Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Simon & Garfunkel & Philosophy (Part 1 - "The Boxer")

This is my somewhat amateurish attempt at a post that channels those (insert popular TV program or film here) & Philosophy books. You know, the ones where they talk about the Matrix and namedrop Foucault here and there.

The Boxer

I am just a poor boy 
Though my story's seldom told 
I have squandered my resistance 
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises 
All lies and jests 
Still a man hears what he wants to hear 
And disregards the rest

First stanza - obvious references to class struggle and media representation. Other than maybe Rosanne and The Wire, the poor are hardly ever depicted on television - their story is seldom told. Or, if it is told through a news vehicle, many would question the authenticity of the description, coming as it does from a largely corporate-owned entity. The problem of confirmation bias is hinted at with the line "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest," a problem which of course is very prevalent when discussing current events. 

Asking only workman's wages 

I come looking for a job 
But I get no offers, 
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue 
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome 
I took some comfort there 

Can't help but think of Taxi Driver with this stanza. That film is so packed full of great, existential moments - channeling the loneliness and angst that comes with living in such a dense, bustling city (pre and post Giuliani, thank you very much.) 

In the clearing stands a boxer 
And a fighter by his trade 
And he carries the reminders 
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down 
Or cut him till he cried out 
In his anger and his shame 
"I am leaving, I am leaving" 
But the fighter still remains 

I see the Existentialism here too - wanting to leave, carrying the reminders of failure - possibly facing death or embracing it as part of this fighter persona - very Heideggerian. The fighter still remaining as an essence, or a performance- despite wanting to abandon the trade can be read as a variation on Sartre's bad faith concept, or a nature/nurture meditation. Are there natural born fighters? Evolutionary psychologists would probably argue that humans have developed this fighting/resourceful spirit as a product of evolution, though studies have also shown that cooperation is an important aspect as well. What does it take to be a fighter - a glove, a working class background, a pair of gray sweats and a raw-egg breakfast? Living authentically, if such a thing were possible, brings with it many a quandary. 

Lie la lie ...

Lie la Lie indeed - this can refer to a lot of things. Lies produced by spin in the media? The lie of the Horatio Alger A.S.S (American Success Story)? Baudrillardian simulacra? Take your pick.

Please feel free to share your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Almost Obsessive Relation to Reading Materials

For better or for worse, I read multiple books at a time. I always have, I try not to be a quitter. I've thought that maybe it would be a smart idea to set up weekly genre reading schedules so I can tailor my reading material to books/audiobooks/ebooks/essays/stories/poems/manifestos/etc that fit within that genre and maybe even become more productive as a result. Unfortunately, there is a strong chance my ADD will not allow it. I'm attracted to new reading material the way a cat gravitates toward a red laser dot spiraling on a wall.

I just started reading John McWhorter's 'Losing the Race: Self-sabotage in Black America.' McWhorter is a great, lucid writer, excellent speaker, and one of my favorite linguists.

I think for good measure and good irony, I could pair his book up with Franz Fanon's 'The Wretched of the Earth' which I got last week. I could throw in 'Gender Trouble' and 'Sexual Personae' which I have been reading off and on for over a month and make the next two weeks: Race and Gender Related Non-Fiction Par Excellence. 

Just a thought. I think I might try it out and see what happens.

At the library last night I picked up the McWhorter book, along with one book each of Ferlinghetti, LeRoi Jones and Langston Hughes poetry. I'm tempted to sneak poetry into the mix - especially Jones and Hughes, but I won't beat myself up if Lawrence sneaks in.. he's an astounding poet.

I called ahead and had 'American Project' by Sudhir Venkatesh put aside for me. I'm very excited to read this and I think it totally fits into the race-related non-fiction slot.
I also started reading Marcel Mauss's 'The Gift' last week, and that doesn't fit into the genres I've laid out, so I'm at a loss...

Full disclosure, these are the books I'm currently reading or recently finished:

Last read/listened to: The Upside of Irrationality, The Language Instinct, about a dozen or so McWhorter linguistics lectures from The Learning Company. 

Currently Reading/Listening to (in no particular order):
Gender Trouble
The Blank Slate
Discipline and Punish
Of Grammatology
Losing the Race
The Gift
Sexual Personae 
Vamps and Tramps
Philosophy of Language essays
The Chairs by Ionesco 
God: The Failed Hypothesis
Modern Art in the USA
From Bauhaus to Our House
A book on Performance Art that I can't even find in my room right now.

These (except for God: The Failed Hypothesis) don't include books or audiobooks I started but didn't finish last semester or the semester before that, like Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Studies in Pessimism. I liked the latter better. They also don't include books I'm excited to read on pdf format (Syntactic Structures and Being and Nothingness), books I've been meaning to read for a long time, like Being and Time, Glamorama and Nickel and Dimed, or books I'm excited to read but am putting off for an upcoming trip, like Beneath the Underdog.

This post has been somewhat therapeutic. I think I'll post my upcoming reads here more often instead of relying on multiple notebooks or open tabs. 

I've really gotta get my shit straight (or go to a shrink).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stupid IT Guy Falls Asleep During Blogger Maintenance and Ruins it for Everyone

Written May 12, 2011

Brief News:

In what some are calling a completely dick move on his part, Mike Kelly, an IT employee at the popular website Blogger, fell asleep at his goddamn desk like a prick leaving blog users waiting around for God knows how long until they can update their blogs.
"I feel terrible about this, I really do," said that bastard Kelly, yawning like a five year old. "I had a really big lunch and got kind of sleepy."
Recalled the big baby, "I may have accidentally had decaf this morning too- oh God, what have I done?!"
Sources say if Kelly doesn't get his shit together they're going to can his ass like they did Sam McNeill last month.
"This is completely unacceptable," said Stuart Walton, representative for the now useless website. "There are people out there counting on us to provide a space where they can write down their mundane observations about current events, trite conversations with other people or amateur creative writing projects and keep checking back on them over and over again to see if someone cared."
Added Walton, "We provide a valuable service, I'm humiliated beyond words. If this happens again, mark my words, it's back to Wordpress with that asshole."

Stores Prepare for Rapture “White Saturday” Shopping Day

Written May 11, 2011

In anticipation of the glorious return of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior’s only begotten son, stores across the nation are drastically marking down their merchandise for White Saturday on May 20th.

The last time a shopping event like this occurred was September 27, 1994, when the Armageddon was supposed to arrive inconveniently just before lunchtime. September 28 was dubbed "Day of Returns" by aggravated shopkeepers and is famous for seeing the largest number of customer returns in U.S history. Scholars say it made the day after Christmas look “like a fucking picnic.”

Jesus is set to return to earth on Sunday, May 21 in what sources say will naturally be a calamity of biblical proportions.

“As the unwashed, secular masses go down in flames for not accepting Christ, I will be sitting on my porch awaiting him with open arms, and if I’m lucky, a spankin’ new suit from the Men’s Warehouse,” said Jimmy Sporre, area Baptist and golf enthusiast. Added Sporre, “Do you think they’ll still have a 41 long if I go around 2 o’clock?

Others are less thrilled about the White Saturday deals.

“The wife wants to stock up on linens, there goes my Saturday,” said a visibly distressed Dennis Piper, rolling his eyes. “I really want to know where she’s planning to put them once the chariots of fire arrive.”

Even Jews are encouraged to participate in this year’s festivities, as was the theme of a full page color ad in last week’s Sunday New York Times.

“We get the whole day of rest thing, but these deals are huge,” said Benjamin Thompson, store manager at Filene’s Basement. “Think our unbeatable everyday low prices, times like fuckin’ 50.”

Fireworks salesmen are also jumping in on the bargain gravy train. “The roman candles are half off,” said Allison Dufresne. “We’re encouraging customers of all ages to come through and stock up for the end of days.”

“Come on live a little, when are you gonna see a scene like this again?” chuckled Dufresne.

Raw milk activists defend their right to bone-shattering diarrhea

Written May 6, 2011

In what has been called the most vocal food 
rights movement for decades, thousands 
of Americans have stood up against 
what they feel is a tyrannical assault on 
their rights as consumers to purchase and 
consume raw milk.
“Look, if I want to get up every morning, 
walk over to my barn and nestle my 
head against the teats of a 900 lb 
mammal sucking until coagulated, 
sour chunks of fluid come seeping 
into my mouth, that’s my prerogative 
and not the state’s,” said Robert Goodman, 
who has been following the movement for 
the past few months since first hearing 
about it through online message boards.
“At first I wasn’t too crazy about the idea, 
but then I got to thinking, unless I’m 
dropping a deuce in the neighbor’s kitty pool, 
I’m well within my right to deal with the 
consequences of my lust for raw milk and I 
don’t see why the government should have 
any part of it.”
The Pepto Bismol corporate division of 
Proctor and Gamble has recently come 
out in support of new proposed legislation 
which would lift the current ban on raw milk. 
A spokesperson for the company said, 
“We stand behind the Americans who 
are working tirelessly in their efforts to 
stop this encroachment of civil liberties; 
as with most things in life, we believe the 
more liberty, the better.”
The spokesman, who wished to remain 
anonymous, later added, “Plus, think of 
the fucking profits we’re going to make 
once this shit catches on- hold on to your
 fuckin’ balls gentlemen.”
At press time, the head of the Raw Milk 
Buyers Group could not be reached for 
comment, having been stuck in the john 
since late Wednesday evening.
“First it’s raw milk, then they’ll go after 
other locally grown goods, where will it 
end?” said Goodman, slamming his fist 
on his kitchen table. “It’s called liberty, 
dammit! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve 
got to go take a shit.”

Osama Bin Laden Chokes to Death on Pretzel

Written May 2, 2011

PAKISTAN–After decades of indulging in the salty snacks, Osama Bin Laden has finally met his demise while tearing through a bag of Snyder’s.

“I always told him to take it easy on those,” said Abu Ayyub al-Masri, childhood friend of Bin Laden. “He would just sit in front of the TV putting pretzel after pretzel in his mouth without a care in the world, he loved them.”

Bin Laden reportedly discovered the snacks while on a timeshare vacation in San Francisco in 1973, an experience that enraged him to the point of never wanting to step foot in the city again.

“He was just so upset, the pretzels were a comfort for him,” said Aroob Ressam, a former girlfriend. “While I was living with him, he would constantly start discussing the demise of Western civilization with a mouth full of crumbs.”

She added, wearily, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him how rude and disgusting it was, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a disaster waiting to happen.”

Osama’s body was found sprawled out next to his favorite La-Z-Boy recliner, where purportedly spent the bulk of his time.

“I guess I knew it was coming but we weren’t expecting this news anytime soon, so no funeral arrangements have been planned,” said Ayyub al-Masri “ It’s a big shock to all of us, he really seemed like a Fritos kind of guy.”

What Does A Signature Signify?

Derrida argued that to repeat one's own signature is inherently counterfeit - it's an imitation of prior markings.

So, then, what does it mean to forge a signature? Do you forge your own signature every time you use it? Yes - you're copying the marking regarded to be your legal signature.
But, you're also operating on what the receiver's expectations of your signature are. If you don't make your signature appear identical for whatever number of reasons or excuses, you can decide to at least make it approximate to the marking that at the time it was made was performatively pronounced as your official, legal signifier.

This signifier could have been different at any other moment, but the moment you first put the pen on paper was the moment you wrote your own legal destiny with regard to your signifier. To change your signature requires jumping hoops and leaps of faith on the parts of others - particularly if your actual name remains the same. If you change it, that comes with a host of other responsibilities and potentials for false consciousness episodes.

For each signature you make, you operate under a set of contextual or practical assumptions - whether or not the recipient is familiar with your signature. The recipient could be comparing the signature via a previous contract, or your driver's license.

To change your signifier puts you at the risk of ghosting yourself, making yourself an element of undecidability. You exist, but you don't - it's all dependent on context you may have or take out of context.

(Aside - can we take context -- con/text, to mean an opposition to text? If so, is it verbal, written, dynamic or stagnant?)

Even a close approximation of your signifier might not be enough. In this rare episode not only are you in a state of ambivalent existence/nonexistence, your existence might not be recognized at all: an incredulous notary, a bad xerox copy, an unfortunate ink stain - could all render you absent.

So, who you are is basically who you appear to be to whoever is in the favored position during your communication act.

Monday, May 9, 2011

WAVES: Prophets or Pushers?

This is an article I wrote back in 2008, but I thought it was relevant enough to repost. Enjoy!

WAVES: Prophets or pushers?

By Katherine Concepcion

At what point do the interests of the student body take precedence over the granted free exercise of a student club?

WAVES ministries is just one of the over 35 student-run organizations at Miami Dade College - Kendall campus. Their vague and seemingly innocuous one-line mission statement is printed on the Student Life website: “To provide an organizational atmosphere through which students can have an opportunity to worship God.”

Despite their good intentions, there have been several reported instances where WAVES affiliates have proselytized to students and faculty.

During the past two Club Rush events, Richard (no last name provided), the elderly father of the main non-faculty adviser for WAVES, has acted with hostility against the president and faculty adviser for MDC Secular Humanists, a campus student club devoted to promoting science, reason and the acceptance of Atheism.

At a recent event, Richard commenced verbal attacks on a student who was guarding the MDC Secular Humanists booth, but not himself a member of the club. When the president returned from his class, there was a stack of articles on the club table about the Archaeoraptor, a dinosaur fossil hoax that is cited by creationists as “proof” that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs. In fact, various other verified fossils linking the two species have been found, and birds and dinosaurs share more than 100 anatomical features and similar rates of bone growth. Richard lied to the student guarding the Secular Humanists booth, saying the articles belonged to the club president. When said club president returned and confronted Richard about the articles, he proceeded to act aloof about placing them at the table. Richard rounded out his Club Rush visit by shouting vitriolic non-sequitors into conversations between curious WAVES members and MDC Secular Humanists members.

WAVES ministries is affiliated with another college missionary group, Youth With A Mission (YWAM). On several occasions, members of YWAM have come on to the campus in an attempt to preach to students.

During one incident, two male students were having a conversation outside a classroom when a young, attractive girl who appeared to have been listening in, approached them and began making comments about the biology of the human body.

She claimed that it was “so amazing” how the human body functioned, how every part seemed to be “designed” and perfect, and cited an example of how the stomachs digestive juices amazingly did not disintegrate the organs in our bodies.

One student, who had a science background, gave an alternative reason why the acid isn’t corrosive to tissue, an explanation that did not involve the instance of a “creator.” Another, male individual got involved in the conversation, agreeing with the girl and eventually stating that dinosaurs were actually approximately 4,000 years old.

An argument soon began, and the pair, both members of YWAM in Orlando and not a registered MDC students, began to claim that the two guys were being “narrow-minded” and told them they should “think outside the box.”

The YWAM missionaries continued to pursue the argument and made antagonizing comments to the students until the students left for class.

It is unclear whether the visiting Richard or the YWAM members were cleared by student life. The student life handbook does not list clear rules or regulations for bringing club visitors on campus without a club event being held.

The antagonistic proselytizing and other related topics were discussed with the vice president of WAVES in a recent interview. When asked about the general purpose of WAVES, the vice president’s response indicated that their main and only intent was self-promotion. After given several opportunities to give examples of ways in which WAVES benefits the community, the vice president revealed that the club does not participate in community events, if they wanted to do that, he said, they "might as well just join a church." One opportunity that WAVES could have used to be part of something bigger than themselves was Relay for Life, an overnight event benefiting the American Cancer Society that will be held at this campus on the 28th of Feb. When asked about their possible participation at this event, the VP said that although WAVES considered being part of the event in order to raise funds for themselves, they did not have room in their calendar because of a retreat they planned to attend. Keep in mind, all the funds clubs raise at Relay for Life are to go to the American Cancer Society. When this fact was explained to the VP, he mistakingly recalled the Student Life Director saying clubs could keep a portion of the profits raised at the event for themselves.

The WAVES representative felt the need to clarify that WAVES was NOT a church, nor were they in the business of converting people on campus, but when asked a question regarding their “spreading of Christ’s word”, the VP said he believed all of the world’s people should accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, but stopped short of saying that they should all convert to Christianity. Clearly, not a fine distinction between the two was made, and a disturbing disparity remains.

If we are to go by the vice president of the organization’s own words, the sole purpose of WAVES is missionary work- spreading the teachings they feel everyone should follow.

Should a club that provides no other service, either to students on campus or the community get funding or even be allowed to operate?

Other officers and members of WAVES were present when Richard was acting up at Club Rush. A responsible student organization would have acknowledged that his demeanor was giving their group a bad name and would have reprimanded him and told him to leave the premises or stop his behavior. Instead, the VP claimed that it was important to “respect your elders.”

After pondering the aforementioned questions, also ask yourselves: Should there be hard and fast rules for clubs to follow in terms of their mission? Should certain clubs be more regulated than others to ensure that no injurious pandering is being committed


While I realize this is an old article, it is still relevant enough for students of the same campus, or other universities. Individuals who are not particularly religious often have no problems with recalling incidents such as those listed above. Because of this, I thought to bring back the article in an attempt to create a dialogue. If you or a friend has dealt with similar issues on a college campus, please feel free to leave your comments here, or email me directly at: Thanks!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ideology of Naomi Klein's No Logo

Author and social activist Naomi Klein’s book No Logo, published in 2000, quickly became the anti-globalization movement’s version of The Monkey-Wrench Gang. For this project, I’ll be analyzing the documentary that was made of the book.

The link can be seen here:

Klein uses the phrase “no logo” to capture what she calls the “spirit of anti-corporate resistance.” The documentary hinges upon several binaries, mainly public vs. private space and old advertising vs. new advertising. Much of the documentary focuses on branding. The goal of branding is to send a “message of consistency and quality.”

Klein explains that branding began as a way to create “surrogate relationships” since so much of the local goods consumers were used to get were starting to be replaced by factory goods imported from hundreds of miles away. Early brands we are still familiar with today, like Quaker Oats and Aunt Jemima represent these surrogate relationships- “people” you could form a relationship with, albeit a fake one.

More recently, branding has come to reflect concepts larger than those of quality. Instead of the product sending a message about the product itself, the product produces an identity for the user, a consumer becomes a “type” – a “Nike type” – athletic, strong willed, a “Body Shop type” environmentally conscious, altruistic. This is a clear example of one form of John Storey’s definition of ideology, that of false consciousness. Instead of just purchasing a pair of running shoes, a person specifically seeking out Nikes may have a goal to become the type of person he/she sees in commercials. Being good at sports, in this way, is a form of representing the American dream.

Klein discusses public vs. private space by comparing Barnes and Nobles to public libraries. She feels the claims about Barnes and Noble being just like a library is completely false, and free speech issues occur when the lines blur between libraries and bookstores and, for another example, between old-fashioned town squares and large shopping malls that are designed to look like town squares. Despite its appearance, passing out leaflets inside a mall is prohibited, while in a town square (if you could find one) it would ideally be okay to do so. This can be seen as both an example of ideological forms because of the friction caused by the public and private worlds and Althusser’s conception of material practice, because of the aspect of community fostered through the market system.

One contradiction I encountered in the documentary is Klein bemoaning losing any spaces where individuals can relate as citizens and not consumers. Even outside of a market situation, say, enjoying time at a friend’s house having some beers is not completely devoid of consumption- and that’s okay. Someone could argue that this fact “conceals the reality of domination”, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it should be something to move away from. So long as no one is being coerced, consumption is a normal part of being a social being.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Infuriating (Son of) Sam Berkowitz FSView Article

Planned Parenthood's 270th trimester

Published Feb 7, 2011.

Somewhere between "We the people" and "intervened," the right to abortion on-demand has been staring us straight in the face all these many years, and only pro-choice liberals have been able to see it. How unfortunate that Mr. Berkowitz has had abortion providers enter his home while hes still asleep and stand over his bed glaring at him just as he wakes up from the time he was born. It must have gotten buried in the dense, overblown verbiage about the right to bear arms and all that stuff about enumerated powers, just after the "free health care for everybody" clause. Hmm, no I don't think it was buried, much like your ego isn't.

Those in favor of the right to abortion-who, strangely, are often squeamish about using the word "abortion"-are likely to be taking on a cautiously defensive mode these days, however, as recent events in the world of child murder have cast those in its employ in an even more negative light than they typically deserve. Who is squeamish about using the word? What ass did he pull this out of? Choice isn't a euphemism for abortion, pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion, it means a position that stands back and lets a woman take control of her body. A position Berkowitz wouldn't understand if it fell in his lap wearing red, white and blue.

A Planned Parenthood clinic manager in New Jersey this past week offered advice to a man posing as a pimp on how to ensure the availability of abortion to an underage prostitute. This woman believed the man on the tape to be a multiple felon guilty of child exploitation and, rather than report him, offered him assistance in becoming an accessory to infanticide. This is the inevitable result of a culture that embraces moral relativism for it's own convenience. As opposed to this single incident being a result of a person with less than altruistic tendencies? Blame the culture whenever possible, right? A culture that still finds abortion taboo, no matter whether Berkowitz would like to admit it or not. This is not to say that all liberals have bought into the abortion-as-unassailable-right credo that is the stock in trade of the far left. Far left? Last I heard, you don't have to sleep hugging a copy of Das Kapital to be pro-choice. Vasu Murti has, in fact, written a book entitled The Liberal Case Against Abortion, which makes no grandiose religious plaint against the practice, but which simply calls upon supposedly compassionate liberals to be consistent and afford unborn humans the same regard that they would an endangered species of grasshopper when a logging bill makes it through a state senate. "Unborn humans" is a needless, tear-jerk term. Any egg, ejaculation, or for that matter, cell has the potentiality to develop into a human being given our current technology. He's using a bad reductio ad absurdum argument -who would choose the life of a grasshopper over a human? Well if the grasshopper weighed 8 lbs and a woman was forced to carry it for 9 months against her will, I think she'd have a problem with that.

It hasn't been a month since even the Huffington Post was compelled to repost that "A doctor whose abortion clinic was described as a filthy, foul-smelling 'house of horrors' that was overlooked by regulators for years was charged Wednesday with murder, accused of delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them" in Pennsylvania. I reiterate: This is what happens in a culture of self-indulgent moral relativism. No, this is what happens when you have government regulators. I can't even imagine the horrors in a society of individuals as self-indulgent as Berkowitz. Thankfully, this degenerate disgrace to the medical profession hasn't been lionized in the press as some sort of liberal martyr, but those for whom this issue is near and dear are not about to let an undeniable Conservative electoral sweep dissuade them from using lies and distortions to further their agenda.

H.R.3, a bill designed to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to subsidize abortions in a country consistently opposed to them-when you poll outside New England, New York and California, anyway-has been falsely labelled as a bill intended to lighten the abhorrence of some kinds of rape. The term "forcible rape" has never had a separate legal standing relative to "date rape"-if you have sex with a woman who is either unwilling or unable (because of alcohol or drugs) to give her consent, you are guilty of rape. One could, of course, argue that the penalties for such a crime are too lenient, and I would concur, to some conflicted feminists chagrin, but the language of HR3 is not intended to shield rapists, but to shield defenseless human babies, whether it is convenient to say so or not. "Defenseless human babies?" We're back to this again? Good for you bro. If you have a problem with the needless deaths of defenseless human babies, you should have a problem with your God - natural miscarriages result in more fetus deaths than abortions. Here I was thinking that life was sacred, I guess the lord does work in mysterious ways. If we are to be a country resolved to permit infanticide, at least have some pride and don't ask me to pay for whatever moral code-or lack thereof-to which you choose to subscribe. Hmm, step 1: Look up infanticide in a dictionary. Step 2: Okay, we'll make a deal - I won't make him pay for abortions, if I don't have to pay for wars. 3. Because any moral code that isn't in line with his isn't a moral code at all. But of course!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Wikipedia Perpetuates Female Victimhood or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Gender Gap

Today I was troubled by this NY Times article that discusses the gender gap in Wikipedia submissions:

It begins with impressive stats – over 3.5 million English articles and articles in over 250 languages, then awkwardly railroads these achievements by citing that “surveys suggest less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.”

And there are no Eskimo basketball players, so what? Well, it’s apparently a big deal. Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the site, set an arbitrary goal to increase the share of female contributions to 25 percent by 2015.

Why? Well, Cohen quickly rejects the obvious theory that it’s a matter of political correctness. He writes,

Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.”

“Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”

Okay, so it sounds good – everyone gets a shot at bringing forth their information. But this assumes that more women want to be involved, if they do, why haven’t they gotten involved? Apologists can’t claim restrictions – men as well as women have access to the Internet (excluding of course countries that lack the technology or have used their tyrannical governments to restrict access.)

Is it a matter of some gender-based "performance anxiety?” Wikipedia doesn’t list any bylines, so even if some women might be deterred by the thought that, “Well, some people won’t care what I have to say because of my gender” – it doesn’t come into play on a Wikipedia page.

Cohen brings up a few ridiculous examples:

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?

If the goal here is some semblance of equality – why is Cohen, the writer who is supposed to bring this “important” issue to the forefront of social debate, using such obvious gender stereotypes? Does he really believe that only women have the ability (and interest) to discuss friendship bracelets and designer shoes at length? Are there not women who watch The Sopranos and men who watch Sex and the City?

What are these examples supposed to prove? If anything, they prove that stereotypically feminine subjects are underrepresented, so let’s recruit lots and lots of women to discuss shoes and TV! It’s like a Cathy comic strip come to life, and put online. Cohen, how long is the entry on chocolate?

Cohen then discusses how Ms. Gardner got teary eyed when one of her favorite authors had less written about her than a videogame character (will Gardner restrict the recruiting to women who will discuss women writers and other "women" subjects and not allow women who want to discuss violent video games? So much for equality.)

Cohen writes,

“According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages. Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.”

Women are not a minority – but if they do indeed represent a minority in terms of voice whose fault is it? There are women-based organizations, and plenty of female academics who have made names for themselves, but not every woman is interested in being political, to force them by scaring them with statistics and making them feel underrepresented isn’t going to empower anyone, except maybe those capitalizing on the victimhood.

Speaking of victimhood, (or feigned victimhood):

She said her group had persuaded women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’ — and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”

Yes, because we all go on to Wikipedia and say, "Ah, what a pompous jerk, how does this asshole know so much about Cicero?"

Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

What happened to the increase of 25 percent? (Don't make me pull a "women are notoriously bad at math" joke...)

“Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”

Sure you aren’t.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'Stewart, Assange and Journalism Education' case study

I wrote this for my senior seminar What is a Text class and since I've been on my WikiLeaks kick, I figured I'd post it here as well. Enjoy!

Katherine Concepcion

Jan 25th Case Study Presentation: “Stewart, Assange and Journalism Education”


Author and director of the Journalism School at Iowa State University, Michael Bugeja, must have titled his article, “Stewart, Assange and Journalism Education” because it mentions those topics in that order, but for no other reason. The bulk of his article contains caterwauling about the demise of journalism education and how the Internet is to blame. Curiously enough, for all his laments about the Internet, I have to think that the naming of the article was strategic - Stewart and Assange are all over the media, so mentioning them, albeit in passing, would undoubtedly lead to more clicks on Google than if he had just complained about America’s education system.
The bulk of my analysis has to do with the contradictions he makes, particularly when discussing Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. On this topic, my thesis can be summed up almost in its entirety by the following quote, courtesy of Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
In the interest of clarity and comparison, I will quote Bugeja’s words (with added italics) first, and then follow with my critique and analysis, in bold.

“Satirist Jon Stewart and activist Julian Assange are symbols of a world without journalism — a largely online marketing-based, consumer-driven world at odds with principles of democracy and freedom.”
Right away he implies that Stewart and Assange are not journalists, and that, really, journalism, presumably the kind that he teaches or was accustomed with was completely outside consumer mandate, which of course rejects the fact that newspapers have to sell ad space to make money.

“Stewart is often considered a journalist because he holds people accountable when many metro media outlets no longer do so in their downsized newsrooms.”
So, the ability for journalists to hold people accountable is predicated on the size of their work spaces, staff and amount of funding? What about people who blog and do independent research on important topics for no money at all and what about the whistle blowers like Assange, who not only do it for no money, but also risk being jailed?

“"The Daily Show" does this often by following up on what newsmakers did or said in the past and then comparing that to current, contradictory actions and statements. WikiLeaks purportedly holds people and governments accountable. It does so, however, by “WebThink.” Whereas responsible journalists scrutinize motives of tipsters and fact-check authenticity of cables, WebThink just dumps it all on the Internet and lets computer chips fly where they may.”
The obviously implication here is that WikiLeaks, and, by extension, Assange, is not responsible. But journalists couldn’t fact check the authenticity of cables if the cables did not exist. WikiLeaks provides the cables, at least some of them. Assange, in an interview, likened the publication of semi-raw data to making scientific experiment results available for checking against the published accounts in scientific journals. The raw data is there to be able to check the authenticity of the claims made in the news stories.
Journalists dump their biases on the Internet too; you’ve got columnists who will always put their own spin on something. Stories can come from all different angles, and besides, is it not the point of journalism to give people the facts, not encourage them to align themselves with the ideology of the author? The facts are what count. That’s what cables do, that’s what WikiLeaks does.

By elevating access over truth, ours has become a world that reacts via commentary rather than prevents in advance of calamity.”

Journalism IS commentary.

“What has society lost by allowing Internet behemoths like Google to alter the funding mechanisms for news? Educators should analyze that question because each discipline is affected, in as much as rhetoric now masquerades as fact.”

Rhetoric masquerades as fact: whenever you explain something, you filter it through your own biases. WikiLeaks provides no rhetoric, it provides raw data, raw facts. Shouldn’t he support this?

“Social networks and search engines give away that news for free in return for personal information and then vend those data to companies whose cookies are as hidden as terms of service.”

This is a different issue altogether the issue of privacy and the issue of journalism is different. Privacy is a major concern, but this is a red herring. The main complaint the author has is that journalism is moving away from what he thinks it should be.

“As evidence Doak cites WikiLeaks’ cables, calling them "a meaningless mass of information until the Guardian and The New York Times made sense of them, using traditional journalism techniques." “

It’s only a meaningless mass of information because it doesn’t have commentary attached, but Assange and WikiLeaks volunteers go through lots of trouble to decode these things, especially the complex military acronyms, and they protect their sources.

“WikiLeaks, he adds, proves we need traditional journalism more than ever "to decipher and interpret the information overload."”

WikiLeaks can stand alone because individuals can generate their own opinions, not just the ones espoused on the front pages of newspapers with corporate interests.


The binary oppositions used throughout the article include old vs. new media, opinion vs. truth, good vs. bad journalism, and journalism vs. data dissemination.

The author made arguments which he felt applied to a defense of what he sees as traditional journalism, but could actually be applied to WikiLeaks, which he is against. The text is interesting because of the numerous internal contradictions and vague pronouncements. It also taps into an important current event and an issue that will be a thorn in the side of reactionary academics for a long time.