sneak a smear in through the backdoor. Well, Edwards has admitted to the affair (though, he denies the "love child" part).

So, it seems The Enquirer was on to something, regardless of whether it is a "legitimate" news source. And here we are - less than two weeks removed from an edit war - with a John Edwards Wikipedia article that isn't even locked. Here's the section on Edwards' affair:

John Edwards, scandal, and Wikipedia

Wikipedians are grappling with the story of John Edwards and his "love child." The usual arguments of "liberal bias" are floating around, but it seems reasonable to question a story that is only being reported by two media outlets: The National Enquirer and Fox News.

The issue at hand seems to be "verifiability." What constitutes a "verifiable" fact? This is Wikipedia's threshold for what can be included in an article. If it can be cited, it can (in most cases) be included in the article. But what about a story that is just simmering below the surface? A story that is only being reported by two sources, one of which is a tabloid and another which seems to have a very distinct political agenda?

Currently, the John Edwards article references the scandal this way:


We have yet another example of how Wikipedia has shaped (and narrowed?) our understanding of what a wiki does. The latest in the "pedia" craze is McCainPedia.

McCainpedia.org is a wiki run by the DNC's Research, Communications, and Internet teams. The goal is to centralize research material, allowing the general public to use it as they see fit. Unlike some wikis, McCainpedia is read-only and can't be edited by the public. This allows us to fully validate all of the information that appears, ensuring accuracy and reliability.

It's not that McCainPedia is bad, it's that it contributes to an ever-growing list of "pedias" that envision a wiki as a knowledge repository or an information dump. Are there other ways to use wikis? Ways beyond the encyclopedia model? It seems like we're not even trying to imagine what wikis can do.

McCainPedia is not an "anyone can edit" wiki; it's written by the "DNC's Research, Communications, and Internet teams." Its information seems to be well-sourced (statements footnoted with links to the Congressional Record).

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