Wednesday, May 31, 2006

All's Fair in Love and War

The story of the Yes Men is a case study in political subversion via digital media that has crossed over into the film market. Today I watched their prank-oriented movie, which has been released on DVD, in which apologists for multinational corporations (along with overly earnest activists who can't see parody even in front of their faces) get punk'd by ertsatz WTO spokespersons. The film shows Yes Men going to conferences and lectures bearing giant phalluses and other examples of political theater.

Measured in Internet time, the Yes Men have been on the web for ages, beginning with a bogus George W. Bush site that garnered media attention during the first W campaign. In 1999 these anti-globalization activists set up a parody website that lampooned the World Trade Organization, which included a fake Coca Cola website and a "most wanted" card deck for regime change in the U.S. Unsuspecting visitors who weren't attuned to relatively obvious clues of an Internet hoax or spoof invited representatives from the website to appear at public events.

Since then, they've done send-ups in several common corporate digital genres, such as 3-D animation and PowerPoint slides. This month their Halliburton parody site was featured on this blog. (Although they make fun of academics, Mike Bonnano has taught "tactical media" in the MFA program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.)

As impersonators, the Yes Men describe themselves as specialists in "identity correction" (as opposed to "identity theft") . In deploying this language they seem to be tapping into the Zeitgeist. Yesterday there were identity theft stories in both the Los Angeles Times ("College Door Ajar for Online Criminals") and the New York Times ("Technology and Easy Credit Give Identity Thieves an Edge"). The latter article emphasizes how public disclosure using the Internet as a means of information dissemination by government agencies could actually enable identity thieves on the prowl.

Ironically, most lavishly produced "fake news" is used strategically by corporate manipulators of the media. For example, since it is Spring and the mating season is in full swing, check out this recent fake study on the chemistry of love from an online dating service. Like many official-sounding VNRs (video news releases), this item exploits anxieties about interactions via technology or with strangers on the Internet. Of course, sponsor faces a lawsuit for sending faux romantic e-mails to spur patrons to renew their memberships. Given today's LA Times story about the lawsuit involving matchmaker Orly and claims made on her website, it seems like face-to-face operations aren't safe from litigation from the lovelorn either.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor

A recent Los Angeles Times story, "L.A. Doubles for Iraq as Bomb Site," describes the making of an unusual public service announcement.

Flying bodies and booming pyrotechnics turned the warehouse district east of downtown Los Angeles into a make-believe killing ground Saturday, with the filming of an unusual public service ad for Iraqi TV meant to discourage suicide bombings.

About 200 actors and extras took part in the filming at 8th and Kohler streets, transformed by Arabic banners and crowded stalls into a busy Baghdad market.

Suddenly, a fireball and a tableau of hysteria and carnage: A stuntman was blown onto the hood of a passing car. A woman wearing a head scarf, wired to an overhead crane, was jerked into the air, her body and her baby's stroller flying in opposite directions.

Designed to simulate the impact of suicide attacks on innocent civilians, the commercial is the work of EFX Films, based in Beirut, and 900 Frames, a Los Angeles production company that takes its name from the amount of film it takes to make a 30-second commercial.

This group has also teamed up with the Future Iraq Assembly, which has -- according to the Times -- "a series of professional and expensive-looking ads" featured there, although the site was "under construction" when I checked.

I learned about this surreal exercise in fabricated dystopia from Spare Change, a social marketing blog that covers some of the weirder aspects of this cultural phenomenon. This site is sponsored by Nedra Weinreich, who runs a social marketing consulting firm. Luckily, Weinreich seems to have retained her sense of humor and maintains a blog with an "indie" voice.

Under the category of "How NOT to Appeal to Kids" I learned about the regrettable online FEMA rap (which Weinreich says you can use to "kick it at school assemblies or bar mitzvahs"). I also found out about the new nonsmoking campaign for kids from The Truth campaign, Whudafxup?, which got mixed reviews from my thirteen-year-old (okay stencil-graphics design, funny clips, but lame online games and "news"). For more about do's and don'ts for social marketing to kids see my smackdown of the genre at "No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?".

Weinreich introduced me to some other subversive social marketing blogs. I liked the very continental Houtlust and Selfish Giving from a self-described "cause marketer" in Boston. She also compiled interesting examples of Social Marketing in Second Life, an online role-playing environment that has fostered many political and commercial communities.

Check out "What's So Bad About Social Marketing?" for the skeptical Virtualpolitik take on the social marketing subject.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Pledge Drive

Two recent "modest proposals" about the public future of videogames use a common rhetorical strategy: appropriating the language of appeals from nonprofit, fundraising, charitable organizations. One is a serious manifesto and one is a spoof. Can you tell which one is which? Check out the British Organization for the Eradication of Fundamentalist Video Game Training and The Corporation for Public Gaming.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fighting Fire with Fire

Those who are familiar with a recent Rand report on "The Use of the Internet by Islamic Extremists" for the House Intelligence Committee hearings on Terrorists' Use of the Internet will be familiar with how political discourse on the subject is increasingly focused on rhetorical countermeasures, particularly those labeled as "public diplomacy" efforts.

In situating digital discourse in relation to U.S. public diplomacy, it is interesting to examine the so-called "Zarqawi bloopers tape" that was released at an official Coalition press briefing and is now widely available for distribution on iFilm. Zarqawi appears in white New Balance running shoes, and the footage in these "outtakes" shows him fumbling with a weapon that has jammed; later a flunky next to Zarqawi burns his hands on a hot gun barrel.

Slate magazine points out in "The trouble with releasing Zarqawi's outtakes" that it would have been strategically better to have the Arabic-speaking media release the material, rather than delegate the task to coalition commanders who have been associated with other forms of cultural humiliation and emasculation. (In other high-tech news, the same military briefing included coverage of the new "plasma screens" for the command center for the Iraqi joint task force.)

Furthermore, as The Washington Post has reported, a PowerPoint presentation about the value of Zarqawi for U.S. public diplomacy has been something of an embarrassment to the administration.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

War Stories

Although videogames have played an important role in recruiting and training soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan (and sometimes re-training and rehabilitating them), they have also become vehicles for protest against the Global War on Terror. Joseph DeLappe, using the screen name "dead-in-iraq" has been playing the online version of America's Army, where he leaves behind the names and death-dates of real soldiers killed in the conflict. (This story initially came from the Daily Irrelevant.)

Originally done as part of a class called "The Art of Hacking" at Parsons, Wolfengitmo combines the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein with a blistering attack on the treatment of detainees in American custody.

Check out this blog on war and videogames for more on anti-war activism and game technology.


Friday, May 26, 2006

All Caps

Political Flash films on the Internet often use the figure of hyperbole to make rhetorical points in the service of less popular positions.

The American Civil Liberties Union uses digital media to describe several possible dystopian scenarios in the post-PATRIOT national security environment. A pizza order gone bad is dramatized in Surveillance Campaign, in which Big Brother's minimum wage little sister is able to pry into the health, credit, political, and sexual history of an unfortunate caller. Film noir style narration characterizes The Spies Have It, in which the ACLU's X-files-type protagonist also discovers that take-out food can constitute a crime, especially if the meal in question includes falafel.

This trope of hyperbole is also at work in the cartoon for the South Carolina Equality Coalition, in which a same-sex animated couple endures falling bricks, rocket propulsion, and travel beyond the grave, all in the name of access to conventional wedded bliss. Will Flash animation continue to combine the tropes of Tex Avery cartoons with other traditional forms of political argumentation?

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Thursday, May 25, 2006


YouTube gets a lot of attention for its low-budget entertainment content and the surrounding peer-to-peer culture from which it thrives. This online video website has been praised as the manifestation of a do-it-yourself ethos and derided as the ultimate endgame of primary narcissism.

As a rhetorician, I think YouTube is also worth tuning inot because it shows how convincing arguments are made in the public sphere both in the past and in the present. For a blast from the past, see Fred Rogers leave his Neighborhood for the House and singlehandedly convince lawmakers to double the budget for public television. Or you can watch the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth, which may make me rethink my diatribes against PowerPoint oratory. Of course, Gore isn't a Microsoft man, so his electronic slideshow is less pre-programmed to begin with.

A recent Washington Post story, "Five Months After Its Debut, YouTube is a Star," describes how Pentagon Bureaucrat Terry Turner is filling bandwidth with amateur political commentary after work. Digital tools make it possible to for Turner to create convincing looking weekly newcasts in keeping with the YouTube motto "Broadcast Yourself." His demo reel is worth a visit.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Zee Problem of Zee Budget

The plan for a French Budget Game, as described in Collision Detection, is a tantalizing object of study for critics of digital culture, because it is as a "serious game" intended to educate citizens about the complexities of govenment funding. Nonetheless, it is not actually the daring invitation to gather collective wisdom from the electorate that it could be. Unlike the Policy Analysis Market, that created some interesting debate in this blog, the simulation in France doesn't allow user input to shape the model. There may be protestors in the streets, but there won't be flash mobs on the web.

Stay tuned. On his website, the economic minister assures us that soon we will in fact be able to direct the national budget ourselves -- or at least pretend to -- through this interactive game: "Bientôt sur ce site un jeu interactif où vous pourrez prendre les commandes du budget de la France."


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Google Nation

Yesterday's story in the Los Angeles Times, "The One Bit of Info Google Withholds: How It Works," illustrates why many, like Siva Vaidhyanathan, are concerned about the secrecy also surrounding the Google Book search initiative.

At the same time, according to the Library Journal, the Institute for the Future of the Book is exploring non-commercial alternatives to digital print. On the IFB website you can read innovative webtexts that encourage interactive reading like GAM3R 7H3ORY by McKenzie Wark.

Of course, Google has completely infiltrated the lexicon of our information culture to such an extent that "Google" is no longer merely a verb: it is a series of compound verbs. For example, you can read about "google jockeying" in which students with laptops keep up with lecturing professors who introduce unfamiliar terms or concepts. As someone in front of the whiteboard, I have to say it is nice to have less silence in my wired classroom when I ask a question.

Ironically, there is now a big Google office in my neighborhood. I walk by it several times a week, but it seems to be a bit like Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory: no one comes in and no one goes out.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Imagine how surprised I was this morning to be told by National Public Radio that a "hacker" had released an encryption program that could shield the content of private telephone calls, particularly since I had just read the morning's New York Times story about the creator of one of the first widely available high-quality encryption programs PGP, which stands for "pretty good protection."

"Voice Encryption May Draw U.S. Scrutiny" points out that Zfone, which is designed for Voice over Internet Protocol users, faces negative attention from skeptical government monitors who want to be able to collect information from the conversations of possible terrorists. Of course, for NPR to call Phil Zimmermann a "hacker" is a pretty hilarious category error, given that this longtime software engineer is the company's CEO. PGP even comes with a User's Guide that actually explains how the technology works.

Zimmerman makes a number of interesting rhetorical appeals in favor of distributing encryption tools as widely as possible to the general public. For example, he publishes letters from human rights groups who say that Zimmerman's technology protects political dissidents.

My guess is that encryption advocates will eventually use some of the same self-defense / protection against governments that abuse their power arguments that gun rights spokespeople currently deploy. After all, as Zimmerman notes in one of his on-line essays, one company already sells a low-cost package that "cracks the built-in encryption schemes used by WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, MS Excel, Symphony, Quattro Pro, Paradox, MS Word, and PKZIP. It doesn't simply guess passwords–it does real cryptanalysis. Some people buy it when they forget their password for their own files. Law enforcement agencies buy it too, so they can read files they seize."

On the same electronic front page was the NY Times story about the latest enormous virtual heist of private information, "Personal Data of 26.5 Million Veterans Stolen." Perhaps it is the commercial uses of information and not the politically subversive ones that we should be most worried about.


Sunday, May 21, 2006


I have been to Kitiloplautriv and have returned to write about it.

What is Kitiloplautriv?

"Kitiloplautriv," of course, is "Virtualpolitik" spelled backwards. Somehow, yesterday, I stumbled into an inverse version of my own blog: "Bozell's News Columns: A collection of weekly columns by L. Brent Bozell III." I'm certainly aware of the fact that there is an alternative conservative universe out there in cyberspace, but this was the first time that I had an actual matter-meets-antimatter moment in the blogosphere. On Bozell's page there were digital rhetoric stories about many of the exact same electronic genres that I cover: e-mail, websites, videogames, databases, etc.

Bozell is often associated with the Parents Television Council, although regrettably he writes about a lot more than television. I first decided to seek out Bozell's prose after I heard that he had called for my colleague Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech to be fired. Bogost specializes in games with public agendas: he writes about serious games, but he also writes about the political and civic messages embedded in commercially distributed entertainment-oriented games.

Bogost had raised Bozell's ire by positing that the Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which is available for free downloads online, could be viewed with some critical distance as a form of commemoration of the event, albeit one which offends those who wish to preserve the ineffability of violent collective trauma. After an online review, Bogost was interviewed in an article in the Rocky Mountain News, which was subsequently picked up (and distorted) by news services.

In this opinion piece, Bozell castigated the anonymous developer of the Columbine online role-playing game and anyone who could be associated with it.

Sadly, this genius has allies among the video-game enthusiasts. Ian Bogost, a professor at Georgia Tech who specializes in video-game criticism, is ecstatic about re-enacting Columbine. "I think the effort is brave, sophisticated, and worthy of praise from those of us interested in video games with an agenda," he declares. The game isn'’t fun, but it'’s challenging, he writes, "conceptually difficult. We need more of that." But the game doesn'’t reward you for putting your gun down and going home. It rewards you and calls you brave for killing innocent teenagers. Why Georgia Tech hasn't fired this idiot is a disgraceful mystery.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Bogost has come to the defense of a game that has been dismissed as lacking in any redeeming social value. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas earned condemnation in the House and Senate and spurred further regulatory legislation on videogames in the Baca Bill. However, Bogost argues that the game can serve the purpose of public health if its pro-social ideology of exercise and its critique of the dependence of the underclass on fast food culture is recognized.

Because he projects the ethos of a concerned parent and an advocate for nonviolence, it's an odd claim to say that Bogost is "ecstatic about re-enacting Columbine." From the standpoint of critical theory, it's also just plain wrong. Bogost argues that the game resists mimesis and draws attention to its own representational strategies. For example, the game uses a very limited lexicon of graphic elements and inserts text that reminds the player that his or her experience of game play is not unmediated.

Others, including GamePolitics, have already come to support Bogost's work, but I think it is worth pointing out that Bogost is not the only academic to explore the way that some games that seem to be socially repugnant can actually encourage forms of critical reflection that serve the public good. James Paul Gee, in his books on What Videogames Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy and Why Videogames Are Good for Your Soul, has argued eloquently for the pedagogical benefits of first-person shooter games, particularly those that allow you to play from an opposing, seemingly subversive position. Henry Jenkins of MIT compares Grand Theft Auto to his own educational game about the American Revolution. Joost Raessens examines the documentary function of videogames, which can be applied to historical shooter games like the Columbine game or JFK Reloaded.

Listing these people may give Mr. Bozell more targets for his incoherent fatwa, but he also might learn something from actually reading their books, since they are much better writers than he is.

As someone who teaches written composition for a living, what I find annoying about Bozell's crank commentary for the official-sounding Media Research Center is how he veers off target from a promising topic or rhetorical issue. Moreover, he has the luxury of writing his blog entries once a week rather than once a day! For example, Bozell begins with how embarrassing private e-mails from a news producer were leaked to the public, but then his argument degenerates into nonsequiturs and gratuitous insults of female anchors. In another piece, he compares the NSA's enormous database of phone calls from millions of citizens to a Clinton administration database that only tracked a limited number of visitors to the White House and their contributions to the Democratic Party, without acknowledging that one "database" has a different functionality -- and thus a different meaning -- from another.

In my favorite case of how he drops the digital rhetoric ball, check out how he starts with the website of the Democratic Party and its "Republican Culture of Corruption" page, but he never actually analyzes either the visual or the verbal techniques of the website in any substantial way. Instead he suddenly makes a jab at Patrick Kennedy, who has inspired a videogame called "Drive Like a Kennedy," reviewed by Bogost, which Bozell actually might enjoy.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Yet Another Virtual Iraq

Virtualpolitik has provided commentary on the Tactical Iraqi language-learning videogame and the Virtual Iraq simulation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and even the plan to create a virtual museum to catalogue missing and recovered treasures from Iraq that were looted during the post-invasion chaos. Now students at Purdue University are creating one more "Virtual Iraq," although I think they've come on the scene too late to trademark the brand.

With Assistant Professor Stacy Holden, students are working closely with Simulex, a private government contractor, to build a database that can model the urban environment of Baghdad.

So how are the students finding such specific information about a city nearly 6,500 miles away?

Guided by a list of 700 research terms provided by the Department of Defense, a half-dozen students are scanning English-language Web sites. They’re looking for Iraqi memoirs and blogs and taking information from media reports and non-governmental organizations. Any little bit or detail that could be useful is added to the database.

Richard Oloffson, a graduate student from Naperville, Ill., working on the project, calls it “Virtual Iraq.”

He says if he’s looking at a neighborhood he wants to know, “the ethnic makeup, the religious makeup, is there raw sewage in the street, is there disease?”

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Winners' Circle

Those who have been following MTV's Darfur is Dying contest with bated breath, will be thrilled to know that the official winner has been chosen, although fans who heard the announcement on the radio probably can't fully appreciate the graphic presentation of the game. You can play the Darfur is Dying game for yourself and consider how it attempts to dramatize both the unwinnable situation of African civilians trapped in the conflict and the can-do attitude of their American sympathizers.

The Darfur game contest was sponsored by a real political odd couple: the perhaps oxymoronic Reebok's Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group, which has done excellent work on the rhetorical strengths of Internet appeals made by the Iraqi insurgency.

Another serious game that recently has won first place in a morally oriented contest is Peacemaker, also covered in this blog, which takes the prize for the Reinventing Public Diplomacy through Games Competition, sponsored by USC.

readers know my skepticism about public diplomacy and its use of digital media and why I am wary of academic sponsorship of this form of political marketing in the legitimated context of a field of scholarly inquiry. Nonetheless, rhetoricians at these centers are at least treating political persuasion in new media as a worthwhile object of study and thus probably deserve some collegial respect.


No Place Like Home

Last week, two news stories showed how digital media are reshaping the domestic spaces and lived environments of citizens across the globe, as users become accustomed to interfacing with multiple technologies, sometimes simultaneously. According to the New York Times, "In Tokyo the New Trend is 'Media Immersion Pods,'" commercial establishments are thriving where Japanese customers can spend hours and even the night reading manga, playing videogames, watching DVD's, and surfing the Internet away from home. Many types of family members may choose to outsource their home entertainment; the story in the Times describes both parents and children seeking refuge in these multimedia wombs. Unlike the Habermassian coffeehouses envisioned by what eventually became Cyborganic Gardens, media podhouses -- such as those run by the Gran Cyber Café chain -- are designed to situate singles and couples in isolated cubicles with love hotel style anonymity as the norm.

In a separate article on the same day, the New York Times also notes that as more U.S. households become comfortable with media code-switching in the domestic environment, advertisers are studying their habits to keep their marketing efforts up-to-date. According to "At an Industry Media Lab, Close Views of Multitasking," one laboratory in Los Angeles, which is run by the Interpublic Group, mimics private space in order to observe how typical people multitask. Universities are studying multitasking too. For example, the Center for Media Design at Ball State University found that 96% of people are media multitasking about a third of the time they are watching, listening, or interacting with news and information content. As television moves from the background to the foreground in many households and as the computer comes into the kitchen, the lived environment of digital householders is likely to continue to change.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Road Trip

I had already discovered the Generator Blog and the fact that one can easily digitally alter images of road construction signs for personalized messages. So I was interested to see this blog entry about hacking roadsigns in the real world. The intrepid author changed one of his local highway signs to read KLAATU BARADA NIKTO, the phrase that stopped the alien robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and another to UFO CROSSING AHEAD.

As more information signage goes digital, this opens up more opportunities for subversion of public messages by the tech-savvy. For example, recently a series of Toronto city train signs were made to read "Harper Eats Babies," a gibe at Canada's new conservative Prime Minister.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Peep Show

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported about how the adult entertainment industry is generally an early adopter of cutting-edge online applications and has consistently expanded the audience for new applications for digital technology ("The Porn Industry Again at the Tech Forefront"), particularly those that use streaming video and broadband connections.

A few days ago, the same newspaper reported in "XXX Web Domain is Turned Down" that Marina Del Rey-based ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has decided against creating .xxx web adresses specifically for adult content. Although this designation would have definitely made it easier for parents and workplaces to filter out some objectionable content by domain-name, it wouldn't have evicted purveyors of pornography from their present .com and .net addresses. It was interesting to note in the official announcement that Vincent Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet who first demonstrated a working prototype in 1977, voted against the xxx domain.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Build, Display, Entertain, and Live

These four verbs explain the rationale for minors spending their hard-earned allowances on owning virtual real estate in Teen Second Life, the new supposedly child-safe offshoot of Second Life, a massively multiplayer online role-playing environment. The socially immersive Second Life graphic environment offers powerful scripting tools from which one can make digital objects in the online world, the ability to fly from place to place, and opportunities for do-it-yourself virtual community building from the State of Nature up.

Those who haven't been following the Second Life phenomenon (which is still dwarfed by online giant World of Warcraft, where millions of virtual political subjects engage in medieval fantasy play) might not be aware of how its series of disconnected free states represent experiments in civic organization oriented around new ideologies of object permanence in cyberspace.

Some of the governance attempts to create utopias for political activists who may be frustrated by real-world authoritarianism. The most ambitious laboratory for a would-be virtual nation-state is probably Democracy Island, where government entities and interest groups can have online space for rule-making exchanges. There are also local sites for real-time political occasions in Second Life. For example, you can hear a general counsel from Creative Commons speak or attend a an activist event and art happening for digital rights sponsored by Free Culture. It is interesting that personalities associated with the creative commons movement feel compelled to present avatars that approximate the general appearance of their real world public personae.

That doesn't mean that there isn't any Hobbesian skepticism in this virtual State of Nature. There is also political and legal conflict in Second Life. Readers of the Second Life Herald know that there can be real-life suits over virtual real estate deals gone bad. Those same readers also know that life as a muckraker can involve taking on gangsters and corruption. Of course, one contributor to the periodical, Marsellus Wallace, doubles as both correspondent and a mob boss.

The darker side of Second Life can present a pretty bleak existential landscape. Those who abuse their cyber-privileges may find themselves subjected to the cornfield punishment. Those who want to engage in more psychically twisted virtual tourism can visit a mental health clinic in Second Life and see the schizophrenia simulation that was initially developed as a training tool for health care providers by Janssen Pharmaceutica.

Of course, there's plenty of commerce going on, as labor is combined with digital raw materials in the Second Life world. Tringo, the game within a game in Second Life, has apparently found a real-life online market among casual gamers for its combination of Bingo and Tetris. Certainly, the space is being used by business professors and advertisers, and now even some companies are building virtual corporate headquarters for their time-shifting global workforce. For example, from a session on Corporate Opportunities for Multiplayer Games, which was associated with the Massive Games conference here at U.C. Irvine, I learned about how the Aerospace Corporation is building a "work-safe" project on Chatsubo. Apparently, Linden Labs, the corporation that runs Second Life, largely manages their experiment as a corporate-friendly, laissez-faire model. Nonetheless, they do have economists on staff to make sure that the currency remains stable.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Help Desk

Kudos to Janet Lindenmuth of the Widener University Law Library for tracking down the transcripts of the congressional hearings on the use of the Internet by terrorists, in which parodic gameplay footage from Battlefield 2 was mistakenly shown as an example of jihadist recruitment techniques to a House intelligence committee.

To follow the story as it unfolded on Watercooler Games, you can see commentary on the original Reuters coverage, the revelation that what was seen by the reporter wasn't -- in fact -- a terrorist game mod, and finally the information from the hearing that shows how the context for the game had been entirely misinterpreted by a team of administration "experts."

What is particularly strange about the actual transcripts is how the government contractors in charge of monitoring jihadist activity on the Internet keep coming back to what they called the "oral tradition" of the indigenous Iraqi culture and their assumption that post-print digital media would supposedly be best exploited by an allegedly pre-literate non-Western audience. Perhaps some might recognize elements of theories about literacy and orality, like those associated with Walter Ong, although they have been distorted almost to the point of unrecognizability in a fun-house mirror of post-colonialist Eurocentric ideology.

Another odd linguistic quirk from the surveiling witnesses is that they insist on misusing the word "open source" to describe their research projects, as if this phrase that is used by advocates for open access to source code as an alternative to reliance on proprietary software (and its associated hierarchical practices of software development) refers only to a level of national security clearance denoting "not classified," a strange malapropism for those billed as Internet authorities. One so-called expert claims that terrorists might "hack" into private spaces where soldiers display and exchange photographs, even though the evidence indicates that recruiters for the insurgency are busy with more quotidian activities, such as digital cutting and remixing of materials from the domain of mainstream media and government sources.

The somber reactions of the legislators are also interesting, in that they emphasize their own anxieties about familiar forms of political digital rhetoric on the domestic scene. From both sides of the aisle, congresspeople express concerns about blogs being used by insurgents in ways that could be misrepresented as credible news sources, just like those at home. One representative also refers to the technological difficulty of maintaining "our own" congressional websites at one point.

What was particularly surprising was that even though this was an open hearing about public diplomacy, with a presentation apparently initially designed for the rhetorical education of U.S. troops that had been repurposed for policy makers, congressional representatives kept talking about the necessity of future "closed" meetings to pursue the subject matter further. This is disappointing, since I have argued elsewhere that videogames can serve a political function for "object-oriented democracy," to use the phrase of Bruno Latour in Making Things Public. So it is depressing to see -- yet again -- that these "things public" are being made into mindless, distracting spectacles that are in turn misread by lawmakers.

Check back here as I develop a critical essay about this story.

Update: a few days later Congress voted to ban the sale of violent and sexually explicit videogames by a unanimous vote. This bill, by Representative Joe Baca, is now scheduled to move onto the Senate. It is also interesting to note how the term "open source" is abused by General Hayden, who is currently up for confirmation as Director of the CIA.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Virtual Mother's Day

I started out our Mother's Day festivities with some old-school 18th century Virtual Reality at the Huntington Library. In other words, we went to see Sensation and Sensibility: Viewing Gainsborough's Cottage Door. The section on Sensibility and the Cult of Special Effects included a model of the De Loutherbourg's Eidophusikon, an elaborate mechanized stage which shows Satan marshalling his fiendish minions to the accompaniment of music and colored lights. The show also included models of viewing apparatuses, themed environments like a "tent room," and illusionary Enlightenment era perspective tricks.

Then we went traveled forward in time to see REDCAT's Ubiq: A Mental Odyssey by the French artist Mathieu Briand. Our family of four put on virtual reality head mounted displays (VR HMD's), which were designed so that a push of a button sent signals from another viewer's perspective in the room. It was interesting to be the height of a nine-year-old or be following the ambling gait of a thirteen-year-old through my goggles; I could also see what an alienating adult I looked like to them. The exhibit had some combination analog and digital remix fun, with a bank of five turntables, a mixer, a library of loop records, and a record-cutting machine. Alas, however, no pictures allowed for intellectual property reasons.

This blog entry is less politically analytical than most Virtualpolitik fare, so for more on the ideological meaning of the holiday for citizens in the public sphere, check out the day's pacifist history on Design Your Life.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Devil's Advocate

There has been a lot of digital rhetoric about net neutrality lately as Congress prepares to vote on pending legislation.

Ironically, those opposed to network neutrality (and in favor of "tiered service" or "preferential service" models) have also formulated appeals designed to capitalize on the same anti-corporate and libertarian sentiments that net neutrality advocates trumpet. For example, the webtoon at uses a sound-alike spokesman with the same narrating cadence as a popular pro-neutrality video from Public Knowledge. They even use a similar primer style that is punctuated with corporate logos.

By using gimmicks like a singing mountie, the DontRegulate webtoon shows that it can also deploy humor, as the opposition does at shows like Ask a Ninja or This Spartan Life.

Because this pitch appears in banner ads on politically progressive sites for the visually literate like BagNews Notes, it can be difficult to figure out who really is behind it. The webpage of the webtoon's sponsor Hands Off the Internet looks authentically grassroots with its bad graphics, but a few mouseclicks spells out an ABC of corporate sponsors like Alcatel, Bell South, and Cingular.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Son et Lumière

Today I attended E3, the definitive videogame trade show, thanks to Jon Goldman of Foundation 9 Entertainment. I've blogged about F9's Getting Up, a videogame about spraypainting, tagging, stenciling, and street art, as a representation of how virtual urban environments invite certain activities that subvert the rules of conventional civic spaces.

Foundation 9 also produces the Age of Empires series, which makes claims for being a tool for teaching history and modeling the impact of particular military, economic, and social policies in virtual nation-states.

It will be interesting to see if F9's upcoming videogame, The Da Vinci Code, generates controversy and reaction from the faithful or if the videogame audience -- unlike the film audience -- is assumed to be largely secular.

E3 was a surreal experience for a bookish academic like myself, although I have always secretly enjoyed attending large conventions and trade shows, since those gatherings are an excellent place to study public rhetoric. For example, I have attended both the National Tattoo Convention and the National Rifle Association Convention in the past.

It reminded me most of attending the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention years ago, because there were so many elements from "themed environments" in evidence. I shuffled down the stairs of a gangster's mansion, was herded behind security doors for a top-secret military briefing, strolled down a bombed-out French street complete with "GLACES" sign, wandered between pirate cages, and stood gawking in front of a huge skateboarding half-pipe as skateboarders whizzed by.

The gender imbalance at E3 was much worse than I had anticipated. I had seen huge crowds of gamers at the Video Games Live! concert at the Hollywood Bowl, but the live orchestrations of videogame theme music attracted citizens from many LA subcultures. Consequently, I was surprised to see such a single-gender group at E3. In some crowds of over fifty people I was the only female spectator! Luckily, it meant that I never had to experience a restroom line either. Of course, there were some women dressed as nurses or prostitutes or lab technicians or dominatrixes, but that didn't seem to improve the testosterone factor any. In contrast, the World of Warcraft area was remarkably diverse: lots of women, a multiracial assortment of players, and even several people in wheelchairs. I looked over their shoulders to check that they were actual gamers rather than token plants.

Despite the long line for the Nintendo pavilion, my people-watching indicated that Guitar Hero for the Sony Playstation 2 was definitely the game with the greatest crowd appeal. Other manufacturers were clearly trying to push the agenda of gaming as a spectactor sport, an enterprise described in last years' stories like the New York Times' "Virtual Stars Compete for Real Money" and NPR's "Gamer Fatal1ty Makes a Living by Winning."

Of course, the Guitar Hero paradigm invites manual activity as well as fan spectatorship. The lower budget displays in the Kentia Hall was full of a range of innovative input devices for more digital variety and even bodily motion. "Button masher" was clearly a negative term in game play, even with standard input devices.

Noneless, the crickets seemed to be chirping in the void near the television-inspired games like Desperate Housewives, so the media strategy described in the Los Angeles Times ("Wanna Be a Desperate Housewife? Meet the Video Game") may not be working. In the LA Times story the MIT MediaLab's Henry Jenkins suggests that the level of character development and audience familiarity with alternative plots and branching scenarios would make TV watchers of shows like The Sopranos and 24 easier game converts than film audiences. Yet, as Ian Bogost points out in his work on exergaming, the space of passive television watching and the space of active game play may be mutually exclusive.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

On Tuesday, I attended the Games for Health Day that was organized in connection with E3. The concept of "Games for Health" might sound odd to those who associate videogames with sedentary lifestyles and detachment from the organic experience of the public sphere, but it is a growing area in treatment, training, and health education in the "serious games" community.

Some of the speakers I have blogged about before, such as Harvey Magee and Skip Rizzo who talks about virtual reality treatments for attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical rehabilitation. The highlight of the day was probably riding the Humvee simulation in Virtual Iraq, while I drove over bumpy cyber obstacles through scenes of smoking roadside attacks. The jolts didn't quite synch with the visual experience, and there wasn't enough variety and ambient noise in the sound for complete naturalism, but it was surprisingly compelling, especially since I have a rare eye anomaly that prevents true binocular vision.

It was interesting to hear Ian Bogost describe his own health game in development, which looks at the political, economic, and societal factors that can shape medical care. As Bogost pointed out, "health" has been the currency of videogame success for a long time, yet few interrogate how that semiotic system is structured ideologically. As a fellow critical theorist, I was surprised that no one seemed to question the fact that so many health games equated treating disease with fighting opponents militarily. For example, disease was often visualized as an alien invasion, a model that Donna Haraway attempted to discredit over a decade ago.

At the Stanford SimWorkshops I had seen several examples of how game technology was being used to train doctors, but these were the first game demos that I had seen that were patient-oriented. Many of these games were intended to teach children what caused their diseases and how to treat their illnesses more effectively. They included the game Re-Mission, which was designed for adolescents undergoing cancer treatment, and two games developed for children by Debra Lieberman of U.C. Santa Barbara, to address chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma.

It was also interesting to see an interactive video project, The Virtual Sex Project, developed by Lynn Miller of USC's Annenberg School for AIDS education directed at gay, sexually-active males. This use of digital technology, which includes simulated sex, differs significantly from the anonymous one-shot missives from e-cards, which -- as this blog has noted -- are being used by other AIDS educators who are deploying computer-based technology to fight the disease.

You can watch the Games for Health video trailer for more information about the organization.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I Suppose It Takes Balls

"Halliburton Solves Global Warming" announces an authentic looking website that appears to be from the corporate contractor known for no-bids deals. At a speech purportedly at a catastrophic loss conference, the visitor can learn the details of this ambitious plan. Certainly it appears that Halliburton hasn't underestimated the challenges caused by planetary climate change, according to their wry executive PowerPoint:

Unfortunately, things aren't as simple for us as they were for Noah. God isn't telling us what kind of an ark we should build, nor how to deploy it - but luckily Science can fill in the blanks, and Science tells us that what we're doing in the world today will lead to much more flooding, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, or even worse, with consequences including epidemics, human migration, civic unrest and even war.

But as Warren Buffet, the oracle of Omaha, so astutely said: you must follow “the Noah rule: predicting rain doesn't count, building arks does."

I can personally guarantee you that we as a society are more than ready to build arks against these conditions - in some cases, we've already done so.

Keeping the ark of our interests afloat in a world of increasing disquiet is the job of our defense industries, and they do it quite well - here's the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Likewise, secure neighborhoods protect us against the unknown in our own societies - this security checkpoint built after the Rodney King riots protects a community on the edge of Los Angeles.

As for the Dutch, they're building literal arks - houses that float! Many people live in these houses - young families, the elderly, even CEOs! The Dutch have thus found one good way of making a systemic new problem routine, and even turning it into a net contributor to their economy.

The solution? The patented Survivaball! According to this widely e-mailed website, the ever-industrious Halliburton has now created a disaster-proofcocoonn in the form of an spherical life-support suit that makes the wearer look like a combination of the Death Star and the Michelin man. The speech transcript ends with all the executives onstage enthusiastically clambering into these devices to model their new apparel to themarvelingg crowd.

It's a good hoax in color, choice of fonts, use of corporate logos, and placement of photos of earnest workers and grateful global customers. It also parodies several digital genres at once, including the PowerPoint presentation and the company website. Best of all, the privacy page of the imposter is almost indistinguishable from the one on the real Halliburton site, so you can have your confidentially compromised by political subversives as well as institutional insiders.

I looked around for humorous material on the genuine site and didn't find much to laugh at, although they do offer products like a "Swellpacker" and services like "Chi Modeling." There is the space-agey MyHaliburton that promises you online news along with your networked work environment, a fake parchment historical timeline, and my personal favorite page information graphic, which you can see below. In addition to their core energy resources and postwar reconstruction businesses, perhaps they are also subcontracting for the NSA.

It may be useful to think about how the logic of global warming relates to another digital genre, that of the videogame. The game Civilization has been praised by many videogame critics -- including Kurt Squire, Noah Falstein, and Ian Bogost -- for the way that it teaches players to be conscious of the procedural consequences of particular choices that accrete over time. However, if you have destroyed your planet in Civilization, because of poor planning and impulse decisions, you can play again, hopefully more cognizant of the constraints of rule-based systems.
Now that there are serious discussions about covering polar ice caps with tarps or sending deflecting mirrors into space with magnetic propulsion, the scientific heroism of a one-shot, technology-driven solution like the SurvivaBall doesn't look so ridiculous.

Thanks to Vivian Folkenflik and Julia Lupton for passing on this link!

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

More Network Neus

Still more imaginative digital rhetoric has appeared to explain the network neutrality principle in the simplest possible language to consumers and legislators.

This week's offerings on BoingBoing includes a machinima video from This Spartan Life and a podcast of David Eisenberg reading a Dr. Seuss-style poem against potential ISP robber barons.

To me, the interesting question may be why everyone is assuming that network neutrality is such a complex issue that it requires primers on procedural literacy. See last week on this blog for more about the didactic project of net neutrality advocates.

Update: My personal favorite YouTube celebrity, Ask a Ninja, has come up with an episode on Net Neutrality as well! You can also see a dramatization at the Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom Report, which uses the D.I.Y. presentation techniques that are popular on YouTube.


Artificial Intelligence

This story from a few days ago about House Intelligence Committee hearings on the dissemination of alleged terrorist videogames via the Internet just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One of the games shown to congressmen as evidence of this nefarious trend seems to be Sonic Jihad, which features headscarf-wearing baddies with rocket launchers and lots of roadside tank explosions. The details of an AP News Report, which was reprinted in the New York Times, about the hearings appear to confirm that indeed this is the case. Unfortunately, if you take the time to download Sonic Jihad for yourself, you'll quickly discover that it isn't the work of diabolical insurgent organization. In fact, it was created by a pranksterish gamer from the Planet Battlefield forum.

The difference between actual jihadist Internet materials, like those archived by the SITE Insititute, and edited footage of garden-variety Battlefield 2 mass-market game play should have been obvious to the expert team that supposedly included "25 linguists." What is particularly flabbergasting about the gullibility of legislators is that the video opens with parody material taken from the Team America soundtrack!

At first the story was so unbelievable that those in the blogosphere attributed it to bad reporting by Reuters. But now Watercooler Games has revealed that it's media illiteracy from an entire congressional committee that is to blame.

Apparently, there is more than just a subversive videogame or two to be found on the Internet. The AP coverage of testimony by public diplomacy pitchman includes this incriminating catalogue of rhetorical appeals deployed by the enemy:

According to the briefing, al-Qaida has advertised online to fill jobs for Internet specialists, and its media group has distributed computer games and recruitment videos that use everything from poetry to humor to false information to gather support. The media group has assembled montages of American politicians taking aim at the Arab world.

Certainly, patriotic American citizens are writing poetry, humor, and false information to protest the war. They are even assembling images and sound files from American politicians! Will there be house hearings in favor of investigating their activities as well?

At a time when hegemonic political players are seeking justification for expanded surveillance, faulty evidence regarding Internet intelligence is particularly disturbing. For the past week, I have been requesting the transcripts or further information from Washington D.C. to verify that Congress could have actually done something so profoundly stupid. Wish me luck getting the evidence to see for myself!

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Body Conscious

The e-card is a digital genre that can also be used by constituents to get the attention of their political representatives. The American Cancer Society has set up a website for their Save Mammograms Campaign, in response to proposed legislation that would no longer mandate that insurers cover certain screening procedures. The airbrushed hot pink brassiere on one of the e-cards, which I have reproduced above, seems to be an ambiguous signifier that could be read as either an artifact of consensual foreplay or of post-assault evidence from a crime scene.

In considering this genre I discovered that there are other more peer-t0-peer forms of the breast cancer e-card that are specifically designed for consciousness-raising in potential victims, many of which regrettably come with music, such as this schlocky hand-holding number or this "humorous" mammogram reminder with a cartoon of an obese man.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

For Rant

Craigslist, the ubiquitous Internet want ad service that covers sellers and buyers from coast to coast (and a number of exotic foreign destinations as well) was discussed at some length in today's New York Times ("The Nitpicking Nation"). The article focuses mostly on bemused commentary on a choice-obsessed culture in which every feature of a potential roommate, lover, or employee can be specified. In a darker vein, it also explains how digital genres blend in current Internet want ads, so that hybrid housing/personal ads give posters the potentially abusive opportunity to request particular sexual favors or fetish accompaniments from their lodgers.

Most concerning, perhaps, for the citizens of what Jane Fountain calls the Virtual State, is the fact that the identity-based strategies of association expressed in these want ads can become mechanisms for exclusion as well. A suit by the Chicago Lawyers' Committee alleges that craigslist allows illegal discriminatory advertising for housing, because it does not adequately screen the ads it posts. Those who are knowledgeable about the profusion of code words and euphemisms for racial and religious bias, including terms like "all-American," are well-aware that such screening must be done by a live person, since -- like pornography -- discriminatory language can get by automated filters. The CLC argues that the added expense of monitoring content can be easily accomodated, because craigslist is a for-profit entity.

Yet the current "terms of use" statement that all posters click already specifies that discriminatory language is prohibited. Furthermore, supporters might counter that additional policing violates free speech and the prime directive of the Internet that "information wants to be free."

Others might say that this slippery category of "community" has always been primary for founder Craig Newmark, who still organizes his flagship San Francisco website with the "community" heading in first position. In fact, web development in the Bay Area has a history of community-building practices around home and hearth, such as the Thursday Night Dinners in the mid-nineties. The ideologies of these communities may actually be ones of inclusion not exclusion.

As a practicing landlady, I also take issue when the Times lumps completely legal requests for "no pets" tenants (for reasons of maintaining the physical condition of the property and limiting liability caused by the actions of non-human actors) in with racist, sexist, theocratic, and otherwise totally unacceptable forms of discrimination.

This doesn't mean that I don't think the article has a point. These are troubling violations. Unfortunately, in my own experience as a user of craigslist, I think that the housing ads are actually not the worst offenders. I've seen far worse entries in the job listings category and more of them, in which age, gender, attractiveness, and lifestyle are frequently offensively spelled out.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

User Unfriendly

Yesterday's story in the Los Angeles Times about how a laudable state-supported software program to improve the online filing experience of low-income residents is being thwarted by corporate "competitors" is a classic parable about the workings of Virtualpolitik. It also illustrates the dangers of letting private companies get a lock on public interests, as Siva Vaidhyanathan and other experts on digital culture and critical information studies have argued.

"Maker of Tax Software Opposes State Filing Help" reports that although 96% of those who used California's ReadyReturn system said that they would happily use it again, legislation that would ensure the program's survival is bogged down in Sacramento. The reason? Software giant Intuit, the makers of TurboTax, Quicken, and QuickBooks, has already spent a half a million dollars on lobbying lawmakers. Luckily it appears to have no real, substantive intellectual property claim -- on which it could win in court, but Intuit has been successful thus far with its bogus free market argument. As the Times reports,

"A dynamic, innovative free market is in everybody's interest," said Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer and Communications Industry Assn. in Washington, D.C. "That kind of market is interfered with when … government enters as a competitive player. The government always has the advantage."

Intuit wants California to abandon ReadyReturn. As an alternative, the company would make TurboTax available free to low-income taxpayers through a program already in place with the federal government and 20 other states.

The website of upstart ReadyReturn represents a stripped-down, no-nonsense user-friendly portal to low income taxpayers. AB 2905 would allow 50,000 more low-income Californians to try the filing system out. Why aren't they allowed to reach that market? This is particularly ironic, given how truly terrible most government websites are in terms of user-friendliness, as this blog has repeatedly argued.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Play Nice

Today's story in Water Cooler Games about congressional intelligence hearings on terrorists' use of the Internet questioned why this expert testimony presented such one-sided definitions of "propaganda" video games, ones that explicitly don't include U.S. military recruitment tools like America's Army, which glorify militarism and forms of allegiance predicated on the use of force.

WCG's Gonzalo Frasca took particular issue with Reuters coverage of these games ("Islamists using US video games in youth appeal") and the words of Daniel Devlin, a witness on public diplomacy. Mr. Devlin apparently works for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and is an expert on "strategic influence."

I put the SOLIC banner at the top of this posting; perhaps someone could enlighten me about how a "low intensity conflict" relates to the more ambitious "Global War on Terrorism" that is running concurrently.

Unfortunately, I can't yet see for myself if the Internet experts are selectively chosen for their ideology because the transcript for the House Intelligence Committee's Open Hearing on Terrorist Use of the Internet for Strategic Communications is not yet available. From the Reuters coverage, we do know that military contractor SAIC testified as well.

Of course, such scandalous "mods" that use popular commercial game engines have been around of a long time. In fact, many government-funded game-based software projects use such mods. In my own research, I've looked at Ambush!, Tactical Iraqi, and Virtual Iraq. Ironically, some of the mass market games being cannibalized by the armed forces use art assets and programming elements initially developed by the U.S. military for training.

In February, I heard Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group talking on Public Radio International about the websites of the insurgency, the consolidating messages that they emphasize, their sensitivity to negative user feedback, and what the government can learn from what they might be tempted to otherwise dismiss as propaganda. Although he included discussion of sensationalistic theaters of cruelty, Malley also provided a considerably more nuanced view of the jihadists' use of the Internet. He discussed how insurgents disseminate glossy PDF magazines via e-mail, create counter-press releases that respond with rapidly translated documents from the U.S. government or media, and present varied news-style broadcasts -- sometimes complete with anchor desks -- in their webcasting. And yet, it's not all top-down communication. For example, according to Malley, fewer graphic beheadings are being broadcast because their small screen audience indicated revulsion with the imagery.

When compared to this week's finger-wagging about violent interactivity and youth marketing, the ICG's report, "In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency" offers a considerably more sober assessment of the influence of Internet-based media on all segments of a resistant population. If you don't have the time to read through the ICG report, check out this ABC news video of Malley talking about jihadists use of the Internet and encourage your elected representatives to invite people like Malley to testify!

News Flash! Water Cooler games now says that Reuters might not have gotten its facts right and may be citing Sonic Jihad, which was created by someone in the Planet Battlefield forum not a dastardly terrorist propagandist. On the web, standard Battlefield 2 gameplay from the opponent position might seem to show subversive behavior. Yet it is precisely these practices of risk-taking with convention that have been praised by video game learning theorists, such as James Paul Gee. What is particularly amazing is that the video opens with material narrated by Trey Parker's voice presenting parody from Team America, which no one eager to legislate against it seemed to realize. Talk about intelligence failures! (See previous entries in this blog for more on how institutional authority figures often fall for parodies and false fronts.) I've put in two calls to Washington D.C. to try to get transcripts from the hearings, so hopefully I can get to the bottom of "mod-gate" soon.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Virtual Roasting on an Open Pyre

I think that the pixels have finally settled enough that I can say something about the Colbert roast of the President at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. There was a lot of hubbub about the footage in the blogosphere, according to the New York Times ("After Press Dinner, the Blogosphere Is Alive With the Sound of Colbert Chatter"). In his Daily Show persona of conservative commentator, Colbert "praised" an unflattered president at length. Colbert also included a parody video that was as much homage to Hitchcock as to All the President's Men and featured press corps dragon lady Helen Thomas.

I watched the roast video as it moved several times, apparently after being bumped for intellectual property reasons, from YouTube to iFilm and finally to GoogleVideo. It's odd to watch something so dependent on live context and physical space in the online environment, and of course it could be read as falling flat, as the roast sequence in the Aristocrats did as well.

When I heard it the last time, I must admit to wondering if a laugh track had been added to the file. Then I looked at the trusted C-Span logo and decided that it was just because I had raised the volume on my machine.

Me, I'm looking forward to the humorous remix appearing on the Internet.

Update: According to the New York Times, "A Comedian's Riff on Bush Prompts an E-Spat," there was considerable controversy about who had the rights to this seemingly public domain C-Span video for purposes of Internet rebroadcast. Now C-Span has made the video available via live streaming and has asked YouTube and iFilm to cease and desist showing the clip.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hotter Than Hell

I normally don't cover the print media, but I'm interested in a story coming out of Canada from the "be your own media" perspective that looks at how people with official identities can craft an "indie" persona for themselves as well.

Mark Tushingham's Hotter than Hell has been taking a lot of heat lately from his bosses at Environment Canada, who don't approve of the environmentalist scientist's science fiction novel about a war over water resources between the U.S. and Canada. Apparently, Environment Minister Rose Ambrose even put a stop to a talk promoting the book.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Network Neutrality

Several public interest groups are employing digital rhetoric this month to get legislators to commit to the principle of "network neutrality," so that Internet Service Providers won't privilege some sites over others with faster connections and cleaner data streaming. There have been some innovative efforts to educate legislators about consumers' concerns, such as giving senators iPods, but the target audience remains their electorate.

Save the Internet has intellectual property intellectual heavyweight Lawrence Lessig on their side and has switched to an upbeat approach that emphasizes blog citations and myspace friends rather than the depressing scoreboard that shows that as more legislators have made their network neutrality positions public, they are on the losing side.

In contrast, Public Knowledge has made this simple, didactic video about Net Neutrality that actually has a Lessig-style delivery to it.

Mainstream Internet-based liberal political groups have become involved as well, like cyber-leviathan, which urges those on its giant e-mail list to sign an electronic petition, which unfortunately -- from an information design standpoint -- looks just like all its others. At least MoveOn is now dressing up its petition drive to include a contest to win an iPod nano!

Of course, since I'm interested in strange political bedfellows, I like to see headlines like "Gun owners, librarians unite against Bells" in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, both Democratic and Republican policymakers have been listening to the lobbyists and not the librarians again.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Save Our State

Today, the nation's attention is on the live actions of pro-immigrant marchers and their political supporters who know that they'll have to do-it-themselves today, but their opponents have been refining them messages as well. The successful rhetoric deployed by their representatives in the House indicates their electoral pull, and they have used informal distributed networks of nativists as well.

Save Our State is the organizational title of an anti-immigration group that begins by asking each visitor to their webpage: "Is your community becoming a 3rd world city?" while spooky music plays that is reminiscent of the old website score for the French National Front. I learned about the organization from the much lower-tech Save San Bernardino website, which has launched a campaign against Spanish language translation and in favor of prosecuting landlords who rent to illegal residents.

S.O.S. also gets its message out via a webcasting fanatical television station, Kirkby TV, which even apes the fair-and-balanced coverage pose of Fox. Unfortunately for the voyeuristic, their server is often down, so your chances of seeing its crusading under-represented blond Santa Barbaran covering demonstrations against publicly funded art may be blocked by technological obstacles.