Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sweet Home Chicago...

'Citizen journalism' is currently sweeping the internet, and do not think that an on-line 'personal experience' and 'knowledge' based Travel Guide has been left out. claims that it is a "complete, up-to-date, and reliable world wide travel guide." From the 'destination of the month' to 'off the beaten path' cities: this free consumer information web site was created to share knowledge about cities around the world (13,787 cities so far!) with travellers. WikiTravel is a Web site where anyone with Internet access can create, update, edit, and illustrate and article.

This all seems so fantastical on the surface! It is a travel guide constantly being updated. However, as with any "work in progress," there are going to be some glitches. I am going to confess it would be untruthful to claim my issues with WikiTravel are not 100% Subjective.

As a newcomer to WikiTravel, naturally the first thing I did was Search: Chicago. Although I currently live in San Francisco, I was born and raised in Chicago. Rumor has it that Chicagoan's are extremely passionate about their city, and I am a Prime example of that! So while I was scrolling through the WikiTravel: Chicago page, I was not surprised to find a few things that "pushed my buttons."

WikiTravel paints detailed pictures of these different cities for the curious traveler. How to get there (airports, train-stations, ect), how to get around while your there (public transportation, rental cars, taxi cabs), museums, parks, zoo's, tourist attractions, suburbs, events that happen in the city, where to shop and eat, bars/clubs, hotels. I think you get the drift, and can clearly see that WikiTravel has not left much out.

Personally, quantity and quality are two completely different things! Moreover, some of the random information given was quite a surprise, as well as some of the best things Chicago has to offer were under-represented and even left out.

Here are a few examples that caught my eye: Chicago is known for having fabulous food; there are endless amounts of restaurants and caf├ęs at your fingertips. So the fact that Leona's was on this website is ridiculous “Good all-around Italian far, multiple locations.” That was the description of this mediocre chain restaurant, which deserves little if any recognition in a city with so many options. Fabulous, one of a kind, family owned, hidden gem restaurants like Mario’s Tacos, which is a well kept secret, can be found in Blue Island, a neighborhood on Chicago’s far south side.

Another prime example of blatant under/misrepresentation was under the ‘events’ section of the website. As the third largest city in the United States, it is hard to believe that there are only three yearly events, but that is not the worst part. WikiTravel: Chicago travel guide explains to readers that there is an annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, that takes place on Columbus Drive the weekend before March 17th and that the Chicago River is dyed green. That is all true; however, if you have ever been to Chicago for the weekend preceding St. Patricks Day you would be fully aware that the real celebration takes place on the south side of the city in the Irish Catholic dominated neighborhood known as Beverly! “Today, the South Side Irish Parade is considered the largest neighborhood-based St. Patrick’s Day parade outside of Dublin. It grew from 17 children marching around the block 27 years ago to an event that hosts over 15,000 marchers and 250,000+ spectators each year.” More history about Chicago's South Side Irish Parade can be found on their very own website.

Well I officially got carried away with this post, but I guess I found something I was passionate about and honestly, I could keep going for days. However, as an Internet-savvy student, I know that sitting here and complaining on the blog is not going to help anything! So off I go to create, update, and edit WikiTravel’s Chicago travel guide page, and here is my suggestions check your hometown’s guide and see if anything gets you riled up!


What am I doing here? This is the question I kept asking myself as I sat in the dark, cold McLaren Complex room watching a slideshow presentation by Ruby from Wise Fools Community Arts, a "non-profit organization which uses art and theatre as vehicles for community building, self-determintation, social and political change."

According to their website, the organization was officially birthed in the Spring of 1990 and became recognized as a non-profit organization in July of 1993. Wise Fools "combines giant puppetry, mask, stiltdancing, wild costumes, eclectic sculpture, music, movement, fire and song to create highly participatory, issue-oriented, outdoor theatre..."

Amidst the history of puppetry and the constant shuffle back and forth of an unprepared slideshow, I couldn't help but think I got duped. The flyer I received about the presentation had colorful pictures of the different puppets that the organization used to make people aware of social and political injustices. It would have been interesting to see, in person, some of the puppets (or even a performance of some kind), not just look at pictures. I think the organization's use of art to bring people together and make a change in society is great. But the presentation left much to be desired.

I would definitely attend another presentation by Wise Fools, because they deserve another chance to showcase the vibrant organization they really are. Just as long as they bring the stilts, wild costumes, and do some dancing. And they promise to bring on the puppets!

Egyptian Blogger is Unjustly Incarcerated

Tolerating how blatantly ignorant and ape-like our president is can be a challenge, as is noting the fact that he is a mere puppet for someone I personally believe is the devil incarnate (Cheney). As Hugo Chavez once said in reference to Bush, “Huelo el Diablo” (I smell the devil) and there he reigns, positively reeking of the Bush Administration. However, I am at least able to express my disgust-laden sentiments to the world and expect some sympathy in return.
Imagine being thrown in jail for posting that small but opinion-laden paragraph. In a country where anything goes and complaining about our government has become habit, we often forget that indeed, there are people much worse off.
Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman has been incarcerated for writing blogs of essentially the same nature as my opening paragraph, although his convictions are exceptionally thought out and informative. He is now facing four years in jail for making the fatal (but entirely necessary) mistake of critiquing his overly watchful government. This being his second arrest, Kareem will spend three years in jail for “insulting Islam”, insurrection towards the Egyptian government and a fourth year for insulting the president.
On a blog, Kareem referred to president Hosni Mubarak as “a symbol of dictatorship”, while also noting the extremity of some of the highest religious institutions in Egypt. A portion of Kareems indictment states that he was “spreading rumors liable to disturb the peace”, leaving us with the terrifying notion that speaking ones mind constitutes as public disruption.
One of the more frightening aspects of Kareems case is the hypocrisy of the Egyptian governments policies. In an article by reporters without borders, it states that president Mubarak had “formally undertaken to abolish prison sentences for journalists in connection with their work”. And what a commendable job the latest Egyptian president is doing. Clearly, incarcerating a young man for his thoughts and opinions is paving the way to a just and well-rounded media.
Take a minute to look at, and potentially sign the petition asking for Abdel Kareems awaited freedom. As a globalizing world hopefully aspiring to equality and justice, it is immensely underhanded to incarcerate a man/woman for his or her beliefs.

OhmyNews: news "that's fit to share with you"

Now in its 7th year of operation, OhmyNews, a Korean online newspaper, has become a fast growing online participatory journalism site. It was launched on February 22, 2000 by Mr. Oh Yeon-ho, founder and CEO, as a place where citizens of a community can report on news for the citizens. According to Yeon-ho every citizen is a reporter and “only those citizen reporters who are passionately committed to social change and reporting” make the online newspaper(s) possible. In 2005, OhmyNews International was formed, an online newspaper for world news in English also written by citizen journalists.

Since starting in 2000 and harvesting around 727 reporters, OhmyNews now has approximately 50,000 citizen journalists from all over the world. These reporters are able to submit their stories on the website by opening a citizen reporter account free of charge. There they can also keep track of their readers, their reactions, and the amount of money they have earned. After the submission of their stories, OhmyNews editors read, edit, and check facts. They also give feedback to the reporters to help them improve their reporting and writing skills. The articles that don't make it unto the main page of the site, it is still in the database and is viewable to all as a "Saengnamu" article.

In an article posted on February 26, Yeon-ho lists 10 preconditions for the value of user-generated content. It focused on four main points which are; credibility, responsibility, influence, and sustainability. “More information does not mean better information. By the same token, more participation does not automatically ensure a better society for us. Valuable information and valuable participation are needed,” Yeon-ho said.

Masimba Biriwasha, a citizen journalist for OhmyNews puts it best. "As a citizen journalist, I am not a mere conveyer of information. I am more that just a cog in the wheel of information. I am a citizen first, with a sincere desire to see freedom, fairness and justice prevail."

iCan: Covering Communities by Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing, a journalistic technique wherein the reporter relies on the numbers and collective wisdom of crowds to gather truth on a scale impossible to match with dwindling news staffs and fading coverage. One new and innovative form of crowdsourcing, namely the BBC's iCan program. Founded in 2003, iCan seeks to empower community activists and even citizens not normally engaged in the political process to join together in so-called "action networks" to effect change on a local level. Journalists then monitor the results and cover any stories that arise out of the work of local activists.

This new way of reporting community activism, by encouraging it and providing the tools necessary to implement it, shows a great deal of ingenuity and foresight on the part of the BBC. In their efforts to get the best news coverage, they utilize the tools of community activism. The program aims to draw together people behind the banner of uplifting their own communities in various online networks to effect change on the local level.

The danger inherent in this model should be clear, namely that the reporters who cover the news are, at least in some sense, creating it. This can lead to a wag the dog scenario in which the journalists shape the very same events about which they are reporting. Such a tactic calls to mind the famed case of William Randolph Hearst, who is said to have inflamed tensions during the Spanish American War in order to sell papers. Journalists always run the risk of a conflict of interest when they get involved in the very stories they cover.

At the same time, some writers, like's Martyn Perks, believe the efforts do not go far enough. The rules prohibit campaigning directly before an election and fund raising, both of which might be considered part and parcel of community activism and both of which can be newsworthy. Because the BBC is promoting iCan, the journalists must be careful not to break any election laws or to encourage others to do so. Given that many of the most controversial, and therefore potentially the most newsworthy types of protests and activist efforts might fall outside the purview of iCan. BBC therefore runs the risk of having its iCan networks labeled inefficient and ineffective compared to other efforts without the restrictions necessary to get national funding for a project.

This delicate balancing act may be exceedingly difficult to maintain, and its relatively short history leaves little track record to show whether the scales are tipped one way or the other. Ultimately, it may take several years to shake out the exact impact this service will have on the public at large. In the mean time, the British can expect to continue to see the results of iCan action networks. Crowdsourcing is here to stay.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Burning to be part of the action

In 2003 San Diego was caught on camera showing a different face to the Pacific Coast’s sunny beach town we tend to associate with Southern California. A massive wild fire burned over 300,000 acres and 1,500 homes when the city became ablaze; becoming the second worst fire in California’s history.

The interesting thing about this incident was that many pictures of the fire were taken by the locals being affected. Instead of the local newspaper sending a few reporters out to the site to cover the story, we got the information from the very people being driven
from their homes.

“Sign On San Diego,” an online discussion forum as part of the San Diego Tribune’s website, was host to a message board and photo sharing by local citizens to show the fire from their perspectives. The local news became a conversation between the victims living in the area as they shared their pictures and personal accounts with each other and the rest of the world.

Crowd sourcing” is the latest way in which to

obtain news, where the crowd is doing the work. When the technology of digital cameras, cell phones with cameras, and websites offering message boards and blogs is accessible to most people, it seems that allowing the public to participate is a more effective way to gather and share information.

Let’s hope this continues to spread like a wild fire.

I figured it out!

I was having continued troubles with the post tools not showing up. I looked into the help section, and found out that the post tools work better with Mozilla Firefox web browser. Now that I have downloaded the new web browser, all the blog tools are at my disposal. Yeah!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Graphic novels, Gleeson Library, and Hollywood?

Before Tobey Maguire was bit by a spider and had a steamy upside down lip lock with Kirsten Dunst. Before Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale bravely donned the skintight black leather that left little to the imagination. And even before Jessica Alba defied physics by making herself invisible, there was the printed version, the original version…the comic book. Some might argue that the original genius of graphic novels has been overshadowed by Hollywood’s box office blockbusters, but at the University of San Francisco in the forefront of the Gleeson Library, librarians created a graphic novel display that draws attention to the creativity, social relevance and impression that graphic novels leave on a variety of cultural industries (i.e. films!).

Created by librarians Kathy Woo and Debbie Benrubi the display, which was a way “to highlight the library’s great collection,” said Benrubi, began showing on January 23 and will continue to the end of February of this year. The display allows an interactive element as students can freely check out a comic book right off of the display. “Fifty or so books have been checked out,” said Benrubi, out of the 91 graphic novels that have been used. At present date the display features a case that holds 16 comics, which are owned by USF faculty members and include volume one additions of Superman and Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (these comics are not available for check out), one shelf of graphic novels, two carts worth of half empty graphic novels, and a comment box. “We have gotten a lot of great feedback,” said Benrubi. “We have already ordered 15-20 more comic books to expand on the library’s collection.”

So whether you are mindlessly whizzing about the library with tests protruding, dreadfully trudging along to read yet another essay, or on your way to the Sacramental Light exhibit in the Thacher Gallery, stop and take notice of the small yet visible graphic novel display. Whether it’s the “Rabbi’s Cat (Benrubi’s favorite)” or “Roadstrips,” a beautiful and breezy flip through of “a graphic journey across America,” take notice of the graphic novels which tell creative stories and feature wonderful illustrations. And if you check out a graphic novel, where an original price usually averages around three dollars, you might just be holding the next idea for a Hollywood script that could rack in 821.6 million dollars worldwide, just as Spidy did!
Despite being our shortest month, February has managed to cultivate a number of popular events: Black History Month, Groundhog's, Valentine's and President's Days, and depending on the vicissitudes of the lunar calendar, Mardi Gras and Carnaval. And if we can believe that melting pot of lies Wikipedia this once, there are a number of other celebrations occurring throughout the month. We are (or ought to be and shame on you if you aren't) enjoying a hot breakfast, counting birds in our backyards and shaking our booties.

Display organizers at Gleeson Library seem to have no idea. Instead of going with one of these traditional February events as a theme to their monthly display, they have opted to feature graphic novels. They are well stocked with work by all the favorites: DC, Marvel, Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman, the 9/11 Commission. Ah, 9/11 Commission? This little surprise is just one of the many books which serve to remind us these aren't the comics we remember from childhood. The Gleeson display itself is yet another reminder that comics are branching out. Lloyd Affholter, a librarian at Gleeson whose desk post has a tremendous view of the display has called this the most popular exhibit he's seen in a while.

Whether most students are already interested in the books when they come in is difficult to gauge, but I can say I had minimal to no interest in graphic novels when I checked out a copy of Dan Clowes's Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. I was aware that the same author was responsible for the graphic novel Ghost World which was adapted into the movie of the same name and friends had insisted I read his other work. Like with many things (such as class assignments) I dragged my feet on making it happen but when I finally sat down to read it (as a class assignment), I was halfway through in less than an hour. The artwork, story and writing all combined very nicely to create a quickly paced read and an experience which isn't quite like any other medium; it's as close to cinematic as print can get. So in this month already packed with distractions, credit goes to Dan Clowes for grabbing my interest with something relatively exciting and new.

Comics as Examples of Literary Genius? Who Would Have Thought…

Archie and Donald Duck are for many, a reminder of childhood years and the first bits of literature ever to be read. Comics take up a small portion of the Sunday paper and for the most part, aside from the snippet of political satire, the material content has almost always been something of a joke. However, in Jason Lutes’s Jar of Fools, one of many graphic novels put on exhibit in Gleeson Library, a deeper meaning lies harbored in the text.

Although the sketched depictions of the characters in the novel are fake, the reality of life is left intact. A main Character in Jar of Fools begins rambling on with some fairly profound thoughts regarding life, “but as I understand it, any action, good or bad, is like a ripple you make in the world… and the real goal is not to make any ripples. To begin and end with a subtotal of zero”. The twisted story goes through a segment in the life of a few; a lovesick and destitute magician, the object of his affection, a crazy old man, and a homeless father with his young bright daughter in tow. The author walks us through heavy concepts such as suicide, poverty, and the complications of love, all of which are illustrated beautifully.

Graphic Novels such as Jar of Fools have become somewhat of a literary phenomenon in the past six years. In 2001 graphic novel sales were hardly 75,000 a year, by 2006 this number shot up to 250,000. A website loaded with stories for adults and information on comic authors is, a thriving example of the growing interest placed in adult comics. Where did this popularity spurn from you might ask? It is possible, and probably likely that film productions such as Sin City are a key factor to their newfound popularity.

There is really nothing in many of these novels directed towards young children, it is entirely made for adults and the content is anything but light and comical. So comics have now moved into a new era, one designed to take them sincerely. Laden with meaning, graphic novels are being taken more and more seriously and substance is becoming a good deal heavier. Comics will no longer be written off as fluff used to fill extra space in the paper but rather as a new form of literary genius, the days of Donald and Archie are slowly evolving into something much heavier. Through this exhibit, Gleeson Library has successfully pioneered its way into a realm with very little public knowledge but a steadily growing fascination.

Gleeson Library the Purveyor of Cool?

The graphic novel is by no means new but it has found new serge in popularity that is taking many people by surprise. Currently, Gleeson Library of the University of San Francisco has an exhibit that runs through the month of February celebrating the graphic novel.
The impetus behind the exhibit was to not only to honor the genre but for the librarians to have a better understanding of what young people are reading today. Kathy Woo Head of Acquisitions and director of the exhibit got the idea for the exhibit visiting local bookstores. Woo said, “I was noticing all the kids lined up at the bookstores in the graphic novel section…its really a generational thing.”
Woo discussed this new trend with her fellow librarians and found many of them interested in the genre as well. The Dean of the library just happened to be a collector of graphic novels. Woo looked at the University’s own collection of graphic novels and found that it was decent. “I was surprised at what we did have, but we really want to build the collection,” said Woo.
One of the most exciting features of the exhibit is the suggestion box. Students and faculty are encouraged to suggest graphic novels that aren’t currently in the collection. Woo said, “the main purpose of the exhibit was to have the suggestion box.” As of last week there were several dozen suggestions for new graphic novels.
I have only read one graphic novel in my life, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I was excited to have another graphic novel experience. I checked out Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha Vol.1 the first of six volumes. This novel is a fascinating take on the life of the Buddha and Tezuka weaves historical fact with fictional characters of his own.
I loved it; I read the nearly 400-page book in one sitting. I immediately went on to the library’s website to see if the rest of the series was available. To my dismay, they were not in the collection. My disappointment did not last long as I remembered the suggestion box. I ran to the library and gave them my two cents.

Serious lessons from The Simpsons

University students study serious stuff. They leave campus and go on to become doctors, lawyers, writers, and teachers. USF’s Gleeson Library had a graphic novel display for the month of February. Hundreds of titles from Budda to Adult Comics to the one I picked up, Simpsons Comics Royal.

Everyone knows about Bart and Homer. The favorite cartoon family we’ve all known over the past 20 years. Drinking beer, ringing his son’s neck, and the man who brought the world the phrase, “Doh!” Homer Simpson is not your typical father figure. Creator, Matt Groening has made a comic book of pure entertainment. In the middle of the book, however, is a letter from Matt to the young aspiring cartoonist. He gives advice on becoming what a young boy or girl may dream of becoming one day.

“Just be sure to pay attention, observe people’s behavior, and remember everything you can. Keep a journal if you dare. (This is general advice, not just for cartoonists).” As journalism students, this is sound advice. We observe and write. We don’t draw pictures, but this advice extends far beyond a young child dreaming of being the next Matt Groening.

“You may very well be stuck in some crummy little down in a crummy little school with a bunch of snobs and jerks and bullies tormenting you all the time. Ok, I sympathize with your personal hell-I’ve been there man- and it’s not much consolation. All the cartoonists you dig went through what you’re going through right now.” This is a lesson about growing up, getting through the hard stuff, and sticking it out. This is what a lot of the college experience can be like.

Whether we leave USF and become something serious; doctors, lawyers, journalists, or teachers, there is something to be learned in a comic book or graphic novel. It is serious, but masked in a non-serious way.

Yes, I Read Comic Books

I first got interested in comic books in 1992 when I was ten years old. I had been a fan of Superman from a very young age, and even used to wear a Superman shirt underneath the suits I wore to kindergarten. So, it was natural for me to delve further into the character by reading his adventures in the comics. The initial stories I read involved the Death of Superman saga, a story that captivated my young imagination and hooked me on comic books.

I continued collecting almost exclusively DC comics until around 1998, when I stopped reading because I could no longer afford to buy them regularly. In 2003, after several years of watching the television show Smallville, I picked up the comic book adaptation of the series. It felt great to have a new comic book in my hands, so I decided to start collecting again. With the advent of eBay in the intervening years, I was able to pick up large runs of back issues for much less than I would have paid had I bought them on the newsstand. Since returning to comics, I have amassed a collection of somewhere around 4,000 comics, including nearly every appearance of Superman since 1985.

When I tell people I am a comic book collector, I get varying reactions. Mostly, people do not understand the appeal of a comic book story, relegating comics to a children's medium that no intelligent person has any business following. The truth is that while comic books started out with children as their primary audience, today's typical comic book reader is older and has a desire to read stories that are more complex and realistic. Even superhero comics, with their outlandish premises and plots, have matured to the point where the stories behind the capes and powers involve real-life human drama. Comics deal with violence against women, deep philosophical and religious debates, and even heated political issues and current events.

One of the creators most responsible for this shift in tone was the late Will Eisner. Eisner began his work in the early days of comics, when material published in the new comic book format was typically reprints of newspaper comic strips. He went on to create The Spirit, a masked crime fighter who deals with the real life struggles of the inner city, and the landmark A Contract with God, one of the first graphic novels. Eisner also created the graphic novel Fagin the Jew, an attempt to create a backstory for the famous Jewish caricature in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. Shortly before his death in 2005, Eisner published The Plot, a graphic novel detailing the sordid history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document that anti-Semites, most notably the Nazis, used to "prove" a worldwide Jewish conspiracy aimed at controlling the world.

Eisner's literary forbears carry on his tradition of using the graphic novel to tell stories of surprising scope and grandeur. These include Frank Miller, whose taste for gritty realism and violence garnered critical acclaim for works like Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns, and Ronin, and Alan Moore, whose storytelling genius gave us works like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell. Writer Brian K. Vaughan, one of the medium's popular new voices, keeps the torch lit with high concept comics including ongoing series Ex Machina, a political thriller about a superhero turned mayor of New York, and Y: the Last Man, a post-apocalyptic tale about a world where all the men on earth die save the series protagonist, Yorick Brown.

Comics have certainly matured from the early four color days, and it is gratifying to see that USF's own Gleeson Library has recognized this by creating a prominent display of comics and graphic novels. Hopefully the interest generated by this display will introduce more people to the medium, and showcase the fact that it is not just for kids anymore.

Unlike Trix: Comic Books... Are Not Just For Kids

Contrary to popular belief: Comic Books are not just for kids. That is exactly what Debbie Benrubi and Kathy Woo, who work in USF's library, were trying to prove when they decided to highlight the University of San Francisco’s extensive graphic novel collection during the month of February. In the foyer of Gleeson Library on main campus, there is a fabulous exhibit including both rare collectors item comics as well as over one hundred comics that students can check out. A Gleeson desk worker explained to our DJ class that this colorful exhibit is said to be one of the libraries most popular one in a long time.

In my knowledge of comic books, (which doesn’t necessarily matter) I imagine the classics like Superman, Batman, and other superhero type stories. With detailed colorful pictures and few words: comic books seem on the surface to be geared toward a younger and often male audience. However, in recent years, more serious topics, which include for example the Iraq War, have been translated into graphic novel stories.

Political, social, religious, economical, racial. These are just of few of the very serious and much more mature issues that comic books address today. Some comics even addressed romance, which seems a stretch if you are trying to reach adolescent boys. As Roger Sabin described in his book, "Adult Comics: An Introduction", british writer Peter Bagge’s comic "Hate" (1990), which was about a mans “quest for beer and true love.” As a result, these books grab a much larger audience and have the ability to spread messages and influence people. This can happen much quicker and also easier by using humor, wit, and bit of lightheartedness, then say a 300-page textbook about Palestine, Jewish religion, or perhaps even weapons of mass destruction.

USF is smack dab in the middle of one the nations most liberal, outspoken, and accepting cities (San Francisco that is!). This graphic novel exhibit has the ability to open the eyes of college students, and anyone else who strolls through USF’s library during February, who otherwise might have never picked up a comic book in their life. Because like me they are under the false assumption that Comic Books are For Kids. If this exhibit (or blog entry) has caught your eye and sparked an interest in comic books, you might want to check out San Francisco’s very own cartoon art museum. The museum is located at 655 Mission Street, and is proud to be the only museum in the United States dedicated to graphic novel and comic exhibition.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

weird in a cool way

i was looking up the websites Dan Gillmor mentioned in we the media and found that he is a contributor for the san mateo section of

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Total Information Awareness: Terrorist Monitor or Big Brother?

Under the Bush administration, we have entered into what some might say constitutes George Orwells nightmarish society portrayed in 1984. Big Brother IS watching, and it is through the disguise of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, a program recognized in 2002 as an attempt to “stop” and “seek out” all acts of terrorism and suspicious terrorist activities.

TIA was created under the guidance of John Poindexter and its purpose was to monitor and sift through the public. A massive database composed of every detail of every registered citizen, Total Information Awareness rests in the hands of the government, a loaded gun pointed at our very freedom. Anything found in the database can and will be used against you legally in the court of law.

When citizens began to realize that there was a severe infringement on personal space and their very constitution occurring, they were quick to bring TIA to attention. Facing the heat, the Total Information Awareness program morphed into the Terrorist Information Awareness Program, under the pretense that its sole existence was to eradicate all acts of potential terrorism. In 2003, TIA was defunded by congress because of the controversial attention brought to it but was then picked up by several other “counterterrorism intelligence” programs.

Total Information Awareness and its fathers in the political world (such as the Patriot Act) have become the new cornerstones to American security, or what many deem American surveillance, a vigil maintained by an overbearing government. Or should I say… a big brother?


In 1994, Usenet, a system of Internet message boards wherein users from all over the world can discuss issues, first spread news about a faulty version of Pentium processors. Users caused so much commotion about the "Pentium bug" that journalists and CNN used the message boards as a channel of information during the chip problem. Because of the massive attention, Intel was forced to compensate for their error by replacing the damaged chips. Sean Maloney, then senior vice president of Intel and director of the Sales and Marketing Group, said in a 1994 CNET interview that he was surprised at how quickly the Internet "was a critical factor in forming opinions and spreading information...this medium was full of opinions, one order, two orders of magnitude faster than any medium had done before."

<-- Sean Maloney
I did a Yahoo! Search on "pentium bug" and the first link that came up was in Wikipedia, titled Pentium FDIV bug. FDIV stands for floating point division which is the assembly language used in the writing of computer programs. The Wikipedia entry said that Thomas Nicely, then a professor of mathematics at Lynchburg College discovered the bug in October of 1994 and reported it to Intel. He also sent an email to his contacts asking them to test their processors. There is no mention of Usenet, but the entry does state that the flaw was "quickly verified by other people around the Internet..." The entry provided external links, one of which was to Nicely's website, which contained an account of how the news of the damaged chip spread through the internet.

Corporate power has reached unprecidented levels. Corporations have grown to exceed most of the worlds nations in size and power. Their effect on the enviroment and global economomy and culture is difficult to grasp. But unlike a nation-state a corporation is not beholden to the people. As an average citizen we have no say in regards to the actions of corporate giants. Yet their actions have drastic effects on the world we live in.
Two brave brits are a part of the effort to reverse this dynamic. Helen Steel and Dave Morris are the creators McSpotlight is an extension of their fight against Mcdonalds and corporate greed and exploitation. Mcdonalds sued Steel and Morris for libel in what became the longest running trial in british history. Their website catologues this entire ordeal and offers an extrodinary amount of info about Mcdonalds continous abuses, links to other corporate fights and websites, and ways to get involved.

E-mails and Blogs End Lott's Reign

In late 2002, then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a startling comment at the 100th birthday celebration of the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Lott praised Thurmond's service in the Senate, and said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either." Because Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat, and explicitly endorsed segregation as a major part of his run for the presidency, Lott's comments later drew much criticism, ultimately leading to his resignation as Majority Leader.

The interesting point in terms of the burgeoning field of digital journalism is that Lott's comments were not picked up by the mainstream media. It was the blogosphere that truly kept the story alive when the mainstream media ignored it.

But more than bloggers, e-mail conversations may have played a huge role in ousting Lott. Blogger Mickey Kaus points especially to Democratic strategist and former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, who sent out a mass e-mail that reached the offices of the influential online daily, Slate. Slate editor Jacob Weisberg then forwarded the e-mail to blogger Tim Noah, who went on to write a number of blogs on the subject. In this way, it was e-mail, an older form of digital communication than the blog, that led directly to Lott's downfall.

Unlike blogs, e-mails do not typically become public. Short of a willing sender or recipient, a court order or an enterprising hacker, this form of communication will always remain in the shadows. When these e-mails contain information important to the public, however, it may only be a matter of time before they land in the inboxes of individuals willing to post the information for all to see. The days of the corporate media burying a story may be numbered.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Abu Ghraib's "near?- torture"

Dan Gillmor called the Abu Ghraib incident, "near-torture," but thanks to camera phones and the Internet, I was able to see for myself the extent to which the American soldiers went with the Iraqi detainees. Gillmoor called it "near" I'd like to call it definite, but the beauty of our digital era is that you can all see for yourself and call it what you'd like.

In October of 2003, American soldiers from the military police company and the American Intelligence community used to detainees in the Iraqi prison to perform humiliating and torturous acts. There were hundreds of pictures taken and some video using the soldier’s camera phone. Witnesses have testified in the investigation explaining what the soldiers were having the detainees do.

I will spare the details of what exactly went on in Abu Ghraib, not because I’m sheltering you from what may be uncomfortable, but because this makes me uncomfortable and I figure we’ve all heard bits and pieces of it, but if you’d like to read more go to

Specialist Joseph M. Darby found a picture of the torture, specifically one of the detainees naked, and brought it to the Army’s criminal investigation division. The soldier’s defense was that they were carrying out orders. Military intelligence was using these tactics to get the detainees to talk. These types of tactics had been going on long before this incident and had led to death and injury among the detainees. Thanks to digital technology, the incident was brought into the open and now the world has seen it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Blogging about a Blogger who became famous for Blogging

“That’s hot.” And so is he. Perez Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, has made his career jet-setting from New York, where he resides, to Los Angeles, where he is commonly found at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, his “office” on Sunset Boulevard viciously and relentless blogging about celebrities on his site, With at least two dozen posts a day, Hilton blogging about celebrities has in turn made him a celebrity, as he is often seen gallivanting around town with gal pal Paris Hilton and hosting parties of his own for the famous Hollywood in crowd.

Despite Paris, Hilton is not loved by all. The 29 year old, Cuban American, who is a NYU graduate, is being sued for $7.6 million by X17 Inc., paparazzi who claim that Hilton has used many of the company’s photos without permission. Hilton’s site features at least 15 pictures on each page (usually five pages worth of gossip) with outlandish remarks, bold opinions, and sarcasm. Hilton defends his work, “my position is that I don’t think what I am doing is illegal, and I am going to vigorously defend myself. I am willing to step up to the plate and fight for my rights and fight for the rights of all bloggers,” said Hilton in a LA Times article. Undoubtedly $7.6 million is a hearty sum for nearly everyone, yet Hilton sets himself apart from the average blogger as he expects to make six figures this year from his site alone, where you can find at least 22 advertisements running down the side of the page.

Self proclaimed as “Hollywood’s most hated website,” Hilton should be inspiration to all. As he shows how a not so recognizable actor (i.e. appeared on an episode of the Sopranos) can rake in six figures and achieve celebrity status as he writes a little something about big nothings (most celebrities... even Paris herself). Cheers to the power of blogging!

In the third chapter of We the Media, Dan Gillmor makes reference to several cases where individuals used digital technology to either embarrass, stymie or otherwise antagonize in a meaningful way large corporate interests. Among these is the Tobacco Control Archives, an internet database of Big Tobacco memoranda hosted by the UCSF digital library. More than just an archive of interoffice communications at the likes of RJ Reynolds, it is hundreds of thousands (with plans to one day grow to 5-6 million) pages of legitimately creepy discussions about cigarette marketing, the effects of anti-smoking legislation and how to circumvent it, and my personal favorite, the scientific studies conducted by tobacco companies over the last 40 years.

These studies have titles like "
A Proposal for a Scientific Conference on the Benefits of Smoking," a document from 1970 which proposes that scientists gather and "[be stimulated] to a renewed study of the positive, rewarding aspects of cigarette smoking." If it wasn't 37 years after the fact, I'd probably be wishing those real scientists good luck with all the real science they'll be doing. Another slightly less ambitious (but at least equally ridiculous) report from 1997 gives some clue into the kinds of research tobacco companies have focused on in the last ten years. This groundbreaking report from RJ Reynolds provides the results of research which suggested that smoking/nicotine consumption could be linked to increased blinking. In fact, these intrepid researchers ignored that this connection is "usually considered 'noise' within the context of [other relevant] studies." (This from their own memo.) By flaunting the scientific convention of the day, RJ Reynolds has now taken their rightful place alongside Galileo and Copernicus by pursuing their research beyond what the conventional wisdom could comprehend and gauging exactly how often a smoker blinks.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Hey, my name is Samantha Blackburn (unlike my fellow classmate Michael Vick there are no famous Samantha Blackburns, so no need to specify!). I am also a member of the Digital Journalism class, and to be perfectly honest I Abso-freaking-lutely love it! I am a sophomore, Media Studies major and Journalism minor. I love San Francisco, but my heart is in Chicago and the midwest where I was born and raised.

Professor Silver is the most enthusiastic teacher I have had at USF thus far, and he makes everyone in the class so excited about each new thing we attempt to… and successfully accomplish!

I love photography, and thanks to my enrollment in this class finally swayed my parents into buying me a fancy camera. Now I can capture all of the beauty of San Francisco, and everywhere else my heart desires. Everyone’s Flickr projects were awesome, I was so impressed and frankly super intimidated by everyones pictures, so next time I know I need to step up my game!

Cant wait for everything else that this class is going to bring! Hope this blog fulfilled all of its blogtastic needs!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

USF Digital Journalism Really is Blogtastic

My name is Michael Vick (no, not that Michael Vick, a better one), and I am a member of the Digital Journalism class. I am a senior Political Science major and a Journalism minor at the University of San Francisco.

First, I want to say that this class is awesome. Professor Silver is so hilarious and enthusiastic, and he really knows a lot about this emerging field. It's only the start of the third week, and we have already learned about blogging and tagging, read some amazing material in Dan Gilmor's book We the Media, and posted scores of pictures on Flickr.

I also want to give a big thanks to my classmates for pushing me to take risks. My candid shots of people eating and socializing on campus are nice, but they pale in comparison to the shots Eva got by hopping the fence in the wee hours of the morning to get shots of Campion Hall while it's still being remodeled. I am also impressed that Sam and Eva climbed the ROTC wall when we took the pictures of their recruitment efforts a few days ago. I don't want to merely single them out, because everyone's projects were really amazing. They do deserve a little special attention, though.

I'm really looking forward to our Google maps project, and I can't wait to do work on YouTube. I also hope we'll get to do something with Wikipedia, because I love that site.

That's it for now. Thanks, Professor Silver. I'll see you all on Monday.

our first blog post

hello! here lies the words and images of blogtastic, USF's first and only digital journalism collective. you may wish to call this a blogventure.

we are nine strong - eight students and one prof - from all over the united states.

and remember, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." welcome to our first impression.

and by the way, the professor doesn't capitalize his posts so, well, get over it.