Cheap Talk Ain't Free

After the bloodless revolutions, cities and towns were being run by folks who had spent there time in the underground fighting for change��priests, electricians, sociology professors, longhaired artists.

In 1991, I was working for the Foundation in Support of Local Democracy, a joint-venture between the US and Polish governments. The mission was to help local municipalities to become more autonomous after the dissolution of the centralized communist government.

Before the Berlin Wall came down and the revolutionaries ascended to power in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, each tiny town received all information, logistical support and even office paper through the state's capital.

Suddenly, the struggle was over and they were in charge of large populations and all the totally unsexy jobs of ensuring that someone picked up the garbage, the lights stayed on, and it was all paid for by taxes (which no one had collected before). As they say, it is one thing to burn down the shithouse, it is another thing entirely to install indoor plumbing.

So, how did a 21-year-old American, recently graduated from��of all places��an art school, get assigned to this place?

Quite simply, I knew how to use a photocopier. And a computer. And a fax machine. And a telephone.

So what?

Well, before the revolution all these things that we take for granted as appliances, were considered by the centralized communist governments as dangerous tools of insurrection. And, in many parts of the world, they still are.

This is because ideas matter, access to information matters, and freedom to use ideas and information to form opinions on what is happening in relation to what has happened matters a whole helluva lot.

I worked with people in Eastern Europe who were imprisoned and tortured for distributing "dangerous anti-government material".

Here's how it worked: an acquaintance would pass by and whisper something like "Second park bench near the duck pond."

You would go to the location and find a rolled up piece of paper wedged in a crack, pull it out, take it home and unfurl it. It was a 3 page, hand-written newsletter with thoughts, ideas and information. After reading it, you would hand-write five copies and hide them around town. Then you'd pass "safe" acquaintances and whisper the location of said documents. And so on.

Now, at least in the "free world", every kid with a head-thought (myself included) has access to millions of readers. We take it for granted. We sneer at this phenomenon as self-indulgent and banal. Yet, talk to someone from Jordan, China, Zimbabwe, or North Korea (if you can, which chances are, you can't!).

They are starving for this kind of access.

Inspiration: Weblog entry by Paul Jones on his talk about �Internet and Journalism� (in PDF about 10 pages) to visiting Jordanian journalists as part of The Role of Print Media in Forging Press Freedoms: An Exchange Program Between Jordanian and American Journalists program through the University Center for International Studies and the School of Journalism and the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Amman, Jordan.


Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists

The Role of Print Media in Forging Press Freedoms: An Exchange Program Between Jordanian and American Journalists

International Journalists Network

Freedom House

A non-profit, nonpartisan organization, is a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world. Through a vast array of international programs and publications, Freedom House is working to advance the remarkable worldwide expansion of political and economic freedom.

Freedom House�s Annual Press Freedom Survey

This has tracked trends in media freedom worldwide since 1980. Now covering 192 countries and 1 territory, Freedom of the Press: A Global Survey of Media Independence provides numerical rankings and rates each country�s media as �Free,� �Partly Free,� or �Not Free.� Country narratives examine the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to information.


Joe Trippi The Revolution Will Not Be Televised : Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything

Description: When Joe Trippi signed on to manage Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, the long-shot candidate had 432 known supporters and $100,000 in the bank. Within a year, Trippi and his energetic but inexperienced team had transformed the most obscure horse in the field into a front-runner, creating a groundswell of 640,000 people and raising more money than any Democrat in history -- more than fifty million dollars -- mostly through donations of one hundred dollars or less.

Dan�Gillmor's We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People

Gilmor's observation that the common man (with internet access) is now the media, able to conteract the mainstream, and take on networks and governments using social nets, cell phones, pages, SMS and blogs.

Amazon Suggestions for More Reading

Problems with the Intellectual Tradition

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 'Rousseau's Political Writings: Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy on Social Contract (Norton Critical Editions)'

Most of the important writings. Rousseau predicted both Jacobinism and Romanticism, two world-views that have informed many modern despotisms both in Europe and abroad. Add his "noble savage" fantasies, and you have a recipe for many of our Third World dictatorships.

George Orwell, 'A Collection of Essays'

Orwell's greatest achievement was to stake out the territory where socialist economics and democracy may overlap, and to differentiate this small space from redistributivist regimes like Fascism and Communism.

Hannah Arendt, 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'

A thorough investigation of a variety of modern totalitarianism (including pan-Arabism).

Czeslaw Milosz, 'The Captive Mind'

The refugee poet recounts the lives of compatriots who "sold out" to Communism after World War II.

Raymond Aron, 'The Opium of the Intellectuals'

A remarkable early critique of French Existentialism and its misguided apologetics for Communism and Third-World dictatorships.

Frantz Fanon, 'The Wretched of the Earth'

A horrible and dangerous book that should be read by anyone skeptical enough to resist it. Right there with Che Guevara on the list of writers who personify the link between evil and naivete.

Paul Johnson, 'Intellectuals'

A series of biographical essays by a conservative historian. Many readers will be surprised how many of our "greatest minds" have played right in to the hands of dictators.

Isaiah Berlin and Henry Hardy (Ed.), 'Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty' and 'Three Critics of the Enlightenment'

Two masterpieces by one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century.

Karl Popper, 'Open Society and Its Enemies (Volume 1)' and 'Open Society and Its Enemies (Volume 2)'

Classic critiques of Plato, Hegel, and Marx by one of the century's greatest libertarians. (I personally think Popper goes too far.)

Mark Lilla, 'The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics'

A brief, but persuasive argument as to why so many of Europe's self-professed intellectuals have come so close to fascism and tyrrany.

Fouad Ajami, 'Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey'

A remarkable study of pan-arabist intellectuals, and their similar failures to read history pragmatically.

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, 'The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Gulag Archipelago)'

The Soviet gulag revealed. A devastating critique of the Communist's mass incarcerations.