Archive for December 2007

The OSBA is a Gold Mine of Bad Press

December 30, 2007

From an old story announcing the original passage of the antic-censorship law, this is amazingly stupid:

Opponents of the bill, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, said that students aren’t capable of responsibly editing a newspaper. They said even professional journalists are subject to the editorial control of publishers and owners.

It’s so stupid, in fact, that between this and the OSBA quotes in the DH’s story, I’m beginning to wonder if the press is intentionally making the OSBA look bad on this based on the OSBA’s position. (Well, not really – but the possibility did cross my mind.)

Also, I would think that a Publications Advisor is a good stand-in for a publisher. And in theory, owners do not have editorial control (and publishers are usually not involved in the day-to-day decisions regarding editorial content anyway). This quote suggests the OSBA somehow thinks otherwise.

Wow, the OSBA is shooting itself in the foot. “[S]tudents aren’t capable of responsibly editing a newspaper” is…. well, it’s so dumb as to be beyond words. Who does the OSBA think actually edits the HS newspapers around the state? Administrators? Specially trained hamsters? The Intarwebs?

Lord, the OSBA needs some better P.R.


DH: New State Law Protects High School Journalism Programs From Censorship

December 30, 2007

I’d heard this was coming down the pike, but I’d not paid close enough attention to get the details. From the story, it sounds like the new law is going in effect around the first of the year, with school boards changing their policies to match some time in the upcoming year. (On the other hand, the text of the law makes it sound like it went into effect at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year.)

I think this is a good development. I’ve never seen a conflict over censorship in a high school up close, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to think this is necessary.

As usual, there were some specifics from the article on which I wanted to comment.

OSBA spokeswoman Shannon Priem, whose organization opposed the bill, said the school board association likely will recommend districts put disclaimers on student-produced media.

The disclaimers will say to parents and others, “Don’t blame us for things you disagree with,” Priem said. “Realize we couldn’t do anything about it.”

This is stretching the truth – the law (go here for the text) is pretty clear that the usual rules apply: No inciting others to riot, no libelous statements, no violations of the law, etc. Within those constraints – which have been around for a long time – students are free to print what they want. Furthermore, “nothing” implies the only thing school administrations could have done would have been to censor the paper. Did Priem ever consider suggesting that administrators and school boards actually work with newspapers instead of defaulting to an “us vs. them” position? Apparently not.

Sadly, that is not the only gaffe from the OSBA:

OSBA objected to the bill in part because most school districts are involved in the production of student media, either by paying staff members’ salaries or funding the publications outright.

“The thing is, this is not a newspaper,” Priem said. “This is money that’s being funded by us, the taxpayer. … It’s a tax-supported program.”

This is interesting – one hopes it’s simply a poor choice of words on the part of Priem. Not a newspaper? Try telling that to the students who produce it. That line is certainly not going to endear her (or the OSBA) to students working in publications all over the state.

Furthermore, the implication here is that newspapers have to be funded with private money (like advertising, which many HS newspapers use to cover part of their expenses) to count, which makes no sense whatsoever. Good media theory says that the act of journalism is what makes one a journalist. By extension, I would think the same holds true of a newspaper: Does it fulfill the commonly understood functions of a newspaper? If yes, then it’s almost certainly a newspaper.

OSU’s Frank Ragulsky says something pretty smart:

Frank Ragulsky, director of student media at Oregon State University, said the law better defines the role schools ought to play.

“I think what it does is it places the educational part on the school, which is to inform students that they can’t be irresponsible,” he said.

“And I think it makes clear for administrators, principals, school districts and advisers the roles that they have in helping students learn their rights and responsibilities.”

Placing Ragulsky’s comment (a comment I am not touching with a ten foot pole given the Baro’s recent history of avoiding any and all responsibility for their actions) next to Priem’s further makes Priem look the fool – Ragulsky is pushing for schools to teach responsibility. How could Priem or the OSBA possibly oppose that, you ask?

My conclusion? Teaching students to be responsible means giving them the power to fuck up, sometimes in monumental ways. There’s no avoiding that – nor should there be. If the school administrations have any responsibility, it’s to ameliorate the damage that occurs when students do make mistakes, and to – as Ragulsky suggests – help students learn about rights and responsibilities.

Mistakes can be fantastic opportunities for learning. Why does the OSBA sound so nervous about this?

Note: The Student Press Law Center sounds like a great resource. Check it out.

Anne Bishop’s Pillars of the World Trilogy

December 30, 2007

I finished the trilogy – Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light and The House of Gaian – earlier tonight, and I loved it.

I’m not going to try and write a review, as it’s become painfully obvious I have no idea how, but there are a few things I wanted to say.

1. The trilogy, somehow, reminded me of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series (of which I read the the first eight or nine books). I’m not sure why.

2. The series was somehow simultaneously really compelling and totally boring – I felt like I knew what the end would be fairly early on, and I turned out to be right.

3. Anne Bishop’s writing in the trilogy was very smooth. Probably the reason for the first part of #2.

4. It’s feminist in a way that I didn’t see as militant or overly ideological. This amused me and made me happy.

Uuuhh…. that’s it, I think.

Anyone out there ever read these? Leave a comment or drop me a line…

Summary: Hering Still Unable to Tell the Truth

December 30, 2007

Two recent editorials in the DH remind me that Hering is still struggling with honesty.

Hering on the EPA/California dustup:

Then last Wednesday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency denied the California waiver request, provoking cries of outrage from California officials and others including Oregon Governor Kulongoski.

But the EPA made the right decision. Automobiles are an international business, and the United States is better off with a uniform national standard on how car engines have to be built. It’s the federal government that should be in charge of setting standards that apply equally in all the states.

He sure does love him some law and order – especially when he can hide behind that as justification to ignore the needs of the environment. This doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Or, as commenter Publicus put it: “Isn’t it curious how conservatives are all for states’ rights until a state does something they don’t like?”

Hering advocates for the “Fair Tax” – a 23% national sales tax:

Such a proposal exists. It’s called the Fair Tax, fittingly enough. It boils down to a national sales tax collected at the point of final sale. Instead of exemptions for basics, it includes a plan to send every American a check once a year to compensate for taxing those items.

Beyond that, we all would pay at the same rate whenever we bought anything. The backers say a rate of 23 percent of sales would equal what the government gets from the income and payroll tax.

The Fair Tax proposal has been destroyed so many times I’m not going to bother (but see here for one example). It’s snake oil: It sounds good at first glance (or so I am told – I thought it was poppycock from day one) but is incredibly regressive and would almost certainly cause immense economic misery. Is it any wonder that Hering and a bunch of rich white guys advocate for it?

Grover Norquist advocates for the Fair Tax. That should tell you all you need to know. He was, for the record, the guy who said he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Note: I am aware that I probably give Hering a (very small) boost in web traffic since I tend to link to his editorials often. This does not bother me.

Still Amazed at How the Awesomeness of Apophenia; Or, the "Get Into College or Die" Crowd Strikes Again

December 30, 2007

This was great.

Specifically, this passage:

What Pew’s data shows is that online participation correlates with offline participation. They are not able to show causality (and they do not try to claim that they can), but such a correlation still contradicts the ever-present myth that online activities cause a decline in offline activities. Of course, don’t misread this correlation in the opposite direction either. In other words, you cannot say that if you get a group of teens involved online, they will also get involved offline. Meshing these findings with my own qualitative observations, I have a sneaking suspicion that what Pew’s data is pointing to is that the hyper-motivated and/or overly scheduled teens from middle/upper class communities are extremely engaged offline and use online technologies to socialize with their friends in the interstitial times and that this cohort’s content creation is primarily to support friendships rather than create for creation sake. This also makes sense because teens who have more free time tend to have less restrictions and tend to prefer offline encounters with friends to online ones. [emphasis added]

The Dumbing Down of Music [the downside of MP3s]

December 30, 2007

Seen at both BoingBoing and Slashdot (but really a Rolling Stone article), I have to offer a qualified disagreement with Cory Doctorow on this one.

Rolling Stone:

Just as cds supplanted vinyl and cassettes, MP3 and other digital-music formats are quickly replacing CDs as the most popular way to listen to music. That means more conven- ience but worse sound. To create an MP3, a computer samples the music on a CD and compresses it into a smaller file by excluding the musical information that the human ear is less likely to notice. Much of the information left out is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat. Cavallo says that MP3s don’t reproduce reverb well, and the lack of high-end detail makes them sound brittle. Without enough low end, he says, “you don’t get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord.”

But not all digital-music files are created equal. Levitin says that most people find MP3s ripped at a rate above 224 kbps virtually indistinguishable from CDs. (iTunes sells music as either 128 or 256 kbps AAC files — AAC is slightly superior to MP3 at an equivalent bit rate. Amazon sells MP3s at 256 kbps.) Still, “it’s like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there’s a 10-megapixel image of it,” he says. “I always want to listen to music the way the artists wanted me to hear it. I wouldn’t look at a Kandinsky painting with sunglasses on.”

Producers also now alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound. “You have to be aware of how people will hear music, and pretty much everyone is listening to MP3,” says producer Butch Vig, a member of Garbage and the producer of Nirvana’s Never- mind. “Some of the effects get lost. So you sometimes have to over-exaggerate things.” Other producers believe that intensely compressed CDs make for better MP3s, since the loudness of the music will compensate for the flatness of the digital format.

Doctorow’s comment on the shift:

“Designing for that, as opposed to lamenting it — is a damned good and realistic thing to do.”

In a sense, he’s right, of course; people should design for the technology that’s available, and the sooner the better.

On the other hand, I think the shift is indeed for the worse – and when digital music technology allows for a more complex and greater range of sound, are we going to engineer audio for that?

I hope so, but I am skeptical. And in any case, the shift to dynamic range compression, wherein everything becomes loud, is not a good one. I hope that goes away too.

In the meantime, can someone please send me a record player and a few thousand albums on vinyl so I can do some research on this very pressing topic?

The Bush Administration’s Top Ten Dumbest Legal Arguments of the Year

December 30, 2007

From Slate…. how in the world did we let this happen?

My favorite:

8. The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch.

We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney’s office was a “contributing” factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.

Go read the rest. Then call me and we’ll drink until the pain goes away.