Last week, Bill O’Reilly got on Senator Coburn’s {R-OK} case for a quip the senator made about Fox News-style reporting and the mandatory health care imprisonment debate {Hat tip:: Linniqat}.

Well, as it turns out, there was plenty of evidence of Fox News-style “reporting” that confirmed that Fox was making a big deal out of prison as a result of noncompliance. O’Reilly tried to spin it as reporting a news story, but examining the footage, the bulk, if not all, was commentary—not news.

While CNN ratings languish, Fox and MSNBC are both branding their infotainment and rely upon the blurring of news and commentary. O’Reilly and Fox like to jump between the two categories depending on what’s convenient for them, but it’s rather disingenuous and insulting to act as if that’s not what’s going on.

Twitterversion:: Bill O’Reilly goes aft. Sen.4quip on FoxNews journalism.HuffPo slams Bill, who blurs news/commentary #Fail #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Aimee Mann-‘Real Bad News’

Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Republican candidate for California Governor

The Huffington Post has an article on Democratic Candidate for California Governor, Jerry Brown. It mentions that while Jerry, now uncontested in the primaries, has spent next to nothing, Meg in on a media frenzy.

A group of Democrats have started taking potshots at her, using social media. Leveltheplayingfield2010 is using a an anti-Whitman wiki, wikimeg, and creating videos for YouTube::

Her allegiance to Mitt Romney and comments she made about Sarah Palin are weakening her cause among the tea party crowd.

I find it interesting that many user comments paint Meg Whitman as a RINO who is soft on immigration.

It’s hard to gauge what will go viral and her detractors are putting content out there to seed that possibility. Nevertheless, Whitman has a huge personal warchest to draw from, so she has the ability to hammer Brown with traditional media buys. Her biggest weakness. She’s an odd candidate for California. My take is she’s not moderate enough for the middle and not conservative enough for the right. Being an ex-CEO, like Carly Fiorina who is running for US Senate, might be a drawback in this political climate, particularly when it’s been reported that financial services and the legal industries have been key contributors to her campaign, this far.

Twitterversion:: Ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman, candidate for CA governor is being attacked in social media, but will it matter? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Steely Dan-‘More of the Same’

Notes from north of 49ºN
This blog is crossposted on rhizomicon.

Helena Guergis is awash in controversy and is currently an independent MP from Simcoe-Grey in rural Ontario. I saw a Globe & Mail article that rubbed me the wrong way, but I initially couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Sarah Hampson’s snarky article, using “bonfire of the tiaras” in the title, makes some interesting points. Are “beauty pageants” incompatible with feminism? Sarah quips::
“But how could she mince around in high heels and then, in the next breath, work as a crisis volunteer for rape victims and march in Barrie’s Take Back the Night rally? Isn’t that a conflict of character?”
This paints a black and white picture, but Sarah’s last few paragraphs muddy the waters::

“The fact of the matter is that beauty pageants are an opportunity to get noticed; to be somebody at a young age; to get ahead. If you’re beautiful, what’s wrong with using it? Athletes use their physical prowess. Scholars flaunt their talents. Ambitious men (and women) boast about their accomplishments, easing them into every conversation.

That Ms. Palin and Ms. Guergis were both beauty contestants says three very simple things.

They’re ambitious; they’re opportunistic; and they’re vain. Which is why politics was so perfect for them, despite how their careers ended.”

First off, I’m not sure Palin or Guergis’ careers in politics have ended, so that bit may be premature. What struct me was the part about getting noticed and capitalizing on it.

Last year, on Bitchmagazine, there was a post about a heptathalon competitor who was the first black Miss England. The poster, Mandy Van Deven, offered these thoughts about the winner, Rachel Christie::

“It seems to me that she’s pushing the boundaries of several stereotypes about what makes a woman attractive. In fact, according to The Independent, “she entered the contest in the hope of launching a modeling career that might fund her athletics training.” So the lady was just using the contest to meet her “real” desire: to be an Olympian. Nothing wrong with hustling the system, right?”

While it may be easy to brush aside pageant winners as less-than-credible women, do these attitudes do violence to the feminist project? What should one make out of women who aren’t the historical stereotype of pageant contestants, but are athletes or well-rounded individuals seeking to use the system to their advantage. On the one hand, when I saw that some Canadian women athletes were in a swimsuit calendar, I thought the objectification took something away from their “brand”, but in a market-based reality, does this “selling-out” afford them the chance to compete or pay expenses?

Is there a point where a woman goes from being exploited to being savvy, if she’s in on the “game”? So, if she’s know’s it’s all a game to get attention and to capitalize on it, is she engaging in a subversion of the hegemony? Or, is it always exploitation?

I must say I’m a bit uncomfortable with marginalization of people because of their past and I think a more nuanced discussion about what women “do” is in order. While I get the idea of a normative feminism with ideals, at the end of the day, for many it’s about creating opportunities in a market-based world.

As for judging a book by its past covers, remember that Kristin Scott Thomas was the female lead in Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon {1986}.

Twitterversion:: Globe&Mail article discusses Guergis, Palin, beauty pageants, & politics. What does all of this say re: feminism in 2010? @Prof_K

Song:: Seal-‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’

Simon Fuller, Australian Channel 9-Melbourne TV cameraman caught using "terrorist" slur

I saw this story re-tweeted by a_picazo via SaeedCNN::

An Australian TV cameraman, Simon Fuller, was aggressively stakerazzing a riot suspect and his father outside of a courthouse. There were two camera crews from two different stations. The father of the suspect asked the cameraman of one of the crews to stop following them 25 times. What was meant to be a parting shot, Fuller called the father “a fucking terrorist.” Fireworks ensued with the son calling Fuller out on the terrorist slur. While Fuller apologized at the time, the damage was done. Some argued that given the gravity of the offense and the timing and context of the altercation, the apology wasn’t appropriate. The exchange was aired by Channels 7 and 10, but was edited in a way that that painted the father as hostile.

The full story is here, which includes the following video clip of a Media Watch programme, which analyzes the full video footage::

Here’s the crux of the exchange that set things off::

Gad Amr: You say to him fuck off. You say to him fuck off? You say to him to fuck off?

Simon Fuller: The camera’s rolling.

Gad Amr: You bloody idiot.

Simon Fuller: The camera’s rolling.

Gad Amr: You idiot. I don’t care you say to whoever, you idiot.

Omar (the accused) Amr: Fuck him, mate. He’s a fuck knuckle.

Simon Fuller: You fucking terrorist.

Race and Islam have been hot-button issues in Australia and vilification of the Islamic community has stemmed from sensational cases, such as the Sydney gang rapes committed by hardcore gang members. The rapes and crimes like it have been framed by some as “crimes against Australia.”

The lack of professionalism by Fuller and his epithet that was meant to insult Amr isn’t going to help things and paints the mainstream media as insensitive to the Islamic community.

Twitterversion:: Via @SaeedCNN & @a_picazo, Australian cameraman uses “fucking terrorist” slur after badgering father & son. Media #Fail @Prof_K

Song:: The Audreys-‘Nothing Wrong with Me’

Helena Guergis, Member of Parliament {Independent} for Simcoe-Grey in Ontario
Notes from north of 49ºN
My last post on the Toronto Sun featured a photo of Helena Guergis, who was the cover story for a brewing scandal in Parliament that caused her to resign her cabinet position and get turfed from the Conservative caucus. I’ll hold off from commenting on that story, as it’s evolving and includes an RCMP probe.
It hasn’t been a good year for Guergis. Earlier in the year, she had a meltdown on her birthday where she yelled at airport staff in Charlottetown, PEI. A few weeks ago, there was another incident which I found to be interesting. Apparently, one of her staffers used a pseudonym and posted a pro-Guergis comment in a local paper, after someone posted a negative comment about Guergis.YouTube Preview Image
Guergis tried to smooth things over, but in the CBC report, some residents of her riding {Simcoe-Grey} were put off by this. A while back, one of my students had a corporate internship where their job was to scan Internet discussion groups and plant positive “word-of-mouth”. I’ve always wondered the degree to which paid or volunteer shills were doing similar work in social media, particularly on comments on news articles. I have no idea how prevalent, if at all, this practice is, but I would hazard to guess that there is a great temptation to use social media to generate as much advantage as possible.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask for that politicians and their staff follow a policy of transparency when it comes to communications. It’s fine to advocate for a position or a candidate, but if you’re somehow affiliated with a politician’s office, full disclosure would be the best policy and there should be rules that enforce this. In this day and age of tracking IP addresses and websleuthery, I’m convinced that 95%+ of users have no idea of how trackable they are and pseudonyms only go so far.
Twitterversion:: MP staffer caught posting comments on newspaper’s website w/a pseudonym & causes backlash. How improper is such shillery? @Prof_K
Song:: Matchbox 20-‘Bed of Lies’

Toronto Sun front page, Saturday, 10 April 2010, by Dan Goodchild

I think this tweet by Impolitical sums up my sentiments::

More spot-on observations on Toronto Sun Covers Review. Check it out. There’s some good comedy on that blog.

Twitterversion:: @impolitical sums up my ‘sediments’ re: TO Sun #fail {image: @DanGoodchild}. I now long 4 mediocrity of the SF Chronic. @Prof_K

Song:: Billy Bragg-‘It Says Here’

Elena Kagan, likely short-list candidate for a Supreme Court nomination to replace the retiring Justice Stevens

I’m wondering what my fellow ThickCulturites think about Obama’s policies of late, e.g., environmental policies on offshore drilling and increasing the CAFE standards. Is he being schizophrenic or shrewd? I firmly believe his strategies tend to be well-thought-out, at least at the 40,000 foot level, and not haphazard. I think the strategy isn’t always clear. That said, I’m quite interested who he chooses to replace the retiring Justice John Stevens of the US Supreme Court.

I think the safe bet would be Elena Kagan. She’s a solid choice as a moderate and since any confirmation is likely to be contentious along party lines, a moderate will be harder to paint as a hardcore liberal by Republican senators. Doing so could backfire, depending on the media spin.

On the other hand, what if Obama went hardcore liberal, particularly anti-corporatist? Choosing an appointee that would satisfy the bloodlust of Main Streeters who want punishments doled out to Wall Streeters that Geithner’s policies. If there’s going to be a catfight over confirmation and threats of filibuster, why not appoint a nominee frames as a Wall-Street reformer? They would be tough for Republicans to attack in this political climate and it would test the cohesiveness of the Democratic party, as conservative Democrats may balk at supporting such a nominee. Appointing a hardcore would be a bold move and if the nominee fails to get confirmed::

  1. It wouldn’t be a shocker, so if s/he’s not confirmed, it wouldn’t be a stinging loss to the Obama administration
  2. It could be framed as a conservative support of big banks and corporate interests
  3. It would pave the way for an easier confirmation of a more moderate appointee

The nomination would assuage the liberals and stir up an ideological hornet’s nest as we move towards the 2010 midterm election.

The devil’s in the details…So, all you legal beagles out there…who would fit the bill?

Twitterversion:: @BarackObama w/another Sup.Ct.nom. Odds may favour Kagan, but what about a strategy of an ultra-liberal anti-corporatist?  @Prof_K

Song:: Murphy’s Kids-‘The Anti-Corporate Beach Party’

Bully {2001}

In the early 2000s, there were two films that came out, Bully {2001} and Thirteen {2003} that were cautionary tales about the darkside of teen life and bad influences. I’ve noticed that in the media recently, bullying is getting quite a bit of attention recently, with a focus on suicides, suicide attempts, and the use of the Internet, i.e., cyberbullying, which got widespread media attention with the Megan Meier suicide catalyzed by Lori Drew’s creation of a fake persona.

I’ve been watching how the media portrays these cases, often focusing on white and/or middle-class incidents, which is part of the “shock and awe” of the story. The narrative is that your kids aren’t safe where they should be—in school, public or private.

A few weeks ago, I was watching an Anderson Cooper special on CNN, where he returned to the Hollenbeck neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Anderson wasn’t talking about bullying, but about gangs.

Bullies and gangs often use similar tactics to instill terror and intimidation, but gangs are often made distinct by their “criminal activity.” The motives are linked to similar needs for perceived control, belonging, and identity. Is this an artificial distinction, one of degree and not of kind? I think so and I feel that if the media were portray suburban bullies like gangland thugs, there would be a backlash tied to attitudes surrounding class and race.

Anyone who has read Geoffrey Canada’s Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America {1995} {} could see the social structure, habitus, and behavioural parallels between bullying in suburban schools and Canada’s recounting of growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s. This is a good summary of one of Canada’s anecdotes about growing up:

“One day his two older brothers came back from the playground. ‘Where’s John’s jacket?’ their mother asked. John answered, ‘A boy took it.’ She asked Daniel, ‘And what did you do when this boy was taking your brother’s jacket?Daniel muttered, ‘I didn’t do nuthin’. I told Johnny not to take his jacket off. I told him.’ ‘My mother exploded. ‘You let somebody take your brother’s jacket and you did nothing? That’s your younger brother. You can’t let people just take your things. You know I don’t have money for another jacket. You better not ever do this again. Now you go back there and get your brother’s jacket.’ Though his older brothers were both smaller than the playground bully, they got the jacket back. Their mother gathered them around and told them they had to stick together, ‘she would not tolerate our becoming victims.’ That philosophy of ghetto parents he summarized as, ‘Accept it, this is a violent world, so teach (children) to cope by acting more violently than the others.'” [*]

Canada goes on to describe how the institutions in the neighbourhood, schools, police, etc., aren’t factored into the social order for various reasons, cultivating feelings of powerlesness and fueling taking matters into one’s own hands, i.e., violence. Again, I see parallels here with the bullying being portrayed in the media. While some may argue that the parallels fall apart with cyberbullying, I disagree. The warfare of bullying is a psychological violence, which can have just as deadly consequences. Technology isn’t the enemy though. It’s the social institutions enabling the behaviours.

Twitterversion:: Bullying is media darling now, but what about insights re: gangs? Is drawing that parallel too radioactive? #ThickCulture  @Prof_K

Song:: Belle & Sebastian-‘We Rule the School’

image:: outsourcing facility in India, from

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, an article on outsourced grading to India, Singapore, and Malaysia is causing controversy. Academics and others are chiming in on the issue, with many deriding the practice, some claiming that it’s a “scam” and others defending the practice.

Even if the “quality” issue were settled, I get a sense that many would still balk at the practice. In a sense, isn’t outsourcing grading and providing feedback on papers an outsourcing of what should be a core competency of an institution? Although, try this on. With the advent of assessment fever that can result in rubrics that specify (a) what is expected of the students, (b) the criteria with which they will be evaluated, and (c) the metrics that comprise a grade, isn’t the grading and feedback just a simple matter of execution? That is, the heavy lifting and the value-added is in the rubric, not the labour?

I’m not so sure. In some contexts, having someone very familiar with the material and the classroom interactions doing the grading makes a lot of sense. I will say that I think that in certain other contexts, the use of outsourced grading doesn’t compromise quality. In fact, it may actually increase quality in some settings, as I’ve seen shockingly bad feedback, memos, and letters—written not by grad. students, but by faculty. When I was a TA for an MBA Global Business course, I checked the math of students calculating exchange rate agios and applying various formulae. If this were outsourced, I don’t think this would be a travesty.

Here’s the experience at a rural California community college in the sparsely populated west San Joaquín Valley::

“Acceptance has been a little easier at West Hills Community College, in Coalinga, Calif., which turned to Virtual-TA to help some students in its online classes get more feedback than instructors for such classes have typically offered. The service is used for one section each of three online courses—criminal justice, sociology, and basic math. Instructors can use it for three to five assignments of their choice per student…The feedback from Virtual-TA seems to make the difference between a student’s remaining in an online course and dropping out.”

Should there be policies on who does what in higher education? Not just the grading, but on who does the teaching? I think there needs to be more transparency and more information provided about the delivery of education. What should be guiding these decisions from an institutional or policy perspective is how costs and efficiencies are being balanced with the value-added experience of higher education. I think distance learning and online programmes will test the limits of how the educational experience should be defined.

Those in higher education should watch how these issues evolve, as it’s showing how labour dynamics of skilled work are being addressed in a globalized world of supply, demand, cost efficiencies, and values.

Twitterversion:: Should outsourcing of higher education overseas be regulated? Cost efficiencies need to be contextualized in the value-added experience. @Prof_K

Song:: M.I.A.-‘Paper Planes’

Evolution of Social & Information Connections

José has a great post on privacy, Privacy Schmivacy, which highlighted how algorithms can infer information about you rendering privacy settings in a certain context obsolete. The implication is the public-private divide and as José aptly puts it::

“This poses a paradox…if people freely give this information to a web site in exchange for the pleasures of friendship/connection, then are we obliged to regulate how the information is used by others? Isn’t a central element of connection the fact that you’re ‘putting yourself out there’ in public. Being public poses risks. Can we have the pleasures of the public with the protections of the private?”

I’ve been following developments on the semantic web, Web 3.0, which is all over the personal information and data about us that’s out there and can be used, as in Facebook profiles, and computers talking to computers to anticipate our needs. Ideally, it’s a benign Skynet from the Terminator movies.

While there have been discussions of a privacy ontology, this one from way back in 2002, the sticky wicket is that most users don’t understand the ramifications of using sites as we move towards the semantic web. For example, last July, Facebook’s algorithms were tweaked to be able to scour your contacts in your address book. You can opt out of this, but what about all the address books that you’re in? I’ve noticed that one’s Facebook friends list could construct one’s social graph for quite some time now, so I’m not surprised that social networks and profiling of users under lockdown can be done so readily and relatively accurately. That said, I think that users need to be more aware of the risks of engaging social media and not be lulled into a false sense of privacy. In terms of policy, I think more can and should be done to {a} limit what information is accessible and {b} companies and organizations need to be more up-front about what information is accessible and to whom, along with the ramifications of this. I firmly believe there is a knowledge gap between what users know and the reality of privacy on the web.

Should there be more regulation or more strict privacy policies by companies and organizations? I think that’s an interesting question. The stakes are the benefits of interacting with your identity, but the risks are the use of that information constructing that very identity. My initial reaction is no, but with a twist. I think there needs to be more information presented to users in lay language on the implications of using social media as the contextual web becomes more ubiquitous.

A more interesting issue, to me, isn’t the privacy issue, but how the semantic web can alter the social world and policy, which encompasses privacy and the nature of data in everyday life. One area in particular is what I see as an intrusion of the economic sphere on the personal through the use of data::

  • Should your employer be privy to your credit rating or driving record?
  • Should they be allowed to use public information about you {from databases or on social networking sites} as a condition of employment?
  • Where does one’s role as a employee end and a private citizen begin? In other words, is speech less-than-free if you want to keep your job?

You can pose similar questions regarding the intersections of the personal and the political, the social, etc., with the main point being that these intersections are altering our everyday lives.

The semantic web is the churlish love child of Foucault’s surveillance and Derrida’s deconstruction.

Twitterversion:: Will the semantic web destroy privacy, given current policies & trends? How will it affect everyday life? #ThickCulture

Song:: Camera Obscura, ‘I Don’t Do Crowds’