Monday, October 26, 2015

Being true to your school, part one: some snark

What's all the hubbub, bub?

Those who have persuaded and do persuade anyone about anything are shapers of lying discourse. For if all people possessed memory concerning all things past, and awareness of all things present, and foreknowledge of all things to come, discourse would not be similarly similar; hence it is not now easy to remember the past or consider the present or foretell the future; so that most people on most subjects furnish themselves with opinion as advisor to the soul. But opinion, being slippery and unsteady, surrounds those who rely on it with slippery and unsteady successes. - Gorgias, Encomium of Helen

Can't say as I am up on the laws regarding intellectual property much less Minnesota election law regarding intentionally "participating in the preparation, dissemination or broadcast of campaign material that is false under circumstances where the individual knows the material is false or communicates information to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false."
Political flyers : RPS & Rochester Tea Party Patriots
So, I have no informed opinion on the merits of the recent decision by Rochester Public Schools [RPS] to bring to bear the Minneapolis law firm of Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger and money from the RPS budget to pay the Minneapolis law firm of Rupp, Anderson, Squires and Waldspurger to issue a cease and desist letter against a local political organization for producing a flyer that looks like the flyer that RPS produced to get Rochester property owners current on "the facts" regarding the pending property tax levy to increase the RPS budget. A budget that one might assume includes legal fees.

Of course, strictly speaking, even though RPS can threaten to sue the opposition, it cannot advocate support of its own referendum. There's glory for you. RPS cannot say, "Vote Yes," it can only provide "factual information" (and of course threaten to sue the opposition for providing theirs). Saying "Vote Yes" is left to "independent" - usually ad hoc - groups like the Alliance for Strong Rochester Public Schools [ASRPS]. Saying "Vote No" to a property tax increase is what the Rochester Tea Party Patriots [RTPP] do in their sleep.

Like I said, I'm not up on the laws regarding intellectual property. But, holding forth that mimicking the visual design of an RPS flyer is going to fool people is akin to saying that donning a fake mustache is all it would take to pass yourself off as the RPS superintendent.

Hey, who knows, maybe someone gets confused by the RTPP flyer and concludes RPS doesn't support its own referendum. It's a big multiverse. Ours might be the universe where that happens and the school district crashes and burns as a result. Failing that however---

Dropping a cease and desist letter into the midst of a political debate really feels like something someone lobs at the opposition from a bunker. Under the circumstances it cannot pass unnoticed that somewhere in Rochester, somebody's property tax paid for that cease and desist letter - maybe even a whole cul de sac's property taxes. So there's that.

Then there's this: most of us probably would not have known of the existence or content of the offending RTPP flyer had not RPS called down some Minneapolis suits upon the layout, color palette, and font choices of a few Rochester residents. Among these Rochester residents are likely some at least who now enjoy the privilege of contributing to the property tax revenues expended to have themselves enjoined by the very people asking them to pay more.

If it matters at all, the RTPP flyer mimicking the RPS design is little more than a rhetorical strategy deployed in a field of discourse already littered with RPS conjecture and the usual signs and portents of doom. To attempt to legally claim one flyer factual and the other knowingly false (when it is simply inaccurate in some particulars) overlooks the glaring policy assumptions that are the basis of the RPS claims of "fact" in the first place. Policy assumptions that give shape to the facts in ways that are "slippery and unsteady."

[To be continued in Being true to your school, part two: fact/value/policy]

Monday, October 5, 2015

"What's on Tap?": co-located, synchronous, live chat

A co-located, synchronous chat room: post share comments live and in real time

The people in the world, and the objects in it, and the world as a whole, are not absolute things, but on the contrary, are the phenomena of perception... If we were all alike: if we were millions of people singing do, re, mi in unison, one poet would be enough... But we are not alone, and everything needs expounding all the time because, as people live and die, each one perceiving life and death for himself, and mostly by and in himself, there develops a curiosity about the perceptions of others. This is what makes it possible to go on saying new things about old things. - Wallace Stevens

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding - Marshall McLuhan

Around five years ago, this small notice appeared in the Post-Bulletin:
Local News
Rochester school sites offer free summer meals for youths
6/9/2010 8:20:19 AM
Post-Bulletin staff 
Several places will offer free meals for youths and some adults as part of the Summer Food Service Program through the Minnesota Department of Education. 
The Rochester school district will provide the meals at three locations: 
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday June 16-Aug. 20 at Franklin Elementary School. 
 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday June 16-Aug. 20 at Gage Elementary School. 
 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday June 16-July 29 at Riverside Elementary School. 
The meals are available to children 18 and younger and to people older than 18 who participate in a public or nonprofit private school program established for the mentally or physically handicapped. For more information, call the student nutrition services at 328-4218. 
The Boys and Girls Club of Rochester also provides free meals from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from noon to 1 p.m. at its main site, 1026 E. Center St. For more information about the meals there, contact the club at 287-2300.
Notices like this had appeared for years and continued to appear in the paper. However, on this occasion there ensued what may be a record-breaking thread of comments that over the next 13 days resulted in nearly - maybe more than - 500 posts attacking and defending this program. With a pretty good chunk of ad hominem along the way as one might expect. OK, a lot of ad hominem.

Like many other similar bulletin boards and chat rooms, the PB comments section was a grim, dark, and grisly place full of snarls and snark. Flame wars and trolling.

Now those were the days when the PB's comments were not tied to a Facebook account and readers posted with easy anonymity. Some were notorious for posting under multiple screen names. Noms de plume were worn like hoods. As Lord John Whorfin (aka Dr. Emilio Lizard) said in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, "Character is what you are in the dark!"

Though there remain posters today who use multiple FB accounts under assumed names, the PB's switch to an FB account-based system immediately reduced the number of posters and the quantity of postings. (Actually, as is still true today, a small number of posters accounted for the vast majority of comments posted. Factor in those with multiple screen names and the number of persons posting is even fewer.)

First we build the tools, then they build us. - Marshall McLuhan

The PB comments section employs a web-based, asynchronous tool - namely an electronic discussion board - that enables communication over time in a "different time-different place" mode. Web-based, synchronous tools enabling real-time communication in a "same time-different place" mode (e.g. chat rooms) have been around just about as long. Both these tools have been around for decades.

Of these tools and the world we have built with them, Sherry Turkle spoke:
When I ask people "What's wrong with having a conversation?" People say, "I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can't control what you're going to say." So that's the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body -- not too little, not too much, just right. 
Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.

The medium is the message. - Marshall McLuhan

A few weeks ago I wrote about Kutzky Market:
These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. - The Cluetrain Manifesto
Everything about Kutzky Market (and Forager Brewery) is "spoken from the center of the self". There is a vision here to be sure, but do not miss the voices that are speaking because what you see is what they are saying. Even as I am having conversations about the city at the penny topped table, there is a conversation going on all around me that speaks to the city from the parking lot on the west side to the garden on the east side.

This week at Kutzky Market those conversations that happen at times all the time over in the corner or at that table across the way, where people are huddled around the news of the day or the enduring issues of the times, where people are "curious about the perceptions of others." That conversation will be committed with intent, but remain "unpredictable" save for its time and place.

"What's on Tap?" is a co-located, synchronous, live chat room. Open the 1st Wednesday of each month from 5:30pm - 7:00pm in "the library" at Kutzky Market. Rather than log in, you can stop by. Rather than post, you can share. Rather than comment, you can converse.

Please join me to discuss Rochester issues over a Forager beer or coffee or beverage. On the Mondays prior, check in with Sean Baker at the Med City Beat for a FAQ piece on our monthly topic. Explore with Kelly Corbin opportunities for action should the spirit (or spirits) move you.

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening. - Marshall McLuhan

Also from a few weeks ago:

Local markets are destinations to be sure. People go to market. But unlike the marketplace that aspires to be a destination for others from elsewhere, the local market shares only in the destiny of its place for that's where its own destiny resides.

The local market is a there that is from here.

Kutzky Market - go there, it's from here.

We hope to see you there for "What's on Tap?".