8/27/2009 2:40:43 PM
With nothing more than a first and last name, the Personas web application creates a picture of how the internet sees you. Eerie insights sometimes flash across the page, often followed by absurd non sequiturs. The website, created as part of an MIT art installation Metropath(ologies), is meant as a critique of data mining efforts by Google, Netflix, and the U.S. Government. In a statement on the project, the authors say:
We typically are never given the chance to see the decision making process that ranks some webpage in the fourth slot for a specific Google Query, and most certainly not when money is to be made in a competitive environment. Personas is meant to expose this black box process as controlled voodoo.
The visualizations don’t have any live links in them, and you can’t copy and paste from it, which gives the impression of a data interpretation process that the user is powerless to control.
(Thanks, Apples and Owls.)
8/26/2009 3:16:48 PM
When assault rifle toting, anti-health care reform advocates stormed town hall meetings, many people thought it was big news. The bigger story, according to the Pew Research Center, was that Brett Favre was returning to professional football. A full 69 percent of people heard at least something about Favre returning to the NFL, while 66 percent heard about the gun-wielding protesters. Both of those stories trumped the news that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that he was pressured into fiddling with the terrorist threat levels for political purposes. Almost half (48 percent) of the people surveyed said they had heard nothing of Ridge’s allegations.
Source: Pew Research Center
8/24/2009 2:42:23 PM
Madison-based magazine The Progressive, an energetic voice of dissent and activism for 100 years, has issued an urgent appeal for funds. Longtime editor Matthew Rothschild is very straightforward about the magazine’s plight, explaining how they got there, what cuts they’ve made, and how they will manage long-term survival after this big fundraising push.
“Let me put it to you straight,” he writes on the magazine’s website. “We desperately need to raise $90,000 in the next two weeks to keep going. We’ve got no money in the bank, and we have payroll to meet on August 31, and our printer to pay, and other creditors hounding us.”
Since he posted the appeal last week, they’ve already collected about $60,000—two-thirds of what they need—and you can add to the count by donating here.
Even in a lean economy, such an outpouring of financial support isn’t too surprising (though it is, of course, extremely heartening): The Progressive, which celebrated its centennial earlier this year, has a long, strong relationship with its radical readers. It’s a relationship that matters come fundraising time, as feminist magazine Bitch found out last September, when its readers forked over tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of days to keep the magazine going. Meanwhile, music-enthusiast readers of Paste have donated more than $250,000 this year as part of a longer-term fundraising drive.
Madison’s alt-weekly, Isthmus, has more on The Progressive’s crunch.
Sources: The Progressive, Isthmus
8/21/2009 1:05:55 PM
Forget putting video in magazines, it's high time we start putting our magazines in videos! That's what the Walrus did with their dramatic animated trailer for the September 2009 issue. It's a novel idea, and it's also an effective one. I was reading Helen Humphreys on the Plains of Abraham mere seconds after the trailer had ended.
Never heard of the Walrus? They won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for Best Writing. It's a fabulous magazine. But why take our word for it when you can hear it from Margaret Atwood, Broken Social Scene, Atom Egoyan, and Geddy Lee? They're all together (at last?) in another little video called Why We Need the Walrus.
8/20/2009 12:00:48 PM
China’s breakneck modernization is running roughshod over some of the most cherished parts of Chinese cities. Before the Olympics in 2008, media outlets published a flood of hand-wringing about the death of the hutongs, the traditional neighborhoods and narrow alleys that run through Beijing. Though story has largely dropped off the media radar, MovingCities reports, “Beijing’s hutongs are still disappearing at rapid pace.”
The government has tried to cover up the destruction of traditional architecture in efforts dubbed “Fake-overs” and “paper preservation.” MovingCities points to an article in the People’s Daily lamenting the loss of traditional businesses, some more than 150 years old, in Beijing’s Qianmen neighborhood. Hu Xinyu, an advisor at the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, told the paper:
Hundreds and thousands of original residents were expelled from Qianmen before the project began, but the suburban housing they were promised as compensation for moving out has not even begun being built yet.
Organizations, including the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center and the Global Heritage Fund are working to preserve some of Beijing’s most historic vulnerable sites. But as the photos from MovingCities show, many of these historic places have already been lost.
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8/20/2009 10:43:51 AM
NBC’s reality show “The Wanted” trails the hunt for war criminals living normal lives, but lately has done more to unearth the complexities of the genocide in Rwanda and the political motivations that inform its reconciliation process.
The Rwandan government has been working closely with the show’s producer, Charlie Ebersol, to capture U.S. professor Leopold Munyakazi for his alleged role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, reports Andrew Rice in the New Republic.
Munyakazi, who claims he was a terrified bystander, sought asylum in the U.S. after he was released from a Rwandan prison. He has since become a very public critic of Kagame’s Rwanda, where reconciliation between perpetrators and survivors is virtually mandated and tough laws against “divisionism” have been enacted.
Rwandan prosecutors have urged the U.S. to return Munyakazi to no avail. “Then, last year, a new possibility arose, one that would allow Rwanda to make its case directly to the American people—on television,” writes the New Republic.
The New Republic
8/18/2009 9:44:20 AM
With the public option clinging to life and the health care debate drowning in a sea of hyperbole and lies, efforts to insert truth and nuance into the debate are constant, if not entirely successful.
Morning Edition spent eight minutes debunking myths about Britain's National Health Service in, which Republican Congressman Charles Grassley says would kill Ted Kennedy if it could only get its hands on him.
The Daily Dish has collected all of its View from Your Sickbed posts in one place. This moving series of posts from Daily Dish readers is as damning an indictment of the current sytem as any I've seen.
Foreign Policy takes the side door into the debate, placing a summary of the decisions that have shaped the current U.S. health care system at the end of a list of the world's worst healthcare reforms.
Meanwhile, the battle to discredit the Obama "death panels" rages. A new poll finds that 57% of Republicans either believe or are "not sure" about the truth of claims that President Obama and supporters of health care would murder the terminally ill. Thank you (again) Sarah Palin.
Sources: Morning Edition, Daily Dish, Foreign Policy
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8/13/2009 12:45:55 PM
When pundits talk about “class warfare,” they almost exclusively refer to actions taken on behalf of non-rich people. Warfare, though, usually has two sides. Research reported in Extra! found that a “class warfare” story was 18 times more likely to refer to bottom-up activities—like taxing rich people—rather than top-down actions—like dismantling unions. Extra! uncovered plenty of critiques against top-down activities, including bank bailouts and anti-labor policies, but these actions are seldom described as “class warfare.”
Image by Joe Saunders, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/13/2009 10:16:16 AM
The standard, bare-bones, institutional voice of newspapers is dying a slow death. “The convention has outlived its usefulness, and needs to be euthanized,” Matt Thompson writes on his blog Newsless. Writing in an institutional “news voice” hinders transparency by forcing reporters to hide their methods and their voice. It also distracts people with the form, rather than the substance, of news articles when reporters deviate from the conventions. It also allowed “partisan hucksters” like Bill O’Reilly to outflank newspapers, according to Thompson, because it’s usually more compelling to be told “I’m on your side” rather than “just the facts, m’am.”
8/13/2009 9:14:02 AM
Earlier this summer, as part of a master’s program at Emerson College, Kerry Skemp began blogging and tweeting about online commentary (i.e., comments left on websites or tweets) and its role in the future of publishing. The resultant blog, You’re Talking a Lot, but You’re Not Saying Anything, is filled with rich observations. For anyone who hasn’t been following all along, Skemp recently summed up the lessons learned with the ultimate “meta-commentary” post: “Commentary on My Commentary on Commentary.”
The distillation is fascinating stuff: a vision of online commentary that rebuffs proverbial complaints of commenters-as-trolls-and-idiots and slays simplistic traffic-building stratagems. “Online commentary both is and affects publishing,” Skemp writes. “It is publishing in the sense that it ‘makes public’ information that would otherwise remain private. In doing so, commentary (ideally) affects more than the commenter and the person being responded to.
“The unique nature of commentary on the internet allows it to be read by an unlimited number of people with varying levels of connection to the topic at hand. An astute comment can educate and inspire others; a negative or uninformed comment can motivate others to help educate. Admittedly, online commentary doesn’t give rise to enlightenment: but it can, and should.”
Finding enlightenment in a comment field might seem a bit farfetched, but Skemp backs up the claim with savvy observations that will be interesting to track as online comment infrastructure evolves. The presence of nasty (or self-serving) commenters, for example, means that “the art of commentary includes determining what to weed out,” a.k.a., a dose of media literacy. Additionally the “Twitterfication of commentary”—knowing who’s reading what you publish—injects accountability into the system, eliminating the anonymity under which bad manners and cheap shots flourish.
But more than commentary shifting toward more refined discourse, Skemp ultimately sees it functioning as a sort of super-discourse. “Commentary is the future of . . . search, and potentially even publishing,” she writes. “Commentary is the future of finding everything we need online, and responding to what is already online. Algorithms can only go so far without the human input that comes in the form of commentary: data showing what people think about other data.”
Source: You’re Talking a Lot, but You’re Not Saying Anything
Image by preater, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/7/2009 4:51:43 PM
A literary hoax is raising uncomfortable questions about the state of academic journals.
Back in 2004, the literary-studies journal Modernism/Modernity printed an article by Jay Murray Siskind of Blacksmith College. The problem is that there is no Jay Murray Siskind, outside Don DeLillo’s classic modernist novel White Noise, and Blacksmith College doesn’t exist at all.
The literary hoax was not revealed until this year, when Mark Sample broke the story on his blog, Sample Reality. According to Sample, this long lag raises the question: “Did any regular readers of the journal ever even read, really read, the review?” Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Monaghan takes the argument a step further, asking, “does anyone read any literary-studies articles?”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
8/6/2009 12:19:00 PM
Leaving journalism? Let the good people at Time Out New York be your career counselors. After surveying experts in fields like public relations, philanthropy, they've come up with a list of possible next steps for any burned out or burned up journalists. Pick from publicist, editorial strategist, grant writer, project manager, or, my personal favorite (it's always good to have a backup plan): private eye. Is it as easy all over the country as it is in New York City to make that particular leap? Just a 2-hour walk-up test and $400!
This is no laughing matter of course. We want and need journalists to stay journalists—the good ones at least.
Time Out New York
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8/6/2009 11:38:11 AM
Liars beware: Intel is developing an application that can detect lies on the internet. Install Dispute Finder into a Firefox web browser and the application will scan web pages to ferret out inaccuracies, crackpot theories, and suspicious content. The application highlights the disputed claims and suggests alternative news sources that might help set the record straight. The current version of Dispute Finder relies on people tagging disputed claims, but soon, according to Intel researcher Rob Ennals interviewed on NPR’s On the Media, an algorithm will be used to scan the entire web for any inaccuracies. (Wait, there are inaccuracies on the internet?)
Researchers also hope to launch a real-time “Bullshit Detector” that will scan statements made in real life. Ennals explained:
So let's say you’re in a conversation with somebody and they tell you something which is disputed. The device is going to buzz in your pocket and let you know that you just heard something disputed and perhaps you should question it.
You can watch a demonstration of the Dispute Finder below:
Source: On the Media
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