“Twelve Tribes” study: religion and politics

A bit of political anthropology via Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman and the University of Akron’s John Green at beliefnet: an analysis of “Twelve Tribes” and their positions on presidential candidates. This grouping, more nuanced than “Religious Right vs Everyone Else,” is “inspired by the twelve tribes of Biblical Israel, but formed around similarities in religious beliefs and practice.” Marc Armbinder at notes that “there is no discernable (sic) trend toward a preference for more government intervention. Indeed, trust in government has declined.” (Thanks to Bob Carlton for the pointer.)

Tiptoe through the tulips


Dave Wilson sent David Farber’s “Interesting People” email list a paragraph from Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (which I may have somewhere; Mark Frauenfelder once gave it to me for Christmas… if I had only thought to take it more seriously!) Here’s the paragraph, suggesting what you have when the bubble bursts:

At last, however, the more prudent began to see that this folly could not last for ever. Rich people no longer bought the flowers to keep them in their gardens, but to sell them again at cent. per cent. profit. It was seen that somebody must lose fearfully in the end. As this conviction spread, prices fell, and never rose again. Confidence was destroyed, and a universal panic seized upon the dealers. A had agreed to purchase ten Sempers Augustines from B, at four thousand florins each, at six weeks after the signing of the contract. B was ready with the flowers at the appointed time; but the price had fallen to three or four hundred florins, and A refused either to pay the difference or receive the tulips. Defaulters were announced day after day in all the towns of Holland. Hundreds who, a few months previously, had begun to doubt that there was such a thing as poverty in the land, suddenly found themselves the possessors of a few bulbs, which nobody would buy, even though they offered them at one quarter of the sums they had paid for them. The cry of distress resounded everywhere, and each man accused his neighbour. The few who had contrived to enrich themselves hid their wealth from the knowledge of their fellow-citizens, and invested it in the English or other funds. Many who, for a brief season, had emerged from the humbler walks of life, were cast back into their original obscurity. Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary, and many a representative of a noble line saw the fortunes of his house ruined beyond redemption.

According to Wikipedia, “economists have debunked many aspects of [Mackay’s] account,” primarily whether “tulipmania” was actually a “bubble.”

While Mackay’s account held that a wide array of society was involved in the tulip trade, Goldgar’s study of archived contracts found that even at its peak the trade in tulips was conducted almost exclusively by merchants and skilled craftsmen who were wealthy, but not members of the nobility. Any economic fallout from the bubble was very limited. Goldgar, who identified many prominent buyers and sellers in the market, found fewer than half a dozen who experienced financial troubles in the time period, and even of these cases it is not clear that tulips were to blame.

Where today’s economic crisis is concerned, I’ve wondered to whether it’s catastrophic for the middle (and lower) income classes as compared to the wealthy, who have more to lose. Whatever the case, we’re on the edge of a volatile transformation. David Armistead and I (among others) have been talking for many months now about the inevitable evolution of a “sustainability economy,” shifting from assumptions of resource abundance driving seemingly unlimited consumption to a prevailing assumption that resources are inherently limited (not so much an assumption as a given). (Thomas Friedman suggests that we “green the bailout.”) In the new economy, we’ll shift from resource extraction to resource efficiency, from drilling for oil to drilling for knowledge. Our tulip farms will be organic, and we’ll return to the soil what we take.


Kevin Koym can’t sleep. Is wifi keeping him awake? [Link]

Research that has been sponsored and published in Europe has shown that adults that use their cell phones close to bedtime might get to sleep fast, but sometimes don’t enter into the most restful phases of sleep for an extra hour. I posited in my own case that my insomnia was possibly caused by working too late- yet it was not untill I started limiting my wireless internet usage that I started noticing that wifi might have something to do with this as well.

How’s your sleep?

One Web Day in Austin

Working with the phenomenal Maggie Duval, Cafe Caffeine, and Austin Jelly instigator Dusty Reagan, we’ve put together Austin’s own One Web Day celebration – Monday, September 22 at Cafe Caffeine. We’ll have speakers all day, from 10:30am to 8:15pm, during a special One Web Day Jelly. Sign up at Eventbrite or just show up!

More about One Web Day

The Whole Earth Catalog remembered

Plenty Magazine has a remembrance of the Whole Earth Catalog with comments by several who were involved or influenced. Whole Earth certainly influenced my evolution, in fact determined my career path.

The Plenty intro is inaccurate in that it mentions only on the Catalog’s “four year run,” but if Whole Earth had gone away after four years, the influence wouldn’t have been the same. Whole Earth’s life was extended many more years through the publication of Coevolution Quarterly, later renamed Whole Earth Review, then Whole Earth Magazine – now sadly defunct.

I wasn’t much into computers and technology until Whole Earth announced in 1985 that it was launching a BBS called the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which was accessible from anywhere by modem. I bought a computer and modem and dialed in via long distance to Sausalito, and that was my first adoption of social technology. Via the WELL I connected with Whole Earth, met then-editor Howard Rheingold and past editor Kevin Kelly, established a relationship with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and got involved in the formation of EFF-Austin, became an associate editor of bOING bOING the ‘zine and book review editor for Factsheet Five, was involved in a private discussion with a group of people who were starting a magazine called Wired, connected with Wired’s HotWired online service and started the Electronic Frontiers Forum there, met Paco Nathan and formed FringeWare, Inc., found writers for Fringe Ware Review (which was incidentally modeled on Whole Earth Review), became part of Howard Rheingold’s Electric Minds, worked with Bruce Sterling on the Mirrorshades conference and later on Viridian Design, and became an early blogger, initially publishing via the public_html directory of my WELL account. Having met the Whole Earth crew, I did some writing for Whole Earth Review, including my global warming piece in the Sterling-edited last issue. I was editor of the Consciousness Subdomain of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog – sort of a dream come true – and coordinated a Whole Earth party in Austin while the team was here (with Wavy Gravy along for the ride) for their publisher’s annual meeting. My bOING bOING colleague Mark Frauenfelder turned me onto blogger, and there was early back and forth with Mark and Cory Doctorow as the bOING bOING blog was evolving – and we were all using the Whole Earth format in blogging, where there was a review of something followed by quoted excerpts. Many bloggers adopted this format, probably because they used the popular bOING bOING blog as a model.

I’m pretty sure the Internet wouldn’t be what it is today if Whole Earth and the WELL had never existed. The influence was way more than a blog format. Those of us who read the Whole Earth publications were inspired to be eclectic and creative in our thinking, and to question everything, especially our own assumptions.

There’s more I could say, but I’ve run out of time. I wish Whole Earth Magazine was still around. The last issue, edited by Alex Steffen as a precursor to Worldchanging, was never published due to a lack of funds. Attempts to raise enough money to revive the publication failed, and it went away.

Time for a revival? Some things cycle out and can’t be revived, but Whole Earth could rise again, I think, with the right set of instigators.

What was your experience of the Whole Earth Catalog?

Not said in jest

That’s a photo of David Foster Wallace shot by Steve Rhodes. I can’t find the review of Infinite Jest that I wrote for Wired Magazine’s web site Hotwired, and I haven’t read Wallace (or much fiction, other than my unfinished but in-progress marathon read of Pynchon’s Against the Day, but I’m affected by his suicide, by the sense that that amazing aggregation of words and ideas and hot synapses could suddenly be still, just like that, and we’ll hear nothing more from him. Authors are smart and sensitive and vulnerable. The best think about everything and try to find, and tell, the truth. I wanted to be one of those but didn’t follow the discipline, and I clearly wasn’t prepared to suffer for my art, and it hadn’t sunk in that the suffering is there anyway, a condition of life. That’s not meant to be fatalistic, but I’m acknowledging the Buddhist sense of suffering as attachment. I’m not a great Buddhist, but I practice enough to have a sense of that attachment, what it means, why the Buddha connected attachment to suffering in expressing his Noble Truths. The attachment is as much as anything a grasping at words and ideas and concepts and supposed-but-not-really truths, all churning forth from some emptiness within. I can imagine any author, surfing the terrible waves of consciousness and trying to hold a vertical position against the forces of the universe, frustrated by grasping, unable to go with the flow, and ultimately considering that death might bring peace. That’s a terrible tragedy.

My editor at Hotwired wondered that I hadn’t mentioned the tennis in the book. The thousand plus pages has threads about tennis and about drug rehab. I recall that I as more interested in addiction than tennis at the time, but I suppose they could be the same thing (and related to the titular samizdat). I was sinking into the long lucid passages and losing their connection to the whole sometimes.

I knew I needed to go back and read it again with no rush against deadline, and I wanted to read Wallace’s other works. One of those things you put off. The books are still there to read, but I’ll never have a conversation with Wallace… it’s like finding out that Bill Hicks died after saying for so long that I’ll have to catch him sometime.

Speaking of comedy, Frank Bruni wrote of Wallace, in the New York Times Magazine in 1996, “Wallace is to literature what Robin Williams or perhaps Jim Carrey is to live comedy: a creator so maniacally energetic and amused with himself that he often follows his riffs out into the stratosphere, where he orbits all alone.”

In 2005, he gave a commencement address at Kenyon Collegein Ohio, saying that it “is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head.” He went on to say that “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Making it – our DIY future

I’m not exactly a maker – I don’t spend a lot of time building or deconstructing devices or hacking what I’ve bought. I’m not a regular reader of Make Magazine, though it’s edited by my friend and former bOING bOING colleague Mark Frauenfelder, and I’ve always appreciated his world view… Mark’s a mashup of wide-eyed innocent and wise sage, and his head’s all full of fascinating cartoons and futuristic visions. When I curated a digital convergence track for SXSW Interactive in 2006, I included a session on DIY and convergence and contacted Mark, who suggested Phil Torrone, who signed on and suggested Limor Fried and someone from Make’s sister magazine, Craft. It was a great session; the next year Phil and Limor keynoted to a packed room at the conference. I realized there was a huge DIY movement emerging and they were channeling those energies. Consider that the world of the future may not be a slick, standardized manufactured environment but a world of personal reconfigurable environments, highly individualized; a world where everyone’s expected to have gadget literacy and everything in our environment has an open, hackable architecture.

A couple of years ago, after the first Maker Faire in California, I emailed Mark and suggested they try it in Austin. They did, and as a result I found myself working an installation on the DIY Home of the Future based on Derek Woodgate’s research and Dave Demaris’s hard work, along with Bon Davis and several others. (Our Plutopia collective and annual party emerged from this endeavor – long story.) I wrote a couple of DIY home pieces for Worldchanging at the time, posted here and here. Derek had done a lot of thinking about the future of personal built environments, again highly reconfigurable by “the user.” This assumes a couple of things: 1) that we evolve the gadget literacy I mentioned earlier, and we see that in the DIY/Maker movement as early adopters on the today’s fringes, and 2) homes and gadgets and devices will be increasingly open, hackable, and reconfigurable. To that end, Make has published a Maker’s Bill of Rights, and Jeremy Faludi at Worldchanging riffs on the concept, discussing design for hackability as green design. Note that the Bill of Rights page at Make has a link to the Leatherman Squirt, aka “Warranty Voider.”