Give It Away, Part 2

We went ahead and made a donation to the Red Cross, but we also gave to Best Friends Animal Society. Best Friends runs a huge animal sanctuary in Utah and works hard to educate people about spaying and neutering their pets. Now they’re on the ground in New Orleans, helping to rescue animals off the streets and moving them to shelters outside the city.

Please give what you can to help both the people and the animals who have lost their homes, been separated from their families, and set adrift.

[tags]Katrina, New Orleans, Best Friends, Red Cross, Animal Shelters[/tags]

Give it away

Given what I’ve written today about the media’s framing of different disasters and the importance of keeping events in perspective as they relate to each other, I want to go ahead and say that I’m closely following the real and ongoing human disaster in New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. If this had happened in Miami, I might have been on a plane by now to get as close as I could and help in any way I could.

My Mom has close friends who have been affected had their homes and businesses destroyed, and she has found a way to help.

Bourbon Street Balcony copyright Marilyn Sholin
image © Marilyn Sholin

Check out the rest of her New Orleans series of posters. They’re $40 each, and all proceeds from the sales of these posters go to the Red Cross.


[tags]Red Cross, Marilyn Sholin, New Orleans, Katrina[/tags]

I Heart The BBC & A POV Roundup

KQED radio (88.5 FM) out of San Francisco is my public radio station on the San Jose side of “the hill.” Two nights a week now, I drive home to Santa Cruz late enough to catch the BBC World Service report – it’s all international news, all the time.

I love it.

Not only because I’m taking an International Communications class this semester and it helps to tune my radio/aggregator/newsbrain to the rest of the world, but because the journalism and interactivity on the BBC kicks ass.

Yes, that’s how much a geek I have become: I just described the BBC’s journalism and interactivity as ass-kicking.

Last night, I heard a BBC reporter on the ground in New Orleans, interviewing…whoever would talk to him, which was everyone who he had time to give a turn to. One woman told the story of climbing down the railing of her collapsed balcony, putting her child in an inflated kiddie-pool, and swimming a long way to relative safety. “We kicked,” she said.

You could hear the chaos in the background, you could hear the concern in the voices of the people, and already you could hear the sound of discontent with the priorities of rescuers and emergency aid. I’m paraphrasing here, but one woman said the government only cared about you “if you’re a business. We don’t give them any money, so they don’t care about us.”

If there’s not a serious conversation about race, poverty, and priorities in the aftermath of whatever happens next in America, then we’re missing something.

After the report, which had itself followed the standard run-down of civic leaders talking about the devastation, the host of the show read an SMS text message he had just received from a man in Phuket, Thailand who encouraged Americans to stop compaing Hurricane Katrina to the 2004 Tsunami. And then the host gave out the email address and SMS number, asking for feedback on the show.

File that one under “good globalization,” when I can drive in San Jose and listen to a radio show from London reporting on New Orleans and a listener in Phuket can participate.

I like it when I don’t have to yell back at the radio. The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, compared the damage in Mississippi to Hiroshima. Sometimes this is the sort of thing I wake up to, as the NPR news blasts from the alarm clock at 530am. I probably woke up my wife by shouting some sort of ridiculous obscenity at the radio when I heard Barbour say that.

Hiroshima looked like this:Hiroshima 1945public domain image from

Governor, when 80,000 of your closest friends and neighbors are vaporized by an atomic weapon and thousands more die of radiation-related illness, let me know.

Meanwhile in Iraq, almost 1,000 people died yesterday. 1,000. The story was buried yesterday at this time on, while had it right next to the lead Katrina/Aftermath graphic. I admit I don’t really see what’s going on in the TV spectrum, as I don’t see much of it, but in any other week this would have been the top story everywhere.

I’ve been concerned for a long time about what the American media thinks is the difference between an American life and the life of a non-American. Personally, I think every life has the same weight, but maybe others don’t see it that way.

What do you think? Is the media responsible for balancing disaster coverage and providing perspective on the amount of damage and death, or is it more important to just get the reporting done right now, and save the analysis for later?

[tags]BBC, journalism, Katrina, New Orleans, media ethics, Iraq stampede[/tags]

Trickle-Down Technology

In discussions about international communication, I often hear the argument that neither this “blogging” thing in specific nor the internet in general are not on the radar in places like Africa, where they “don’t even have phones, much less internet access” (or so goes the myth). The people who expound on this sort of angle have not been to an internet café in places like Essaouria or read of the bilingual Tanzanian bloggers. (Yes, there are bloggers in Tanzania. Heck, there are politicians blogging in Tanzania. Still think this is in the early adopter stage?)

I jump ahead in my thinking, and argue that the biggest problem is not whether there is any access at all, but WHO has access and how that shapes the opinions of the influentials who are savvy enough to be doing the reading and writing on the Western side in this medium.

This is the problem I point out in the Venezuelan blogosphere: if there are Chavista bloggers, they’re not writing in English, and find themselves ignored by the American elites.

The problem is not “how do we give the elites of an information-impoverished nation access to publication tools;” the problem is “how do we get the impoverished population of an information-impoverished nation access to information, and then give them the means to inform us?”

Is there a trickle-down effect to the means of production of media? I seriously doubt it – although we do see, historically, individual printing presses recycled by new users (think early San Francisco newspapers). Is the same effect at work with computers? Hand-me-downs and the recently-rioted-over iBooks passed along to local citizens by the school system come to mind.

Every local non-profit (I’m thinking YMCA, YWCA type organizations) should/could be offering low-cost recycled computers to their membership along with free dial-up internet access. Heh, put that one on the wish list, get a corporate sponsor and hire a couple of great geeks (uh, maybe they’ll work part-time and not want to be paid much?) to work the machinery over. The school system could be a place for this idea, too. I know I’m choosing the smoothest, slickest, most well-oiled bureaucracies to take on the task.

Okay – so some of this is material for international concerns, and some of it is more of a local technology access problem, but solutions should scale to international aid organizations in the same manner. Sort of. Shouldn’t it?

[tags]digital divide[/tags]

Semiotics 101

Does it matter what we call things?

Does it matter what words mean?

Does it matter if it’s a “War” or a “Conflict” or a “Conflagration” or a “Military Event”?

Does it matter if it’s a “newspaper” or a “magazine,” a “blog” or a “message board?”

From my grandmother’s point of view, my blog is “writing” and that’s all that matters to her. My mother certainly knows the difference between a blog and a message board and a live chat, and has run all three, not to mention email lists and in-person seminars. My wife is perfectly aware of the important disparity between time I spend writing on my “blog” as opposed time I spend writing “term papers.”

Things have names for a reason, and it’s far more interesting to me to study why we name things what we name them and how it affects our perception of said things than it is to just throw up my hands and say “a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Robert MacMillan of writes of his blog vs. message board mix-up: “On the Internet, however, it seems that people present personal communications in ways that are as fluid as the information we digest. Defining blogs seems to accomplish two goals: It lets bloggers identify themselves as practitioners of a rigid format, which then, ironically, allows the corporate world to figure out how to use this amazing medium for ends that have little in common with the spirit of the first-generation bloggers.”

Okay, so MacMillan’s gone ahead and cherry-picked his definitions, then mocked the medium for becoming commercial. Almost like a newspaper. With advertising. Or an internal corporate magazine. Or an advertising campaign.

He does admit his mistake, and although I really don’t have any time to savor a slice of “I got a mainstream writer to correct himself” pie, I give him credit for owning up to the factual error.

The medium AND the message are integral elements of communication, and if you can’t see that, you’re clearly neglecting your senses in some manner.

For those who take an interest in the naming of things, here are the immortal words of Old Possum…enjoy.

The Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

[tags]Robert MacMillan, Washington Post, journalism, blogs, cats[/tags]