Already there is a website on how to speak the Na’vi language of the lithe blue people of Avatar’s planet, Pandora. A Google blog search turns up 87,484 hits for the name of the tribe and its language and 917,000 for Neytiri, the main Na’vi woman in the film, played by Zoë Saldaña.

A professor of astrophysics who specializes in searching for life in the universe has written an extensive piece in understandable language on the accuracy of the science in Atavar and given it mostly high grades. (One item – there is a reason everything is so blue).

In its first two weeks, Avatar grossed nearly $213 million on about 7,000 screens nationwide, more than half showing the stunning 3-D version, in which fire sparks flicker and Woodsprites dance inches from the audience, and one can look deep into the lush landscape and almost ride the swooping banshees.

Outside the U.S., Avatar took in $164.5 million in five days from 64 markets, not counting Japan (opened 12/23), China (1/4) and Italy(1/15). It is showing on 1,350 screens in Russia.

President Obama and the First Lady took their daughters to see the film on New Year’s Eve while on vacation in Hawaii, in between calls regarding the Christmas Day attempted bombing of an intercontinental flight into Detroit.

All this is to say that the movie has been seen by millions of people around the globe, written about by thousands, and if we are to believe even the most skeptical media researchers, it will not only entertain and employ, but have an effect on the attitudes and behaviors of large numbers of people all over the world.

In the lingo of memetics, some people will link many of the concepts in Avatar with what they feel is a desirable way to live and pass those links, or memes, onto others.

This possible effect of movies isn’t new, but it is likely to happen much more quickly and extensively in our 2010 interconnected world that it could, for example, when Dances with Wolves presented some similar ideas in 1990 or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner challenged racial attitudes in 1967.

Our vast access to each other’s thoughts and beliefs is the first of two new forces involved. For example, among the tweets that were flooding Twitterdom at the rate of 50 a minute at about 9 p.m. Chicago time on New Years Eve were these:

One woman from Indonesia tweeted:
“Avatar seriously owns me. I’ve never wanted to be blue and to have a tail so bad in my life.”

Another tweet, from Bali woman, included a link to a photo of the sky she had seen during an outdoor New Year’s celebration:
“They’re bubbles in the air, and suddenly I miss Eywa from Avatar.”

And a third from Canada:
“A day after Avatar this thing landed on my son! So weird! He’s been chosen by Eywa!”

Sure, some of this is joking, and many people will forget about the movie quickly. But as the discussion of Avatar‘s religious, environmental, political, gender and racial dimensions continues to appear in media channels across the board, some people are being encouraged by the message of unity with nature and a Mother Spirit, while others are critical and even fearful.

Roger Ebert summed up part of the film’s impact:

“Avatar is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It’s a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult.”

It doesn’t seem to be the environmental and anti-war messages, however, that are stirring up the most heated discussions. It’s not even the “white people as oppressors and then saviors” undertones, although those are being criticized.

It is the vibrant and deep spirituality of the Na’vi, which includes a networked nature connected to and nourished by the Mother God, Eywa, that seems to push the most buttons.

On the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat derided the movie as another example that “pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation,” and then dismissed the spirituality depicted in the film as lacking any value.

In response, Mark Stricherz, a self-proclaimed “orthodox Catholic” writing on TrueSlant, toed the company line that pantheism was heresy, but still criticized Douthat’s view and gave Avatar a nod for containing the “kernel of truth” that “nature should not be subjugated or mastered…but celebrated as an expression of God’s bounty.”

But Stricherz and others, including the writer of  Avatar inspires thoughts about our awesome future,” are clear that it is a separate, transcendent God that they prefer people see as their spiritual link, not a female Deity and a conscious, interconnected world of spiritual beings, humans, plants and animals.

The concept of interconnectedness, however, is the second force involved in the potential power of Avatar, and its movement from the fringes to the main stream is accelerating.

The Internet has a lot to do with the growing understanding and acceptance of our interconnectedness, as does the maturing of the uber-connected Millennial generation, the technology that allows virtual meetings and a new physics that includes particles and waves that can communicate with each other across miles of space.

If this were a new experience, however, it would be easy to dismiss, but that is not the case.

Director James Cameron seems to have tapped into a spiritual thread dating back 2,600 years. It waned for centuries in the West, pushed to the side by Aristotelian/Cartesian dualism and Newtonian physics, which were important in their day, only to begin to grow again in the early 20th century as quantum physics emerged and a renewed interest in the unity of spirit and creation came to the fore.

One of the more thought provoking blogs about the religious aspects of the film comes from an unexpected source. Fr. Andrew Damick, who describes himself as an orthodox Christian priest, praises Avatar for its more pagan than pantheistic philosophy, pointing out that Eywa answers prayers and the Na’vi have temples, and considers this line of thinking to also be present in more traditional religions.

“What I think is worth noting in this pagan/pantheistic view of god, man and nature,” Damick writes, “is its similarity to Orthodox Christianity.”

He could have said the same about the concepts the film shares with Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism and the mystical traditions within Judaism and Christianity. A big, strong tent and growing.

For more about the reemergence of this philosophical concept of unity, its connection to science and Avatar’s contribution to that, please see CyberINKonline’s other blog, God Swimming in God.

If it weren’t for the joy of what had happened a few days before, the two items at the bottom corner of an inside page of the New York Times on a recent Wednesday would be even more depressing than they are.

In what often seems to be a continuing downward spiral for print and good reporting, the Washington Post announced it was closing its last three domestic bureaus, in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, due to “limited resources and increased competitive pressure.” At the same time, Barnes and Noble reported  a larger second quarter loss than expected, due in part to the high costs of creating the Nook, a digital reader designed to compete with Amazon’s Kindle.

Not to slam advances in communication technology, but can you really curl up with a good monitor? Perhaps they’ll include a chip with the warm, relaxing smell of bookiness to fool us into thinking it’s real.

So what was the positive news?

It was two fine pages in the New York Times on Nov. 20 and again on Nov. 22 of Chicago news – not just any Chicago news – but news provided by the type of organization that many say may be a way to save real, hold-in-you-hand newspapers and the investigative reporting that daily print journalism has dominated.

There was the word, “Chicago,” in a almost onomatopoetic typeface that made the most of its round letters, sitting atop page of great reporting and writing.

  • An investigative piece into the increasingly bizarre parking privatization snafu in Chicago that finally explained why I never get parking tickets while teaching a tai chi class on Montrose.
  • A biting, spot-on look at the juxtaposition of opulence and homelessness in Chicago.
  • A brief about a dad breaking the play date gender barrier.

Under “Chicago” I spied welcome information: “Produced by the Chicago News Cooperative.” Wow! That sounded like one of the new nonprofit news organizations that have been popping up. A look at the “To Our Readers” memo from the NYT confirmed my guess about the new Friday and Sunday “Chicago” pages.

The brainchild of Jim O’Shea, former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and editor of the Los Angeles Times, the cooperative is backed by Chicago public television station WTTW and the  John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The NYT is the first paying customer of the cooperative, which describes itself as “committed to public service, reported by journalists, guided by members.”  Among its staff and contributors, I see many former friends and colleagues, all professional news men and women.

This cooperative isn’t the first of its kind.  ProPublica started in 2007, the  Nonprofit Investigative News Network was created in July, and a bill to give news outlets tax breaks if they become nonprofit organizations, introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is in the Senate. President Obama has said he will consider such proposals.

But this cooperative’s connection to the New York Times, its roster of leading Chicago journalists, its inclusion of members in guiding its organization and its plans to have a digital as well as print footprint, means that it has taken a giant step forward in determining the future of good news gathering.

Kudos to all involved!

Hello everyone!

We are returning to the blogosphere after about a five month hiatus. We’ve made some changes to draw the focus in a bit tighter and make the blog even more useful.

First, we have spun off the religion part to its own blog. The new blog is broader than organized religion and includes a lot of Eastern philosophy, some secular concepts and great opportunities to add your own ideas on spiritual but hopefully unflakey topics. Take a wander over to God Swimming in God and you’ll see what I mean.

Second, we’ve moved the section on links, books and articles about the topic of the day to its own page rather than part of a side panel. You may have noticed that those helpful suggestions disappear when a new post shows up, so you’re likely to have Google books with a Doonesbury post – not helpful!

And third, we have a new look. More “active white space” and cooler fonts. We’ll live with it awhile and see what we think.

One of our most popular posts, which still continues to get a lot of hits, asked the question of when President Obama was going to get an icon in Doonesbury. While we know there are weightier issues in the world, we think this one at least ranks up there with the question of whether Heidi Klum’s Halloween costumes make her “the Queen of Halloween.”

After all, satire is one of the bedrocks of healthy political discourse and it matters if one of our longest-lasting and cherished political cartoons, now 39 years into examining the underbelly of presidents, wars and party schools, can’t come up with an fitting icon for the current leader of the free world.

After all, W was shown with his first icon quickly after the election – before he was even sworn in. On January 1, 2001, the asterisk under the cowboy hat appeared – while hanging chads (remember?) were still being counted even though the Supreme Court had spoken.


In contrast, not only does Obama not yet have an icon, it wasn’t until May 30, 2009  that he spoke from the White House in Doonesbury, not counting his December 7, 2008 meeting with W after the election in which he promised to keep  safe Bush’s secret of not aging over the past eight years – “don’t sweat the small stuff,” or, it seems, the big stuff.


Granted, that was a small slap at Barack “The One” Obama, but clearly a bigger hit at Bush – and McCain. So the question becomes, is Obama getting too much of a free ride from this admittedly left-leaning strip? In the year since the election, only ten days of Doonesbury have dealt directly with Obama.

Full disclosure – Doonesbury is one of my favorites. But c’mon, Garry! Equal opportunity satire is the best. Remember Clinton’s waffle? You can do it!

We’re out of pixels now, but over the next few days, we’ll look at how Trudeau has treated several presidents in their first year or so,  back to when Nixon was president and Doonesbury was first sent forth by Universal Press Syndicate on Oct. 26, 1970.

Thanks to GoComics for the archives. Check the tabs across the top for information formerly found on the side panels.

By Jean Latz Griffin

When the story broke last week that the Justice Department was seeking a high level of information about Google’s plan to scan millions of books and make them available online, it was yet another regulatory spotlight dialed up to bright on what one newspaper called the “dominant technology company of the decade.”

The requests for information, called civil investigative demands (CIDs), weren’t confirmed or denied by the Justice Department, but publishers told the Wall Street Journal that they had received requests for “documents about pricing, digital strategy and conversations with other publishers related to the Google settlement.”

And the attorney one of the plaintiffs in the suit told the New York Times that the amount of questions Justice Department regulators were asking “signals that they are serious about the antitrust implications of the settlement.”

The $125 million settlement, reached last year, has not yet been ratified by the courts.

It was supposed to be the end of a dispute between Google and authors/publishers over copyright law and establish a registry for publishers and authors to be paid when people read their books online. But in April, Justice officials began poking around, raising the possibility that they would block the settlement from taking effect.

GoogleEinstein2At a time when the publishing industry is undergoing serious upheavals and digital technology is outpacing any attempts of print to recover, what happens with Google affects both those who own the intellectual property at stake and those who wish to access it.

In other words, just about all of us.

What Google plans to do could put books from all over the world, going back centuries, a click or two and a couple of bucks away.  One of the questions is whether we want Google to be the earth’s library, and if so, should they have the exclusive right to do so.

‘We ain’t gonna stop digitalization; all we can hope is to have an honest broker keeping track,”  said Alan Porter, board member of an organization that submitted an amicus brief in the original suit against Google, writing in an online message to CyberINK.

“I suspect the notion of the settlement is the only way the question of electronic copyright can be settled, but I do have difficulty with the idea of a for-profit concern concentrating all that power,” Porter said. He is an editor, writer, consultant and publications executive. “It would make me much more comfortable if instead an independent entity was in charge, like an ASCAP or a BMI, which perform a similar service for the music industry.”

Lisa Stapleton, author of The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Unix and a magazine writer and editor, says she can see both side of the debate on Google’s online books.

“As an author, I don’t want my work being ripped off,” Stapleton told CyberINK. “However, as a marketer, I realize that you can’t buy what you don’t know you want, and Google has often shown me authors, books, and reports that I didn’t know existed and that I later bought.”

Patti Winters, the author of Mirror of Remembrance, published through a POD (Print on Demand) publisher, says she fears that the Google settlement will hurt authors who have taken the POD route but would like to attract the interest of a mainstream publisher.

“Google can take the book you have already written and put it on their website for people to read,” said Winters, who is writing a second book. “The mainstream publisher isn’t going to want to publish your book, because it is already available to the public and you are back to square one.”

Authors and publishers have until Sept. 4 to opt out and choose not to be part of the settlement and thus not have their books included. They have until the end of 2009 to opt in and have their books scanned by Google, if they haven’t been already, and receive payment under the settlement when viewers access their books.

In the light of full disclosure, I own stock in Google and both my books have been scanned and parts can be viewed through its search program. But I’m not blind to the issues that this kind of technology and its power raises, and not just in the realm of digital books.

Both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have launched antitrust probes against Google. According to the WSJ article:

People close to Google say the company considers the investigations part of a broader push by new antitrust regulators to step up scrutiny of the technology industry after a lull during the Bush administration.

In addition, a Texas class action suit challenges Google’s placement of paid ads above free searches for the same word when that word is a trademark. Other companies have sued Google on similar grounds. One suit is being considered by a federal appeals court that reversed a dismissal by a lower court. Google has defended the practice saying that trademark law allow what they are doing.

“At our scale and with the impact we have, we expect to be inspected,” Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told the WSJ  last week. “We expect it in every government. I am not saying we love it or we hate it.”

More information on this issue can be found by following the links to the right.

Thanks to Danny Sullivan for the art.

By Jean Latz Griffin

President Obama’s use of cell phone text messages and online social networking to bring his words directly to people in the Middle East in their own languages appears to be just the global, political web outreach he needed to recapture some of the online momentum of his campaign.

Leapfrogging over gatekeepers, whether in the print or broadcast media, the State Department sent text messages of highlights of Obama’s Cairo speech to people outside the U.S. in  Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. By law, the State Department couldn’t do the same thing for people in the U.S.

More than 20,000 people primarily in Muslim countries received the text messages on their cell phones, according to White House deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough, speaking on Saturday to the Associated Press.

In addition, administration officials set up live chats on Facebook to reach the estimated 20 million users of the social networking site in the Arab countries. The hope was to continue the conversation and spread Obama’s message further and for a longer period of time than would be possible through traditional means.

The scope and potential effect of the online outreach was the first since the election to come close to the game-changing nature of Obama’s Presidential campaign. Many had been concerned that President Obama and his administration, which had lost many of the top online staffers of the campaign, wouldn’t be able to recreate the ground breaking successes of candidate Obama and his campaign.

This bold move has put his new media prowess back in the limelight. In addition to the text messages and Facebook discussions, Obama’s full speech at Cairo was viewed 723,705 times on YouTube, smaller sections of the speech another 151,238 times, in the first four days after the speech. Transcripts, usually only in English, were made available in 13 languages.

“I think it is wonderful, proactive, culturally sensitive and eventually effective in creating goodwill and much more,” said Martha Elena Galindo, a translation specialist who is president and CEO of Florida-based Galindo Publicidad, Inc., in an online message to CyberINK.

“The common sense rule of talking to people in the language they can understand applies also to diplomacy and politics,” Galindo said. “Texting per se puts him even more ahead of the global political game since it immediately reaches younger generations as well. [There is] less gap, less cultural filters, [which enables the President] to get crystal clear messages to them.”

Gul Ayaz, Islamabad bureau chief for Khyber News, told CyberINK that he believed Obama’s texting and social networking would help to remove misconceptions on the Internet and in blogs that contribute to hatred against Muslims.

“It will be really innovative way to launch such a move,” Ayaz wrote in an online message. “I have many reasons to believe what President Obama said in Cairo. He speaks from his heart rather making any glory sermon.”

By providing the ability for people to text message back about the speech, the administration hopes to keep the discussion going and reinforce Obama’s message, especially among young people. The State Department published some of the comments on the website.  Here are some, exactly as they were texted:

Please give My respect to Presidant Obama and I would like to say to him that I’ve never wished to be in amireca like now just to shake hands with you. Khaled.
Saudi Arabia

Courageous speech. Raised expectations. We want justice, only justice. UN resolutions. I trust him, because he is a free man. Free men say their minds , and stand for it. Mona-Egypt

That’s good. I’m Christian with a great Muslim friend Abdul. His life is worthy of emulation. We can all live together. Joe

many thanks for your excellent service.can i get the sound of this speech .i will be very grateful if you could help me with it .

Thanks. hope we make peace for all

“President obama said what i want to hear, i had tears in my eyes, because his words touched my soul. I belived every words he said and i am sure he is sincere, but we wants action not words. We want to feel that america is friend to us not against us. We want to be treated fairly by you. Thanks
Saudi Arabia

By Jean Latz Griffin

Doonesbury has been a favorite comic of mine back to just about when it started. I find the political and social satire fresh and right on target. Garry Trudeau’s ability to adapt to the changing times, keep up with new political realities and connect them to history and other aspects of society over nearly four decades is unparalleled.

My oldest son says he learned more about the Vietnam War from reading old Doonesbury comics (I have a collection of the books), than he learned in high school. And this was way before people decried the youth getting their news from The Daily Show.

So this is a “I couldn’t have said it better myself” blog and a tribute to Doonesbury. The first strip begins Doonesbury’s portrayals of President Obama, a tradition that goes back to the Nixon days.


All the presidents have had an icon that represents them in the cartoons (W had two), but Obama has yet to get one, prompting Doonesbury fans to write and email the cartoon’s creator asking when one will show up. By the end of the first week of Doonesbury’s introduction of Obama, even POTUS has become impatient.


Doonesbury often uses his Sunday strip to move away from the ongoing story line, to revisit the activities of Rev. Scot Sloan, and draw more connections between seemingly disparate aspects of society.

Today’s might have one thinking for a long time after the initial reaction to the last panel.


By Jean Latz Griffin

When a political campaign changes an industry as dramatically as the Obama Presidential campaign changed political marketing in 2008, you can be sure a lot will be written about how it happened. Analyses started even before the election was over and won’t stop for a long time. YesWeDidCover

One of the most recent books on the topic, “Yes We Did: An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand,” written by Rahaf Harfoush, research coordinator for “Wikinomics,” and a contributor to “Grown Up Digital,” is a welcome addition.

Harfoush, first a supporter of Hillary Clinton, joined the New Media department of the Barack Obama campaign as a volunteer in June of 2008. She writes of her excitement on her first day, “I was taken aback by the size of the operation. The campaign took up an entire floor of the building.”

That insider status of working within the campaign gave her a minute-to-minute look at what happened, why crucial online choices were made at many of the turning points of the Obama campaign and what one can learn from them.

For example, when it became clear that Obama was going to win the Democratic nomination, the word went out that every avenue of online communication had to be supportive of Hillary Clinton and welcoming to her followers.

The Obama campaign “led by example,” Harfoush writes, “showing the online community how to act rather than just telling them,” by encouraging online members to send positive messages to the Clinton campaign and by posting many of the messages on the campaign’s official blog.

Campaign blogger Christopher Hass wrote:

We’ve seen Obama supporters expressing their admiration for Senator Clinton, Clinton supporters declaring their support in the general election for Barack, and people on both sides taking pause to acknowledge the historic nature of this seventeen-month contest.

“Yes We Did” (New Riders/Peachpit Press, 2009) also focuses on the success the campaign had in translating online strategies into offline, real world political activity, including knocking on doors and showing up for rallies.

The structure of the 200-page book would make it useful as a college textbook, a resource for campaigns who want to learn how to best use  social networks, or a darn good read for anyone interested in politics, President Obama, marketing or how technology changes a society just as the society is creating new technologies.

Each chapter ends with a list of “Social Media Lessons” and explanations of how they were used in the Obama campaign and why they are important.

Some are quite specific to political campaigns. The lessons in the chapter “The Road to Denver,” for example, are The Power of Small Asks, Let Your Advocates Support You, Lead by Example, and Deputize the Willing.

In many cases, however, the information in the book would be as helpful for someone trying to market their company or sell their books as it would be for a political campaign. The chapter on video, for example, focuses on the following techniques that were used in the campaign: Build a History, Speak Directly to Consumers, Keep Videos Short and Sweet, and Share Your Content.

The full-color book has photos and quotes from many people involved in the campaign – graphic designers, blog editors, and interns.

As befits a book dealing with new technology, anyone who buys the book gets free online access to a searchable version for 45 days with a code inside the book. There is also a regular index for determined printophiles.

Book launch is June 4 in Toronto.