"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Days Two/Three: Hitting Stride

I haven't been taking good notes the past few days, shame shame shame. However, as you may have seen, I have good reason. So pardon a perhaps more sparse posting.

As Britt and I are discovering, there's a very thin line around here between who staff and volunteer. It appears to be defined by pay, business cards and @deanforamerica.com email addresses, but not by very much else. Our first day were we sat in on a meeting for the record-breaking conference call initiative, and our idea for how to brand it was immediately picked up over and above the one they'd been working with. Now we (the volunteers with the idea) are talking with volunteer flash people about getting something to promote it.

Turf does not exist here, only goals. It's unbelievable how sweet the bullshit to purpose ratio is, and the sunset views from campaign HQ are awesome.

I've been laying my experience = fantasy + reality trip on a few people out here; Samantha from the NYT magazine, Zephyr, and anyone else within earshot. Hunter referred me to Kubla Kahn, by Coleradge, which is great, just so you know it's not all politics out here.

There's a trinity at work here in Burlington. A fact based candidate running a transparent campaign driven by social networks; a message that appeals to the angels of our better nature, to relationships and community; a cause that could be more deeply laden with meaning for those who become involved... it's the mind/body/spirit trifecta made politic, and it's a hell of a thing to steep in for a week.

By the by, if this sounds like fun and you want to come play, you should do it. Most of the staff just showed up -- pilgrims of a new patriotic sort from New York, Alabama, Texas. They made themselves useful, indispensable even; eventually many of them were offered official titles, if not sterling salaries. Back when I decided to get involved I sent my resume in to the campaign, told them if I had a trust fund I would show up for free. Some people actual do have the means to do this, and have. You should too if you can, even just for a week. It's not an experience to miss.

One of the ostensible purposes of the visit for both Britt and I is to set an example for others to follow. I won't likely be back for a long while, if ever, but Britt's clearly got the bug. He's talking about staying on a while longer and coming back next week.

While I'm excited about upcoming adventure in California, I don't really want to go anywhere. This is kind of like paradise. Last night most of the campaign was out for drinks for CoCo's birthday -- excellent hip-hop DJ at a very NYC-like bar -- and I realized with some glee that although we'd all been spending all day and night working together, we were still jazzed to have each other's company. It was human and fun and the kind of thing I'd like to do more often.

So I'm hitting my stride here, finding my voice; I just sat in on Trippi's afternoon conference call with reporters, along with a lot of the staff, everyone passing looks, supplying Joe with details when needed, laughing when laughable things were said. It felt like he was talking about my campaign. Ownership, baby. It's time to take it to the next level. I'm sad that tomorrow's my last day.

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DeanSpace Beta Launches

We launched DeanSpace, so maybe I can blog a little more now. I spent some time talking to a reporter from the NYT magazine yesterday (see Britt's page for pictures n'stuff) and I was all messaged out.

But I finally fenagled a link from the Dean Blog to outlandish. Gotta pick yr battles.

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Good Vibes Posting

So I found this link in the usual convoluted way, off the blog of someone who's resume I was reading. I thought it was worth repeating, maybe partly because the author appears to be rather attractive (the truth always feels better). It's a nice little story about someone buying a house and fixing it up, and someone leaving them a note in their mailbox saying what a pleasure it was to watch it happen. Nice human connections and all that jazz. I often get real upset at how marketing destroys meaning in languge. If it weren't for AT&T, I would close this with, reach out and touch someone.

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Brooks Slams Dean Again

David Brooks sure does have it in for my man Howard Dean. In his last column, he went after the Doctor Governor for being too similar to Bush, attacking Dean's populist base of support by painting him as a playboy elitist. I debunked that here. In todays NYT, Brooks devotes his second consecutive column to attacking Dean, this time by putting forth the notion that the GOP would love to face him. It's a shrewed attack, but utterly baseless.

First of all, Brooks is an opinion columnist and a known GOP operative, not a journalist. He's playing for the other team, so the fact that he's attacked Dean twice in a row and is trying to push the notion that Bush is laughing at the prospect of facing off with Ho Ho should be taken with a shaker of salt. He doesn't name names or quote anyone. His objective is quite clearly to sew doubt among Dean's base of support.

Secondly, Bush is polling consistantly in the low 50s. An internal White House poll pegged him at 49%. He's not laughing at the prospect of facing anyone right now.

David Brook is attempting to sew Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt among the ranks of Democrats with regards to Dean. It's a pretty blatant and transparent attempt, so I don't think it will work. Mostly, it's up to the rest of to laugh this kind of BS off.

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Day One: Learning The Ropes

I'm a low man on the totem pole. Unknown and largely in the way as I wait to fill out the necessary paperwork to authorize myself as a volunteer. Dean's running out front and they're just now getting the idea that they aught to keep track of who walks in off the street to lend a hand. It's still coming together.

But access was solved -- physical and network -- and I found myself in a cushioned chair at the end of a cul-de-sac of tech workers, just me and my laptop and the mission. I started drawing up a TODO list and soaking up the atmosphere.

It's a turbulent and young organization, DFA. Smaller than I imagined, dense and hot and brightly lit. The staff is lean, and they work for peanuts. I make my first mis-step early when I give the IT guy in charge of handing out wireless encryption keys a touch of the hassle. He's got a Sabbath t-shirt and ear-stretching rings, so I figure it's cool but I came on a little strong -- something I've been doing a lot since Burning Man -- and we got off on the wrong foot. But humor is a good salve for all wounds, and the atmosphere is so positive that the tension dissipates quickly. We're working here.

Here's the thing about the people who work for Dean: in their eyes it's their campaign. This is true of a lot of the grassroots too, but the sentiment is strong here, well thought out. These people see their purpose as saving the country, and the Doctor/Governor is their vehicle for doing this. We all love Dean, but he's a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. He knows this too, and he likes it. It's in his stump speech.

DFA is modeling a networked organization structure. People have autonomy, and they are charged with making their projects happen not by going to a manager and requisitioning resources, but by convincing other people in the office to help them. On an individual level it can be fragmented and distracting, a true multitasking environment, but the output of the organization vs. its burn rate of people and capital speaks for itself. This buzzword is a dead horse, but there's synergy in the air, the divine stimulant of Purpose keeping the whole works thundering forward.

At one point my cell phone wandered off. Zack took it to talk to David Weinberger, then handed it to Zephyr, who I gather gave it to Matt. Two hours later I was wondering where my phone was and what the bill might be; all part of the fun of an ambitious and relatively egoless organization.

It's 2:30am and it's time to go grab some sleep. The senior web team is still at it. Gray, a shining example of humanity who drove up from Birmingham Alabama and stayed, is drinking Yerba Mate. Some of the finance people are still working hard. The late shift has a magical quality to it, the workaholic equivalent to the power curve of a drinking binge. There's a lull around dinner time, but even the pros stick around until midnight.

The team here is bright and strong and amazingly pure of heart. People from the internet send them food. Young reporters struggle to wrap their minds around the reasons why people end up here, how people can meet through an unsolicited email and end up taking a 300 mile road trip to work at a labor of love. I sit here tippy-tapping into my laptop as the campaign swirls on around me in a state of grace. They're doing it the right way, and it's working.

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Day Zero

For this week, Britt Blaser and I are spending our lives volunteering as IT Angels at Dean Campaign HQ in Burlington. We hope to make this something of a tradition. We'll be co-blogging on the experience.

It was a late Saturday night in Brooklyn. We had BBQ and plenty of beer in the name of a free Eddie Cordova, and it was a chance for me to see a bunch of heads I probably wouldn't have otherwise run into. Whisky and beef and Brooklyn-brewed beer. My ostensible home is in disarray; no bedding, hot and humid, littered with the detritus of cross-country travel. It was a stagnant night of deep chemical sleep. The point was that I was kind of wrinkled when Britt swung by to pick me up in the morning.

We were headed up to Burlington, Dean country, looking to spend the week lending technological mojo to the campaign any way they could take it. It's adventure camp for wonks, and a good chance for me to make some contacts before I jet west to start work in earnest on Music For America.

The drive was bucolic, Britt and I swapping stories about our upbringings, finding more common ground than you might expect considering the generation gap between us. The weather came and went and he told me his best war story, crash-landing a burning C-130 full of white phosphorus at an airstrip 20 miles from the Cambodian border. We talked about the lost art of conversation and girls and doing things with great velocity.

Britt drives like a pilot and a rich man in the best possible sense, taking the shoulder to send us off on an adventure through Hartford, the kind of driving that creates drama and excitement and a sense that anything's possible. Life's yours for the taking, and asking permission is for kids; this is ok because we are honorable people. Reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson's outlaw credo. He's an American spirit, and a weird little dude. I enjoyed to road trip quite a bit.

Rolling up through central Mass and into Vermont the scenery stirred up some memories, romance and youth and a clean kind of being. I had a couple girlfriends who I saw up here, a unfiltered crush and pure puppy love, the last of my solid gold watches. I put me in a wistful mood, remembering old music and things done in haste.

As we got close to Burlington, the sky opened up in one of those humbling moments, nature flexing her artistic muscle with a rich palette of sky and sun and granite and green growing things. Coming from the west coast I felt we were cresting a hill and running down to the sea, but of course it was just Burlington around the bend.

And what a place it is. A beautiful city. We checked in to the hotel, small town friendly vibes only partially masked by the Marriot management overlay. First stop was Campaign HQ, buzzing with a kind of eager newsroom mojo at 8:30pm on a Sunday night. It reminded me of my best times working on my award winning High School Newspaper, all work and no ego and fun people with principles.

We got a tour and went to dinner and then went to one of the DFA crash pads -- the many houses in Burlington taken over by DFA staff -- to catch K street with the Gov. on HBO. The show's a little too pomo for it's own good, Soderburgh even further blurring the line between political reality and entertainment news. It's a neat experiment from a structural point of view, and I can watch James Carville all day long, but it might be a little too smart and meaningless to succeed.

After that we're tired, and Monday is looming. Britt and I make our winding way back to the hotel, and I attend to some personal phone calls and the evning wound down. This week is going to be exciting.

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VT Safari

Speaking of my dancing feet, it's Dean season and I just got my tags. I'm headed up to Burlington tomorrow with Britt Blaser and he tells me there's not a hotel to be booked in the whole damn town. Summer tourism is done and the fall leaf tours have yet to begin, so what's drawing the crowds to Vermont? I'm thinking it has something to do with the next president of the United States.

Britt and I will be friendly IT Angels, helping out with whatever needs doing. I'll also be connecting with Deanspace honcho Zack Rosen (who works for DFA) and try and spread the word about Music For America. Hopefully it will be a fun time. It should be.

Britt and I are going to be doing some kind of co-blog of our official adventures. We'll probably co-post some of the same content. We're also taking suggestions as to things we should plant in the ears of the Dean campaign. Let me know if you have any gems.

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Back Home?

I've been back in NYC for almost a week, a surreal time. The old hustle is still a draw, but the humidty droops me down, and I feel purpose leaking from my pores. What the city has done more than anything else, to be perfectly honest, is make me miss Sasha anew; not really a positive development. The colors of fall are coming on, and I feel like skipping town.

And the squarafication has continued apace. Out last night in once trendy Billzburg the streets were bustling, but the crowd everywhere I looked was shot through with pure Long Island. College kids with tans and khaki's out for a lark, just like the East Village was back in my day. Artist colonization led to real bohemia led to an invasion of hipsters -- the difference between a boho and a hipster is that bohos do a lot with a little, and hipsters do little with a lot -- led to a stream of adventurous students (and a lot of single guys) led to a pretty good whack of regular old NYU kids. I never liked that school's mainstream student body all that much. Don't even get me started on the Lower East Side.

I don't mean to sound bitter. Mostly it's that I'm tired, and I feel life calling me to be somewhere else. I feel like a man without a tribe at the moment, and my feet itch to leave. Am I running from things? Sure, a breakup I obviously havn't yet shaken and a sneaking sense that the soul has been drained from things. But I'm running to a lot of things as well. I'm going to California; out west where I belong; golden state; land of opportunity. I'm going out to turn people on.

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Knives Out: David Brooks Smears Dean

The Long Knives certainly are coming out against my man Dean. In today's NYT, conservative columnist David Brooks pens an artfully crafted attack at Deans base of support entitled "Bred For Power," an attempt to link Dean and Dubya on a number of points vis-a-vis their upper class backgrounds. It's quite a hack job, if I do say so myself.

First of all, like any good smear, this column contains some kernel of truth, giving the overall impression that the author is being, well, fair and balanced. Brooks is correct that Dean's family background is similar to the Bush's in WASPy stature. From this base premise, he ventures off into the attack zone.

Most egregiously, he compare's Bush's and Dean's "Prince Hal Phase's:"

Bush drank too much at country clubs. Dean got a medical deferment from Vietnam and spent his time skiing in Aspen. Both decided one night that it was time to get serious about life and give up drinking. Dean was 32; Bush was 40.

This almost offhand comparison makes it sound like Dean and Dubya have comparable young-adult biographies. Thankfully, this is easily refuted by the facts.

Howard Dean reported to a military doctor for a physical examination as required by draft law at the time of his graduation ('71) and was rejected from service, plain and simple. As a recent college grad in a disillusioned time, he went off to Aspen to ski for about a year before returning to New York to work on Wall St.

By contrast, George W Bush used family connections to get into the Texas Air Guard as a way around serving in Vietnam. He then went AWOL from his position for nearly a year after being transferred to Alabama, and has never attempted to explain that decision or account for how he spent the missing time.

Dubya was by all accounts a serious alcoholic, drunk at noon and picking fights. It's also tacitly understood that he abused cocaine for a spell. Talk to anyone on the inside during the 70s or 80s and you're bound to here some good stories. I have.

Dean by his own admission "partied pretty hard" in college, but you'd be hard-pressed to say he was at any point a drunk. Dubya dried out in a 12-step program, part of a total born-again conversion. Dean simply stopped. He says he, "didn't like who I was when I drank."

The rest of Brooks' piece is a hazy endorsement/indictment of the WASP establishment into which both Dubya and Dean were born. He links their leadership styles and boldness as being products of a privileged yet competitive upbringing, but makes few other definitive assessments. Personally, I get the sense that some part of Brooks actually admires the good doctor, or at least wishes they were on the same team.

However, there's a lot to be gleaned from the two hard biographical data points Brooks references. Dean did what was required of him with regards to service in Vietnam. Bush used family connections to get a do-nothing assignment, then ditched that responsibility too. Bush was only able to beat his drinking habit by being born again. Dean, by then a medical doctor, made a decision based on the facts.

These basic paradigmatic distinctions -- along with the fact that Dean possesses an engaging and curious intellect -- make all the difference in the world when it comes to comparing and contrasting these two men in their capacity to perform the duties of President.

One man has a long track record of taking responsibility seriously; the other has a record of dropped balls, some admitted but mostly not. One man has a fact-based outlook on life; the other takes a faith-based approach to policy. One man struck out to make his own life and his own career in a place where his family name meant little; the other partied until he was 40 then drifted into the family business, starting a pattern of cronyism that would follow him into public office.

Brooks's basic premise that both men come from privilege and were put through an educational system meant to groom them for leadership is essentially correct, but the meaningful similarities between Dean and Dubya stop there.

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The Whirlwind in the Thorn Trees

The man came around for the Man in Black. We all knew it was in the mail. Still, it highlights for me the poverty of meaningful popular culture. You look at a figure like Cash and all things current become grey, dry and insubstantial. My generation, like the one before it, seems to thrive on the trivial, a disposable culture, the cult of the new. Would we know a young Johnny Cash if he came up and played in front of our faces? Do we recognize our own authority, responsability and complicitness in the great parade of shadows that carries on for our entertainment? The culture isn't going to change itself, you know.

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