Here’s what I remember about President George Herbert Walker Bush

Here’s what I remember about President George Herbert Walker Bush, on the occasion of his passing.

In 1990, on a meandering cross-country road trip, I drove out of Yosemite National Park to see an enormous column of smoke reaching into the sky, so titanic and towering I at first wasn’t able to make sense of it or understand what it was.

The park was on fire, one of the epically huge fires of our times, and listening to the radio as I drove down out of the park, this gigantic pillar of sacrificial smoke and flame pouring in slow-mo up into the sky, I learned also that Operation Desert Shield had commenced.

Desert Shield … setting the stage for all the war and terror that has consumed the Middle East and the world since. If only we had given up oil and the carbon economy 10 years earlier, none of that military intervention would have been deemed strategically necessary by President George Herbert Walker Bush.

I ended up in D.C. and became a bike messenger for a spell. The big march on Washington happened and I participated. It seemed like a very happy event, full of drums and facepaint and all such. My thought was that if everyone were marching silently instead of banging drums — wearing black with tears painted on their cheeks instead of clown faces — that would have been a stronger statement, but, I get it. Joyous resistance and all.

A year later I moved west, to San Francisco, and I saw pictures of the Highway of Death, a chilling and grotesque monument to the blood we’ll shed to protect American access to oil resources. And around that time my car was parked on a hill and got hit and totaled by a driver that lost control … I collected the settlement, and haven’t owned a car since.

Many patterns were set in motion that are still playing out today.

I can still hear his strident, pinched tones decrying Michael Dukakis as a “card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union” during his successful presidential campaign.

And those are my memories of President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“How Many Black Male Teachers Did You Have Growing Up?”

Black Enterprise Magazine poses the question: “How many black male teachers did you have growing up?”

(h/t Nettrice Gaskins for posting the article in her social feed.)

In WASPy Caldwell/West Caldwell, N.J., the faces of ethnic diversity were Irish and Italian Catholics, Greeks (Orthodox, natch) and the occasional Jew.

At James Caldwell High School, George Harriston, who taught Latin and Honors English, was AFAIK the sole African American teaching at the school and possibly the school system at the time.

He knew his classics cold, adored Thomas Mann, and made us sit through “Death in Venice,” his favorite movie, the subtleties of which were utterly lost on us. But his reaction at the movie’s denouement has been stuck in my mind ever since … a long, wistful sigh and an expression of longing for something lost and gorgeous.

His Honors English class was one of the few times I got an A in anything, because his class was one of the few I gave a damn about.

He was universally loved, his Latin students called him “Georgibus Rex,” deliberately misusing the conjugation (which I only know because he told me, I never took his Latin class, though I wish I had), and he would wave his hands in exasperated dismissal of the wiseacres while smiling slightly as he turned back to the blackboard.

I remember once, a shocked rumor went around the school … Mr. Harriston had been pulled over by Caldwell police en route to a faculty party for something that would later be called in mass media “driving while black.” That terminology wasn’t commonplace in that town at the time.

We (the students) couldn’t believe it. Pulling over MR. HARRISTON? WTF???

He never discussed it, never shared any of his experiences as an African American with us. It was never a topic of discussion and I never heard — or heard of — any derogatory racial discourse about him

While racism against African Americans undoubtedly existed in my home town, no one expressed that around me. Ditto for slurs against Asians or Latinos. It all seemed quite taboo. The derogatory jokes I did hear were largely aimed and Poles and gays, occasionally Jews, and were mostly told in elementary school.

I have come to understand now that racists, even today, are pretty careful about whom they express their views around; they ‘test you out’ with a few mild key phrases to see if you respond, and if you don’t, they clam up. Perhaps that’s why my ears were so virginal in those tender years.

I imagine today, knowing what we all now now about race in post-racial America, that Mr. Harriston probably dealt with racism on a fairly routine basis.

It haunts me, that this brilliant, kind, sarcastic man, with his faint smile and love of letters, should have been subjected to such behavior. That it would be a common denominator in his life and in the lives of millions of other African Americans.

George Harriston died in 1999 and any donations in his memory were put in a college fund for JCHS.

He was one of my favorite teachers and one of the people I credit for profoundly deepening my appreciation of English language and literature.

The 19th anniversary of his passage is this coming Saturday.

R.I.P. and thank you, always, Mr. Harriston.

HARRISTON – George E. Harriston, died on Aug. 11, 1999, at St. Barnabas Hospital. The cause was heart failure. Mr. Harriston was an English and Latin teacher in the Elizabeth and West Caldwell school systems for 37 years. He had been an advisor to the school newspaper at Caldwell and served as coordinator of foreign languages. A graduate of Montclair State College, he pursued graduate studies at Rutgers, Seton Hall and University of Minnesota. Mr. Harriston served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Orange Public Library. He also had been an adjunct professor at University College, Rutgers Newark for 20 years. He was a member of the New Jersey Education Association. Mr. Harriston served in the Army Transportation Corps during the Korean War. Born in Elizabeth, N.J., he lived in Newark, Orange, Montclair and Bloomfield during his professional life. In lieu of flowers, those who wish may make contributions to College Scholarship Fund of James Caldwell High School, West Caldwell, N.J.

Shield Law Wouldn’t Apply to Non-Journalist Journalists

The New York Times notes that an important shield-law bill for journalists is heading for a vote in Congress has been modified in the wake of the WikiLeaks/Afghanistan story:

“Senators Charles E. Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, Democrats of New York and California, are drafting an amendment to make clear that the bill’s protections extend only to traditional news-gathering activities …”

So what exactly is a traditional news-gathering activity? And who, for that matter, is a journalist? Both of these things could be addressed in the bill in a manner that seems hostile to both technological and social innovation.

One step in this direction is to add specific language to the bill …

“… defining who would be covered by the law as a journalist — an area that can be tricky in an era of blogging and proliferation of online-only news media outlets.”


“After Afghan War Leaks, Revisions in a Shield Law Bill”
New York Times, August 4, 2010

Net Architecture and the Future of Journalism

Our best hope for journalism is that it adapts to the Internet as a medium, by adopting a decentralized organizational structure, in sync with the Internet’s basic/essential architecture as a network.

In the network, power and access are distributed, everyone’s equally capable and embedded in a peer context. Thus the enterprise of journalism should focus on good process and good practice at the peer level: to facilitate collaboration, resource exchange, and the circulation of information/ideas/dialogue.

Check out this except from John Naughton’s essay in The Guardian, “The internet: Everything you ever need to know”:

“The answer lies deep in the network’s architecture. When it was being created in the 1970s, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, the lead designers, were faced with two difficult tasks: how to design a system that seamlessly links lots of other networks, and how to design a network that is future-proof. The answer they came up with was breathtakingly simple. It was based on two axioms. Firstly, there should be no central ownership or control – no institution which would decide who could join or what the network could be used for. Secondly, the network should not be optimised for any particular application. This led to the idea of a’ simple’ network that did only one thing – take in data packets at one end and do its best to deliver them to their destinations. The network would be neutral as to the content of those packets – they could be fragments of email, porn videos, phone conversations, images… The network didn’t care, and would treat them all equally.

“By implementing these twin protocols, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn created what was essentially a global machine for springing surprises. The implication of their design was that if you had an idea that could be implemented using data packets, then the internet would do it for you, no questions asked. And you didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.”

Can you imagine? Journalists who don’t have to ask permission, working in a peer community. Democracy requires nothing less.

The case for New Public Media

It is a curious thing, in an era of revolutionary change in the media landscape, that journalists and editors have gained so little.

The Internet has been a boon for citizen media. It’s like Neal Postman’s pre-telegraph America, the original media convergence of spoken word and written text. The Lyceums and Chautauquas, the newspapers and pamphleteers — they’ve come full circle, virtually.

Corporations are also gaining ground. Rocked by layoffs, consolidation and cutbacks, they are nonetheless monetizing online media, and rather expediently.

Journalists and editors, however — the ones doing the actual work of producing and publishing news — have neither the editorial and topical freedom of the blogger, nor the economic opportunity of the corporations.

They are the ones getting laid off, consolidated and cut back, as journalism’s civic necessity is trumped by quarter-to-quarter financial expediency.

Speaking in September 2008 at the Knight Foundation’s Silicon Valley forum on community information needs, Mike McGuire, a research VP at Gartner, asked: If content really is king, why are content producers getting the short end of the stick? Why not start cutting sales staff at failing media outlets instead of reporters and editors?

In fact, cutting ad revenue altogether would have an additional, significant benefit directly related to journalism’s situation: It would relieve the newsroom of outside economic pressures that impede the practice of journalism in the public interest.

This was precisely what motivated earlier rounds of public-media investment in the United States, producing such institutions as All Things Considered and The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Yet for all their merits, these programs — highly centralized, capital intensive, grounded in Wall Street and Washington, D.C. — are not replicable, particularly not locally and regionally, where the need is so acute.

So what would constitute “New Public Media”?

In my own experience, for example, fiscal sponsorship is a great “platform service” to support community-focused media, arts and cultural ventures. The challenge we continually face is doing more than just providing sponsorship, which is a complex service involving multiple legal and financial considerations. To really be “new public media,” let’s set a few benchmarks:

  • Independently produced, using various sorts of network and nonprofit infrastructure (e.g. producer collaborations, crowdfunding, open-source and digital media, fiscal sponsorship).
  • Funded primarily or significantly by direct community and public donations, membership dues, or some other aggregated type of individual support.
  • Donor is investing a public service, not buying a private product, and in giving develops a higher level of engagement with with the content produced.
  • The media content is non-commercial, relevant to diverse, underserved communities, and unavailable in via legacy mass media.

New Public Media deepens the resources and independence of the journalist and media producer, giving them new autonomy to cover underserved communities and important but overlooked news.

However, investment in its infrastructure — “platform” services such as fiscal sponsorship (the subject of my own efforts with Independent Arts & Media) — is hard to come by.

Funders need to look at new ways to support productive capacity in underserved communities, by supporting platform services such as fiscal sponsorship. Individual producers need to explore ways to collaborate around “overlap” activities such as marketing, fundraising, and administration.

These are conditions, really, that can help new types of public media emerge.

Crosspost: “Infrastructure vs. Institutions” via Free Press

The good folks at Free Press gave me a li’l soapbox on their blog. I took the opportunity to mouth off about journalism institutions vs infrastructure, a familiar topic to readers of Illuminated Media. Here’s a teaser — read the rest on SaveTheNews:

Institutions or Infrastructure? The Real Opportunity for Online Journalism and Democracy
Josh Wilson, January 26, 2010

This is a guest post by Josh Wilson of, a commercial-free, non-politicized news source covering important but overlooked issues from around the world.

Want to save the news? Stop worrying about journalism institutions, and start worrying about journalists.

Much of the discussion about media and journalism is about institutions and their relationships with citizens. The issues — that journalism institutions must be transparent, accountable, and provide real value and relevance to the community — are clear enough.

The problem is, the Internet is not about institutions — by which I mean social organizations with a gestalt that is singular and self-prioritizing. Rather, it’s about peer relationships — the egalitarian multiplicity with common goals and mutual needs.

This idea of peer-to-peer relationships is built into the physical architecture of the Internet itself. When you talk about institutions as singular, therefore, you talk about intermediaries that more often than not get in the way of peer relationships …


New News Co-ops: Evolution Happens

Once shunned for its suspiciously reddish tinge, the word “cooperative” may have regained utility, and credibility, in the vocabulary of journalism business models.

As the newly formed Chicago News Cooperative appears to demonstrate, it’s not just a way of organizing journalists when the traditional model is failing; it’s also a means for undercapitalized commercial media companies to offload the expense of maintaining their own local/regional newsrooms.

A New Type of News Nonprofit
Though I don’t think we’re quite dealing with a new dawn for anarcho-syndicalist worker’s coops, the emergence of the Pocantico community — a diverse group of investigative-news nonprofits that have banded together to share resources and multiply impacts — has been followed by this more regional, heartlands venture.

The Chicago News Cooperative, as reported by Poynter, will get its startup funding from the MacArthur Foundation, and support from local public radio and TV outlets.

Its first major client will be the New York Times; the CNC will produce two original pages of content for the Gray Lady’s Chicago edition.

It’s telling to note that a major commercial news outlet such as the Times is now embracing nonprofit newsrooms as an affordable source of quality local/regional coverage. A similar effort is emerging in San Francisco, with the Times getting local content from the semi-cooperative (and semi-controversial!) Bay Area News Project.

Emerging Trends
The Times also dipped its toe in the nonprofit waters earlier this year, offloading onto Spot.Us the expense of sending a freelancer reporter to the Pacific Garbage Patch. The breakthrough crowdfunding service (disclaimer: My own project is an ongoing partner) has raised more than $6,000 for this purpose — though one wonders why a multi-billion-dollar media corporation couldn’t have shelled out the dough itself; are there are some murky lines being crossed?

Regardless, the breakthrough here is the twofold acceleration of new trends in organizational and revenue development:

  • Journalists are self-organizing into cooperative business organizations that are more responsive to their needs than existing commercial and “dinosaur” nonprofit structures. 
  • Commercial news outlets, starved for resources and battered by Wall Street economics, are increasingly turning to lean nonprofit service providers to develop public-interest coverage that is not viable under a for-profit business model. (The Associated Press offers a precedent for this, though that agency itself is a dinosaur, and potentially vulnerable to increasing competition from smaller, emergent nonprofit networks and agencies.)

The “market pain” is clear. Unless there’s some dramatic change in journalism business models nationwide turn for the better for commercial journalism business models, these new trends will come to define news production in the 21st century.

Traditional for-profit news outlets, meanwhile, could largely become hollow brands, mass-market vehicles for lighter content about sports, entertainment, political “chatter” and requisite ambulance chasing, and turning to nonprofit third parties for the serious stuff that doesn’t quite capture eyeballs en masse like Octomom.

Whether this is a final state for 21st century journalism, or just another step in the transformation of the news sector, remains to be seen.

But there will be much, much more of it.

Noted: The Executive Pay Question

From the Columbia Journalism Review, a comment on executive pay and the startup-funding issues that confront small, nonprofit-news projects (such as my own endeavor):

Newsosaur Alan Mutter [noted] that Paul Steiger, the editor in chief of the non-profit news startup Pro Publica, earned a $570,00 salary in 2008. Mutter compared that situation to the Chi-Town Daily News, a startup that folded in September after it failed to raise $300,000 needed to meet its annual budget …

“Adding Steiger, a former managing editor at The Wall Street Journal (where he earned more than twice as much), to Pro Publica’s masthead surely provided the start-up some much-needed star power. On the other hand, half his salary would still leave him well off by industry standards, and free up enough money to hire half a dozen reporters. So this raises the question: Can very large news salaries be justified in the current business climate? And does it make a difference whether the outlet is a non-profit startup, a for-profit newspaper, or a television news network?”

Guest Post: “The Argument for Network Neutrality (a.k.a. ‘The Commons’)”

By Jeff Gerhardt, Ronin Geek

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerhardt, whose early career found him helping midwife the Internet in its ARPA days, says that attempts to portray Net Neutrality as “socialist” are distortions of history. In fact, he writes: The Internet is by nature and intent open-source, peer-driven, fundamentally entrepreneurial, and thus Net Neutrality is as American as the First Amendment. The real redistribution of wealth, he says, was the giveaway of telecom infrastructure to commercial monopolies, to the detriment of “entrepreneurial America.”]

To those of you who do not want to see the Internet become TV-2, I am once again in the position where I feel I need to remind people of the history of all of this Internet stuff, as a primer to the issue of Network Neutrality and its importance to every American.

I get to do that because I was there at the beginning.

As a college student (early 1970s) I was a grunt pulling infrastructure cable that was used on ARPA network segments. Yup. I knew the ARPA guys. They were my geek gods before I ever saw a personal computer.

I have met and discussed the Net with Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Bob Braden, Jon Postel and other members of the Network Working Group headed by Steve Crocker (Mr TCP/IP himself). I still get an excitement each year on the anniversary of RFC-1 day.

Although, unlike some politicians that will go unnamed, I did not invent the Internet — man, did it change the course of my life. I am a rare breed, people like me are honest to goodness Internet Dinosaurs.

A few years later I was working for Compuserve as a SYSOP of a Tandy SIG. A few years after that I opened up a couple BBS systems. A few years after that some fellow BBS operators (and I) got together to split the cost on a UUNET account, so we could do that electronic mail thing. And eventually some of us got together to put together some of the first Internet Service Providers in the world.

So, I was often in the room, when some of the fundamental technology that created the >>commercial phase<< of the Internet WAS INVENTED. The guy in the office next to me invented what I believe was the first multi-domain Web hosting server (yes — virtual domain Web hosting) in the world (with a single IP number).

I was part of a meeting that white-boarded out VDS technology that made regional and national ISPs a viable business model.

My buddy Kevin and I, well if we did not invent something, we were often in the mix of a first practical demonstration of a technologies viability.

I was a part of an alliance of ISPs that were the first to deploy DSL and Internet over cable solutions. And let me tell you, in 1996 we (the U.S.) were leading the world in broadband deployment and innovation and the phone and cable companies had almost nothing to do with it.

That fact was true until September of 1997, when the Cable and Phone Companies STOPPED Broadband Deployment in its tracks by reinterpreting the 1996 Telco Act as giving them power to restrict broadband deployment.

Let me tell you something about all that history.

* * * * *

Never, not once from the ARPA days, through the “BBS & online community” days and up through the ISP era, was the concept of Network Neutrality EVER questioned.

PEERING was at the heart of the Internet model and equality was the bedrock. It was unthinkable to question.

And to boot, it was far from “socialist” as it created the largest economic explosion in the history of the United States. Please — when you see your local representatives, remind them of that.

But what was unique about the Internet as “The Commons,” as my friend Doc Searls liked to call it, was that it was down to its basic elements VERY AMERICAN. It was all about freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of opportunity and a fundamentally fair and level playing field.

So to say that Network Neutrality is “socializing the Internet” is a total fraud. It is in one word (and you can quote me) “CRAP”.

Now, removing Network Neutrality is a form of socialism, that of a corporate/government social symbiosis; or a “Corporatocracy” as the wonks would call it.

Redistribution of wealth as an act of socialism; is not any different if you are taxing the rich to provide service for the poor as it is to take property from the public at large and give it to corporations.

With the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, it was evident that the phone industry was in more trouble then even the smartest economists predicted. The ISP industry was handing the combined telecommunications industry its lunch.

Smaller, more responsive to public demand, LOCAL companies were taking a larger and larger marketshare. And, with the advent of large-scale IP networks, it became apparent to anyone with a brain that phone companies had outlived their useful purpose.

At the start of 1997 it looked like the only thing that would save the phone companies was re-regulation. But the public had been made a promise of cheaper, faster and more diverse telecommunications options; so re-regulation was not an option.

I ask, anyone’s cable or phone bill gone down in the last 12 years?

The response by the telecommunications industry was a period of time when ethics and attention to law simply vanished. The stories of the illegal acts done by the phone industry to try to destroy ISPs are a dark era in the history of corporate America.

Phone companies were being issued the largest fines in the history of corporate America. The response by our federal government, rather then threatening to break them up for being the illegal and unethical monopolies that they were, was to allow the FCC to make an announcement that they would simply stop enforcing the regulatory process.

Doing so allowed the elected officials to wave a magic wand to absolve themselves of any wrong doing and blame it all on the FCC.

This created “open season” on ISPs. Tens of thousands of technology companies closed over the following few years causing a “tech sector” recession in 2002 that has really never ended.

People in government turn a blind eye to this fact, saying “oh we thought it would push deployment of broadband faster to Americans if it was focused on fewer and larger firms.”

Were the illegal activities that cost people billions during those days any less despicable then the actions of Bernard Madoff in more recent times? I think not. The difference was that the phone companies had lobbyists in place pouring funds into both political parties.

As a result, we are now somewhere between 13th and 30th in the industrialized world in broadband deployment, instead of first when this all started.

As a result we have less choices, higher costs, fewer options, less innovation.

Network Neutrality is in fact the opposite of what the astroturf groups claim. It is not socialist, but very very PRO-business. It’s just that it is pro-entrepreneur, pro-small business, pro-equal access, pro-fair play, pro-American Community.

200 years ago, small-business America created something new and special in the world. It was all about empowering people and making resources available to them in a plentiful and low cost was.

Today many (not all but many) corporate interests have grown beyond their loyalty to the nation and hold their primary allegiance to stockholders and boards of directors. That is their choice in a free country. Some would even say it is their obligation as a corporation.

But, as those stockholders are often people and corporations from outside the country, it is ABSURD to grant large corporations some form of special status that is superior to and has more rights than small businesses that are in local communities, creating local jobs, generating local taxes, all across our country.

* * * * *

From the early days of the existence of the Bell Telephone Company, there was an understanding of a concept called “The Public Interest & Trust.” This was the assurance to a phone company that they would be granted a reasonable monopoly to recover their investment for infrastructure placed in the public right of way.

There was a caveat to this that was an implied threat to the corporation: If they did not act in the public interest, the infrastructure laying in the public right-of-way was in fact owned by the public and serviced in trust by the corporation.

So, if that corporation did not act in the public interest, there was an asset they could lose access too.

In my and others’ opinion, part of the reason why the phone industry helped to foster a recession in the Dot Com Bust was to stall all further improvement of network elements until they could be guaranteed ownership (forever) of the infrastructure laid in the public right-of-way.

Shortly after the Dot Com Bust began, the Bush administration handed over ownership rights to all the infrastructure in the public trust, the public right of way, to the telephone industry. THIS WAS A REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH CONSERVATIVELY VALUED AT ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

The public trust had its pocket picked!

Do we have more choice? No!

Do we have lower costs? No!

And we are supposed to be happy about that?

Network Neutrality is but one more target of the telecommunications duopoly. We have been going down a slow path of regulatory changes for the Internet to become not a commons, but a TV-Version 2. A DRM platform for the phone and cable companies.

  • We have gone through UCITA (making some technologies illegal), the extension of copyright and the extension of patent rights; all on one side of the corporate coin to control content itself.
  • We have gone through a 13-year-long systematic breakup of the telecommunications industry, then a deregulation of that industry. Now we are going through a re-consolidation of that industry — but without the original protections in place to prevent abusive monopoly tactics.

    * * * * *

    So now, on the other side of the corporate coin, a handful of people are now in control of content flow.

    We may have 150 cable channels, but if they are all owned by a handful corporation, we are no better then we were 50 years ago. They control the content and to a large degree to conventional content flow.

    And now they want to destroy the Internet because in their world view it is socialist?

    The truth is they want to kill Network Neutrality, because they can not compete in a fair and open marketplace.

    Network Neutrality MAY be the only thing that will stand in the short-term to protect what is left of “the public interest”. It may be the only thing that will create a change in direction back to small-business America getting a fair and level playing field.

    As an open-minded independent, I am ashamed of both Republicans and Democrats for turning their back on entrepreneurial America. I hope they all wake up before it’s too late.

    But it is in your power to do something.

    The tension of the recent “town hall meetings” may not have gone your way. But what it has done is shown how motivated people can impact the process.

    So go to and sign the damn petition. Then call your Congressperson before they leave town, and give them a piece of your mind.

    Jeff Gerhardt is an American teacher, inventor, and entrepreneur. His work includes the development of a CAD system, one of the first PC-based point-of-purchase systems, the Tandy Color Computer, and the award-winning “KidCam” Internet Video Security System.