Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Serious Games Summit, Day 2

Since I'm interested in how digital media can create opportunities for secondary audiences, I went to see the panel on "Media Coverage for Serious Games." My concern, of course, is that such mainstream coverage from the perspective of non-players can be in service to certain kinds of political spectacles. It turned out to be sort of a strange panel, since they couldn't say much about their main exemplar, the health game Re-Mission, because there were apparently nondisclosure agreements involved. The panel also included syndicated columnist Jinny Gudmundsen, who also writes for Commonsense Media, a big pro-ratings player.

One of the most thought-provoking papers I saw was Mia Consalvo's "Is it Cheating, Learning, or Both? An Expert Explores the Boundaries of Cheating & Learning in Videogames," which asserts that beliefs don't necessarily reflect practices, given the fact that every gamer cheats. Of course, I liked the fact that she opened her paper with the issue of academic plagiarism. I must admit, however, that I would have liked to have heard her talk a bit about how ideas of justice play into cheating ideology. I have a ten-year-old who has been searching for cheat codes after designing a beautiful home for his family to move into, close to the university so it would be convenient for me, and then being crestfallen when he discovered that his parents couldn't move in to the house, if he gave them their real-world jobs. (He doesn't want to cheat in fantasy games, only in real world simulations in which life is manifestly not fair.) Consalvo has a book forthcoming from MIT Press, which I'll review here as soon as it's out.

Then I saw how the female tweens in Whyville had a thriving economy based on clams, which largely depended on the sale and manufacture of face parts. Although Chief Visionary Officer James M. Bower didn't talk about "Constructivism" per se, as the title of his talk promised, he did give an excellent rundown on the virtual government, newspaper, public nutrition service, science research, automotive industry, and even disease control agency that operate with considerable amounts of user-generated content. If there were ever an argument against DOPA and dismissing the value of social networking sites, it's Whyville.

Although it wasn't as interesting as learning about the WhyPox, I did enjoy the presentation of Kevin Q. Harvey from the University of Chicago School of Public Health who explained the rationale behind "Zero Hour," an anthrax simulation for medical professionals with a low-bandwidth Flash platform and design flexibility to adapt to using mobile devices to maximize authenticity in group interactions and simultaneity in experiencing real time events. As a poll-worker this year, I thought it interesting that the fake news broadcast said that Chicagoans should report to their polling places to receive vaccinations. That'll show the people who don't vote!

Excellent live blogging from Ian Bogost is here.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 30, 2006

Serious Games Summit, Day 1

There was a full line-up at the Serious Games Summit in Washington D.C. Henry Jenkins delivered the opening plenary, which provided an overview of his recent book Convergence Culture (which was reviewed here at Virtualpolitik).

There was a lot of talk about the MacArthur Foundation's work on Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning in connection with the work of James Paul Gee, who discussed K-12 media literacy efforts. I got to see a demo for the prototype of the Game Designer project, which teaches a more holistic set of design skills rather than limiting the pedagogy to programming.

Then I attended two sessions on Tactical Iraqi, mine and the PI for the project, Lewis Johnson, who has been relatively open about sharing project documents for outside commentary and criticism. I was surprised that those in the audience seemed scandalized that there was some debate in the game development community about working on defense-related projects. The issues about gender representation and cheating in serious games led to some interesting questions after my talk.

Then I attended a session about the defense sector and serious games, about how military training simulations had to model complex information fields that now include data from unmanned flying vehicles.

For live blogging, check out Ian Bogost's informative summaries.

Labels: ,

Prize Fight

I'm scheduled to appear today (Monday) in D.C. for the Serious Games Summit. There's a great line-up of speakers, including Jim Gee, Henry Jenkins, and Ian Bogost. I'll be taking on the Tactical Iraqi team, as the designated spoiler, but I don't know how lively an academic smackdown it will turn out to be, given that I'll be coming off a red eye flight with the flu. At over a thousand bucks a head, I don't expect to see many VP readers there, but I'll try to be an engaging speaker anyway.

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Free Culture Badge

As a former scout and the parent of a current cub scout, I am horrified at the prospect of an MPAA-sponsored "Respect Copyright" merit patch to be dangled as an incentive before kids right here in SoCal, in local LA troops no less.

Of course, it's not the first time that I've been troubled by the decisions of scouting policy makers. Certainly, I was hacked off by the fact that the leadership has stripped even the littlest scouts of their religion insignia if it was earned from activities involving my centuries old religion that included many of the founding fathers, just because my faith shows more respect for the individual lifestyle choices and committed unions of gays and lesbians than the BSA does. (The major religion in question even developed a separate scouting curriculum to try to solve the conflict.)

After reading a story about a somewhat similar scout-sponsored piracy prevention program in Hong Kong, readers may remember that Mel Horan and I jokingly crafted some nifty mock-ups of possible patches to be used, should the program come here to the States. This was a gag, however. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would actually happen. How could such a one-sided, moralistic, anti-consumer marketing effort be foisted on a bunch of earnest and community-minded kids?

So now we've made up a new patch, for a much more challenging "Free Culture" badge, to be earned by intrepid, hard working, patriotic scouts. Here are some of the requirements:
  • Appear at the door of a major studio, dressed in your full scout uniform, and try to talk them into allowing educational use of historical films commonly shown in public schools (Amistad, Schindler's List, etc.)
  • Raise money with a bakesale to go across the country to CMG Worldwide in Indianapolis or Intellectual Properties Management (IPM) in Atlanta to convince these organizations to free images associated with Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King and release them into the public domain for use in school projects, such as web pages
  • Paint a colorful mural on a graffiti covered wall across the street from the headquarters of the RIAA with the 9 Reasons Digital Media Products Are a Bad Deal for Consumers.
  • Using your knot-disentangling skills, visit a hospital or nursing home and help the aged with their DRM-hobbled digital products
  • Go to an orphanage, battered children's home, or juvenile detention facility and show kids how to use Creative Commons resources
  • Put in 100 hours of community service at your local library and see the toll that new legislation against patron privacy and public connectivity takes on your local civil servants. Then imagine what it will be like if they have to deal with RIAA and MPAA lawsuits for circulating audio and video content.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Diary of a Mad Poll-Worker, Part One

Since I've been covering many of the controversies about current electronic voting technologies, I've decided to go behind the scenes this year and learn about the electoral process from the point of view of a typical front line poll worker.

For my trouble, I'll receive $105, a lunch and dinner break, and the opportunity to report back to others about the process. Maybe I've read too many Barbara Ehrenreich books, because I'm sure that I'll regret my decision when I'm staggering in the door of my local Red Cross building at 5:45 AM. Apparently, there is also a lot that can go wrong on your watch.

At my polling place, we won't have touch screen voting, but we will have the jazzy Inkavote Plus, which has a computerized reader to check for ballot errors (such as overvoting) and an audio booth feature with "Nintendo-style" arrows for use by the hearing impaired or for speakers of Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese.

Check back for updates as I do my training session with the other poll-workers or show up for duty on Tuesday next week.


Chain Letter

There has been a lot of reaction in the blogosphere to the letter about the Iraq war, "After Pat's Birthday," which was written by Kevin Tillman, brother of football star Pat Tillman, who was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan. The letter uses the occasion of his brother's upcoming birthday to encourage Americans to vote out those who support the war.

As a rhetorician, I find it interesting to see how the letter uses the refrain of "somehow" to build oratorical momentum. It is interesting that many republications of the letter on the Web only print the "somehow" sections.

Here is a sample:

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 27, 2006

Data Mining

Some of those who are hypothesizing about the seemingly unjustified optimism of the the Bush administration's Karl Rove about the outcomes of the midterm election think that Republicans are counting on their secret data weapon. As CBS news points out, marketing data can be used to identify the political leanings of potential voters. For example, bourbon drinkers and Field and Stream readers are more likely to vote for the GOP. Of course, I find myself with certain questions about privacy, and I wonder what the founding fathers would have said about such intimate powers of surveillance.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Looking Over Your Shoulder

I received the following e-mail from a friend earlier this week. One of my areas of research looks at hysteria about "stranger danger" on the Internet, which is often allegedly aimed at protecting children. So, particularly as a feminist, it's interesting to see this one aimed at women (or, strangely, their husbands) and face-to-face interactions for comparison and contrast.

Realistically, of course, women are most likely to be killed by the men that they live with not strangers, but you don't see "get out of a violent relationship" messages forwarded on the Internet in the same way.

My other dark thought was that it is the women of Baghdad who most need these tips about avoiding kidnapping, abduction, rape, and murder right now.

Link Here

Update: Not very surprisingly, Nedra Weinreich found the crying baby story in the list of Internet legends on Snopes. I say that I'm not surprised, because the fear being promulgated is so disproportionate to reality . . . unless a woman is in actual danger because she is living in a violent relationship, in which case not opening the doors for crying babies will not make much of a difference.

There also a lot of other things wrong with their Internet list of advice; for example, the data on "fighting back" against an armed person indicates that it isn't always a good idea. Perhaps these women should be using their energies to agitate for more effective gun control.

Here's another question: which promulgates more fear? Broadcast television with its endless crime stories or the Internet? After all, as researcher danah boyd has pointed out, almost all of the MySpace crime stories have also turned out not to be true.

Lastly, I have to point out the rhetorical flair of the candle metaphor. I'm curious if it is used in other Internet appeals.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dreaming Small

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales recently sent the following message to his fellow Wikipedians, which encouraged them to Dream a Little

I would like to gather from the community some examples of works you would like to see made free, works that we are not doing a good job of generating free replacements for, works that could in theory be purchased and freed.

Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you like to see purchased and released under a free license?

Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.

I was recently asked this question by someone who is potentially in a position to make this happen, and he wanted to know what we need, what we dream of, that we can't accomplish on our own, or that we would expect to take a long time to accomplish on our own.

In looking at the responses, it is interesting to see how relatively modest their ideas are: scientific data and scholarly journals are frequently mentioned, which are already moving toward electronic distribution, because of the prohibitive costs associated with producing and distributing print materials. Also frequently mentioned, and more likely to stir corporate wrath, textbooks.

It's a sensible way to approach it, I suppose, to avoid big ticket items, like the Beatles catalogue or the works of T.S. Eliot. I'd, of course, probably end up spending all the time and money trying to buy the Mickey Mouse trademark -- for humor value if for nothing else -- and wind up with nothing to show for my efforts.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cleaning out the Darfur Office

Apparently it isn't just state or federal government workers who risk their positions by sharing their professional expertise or institutional perspective through personal blogs; U.N. officials can be sacked, demoted, or transferred as well. Witness the case of U.N. special representative for Sudan Jan Pronk, whose candid comments on his weblog about the conflict in Darfur cost him his job. I actually thought that Pronk's erudite blog was a model of decorum, and that its journalistic components were hardly tabloid in their orientation. I would like to see more public officials offering such learned comments to broader audiences.

Pronk also includes photographs of himself and other UN officials out in the field, including these images of explaining the latest peace agreement to the populace.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hermit Kingdom

Today's story in The New York Times, "The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea," appeared with a beautiful map of the global Internet constellation, in which North Korea appears only as a dark, information void in which distributed networks of computers and even cell phones are forbidden.

This Internet blackout is ironic, given the fact that the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea website does provide some national content of its own, including an overview of its IT industry (illustrated above) and their E-shop. Given their policy on mobile telecommunications, the official state ringtones seem to be a particularly odd product to be hawking.

Unfortunately, you probably missed this month's celebration of the 80th anniversary of the "Formation of the Down-With-Imperialism Union." Luckily, tour operators assure intrepid travelers that the Mass Games will probably still be held as scheduled next year.

Catch Phrases

There's been a lot of talk in the news this week about whether or not this is a "stay the course" presidency, now that the Administration is distancing itself from the phrase. Thanks to the search engine on the White House website, I learned that the phrase "stay the course" appears 154 times. "Cut and run" appears 54 times. And the ultimate dirty word, "timetable," appears 547 times.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Echo Chamber

Today The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times carried Virtualpolitik stories from the week in prominent areas headlining sections. The NYT spotlighted "A Student’s Video Résumé Gets Attention (Some of It Unwanted)" about Yale senior Aleksey Vaynor and his unintentionally viral job application video. The LAT featured a story about the Boy Scout copyright merit patches at "A Merit Badge That Can't Be Duplicated."

To think, I used to read the papers to get ideas for Virtualpolitik stories, but now that the print media is so dependent on the blogosphere, it's a wonder that I don't follow the pattern of many in my generation and switch to online only. Perhaps with media conglomeration, shrinking staffs, and the closing of remote bureaus both abroad and at home, distance journalism is becoming the norm.


After These Messages

A recently launched website After These Messages invites designers and others who think about messages from both commercial and social marketers to rate campaigns on questions like "Would You Show This to Your Mother?" and "Does This Contribute to Society?" Answers are put together on a two-dimensional matrix of brands, from "Heaven" to "Hell" and from "Genius" to "Hack."

One of the stranger campaigns they cover -- which gets surprisingly good reviews -- blends social marketing with pushing commercial products. If you haven't seen it the Dove ersatz social marketing campaign for "Real Beauty" is worth looking at, which was previously mocked in the Onion. It's interesting to also note that reviewers are very tough on videogame ads.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Protect and Serve

Yesterday mega-blog of things wonderful, Boing Boing, carried a story about how a local Los Angeles chapter of the Boy Scouts of America was offering a merit patch on "respecting copyright." They also linked to an earlier story about Hong Kong boy scouts and girl guides that appeared on both Sivacracy and Virtualpolitik with generous illustrations of Photoshopped possible imaginary badges contributed by Mel Horan of Garbage Island. (I think that our versions look better than the mish-mash planned by the real organization, which is shown above.)

Speaking of artists, it is interesting to note the number of Nigerian-style spam letters that are now purporting to be from professional artists needing help with large cash transactions (which anyone married to an artist would certainly know was a scam).

See these two examples for the introductory e-mail technique:

My name is Derek Trotter and I am an artist. I live in England, with my two kids, one dog and the love of my life. It is definitely a full house. I have been doing
artwork since I was a small child when I was in Canada were I took interest in arts that gives me about 23 years of experience. I majored in art in high school and took a few college art courses.

My name is Susan Bryant, I am an artist with my husband John Bryant,We own SUS ART WORLD in London(United Kingdom)I live in London United Kingdom, with my two kids, four cats, one dog and the love of my life my husband John Bryant It is definitely a full house, I have been doing artwork since I was a small child that gives me about 23 years of experience. I majored in art in high school and took a few college art courses most of my work is done in either pencil or art brush mixed with color pencils.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 20, 2006

Web of Terror

Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff recently addressed the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference. His remarks, which were lambasted in a recent Wired article, "Web of Terror," keep coming back to the theme of the supposed dangers of distributed computing to National Security (even though this robust structure was designed to protect National Security when it was first envisioned). He warns of "homegrown plots" from "local people" who are "American citizens" who may become "radicalized over the Internet." He also describes a "threat" "borne over the Internet" that has arrived first in Europe before eventually spreading here.

To see what a good job the legislative branch is doing on the issue, check out the work of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and their hilariously misspelled report, "Hearing on the Terrorist/Jihadist Use of the Internet for Strategic Coomunications," which identified a videogame fan film with a parody soundtrack as exhibit number one.

Committee member Heather Wilson is in a lot of hot water this week involving a scandal about pedophilia, YouTube, and the Digital millennium Copyright Act that was covered on Sivacracy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Open Letter to Marjorie Garber

Today, I received a glossy brochure from the Visual and Environmental Studies program at Harvard and was stunned to see that there were no faculty members representing computer-mediated art: no game designers, no digital painters, no interactive artists. Even the cover of the catalogue was a kind of fiction, given their faculty hires; it showed "Relationship Grid," an installation with a touch screen by senior Timothy Pittman.

The chair of the department, Marjorie Garber, was one of my favorite professors in college, and I certainly enjoyed reading her books in graduate school, but I feel that it's an embarrassment for such an elite institution to be so aesthetically isolated from digital culture, and I hope to see some new faculty members listed next year when I get my booklet in the mail.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

News Clippings

It's interesting to note the existence of the military's Center for Advanced Cultural Learning, which serves as a distance learning portal for the U.S. Marines with language instruction and cultural awareness modules.

The site also offers a news service with a "Hot Pick of the Week" for which the topic is almost always the kindler, gentler armed forces. These stories often come from reputedly more learned (and more liberal) news sources, such as the New York Times. It also publishes a more dystopic Global Threat Assessment, also composed of selections from online news from the "Public Internet."

Those who prefer virtual combat, can consider these top videogame weapons. Too bad "cultural learning" isn't among them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

At Least Some People Can Find the Middle East on a World Map

The wonderful information design blog Info-aesthetics recently featured a great online application to show various empires rising and falling, as they sought dominion over the Middle East. Maps of War also keeps the visitor oriented with a timeline, as territory grows and shrinks under different manifest destinies.

Of course, digital applications always have a political agenda, as you already know, even if you've just stumbled onto this blog. They aren't just representing geopolitical information neutrally. The timeline ends at the present (and raises the implicit question of future doomed empires), where we see Baghdad and Jerusalem as isolated points. The faded version of the animation runs across them again to remind the viewer that these moving maps are designed to be disquieting.

Often the claims are more explicit in animated Internet topography. The pro-Israel "History in a Nutshell" PowerPoint is one widely disseminated example; the Iraq Flash Game is another. Both of these pay homage to other Internet genres (PowerPoint and online Flash games), in addition to giving the user what is ostensibly a geography lesson.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hear No Evil

In my ceaseless quest to visit every kids' page on every website of every Federal Agency, I thought that I hadn't overlooked any significant part of the digital political landscape for the young, but apparently I was wrong. Somehow I overlooked the children's Patent and Trademark Office page!

The strangest part of the site was the eerily trademarked sounds (the MGM lion's roar, etc.) For an alternative to proprietary audio, check out the offerings at the Creative Commons, including the Speech Accent Archive, which has a wonderful interactive map.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Great Firewall of China

There has been a lot of China related news of late, particularly as China unblocks Wikipedia, which many take to be a sign that the government is willing to give ground if a digital resource is perceived as valuable enough to the populace. There's a lot of Google should-have-beens buzzing around the blogosphere.

There's also coverage about the controversial Yahoo journalism fellowship, given cooperation with the authoritarian regime and issues that the China Digital Times continues to spotlight, as in the case of this piece on the Internet's Top Cop there.

In intellectual property news, at least we know there's some real debate going on in the north as the Mongolian legislature debates bill on the use of Genghis Khan's name.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Personal Ad

Henry Jenkins has recently praised the Student Press Law Center, whose advocacy takes issue with the Constitutionality of the Deleting Online Predators Act, which blocks access to social networking sites like MySpace from schools and libraries. A Report on the Future of the First Amendment also takes up the anti-DOPA case.

Of course, I like the SPLC for a much less noble reason. Recently they came to the defense of the blog Ivygate, which has been covering the truly jaw-dropping digital rhetoric of the Yale senior -- and apparent pathological liar -- Aleksey Vayner, who had tried to get a job in high finance with a jaw-dropping video of himself enacting a montage of male fantasies (karate-chopping bricks, ballroom dancing with groveling women, and weight lifting cartoonishly huge quantities). He also submitted an inflated resume that included a self-published book (Women’s Silent Tears; A Unique Gendered Perspective On The Holocaust) and a bogus charity.

This is all part of why I think that digital rhetoric should be a required subject in even the most prestigious Ivy League colleges.

YouTube has pulled the job application video, and Vayner has threatened Ivygate with a "cease and disist" letter on the grounds of a DMCA violation, but the SPLC has encouraged Ivygate to hang tough and keep up the hard-hitting reporting.

Vayner now has his own Wikipedia entry, should any of his fellow college students need a subject for a term paper. (I checked Facebook and discovered that he's inspiring many copycats, including a few presidential candidates.)

Update: Later this week the college news outlet Daily Pennsylvanian ran their exclusive interview with outraged republican Congressman Curt Welden on YouTube. It just goes to show how important the digital rights of student news organs can be in an era of transmedia culture.


Friday, October 13, 2006

You Tube Round-Up

Considering the big buy-out story, there's been a lot of media coverage on YouTube and the online video industry. Instead of attempting to summarize it all here, what I'd rather do is point out some interesting recent cases for why the YouTube model has been so different from traditional broadcasting.

If you don't know what YouTube is, you can watch this YouTube montage. But whatever you do, don't accidentally type in U Tube.

The other wonderful thing about YouTube is that it allows stories that the mainstream media avoids, like DRM or Network Neutrality. Often they explain technology-related issues with analogies to traditional sociality or the infrastructure everyday life, as these videos demonstrate with their comparisons to household items or public roads.

Now the minority political party has gotten into the act. As this Los Angeles Times story "Political Tracker is Looking for Err Time" demonstrates, which tells about videocamera operatives following Republican candidates and waiting for gaffes. (I do actually like seeing how candidates interact with smaller audiences in more informal circumstances, so I actually think that without the "gotcha" component, this could be a good idea.) Congressional testimony is also online, for issues being underplayed like the Voting Rights Act amendment, which minority leader Nancy Pelosi posts regularly. Some of it contains dramatic accusations, like this election-rigging testimony.

Now even LonelyGirl15 has gotten into political consciousness raising, now that she's publicizing issues about poverty for the UN.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gender Politics

Lately, bloggers have been "outing" conferences with particularly gross gender imbalances in their programs. For example, fellow Sivacracy blogger Ann Bartow has used the Web to shine light on academic events in which women are extremely underrepresented or not present at all on speakers' lists. Her targets have included male-dominated videogame conferences and intellectual property law conferences.

This week, the makers of the fabulous street art and urban image compendium The Wooster Collective, known for their global reach and cross-generational appeal, have called Tokion Magazine on the carpet for holding a much vaunted "creativity conference" without any female speakers. Writer and gallery owner Jen Bekman broke the story and began to compile a list of of "Women Speakers to Invite to Your Conference." (I liked seeing Ellen Lupton on the honor roll.) Bekman encourages visitors to her website to nominate people.

You can read the conference organizers' explanations for yourself. Since I've raised this matter of equity, I've heard from female friends who defend the conference organizers. They argue that there may be structural reasons why women who are invited or accepted often choose not to come. Our society still places more domestic obligations and responsibility for child and elder care on women, and thus it may be hard for them to get away, even for a speaking engagement. On the level of class economics, also, women make less money than men. Even if the conference has dollars for honoraria and travel reimbursement, which many impecunious conferences with noble aims don't, there many costs to attending conferences, which many women can't afford.

Personally, I feel much more comfortable with the process of blind peer review, even though my use of buzzwords like "gender" as a category of analysis could still cause some of my research to be excluded. It's like when orchestras began auditioning musicians behind a curtain, so decision-makers could really listen to the technique and interpretation of the music on its merits. This practice has dramatically improved the gender balance of orchestras nationwide, and now I see the analogous practice of blind peer review fostering diversity at conferences.

Update: Apparently Internet whistle-blowing works. The conference speakers list finally has some women, so Wooster is no longer insisting on a boycott.

Many Thanks to Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City for corrections to my history of the debate and to Jen herself for her heads-up about revisions and improvements to the list.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Chair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I have to say that I love YouTube's distributed approach to political visual rhetoric and dread its impending Googlization. This YouTube video, now flagged as offensive to some, was widely broadcast on Spanish TV. It purports to show anti-poverty activists breaking into the presidential palace and swiping President Zapatero's designated chair.

Experts on presidential furnishings, architectural facades, and video editing now dispute its authenticity. But it has since nonetheless inspired several remixes, including this one. It turns out that an economics official and a UN group were also in on the prank, which you can read about on their blog. (Story via Houtlust.)

Labels: ,

Twist and Shout

The videos posted on YouTube and other online video venues by U.S. soldiers have caused copyright controversy and outrage about depictions of sometimes graphic violence or callousness toward Iraqi citizens. Here's a soldier's video that everyone can like, although not all of them will believe that it's real.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Split Personality

The Los Angeles Times can't figure out how it feels about file-sharing apparently. In an article today on piracy campaigns that target Christian teens on behalf of the Christian music industry, "Pirating Songs of Praise," the Times refers to both "stealing and swapping" music in one section, and how these young people "take and share songs" in another. Are they stealing or swapping? Are they taking or sharing? The Times doesn't seem to know for sure.

The article does give some credence to the argument that file-sharing builds the name recognition of artists and ultimately boosts sales, but it doesn't take seriously questions about how intellectual property itself can be reified in our current "Culture of the Copy", even though its own language shows considerable ambivalence about the the concept.

The Times story also didn't get into some of the trickier issues that it could have pursued when it raised the contradiction of "Spread the Word" and "Thou Shalt Not Steal." By inserting discourses about theft, they've missed the real opposition at work. Generally, religions must evangelize to survive and must disseminate their messages widely and freely, but many faiths also depend on hierachical systems based on secret knowledge. Thus the Scientologists don't want their holiest scriptures on the Internet, and the Vatican has begun copyrighting the official speeches and writings of the Pope.


Shock Waves

Now that North Korea is claiming to have officially tested a weapon in a bid to be recognized as a legitimate nuclear power, average citizens who are interested in science have provided digital evidence to a wide Internet audience that the test by the Pyongyang government did indeed take place, based on data from earthquake sensors. Boing Boing has assembled several of the reports here. This demonstrates the importance of the niche of professional amateurs who know how to use the USGS database, Google Earth, and other widely available tools for interpreting digital evidence about literally earth-shaking events. The news media picked up their coverage almost immediately. A similar group of map and data-savvy netizens has concerned themselves with global warming, but they may get less media response.

For more on geopolitics, context mapping, and information design check out these three interesting reality checks: One Million Ways to Die, Miniature Earth, and The Budget Graph.


Mapping the War on Terror

This is a map entitled "Selected CIA Aircraft Routes and Rendition Flights 2001-2006," which was created by supercool information designer and political activist John Emerson and posted on a Los Angeles billboard. You can read more about his project, "Mapping the War on Terror," on his blog Social Design Notes. (Click to enlarge. The image comes via the social marketing blog Houtlust.)


Monday, October 09, 2006

A Cell of My Own

I'm probably one of the last people in America to get a cell phone, which happened as of last month, when I was no longer able to avoid it while traveling for talks and conferences. Once known for celebrating how "A Thousand Ring Tones Have Bloomed in Iraq," The New York Times recently updated its coverage of Iraqi mobile phones by including "comic" video clips about beheadings and shortages that show what has come to be known as the distinctive Iraqi dark humor associated with the violence and privation from the U.S. invasion and resulting civil war. (Iraqis are now also leaving sarcastic notes on their doors for U.S. personnel, which army brass initially took as a sign of happy cooperation.)

Now I can attend a cell phone concertino, which actually celebrates the orchestra's relationship to cell phones ringing in the seats. For more musical fun check out Bush Beats, which I'd love to make my ring tone.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Perverted Justice and Other Oxymorons

The Los Angeles Times may be oppressed by their current ownership from the Tribune organization, which has been extreme enough to force the ouster of the current publisher, but at least the Times still has some skepticism about Internet stories that make shows like Dateline rush for ratings. Yesterday's story on "Are Web Sex Predators the Good Guys . . . or Grandstanders?" pointed out that this hot button issue has the potential to turn citizen volunteers into those engaged in illegal entrapment.

I'm not saying that those who use technology to prey on young people are an admirable group, but there are a lot of other uses for technology that deserve more public attention. How about the Information Literacy needs of students in primary and secondary school, who often can't recognize a hoax website or avoid plagiarism when writing a school report? Why doesn't funding for librarians to teach digital literacy get more attention in the media?

ABC defends their use of the most attention-grabbing group, Perverted Justice, whose tactics have verged on vigilantee justice. Like the Craigslist Experiment, personal data about those who pursue abusive sex practices -- including the photographs of those who correspond in search of sex -- have been posted online. Yet ABC describes them as consumer watchdogs.

"They've gone from being considered a vigilante group to being a watchdog group," said Hansen, who added that Perverted Justice volunteers are paid consultants to the show, similar to military analysts often used by TV networks.

How ironic that ABC would make this analogy, given the general corruption of the news by military analysts until the war in Iraq has become so obviously unwinnable.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why Be Accomplices?

Okay, what's up with the New York Times? They may pose as critics of the White House, but on digital rights they seem to be playing right into the administration's obsession with regulating computer-based communication by associating it with terrorism and child molestation. Yesterday's story "Anti-U.S. Attack Videos Spread on the Internet" might seem little more than propaganda to those who don't get beyond the lurid headline, which topped the online version of the paper, and even to careful readers who make it all the way to the predictable end. It's like the whole Judith-Miller-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction thing all over again.

Luckily, buried in the article, you hear voices that wonder whether the focus of the story on jihadists using distributed computer networks is appropriate, given that these practices are also done by U.S. soldiers themselves. After all, U.S. men in uniform are posting combat footage from firefights and building explosions. (PBS also ran an interesting piece about soldiers videos from Iraq on MediaShift.)

Russell K. Terry, a Vietnam veteran who founded the Iraq War Veterans Organization, said he had mixed feelings about the videos.

“It’s unfortunate there’s no way to stop it,” Mr. Terry said, even though “this is what these guys are over there fighting for: freedom of speech.”

As the article also points out, it is currently the private sector regulating this content, so that the government doesn't need to do more than offer tacit approval.

“It results in a continued trivialization of combat and its effects,” Mr. Wawro added, “but no one feels completely comfortable saying, Don’t do it.”

YouTube does feel comfortable saying so, however, as does Google Video. Both have user guidelines that prohibit the posting of videos with graphic violence, a measure that spokeswomen for each service said was violated by many of the Iraq videos.

Julie Supan, senior director of marketing for YouTube, said the company removed videos after they were flagged by users as having inappropriate content and were reviewed by the video service.

In an e-mail message, Ms. Supan said that among the videos removed were those that “display graphic depictions of violence in addition to any war footage (U.S. or other) displayed with intent to shock or disgust, or graphic war footage with implied death (of U.S. troops or otherwise).”

Of course, I was a kid during the Vietnam War. I can tell you that it was precisely the broadcast of such violent and graphic images of the war that contributed to the end of the occupation by U.S. troops. To pull them from online video sites with a broad mandate is to stifle many legitimate discussions about the costs of battle.

In other news, the NYT also connected conservative pundit Michelle Malkin to their coverage of YouTube censorship, astonishingly with the epithet "Filipina firecracker." Apparently Malkin has now posted her own YouTube video to protest how the anti-occupation videos that the NYT is scandalized by are allowed but her own anti-jihadist video castigating such footage has been pulled. In fairness to YouTube, I've watched many of Malkin's videos. There's often pretty racist, particularly about her blanket category "young Muslim males."

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 06, 2006

Imagine There's No FOIA

Last night I saw the U.S. vs John Lennon, which focuses on the Nixon era but also takes a few potshots at the current administration obsessed with surveillance and covering over the violence of a war abroad. Strangely, the official website for the movie is designed to imitate the layout of the Drudge Report, an homage that probably gives the Right too much credit. Unfortunately, the film itself uses some distracting foreground/background digital effects with source material, such as black and white photographs, a technique that I also found annoying in the documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture. Luckily, Jon Wiener of U.C. Irvine makes several appearances that present his research on the monitoring of "subversive" politics during the sixties as accessible to mainstream audiences. Jon's piece at the Huffington Post is also worth reading. Check out Lennon's FBI File, which is available online in the Freedom of Information Act Reading Room. Given the way FOIA has been weakened, who knows how much present day anti-war activists will ever know about their files.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mind Reading

Rhetoric mailing lists around the country, including the venerable WPA listserv for writing program administrators, have been commenting on yesterday's story in the New York Times about "Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinion of the U.S.," which is being funded by the Office for Homeland Security. The computer program uses sentiment analysis to gauge relative positive or negative opinions of our nation's policies in the international press, on the same principle as aggregating data on movie reviews.

The researchers, using an grant provided by a research group once affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency, have complied a database of hundreds of articles that it is being used to train a computer to recognize, rank and interpret statements.

The software would need to be able to distinguish between statements like “this spaghetti is good” and “this spaghetti is not very good — it’s excellent,” said Claire T. Cardie, a professor of computer science at Cornell.

Professor Cardie ranked the second statement as a more intense positive opinion than the first.

There are two disturbing things to notice about the article. Yet again, "rhetoric" is implicitly denigrated, by being associated with the enemy. Furthermore, the project also monitors American newspapers, such as "The Miami Herald and The New York Times." Rather than targeting Al Qaeda, it surveils media in allied countries in Europe as well.

Media surveillance of terrorist entities has become a cottage industry under the current administration, which has fattened the coffers of many supposedly expert firms. One company, IntelCenter, offers Terrorist Threat Intel Packages (TTIP) to its customers, so that alerts about nascent jihadist offenses can be sent to subscriber's cell phones like baseball statistics.

Of course, I like to see my money go to places like Memri TV, which collects clips from Middle Eastern television. In its "Favorites" section, you can see how Iranian TV explains how the new Disney Pirates of the Caribbean is a Zionist plot. Personally, I think the Ask a Ninja review of the latest Johnny Depp vehicle may be funnier.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Return to Flatworld

Yesterday, I went back to the Flat World facility run by the Institute for Creative Technologies of USC, which has designed many digital environments for military purposes. This time I went with the local LA chapter of SIGGRAPH; I had been there before while doing research on the Virtual Iraq virtual reality simulation, which is designed to help treat combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The first thing I tried was Jacki Morie's Memory Stairs, a "series of artistic, immersive virtual environments designed to represent an aesthetic journey through a lifetime of memories." Although there are to be eight different environments in all, I only visited two rooms from one era, wearing a head mounted display. There was a lot to contemplate, however. Magazine covers, wallpaper patterns, and even scenery through the window. Unfortunately, I kept attracting the attention of my minders, because I kept accidentally climbing on the tables when exploring the room. Since I have been doing work on the method of loci from the era of classical rhetoric, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship of spatiality to memory. It was interesting to see see the military-funded project based on Morie's work, DarkCon, in which the clues that are closely tied to pathos include "a baby doll" that "squeaks when stepped on" and "family photo albums" that lie "discarded in the mud." The story unfolds in an Eastern European city, and the user must negotiate through a sewer tunnel and be prepared for both "civilian refugees" and "militant rebels."

Given that Henry Jenkins was blogging about the Lego paradigm yesterday, it was interesting to see how often Flatworld Producer Diane Piepol kept referring to the Lego metaphor to describe the modularity of the mixed reality elements that they were developing for military training scenarios. Flat World creates digital sets using many of the techniques of traditional theatrical flats, some using transparency and layers. We were ushered into a room with broken ceiling panels and smashed furniture in the center of the space, and given 3-D glasses. Loud music from a mosque played. A door could be opened revealing an armed insurgent with his face obscured, who might pepper the walls with bullet holes. In another scenario, an unmanned aerial vehicle whizzes by. Perhaps, the ground shakes with concussive force as conflict intensifies. Outside, in another mixed reality environment, a child taunts soldiers and throws rocks.

I also saw other work from this Mixed Reality Research Group at Flat World. There is a great emphasis on life-sized figures at FlatWorld, such as Sergeant John Blackwell (clip runs better in Explorer), who uses natural language processing to answer questions from those who might potentially interact with him. Of course, even though he claims to know Arabic, Farsi, and Pashto (along with Korean), the virtual Sgt. Blackwell wouldn't answer the main question posed by our group: "Where is Usama Bin Laden?" He also replied to our question "Can you move your arms?" without demonstrating that ability, as though we were supposed to just take his word for it.

The tour finished with a demo of the "light stage," which was once largely used for Hollywood applications, but is now being repurposed by the military as well.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Plug and Play

Since government intelligence consultants made such a PR gaffe by identifying a Battlefield 2 fan film with a parody soundtrack as a "terrorist videogame," the hunt has been on for the genuine article.

Now anti-digital warhawk conservatives can point to the "Night of Bush Capturing," first publicized by the SITE Institute that inverts rhetoric about capturing and killing Usama Bin Laden. Gameology reports that "Quest for Bush" appears to be a knock-off based on "Quest for Saddam." For those who are interested, a video from Memri TV gives a better sense of the continuity of play.

Of course, there are plenty of Bush games produced domestically here in the U.S., including this game with action heroes, devils, bats, and the giant and grotesque versions of the President's parents copulating.

Shi'ite Muslims can enjoy another anti-U.S. game, which the New York Times has described in "Iranian Video Game Offers Chance to Blow Up U.S. Tanker." At least the article points out that there is already at least one U.S. game about attacking Iran, which is made by Kuma\War games, so we can't say they started the virtual warfare.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Eighties Nostalgia

Having just seen the movie American Hardcore, I have to share one of my favorite pieces of trademark-related ephemera. This is a shirt from the era of classic analog copy-machine punk rock graphic art, in which the logos of various bands have been scrambled into what the maker hopes will be a non-infringing product. Hah!

Alas, the movie itself was disappointing as a documentary and said little about any of the more interesting problems about gender, sexuality, race, class, and progressivism that characterized the SoCal scene as I remember it from my vantage point as a pre-teen and teen. Certainly, there was a lot of sexual harassment, homophobia, gay-bashing, political idiocy, and xenophobic hostility apparent to anyone who was ever in a mosh pit back then, a fact which the film-makers chose largely to leave out.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Does This Background Bring Out My Eyes?

In this week's New York Times article, "Al Qaeda Increasingly Reliant on Media," the reporter describes how the Al Qaeda media production arm, Al Sahab, uses the Internet to publish and distribute video content and jihadist messages via sympathetic intermediaries. As this screenshot of hate monger Azzam the American demonstrates, pro-terrorist rhetoric is presenting a more academic and less militaristic digital image to the Islamic world. The NYT story specifically comments on this change of rhetorical scene.

What is most striking about the messages is their tone, terrorism analysts say. In the past, the group’s leaders were generally depicted as soldiers in battle, often filmed outdoors with weapons in the background. But the more recent communiqués show Al Qaeda’s leaders in the comfort of a living room or office, set against bookshelves with religious texts. The group has also taken to quoting Western authors and famous speeches, in what seems to be an effort to reach those with Western sensibilities.

Of course, this made me revisit my own online photo, which is set in an exterior scene above the city of Paris. France is a pretty good anti-government locale, but apparently a shelf of tomes or a computer in the background makes one look even more like a political threat. So I thought that I might make myself look a little more like a radical subversive by putting some books behind me. Hopefully this bookish refurbishing of my image will put me on the right kind of watch list.