Google+ Whine

I honestly feel like Google Plus is very gimmicky. I think FB and Twitter were successful because they occupied a niche and their usage developed over time, as driven by how users chose to use them. @replies, retweets, #hashtags, link shortening, ccing, follow Friday — these were all user initiatives.

It’s a matter of giving people a certain constraint and people getting very creative within these constraints. People really weren’t sure how to use Twitter when it came out but it’s certainly come of age.

I think comparing follower counts between Twitter and Google+  is a really silly way to judge the success of a social media platform.  Every jerk-off “social media guru” has said how their Google+ follow count far outpaced their Twitter account.  But what do I see on Google+ now? I see people mostly complaining about Google+ or posting articles about it.  What do I see on my Facebook? I see political activism, events for political action. On Twitter? Egyptians talking to each other, coordinating political action, sharing links. Google+ will eventually mature (or die), but thus far they are telling users what they should use the platform for, which doesn’t work.

Atlantic’s Misleading Stats on Muslim Brotherhood support

An article posted in the Atlantic today reported that the Muslim Brotherhood had only 17% support, data derived from the latest Newsweek poll.

Here’s the article:

The first study is from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy (  A few things I noticed right off the bat on this survey.

Small sample size: the sample is of 343 phone interviews with residents in Cairo and Alexandria.  Greater Cairo is a city of 20 million people, Alexandria is about 4 million. Although I know there are strategies at getting representative samples, this seems to me a somewhat limited one. In addition, it excludes getting a representative sample of the majority of the Egyptian population, especially those who live in more rural governates.  If we are look at the results of the constitutional referendum, nearly all of the other governates voted yes, which would have meant that elections would come first, giving more salient parties an advantage.  It’s not a neat proxy for judging sentiment and attitudes towards existing parties like the MB, but a truly representative sample would have aimed at sampling from all governates.  Second, the phone interviews took place from Feb 5 to 8, 2011, still in the midst of the revolution. I’m not sure how this would bias the data, but it’s a concern.

The next study is from Gallup: (  This is perhaps one of the better designed surveys, given that it was taken after the revolution and has a sample of 1000 participants.

The last study is from Newsweek (, which doesn’t note its survey methodology anywhere, but says that the Freedom and Justice party has a “plurality of support” at 17%.  The Atlantic frames this more pessimistically, saying that this is an abysmal showing, worse than Nixon before he was shamed out of office.  What they do not say is that 27% of their respondents say that MB majority would be a good thing.  The disparity between support for an MB party and support for an MB majority is confusing. It’s possible that this discrepancy was a result of the instrument — MB has name recognition, while “Freedom and Justice” may not.

This is not to be an alarmist about the “Scary Impending MB Takeover” predicted by Fox News et al.  But the presentation of the data was just too disingenuous for me to leave it uncommented.

My Anti-Blog Pledge

In the past, when I’ve started a blogging endeavor, I’ve prefaced it and said that I will make an attempt to blog regularly.

This is my pledge to do just the opposite of that.

I’m too lazy to write explicitly for a blogging audience that may or may not exist.  So this is what I’m going to do.  I’m going to post things here whenever I have a thought longer than a tweet. For others, I will just tweet, and this site will post a daily digest.

Then I’ll post stuff published in other publications. Simple enough.

Wisconsin and Egypt: A tale of two uprisings

Originally published in The Isthmus, July 18, 2011:


The scene in Cairo on Saturday, February 12, the day after Mubarak stepped down, and two days before the first large protests started in Madison.
The sun rises against a smoggy Cairo sky as I write this on Friday, the day of rest and prayer in the capital of Egypt. It also marks the first full week back in historic Tahrir Square for Egyptian protesters. They’ve gotten better at their craft of occupying the space, setting up fans, air conditioners, and lighting in personal tents.

The comparison between Cairo and Madison has been made on more than one occasion, by high-profile figures from state Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) to Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin. It’s overwrought and problematic on many levels, but what we can compare between the two is what has happened since each uprising, and what it says about our own political imagination.

In Egypt, protesters are demanding largely the same things that they were in January and February: an end to corruption in government, a total overhaul of the notorious police force, a restructuring of the judiciary, no military trials for civilians, a rewrite of the constitution, and an increase in social spending and the minimum wage. Simply put, they want a free, democratic and socially responsible country.

The central demand from earlier in the year, the overthrow of Mubarak, is no longer relevant, but most activists believe that Mubarak’s regime is more than just Mubarak. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been more than willing to continue the tradition of authoritarianism practiced by Mubarak and his predecessors. I’ve spoken with several activists, and they see the revolution as far from complete, some saying they wished they had never left Tahrir after February 11.

But a wall has been broken, meaning freedom from fear and the willingness to engage in political experimentation. For example, blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah created what is called the #TweetNadwa, nadwa being the Arabic word for “seminar” or “study group.” The forum takes a certain political topic and throws it open for discussion, to both a set of panelists and the audience.

Each audience speaker is only allowed 140 seconds to comment, a nod to Twitter’s 140-character limit. Topics can be as broad as social justice or as specific as how to reform the police and the judiciary. These were the subjects of the last two #TweetNadwas, held in a grassy area of Tahrir Square and open to all the protesters there.

This is only one expression of the continuing political work of Egyptian activists. There is the much harder work of party-building and organizing citizens in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary and eventually presidential elections. The space is also opening up for the development of independent trade unions, freed from the shackles of the yellow union, which workers are forced to join by the state.

Back in Madison, the focus has been on the recall elections. As we’re all well aware, If the Democrats can hold onto their three seats and flip three more, the Senate will revert to Democratic control. Gov. Scott Walker’s hands would then be tied in pushing through more of the poisonous legislation we’ve seen over the past six months.

Wisconsin is, of course, not Egypt. We have legal redress, and we have a recall procedure. And while it’s been a monumental recall effort, there is statute that governs it.

The only thing the SCAF can hear, however, is thousands of people calling for its replacement with a transitional government. It seems to be working, with Prime Minister Essam Sharaf firing nearly 700 members of the security apparatus in connection with the murder of the nearly 1,000 martyrs of the January 25 revolution. Human rights groups and protesters are saying that this isn’t enough and will continue to press until police have gone to trial and are convicted.

Just as Egyptian activists wish they had never left Tahrir, maybe we shouldn’t have given up the Capitol so easily. As Jack “The Sconz” Craver has opined, campaigning on collective bargaining rights isn’t that sexy anymore. And perhaps it’s been a failure of our own political imagination.

We’ve been so engrossed in the recalls that the question of “how to keep the momentum going” has gotten looped into the means-to-an-end that are the recalls. We should think about what got us into this situation to begin with.

In our own way, we have to retake Tahrir. What about looking into our own organizations — our schools, universities and workplaces — and trying to build power within them? How about reforming our unions in such a way that they are oriented toward a culture of organizing and of collective power? The power of the union doesn’t lie in the law. Although labor law is often the consequence of union actions, union power comes from workers acting collectively and in solidarity with one another.

So while political imagination is blooming in Cairo, it is somewhat disappointing in Wisconsin. And it’s not for lack of a history of innovators. We are the state of Fighting Bob La Follette, of the Wisconsin Idea, and of the first public sector collective bargaining rights in the nation. Let’s find our #TweetNadwa. More concretely, let’s renew our parties, our institutions and our unions.

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