Monthly Archives: April 2012

Why Are Congressional Websites So Bad?

Joe Brockmeier at ReadWriteWeb points out the glaring faults of the digital political world:

What you won’t find is any information about many things you might actually want to know, such as the aforementioned voting records. Also uniformly absent is a list of committees that the congressperson serves on, how bills actually become law, the lobbyists that they’ve met with, campaign donors, or anything that poses a danger of arming citizens with any real information that might lead to more intelligent voting. It’s as if our elected officials don’t want us to know what they’re doing in office. 

An easy way to become nauseated is to take a quick glance at Senate.gov and read the HOW TO guide on congressional votes

Looking at votes through THOMAS is easy if you know the date the vote occurred or you know the vote or bill number, but there is no subject access to votes and the description of each vote is very brief. House vote charts are broken out by yeas, nays, and not voting, and include overall vote tallies and party breakdowns. The Senate vote charts are grouped by three categories: yeas, nays, and not voting; alphabetically by name; and by state. The Senate charts also provide overall tallies, but not party breakdowns.  

Basically, there exists no readily available list of votes sorted by THE ACTUAL REPRESENTATIVES. To have these stats listed prominently on the websites of individual Representatives and Senators would be asking too much.

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KONY In The Capital

On Friday the group behind the most viral video of all time, KONY 2012,  began phase two of their campaign: “Cover The Night.”  Their goal is to have International war criminal, Joseph Kony arrested by the end of this year. Where the first phase involved spreading a visceral Youtube video, “Cover the Night” had activists plaster posters throughout their communities to raise awareness.

Since the video debuted, Congress passed resolutions condemning Joseph Kony’s brutality; President Obama sent 100 US military advisers to Uganda; and the African Union dispatched 5,000 soldier’s to bring Kony to justice.  However, based on “Cover the Night’s” performance in Washington, DC,  phase II of KONY2012 shows the impotence of digital activism.

While the social Web has proven useful for demonstrators in Russia, Iran, and North Africa, many have correctly noted that networks like facebook and twitter are merely protest tools.  It’s easy for Internet users to “like” a social cause’s webpage or link to a provocative video, however the act of leaving the keyboard and physically participating is more difficult.

The idea behind “Cover The Night” was novel and ambitious.  All across the country Americans would wake to find their cities covered in strange posters.  Curious  passersby would google Kony’s name and learn about his atrocities.  By raising the public’s awareness, KONY2012 believed more politicians would be compelled to take military action against Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

All KONY2012 asked of its advocates was a few hours on Friday night to hang fliers.  But the digital enthusiasm did not seem to convert.  On a two hour bike ride, from the National Mall to Shaw, this observer found just over 30 flyers.  The heaviest concentration was in Foggy Bottom, but even there, the posters looked less like a coordinated effort and more like standard urban graffiti. Local Facebook and Twitter groups revealed hard work by DC advocates Friday night, but the overall outcome– the visibility of posters Saturday morning– was unimpressive.

But to say that KONY2012 was a complete failure is unfair.  Their exists no map or geo-taglist of all the posters nor was the visual survey scientific or comprehensive.  The takeaway of “Cover The Night” should instead be on the limits and potential of netroots activism.  It’s clear that Washingtonians are interested in pressing political issues, but KONY2012 didn’t capture enough loyal support.

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Harnessing Web Fury: #SOPA #KONY2012 and #Stephen Colbert

Check out my essay published in ReadWriteWeb

…”Nobody is arguing that digital petitions, viral videos and late-night TV will lead to American regime change. Twitter didn’t topple tyrants – protestors did. The Arab Spring wasn’t started by a tweet, but by a Tunisian – who set the desert on fire by using his flesh as kindling.”

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App Overload: Google’s Project Glass and the baffling array of digital nonsense

Genius apps are the cutting edge of web culture, but others are pointless distractions.

Rather than inspire Neil deGrasse Tyson levels of wonder, suggesting to us its promising potential – a  Pilot’s POV with star maps, fuel gauge, and altimeter, or a Soldier’s HUD with terrain charts, ammo count and health monitor – Google’s ad shamelessly seduces, using the irresistible pull of consumer electronics.

With the promo in mind, consider Neil Postman’s quote from Amusing Ourselves To Death:

“But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision [1984], there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World…What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one […] Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy…”

I’m not an opponent of electronic consumption.   My crush on Alexia Tsotsis is almost as big as the one I have for Tina Fey.  I stream the shit out of Pandora and Netflix.  I pay friends beer money with Venmo.  I love the GIF of King Joffrey getting slapped.  I text and tweet and Gchat.  Once,  I out of reflex accidentally typed in youjizz when I really wanted youtube.com

However, for every ambitiously disruptive app or platform (Coursekit, Square, Kickstarter, OPower), there are thousands more whose purpose dumbfounds most (Pinterest).  The social web is the new cool.  But there are those using connectivity to grapple with society’s dysfunction, and there are others trying to convince us that sexting is better than sex (that digital interaction can replace the human touch).  The likes, the check-ins, the status updates, is that what we really mean by sharing?

To scroll through your Facebook feed is to see Freud’s narcissism of small differences in HTML.  All of us, so alike, trying desperately to be different in our own “I’m watching this, I’m listening to that” 21st century kind of way.

In a stunning display of withered imagination, Google’s glasses allows “…the wearer to set up meetings with friends, get directions in the city, find a book in a store, and even videoconference with a friend.” This small-minded view of technological innovation is less Carl Sagan and more Mark Zuckerberg.  Is Google’s glorified appointment maker, in the way it was revealed, really that compelling?

In much of our best science fiction, humans end all forms of tribalism and fix their gaze outward, toward the stars.   So before we circle jerk onto an ad company’s newest piece of plastic, we should check our standards: Do we see ourselves as the splendid dust of ancient suns or as frivolous consumers, too distracted to look up?

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Prometheus: Next Level Marketing

A commercial within a commercial for a sick movie.  Watch a robot cry.

The more traditional movie trailer for Prometheus is frighteningly wild.  Horror as a movie genre is completely underdeveloped.  But this film looks spooky and intense.  A chance to see Charlize Theron naked, Idris Elba with a hilariously unnecessary accent, and a set design that strikingly resembles HALO =  interest piqued.

Also, props to Michael Fassbender and Ms. Theron for being in basically every movie in the past year without reaching horrible Seth Rogan levels of market saturation.  (THIS FALL watch Seth Rogan AS Seth Rogan IN: I’m a fat-stoner-loser who was pretty funny in “40 Year Old Virgin” but then took on every role he was offered and squandered any potential for a decent acting career). 

(Fellow HALO nerds: watch the Prometheus trailer and pretend its a trailer for a new Halo movie.  It works surprisingly well.  One of these days it will be made and the world will share our joy).

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Childish Gambino: Expanding Life-Scripts for Black Americans

The Racism of Donald4Spiderman Inspired the Label-Busting on Childish Gambino’s new album, “Camp”

Imagine if underneath Spider-Man’s red and blue suit was a Peter Parker with black skin.  Played by a person of color with the same neurotic humor, scientific wizardry, and love for a certain redhead, would the photo snapping wall-crawler be any less amazing?

When fans of Donald Glover suggested he play Spider-Man in the movie franchise’s reboot, the nether-realm of strident racism that thrives online swelled with hostility.  Motivated by the venom spit his way, Glover, known lyrically as Childish Gambino, responded with his new album, “Camp” (Glassnote Records).  Exploding the labels that confined his youth, CG offers a commentary that expands and enriches what a black life can be.

“The last thing Spider-Man should be is another white guy,” wrote Marc Bernardin on the science fiction website io9.   With a list of lackluster, potential actors, (who all happened to be white) Bernardin asked his readers to imagine Spidey with a darker hue. Because Peter Parker is “…defined by the people he cares for, by his career, by his identity as a New Yorker,” casting a non-white actor to play him wouldn’t change much.

While many supporters took to twitter propagating the hashtag Donald4Spiderman, Glover recounts all the hate mail he received.  In an interview with HardKnock TV he retells: “All these nerds were hitting me up on Twitter and emailing me and shit and calling me nigger…. Don’t take Peter Parker from us …and these are nerds!”

Capturing the polar reactions to Donald4Spiderman, Glover jokes on his Comedy Central special, “Weirdo” it was either “Donald for Spider-Man!” or, “He’s black kill em!”

Much more than overt hatred, one reaction infuriated Glover.   He recites: “Listen, the thing about it is there’s no black kids like Peter Parker.”

“It’s fucking 2011,” an aggravated Glover declares, “and you don’t think there is a black kid who lives with his aunt in Queens who likes science…who takes photography?”

Glover’s experience alludes to a narrow and impoverished conception of black Americans. Where white characters in TV and film occupy the entire spectrum of personality, black characters are denied nuance, instead defined solely by their blackness.  A colored man who is also nerdy, cunning, idiosyncratic? Impossible.

Take, as another example, the movie, “Finding Forrester.”A young basketball star from the Bronx is offered to attend a prestigious prep school.  Jamal Wallace, we soon find out, is also a talented writer versed in literature and poetry.  One of his pieces is so exceptional that his presumptuous teacher accuses him of plagiarism.  No black man can excel at basketball and something else.  The scenes where Wallace corrects his instructor on the usage of “farther” vs. “further” or when he educates an arrogant man on the origins of the BMW insignia: “white propeller zipping around a blue sky,” are righteous defiance.

Like Spider-Man with a different complexion, Wallace is strange only because he’s judged without complexity.  Relegated to stereotype, to the limited imagination of American culture, the attitudes people have towards blacks can be one dimensional.

To combat the negative conceptions that hinder life possibilities, Childish Gambino made his music for “white kids who feel like they don’t exist…I made the album for me when I was 13, I made it for black kids specifically who are told who they are all the time.”

CG aims to complicate black identity by challenging ready-made life-scripts. On the introspective and somber “Hold You Down,” Gambino confesses: “Culture shock at barber shops cuz I ain’t hood enough/ we all look the same to the cops ain’t that good enough?” The insightful and poetic sociology reminiscent of Dave Chappelle continues, “White kids get to wear whatever hat they want/ when it comes to black kids, one size fits all.”

The actor/writer/comedian/musician proudly inverts the popular comparison: “I won’t stop till they say James Franco is the white Donald Glover.”

Feeling pigeonholed as a rapper (like Mos Def and Drake he sings too), Gambino prefers to call his music black rock. He explains, “Oh its a rap album. People are like okay, got you. People think all rap is the same.” On the ardent track “Sunrise” Gambino affirms, “New shit, you didn’t know/black rock like a fuckin’ Lost episode/something for these black kids to call they own/so when you skatin’ in yo driveway you not alone.”

With equal parts salt and sugar Glover cracks: “I really have to thank the racists…That whole Spider-Man campaign is probably the reason Childish Gambino is the way it is now.

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Crowd Funding and the JOBS Act

Ryan Caldbeck explains the law’s implications for the tech industry:

  1. An IPO on-ramp: helps emerging firms transition from private to public by scaling regulatory requirements, easing the cost of compliance.
  2. Lifts the general solicitation prohibition: allows companies to advertise their fundraising to accredited investors (previously, private companies were prohibited from publicizing their fundraising to people with whom they did not have previously existing relations).
  3. Crowd funding: Allows unaccredited investors to invest in private businesses through registered portals.

Crowd funding connects start-ups with investors by taking small pledges from many people over the internet.  Websites like Kiva and Kickstarter already do something similar. Kiva allows thousands of people to lend money to borrowers in the developing world, and the lenders are paid back with no interest.  On Kickstarter artists and inventors pitch their creations online where supporters can make small donations to the project.   However, current state and federal law prohibits donors and lenders from receiving a return.

The Securities and Exchange Commission allows only accredited investors, shareholders with a net worth over $1 million, to purchase equity stake in private companies.  And no more than 500 shareholders can hold a stake in one firm. Thus, middle class investors are essentially blocked from buying into a private company.  The Jobs Act changes this.

According to the Sustainable Economies Law Center, a non-profit advocacy organization, many small businesses lack the funding and legal resources to register with the SEC.  Legal fees for public filing amount to tens of thousands of dollars, effectively shutting out promising start-ups.  In a petition sent to the SEC, the Law Center points to the main challenge of small businesses: “The types of investors that would be most inclined to invest in them – community, customers, neighbors, and friends…are mostly unaccredited,” and therefore are unable to.

By allowing an exemption for crowd funding, start-ups gain another avenue to capital.

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