May 1, 2009

Craigslist Controversy (Blog #6, 4551)

One of the most popular sites on the internet is Craigslist. Recently it's been in the news for very negative stories about kidnappings and killings in which the killer found the victim through the site. I personally have never bought from Craigslist, but I used it recently while shopping for a new bike, to help gauge pricing, etc. I know several people who have used the site similarly to buy used items and have been pleased with their experience. There is a lot of evidence, however, that Craigslist is incredibly dangerous because anyone can post anything with no checking system whatsoever. There's a lot of danger in trusting what you see. Not only are many items on craigslist inaccurate in quality or arbitrary in price, but people can use a posting as a pretense for luring you into a face to face situation. That's the true danger of Craigslist; in and of itself, the danger online is minimal if common sense is exercised.
In late October, 2008, a 19-year-old man was charged with second degree murder after killing a woman he lured to his parents home in Savage, MN, having posed as a woman in need of a babysitter.

The "Craigslist Killer" Philip Markoff, a 23-year old medical student, shot and killed a woman (erotic masseuse) he found on craigslist from a solicitation ad including pictures, after he had kidnapped and robbed two other women he found on craigslist from the same type of ads.
The Erotic Services tab of Craigslist is controversial, as it is often thought to be a cover-up for prostitution.
Craigslist statement on the subject:
Q: How does craigslist feel about the "erotic services" category from a moral perspective?
A: Illegal activity is absolutely not welcome, and will not be tolerated. However, when it comes to legal conduct between consenting adults, we feel it is important to err on the side of respecting free speech and privacy rights, and to leave moral judgments to the greater wisdom of the craigslist community, who are empowered through our flagging system.

Craigslist news stories aggregated on Youtube:

New York Times stories about Craigslist:

Black Box Voting (Blog #5, 4551)

As part of Group 8, I did my presentation in class on Friday. I talked about Black Box Voting, from the documentary Hacking Democracy, and I thought I'd include the info and some additional info on my blog entry.

Beverly Harris founded Black Box Voting, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit elections watchdog group.
The term black box voting signifies voting on voting machines which do not disclose how they operate such as with closed source or proprietary operations.
The current website for black box voting is extensive and updated several times daily.
It’s not too visually pleasing but it is more than functional and has some clever features and tons of information:
Forums – an easy way for more people to get involved.
Different utilization techniques – you can reorganize the information about ongoing projects and investigations, which is helpful because there is tons of it. You can also look at the postings of just the last 24 hours.
Archived investigations
Easy donations and press kit – it’s really important for activist groups to be easily reported on because they depend so much on free press. As a journalist, Bev is probably aware of this, so the press kit information is much more easily accessible here than on most sites.

Together with Jim March, Harris filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Diebold Election Systems had made false claims when selling their system to Alameda County, California. Diebold paid the state of California $2.6 million to settle the case, and paid approximately $76,000 to Harris, which she donated to Black Box Voting.
In March 2006, Harris's organization, Black Box Voting, was contacted by elections official Bruce Funk, from Emery County, Utah. Black Box Voting again secured the services of Harri Hursti and Dr. Herbert Hugh Thompson and examined the Diebold TSx touch-screen (DRE) system. Hursti, Thompson, and a member of the Black Box Voting board of directors, Jim March, found flaws which prompted emergency warnings and last minute corrective actions in Pennsylvania, California, and other states.
Harris also identified and broke the story on the criminal records of a number of individuals who owned, programmed, and printed ballots in the elections industry.

She has written a book and continues to update the website often as a contributor.

Here is an article about Bev and Black Box from the New York Times:

More information, most from the media, on Diebold in the 2008 election:

March 13, 2009

Zapatista, Globalization, Slumdog Millionaire (Blog #4, 4551)

I think the Zapatistas, what ever else may be said about them, have made really progressive use of technology in their work. Nonetheless, I simply cannot understand how they can be against globalization, when you consider what a role it has played in their cause. Here you have a pretty extremist group getting an unbelievable amount of international attention and they never had to leave their region to establish it. Globalization makes that possible. I don't know nearly enough about the details of the Zapatista ideals to understand how this irony is really explained by them. There. Just a little rant about something we touched on in class that, despite several web searches, I cannot wrap my mind around; it doesn't help that there is no information on the subject that I have found that can be considered objective --though I didn't visit the library or read any scholarly books; I thought it would be more appropriate to search the immediately accessible, as the Zapatista depend upon it entirely.

Globalization is such a vast and frustrating subject. There is just no way to talk about it thoroughly. The definitions provided were helpful as a starting point, but we didn't really get beyond that level. Still, I think that the point that globalization goes beyond what most people think of is pretty important - it's more than
The spread and connectedness of production, communication and technologies, more than “internationalization” and “universalization.” The point made by Giddens that "the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa" hits the cultural effect of globalization squarely on the head. It is so much simpler to have localities a little bit better defined in and of themselves. I think of the film Slumdog Millionaire, and the evolution of Mumbai in the span of the main character's short life, as a perfect example of this. The skyscrapers, the American imitation in some cases, but even the portrayal of his job serving tea to the rows and rows of people at computers, calling globally to sell cell phone plans and upgrades. The outsource to India trend must be having just an insane effect on their culture, and I think part of what made that movie so good is that it was very revealing and realistic in its portrayal. What is Mumbai, at this point? It's constantly in flux, and growing growing growing. It's very exciting and somewhat disturbing, and I would like to learn more about it.

March 12, 2009

Digital Divide, I'm Not Surprised (Blog #3, 4551)

The digital divide is something I have become pretty well-versed with because of previous classes. It seems like an issue that is really pressing, but also one that is receiving a lot of attention right now, which can only mean progress. Many of the points brought up by Professor Stern and the guest speaker, Peter Fleck, resonated with the anecdotal experience that I have had.
Last spring, I volunteered at a public library in Northeast Minneapolis as a literacy conversation circle facilitator -- essentially, people could come to the library for a couple hours, and I would be there to talk to them. It was meant to help people work on their English in a friendly, casual environment, which allows them to try new things without feeling intimidated or being corrected.
The conversation circle that I ran was from 4-6 on Thursdays, and most of the people that came were parents who stopped by the library with their kids after school. The little kids would sit and color while I talked to their parents, while the older ones - probably ages 8 - 12, would be in the library, waiting in line for computers and then doing all their homework. Most of them were incredibly savvy, and most of the parents didn't have a clue. Their own kids would probably be able to teach them the basics, perhaps more effectively than some computer class. In this particular case, learning English had to take priority. The particular neighborhood I was in had a fairly well-established enclave of sorts, so most of the people I talked to had jobs and connections pretty well established and had been in the country for a couple of years. They were stable and attentive parents, but because conenctions got them set up here, there was no real motivation to gain computer skills and internet access. I think they were really only at the library for their kids to get books and use the computers --this is a very highly engaged immigrant community, and even in that case, the adult population for the most part was not learning about computers.
It was cool to find out that my evaluation of this particular situation is somewhat in line with state-wide and even national statistics. It blows my mind that this is a big problem in MN, a state renowned for its social service system. Surely with all the attention on the topic of digital divide recently, it will become a high priority issue.

February 18, 2009

Jour 4551 Blog #2

Maybe I need to read a greater portion of his body of work to fully understand Marshall McLuhan's "Medium is the message" theory. In particular, his electric light example makes very little sense to me; it seems more like a semi-failed metaphor than a successful comparison point. I think I understand that the electric light is information and that it's "content" could be whatever activity it illuminates (course packet 25).
That the content can blind us to the character of a medium is where I think the metaphor begins to fail, for me. I think I'm pretty aware of the quality and source of lighting in most situations - acutely aware, even. Also, McLuhan writes that "it is not until the electric light is used to spell out some brand name that it is noticed as a medium. Then it is not the light but the 'content' (or what is really another medium) that is noticed" (25). I'm not sure I agree. If an electric sign in a window is turned off, do we read it? Plus, in some situations, an "OPEN" sign for example, the light being off means "CLOSED." Isn't the light "content" at that point? More so than the content of the word/other medium? When you start to think about this metaphor for too long, it starts to become very odd and complicated. I even find myself questioning what kind of metaphor this is...synecdoche? Ontological? In another class of mine, we are discussing metaphors pretty extensively, and maybe trying to apply that kind of analysis to this reading is causing me to make it harder than it really is to understand.
For this class and impending test, I'll stick to the theory, but I don't buy it, particularly as I consider myself as a consumer of television and print materials - I think that when I apply the theory to my own practices as a person taking in visuals.
I'm absolutely certain McLuhan thought through all possible objections and confusions before he published, and probably has brilliant answers to them. Therefore, I guess my uneasiness at the McLuhan reading stems from the written presentation of it. Perhaps his medium is in this case failing, and therefore, the message is too.

Jour 4551 Blog #1

In his first book, The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen makes a lot of very convincing arguments about the dangers Web 2.0 presents to the way several industries currently run. While reading the first two chapters, I felt incredibly indignant toward his arguments, but by the end of the first half, he had by and large won me over -- in some regard, that is.
Keen uses many facts, statistics, and even anecdotes that illustrate his overarching perspective with finesse. Yet between these convincing points, Keen's own over-the-top, grossly overstated commentary makes me resent the validity of the larger point.
For example, it's hard to argue with this: "The print version of the New York Times has only 2.7 million paid subscribers...while the free online version receives 40 million users a month. The problem is that while the print version generates annual revenues of $1.5 to $1.7 billion a year, the online version pulls in just $200 million" (Keen 132). The point makes excellent sense. NYT hasn't found a model that works for their online version AND makes money, so they're losing it rapidly and it's having terrible effects on the company and the industry as a whole. This is an interesting, viable point.
But then Keen goes on, only a turn of the page later, to make giant leaps of illogic: "In the absence of traditional news, will the online sites be forced to abandon the effort to search out truth altogether and simply make the facts up?...Our entire cultural economy is in dire straits. I fear we will live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip" (135).
Keen sees the rise of amateur content as a sign that people will no longer demand real content and quality, and he isn't shy about expressing it. What he fails to acknowledge is that his success as a cultural critic depends on this same public. Just because people are engaging with media and exciting technology doesn't mean they'll quit appreciating professionalism. Times are changing, and the NYT will have to adapt just like every other business. If their current business model doesn't work with the internet, they should find a new model and reincarnate. People will always crave a level of professionalism and intelligence from their info sources, and people place enough value on truth that legitimate sources will always have a place. Keen makes fair criticisms, but my issue with it is, if the industry can't evolve to fit the age we're in, then it should die and something else will rise to take its place. Professionals get into the business of disseminating valuable, truthful information to the public for a reason, and they will continue to. Just look at the rise of journalism schools all over the country. Maybe right now, things get jumbled between what people consider news and what is entertainment only, but I believe it will shake out eventually.