Click a program icon to find a chapter
Click here for other Liberally programs

Journalists and Scribes

hceUScover.jpg
Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

I was being interviewed by a radio station about a snarky article I’d written for a paper-and-ink (and also online) magazine, and they referred to me as “journalist Amanda Milstein.” This struck me as clearly false (although far be it from me to argue with them, given it sounds better than “part-time job-holding, part-time interning, soon-to-be grad student Amanda Milstein”) - and it looks like I'm not the only one who thinks so. One of the arguments made by Clay Shirkey in his new book Here Comes Everybody (which Matt mentioned here yesterday ) is that the title “journalist” is increasingly meaningless when anyone can write a blog post about an issue and publish it — and even if they are blogging about an issue as trivial as a lost phone, it is possible for them to get a large audience.

Shirky begins by describing a Gutenberg-era pamphlet written in defense of scribes, whose jobs were being taken over by the printing press. The pro-scribe argument was printed off on a printing press for maximum efficiency — it’s always bad if your chief defender can’t even be bothered to use your services. All much like how my childhood best friend’s instant messenger screenname was something like luddite77; if you’re bothering to have a screenname, you’re clearly not devoting yourself to smashing machines.

Shirky takes this prologue as a launching-pad to deal with multiple aspects of the internet community-building revolution, from the efforts of Wikipedians and lay-run online groups to help people navigate software, to the the power of informal online photo-sharing in areas where important news events are occurring. To hear Shirky extend the metaphor, as the masses are storming communication, those now called "journalists" may well soon be the scribes of our era. The ways we meet people, communicate with friends, form community and many other facets of our lives will dramatically change as well.

While I found the book a bit tedious to read, it was clearly well-researched, and had much to say that will help people understand the new dissemination of information we are witnessing in our society. If you're interested in a nibble of Shirky's ideas before you commit to the many-course meal of his book, check out his blog first.

Sometimes I wish I could cast off modern technology and just go hang out with people in the park, and potluck in my spare time. And then I run off to send those I will soon be picnicking with a frantic g-chat message to make sure that someone knows to bring plates, check my friends' blogs to make sure I am updated on the key events of their lives — and still kind of wish I could communicate via loud drum. But, as Shirky points out, the technological and communication revolution is irreversibly upon us, and we just need to figure out how to adjust to the huge new swaths of information that are now available. I personally plan on configuring my google reader to scream at me to go outside instead of keeping up on my friends' blogs — right after I change my screenname to luddite88.

One Small Step For Liberals, One Long Bike Ride For Houstonians

onelesscar.JPG

Biking Liberally Pedal For Progressivism
by David Robertson, Drinking Liberally Houston

For tonight's look at promoting liberal ideas through living liberally, we wanted to highlight one of the coolest projects that've come out of our Drinking Liberally chapters in recent months - Biking Liberally, an effort to get Houston liberals to live their values through their mode of transportation. I'll let David, the main organizer, take it away from here.

One day at Drinking Liberally, I biked and another member biked as well. While here we were discussing the MS 150 ride leaving Houston, I asked, "Why not have a Biking Liberally group?" E-mails were sent and replies were received. The word was out. Biking Liberally was born.

As I am an avid biker of the roads, as are many of the other DL'ers, Houston has many trails to offer us. I thought as a group we could exploit these routes less taken. I realized the group would promote exercise and friendship one mile at bikekid.JPG
We met at Onion Creek, a local bar in the Heights, which hosted a benefit for the MS 150 ride later that day. The ride was small but fun was rampant. We had a strong showing of five people, including (I believe) the youngest member ever to come to BL or DL. (He is two years old.) We toured the David Addicks gallery, where you can find busts of former presidents. From there we visited Washington Cementary, a new park, Discovery Green, and finally the Menil Museum.

Back at Onion Creek, we partook in lunch and beer. Four more Drinking Liberals joined us and we had a great time talking about whatever.

I just never knew that biking and drinking could go so well back to back. I just really want more people to become familiar with all the trails that Houston has to offer and enjoy the city's beauty.

The future holds many more BL trips as people from the last DL requested it more frequently. My plans are to host at least one to two bike rides each month in hopes that this will help the group grow more bikers. I believe that, as the word gets out, this will happen - we are looking to expand into themes for each ride. a time, took the idea from a another biking group in town and made it my own extension of DL.

If Science Is For Liberals, Then So Is Bonk

Bonk-cover.gif
Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

Today the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing about the catastrophe that is Abstinence-Only Education. In honor of that, I am reviewing Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach, while filled with hope (OK, I am way too cynical to be filled with anything that even remotely resembles hope) that, in the future, science and sex will be more closely linked in classrooms around the United States.

"Since when did Science become a liberal issue?" a comic asked at last week's Laughing Liberally in NYC. I would guess that that occurred sometime between when Galileo got in trouble with the church and the Scopes Trial. But now the truth is oddly liberal, so I hereby claim Bonk for liberals and those with a high threshold for the somewhat alarming.

I was going to a Passover retreat with a left-leaning crowd and was placed in charge of books and games, so I decided Bonk would be able to entertain pretty much everyone for seventy-two hours. This was more than true — I at least entertained myself by interrupting discussions on Jewish law in order to read people quotes about testicular grafting surgery such as "At one point [the surgery-performing doctor] described curing a twenty-two year old youth of, among other afflictions, the 'frequent writing of incoherent, rambling dissertations on architecture.' It seemed no ailment stood strong in the face of another man's testis."

Seriously, is that funnier than what you can and cannot eat on Passover, or what?

I spent most of my time reading Bonk laughing so hard that I was either forced to read passages out loud or having people read over my shoulder because they wanted to know what was so funny. During a bus ride from New York to Silver Spring I read the book at the same time as a friend because we both refused to put it down.

Mary Roach discusses a variety of sexual experiments performed by such notables as Masters and Johnson, and weirdos like the great grand-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. Roach is experimented on numerous times (she and her husband have sex in an MRI machine, she inserts a vaginal photoplethysmograph while being experimented on in a place called the Female Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory), she visits a sex-toy factory, and discusses historical sexual scientific advances and mishaps in a way that caused me to laugh so hard I thought I would sustain serious injury to my lungs. Bonk is a gleeful and hilarious exploration of the past and future of sexual science, and covers a variety of vital topics, from a discussion of the dangers of severed penises being eaten by ducks, bizarre cures for impotence, to everything else weird and related to sex that you would, quite frankly, never be able to imagine.

Maybe America's children don't need to know how to most efficiently stimulate pigs while artificially inseminating them (There are five steps that apparently include bouncing the pig up and down — I don't really want to describe the other steps), but it would be nice if they knew enough to know more than teens in Florida, a state with abstinence-only education leads sexually active teenagers to believe that "...drinking a can of Mt. Dew would prevent unintended pregnancy, or drinking a capful of bleach would prevent HIV/AIDS." Because the science of sex can be hilarious, but not knowing anything can be downright tragic.

'Scuse Me While I Eat The Sky

Lisa.png
Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

Barbie and I don’t have a lot in common. For one thing, I’m biodegradable and she’s not. But we do agree on one thing; math is hard. For example, how is it that Lisa Simpson’s been a vegetarian for thirteen years when she’s only 8 years old? Is it possible that an anti-oxidant-rich plant-based diet has the power not only to delay the aging process but actually reverse it?

But while eternal tweener Lisa’s the token treehugger in the Simpson household, it’s Bart who’s got the perfect prescription for how to cool Mother Nature’s fevered brow: don’t have a cow. Literally. The less meat you grill, the more you help the planet chill.

Now, before you dismiss me as some kinda free-range Chicken Little, clucking about the catastrophic consequences of our fossil-fueled food chain, you should know that I’m not the only one warning that burgers do more harm than hummers.

Activist/author Anna Lappé’s been looking up at the sky, too, but while I’ve been running around squawking that it’s falling, her brand new campaign Take A Bite Out Of Climate Change looks up and sees a sunny solution--a plant-based food chain founded on the ultimate renewable energy source, solar power.

Lappé’s upcoming book, Eat the Sky: Food, Farming, and the Climate Crisis, will no doubt help spread the word about the wonders of foods grown through the natural miracle of photosynthesis instead of that man-made marvel, synthetic fertilizers, and the power of a naturally biodiverse, balanced ecosystem to protect plants from pests and disease instead of pouring on toxic pesticides.

But in the meantime, she’s put together a wonderful, non-wonky website that lays out for the layperson why switching to a diet dominated by locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables is one of the single most significant things you can do to curb your carbon footprint.

This is a huge public service and a tremendous boon to me, personally, because my endless chanting of the “eat-less-meat” mantra elicits plenty of puzzled looks from folks who can’t grasp the notion that a veggie-centric diet does more to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions than driving a hybrid car. I have been trying to get this message out for a while, now (which, in the interests of full disclosure, may be why Lappé put me on Take A Bite’s advisory council,) but now I can just say, “Go to takeabite.cc and see for yourself!”

Lappé is on a mission to liberate us from a food chain that relies on a systemic abuse of land, animals and people. Industrial agriculture is essentially a failed coup on Mother Earth, a tragically arrogant attempt to overrule the laws of nature, and now it’s coming back to bite us on our ever-expanding asses. It’s fouled our air, water and soil, spoiled our health and worsened global warming.

But Take A Bite’s raison d’etre is not to bum you out about the ecological disaster we call Agribiz; its purpose is to provide you with all the information and resources you need to lighten up your carbon footprint in the most delightful and delicious way. So thanks to Anna and her crew for stepping up to the solar-powered plate. Now even us Henny Pennys can look up and say, here comes the sun!

Chris Matthews Demonstrates Our Fourth Estate is Third Rate on Real Time (And Nobody Notices!)

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

In case anyone missed Wednesday's tragic-comic debate and needs more proof that the fourth estate is third rate, Chris Matthews was more than happy to oblige on Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher. Not only did Matthews contradict reality, he contradicted himself.

As usual, Matthews spoke from a position of fabricated and self-appointed authority, this time as as the spokesman of all blue collar men in Pennsylvania. And, once again, Matthews projected his own emotional baggage as fact, explaining that men go to diners in the morning because "they don't want to hang out with their wives for an hour and they want that hour away..."

Being the great comic that he is, Bill Maher segued seamlessly from Matthews' "Take my wife" set up into the following question:

Speaking of which, you have been criticized as being a little sexist about Hillary.... Don't you think she has a point that gender has actually been a bigger factor in this campaign than race?

Without missing a beat, a cocksure and visibly self impressed Matthews replied:

No, actually there are more women democrats than there are male democrats. That should help her.

What does his answer have to do with the question? How does a higher percentage of female Democrats prove that gender is not an issue in this campaign? But Matthews really showed off his reason-free reasoning when, he responded to Maher's question about why Hillary was "doing better with Catholics" by saying:

Chris Matthews:

That's a great question, that is a great one... 65% in Pennsylvania right now against 26%. I bet she goes up to 70, 75. I think that's just another word for Catholics, small town, middle class, I don't know I can't quite explain it. I don't know the answer to that.

BM: "Wow, I stumped Chris Matthews! I should win something."

Not to be outdone or stumped, the critically thinking Matthews surmised:

Maybe... Lemme find an issue you agree with the Pope on here. You're both against the war in Iraq. Catholics are generally against the war in Iraq, Hillary voted for it. Maybe that would be a logical reason, I'm not sure it's the real reason. But that would make sense.

What? Anti-war Catholic resentment of a war-voting Hillary WOULD make sense... If Matthews were explaining why Hillary is UNPOPULAR among Catholics. But since Matthews himself offers statistics demonstrating Hillary's popularity among Catholics, he just presented an illogical, contradictory explanation.

So why this explanation? In the words of Matthews, that's a great question, that is a great one... don't know the answer to that... Maybe the answer is that Matthews has a blinding anti-Hillary bias which prevents his brain from registering any Hillary popularity. Or maybe the answer is that Matthews just isn't the brightest crayon in the box, in spite of his fluency in statistics and stereotyping.

Bill didn't catch Chris's illogical explanations on gender or Catholics. But in all fairness, it's hard to keep up with Matthews non-stop cerebral flatulence. And Maher did call out Chris's inanity earlier in the interview, when the pundit waxed nostalgic about the 2004 election:

CM: They asked the question which one of the candidates would help you, Bush or Kerry, if your car was broken down on the road... would stop and help you. Neither guy got 50% but Bush beat out Kerry. And that was a disaster. Because if you're a Democrat and people don't think you're gonna look out for the other guy, you're finished because you're not gonna win on law and order, or national security or all that stuff--

BM: But Chris the president is never on the highway. That would never come up. It has nothing to do with how a president affects people's live

CM: I know. it's about is this guy on our side or not.

Well, if we were to ask ourselves if Chris was on our side or not, I'm pretty sure the answer would be no. If our side wanted truth over truthiness.

Pranktivism: Obesity Exchange

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying

Our very own Lee Camp is here to talk about his solution for America's nutritional crisis.

Pras Michel on Skid Row

Screening Liberally Big Picture
by Katie Halper

In his latest project, hip hop artist, actor, and filmmaker Pras Michel of The Fugees goes undercover for 9 days and nights as a homeless person in downtown LA's notorious Skid Row. I met up with Pras in a hotel lobby in Manhattan to discuss Skid Row, the documentary based on his time on the street living with 90,000 people in a 50-square block area. Pras talked to me about Muhammed Ali, why he likes Obama and doesn't go for Bill Cosby, how Oprah and Snoop could help the "lost African-American" generation by meeting face to face, and why we're in a "transitional moment."

Check out www.skidrowthemovie.com to find where it's showing near you.

Why did you make this movie?

To make people aware. The majority of Americans just want to be able to work and provide. People on Skid Row...they just want to be able to work, they don't care what it is. A lot of people think if something's going on over here and not where they are, then it doesn't affect them. We have to get away from that mindset. Keeping the masses ignorant is hurting the country. If people were educated, they would learn to not pollute. I know the theory about short term vs. long term. But you gotta think about your children, your children's children...things that we think don't affect us, come back and affect us.

We saw this mindset during the AIDS crisis. No one cared because it apparently was only for homosexuals. Then AIDS showed that it did not discriminate. That's what's happening with homelessness. The health care crisis and the foreclosure crisis are distant, if not near cousins of homelessness. Millions of people losing their homes. Not all of them have people to stay with until they figure out their situation. This project is supposed to make people aware, to build a community. The globe has gotten smaller, more interconnected. We gotta start thinking like that. My job is to get people to realize that. Our goal isn't to say we have a solution because we don't. But we can show people that thinking "I'm gonna make it on my own, and if I'm successful I did it on my own, forget about everybody else" is wrong.

Did your own success make it hard for you to stay grounded and feel connected to the community?

I think the person that I am now, innately, has always been inside me. Success doesn't change us, it amplifies who we really are. If I'm an asshole, I'm gonna become a major asshole with power and money. If I'm a hermit, I'm gonna build a moat around my house so no one can come near me.What surprised you most about Skid Row?

I met someone who said he hadn't been distracted by women in three years. That's how he stayed clean. Any little distraction and he would have slipped back. In my world, I think about sex - I mean I don't think I think about sex like the average man does-

Which is 24/7?

Which is 24/7, I'm probably like...

2/6?

22/6.

No really, more like 22/7 right?

Yeah...I can't lie to you - sex was nowhere on my mind. Maybe because I was getting acclimated. But if I was there longer, I probably would have adapted.

And I surprised myself. When you're homeless a lot of things go out the window because it's all about survival. I had to do certain things I don't do. Like I'm not one of those people who smiles. It doesn't mean I'm not happy. It's just not part of my temperament. I never had to do that before. But on Skid Row, when I was looking for money, a guy said to "smile". He was gay. I'm not homophobic, far from it. Most guys would get offended. I wouldn't get offended, I just wouldn't smile. But on Skid Row when this guy offered me $5 to smile, I'm thinking, I have to eat. So I smiled for him. And another woman said to me, "Come on brother, it can't be that bad. Smile." And I smiled for her too.

I was really surprised by how nice people were to you and how much they opened up to you. Was it your smile?

Well they saw me as part of the community. They saw me around. It wasn't like I was an outsider. They saw me on the sidewalk. And they would save my little section for me when I came back late. That was New York's [Pras's alias] little home.

How did you feel about going undercover? Did you feel conflicted about violating people's trust, even if it was in order to raise awareness?

No, because I walked the walk.

So how did people respond when you told them who you were?

They thought it was good that we were exposing it, and exposing it in the realest form. It wasn't some Tyra Banks thing, going in there for two hours with no makeup. This was real.

What was the scariest part?

The unknown. Somebody got shot around the corner from where I slept. Someone could stab with you a needle and then you're done.

What did you learn on Skid Row?

I learned a lot. I learned a lot from the people on Skid Row. I was a student down in Skid Row. I was like a student at Oxford University. Like Philly [who lives on Skid Row] is brilliant. He builds computers. This dude is a computer geek...I mean we adapt to our situation. You take Philly and you take him from the street and put him in a corporate job - everything he learned he's able to upgrade it to a level, to a corporate side. Just like if you're corporate and not street-smart and you become homeless, you're gonna be able to downgrade it to make it work on the street. That's how you're able to survive.

Is hip hop still political?

Hip hop is just a mild version of what Reverend Wright was saying to his community. And it just got acceptable because it had music behind it and people said, "They're entertaining us. They don't really mean it." Then hip hop became successful, got away from what the agenda was, started doing the gangster stuff. So hip hop lost all edge, all credibility. But it used to be the black CNN.

Are there any hip hop artists who still have the edge and credibility?

Mos Def, Talib Kweli, but it's such a cult thing. The African-American generation is lost. They're not being represented correctly. The leaders, the Bill Cosbies, the Oprahs, instead of sitting down, they'd rather just criticize and point fingers. And they don't understand. Oprah, instead of saying, "Snoop is misogynist," can call Snoop and say, "Come see me in Chicago." He'll be more than happy to. And she can say, "Snoop, explain to me the disrespect of women, the homophobic thing, the gangster thing. Explain to me how is that advancing the community." And then he's gonna express it. And you're gonna have a form of dialogue. And guess what? Whatever she says, he may not totally agree, but it's going to influence him. Then maybe Snoop will come out and say, "Listen...it's all about the community now. I'm not saying I'm making mom and pop songs but I'm gonna be a little more conscious. I wanna do more." Because we know Oprah is the god.

So you're saying if there was dialogue, instead of finger-pointing ... ?

Oprah and Bill Cosby know you're not supposed to do certain things. But if you come from a broken home, you grew up without a father, how are you supposed to know? Just because black people don't relate to Oprah doesn't mean they don't respect how gangster she is. They know she is a beast. You can't deny who she is. Oprah can make the argument, "Listen, I came from a hard life." But you take 10 people and put them through the same thing, maybe 2 of them will come out of it OK. So we need a dialogue, we need communication.

What about the Cornel Wests of the world?

I love Cornel West. I respect him. But a black kid on the street don't have a clue who he is. Look, when Muhammed Ali came out...the reason he's "the people's champ"...is because he was defiant, he went against the U.S. government when they wanted to ship him to Vietnam. And he stood by it and people stood by him. Nobody called Michael Jordan "the people's champ." ... Michael Jordan is a sell-out. There are lots of black sell-outs.

Somebody said to me you only like Obama because he's black. Well I can think of a couple black people I wouldn't vote for. I'm not into black power. And on the other end of the spectrum, you got the Uncle Toms, the Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice...I'm not into that either. Obama is a uniter. He's perfectly comfortable with the skin he's in. He's not gonna sell out. That's a man of great principle.

The African-American generation is a lost generation unless something happens quickly. You have a generation of kids who are lost. Twelve-year-olds having sex and not understanding the meaning of that...People don't understand the power of having someone on a certain level that you can identity with. Five months ago, young African-American people didn't care about politics. Until Obama. If you are a young black person, you can relate to him because he's black and he's running for the highest office and he has a real good shot. He's articulate, he's smart, he's smooth. The people in the black community, in the urban community, are changing their style, the way they dress, because they see someone they relate to. He's not Charlie Rangel. He's only 46. He's 10 years older than me. He probably listens to hip hop and Mozart and jazz at the same time. I'm telling you, people don't realize the power of that speech Obama gave. Trying to hide and act like it didn't happen is like having a wound that can never heal. Obama is walking a tightrope. But we need to talk about this stuff. It's like if you're in a relationship with someone and something's not going well and you try not to talk about it because you hope it's going to disappear. It's not. I thought it was brilliant...By the way, I don't formally support Obama. I just want people to know I really like him.

I do not believe governments change willingly. LBJ didn't sign the Civil Rights Act because he wanted to. It was the pressure of the times. The times inspired Rosa Parks. The times inspired Martin Luther King, to stand up as a leader. It inspired white people who supported black people to come out of the closet and not be called a "nigger-lover." It inspired black people to say, "We can do this." It inspired a whole nation, which led to the Civil Rights Movement, which led to the Civil Rights Bill. The people are going to make the change - you can feel it. It's brewing in the air. You see it in the way we eat, the way we interact at work, the way we watch TV, movies, interact with the Internet. We're in a transitional moment.

Katie Halper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, one of the national directors of Living Liberally and artistic director and comedy curator at The Tank. Katie blogs regularly for the Huffington Post, Working Life, Culture Kitchen and the political comedy site 23/6. Katie is working on a documentary about Camp Kinderland, the "Summer Camp with a Conscience."

A version of this post originally appeared on AlterNet.

A Tax Day Dilemma

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

To eat a free donut or not eat a free donut? That is the question.

When I was 13 years old, I overheard a friend's father say he wanted a bumper sticker that said, "Stop Whining and Pay Your Taxes." What I didn't get at the time was how likely it would have been that he'd be rear-ended with a message like that. Nor did I get just how important that message was.

Now, I get it. As our framing experts have helped us to understand, language of "tax burden" sure helps the right-wing demonize the notion that we should all invest in our nation together. We more often hear quoted Ben Franklin's quote, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes," than the message of shared responsibility from another American giant, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society." So it's no surprise that anti-tax crusaders win elections, and anti-tax messaging becomes common rhetoric on both sides of the aisle.

Living Liberally doesn't agree. Back in April, 2005, we threw "Rock Your Refund." Dubbed "A Tax Day Celebration" (and, in our somewhat less-catchy attempt to re-frame, "An Invest-in-America Day Celebration"), we hosted a dance party, and encouraged donations at the door that were directed to services which had been underfunded due to Bush's reckless war-time tax cuts for the rich. In a celebratory spirit, we encouraged people to think about what their "invest-in-America" money went to...and to feel proud for paying their share.

The party didn't become an annual event...but it could. You could throw events that celebrate all that your taxes pay for: drinking tap water instead of bottled water, dancing on well-paved roads, honoring schools and scientific research and the post office.

Which leads me to the dilemma of the donut. Dunkin' Donuts offered a Tax Day Special yesterday - get a free donut if you buy any-sized cup of coffee. Regardless of the Carlyle Group involvement in Dunkin', I haven't been able to kick the habit. Their ads get into my head, and their donuts into my heart (or at least my arteries), ever since it was the only 24-hour establishment high schoolers could escape to late night in the small town of Highland Park, NJ. So, in short, I love their donuts.

Do I take advantage of this magical moment to get a Boston Creme at no cost? Or would that just be buying into the right-wing frame that taxes are a burden from which I need the "relief" of a free treat? Would satisfying my tastebuds soil my soul?

Well...I wasn't able to resist. Consider it me eating away Carlyle's profits by taking their donut for free. And if anyone wants to throw a Rock Your Refund Invest-in-America-Day Celebration, count me in...I need to clean the taste of right-wing frame off my palette.

And one last question: if you were throwing a party with themes of all the public works and common good taxes support, what images, party favors, and festive games would you include? How would you Rock YOUR Refund?