Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Did We Get Here, And What Happens If The Right Regains Power (US Politics Today)

The country is getting ready for midterm elections.  No matter how this plays out, Democrats are going to be far less powerful in Congress when the dust settles.  The right could very well take the House, and gain substantial ground in the Senate.  With Obama's popularity plummeting over the last two years, and the Republicans drumming up the far right, this election night will be interpreted as a referendum on the presidency of Obama. We need to take a look at what has brought our Republic to such a sad state.  Regula Staempfli has the right idea (via The Moderate Voice):
"Instead of seizing a historical opportunity after his election, as Roosevelt did in 1933 with the New Deal, Obama sat at the same table and discussed marriage with his political assassins for two years. Of course, he did so with precisely the level of success we thinking folks predicted."
What a shame that is so extraordinarily accurate.  The administration famously spent two years courting the once broken and thoroughly defeated GOP, and refusing to push ANY comprehensive reforms to energy, financial, or health care policies.  Obama's supporters have a right to be disappointed.  It also means his  supporters might not get our the vote, and that this country will be forced to watch as the right tries to usher back into power the evangelical neo-Cons, and the "business first" policies that created the recession.

America has already forgotten what government from the right looks like, and we're on the way to reliving it.

Update: The CS Monitor chronicles just how disappointed the left is with the administration.

The Best Links From October 31, 2010 (US Politics Today)

FiveThirtyEight posted a useful election guide this morning.  It breaks down just how many House seats the Republicans are likely to seize, and gives hour by hour projections of what's likely to happen election night.

Obama says Americans aren't thinking straight because they're scared.  He's right.  An old Bill Maher clip explains why.

Keith Olberman takes Stewart's concluding remarks personally.  Buzzfeed has an epic top 100 picture post from the Rally.

Foreign Policy has a user friendly post about Al Qaeda in Yemen, in relation to the recent bomb threat originating from that country.  I went into the article expecting them to start banging the drums of war, but I was pleasantly surprised.

NPR says you should go trick or treating in these, the best cities for costumed candy collection.  It's actually vaguely scientific.  The front page of Boing Boing has gone Halloween crazy, with the DIY crowd doing exactly what they're supposed to do.

Stomp! (US Politics Today)

Rand Paul's stomping employee has been charged with assault.  What the hell took so long?

The World's Largest Shopping Mall Is Empty

The South China Mall is the world largest mall, and it's a ghost town.  According to this documentary, it's now backed by the Chinese government, who saved it from bankruptcy.  It's funny hearing the mall's executive employees double talk about the malls bright future while standing in the middle of such a colosal commercial failure.  I think it would be a fun place to visit.

Massive construction bubble, meet the food court.

The Roots - The Seed (Good Music)

Jon Stewart's Concluding Remarks Are Worth Hearing (US Politics Today)

I had originally intended to do a "highlights of the rally" kind of post.  Then I realized Stewart's speech at the end of the rally really was the most important, interesting, and relevant part.  It's only 12 minutes long, but it's some of the most important 12 minutes of footage I've seen on TV this last year.

It's media criticism, but it's objective criticism, at it couldn't have come at a better time.  Everyone of us has watched the national press embarrass itself again and again.  We've all fallen victim to sensationalist headlines.  And we've all used intellectually dishonest generalizations when describing our political/ideological opponents.

Here's the thing.  It's those instances of weakness, selfish extremism, and frustrated venting that make the most noise.  They travel the furthest, and they gain the most attention. 

At 2.9 hours into the rally, I was ready to conclude it really was a mindless waste of time.  Now I'm re-examining the kind of blogger I want to be, and the kind of news junkie I am.

The Black Angels - Bad Vibrations, An Upbeat+Dark Song (Good Music)

Rally To Restore Sanity Crowd Size Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 (US Politics Today)

Time to try and figure out just how many people went to John Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Keep Fear Alive.

Sunday afternoon I cited the early announcement by the Mythbusters that roughly 150,000 people attended the rally.  That was right before they made the crowd do the wave.  I think that was partially an effort to rile up the crowd and give the networks a reason to air footage of the crowd.  That was an estimate Stewart later repeated towards the end of the show.

Still, event organizers have been known to wildly inflate crowd size estimate.  Glenn Becks rally organizers inflated the ~90,000 attendant estimate given by virtually every news organization times five, and the conservative blogging echo chamber famously promoted a picture from another rally as footage of Beck's crowd.

But Stewart and the Mythbusters both have credibility, so their estimate carries more weight.  Lets see what numbers are floating around online:

CBS: 215,000
CTV: 250,000
Stewart/Mythbusters: 150,000 (it's looking like they were being modest)

Stewart beat Beck!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Rally is Over, R2D2 Showed Up (US Politics Today)

But it was really more of a concert.  Tony Benet showed up.  Everyone came back on stage a sang... more.  Eventually, Stewart talked about insanity in the national media, and how it holds a distorting mirror up to America.  The correct implications being that Juan Williams wasn't actually a story, the Koran burning idiot in FL wasn't actually important, ect.  All perfectly valid points, but I wish we didn't have to sit through 2.5 hours of music and pre-recorded skits to get to them.  I'm glad I didn't go.

R2D2 showed up.  I'll try and pull together a highlights post this evening with video links.  It's going to be fun seeing what the political trolls have to say about all this.

The Rally To Restore Sanity: These People Were There, This Stuff Happened (US Politics Today)

Stewart and Colbert both presented Reasonableness and Fear awards.  Recipients included Velma Hart and Jacob Isom.  Isom threw his medal into the crowd.  PK Winsome did a pre-recorded skit, Colbert and Stewart sang.  Also more music from Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow.  There has been way more music than I had anticipated.  Colbert took a pot shot at evil genius Zuckerberg.  Also Mick Foley threatened conversation.

Not in that order.

Rally Really Isn't Political, So Far (US Politics Today)

Stewart and Colbert and their crews are all doing skits, a fake priest gave a benediction, Sam Waterstone delivered a poem, and Cat Stevens, Ozzy Osborne, and The O'Jays performed.  At least, they were all on stage at one point.

As this thing continues, I'm beginning to get this sinking felling.  Like maybe it is just all about fun, jokes, and mild cultural criticism.

Having Fun Trying To Find Up To Date Crowdsourced Coverage Of The Rally (US Politics Today)

One of the best sources I've found is searching flickr for the "sanityanordfear" tag, by my recent submissions.

Twitter has a much livelier running stream of commentary on the Rally4Sanity tag.  Also, Colbert's minions are over here

The Rally's website also lists foursquare as a place to share your impressions from the ground, but it's sort of dead.  Especially compared to what happening on twitter.  

The Mythbusters are done, Stewart showed up to introduce 4 troops who are singing the National Anthem.

Mythbusters at the Rally to Restore Sanity, Crowd Estimate (US Politics Today)

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman are at the Rally. They're having the crowd do the wave, so we're finally getting some damn crowd shots. The mall looks packed. The Mythbusters just estimated the crowds size as 150,000.

Rally To Restore Sanity (US Politics Today)

The Rally To Restore Sanity is on, and it's big.

How big, I don't know, we'll have to wait for aerial shots and press estimates. The question people like me are asking is whether it's bigger then Glenn Becks ~90,000 person Evangelical experiment.

Since I'm not there, I've tried crawling DC web cams. It's harder then you'd think to find one of the mall. So hard I'm beginning to think it's illegal to set a permanent one up. Oh well.

So far the rally is opening with a stellar performance by The Roots and John Legend.

Friday, October 29, 2010

No Matter Who You Are, You Are Really Going To Like One Of These Websites

So I was cleaning out my bookmarks folder, and figured I'd share the good stuff with you.

Reddit: A social news site with a thoughtful and active community.
Internet Archive: Huge digital archive site.  Has books, music, movies, ect.
TextBroker: A poor writers freelance job board.  Legit, they drop the money into your Paypal account.
Craigslist:  Jobs, Housing, Sex, Hobbies, ect.  You know about craigslist.
Fora:  Generally pretty thoughtful videos.  Sort of a TED Talks lite edition.
Food Gawker:  A site that specializes in what Anthony Bourdain would call "food porn."
TIGS: The Independent Gaming Source.  Nifty blog that deals with independently developed computer games.
Colbert Nation:  Watch full episodes of The Colbert Report online.
The Daily Show with John Steward Official Website:  Watch full episodes of The Daily Show online.
Absolute Write:  Writers forum.  Full of generally friendly people.
Wikileaks:  Watchdog/whistle blower site.
Liveleak:  A no holds bared video host.  Not always pleasant.
Flippa:  Sell and buy websites here. 
Project Gutenberg:  A massive collection of public domain literature. 
I Can Has Cheezeburger:  Cats who talk funny.
TaxAct:  I did my taxes here last year.  Everything went better than expected.
Pandora:  Online radio service, it uses an advanced recommendation engine to cater to your tastes.
RPGWatch:  A niche news aggregator, specializing in computer role playing games.
Meetup:  Find other people who are into the same things as you. 
Kongregate:  Online games.
Armor Games:  Online games.
Jamendo:  A whole bunch of free and legal music. 
Podcast Bunker:  An excellent podcast directory.
Ballotpedia:  Helps you figure out wtf proposition 23 is all about.

How Easy Is It To Manipulate Public Opinion? (US Politics Today)

This Easy.

Groove Armada - My friend, Start The Weekend Right

Civil Liberties, What Political Journalism Looks Like, And The Men Who Run Things (US Politics Today)

Glenn Greenwald published a phenomenal piece this afternoon.  It helps explain how Obama got civil liberties so wrong so fast, the sort of dialogs that truly powerful people have in private, and how broken our political system really is.  Teaser:

"Nothing is more absurd than watching Tea Party supporters march under the banner of the Constitution and limited government as they support candidates who will expand unrestrained and unchecked federal powers of surveillance, detention, and Endless War, while Democrats (like Tribe) who marched under a civil liberties banner during the Bush years now cheer for the Democratic politicians who have adopted those very policies." 

The most numbing thing is that it's true.  When you're talking about the masses in either political party, anywhere on the left-right spectrum, everything about that quote holds up.  Maybe it's time to start talking about fundamental reform, to the political system and our political culture.

Obama's Approach To DADT, Political Pragmatism Gone Wrong (US Politics Today)

Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic just called out Obama over his changing stance on Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Sullivan gets it right, showing how Obama's opinion hasn't and isn't evolving through careful consideration and introspection; it's being tailored to best serve his pragmatic political purposes.

I don't hold that kind of insincerity against politicians.  That sort of thing is what's savory in American politics.  I don't think anyone would truly begrudge pols them their posturing and grandstanding.

What does bother me is that there's no reason to flip flop on this issue.  As Sullivan says:

"The failure to end DADT - which has massive popular support and is backed by even Bill O'Reilly - is a much bigger indictment of Obama, the Dems and the Human Rights Campaign."

It's been that way for a while now.  My guess is that Obama's statisticians simply misread a spreadsheet, and told him it was safer to tell his constituents that he was more socially conservative than O'Reilly.  In fact it might have been safer strategically to actually do the right thing, and help destroy DADT.

Shank Demo Review

"Short and sweet" sums up the Shank demo up on Steam.

Shank is a grisly 2d platforming game, from independent game developer Klei Entertainment.  The Shank demo just recently came, so I gave it a shot.

It's impressive.  2d platformer games have gotten rarer and rarer this millennium, but titles like this and Braid might be indicating a comeback.  I hope so, I've missed these types of games.  Here's what I can say about the short (roughly 15 minute) demo.

Gameplay:  Great action sequences with lightweight platforming.  This isn't a deep, strategic title.  Shank is about reaction time and killing bad guys with guns and chainsaws.

Graphics:  Bright, beautiful levels and stylized characters.  The action sequences look like they were ripped from Samurai Jack or Cowboy Beebop.  The design motto here might have been "let them play a cartoon."

Controls:  The game defaults to an intuitive keyboard control scheme, and you don't need a mouse for anything.  Shank also recommends you use a control pad.  So do I.

Sound:  Good.

Story:  It looks like the player's character used to be a pro wrestler.  Another pro wrestler kidnapped his girlfriend, and probably raped her.  It's a revenge story, told through the games Adult Swim worthy cut scenes.

Audience:  Recommended for mature audiences.  There's cartoon gore and "adult subject matter."

Score: 4/5

The XX's Crystalised, Featuring Two Remarkable Vocalists (Good Music)

Childish Bullshit From The Republican Governors Association (US Politics Today)

Here's an exquisitely produced faux trailer for the November elections, put out by the Republican Governors Association.  It mostly contains assorted old white people griping about the scary black president.  They really want to take their country back.

They do this to a video mashup of GOP caused catastrophe's, like the foreclosure crisis:

It's sad that the right thinks Obama is in anyway socialist, or even leftist.  This is a group of people, a movement, that thrives on its members fundamental lack of knowledge about American history.  And they're going to score big in the upcoming national elections.  Because mainstream America can't see them for the delusional thugs, religious bullies, and race baiting propagandists that constitutes the vocal majority of this nation's right wing.

In the end they trot out Reagan, who was in favor of a managed economy, in the form of mercantilism.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Is The Black Keys, Live at Abbey Road 2009 (Good Music)

Obama On The Daily Show (US Politics Today)

President Obama was on The Daily Show last night, and it was a pretty good episode.  Stewart interviewed Obama for the entire block.

The interview was surprisingly substantive.  Stewart asked some pointed questions, focusing on the Democrats perceived loss of public support, Congressional cowardice, and Obama's failure to bring comprehensive reform to the executive branch, or health insurance industry.  Obama had apparently candid answers to all of these questions.

Obama took the opportunity to tout some of the Democrat's achievements, pointing towards the stabilized economy, growing job market, student loan reform, and health care reform.  They touched on the logistics of national management, the crippled legislature, and whether or not Washington is capable of "agile" action.

Missing from the 27 minute show is any mention of the administrations degradation of civil liberties, The Rally to Restore Sanity, or the Supreme Court's insane Citizens United ruling.  Oh well.

I walked away from the episode pretty content.  It's still sort of shocking to have lucid and openly pragmatic president.  The quality of the interview easily eclipsed most of what passes for informational programming on the major news networks.  I'm looking at you CNN.

The President ended his appearance telling Stewart's audience to get out the vote.

You can watch the full episode HERE.

Daft Punk Is Back! (Good Music)

With a new song, created for the upcoming Tron sequel.  Remember Daft Punk?  They recorded Harder Better Faster Stronger, Around The World, and One More Time.  They are incapable of creating crap!  Here's their new noise, Derezzed:

Well, that sucked.

The footage looks great, but the song sounded like the kind of stuff teenagers make using Sony's ACID.  I hope Daft Punk is extracting enormous wads of cash from Disney for this.

You Should Experience Pearl Jam's "Do The Evolution" (Good Music)

It's been a long time since I saw a music video that meshed so well with its song.  

Who says art has to be uplifting?  It just needs to speak to us, and have a message worth hearing.  Here's a message worth listening to:

The lyrics, straight from Pearl Jam's Website:

Artist: Pearl Jam
Composer: Vedder/Gossard
I'm ahead, I'm a man
I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah
I'm at peace with my lust
I can kill 'cause in God I trust, yeah
It's evolution, baby

I'm at peace, I'm the man
Buying stocks on the day of the crash
On the loose, I'm a truck
All the rolling hills, I'll flatten 'em out, yeah
It's herd behavior, uh huh
It's evolution, baby

Admire me, admire my home
Admire my son, he's my clone
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
This land is mine, this land is free
I'll do what I want but irresponsibly
It's evolution, baby

I'm a thief, I'm a liar
There's my church, I sing in the choir:
(hallelujah, hallelujah)

Admire me, admire my home
Admire my son, admire my clones
'Cause we know, appetite for a nightly feast
Those ignorant Indians got nothin' on me
Nothin', why?
Because... it's evolution, baby!

I am ahead, I am advanced
I am the first mammal to make plans, yeah
I crawled the earth, but now I'm higher
2010, watch it go to fire
It's evolution, baby
Do the evolution
Come on, come on, come on
I'm always interested in discovering what influenced the creators of a song I enjoy.  The band cites a book called Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit as inspiration.  A few friends have been urging me to read Ishmael for a few months, without ever being able to convey what it's about.  Google to the rescue.  From
Ishmael is a half ton silverback gorilla. He is a student of ecology, life, freedom, and the human condition. He is also a teacher. He teaches that which all humans need to learn -- must learn -- if our species, and the rest of life on Earth as we know it, is to survive.
That book sounds like it's worth my time.

*Do The Evolution was originally recorded in 1997.  I'm stuck in the 90's.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It Doesn't Matter What You Major In...

...You're still going to have a tough time starting your career.

NPR recently posted an interesting article that struck pretty close to home. The writer, David Folkenflik, looks into the viability of majoring in Journalism. It's an industry that many seem to believe is dying. They see the sad disappearance of papers like The Seattle P.I. and the shrinking audiences of cable news shows as indicators that all is lost. They believe the the press has no chance of serving the Fourth Estate watchdog tradition. These people are wrong. They're wrong because they fail to recognize that the old business models can't work online. They are wrong because their idea of how the industry should work is colored by how they think it did work.

To really explain just when these critics started being wrong, I would have to resurrect the decade old story of how the World Wide Web "shifted paradigms" and "synergized" things. Nobody wants to read that, and I can't bear to write it. Even if it is true. Instead, lets look at where those abandoned newspaper readers and cable audiences are going for their information.

Facebook and Twitter are two obvious destinations. Facebook, while originally conceived as a better version of dead/dying Myspace, has grown into a viable media platform. Users can form groups, follow public figures, and comment on events and news stories. Pretty much every organization has a presence here. Facebook will eventually collapse under its own weight, as it's legal department restricts usability, it's marketing department repeatedly violates users privacy, and it's centralized and censorial nature finally catches up with it. I blame MBA majors for this.

I'm not wrong, and you know it.

Twitter does the information sharing bit better, and so far without being a nuisance. And it's remarkably simple, apparently not censorial (Remember The Green Revolution in Iran?), and so far hasn't sabotaged it's own usability to give itself more ad space and page views.

Then there are Social News sites, like Reddit, and Digg. Digg has already experienced the same type of self immolation Facebook eventually will. Watch it crumble! These sites are hybrids of Facebook's usability and community interaction, and Twitter's link sharing capacity. Reddit is better, but it's learning curb and sanctimonious community probably keeps it from having truly wide appeal.

On top of that, people now use Google reader and Google alerts to find out every time a blogger or journalist they trust publishes something online. It works, and it works really well. All of these new models are popular, and growing their user base.

The next Time Warner, or News Corp, is going to be whoever figures out a way to monetize this new diaspora of writers, reporters, bloggers, analysts, and journalists. I'm betting on Google.

Journalism, both the reporting part and the dissemination part, are changing. The world is changing. Critics like to pretend change and death are the same thing. Like some of the dunces in that NPR report.

A journalism program succeeds in 2010 when it gives it's students the capacity for critical thought, organization skills, and the ability to adapt to changing platforms.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All The Authors Talk About Their Own Responses

For Journalism 392 tonight we took a look at four articles. Sucking Up To The Boss, U2's The Unforgettable Fire turns 25 years old, This Yankees Fan "Sez" Thank You, Freddy Schuman, and Fear and Loathing outside Worcester.

They all deal with vastly different subjects and events. On is about pursuing truth, another U2's music, there's one that talks about an eccentric Yankee's fan, and even something about Lieberman's restroom habits.

What they all share in common is writing style. All four writers include themselves in their articles. In each case they express their own opinions and experiences, and the pieces are better for it. In fact, the part about Lieberman would've been impossible to write without the authors influence.

This narrative style of writing is more compelling than duller, traditional news writing. Like I said, writing a clean cut story about Lieberman's men's room manners would read something like "Lieberman pee's standing next to other men, even when there is a viable alternative." But relating that same information as a short, non-fiction story, that's a good read. It still sounds like it belongs in The Onion.

The short piece on "Sucking up to your boss" is really just a link aggregation post. Andrew Sullivan thought the concept of integrity was worth spreading, and well expressed. Bam, daily dish.

Scott Brodeur's article about his relationship with U2's music, and what the albums 25th anniversary means to him, is obviously enriched by his inclusion of personal experience.

And the bit about NY Cities eccentric fan, well, sounded like a wasted opportunity. He should have interviewed the fanatic!

The Stairway project, head over to Arjun's blog for the Homepage.

Head over to Arjun's blog for our groups take on the murals in Du Bois's stairwell. It's good stuff. There you'll find our groups home page, with outgoing links to other articles about the murals.

This is a Tree House, Interview

This is DigitalHawkeye. He is a veteran of hundreds of battles, combatant in foreign times and dimensions, and a widely respected soldier of fortune. He has been maimed, betrayed, mauled, and deified. Yet he survives.

That's him in his tree house.

DigitalHawkeye's real name is Peter Jensen. I interviewed Pete a few weeks ago for an earlier project. Last time we found out Pete is 25, lives with his parents, goes to community college, and works full time. This week, I wanted to focus on his gaming habit. A habit Pete himself thinks borders on addiction, but not in that tragic, mopey, Train Spotting way.

I'm talking to Pete, (or P.J.) over the phone. The connection is full of static, and I can here him playing Modern Warfare 2 in the background.

P.J.: "Yes, I suppose I am addicted to minecraft. I play anywhere from 1-6 hours a day. I've been doing that ever since I learned about it approximately two months ago."

Travis: "Is it escapism?"

P.J.: "Yes."

Peter has been addicted to other games in the past. It started out with a Computer Role Playing Game (CRPG) named The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Later, Arx Fatalis. Eventually, World of Warcraft eclipsed all those addictions. To Peter it was like crack compared to Morrowind's coke.

But that's all in the past. World of Warcraft is dead to Peter. Now it's Minecraft. And throughout it all, DigitalHawkeye has been his handle. So we talk about where it came from.

He thinks it goes back to playing early PC shooters. The Doom series, Counter Strike, Unreal Tournament. He probably picked up the the handle in the mid to late 90's. He started with Hawkeye, and added Digital in front of it because Hawkeye was already taken. But when I ask how he came up with Hawkeye, the answer surprised me. He really likes The Last of the Mohicans. Hawkeye was the name of an orphaned white man sharpshooter who had been raised by the Mohicans. More thought went into this handle than most gamers put into theirs.

Peter's phone dies. Its a few minutes before he calls back, but now it's dinner time.

Meanwhile, I reacquaint myself with Minecraft. It's pretty fun. The player is a crude block person, in a crude block world. At night you flee zombies, at day you build forts, and mine for metals and resources. It has ugly graphics, but that's by design.

When Peter can talk again, we agree to take a tour of his creations. We log onto a private server running out of crazy religious school in the boondocks of Illinois and get started. That's what this video covers, mostly. Peter shows me his treefort, a sky highway, massive mines, and lava works. If you're a nerd, you love this stuff.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Travis Takes A Crack At Art Criticism

Welcome to my corner of the Journalism 392 classes take on the stairwell murals.

I'm going to take a shot at art criticism here. Pictured is a piece by Mary Ann Bailey, painted in the Du Bois Library stairwell in 1990. It located in the Western most stairwell between the 7-8th floors.

I like this image. I can't interview the artist who created it, but at first glance it appears to be one of three things. A pure abstract, a mountainous landscape, or a Dali-esque crack at a seashore. The picture has some features that can be interpreted as mountainous, a large blue space that bleeds from sky to ocean, and some bold lines that don't register as anything found in nature. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer seems to be living in the upper right of the image. I'm thinking the abstract and complex landscape interpretation is the most likely.

Information about these pieces is limited. We know Mary Ann Bailey was a UMass student, but we can be sure about little else. The work seems to be composed in acrylic, its sheen gives it away. It's also remarkably well preserved. It's good to see that there hasn't been any significant graffiti in the lower half of the stairwell.

Mrs Bailey chose a mostly subdued palate, working mostly in pastels and brown hues. The most striking feature is the murals turquoise sky. It would be easy to over interpret an abstract image like this, so lets not let that happen. It's a pretty picture, and one of a large body of such images. For two decades it's brightened the days of hurried students navigating the towering university library. Thanks Mrs Bailey.

The Approval Process, Murals In The Stairwell

For Journalism 392 I spoke with the library staff about how those murals end up in our stairwells.

I spoke with a library employee at the information desk. She was thrilled to have someone ask questions about the murals in the stair wells. She happily told me the process that is used to determine what murals fill the walls. They are all painted by student volunteers. And the selection process for mural concepts is pretty straight forward.

An ambitious student approaches the UMass Arts Council, who hears the proposal. If they like an idea, it is given a tentative green-light. The student then creates a life sized draft of the version on a large sheet of paper. She then returns to the Arts Council, who gives their final "yay" or "nay." With the hoped for "yay," the student can commence painting. The council provides all materials the artist needs.

UMass has a small sideshow featuring some of the murals here.

The Arts Council, the approving body, has an online presence here.

Here you can take a look at my crude attempt to do some formal analysis.

UMass And Masslive Collaborate To Adress A Tragedy

Today in class we took a look at a project at MassLive being run by a group of UMass Journalism students. The class is taking a look at the aftermath, causes, and other fallout from the Phoebe Prince bullying caused suicide.

My reaction to the project is positive so far. The range of the perspectives offered is impressive. Different students looked at the ongoing tragedy from a number of perspectives. For instance, one student discusses the possibility that a change in the office of local District Attorney could change the way the case is prosecuted.

Another article discusses the role texting, or "sexting," might have played. One student even interviewed Jim Cline from WGGB for his take on the suicide.

The quality of the articles I've checked out is outstanding. My only critical suggestion deals with the positioning of the "About This Page" frame. It's not nearly high profile enough. Otherwise this is a solid project.

Comparing Two Interviews

Bill Murry seems like an easy interviewee. He's clever, offbeat, and seems to enjoy the Q.A. process. It's also notoriously difficult to get him to sit down for a chat with the press. He's stingy like that. That's what makes him cool. So if you're the one profiling him, you'd better not waste the chance.

The Esquire piece seems like a great mesh of subject and medium. Murry is snarky, the location for their chat is NJ turnpike, and the journalist (Scott Raab) has a sense of humor. For instance, I now know that Mickey Rourke is a douche bag, and Murry is a Chicago style "jagoff."

It's a good good piece. The whole thing revolves around what an agreeable character Murray is. The fact it takes place just after he filmed The Life Aquatic makes it even better for me. Lines like this make me wonder if he was playing himself in that film:

"My impression of Italy before doing this job was that it's one of the greatest, most beautiful places in the world. After this job, if you say 'Italy' to me, it's like a whole lotta cockroaches in one room--you don't know what to deal with first. It was by far the hardest job I've ever had, and I always work hard."

Good stuff.

For my second article, I checked out a political profile titled "Low-profile Obama aid gets top spot," by
Peter Nicholas and Lisa Mascaro. The article comes from the online edition of the LA Times. I figured I would contrast a fun interview with something a little more bone dry.

The article turns out to be a bit more entertaining than I'd expected. It's fairly short, but its lets us know about the "serious business" style character who has been chosen to temporarily (perhaps permanently) replace the more interesting Rahm Emanuel, a guy named Pete

"He is a person who would run away from a camera," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who once employed Rouse as chief of staff. "He has no interest in personal publicity whatsoever."

Rouse is a bit of an unknown to the online politicos. So what the hell, here's hoping he's a competent bureaucrat and manager.

I like both these articles. The biggest difference is probably that Bill Murray actually talked to the Esquire journalist, and the LA Times writers didn't have access to Rouse. But both are informative, and both take comfortable informal tones.

This Week On Twitter

MotherJones Tweeted "Why did firefighters in Obion County stand by as a house burned down?" this afternoon. I'm starting to get into Twitter just a little bit. I'm using it as a sort of social RSS reader.

Anyways, their linked story gives the depressing answer:

"...Except that the County of Obion (
Tennessee) doesn't provide any fire services. So if you live in the nearby vicinity and want fire protection, you have to pay South Fulton $75 per year. Gene Cranick (homeowner) didn't pay the fee, so a few days ago, after he started a fire in a couple of barrels in his backyard and the fire got out of control, the South Fulton Fire Department didn't respond when he called."

This has happened before in Obion country, so it's not a new issue for residents. According to the article there have been plans floated to share fire services with other counties, but those plans have failed to pass. Most likely because of the cost associated with them, I imagine.

Still, missing a $75 payment doesn't seem like good grounds for losing ones house. Couldn't the fire chief have collected the fee after saving Cranick's burning home?

Yes, but he didn't. Way to go chief.