Tuesday, April 06, 2010 3:55 PM
In full view of the Cuban government’s ever-watchful gaze, internet activist Yoani Sanchez has started a school for bloggers. Classes on Twitter, Wordpress, and journalistic ethics are held in Sanchez’s living room, where some 30 students gather around a projector with no internet connection. Only about 1 percent of Cubans have internet connections, and Sanchez, whose blog is called Generation Y, lives under the constant threat of arrest by the state. Until the police shut it down, however, Nick Miroff reports for Global Post: “this classroom is a place where the digital revolution really feels like one.”
Source: Global Post
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 2:05 PM
A frightening aspect of geoengineering—the attempts to counteract global warming by manipulating the climate—is that the actions of one country or even a single scientist could affect the entire world. “Done carelessly,” Jamais Casico writes for Momentum, “geonengineering could cause unintended environmental damage. It could also undermine the health and security of millions of people, and drive political wedges between powerful nations. Geoengineering could even push us to the brink of war.”
To avoid catastrophe, Casico proposes a few measures that must be taken before any individual or entity begins the work of manipulating the climate through science. He suggests that countries should adopt greater transparency and tough international laws and regulations. He also proposes an international “Ecoscientists Without Borders” organization to oversee the projects. The ideas can’t guarantee that geonengineering won’t destroy civilization as we know it, but they could make the end a little less likely.
Image by indigoprime, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 12:06 PM
Instead of using harmful pesticides to kill invasive species, scientists are trying to get invasive species to kill each other. In experiments on Argentine ants, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, have figured out a way to manipulate the scents that insects use to identify members of their colony. The scientists are using chemicals that would transform some of the ants from friends of their colony to foes, fomenting a civil war among the ants, and causing them to kill each other. According to Conservation Magazine, these chemicals could present a more “environmentally friendly alternative to insecticides.”
Source: Conservation Magazine
Image by Arkangel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 19, 2010 4:17 PM
People with disabilities have been portrayed in theater for hundreds of years. Modern theaters, however, don’t always cater to patrons with disabilities and characters with disabilities are often absent from the stage. The Victory Gardens Access Project aims to change that by providing closed-captioning, sign-language, Braille programs, and other services to expand access to theater. The project has also created Crip Slam, a program to produce plays that explore disability culture. The project’s co-director Mike Ervin talked to The Chicago Reporter about the theater for people with disabilities and the effect that it can have. He said:
The artistic [aspect] is very important. People want to tell their stories on stage, and we want the voices to be authentic. Showing the genuine disability experience has larger political benefits in how people view you, because how people view you plays a big role in how they treat you, and how you view yourself plays a big role in how you treat yourself.
Source: The Chicago Reporter
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:02 PM
Instead of filling their instruction manuals with incomprehensible computer-speak, the makers of the Franklin Ace 100 and Ace 1000 decided to have fun. The computers—released in the early 1980s—were knockoffs of the Apple II. The manuals, on the other hand, were completely original and now represent fascinating cultural documents. Two of the manuals that were unearthed on the blog Ironic Sans are filled with pop culture references to Hill Street Blues, The Dukes of Hazzard, and former Good Morning America host David Hartman, who is described as “nothing but reconfigured electronic signals [you watch] over coffee in the morning.” The manual also has this prescient and funny paragraph designed to warn its patrons:
Be forewarned that somewhere, sometime, someplace, some enterprising young man who seems to know ten times what you do about computers is going to try to convince you that his program will make a jug of cider jump off the table and turn ducks’ eggs into solid gold. Look this man straight in the eye and ask for names of people who are successfully using his program. DO NOT, under any circumstances, bet him he can’t do it. There’s no telling what someone might be able to make a computer do.
Source: Ironic Sans
Image by Marcin Wichary, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 4:21 PM
The Tea Party isn’t a coherent political party. It’s united by the fact that it’s “loud, self-regarding, incoherent, and endowed with a bottomless confidence that it speaks for real Americans,” according to The American Conservative. The unquestionably conservative magazine came out swinging against the Tea Parties in the latest issue:
Despite the real idealism of some of its activists both inside and outside the Beltway, the Tea Party is nothing more than a Republican-managed tantrum. Send the conservative activists into the streets to vent their anger. Let Obama feel the brunt of it. And if the GOP shows a modicum of contrition, the runaways will come home.
Source: The American Conservative
Image by ProgressOhio, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 12, 2010 12:29 PM
The 2010 World Cup is just a few months away, and violent tensions are simmering under the Coca Cola and Anheuser-Busch branded landscapes of South Africa. South Africans have been evicted and displaced to make way for the games, government officials have cracked down on vendors and informal trade, and there have even been rumors of state-sponsored assassinations. According to Utne Visionary Dave Zirin on his blog The Edge of Sports, these actions are an echo of apartheid. Zirin reports:
In a normal month, South Africa has more protests per capita than any nation on earth. But when you factor in the World Cup crackdown, a simmering nation can explode. Over 70,000 workers have taken part in strikes connected to World Cup projects since the preparations have begun, with 26 strikes since 2007. On March 4th, more than 250 people, in a press conference featuring representatives from four provinces, threatened to protest the opening game of the Cup unless their various demands were met. These protests should not be taken lightly, A woman named Lebo said to me, "We have learned in South Africa that unless we burn tires, unless we fight police, unless we are willing to return violence on violence, we will never be heard." Patrick Bond from the Center Civil Society in Durban said to me that protests should be expected: "Anytime you have three billion people watching, that's called leverage."
Source: The Edge of Sports
Thursday, March 11, 2010 1:23 PM
If you want to be the most important poet in America, don’t bother writing great poetry. It’s too time consuming. And even if you manage to write a great poem, all your other poetry will look worse in comparison. Instead, Jim Behrle told a crowd at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, poets should devote themselves to relentless, 24/7 careerism. In remarks reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website, Behrle advises: “Your friends are really just contacts, and you have to think of them that way. If dropping their name isn’t worth anything, you may have to ditch them.” Poets should Tweet, Facebook, and ask for fame from friends and anyone who listens. According to Behrle:
How can you become the most important poet in America by tomorrow? It’s not as hard as you think. Poets used to have to pass out poetry-reading flyers by hand, one at a time, or publish poems one at a time in magazines, slowly building a career. But technology has changed all that. Now you can spam every poet in America with every new poem. Start a fan page for yourself and your books on Facebook. Blog about your every thought—they don’t even have to be astute thoughts. Most poets in America have boring office jobs in which they are screwing around on the Internet most of the time. Just mention the names of as many contemporary poets as you can in all your blog posts. You will catch all the self-googlers self-googling. Self-promotion is the only kind of promotion left. Without poetry reviewers to rely on, only you can spread the word about your product. And if you spread it suddenly, relentlessly, brutally, then you’ll have name recognition from here to Hawaii . . . and that’s all you need, because there are two kinds of poets: those you’ve heard of and those you haven’t. Almost all of us fall into the latter category, but not you! If only you take my advice.
(Thanks, The Awl.)
Image by Nic's events, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 3:37 PM
Barack Obama’s administration has not yet passed a health care bill. Nor has it passed a climate change bill. Nor has it closed Guantanamo Bay. There is, however, one progressive issue where the Obama administration has been extremely productive: regulation.
Under previous Republican administrations, John B. Judis reports for the New Republic that the alphabet soup of federal regulation agencies—the EPA, OSHA, SEC, FCC, and others—were systematically dismantled. Industry representatives were chosen to regulate the industries they represented, and budgets were strategically cut. Obama is turning the tide, appointing actual regulators and increasing funding, even in the midst of the recession. “In doing so,” Judis writes, “he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century.”
Source: The New Republic
Friday, March 05, 2010 12:42 PM
Instead of spending money on expensive bank bailouts or stimulus projects, the U.S. government should consider investing in women-led musical acts. “Broadly speaking, girl groups correlate with economic expansion, boy bands with stagnation,” Tim Cavanaugh points out in the libertarian Reason magazine. In the late 1990s, when the consumers turned from the pop-feminism of the Spice Girls to the hyper-produced pabulum of N’Sync, economists should have known a recession was coming. To turn the economic tide, Cavanaugh implores the government: “Enough with the green infrastructure stimulus. Only girl groups can save America now.”
Cavanaugh writes that even France’s economic boom of the 1960’s can be traced back to music like this:
Source: Reason (Article not yet available online)
Thursday, March 04, 2010 11:55 AM
While renovating La Muette subway station in Paris, French officials uncovered layers of maps, schedules, and forgotten posters from the 1960s. Officials had simply covered them up during a previous renovation. Before the artifacts were unceremoniously peeled down and thrown away, Gene Tempest, writing for the AIGA design blog, looks into the history of the posters, and who cares about them today.
“Most fans are young twenty- and thirty-somethings, adept with iPhones, Flickr, Blogger and Twitter. Bref, people for whom the posters recall nothing,” she writes. “La Muette’s posters are glimpses into someone else’s present, not the past of today’s admirers.”
Image by Pline, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 04, 2010 11:36 AM
Racist hate groups are operating at unprecedented levels in the United States right now, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hate groups in general grew by 40 percent last year, according to the report, with anti-immigrant “nativist extremist” groups growing by 80 percent and “Patriot” groups surging by 244 percent. Though the “tea parties” aren’t considered extremist groups, the SPLC found “they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism,” adding fuel to the fires of hate.
For more on the Southern Poverty Law Center, read Hate Ink., and for a counterpoint, read The Paranoid Center, both from the January-February 2010 issue of Utne Reader.
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center
Image by dbking, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010 1:12 PM
Deeply personal stories are hidden inside the dog-eared pages of ingredient-stained cookbooks. Notes scribbled in margins conjure memories of meals and relationships past. For Sarah McCoy, writing for The Millions, cookbooks are literary treasures. She writes:
The truth is, I read cookbooks like novels. Cover to cover, page by page, the dedication, the acknowledgments, the indexes: I devour everything. Like the literary works on my bookshelves, I can give you the plot, characters, themes and favorite scenes; however, ask me a recipe and I’d be hard-pressed to name one I’ve personally prepared.
Source: The Millions
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Thursday, February 25, 2010 3:16 PM
The always-controversial cartoonist, reporter, and author Ted Rall wants to go back to Afghanistan. After covering the U.S. invasion in 2001 for the Village Voice and KFI Radio, Rall wrote the books To Afghanistan and Back and Silk Road to Ruin. Now, Rall wants to return to Afghanistan to cover the voices of the Afghan people in a style he compares to Joe Sacco’s cartoon-reporting. This time, he wants his readers, rather than major media outlets, to pay it.
To fund his trip, Rall started a Kickstarter project, asking fans help cover his expenses with contributions of $10 or more. In a podcast interview with Kickstarter board member Andy Baio, Rall talks about why independent projects like his so necessary. Most reporters in Afghanistan, according to Rall, “have too much money, and they get parachuted into a place that they don’t know anything about. But also, they’re idiots.”
Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:51 PM
Extreme climbing has never been safe. Add a camera, and climbers’ lives may be even more at risk. Last year, two expert climbers were killed on China’s treacherous Mt. Edgar while filming a TV show for National Geographic. In an article for Sierra, Emmiett Berg questions the camera’s role in their deaths. He writes:
With video cameras the size of bar soap and an ever-growing number of outlets for clips of high-risk feats, any climber eyeing a first ascent must also consider the adventure's moviemaking potential. And when a climb turns fatal--whether through misfortune, misjudgment, or some combination thereof--those left behind inevitably wonder how much the camera was to blame.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010 3:59 PM
Elevators, escalators, and moving walkways are designed to minimize physical activity. Considering the rising obesity rate in the United States, urban planners are now trying to design the physical activity back into people’s lives. “It’s not necessary for us to go to the gym,” New York City’s assistant health commissioner Dr. Lynn Silver told Next American City. “Instead,” the magazine reports, “making stairwells more attractive, building ‘supportive’ walking routes, creating access to fresh produce, and ‘animating’ streets to make them more pedestrian friendly can encourage all the exercise a New Yorker needs. It’s LEED green building standards meets P.E. class.”
Source: Next American City
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010 3:50 PM
Rearrange your bookshelf, make a cup of tea, and watch this video before getting to work. In it, Johnny Kelly mixes an astounding range of animation styles into one mesmerizing short film about procrastination—the art of “doing eight things at once and not getting one done.” Watch:
Procrastination from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 2:28 PM
Stop surfing YouTube. Stop staring at your computer, pulling out your hair, and waiting for inspiration. The blog ISO50 cobbled together 25 ingenious strategies from designers and artists for overcoming creative block. The ideas can also apply to any kind of creative work.
Some are totally unexpected, including this recipe for creativity from British graphic designer Michael C. Place (aka Build):
Slice and chop 2 medium onions into small pieces.
Put a medium sized pan on a medium heat with a few glugs of Olive oil.
Add the onions to the pan, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Chop finely three varieties of fresh chilli (Birds Eye, Scotch Bonnet & Green/Red).
Add the chilli’s to the pan, stir together and cook for eight minutes.
Add about 500g of extra lean Beef mince to the pan.
Stir in so that the Beef is coated and lightly browned (should take approx. 2 minutes).
Add salt and pepper.
Add Red Kidney Beans and tinned chopped Tomatoes.
Add a pinch of Cinnamon.
Cook on a low heat for approximately 20 mins.
Measure a cup and a half of Basmati Rice into a medium pan.
Add two and a quarter cups (the same cup you measured the Rice in) of cold water to the pan with the Rice.
Boil on a high heat until the lid rattles.
Turn down the heat to about half way and cook for eight minutes.
After eight minutes turn the heat off the rice, leave for four minutes (with the lid on).
Plate up the Rice (on the side), add the chilli.
Large glass of Red wine (preferably Australian or New Zealand).
Now the important problem solving part–
Take the plates & pans to the sink.
Run a mixture of hot and cold (not too hot) water.
Add a smidgeon of washing up liquid (preferably for sensitive skin).
Start washing up, the mundane kicks in.
The mind clears and new thoughts and ideas appear.
Enjoy a second glass of wine to savour the moment.
Friday, February 12, 2010 4:02 PM
From 1940 to 2001, only six African Americans won an Academy Award for acting. Only one of those actors, Sidney Poitier, won the award for best actor, and all the rest won for supporting roles. The academy has gotten better at recognizing African American actors in recent years, Todd Boyd writes for The Root, but the awards are plagued by its troubled history. Though Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, and Jennifer Hudson have won awards since then, Boyd writes, “any improvement over the way things were before 2002 must be considered relative to a previously dismal history.”
The movies nominated for this year’s Oscars shouldn’t be considered a step forward, according to John Pilger in the New Statesman. He writes, “This year's Oscar nominations are a parade of propaganda, stereotypes and downright dishonesty. The dominant theme is as old as Hollywood: America's divine right to invade other societies, steal their history and occupy our memory” Pilger takes down most of the Oscar favorites, including The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Invictus, asking the question, “Why are so many films so bad?”
Sources: The Root, The New Statesman
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Thursday, February 11, 2010 5:15 PM
Republicans including Sarah Palin have taken to attacking Barack Obama as a “professor.” Palin recently told a group of Tea Party activists, “we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.” According to Inside Higher Ed, this line of attack taps into a long history of anti-intellectualism, stereotypes about higher-education, and possibly racism in American politics.
The “professor” label “implies dry, hectoring, unemotional, self important, all of the negative stereotypes of somebody who is vainly certain of his own superior mental capacities but doesn’t have a human connection,” Geoffrey Nunberg told Inside Higher Ed. The article also quotes experts who believe the attack resonates because of the racist undertones of portraying Obama as “different” and “not one of us.” The attacks may work in the short term—and among people pre-disposed to dislike Obama—but many believe the strategy won’t work in the long run. Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree says, “Do you want to tell your children we don’t want smart people in government?”
Source: Inside Higher Ed
Image by the Center for American Progress, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010 11:04 AM
The Google Voice service does more than route calls, voicemails, and provide transcriptions of voicemail messages. It also creates poetry. When reading over the typos and imperfections in his voicemails from Google Voice, Richard Eskow writes for 3 Quarks Daily, “I see an authorial sensibility taking form, like a face emerging from a cloud bank. These transcriptions can be read as poetry.”
Eskow provides a few examples, including this one:
Love Begins a Picture
Hi Cat, I could possibly do in the morning actually in the morning
on the way
so I could meet me in the morning
Anyway, just check back with me man and I will go from there.
Love begins a picture and I'll talk to you real soon.
3 Quarks Daily
Monday, February 08, 2010 4:07 PM
The nominees for the 2010 Oscars were recently announced, and DVD pirates have already managed to release most of the films to the web. In an annual analysis of how many Oscar-nominated films are illegally available on the internet, Andy Baio of Waxy found that piracy was not as rampant as it has been in years past. With a month remaining before the awards ceremony, fewer screeners and DVD-quality files have been leaked, and camcorder and telesync releases have dropped, too. Baio doesn’t offer a definitive answer to why piracy is dropping, but will continue to update his analysis as more of the films are leaked.
Image by DeusXFlorida, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 04, 2010 10:52 AM
From Cute Yummy Time to Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology, 2009 was a great year for odd book titles. The Bookseller pays homage to many of these strange, quirky, or off-color titles in its annual Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year award. The magazine recently released its “Very Longlist” of 49 of the strangest book titles of 2009, including Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, Is the Rectum a Grave?, Peek-a-Poo: What's in Your Diaper?, and Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree.
(Thanks to nominee, The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin.)
Source: The Bookseller
Tuesday, February 02, 2010 5:15 PM
Now that corporations are more like people—as many argue the Supreme Court decided in the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case—corporations may soon want the right to vote. Corporations may also want to marry, run for office, and be counted in the census. Writing for McSweeney’s, Steven Seidenberg writes imagines a dystopian world where corporations are treated like people, and this happens in 2028:
Winning 72.1% of the popular vote, California Governor Mickey Mouse is elected President of the United States. He runs weakest among men (garnering just 39% of the vote) and women (45%). However, he is carried to victory by his strength in other key demographic groups: corporations (67%), cartoons (68%), lobbying groups (73%), copyrighted film scores (78%) and online avatars (81%).
Monday, February 01, 2010 4:38 PM
After paying for gas at the pump, your money gets distributed throughout the world. But filling your gas tank with resources from Africa doesn’t actually help Africans. This animated investigation by Oxfam follows the gas money from the pump, through the corporate profits, to the government coffers and bribes. And how much goes to ordinary people? Not much. Watch:
Monday, February 01, 2010 3:56 PM
Offices around the world struggle for good uses for all the computer paper they waste every day. One company has a solution: Turn it into toilet paper. A company called Oriental is marketing a machine called White Goat that shreds old office paper and converts it directly into ready-to-use toilet paper. Watch a video of it below:
(Thanks, Improbable Research.)
Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:53 PM
In a clip from Osama Bin Laden’s personal audiotape collection, militant jihadis laugh and joke while cooking breakfast. They argue over how to light a stubborn kerosene stove. Finally, one of the militants says, “You see now? Engineers are we!” Another responds, “Engineers of… eggs.”
Osama Bin Laden’s 1,500 audiotapes are not always riveting, but they are revealing. The recordings, discovered in 2001 after the US invasion of Afghanistan, contain wedding speeches, taxi cab conversations, and even Osama Bin Laden reading his own poetry. A prominent family in Bin Laden’s former neighborhood gave them to CNN, who wasn’t very interested and turned them over to the FBI, who wasn’t interested either. The FBI gave them to the Afghan Media Project at Williams College, who contacted linguistic anthropologist Flagg Miller to analyze them.
In the tapes, Miller, profiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education, has found a highly personal window into the personalities of some of the most wanted and reviled people in the world. According to Chronicle, the tapes “offer clues about how the jihadis see themselves and one another, how they think about what they're doing and why they're doing it.” It could be invaluable information, as the “war on terror” drags on through its eighth year.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Image by Hamid Mir, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:41 PM
In this beautiful piece of media criticism, British journalist Charlie Brooker pulls together the most annoying and inane clichés in broadcast television reporting. From the annoying vox-pop commentary to the meaningless animated charts, Brooker shows how TV news is able to show a lot, without saying anything.
(Thanks, The Awl.)
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:25 AM
Imagine a dollar bill, brought to you by Exxon. Or picture a 20-dollar bill bearing an image of Steve Jobs instead of Alexander Hamilton. Aaron Marcus writes for the AIGA design blog that customizable currency could help the United State government climb out of the multi-trillion dollar debt that it’s currently mired in. Donald Trump, Steven Colbert, Nike, Target, or even foreign heads of state could pay for the privilege of having their faces stamped on American currency. According to Marcus, it would be “one small step for graphic design, one giant step for the U.S. financial system.”
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:36 PM
The architecture magazine Dwell always strives for aesthetic heights with its often dour and stark photographs of beautiful, expensive homes. The blog Unhappy Hipsters pokes some good-natured fun at Dwell’s photos by writing pithy captions that turn each photograph into a story with just a few words. According to the blog’s tagline, “It’s lonely in the modern world.” It’s also pretty funny.
Source: Unhappy Hipsters
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:25 PM
The birdfeeder industrial complex is raking in cash, inviting controversy, and may be changing the genetic structure of bird populations. Writing for The Smart Set, Jesse Smith pecks at the multi-billion-dollar bird-feeding industry and finds rampant consumerism, scientific data fights, and a hobby that is altering the course of life itself. According to research cited by Smith, the predominance of bird feeders in England has shifted migratory patterns for some Central European blackcaps, causing some of the birds to stay in England for the winter and others to venture on to Spain. The different groups are already showing genetic adaptations suited to the two different climates, and could lead the birds to split into two separate species.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by Scorpion0422, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 4:32 PM
When two dead, white economists rap battle, the result is actually pretty good. The song imagines a night out with John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich von Hayek, brought back from the dead to argue about politics and party. The lyrics by producer John Papola and Russ Roberts, a professor at George Mason University and host of the Econtalk podcast, don’t shy away from the nuts-and-bolts of economic theory, touching on aggregate demand, devalued capital, and the paradox of thrift. There are also some great insults including this one by Hayek: “So sorry if that sounds like invective, prepare to be schooled in my Austrian perspective.”
(Thanks, Marginal Revolution.)
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 4:26 PM
An estimated 600 condo buildings are sitting incomplete or largely empty in New York City, while thousands of New York City residents are living in homeless shelters. To solve both problems, Alyssa Katz reports for the American Prospect that a growing chorus of advocates is calling on developers to convert those vacant buildings into affordable housing. The idea would save real estate speculators from their risky investments, allow communities to avoid the negative effects of foreclosures, and give residents places to stay. Katz quotes New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn saying that vacant new buildings “now represent our best asset in the fight for affordable housing.”
The problem is that developers don’t want to give up their investments, opting instead to wait and hope that the market goes back up. In response, advocacy groups and a select few politicians are lobbying for legislation that would force banks to revamp mortgages and provide affordable housing. So far, however, no politician has been able to find the political will to force banks to do much of anything. “We need a carrot-and-stick approach,” New York State Housing Finance Agency CEO Priscilla Almodovar told Katz. “Unfortunately none of us—the state, city, not for profits—has an effective stick yet.”
Source: The American Prospect
Image by See-ming Lee, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 4:15 PM
The chaos and destruction caused by Haiti’s earthquake are difficult for anyone to articulate, especially for a teenager. Global Voices points to two teenage bloggers who have provided eloquent first-person views of the earthquake and the emotional and physical devastation that it has caused. Before the disaster, a 16-year-old calling herself Krizkadiak wrote about singing and dancing alone on a Friday night. Afterwards, she wrote this:
I saw my school fall in front of me.
I saw people running covered in dust, hearing that their houses fell… sometimes with people in them.
I saw a refugee camp, as they are on tv… people praying, people alive but not really…
I saw a baby half dead, covered in bandaids…
I saw a friend at the cemetery burying his little cousin.
I saw the oldest and prettiest houses of jacmel reduced to nothing.
I saw pickup truck filled with corpses…
I saw my teacher walking to the cemetery behind the car where his wife’s dead body was…
I saw kids from my school, people i KNOW, at the refugee camp…
And lots of stuff… i hear about dead people every second, tsunami alerts when i know i leave at the beach, stupid people trynna take profit, no gas, no water no food.
But what I didn't see though… Is the haitian police and the Mayor. shame.
Source: Global Voices
Photo by the UN Photo/Marco Dormino, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 22, 2010 11:03 AM
For many in Kenya, their government is a black box. Attendance records for members of Parliament are kept secret, and the Parliament website has little to no information on its members. Frustrated by this flagrant lack of transparency, Ory Okolloh co-founded the website Mzalendo to keep an eye on her government. She was motivated by the challenge of acting, rather than just complaining, and because, “if you let them get away with stuff they will.”
Concerned citizens, developers, and bloggers around the world are using the internet to promote transparency, accountability, and civic engagement. In Jordan, where complaints “are really a tradition,” Waheed Al-Barghouthi helped start Ishki, a clearinghouse for Jordanian griping online. In Chile, Felipe Heusser and Rodrigo Mobarec started Vota Inteligente, a website that fact-checks politicians and gives Chilean citizens more information about their government officials.
Projects like these are often disjointed, addressing specific needs of their communities without realizing that there is a vast network of people around the world working on the same problems. The new Technology for Transparency Network is trying to change that by bridging the gap between bloggers and civil society and fostering collaboration among disparate civic-engagement and good-governance projects.
In the next three months, the Technology for Transparency Network will produce 32 case studies of different good-governance projects and 16 blog posts highlighting other projects. In an interview with Utne.com, David Sasaki, the research director of the Technology for Transparency Network, says that the project is trying to figure out “what works well and what doesn’t and sharing that information.” The network plans to challenge project leaders to figure out how their work could creat concrete, offline change. With help from the network, projects could potentially attract funding from organizations like the Omidyar Network, which funds the Technology for Transparency Network.
The first three projects have already been chosen, and, according to Sasaki, the Technology for Transparency Network is already fostering cooperation between different good-governance groups. Eight researchers are sifting through the web, trying to figure out which websites, Facebook groups, or government projects will be highlighted next. Sasaki said, “a difficulty here is that there are so many new media for transparency projects coming up left and right,” and it’s hard to choose which ones are best suited for the network.
Volunteer researchers are also being asked to collaborate with the site in researching and interviewing founders of different projects. Anyone who’s willing to invest a few hours is able to work with the Technology for Transparency Network and help figure out how technology is able to promote good governance and civic engagement. The project is an opportunity to do what Okolloh tried to do with Mzalendo and say, “Enough talking, some acting.”
Source: Technology for Transparency Network
Image by Erik Hersman, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 4:36 PM
Both CBS and CNN sent about 50 staffers to Haiti in the wake of the recent earthquake. Fox sent 25. ABC, NPR, newspapers, websites, and other media outlets all sent their own reporters and photographers, too. Meanwhile, nurses and search-and-rescue teams were stranded in the United States—ready and waiting to help the Haitian relief effort—unable to get there because of transportation bottlenecks. Once in the country, reporters need to find places to stay, supplies for their reportage, and places to eat. Based on admittedly anecdotal evidence, Noam Scheiber writes in the New Republic that these media personalities inevitably raise the price of goods, occupy valuable places to stay, and take resources away from the Haitian relief effort.
And the journalism that has emerged from the army of media that has descended upon Haiti has been largely redundant. To curb the deluge of media personalities, Scheiber suggests the creation of a “disaster pool” of reporters, who would share their reportage with all the major networks. Just as with White House coverage, where a single interview is often used by many news outlets, smaller teams of reporters could be sent to disaster-stricken areas to cover the story for multiple networks. The news is still broadcast throughout the world, and more resources go where they’re really needed.
Source: The New Republic
Image by Nehrams2020, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 9:16 AM
A year ago, journalist Anastasia Baburova was murdered in Moscow, along with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov. To honor the anniversary, Open Democracy has reprinted excerpts from her blog dating from June 2007 to her 25th birthday on November 11, 2008, just two months before her death. Baburova writes about everyday occurrences in Russia, including rollerblading around the city at night, and insights into her indefatigable personality.
The anniversary also highlights the ongoing crisis in Russia, where journalist murders are now routinely going unsolved. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 17 journalists have been killed because of their work since 2000. Of those 17 cases, the killers have been convicted in just one.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 9:06 AM
Mark Twain, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jack Torrance from the Shining, believed that typewriters would help them write. At some point, however, they all lost control of their typewriters, Rob Giampietro writes on his blog, Lined & Unlined, and the simple machines took on lives of their own. “Nietzsche feared his own typewriter might outproduce him,” Giampietro writes. In the Shining, the final evidence for Jack Torrance’s insanity came when his wife discovered that he had been writing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly using his Adler typewriter. According to Giampietro, “Jack isn’t using his Adler typewriter; the Adler is using him.”
For Twain, the typewriter was something he wanted to keep secret. The typewriter itself attracted too much attention. After the Remmington company approached the famous author for an endorsement of their product, Twain wrote:
Please do not use my name in any way. Please do not even divulge the fact that I own a machine. I have entirely stopped using the Type-Writer, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to anybody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only describe the machine but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc., etc. I don’t like to write letters, so I don’t want people to know that I own this curiosity breeding little joker.
Source: Lined & Unlined
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 8:55 AM
Hundreds of years ago, long before Napster, YouTube, and Facebook, artists, businesspeople, and politicians worried about the rise of the amateur. In Sweden, Rasmus Fleischer writes for Eurozine that government officials have worried for several centuries that amateur musicians—unapproved by the local unions and guilds—would take jobs away from professional musicians. In the country that more recently gave rise to the infamous Pirate Bay, these “beer fiddlers,” “non-guildsmen,” and “spare-timers,” who often worked for nothing more than the love of music were the source of near-constant hand wringing and screeds against amateurs, including this gem from a professional musician in 1934:
All other professions consistently oppose free-loaders and non-guildsmen [...] Thank God that there are sensible people among musicians, too, and that most or even all members recognized the danger of legalizing amateur musicians in the practice of a profession, in which they do not belong.
In spite of the constant attacks, the amateurs always manage to find new ways to remain relevant. More progressive or “prog” musicians even formed a “progger” (sounds like “blogger”?) trade union to protect the rights of amateurs. In exhaustive fashion, the article shows that those who fight against amateurs are aligning themselves on the wrong side of history.
Monday, January 18, 2010 5:10 PM
Today, on Martin Luther King Day Jr., videblogger Jay Smooth shares 10 things that Dr. King said, beyond the typical “I have a dream” quotes. Included in the messages on creativity, selfishness, forgiveness, and American was this:
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
Friday, January 15, 2010 5:18 PM
In the minds of some of the “experts” who hold sway over the Texas public school textbooks, Joe McCarthy was an American hero, white men are responsible for civil rights, and “evolution is hooey.” Over the past 15 years, Washington Monthly reports that an activist bloc has methodically taken over the Texas State Board of Education, bent on injecting hard-right ideology into the state’s textbooks. According to these activists, the Founding Fathers never wanted a separation between church and state, and they’re doing their best to break down the wall by changing the schoolbooks in Texas.
The politicized textbooks would be a problem just inside Texas, but economic factors have given the state a huge influence over textbooks throughout the country. Unlike many other states, Texas makes the decisions on a state level on what books local school districts can buy. So when the state makes a decision on what books to purchase for its 4.7 million high schoolers, publishers take notice. The only bigger market for textbooks in the country is California, a state whose budget is in such disarray, it announced that it won’t be buying new books until 2014. In the meantime, an anonymous industry executive told Washington Monthly, “publishers will do whatever it takes to get on the Texas list,” even if that means caving in to right-wing activists.
In what’s already been a fearsome battle, the Texas State Board of Education is in the midst of its once-each-decade meeting to decide which books are purchased throughout the state. The Washington Monthly meticulously documented how conservative activists took over the meetings, forcing out moderates, accusing them of being pawns of the “radical homosexual lobby” and similar claims. With meetings taking place until March, the conservative activists are in prime position to push textbooks in Texas and throughout the country to the right. Don McLeroy, a particularly vocal activist on the state’s school board and a staunch advocate of teaching creationism in schools, told Washington Monthly, “Sometimes it boggles my mind the kind of power we have.”
You can watch a video of the school board's discussions below:
, licensed under
Thursday, January 14, 2010 11:04 AM
Deforestation can be easy to ignore when it happens in far-away places. People might be quicker to act, however, if their hometowns were being destroyed. In a beautiful video (best viewed on full-screen mode), artist Maya Lin brings the idea of deforestation to some of the most famous parks in the world. It’s part of the What Is Missing project, trying to create a memorial to the species going extinct throughout the world.
Maya Lin - Unchopping a Tree from What is Missing? Foundation on Vimeo.
What Is Missing?
Thursday, January 14, 2010 10:50 AM
In the annual Tournament of Books from the Morning News, 16 books remain alive, but only one can emerge victorious. The goal of the contest is not to choose the definitive book of the year, but rather to be the most fun and transparent book award on the web. The contest judges, including blogger Jason Kottke, C. Max Magee of the Millions, and Alex Balk of the Awl, admit their biases. According to the website, “we’ve had judges who flipped coins. So has the National Book Award—but the National Book Award won’t tell you that.” And right now, readers can chime in to vote for their favorite book from the list of survivors. It’s literary “blood sport” at its best.
Source: The Morning News
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 3:08 PM
Electric vehicles are coming to the United States. If steps aren’t taken, though, the cars could cause blackouts and may not help the environment as much as promised. The new EVs need a lot of power to charge, and people want their cars to charge quickly. Turning on just one EV charger "is like adding three new homes to a neighborhood," according to IEEE Spectrum, "and that’s with the air conditioning, lights, and laundry running." If there were an influx of new EV cars, it would put a massive strain on the power grid—especially street-level transformers—and could cause blackouts.
And where does the energy come from to power all those cars? About half of electricity in the United States currently comes from coal power, and that won’t likely change with the introduction of the new cars. So unless big changes are made soon, the new EVs won’t be all that green.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 10:54 AM
When sopranos sing high notes in operas, they can be really hard to understand. To get the power they need to reach the operatic heights, the singers are forced to adjust their vocal tracts, which can make certain words extremely difficult to pronounce. In 2004, scientists tested opera singers and found a way to get that problem by pairing specific vowels with high notes, giving singers power and intelligibility.
More than 100 years earlier, Richard Wagner seemed to understand this concept without the help of science. According to Seed, scientists have found a statistically significant correlation between the vowels Wagner wrote for high notes and the ones scientists identified as preferable for singing. Wagner’s skills developed over time, too, suggesting that he had a scientific understanding of the way voices work that even he wouldn’t have been able to communicate. According to Seed:
Just as Jackson Pollock incorporated fractals into his splatter paintings, Wagner seems to have used vowel-pitch matching in his operas—a concept that scientists wouldn’t formally explain for well over a century.
To hear Wagner's scientific understanding in action, watch a clip from Die Walküre below:
Image by bmann, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 9:42 AM
By combining a solar panel with a dog sweater, Erik Schiegg turned his pooch into a little solar-power generator. After spending just $60, Schiegg’s reports on his YouTube page that the sweater generator works in cloudy weather and “my Android-phone is charged in no time.” He also suggests that farmers could strap solar panels onto their animals to collect electricity, too.
You can watch the video below:
(Thanks, Make, via Recombu.)
Monday, January 11, 2010 12:16 PM
The image of video gamers as pasty, white loners isolated in basements lit by only the glow of a computer screen may be going away. Today’s gamers are just as likely to be iPhone-toting hipsters playing zombie games over Facebook or 50-year-old mothers playing versions of Scrabble online with their friends. New social games are breaking down the line between work, play, and life, and creating a world where everyone is a gamer.
“What videogames suggest is that almost anything can be made more compelling with the application of gaming principles,” Tom Chatfield writes for Prospect. Schools are integrating Guitar Hero into classrooms, and the military (problematically) is integrating video games into warfare. Companies that make simple, inexpensive games that integrate with Facebook and other social networks are quickly turning into multimillion-dollar businesses. No longer a solitary activity, Chatfield writes, “It’s becoming increasingly hard to tell where the serious business of play ends and the playful business of life begins.”
Image by Miss Karen, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 12:13 PM
Supervisors around the country are lying, cheating, and stealing from their employers to give workers a fair shake. One supervisor at an East Coast restaurant chain, profiled by the American Prospect, has created two time sheet systems: one real, and one fake that she reports to her employer. This allows workers to take time off and tend to their families, breaking company rules, and not get fired. “I couldn’t go along with their rules,” the supervisor told the American Prospect. “It was ridiculous, like I’m going to tell this mother with a 4-year-old, ‘No, you can’t leave to pick him up.’” The idea harkens back to a quote by Paul Newman in the film Cool Hand Luke: “Calling it your job don’t make it right.”
Source: The American Prospect
Image from the Seattle Municipal Archives, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 11:56 AM
Was Alex Strum really “trying to get some homework done before going to work” as his Facebook status suggested? In an article for The Smart Set, Strum hired an ombudsman correct some of the inaccurate and misleading information he has spread about his own life through Facebook. The fact checker responded to the status update about homework, writing:
It should be noted that there are discrepancies with what Alex was actually doing. Although his schoolwork was present and in the open, his attention was mostly focused on the television, where Point Break was airing again on the USA network.
Source: The Smart Set
Tuesday, January 05, 2010 3:17 PM
Some of the most hotly anticipated books slated for publication in 2010 are by authors who are already dead, according to The Millions. Ralph Ellison headlines the list, with his long-anticipated novel Three Days Before the Shooting scheduled for publication this month. Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño also makes an appearance, as does Stieg Larsson, Henry Roth, and David Foster Wallace, whose final, unfinished novel may be released in 2011.
A litany of living literary rock stars are also scheduled for publication in 2010, including Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Jose Saramago, and possibly Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen. The Millions breaks the list down by month, so literary aficionados know what to look for and when.
Source: The Millions
Tuesday, January 05, 2010 10:17 AM
Instead of filling their music video with tropes—champagne-sipping revelers, guys on treadmills—the new video by C-Mon and Kypski stars anyone who wants to be in it. Just fire up the web cam, log onto the website, and mirror a pose provided by the musicians. The final product will be a crowdsourced montage that you can preview below.
Source: C-Mon and Kypski
Monday, January 04, 2010 11:25 AM
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are effectively making immigrants disappear. ICE is “confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices,” The Nation reports, “many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants--nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag.” The author, Jacqueline Stevens, uncovered a partial list of the sites, including one near the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport and another near the Chelsea piers in Manhattan. The sites have no often have no beds, no showers, and are free of any transparency and accountability of the regular justice system. A description of one of these sites, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18, by director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU by Ahilan Arulanantham, seems more fitting for a Latin American military junta than a US immigration detention center:
"You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you're in a detention center," Arulanantham explained. Without knowing where you were going, he said, "it's not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel."
Source: The Nation
Wednesday, December 30, 2009 1:06 PM
Barack Obama’s “hope” and “change” campaign slogans meant many things to many people. For some UFO fanatics, Obama’s election represents the hope that the government will finally come clean about its “truth embargo” on the existence of extraterrestrials on Earth. The latest issue of The Washington Monthly profiles Stephen Bassett, Washington’s only registered UFO lobbyist. Basset and other UFO enthusiasts believe that Obama’s commitment to transparency and disclosure will lead to a formal admission that aliens have been on Earth for some time. Then the government can finally release all that alien technology—including the cures for cancer, global warming, and the engergy crisis—that it’s been sitting on for so long. Summing up the change that UFO enthusiasts have been waiting for, the Washington Monthly reports, “If Obama doesn’t announce the existence of aliens in early 2010, they say, he certainly will in the next few years.”
Source: The Washington Monthly (Article not yet available online)
Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:16 AM
There’s a book out there for everyone who’s ever wondered about the thermodynamics of pizza, how to survive a robot uprising, or the mechanics of do-it-yourself coffins. Barnes and Noble might not carry these literary oddities, but the AbeBooks website has compiled them into one of the strangest book collections on the web. Authors have already explored The Bible Cure for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and The Romance of Proctology. Now people can decide whether or not they want to read about it.
(Thanks, Very Short List.)
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 2:59 PM
This month, a British sculptor smashed the front window of a gallery with a metal pole and called it art. The artist, Kevin Harman, had warned the gallery of his imminent attack—though he refused to specify the time—and he immediately paid £350 to have the window replaced. But that wasn’t good enough for the gallery’s owners, who pressed charges against Harman. The artist was fined another £200 for breaching the peace. One of Harman’s colleagues, Michael Sandle, disagreed with the gallery’s decision, telling the Guardian, “They should have shaken his hand and bought him a drink.”
Source (with video!):
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 2:51 PM
The original version of Star Wars was actually an environmentalist parable, according to Utne Reader visionary and snarky environmental provocateur Derrick Jensen. The original title, Star Non-Violent Disobedience, took out most of the dogfights and explosions, and replaced them with letter-writing campaigns, gourmet fair-trade coffee, and eco-tours of doomed planets. Instead of trying to destroy the Empire, the environmentalists of the film decided, “If we want to change Darth Vader, we must first become that change ourselves.” Watch the video below:
Monday, December 21, 2009 11:25 AM
Having an unusual name can be a great source of pride, until Nicole Richie gives her baby the same name. For Sparrow, a poet writing for the Morning News, the experience is a chance to reflect on the cyclical popularity of the moniker, and its “embarrassing cuteness.” Sparrow defends his name writing,
‘Sparrow’ is a bit wimpy, even I admit. Nicole Richie and Joel Madden recognized this flaw by contriving the elaborate name Sparrow James Midnight Madden. (What are the odds the kid will eventually call himself James?) But Sparrow is not pretentious. And it’s loaded with literary connotations.
For more on Sparrow, read some of his proverbs, and a profile of the poet by former Utne Reader librarian Chris Dodge.
Source: The Morning News
Friday, October 19, 2007 5:49 PM
Last weekend I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Housed in a gleaming new building, the Guthrie is one of the premier regional theaters in the country.
Chekhov’s play is filled with privileged, angst-ridden writers, directors, and actors, all desperately trying to convince each other how miserable their lives are. The Royal Shakespeare Company managed to make this funny, exposing the absurdity of the bohemian bourgeois depression.
The characters were obsessed by their own inferiority to Russian greats like Tolstoy and Turgenev—a kind of vanity, since they believed they should be as great as those men—and allowed this obsession to ruin their lives. I and other theatergoers laughed at the melodramatic characters, surrounded by wealth, crying in abject sorrow.
Then yesterday, I picked up the New York Times book review and read this passage by Marcel Theroux: “Tolstoy thought that The Seagull was a terrible play, and that Chekhov should never have put a writer in it. ‘There aren’t many of us, and no one is really interested,’ Tolstoy told a friend.”
Maybe that’s what makes writers so depressed. —Bennett Gordon
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