Casual Evangelist

A mission to learn a little about a lot…

Will the Next Generation of Muslims Reject Violent Extremism?

Posted by Andrew on May 28, 2008

Lately, I’ve been very intrigued with the theories put forth by William Strauss and Neil Howe regarding generational cycles that all societies and cultures experience. In short, the two assert that there are four “archetype” generations (Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist). For example, the Millennial Generation (born starting in 1982) are “Heroes,” Generation X are “Nomads,” Boomers are “Prophets,” and the Silent Generation (think John McCain) are “Artists.” There are also corresponding “turnings,” or phases of society that enable each generation to make its mark. The cycle repeats, and the order is always the same. Each archetype has its own characteristics that distinguish it from the others.

While the focus of their work is on European and American generations starting with the Arthurian (b 1433-1460), the assumption is that this theory can be applied universally. Is it possible to apply these theories to the Muslim world and make forecasts regarding the future strength of violent fundamentalism? Might new generations of Muslims turn away from the extremism of their parents?

Generational marketing consultant Jessie Newburn recently posted on Twitter (I’ll link to her post when Twitter gets their act together) that the Millennial generation is at a turning point, and we should expect to see a general shift of priorities among that group. I thought about that post when yesterday I read Lawrence Wright’s piece in The New Yorker, “The Rebellion Within,” explores the current revisionist movement in radical Islam led by Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (AKA Dr. Fadl). Dr. Fadl has been engaged in a very public debate with Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Ladin‘s right hand man over whether many of Al Qeada’s terror tactics are in line with the Koran. Fadl’s movement to disavow many of the terror tactics of jihadism is gaining acceptance among many in the Muslim world. Might the next generation in much of the Muslim world be undergoing a similar “turning point?”

There may already be another example of Strauss and Howe’s theory in the Muslim world (I’ll link if there’s already information on this). In Iran, it was the young generation in the sixties and seventies that embraced religious fundamentalism, rebelled against the social and political structures of their parents and previous generations, and ousted the Shah and instituted a theocracy. Their children – Iran’s next generation – reject much of this fundamentalism and are in many ways sympathetic to the West and America.

It may be a stretch to connect the theories of Stauss and Howe with the current revisionist movement in Islam, but it sure is interesting to ponder. Notions that violent fundamentalism in Islam will continue to rise unabated are likely incorrect. But it won’t necessarily be because the West has “defeated it,” but that this cycle will run its course and the next generation will chart a new one.

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I’ll Be On Jonny’s Par-Tay Tonight

Posted by Andrew on May 28, 2008

Tune in to Jonny’s Par-Tay this evening at 9pm, where I’ll be on with host Jonny Goldstein as he interviews Sean Shadmand and Isaac Mosquera, the founders of familyoven.com. FamilyOven has hundreds of thousands of users trading recipes, including Breakfast Slop, which I will certainly be preparing shortly.

We’ll be exploring how they’ve achieved success in their space (a very crowded space, it should be noted). And I’ll be conducting a taste-test of arguably the most important food and recipe ingredient that exists today: Butter.

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BrightKite on Twitter is *Friendly* Spam

Posted by Andrew on May 9, 2008

The latest “gotta have an invite code” craze on Twitter is for Brightkite, the “location-based social network.” I’m not currently using Brightkite, but I can see the potential value of the service (find out where your friends are and see who’s near you, etc.). However, like other valuable Web-based services, such as Flickr, the Twitter interface is useless and only serves to spam your friends with irrelevant information.

In my opinion, Auto-Tweets from Brightkite users may have dethroned Flickr-generated updates as the king of useless and annoying Twitter spam. While the Twitter application by nature makes professional spamming ineffective by robbing the spammer of an audience, willing or otherwise, Auto-Tweet spam is different. It’s from your friends, and you don’t want to unfollow your friends. So you deal with it or face an unpleasant decision.

A typical Brightkite Auto-Tweet looks like this:

I’m at 123 Elm Street, Springfield KY (Springfield, KY)” and a link to a map.

There’s no context. Nothing about what’s happening, why you’re there, who you’re with, or what you’re doing. Just dry geographical information. What are Twitter followers supposed to do with this information? Hop in their cars and drive to your location? We don’t even know how long you plan on being there, and you may be gone by then. Hell, with gas prices these days, that could really dent the wallet.

There are a few useful Auto-Tweets, such as a new blog post or a WhyGoSolo event posting, both of which provide contextual information in the message as well as a call for interested parties to take action by clicking through for additional information. Looking at a map or viewing a blurry photo of your cat provides no value.

If you’re somewhere and want people to join you, by all means manually tweet it. And if you’ve taken a particularly stunning or interesting photo, provide your followers a link.

Go ahead, un-check that Twitter update box. Your followers will thank you.

UPDATE: Ike Pigott has initiated #darkanvil

Posted in The Social Web | Tagged: , , , , | 10 Comments »

Twitter: “Go Human” or Go Home

Posted by Andrew on April 17, 2008

There’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter, the online social conversation tool (my current description of the system), about how marketers are beginning to flood the platform. In recent weeks I’ve been “followed” by dozens of company and marketing Tweeters, such as “myhomebusiness” and “simplecheapwedd.”

Like many of my Twitter friends, I check the account of each new follower, and all too often it’s filled with nothing but push marketing and links. And they’re taking the time to follow thousands of people, with only a small handful following back.

“Twitter is being taken over by spammers” is a common complaint, but, aside from the inconvenience of getting “new follower” email notices, I don’t see much of a problem. If I choose not to follow them back, that’s the last I hear of them. And, as demonstrated by their lack of followers, I’m not the only one not following back.

Traditional “push-style” online marketing techniques don’t work on Twitter, and it shouldn’t be long before this concept gets through to them. Many marketers haven’t taken the time to understand the medium and have jumped in without testing the waters first. The result is that no one is hearing their messages.

Twitter requires balance. People like interacting with real people. Linking to your content or letting others know about what you do is fine, but if it is the dominant message you’re sending to your followers, they’ll start un-following you pretty quick. The only exception is news feeds, such as @breakingnewson.

There are some companies that are using Twitter properly, and I support and encourage this. A fine example is JetBlue (@jetblue). I don’t follow @jetblue because I don’t often fly with them and don’t have much of an interest, but there’s a real person operating the account and they’re actively engaged in conversations in the community. At the time of writing this, @jetblue follows 1,440 people, and 1,378 follow back. That’s a very impressive ratio for a “company” Twitterer.

Marketers, you can only get out of Twitter what you put into it. Go human or go home.

(NOTE: I would like a better application to manage the new follower review process to avoid email notices.)

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“Before the Music Dies”

Posted by Andrew on February 15, 2008

Sometimes, when I’m determined to veg out in front of the tube, I wind up “surfing” TiVo – checking out what’s coming up over the next week or so on a handful of channels I like. This is how I discovered “Before the Music Dies” by filmmaker Andrew Shapter. Not unlike to how I discover music.

On its surface, “Dies” is a doc about the tribulations of the music industry over the last decade or so. Something we’re all at least vaguely familiar about. Consolidation. Napster. Wilco and its label(s). Metalica and its fans. Britney. Cratering sales.

But “Dies” goes deeper, painting a picture of the Western music *world* and the schism that’s currently in full swing. If you haven’t noticed, there’s a major disconnect in music right now between Wall Street and actual music as an art form. One sells, one doesn’t. Which is which? You might be surprised.

There’s always been beautiful people playing music, but music always took the lead. But now, with video, pop culture worship, and technology that can turn any vocalist into a perfect-pitch siren, image has taken over. “Dies” hilariously demonstrates hit creation using a gifted songwriter, a model who can’t sing, and computer wizardry that produces pure candy that fits right into radio or MTV.

“Dies” peeks into focus-group testing, *Artist and Repertoire*, and commerce. It explores why great artists don’t “cut” it (sell hits), how country music can be “too country,” and what it means to be a “band.” Would Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and U2 have made it today? What does the Internet and file-sharing really mean? What happens when the artist takes control of their business?

You see, corporations are throwing good money after bad, and they’re running out of money. But there’s a lot of success to be had in the biz with really good music. And success can mean a lot more than just money.

Heart matters. Improvisation is exciting.

“Dies” includes great live footage of Doyle Bramhall with Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews Band, Calexico, The North Mississippi Allstars, and Erykah Badu.

“Before the Music Dies” is playing on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) on Wednesday, February 20. Record it and watch it.

Posted in Movies, Music | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

RAQ at the State Theatre

Posted by Andrew on February 4, 2008

The first and only time I saw RAQ before Saturday’s show at The State Theatre in Falls Church, VA was when they opened for my band at the Grog and Tankard many years ago. That was one of those instances where you ask your bandmates: “Do we really have to follow these guys?”

Back then, they were a blisteringly-fast technical jamband with oft-noted similarities to Phish. A lot has changed.

RAQ’s recent performance bore little resemblance to the band that played at the Grog, or to Phish. The RAQ of today has slowed things down, added in heavier – dare I say metal elements. The guitar-keys interplay wizardry that dominated the RAQ of old has given way to a more unified musical machine where much of the drama now emanates from the rhythm section. The band has more in common with Umphrey’s McGee these days, and they’ve got the chops to pull it off.

The six string histrionics of Chris Michetti are still available in abundance, and keboardist Todd Stoops masterfully dabbles in the lower registers of his instrument. But it was the precise interplay of bassist Jay Burwick and drummer Greg Stukey that stood out. Burwick, with his pronounced bass accents, and Stukey, with his heavy right foot, produced something akin to a crowd carpet-bombing.

Interestingly, the band’s vocal interplays and harmonies were more effective than solo vocal performances. Overall, they successfully avoid the typical jamband trap (the vocals suck). The originals provided enough interesting turns, catchy refrains, and bass-bombing breakdowns to keep the crowd moving and on their feet. A few covers, including takes on Ween and the Allman Brothers (the latter featuring a very capable Cris Jacobs of The Bridge standing agog at Michette’s guitar solo) added enough familiarity for those unfamiliar with original RAQ material.

If the “Grog RAQ” > “State Theatre RAQ” progress continues at this pace, these guys have a very long and bright future ahead of them.
RAQ Frontline
Burwick and Michette doing the two step last October. Photo by Aaron Williams.

Posted in Music | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

Posted by Andrew on January 27, 2008

I had no clue as to what The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was about when I sat down in the theater, but it soon became obvious…and very uncomfortable. The movie is told from the point of view of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a high-flying editor of Elle magazine, after suffering from a stroke that resulted in head-to-toe paralysis – something called locked-in syndrome.

Full paralysis has always been one of the scariest conditions I can imagine. I look away if a football player is down on the field, not moving. Stories of paralysis, whether about celebrities like Christopher Reeve or our troops in Walter Reed, grip me with imagination – the kind of imagination I wish I didn’t have.

The Diving Bell’s perspective puts you right there, and it’s awful. Brief flashbacks of a full, vibrant existence give way to claustrophobia and terror. You wince as one eye is sewn shut. You ask yourself how long it will take to go crazy listening to the alphabet repeated over and over, albeit in pleasant female voices. One blink yes, two blinks no. And please, keep the damn television on!

What this movie really is about though, is life, relationships, determination, and communication. And humor. It is at first Bauby’s quick-witted, sarcastic humor that lifts this movie beyond the immediately terrible and elicits feelings of admiration. The determination of those who work with him (sans that evil doctor) is inspiring, as is Bauby’s determination to complete a book, one letter at a time.

The actors are fantastic, notably Mathieu Amalric in the lead role and Max Von Sydow, who nearly steals the movie in a few short scenes as Bauby’s aging father. The uplifting nature of The Diving Bell is always tempered by the reality of the situation, but the overall effect is a powerful one.

Posted in Movies | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Umphrey’s McGee Clips from Kimmel Live

Posted by Andrew on January 23, 2008

Umphrey’s McGee is simply one helluva live band. A mix of jamband, prog-rock, pop, funk, and extreme music talent (see the twin guitar slayers Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss, along with monster drummer Kris Myers) they stretch a wide variety of styles and will throw down some amazing covers.

Here’s their performance of Women Wine & Song on Jimmy Kimmel Live from 2006 (with Huey Lewis!)

And their soundcheck, Nemo from the same album…


Go see them!

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Can Ron Paul Resurrect Unity08?

Posted by Andrew on January 23, 2008

Unity08, the effort launched by a handful of prominent Republicans and Democrats to field a centrist, bipartisan third party ticket for president, is facing hard times. The movement has been knocked down by a lack of funding, struggles with FCC regulations, and the departure of two key founders now working to convince New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to wage an independent run for the White House. Their Web site has been reduced to a sad, non-dynamic “status-of-the-movement” message.

Unity08 is down, but is it out?

In order to continue with their efforts and hold an “online convention” to choose their candidates, Unity08 needs two things very soon: an influx of money and energy. No shortage here – Ron Paul and his legions of supporters have plenty of both.

For a while I thought it plausible that, after exiting his quixotic yet surprisingly resonant effort for the GOP nomination, Paul and his supporters could swarm over the Unity08 convention. Now I think that they can save it, albeit with a change in mission away from the centrist focus while maintaining their aim for a “post-partisan” ticket. He would also dispense with the criticism that Unity08 is merely a party for rich, center-right donors.

Ron Paul has indicated that he will not support the eventual GOP nominee if they don’t support some key policy issues he holds based on his Constitutional interpretations – namely the war in Iraq and foreign policy. He’s left the door open to continue his campaign elsewhere.

Will Ron Paul bolt the GOP for Unity08? If he will, the time is near.

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Why Thompson’s Exit is a Mistake

Posted by Andrew on January 21, 2008

It looks like Fred Thompson will exit the race for the GOP nod and likely endorse his buddy John McCain (he’s just indicated that he’s not going to participate in the debate later this week). However, the last two debates have demonstrated that he’s pulled a Hillary and found his voice: A no-nonsense communicator and a deliberate thinker with little in the way of negatives in the eyes of Republican voters.

Let’s briefly recap the negatives of the nominees according to many GOP activists and conservatives:

  • John McCain: He’s a pro-war liberal who, as a maverick Senator, aligned himself with the left wing of the Democratic party issues such as taxes, immigration, and the judicial confirmation process. Conservative radio has opened fire on McCain now that he’s achieved frontrunner status. His success is due to significant support from independents, a factor that won’t play in many upcoming contests. Having your name attached to Kennedy and Feingold on major legislation infuriates the base. Threatens to undo the “coalition” if nominated.
  • Mike Huckabee: He’s a pro-life liberal populist who raised taxes, was soft on immigration, and sounds not unlike John Edwards when talking about the economy. He scares the hell out of the Wall Street wing of the GOP on the economy and scares the hell out of the libertarian wing with his talk of bringing the constitution into line with God. Also a regular target of conservative talk radio. Threatens to undo the “coalition” if nominated.
  • Mitt Romney: All the money in the world is required to keep Mitt’s head above water in this race (good for him he’s got it to spend). He’s a late-comer on some key social issues GOP voters hold dear, particularly abortion, and many don’t totally trust him. I’d like to think that the Mormon issue isn’t a factor, but who knows? He seems to come undone when challenged and knocked off of his game, and he’s gone negative. The establishment, including talk radio, seems to like the guy. Probably doesn’t threaten the “coalition” unless evangelicals can’t deal with the Mormon issue or social conservatives don’t trust his latter-day conversions on key issues.
  • Rudy Giuliani: He may not even be a player any more as his Florida -> Super Tuesday strategy is becoming increasingly suspect. Can someone who’s posting single digit returns in multiple state contests generate excitement in later contests? He’s unacceptable to many social conservatives despite his promise to nominate “strict constructionists” to the bench. He seems solid on national security and economic issues, but is vulnerable on immigration. Threatens to undo the “coalition” if nominated.
  • Ron Paul: Many find his ideas a refreshing addition to the debate, but voters don’t think he’s electable and he’s just too far out there. He’ll likely bolt the race (and the GOP) to unleash his legions of supporters on the Unity08 online convention and become a third party candidate.
  • Fred Thompson. He doesn’t seem to “desire” the presidency enough and doesn’t like campaigning

So the worst thing conservatives can say about Thompson is that he’s lazy. They do like him though. He’s probably the first choice on the talk show circuit, although they lament the fact that he got in late and stumbled badly early on. Lately, however, he’s been much stronger on the stump and has posted a couple solid debate performances.

With the GOP race so fractured and all four frontrunners so badly flawed according to various factions of the old Reagan coalition, serious reconsideration by voters is inevitable. But they need an alternative, and Thompson could be that alternative. Just a few more weeks is needed to determine whether there is a unique opportunity to capitalize on the high negatives of the frontrunners.

His exit is premature, and a mistake.

UPDATE: Rush Limbaugh stated on his radio program yesterday (January 21) that he may not be supporting the eventual GOP nominee. He’s presumably talking about McCain and Huckabee. The fault lines are now real.

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