Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Speak2Tweet: Like messages in bottles launched into an electronic ocean by the citizens of Egypt

The Million Man March has started in Cairo, and I've been listening -- unfiltered -- to one of the most extraordinary things I've ever heard -- a succession of voice messages from ordinary Egyptian people on Speak2Tweet the Google/Twitter voicemail service using ordinary land lines for a people deprived of their internet service.

These aren't the voices of journalists, government officials or other intermediaries. These are the voices of ordinary people, most speaking in Arabic, a few in English. Click on these links and you'll hear the voices of people caught up in a great popular uprising. Even if you don't understand the language, the emotion comes through. It's almost like a direct connection with the soul of Egypt in its time of hope and turmoil.

There's also a blog, Speak2Tweet Translate, where volunteer translators are translating as many of these messages as they can, as quickly as possible. Just one example:
Hello I’m Egyptian
And I’m calling out to every human being on this planet.
We are not the only ones who need to take this guilty one to trial, this killer, the entire world needs to because he is killing the people. Because we are all people, we are all human beings, the entire world needs to judge him. The entire world needs to. The people need to because he is killing the people.
He kills the people. i beg you all to judge him
Link to play message
The voicemails are like messages in bottles launched into an electronic ocean by the citizens of Egypt at this incredible time in the history of their country and the entire Middle East. Thanks to a functioning internet outside Egypt, we are able to pick them up as they wash ashore and to experience directly some of the emotions of this incredible time.

The link also promises to keep one more line of communication open as a workaround while virtually everything else gets shut down by the Egyptian government. Thank you Google and twitter!

Monday, January 31, 2011

When I hear the words "Madison" and "world class city" in the same sentence I reach for my BS Meter

Upper State Street
Madison is a lovely mid-size Midwestern city with many amenities. Many of us love it, and it's not hard to see why. Is it a "world class city?" Not as most people would use the phrase outside Madison. Real world class cities don't need to call themselves "world class" The world does that for them.

When applied to Madison, "world class city" is a sign that hype is being committed, that someone is trying to sell something. When I hear this happening, I reach for my BS meter. "World class city" is the kind of empty phrase completely drained of meaning that George Orwell dissected so memorably in Politics and the English Language. And it's not harmless. As Orwell warned, sloppy language goes hand in hand with sloppy thinking. All too often, when hype is taken literally and not thought through, bad policy is the result. (Much like the way the similar phrase "world class facility" seemed to hypnotize people and cloud their minds during discussions about the Overture Center.)

When I read about Mayor Dave's plan to commit $300,000 in taxpayer funds to the B-Cycle LLC bike share program in partnership with Trek, my first thought was "cool!" After all, Trek would invest a lot of money, the program seems to work in other cities, and bike-sharing is a great idea. Then I saw the telltale words in his proposal, "world class city."

The BS Meter started to buzz, and I began having second thoughts: Why Trek? Has the mayor been unduly swayed by a major fundraiser who also accompanied him on a bike study trip to Europe? Why no RFP? Why do we need to jumpstart this thing with $100,000 from the emergency fund? And since we're talking about public land for the bike kiosks, isn't it possible to find a vendor for a program like this that would actually pay the city money for the rights, rather than asking for money? What's the rush? Why not get some more input, follow the normal process and consider some more vendors?

I'm sure Mayor Dave believes in his proposal, but do we have to take his word for it? Paul Soglin also thinks bike-sharing is a great idea, but doesn't like the idea of locking into this without more discussion and an RFP. Brenda Konkel has posted comments by both Dave Cieslewicz and Paul Soglin at Forward Lookout.

The City Council takes this up tomorrow. It would be really great if they could discuss the proposal without the phrase "world class city" coming up once. Might be a first.