October CommQuote

There are many hotbeds around the world where it is dangerous to work as a journalist. Honduras is one of them. In the past ten years at least 32 journalists have lost their lives and many more have been violently attacked or threatened. It doesn’t seem to matter if they work for mainstream newspaper and broadcasting outlets or alternative/community media outlets. One of the most shocking and recent cases is that of television journalist Anibal Barrow, abducted on June 24, 2013 only to be discovered, his body dismembered, days later (pictured below is his grieving son). The message to journalists is clear. Writes Dina Meza in the latest Index on Censorship (Volume 42, No. 3), in a piece titled Reign of Terror : “Those reporting on human rights violations, drug trafficking, organised crime, US intervention in Honduran politics and corruption are clearly vulnerable. Land issues are also highly contentious topics. Whether it’s the destruction of the environment for profit, particularly by mining and hydro-electric companies, land ownership or land-grabbing, these live issues galvanise communities and journalists alike, who use both traditional media and social networks to spread information.”

So our CommQuote this month is our saddest one to date. It is a list, one compiled by the Honduran Human Rights Commissioner.

Honduras’s murdered journalists, 2003–2013Anibal Barrow, Globo TV, Cortes – 24 June 2013 Celin Orlando Acosta Zelaya, freelance, Olancho – 31 January 2013 Angel Edgardo Lopez Fiallos, journalism student, Francisco Morazan – 8 November 2012 Julio Cesar Cassaleno, Direction Nacional de Transito (Transport) – 28 August 2012 Jose Noel Canales Lagos, Hondudiario and SEPROC, Tegucigalpa – 10 August 2012 Adonis Felipe Bueso Gutierrez, Radio Naranja, Cortes – 8 July 2012 Erick Martinez, Asociacion Kukulcan, Francisco Morazan – 7 May 2012 Noel Alexander Valladares, Maya TV, Francisco Morazan – 23 April 2012 Fausto Elio Valle, Radio Alegre, Colon – 11 March 2012 Fabiola Almendares Borjas, journalism student, Cortes – 1 March 2012 Luz Marina Paz, Honduran News Channel, Francisco Morazan – 6 December 2011 Medardo Flores, Radio Uno, Cortes – 9 September 2011 Nery Jeremias Orellana, Radio Joconguera, Lempira – 14 July 2011 Adan Benitez, 45TV and Teleceiba Canal 7, Atlantida – 5 July 2011 Luis Mendoza, Macrosistema Company and Canal 24, Danli – 19 May 2011 Hector Francisco Medina Polanco, Omega Visión, Yoro – 10 May 2011 Henry Orlando Suazo, HRN, Atlantida – 28 December 2010 Israel Diaz Zelaya, Radio Internacional, Cortes – 24 August 2010 Luis Arturo Mondragon, Canal 19, El Paraiso –14 June 2010 Luis Chevez Hernandez, Radio W105, San Pedro Sula – 09 April 2010 Victor Manuel Juarez Vasquez, Canal 4 de Juticalpa, Olancho – 26 March 2010 Bayardo Mairena, Canal 4 de Juticalpa, Olancho – 26 March 2010 Nahum Palacios, Canal 5 de Aguan, Colon – 14 March 2010 David Meza, El Patio and Radio America, Atlantida – 11 March 2010 Joseph Hernandez, Canal 51, Francisco Morazan – 1 March 2010 Nicolas Asfura, Construction Company, Francisco Morazan – 17 February 2010 Gabriel Fino Noriega, Radio America, Atlantida – 3 July 2009 Osman Rodrigo Lopez, Canal 45, Francisco Morazan – 19 April 2009 Rafael Munguia, Radio Cadena Voces, Cortes – 1 April 2009 Bernardo Rivera Paz, Freelancer, Copan – 14 March 2009 Fernando Gonzalez, Radio Mega FM 92.7, Santa Barbara – 1 January 2008 Carlos Salgado, Radio Cadena Voces, Morazan – 18 October 2007 German Rivas, Corporacion Maya Vision Canal 7, Copan – 26 November 2003 To date, no one has been prosecuted for the above crimes Source: Honduras Human Rights Commissioner.

September CommQuote

In latest Wired Magazine (September 26, 2013) opinion piece, Forget Foreign Languages and Music. Teach Our Kids to Code, Brendan Koerner builds interesting argument for teaching computer programming in kindergartens and grade schools. 

Extensive research has shown that because young brains are so adept at picking up languages, it’s best to introduce children to foreign tongues as early as possible. This is why so many ambitious parents are now clamoring for kindergartens that offer intensive Mandarin—they want to give their kids the best possible shot at learning a key language of the Asian century.

What those parents likely don’t realize is that the same neural mechanisms that make kids sponges for Mandarin likely also make them highly receptive to computer languages. Kindergartners cannot become C++ ninjas, but they can certainly start to develop the skills that will eventually cement lifelong fluency in code. And encouraging that fluency should be a priority for American schools, because it is code, not Mandarin, that will be the true lingua franca of the future.

Perhaps you remember the turtle. In the early to mid 1980s, the Logo programming language, with its iconic turtle-shaped cursor, was the fad in American elementary schools. By using Logo’s simple commands to create intricate graphics, kids were supposed to develop mastery over the Apple IIe’s that had begun to appear in their living rooms.

But Logo seldom delivered on its lofty promise. The main problem was not the language itself but the lackluster way in which it was taught: Many instructors simply plopped students in front of computers for an hour a week and hoped for the best.

The resulting disillusionment coincided with the emergence of media that transformed school computers from exploratory tools into library aids. “CD-ROMs came out, then the World Wide Web appeared, so you didn’t need to know commands to interact with the computer,” says Yasmin Kafai, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Programming vanished from elementary schools for decades, even as computer science became an ever more popular pursuit at the collegiate level. A cultural consensus seemed to spring up: Kids should be taught a nebulous set of “computer skills,” but programming—well, that was for grown-ups.

In the past five years, however, a number of groundbreaking projects have begun to prove that consensus wrong. Besides Gibson’s tic-tac-toe and graph theory lessons, there is Scalable Game Design, a curriculum developed at the University of Colorado that challenges kids to code their own versions of Frogger. At P.S. 185 in Harlem, children as young as 4 are using a language called Cherp to make robots perform household chores. And it’s happening overseas too: In Estonia an initiative called ProgeTiiger is striving to teach coding basics to all first graders.

What all these initiatives have in common is an emphasis not on memorizing how to use specific tools but on developing familiarity with the general concepts that underpin all programming—sequencing, conditionals, debugging.

…Yet teaching programming is not just about creating an army of code monkeys for Facebook and Google.Just as early bilingualism is thought to bring about cognitive benefits later in life, early exposure to coding shows signs of improving what educators call “computational thinking”—the ability to solve problems with abstract thinking. And even for students who never warm to programming, whose innate passions lead them toward English degrees rather than software engineering, understanding code still has great value.   — Brendan I. Koerner

July CommQuote

This month’s quote is brought to us by Nick Bilton, author, professor and technology reporter for The New York Times in his July 1 Disruptions column, “Dropping the Tedium of Typing for Photos That Say It All.” Given the article’s length I’m excerpting way too much of it I’m sure. But it’s chock full of so many interesting observations I couldn’t rein in the work of my scissors (and Elmer’s glue). 

“Photos, once slices of a moment in the past – sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation – are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image, be it a picture of what’s for dinner or a street sign that slyly indicates to a friend, “Hey, I’m waiting for you,” is easier than bothering with words, even in a world of hyper-abbreviated Twitter posts and texts. “This is a watershed time where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment,” said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard, and we are “turning photography into a communication medium.”

…Snapchat is a mobile application that allows a person to take and send a picture or video, then control how long – up to 10 seconds – it’s visible to the person who receives it. After the photo is viewed, it disappears forever, like a casual exchange on the street. “You have images now that have no possible afterlife,” said Kelsey. “They are simply communicative.”

…What’s more, there are no language barriers with images. As the world grows smaller, thanks to technology, people from all over the globe can chat with images that translate into a universal tongue. Do you speak only Mandarin? No problem, you can now communicate with someone who speaks only English. Take a picture and reply. Germans and Spaniards? Snap! Send. Done.

…It’s a shift that appears to be coming at the expense of the last big thing. Images sent between cellphones are on the rise as text messages continue to fall, according to CTIA, the trade association for the wireless industry. An industry report released this year said 2.19 trillion text messages were sent and received in 2012, about 5 percent less than a year earlier. In comparison, MMS, or multimedia messages that include photos and videos, grew by 41 percent to 74.5 billion in 2012.

…So isn’t this all bad for society? Another blow for the English language where children won’t even bother to communicate in LOL-speak anymore? “We’re tiptoeing into a potentially very deep and interesting new way of communicating,” said Mitchell Stephens, author of “The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word,” and a journalism professor at New York University.”–Nick Bilton, NYT, Business section, July 1

June CommQuote

Here in Virginia Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE is a wonderful physical description of advertising–in the process of being created, in this case, on a billboard. At first I was disoriented because James Tansey’s thoughts are elsewhere (welcome to Virginia Woolf) and suddenly the circus literally unfolds. He’s on a walk with Mrs. Ramsay:

…He felt many things, something in particular that excited him and disturbed him for reasons which he could not give. He would like her to see him, gowned and hooded, walking in a procession. A fellowship, a professorship, he felt capable of anything and saw himself–but what was she looking at? At a man pasting a bill. The vast flapping sheet flattened itself out, and each shove of the brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening red and blues, beautifully smooth, until half the wall was covered with the advertisement of a circus; a hundred horsemen, twenty performing seals, lions, tigers…Craning forwards, for she was short-sighted, she read out how it…’will visit this town.’ It was terribly dangerous work for a one-armed man, she exclaimed, to stand on top of a ladder like that – his left arm had been cut off in a reaping machine two years ago.

“Let us all go!” she cried, moving on, as if all those riders and horses had filled her with childlike exultation and made her forget her pity. 

“Let’s go,” he said, repeating her word, clicking them out, however, with a self-consciousness that made her wince. “Let’s all go to the circus.”  
–p. 11, Harcourt edition, 1955

May CommQuote

Getting May’s CommQuote in under the wire here, lucky there’s 31 days in the month or our string would be broken…Brett Siegel in the Spring issue (Volume 33, Number 1) of Spectator reviews Legitimizing Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status by Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine (Routledge, 2012). From the review:    

“In their most illuminating chapter, “Upgrading the Situation Comedy,” Newman and Levine point out the class associations tied to the two different styles of sitcom.  The single-cam series is hailed for its capacity to experiment both visually and aurally, specifically in its ability to mimic cinema with the deliberate construction of shots.  Meanwhile, the multi-cam sitcom is denigrated by its live recording in front of a studio audience: flat lighting, proscenium-style sets, entrances and exits.  Multi-cam shows like Two and a Half Men (2003- ) are more popular with the masses, but maligned by quality viewers for their unnatural laugh tracks and reliance on obvious punch lines.  Thus, discourses of legitimation that contrast the two styles allow the “sophisticated” elite to express taste in a manner that maintains and extends class-based hierarchies.
Newman and Levine move from insightful genre analysis to a thorough exploration of shifting formal elements linked to technological advancement.  In “The Television Image and the Image of Television,” Newman and Levine trace changes in the television image as fundamental to legitimation discourse.  Aspect ratio and widescreen formats, for example, were enlisted in order to make movies look better on television, effectively allowing the television image to evolve for the primary purpose of showcasing another, more respected medium.  Furthermore, the move to high definition has largely emphasized the picture quality of sports, action movies, and similar masculine fare as a way for men to regain control of a medium historically tied to femininity.” –Brett Siegel

April CommQuote

Since April is Poetry Month a poem is in order, one from Andrei Codrescu called the new gazette. It’s from his collection, So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems, which I recommend picking up because Codrescu is not only a good poet, he’s one of the giants. When looking for a copy of the poem to post I stumbled upon this 2006 NPR radio interview with Robert Siegel (excerpted below the poem), Codrescu talking about this very piece.

the new gazette 
I want to be the publisher of a vicious illuminated newspaper.
All the viciousness in it will be gold-leafed, raised and colored-in
by art students with medieval bodies.
The bend of their heads and the angle of their breasts
will outlast sunset
to exchange body with Chartres.
My writers will hate everything
with passion, fervor and murderous disregard for their safety
which will take in writing the form of classical tragedy.
Sophocles will be movie reviewer, Richard Speck desk editor.
Euripides and Charles Manson will be in charge of the clergy.
The translators under penalty of death will have to be faithful.
In the office only foreign languages will be spoken.
Faithfulness and alienness will be the order of day and night
since they will succeed each other on the front page.
The paper will appear twice a day, four times a night.
The readers will be mean, nervous and ready to kill for the cause.
There will be plenty of causes, one for every hour, and in later
issues, one for every minute,
The causes will be biological and spiritual and they will incite
war for molecular differences.

Molecular terrorists in hiding will write letters to the editor.
Two persons, a man and a woman, called Tolerance and Intolerance,
will be in charge of love and lights.                 
–by Andrei Codrescu

From: Virtual Privacy: A Myth of the 21st Century,

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:In some ways, Commentator Andrei Codrescu is a member of the avant garde. Take a poem he wrote back in 1973, which looked ahead to the rise of blogs.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I wrote a poem called The New Gazette that said, among other things, I want to be the publisher of a vicious, illuminated newspaper. The paper will appear twice a day, four times a night. The readers will be mean, nervous and ready to kill for the cause. There will be plenty of causes, one for every hour and in later issues, one for every minute. The causes will be biological and spiritual, and they will incite war for molecular differences. Molecular terrorists in hiding will write letters to the editor. Two persons, a man and a woman called Tolerance and Intolerance, will be in charge of love and lights.

I’ve quoted at length from this youthful work not only because it proves that I’m a prophet, but also because I used to write pretty great poetry. Looking back on early work is not advisable though, just as it isn’t advisable to look back into the past when one was vital, strong, blustery and brilliant. Truly, youth is wasted on the young, but only if one looks back. The past is a mirror that shimmers and draws the soul in. More people die everyday from falling into the mirror of the past than fall from horses or get snuffed in car crashes.

Anyway, when I wrote that poem, I had no clue that in 2006 every person alive on earth would be able to broadcast their most intimate thoughts everyday into a new public nervous system that collects every human now. Back in 1973 I still suffered from the trauma of childhood under a totalitarian government who looked into every thought of its subjects and used that knowledge to terrify and belittle us. Surveillance was a bad thing. Privacy was sacred.

In 2006, we still hold privacy to be a right and we pay lip service to it. In reality, privacy means little in the age of personal computing. Anyone can find out in minutes all they need to know about you and everyone is ready to broadcast everything anyone might want to know. The desire to expose everything one feels or experiences and the need to translate all of it immediately into an urgent bulletin is an inexorable process, a progressive disease that leads to the foreshadowing of every difference. Every half-baked thought or passing incidence takes on a personality, a body for consumption.

Bloggers produce molecular bodies blown up like balloons with significance. This type of communication is not friendly to threat, a form of rape maybe. Of course, you don’t have to read anybody’s blog or submit to the increasingly epileptic flicker of television, but you are hooked. There’s no escaping it. If you were born before the time when communication was compulsory, you might be tempted to look to a more innocent past and then you’ll fall in it, blinded like a bird.

March CommQuote

Applause as big data in the ancient worldI had a feeling I’d find this month’s quote when I spied this Atlantic article title A Brief History of Applause, the ‘Big Data’ of the Ancient World by Megan Garber.  She writes: 

Applause, in the ancient world, was acclamation. But is was also communication. It was, in its way, power. It was a way for frail little humans to recreate, through hands made “thunderous,” the rumbles and smashed of nature. 


Applause, today, is much the same. In the studio, in the theater, in places where people become publics, we still smack our palms together to show our appreciation — to create, in cavernous spaces, connection. (“When we applaud a performer,” argues sociobiologist Desmond Morris, “we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance.”) We applaud dutifully. We applaud politely. We applaud, in the best of circumstances, enthusiastically. We applaud, in the worst, ironically.


We find ways, in short, to represent ourselves as crowds — through the very medium of our crowd-iness. 


But we’re reinventing applause, too, for a world where there are, technically, no hands. We clap for each others’ updates on Facebook. We share. We link. We retweet and reblog the good stuff to amplify the noise it makes. We friend and follow and plus-1 and plus-K and recommend and endorse and mention and (sometimes even, still) blogroll, understanding that bigger audiences — networked audiences — can be their own kind of thunderous reward. We find new ways to express our enthusiasms, to communicate our desires, to encode our emotions for transmission. Our methods are serendipitous and also driven, always, by the subtle dynamics of the crowd. We clap because we’re expected to. We clap because we’re compelled to. We clap because something is totally awesome. We clap because we’re generous and selfish and compliant and excitable and human.


This is the story of how people clapped when all they had, for the most part, was hands — of how we liked things before we Liked things. Applause, participatory and observational at the same time, was an early form of mass media, connecting people to each other and to their leaders, instantly and visually and, of course, audibly. It was public sentiment analysis, revealing the affinities and desires of networked people. It was the qualified self giving way to the quantified crowd. 


It was big data before data got big. –Megan Garber, The Atlantic, Technology, March 15, 2013

February CommQuote

Andrew Leonard of Salon.com muses on tweeting, the madness-of-crowds, and echo chambers  in a post-Oscar essay,  Titter’s Unstoppable Humor Police: We’re all Hate-Watchers Now.

“Salon alumnus Damien Cave, now a reporter based in Mexico for the New York Times, observed in a tweet that “every joke that’s not PC causes an uproar. Funny or not, the humor policing is pretty intense tonight.” My hackles rise whenever the words “political correctness” enter the discourse, because it usually happens in a context where legitimate complaints are being downplayed by whomever is getting critiqued for being racist or sexist or anti-Semitic or homophobic or whatever. But Cave is on to something. The humor police were intense on Twitter Sunday night. In fact, they’re intense every night.

There are no free passes on Twitter. Every stumble, every perceived outrage, every moment of weakness or arrogance gets instant crowd-mob treatment. There’s always been something exhilarating about this new medium for instant fact-checking and collective calling-to-account, but at the same time, there’s never been a better megaphone invented for broadcasting mass sanctimony. Lashing out is just so easy. The first tweet to crack the whip gets retweeted around the world before you can say the words ‘echo chamber.’

At times during Sunday night’s broadcast, I got the feeling that all over the world, people were sitting at the edge of their couches, smartphones in hand, just waiting for MacFarlane to feed their rage so they could tweet about it. And as the evening went on, that dynamic fed on and magnified itself. I’m not saying MacFarlane didn’t deserve it: quite the opposite, he did everything but get down on his knees and beg for it. But there was also a madness-of-crowds aspect to the whole experience that made me glad I wasn’t in a place where I could get physically trampled.”  –Andrew Leonard, Salon.com 25 Feb 2013

January CommQuote

This month’s quote comes from art critic Karen Rosenberg reviewing Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, a new show currently running at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Paik, from our current vantage point, looks like a master prognosticator. He coined the term “electronic superhighway.” He was one of the first artists — possibly the first, period — to use a portable video recorder. And he foresaw the expansion of television into a dizzying array of niche channels, even if he didn’t quite guess that it would spring out of the box and sever its ties to the cathode-ray tube.  His 1973 video “Global Groove” opens with the pronouncement, “This is a glimpse of the video landscape of tomorrow, when you will be able to switch to any TV station on the earth, and TV Guide will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book.”
                –Karen Rosenberg, New York Times, January 11, 2012
The show runs from December 13, 2012 through August 11, 2013 which should give you plenty of time to get it on your calendar. Too bad it’s not coinciding with the NCA Conference in November of 2013 though the Museum does have a permanent collection of his work, The Nam Paik Archive.

December CommQuote

Zadie Smith’s philosophical reflections in The New Yorker (December 17 issue) on her journey toward appreciating Joni Mitchell’s artistry by way of Tintern Abbey (now you have to read it)  has me thinking for our December quote I should showcase Ms. Mitchell’s most famous media lyric, You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio (it was a single if I’m not mistaken, and she doesn’t have many of those).  Although Smith’s essay, titled “Some Note on Attunement: A Voyage Around Joni Mitchell,” is more focused on the album Blue, this song comes from the excellent follow-up, For the Roses. The only reference to media on Blue that comes to mind is mention of television in the devastatingly dark portrait of Richard in The Last Time I Saw Richard (And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on/And all the house lights left up bright…). So I’ll go with this radio song which is a much happier celebration of love–and in this holiday season what’s not to broadcast about that?

You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio (Joni Mitchell)

If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you
Oh honey you turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
Broadcasting tower
Waving for you
And I’m sending you out
This signal here
I hope you can pick it up
Loud and clear
I know you don’t like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don’t like strong women
‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks
It’s been dirty for dirty
Down the line
But you know
I come when you whistle
When you’re loving and kind
But if you’ve got too many doubts
If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, ’cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head
And you wind up cracking
And the day goes dismal
From “Breakfast Barney”
To the sign-off prayer
What a sorry face you get to wear
I’m going to tell you again now
If you’re still listening there
If you’re driving into town
With a dark cloud above you
Dial in the number
Who’s bound to love you
If you’re lying on the beach
With the transistor going
Kick off the sand cause honey
The love’s still flowing
If your head says forget it
But your heart’s still smoking
Call me at the station
The lines are open
Remember, you can access The New Yorker from Penn Libraries e-resources.