September 30, 2008

The Progression of Cover Music

by Sarah Filley

Without collaboration, the musical world would be only half of what it is now. For every artist, there is an accomplice; every genre, a network of support; and every creative triumph, a coalition of colleagues in the background. It is, arguably, impossible to create good art without the influence of another source, no matter how minor or subconscious it may be. Thus, the question arises: where do you draw the line between synergy and a blatant rip off?

Through the 1950s and early 1960s, young, white Pat Boone hit the charts with 38 Top Forty singles. Most of these were covers lifted predominantly from African American artists such as Little Richard. Cover music originated on a rocky foundation, shamelessly taking the music of black artists and putting a white face on it to make it acceptable. It wasn’t until African American artists, such as Ray Charles, covered the music of white artists and topped the charts, that cover music relinquished its blatantly racist overtones.

If one looks at cover music today it can show how the work of some of the most esteemed and respected artists is passed along and used to further musical innovation. Artists, such as John Mayer, have recreated famous tracks, like Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin'" or Ray Charles' "I Don’t Need No Doctor" (first covered by Humble Pie) and made them new. Nirvana shone a new light on David Bowie’s song "Man Who Sold the World" and Jimi Hendrix took Bob Dylan’s "All Along the Watchtower" to the Top Forty charts. David Bowie and Iggy Pop both succeeded in making "China Girl" a hit. Joni Mitchell’s heartfelt protest ballad "Big Yellow Taxi" also found success and air time when recorded by the Counting Crows. Guns N' Roses peaked when they re-recorded Dylan’s "Knocking on Heaven’s Door." Dylan, himself, one of the most frequently covered artists, along with Hendrix, has reworked countless Woody Guthrie tunes, as well as, some of the songs that made Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash famous.

Cover music can also, however, undermine the creativity of the original artist. For example, who remembers that Janis Joplin’s "Piece of my Heart" was originally recorded by Erma Franklin? In the case of Roy Orbison’s "Pretty Woman," many people identify only with Van Halen’s recording. UB40 took Neil Diamond’s "Red Red Wine" and made it truly their own. The song "Hallelujah" has been covered so many times; I challenge you to find someone who knows the original artist.

When artists take music that isn’t theirs and improve it to the point where listeners don’t even realize it is a cover, we see the artistic license at work. Arguably, there is always the potential that cover music will damage a musical career or mentally defeat an artist. But the fact is without it, the music we love would not be the same. The results of musical collaboration are portals for the emergence of the tracks we consider to be genius. However, covering another artist’s songs should always be done out of respect, not for selfish purposes.

(The photo of Bob Dylan performing at the 1963 March on Washington is from the U.S. Information Agency and is in the public domain. To see a video of Humble Pie performing their cover of "I Don't Need No Doctor" from a concert in 1971, please check below.)

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September 27, 2008

ESPN a.k.a East Coast Sports Programming Network

by Abdullah Faisal

"East Coast bias means every Red Sox-Yankees showdown, even a meaningless series in the middle of May, is treated like the entire season rides on who wins the series."
- David Schoenfield, ESPN Page 2 Writer

ESPN or "Entertainment and Sports Programming Network" claims to be the worldwide leader in sports coverage. This claim is somewhat accurate, considering ESPN has channels in Asia, Latin America and Africa, along with its main channel broadcasting from Bristol, Connecticut. However, as a former resident of the West Coast, I have a bone to pick with the "Entertainment and Sports Programming Network" or shall I say the "East Coast Sports Programming Network."After watching ESPN's programming for the past seven years on the West Coast, I have come to the conclusion that ESPN has an East Coast bias.

ESPN's East Coast bias is even more transparent than FOX News' claim to be "fair and balanced." Although, ESPN does not claim to be fair and balanced, they haven given themselves the title of worldwide leader in sports. With that title comes some responsibility. A responsibility to cover world sports not just what happens on the East Coast, more specifically, East of the Hudson River.

My issue with ESPN started with the 2002 Major League Baseball (MLB) World Series. The coverage of the World Series was average at best, perhaps because both of the teams in the World Series were from the West Coast. You would assume that the top sports story of the night would be the World Series, but the Red Sox and the Yankees were still covered extensively. This annoyed me because the ESPN should cover events according to their importance.

The 2002 MLB World Series coverage was not the only thing that annoyed me about ESPN. SportsCenter's unequal coverage of specific sporting events (SportsCenter is ESPN's nightly sports highlights show) upset me as well. On September 13th 2008, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants pitched a shutout in San Diego and won 7-0. For those unfamiliar with Tim Lincecum, he is a 24-year-old phenomenon who is major candidate for the National League's best pitcher award, the Cy Young. I saw the score on Yahoo! Sports and waited for SportsCenter to show the highlights. I waited exactly 54 minutes for Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt to show the highlights from the San Francisco Giants game. Sure enough ESPN showed a whopping thirty second clip showing Lincecum dominate hitter after hitter. Then, they briefly commented on his Cy Young candidacy and concluded the show.

Throughout the show, there was no shortage of New York Mets coverage or Boston Red Sox coverage. Now, to be fair, these two teams are in line to make the playoffs in October, but I think fifteen minutes of coverage is far too much for just two teams in a league of thirty teams. This incident and many others have added me to the ranks of people who believe ESPN has an East Coast bias.

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September 25, 2008

Genetic Testing + Media = The Commodification of Beauty?

by Chef LC

Choices, choices, and more choices. Our society prides itself on having vast varieties for its consumers. We have the ability to choose what newspaper we read, what television channels we watch, and what political parties we support. We have a multitude of electronics to choose from in which, most of the time, we can pick out the color. From the intricate to simple things in life, we almost always have an option. And as new technologies arise, the choices expand to unprecedented heights. With Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) testing, doctors are beginning to talk about parents’ future capabilities of possibly choosing traits for their unborn child. But where do we draw the line with our array of selections? As our options begin to impinge on ethical values, what comes next? And are the media partly to blame for desiring to change the appearance of a human being?

Now, PGD testing is used to diagnose abnormal chromosomal disorders before the implantation of an embryo. But doctors believe that, with more research and testing, in a few years one may be able to control every feature of their unborn child by manipulating natural genetic traits. Parents will be able to choose traits like hair color, eye color, and height.

The Abraham Center of Life in San Antonio is an embryo bank which allows parents to choose the physical traits and even the personality of the donors. Parents who are unable to naturally have children believe the bank is a "dream come true." The center is unique in that it is a one-stop shopping trip; they offer fertilized eggs which worries some bioethicists. According to a report from ABC News, they let their clients "choose the education, race, appearance, and other genetic traits of individual sperm and egg donors. So far all the embryos made by the company are white, from young, healthy, college-educated donors."

PGD testing is rather expensive, thus mostly wealthy families would be receiving the procedures, in the beginning. With a wealthy class full of disease- free and ideally "beautiful" people, great prejudice may occur.

Changing the genetics of an unborn child may cause great problems in the psyche and behaviors of children. We would ultimately have a society full of more paranoid and self-conscious people. Even more so than we have now, due to the media's portrayal of unblemished people.

Not only would we be rather confused about our true identity, but our society would also lose its individuality. The media tell us what to think is attractive. Because the media are so ingrained in our culture, ultimately people would begin to look alike. For example, if today parents were to chose their children's characteristics most boys would probably be tall and athletic where as the girls would most likely have blonde hair and blue eyes. Some may think this would be an ideal situation; always looking at visually appealing traits. But who really wants a bunch of mini- Paris Hiltons or Brad Pitts running around? No matter how attractive you believe these two are, undoubtedly if everyone looked like them they would lose their appeal. It's the unique characteristics of each individual that makes human beings truly beautiful, not shallow media mocking appearances that many would strive to have.

The media constantly force certain types of body images into the minds of their audience. Women are supposed to be slender with curves in the “right places." Men should be tall, muscular, and handsome. With these images constantly shoved into our faces, a phony sense of perfect arises in our mentality. Many do not realize the great lengths make-up artists and computers go through to get the flawless looking product that we see. Several health-related issues come to the surface as people get overly caught up in trying to be flawless; anorexia and bulimia being two major issues. With PGD testing, our society may be more encased with false senses of beauty. Parents may become so preoccupied with having the perfect child that they will be utterly disappointed if, perhaps, something goes wrong. They may not be able to handle the idea of an ugly baby. This mentality is scary and may percolate if PGD testing is used to modify genetic traits.

Although PGD testing is useful in preventing abnormal genetic disorders there needs to be a line drawn between where it is helpful and hurtful. Using the procedures to change the natural traits and appearance of a person is wrong. People are not commodities and therefore should not be treated like products. Individuality should be treasured by every society.

(Graphic by sweets74 via Photobucket.)

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September 24, 2008

The Iraq War: Where Did the Media Go?

by Anthony Bouselli

The United States has been at war in Iraq for the last five years, but you wouldn't be able to tell by the media coverage of the war today. All coverage of the war has seemed to stop after the surge, ignoring the stabilization of Iraq.

Starting with the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, the media provided nonstop coverage of the war. The "Shock and Awe" campaign provided dramatic, action movie type spectacles of the American military fighting the weak Iraqi forces. American casualties had been extremely light and on May 1, 2003 President George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" aboard the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein had fallen and the coalition forces were in control of Iraq. It was time to rebuild the country into a democracy. America was headed in a good direction and media coverage was consistent and positive.

Shortly after Saddam's military was defeated, Iraq erupted into civil war. The country was torn apart by sectarian violence and America was caught in the middle of a war it wasn't prepared to fight. As debts and casualties began building, the war quickly became partisan and the media coverage transformed into skepticism and criticism of the Bush administration and the war.

As war politics polarized, the media coverage became more and more cynical. No longer was the mainstream media reporting the good things happening in Iraq. Instead, on the evening news one could only find reports on suicide bombers destroying checkpoints, the casualty count, and how funds were being misused.

In 2007, the Bush administration appointed General David Petraeus as the commanding general of the forces in Iraq. In lieu of this promotion came the troop surge: a deployment of 20,000 more American troops to Iraq. The media and general public fueled an outcry against the Bush administration's decision to send more of "our boys" off to war. The surge sparked an enormous political debate and greatly divided the country from Congress to the classroom.

The surge worked. Period. Violence in Iraq has plummeted and major tribal leaders have agreed to support American efforts. Iraq has come around, but where is the media coverage? Do the media not feel the need to report upon the tremendous progress made there over the last months? The media rightly reported the American casualties, suicide bombings, and chaos; but the media also have a duty to report the good things happening in Iraq. Schools have opened, which girls are now allowed to attend. Women walk the streets without veils. Markets and stores are doing business. There are free elections with massive voter turnout. Iraq has a functioning and democratic government.

The four main media networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, have far fewer reporters in Iraq today than they did as little as one year ago. As of July 2008, there were only 59 reporters imbedded with the troops in Iraq as compared to the 193 reporters there prior to the surge at the peak of the violence (Those figures are from Kevin Mooney of the right-wing blog CNSNews). I suppose there is more profit in smearing a war than reporting its progress.

I talk as an average American, a casual observer of the media. I try to stay well informed by watching the news and listening to the radio. The majority of what I've been fed these past years has been negative coverage of the war. The four main media networks are guilty of having biases. ABC, CBS, and NBC are left leaning and overly critical of the Bush administration. FOX, on the other hand, is right leaning and tries to overcompensate for its three competitors. Media must be fair and impartial. No media network should ever adopt a political agenda. The job of the media is to report facts — all the facts, not just the politically convenient ones. Opinions are to be left to the consumer. Throughout this war the media have been feeding the American public their opinions — that is wrong.

Mistakes were made in the lead up to and throughout the Iraq War. But that does not justify the actions of the media. Today, the war is well on its way to being over. Because of the surge, Iraq is free and ever growing in security. Iraq is better off today than it was six years ago. The American media should be ashamed of their biased coverage of the war. Americans are intelligent and should be left to make their own opinions formed on clear, consistent facts.

(The photo shows U.S. troops deployed in Sadr City. Department of Defense photo by Cpl. John Wright, U.S. Army; the photo is in the public domain.)

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September 19, 2008

Watchmen: The Darkest Night

by Jordan Coughenour

"You stop believing heroes, and the hero inside you dies."

— Nemesis in "Wonder Woman: Love and Murder"

Within The Dark Knight, Batman took down The Joker and Two Face. In March of 2009, the Watchmen will arrive in theatres and tackle the Soviet Union and Vietnam, but in the course of these battles, will they additionally destroy the superhero movie?

Recovering in the past decade, after the fatal deathblow delivered by Batman Forever, superhero movies have ascended to become one of the most powerful and monetarily successful of contemporary film's subgenres. Summer has become synonymous with capes and high tech gadgetry as in 2008, movies such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Hancock raked in the profits for studios. The debate continues as to whether director Christopher Nolan's masterpiece, The Dark Knight should be classified in the realms of the superhero flick, as many have noted that it bears more similarity to crime dramas and city-centric pieces than its comic book based predecessors. For the sake of the rest of the heroes in the universe, it seems best moved into the sect of detective thrillers and away from the soundly quashed competition. Between The Dark Knight's anticipated Oscar season buzz, allowed by its mature themes and progressive statements, and the anticipated March release of graphic novelist Alan Moore's (V for Vendetta) Watchmen, a film already being declared the "Citizen Kane of Superhero Movies," an allegation spurred by its medium-defining source material, fans are worrying that caped crusaders could meet their demise for a second time in Hollywood's cycle, as bubblegum heroes such as Superman and the recently deceased Captain America are exiled in favor of more malevolent and troubled protagonists.

Watchmen, though advertising the exterior shell of a typical superhero movie, is more of a comment on the political and social ambiguity of America in the midst of the Cold War. Did I mention that of the six leading crusaders only one has actual powers? With the exception of walking nuclear bomb, Dr. Manhattan, the rest of Watchmen's players are merely masked vigilantes, patrolling the streets out of a warped sense of personal entitlement. It bears wondering whether audience members may emerge from Watchmen altogether turned off by the newly egotistical institution of superheroes. If fighting crime for self-gain isn't enough to accomplish this, the most intriguing characters in the movie, Rorschach and The Comedian are subsequently a Nazi-sympathizer and a rapist; using patriotism as a guise for their superhero duties. While the graphic novel, now one of the most praised pieces of contemporary American fiction managed to portray these traits in an artistic and masterful way, on the big screen, explanations are always abbreviated.

With The Dark Knight's pessimistic views of self-sacrifice, and Watchmen's upcoming cynicism and egotistical heroes, by next summer, it may be almost impossible to any longer accept that any man or woman would take up the mantle of a superhero without some underlying grievances. This poisoning of sorts is disturbing in that through our cinema, it is becoming more and more apparent that we as a society can no longer accept our heroes in a time where we seem to need them more than ever.

(The promotional graphic for Watchmen is from Warner Brothers Studios. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

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September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin, the Interview & the Controversy

by Chelsea Ritchie

The interview between the infamous anchorman Charlie Gibson of ABC News and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sparked loads of controversy. The interview aired September 11 from Palin’s living room in her town of Wasilla, Alaska. Humble, looking terrific and perky, Palin answered the questions of Gibson with poise and assertiveness. At least, she tried.

The three main points that created the controversy were over her answers on the Russian invasion of Georgia, the Bush Doctrine and her viewpoint on who is involved in the Georgian conflict.

Her answers on the Russian-Georgian conflict seemed indirect at the least. And then she gave conflicting signals about Russia.

PALIN: “And, Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next-door neighbors. We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next-door neighbor.”

Many wondered what Palin meant with her comments concerning relations with Russia. She was condemning the actions of Russia but also trying to maintain good relations with them. However, the real controversy was over whether Palin, the governor of Alaska, plans to help the Georgians whilst maintaining good relations with our neighbor (Russia) for fear of starting another Cold War.

The other big topic was over the Bush Doctrine. Gibson asked, “Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?”

Palin's response: "In what respect, Charlie?"

Palin said several times that she agrees with how the president does his job and that they (Palin and Republican presidential candidate John McCain) have the job to defend the American people. When asked again by Gibson if she supports the right of nations to use anticipatory self-defense Palin merely responded, “the president has the obligation, the duty to defend.”

Does Palin actually understand the Bush Doctrine because she never fully answered the question? Later, TV commentators said that there are probably very few voters (some mentioned “hockey moms”) who could explain the Bush Doctrine. The fact is that the American people know what the duty of the president is, and I believe that is why we have these debates or interviews, because it is essential to giving the country a fuller picture of those we choose for a higher job. “In what respect, Charlie?” does not cut it.

Palin was criticized severely for her indirect answers. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said, “For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on American Idol.”

The Washington Post said: “Ms. Palin's responses were disappointingly shallow.”

Saturday Night Live aired a skit depicting Palin and Democratic Senator Hilary Clinton this past weekend. Former SNL cast member Tina Fey came back for the skit that made a comical mockery of Palin as a shallow, beautiful pageant-sashed MILF, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, and the idea that anyone could become president. The comical aspect came into play when Palin's political opposite Hilary Clinton (played by Amy Poehler) standing next to Palin (as played by Fey), appeared so close to the candidacy, and was mocked as ugly and smart.

Anchorman Gibson also got several responses about his interview. He was seen as aggressive towards the politician. He was criticized by Washington Post columnist Tom Shales as "shoddy," "despicable," and "prosecutorial" in the Democratic debates between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and his interview with Palin got the same feedback. United Press International said Gibson “was out for blood” and “was out to embarrass Palin and expose her presumed ignorance from the word go.” Palin seemed surprised at Gibson’s aggression and despite her efforts to be assertive in her answers, fell short on camera.

What I took away from this interview is that clearly Palin is not ready for any vice presidential role anytime soon. I agree with Bob Herbert of The New York Times. He said that Palin’s major problem “is not about agreeing or disagreeing. She doesn’t appear to understand some of the most important issues.” She dodged most of the questions and as most politicians do, brought the focus back to her history in politics, her earmarking requests, or to her hockey mom image. Gibson may have been criticized for being too aggressive, but I believe someone needed to ask those critical questions. After watching her speech at the Republican National Convention, I left feeling “great speaker, but what is she going to do on the economy and national security?” I certainly agree that Palin was capable of being a mayor to a small town, yet having that small government out for the interest of the American family is much more difficult considering the issues of the 301,139,947 Americans in the United States.

(The photo of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is from 2007 and is by Tricia Ward; it is used through a GNU Free Documentation License. To see the Saturday Night Live skit satirizing Palin and Sen. Hillary Clinton, please check below.)

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September 17, 2008

Low Culture is the New High

by Irena Schneider

"Roll Over Beethoven", sang Chuck Berry in 1956, heralding the era of rock, punk, psychedelic epiphanies, jolting closeness, and the unfettered emotional journeys of tragedy and self-discovery. Come mid-20th century, no longer did society confine itself in the prim and proper decency of the past, so long coated in the polish of culture, propriety, and all such delicately acquired tastes as Verdi's seasons or Degas' ballerinas.

Retrospectively, our high school years of history class have left images in our minds of people's revolutions against privileged upper classes, and we recall the rather demeaning self-importance of the world's monarchs and imperialists living in fleeting empires of gold and soft French-spoken indolence. Yet what was one culture's privilege was another's resentment, and the global demand for freedom, resonating from the voices of workers, serfs, peasants, and farmers was too loud not to be heard, uplifted, strung into the mainstream voice and perhaps, eventually, considered the superior of the voices in society.

Indeed, democracy has proven to be a highlight of human history. Culturally, however, when regarding old wisdom from the height of the 21st century, classical music, dances, literature, and art are becoming relics of history's unwelcome elite. From Victorian etiquette-styled waltzes and balls to the tango from the streets of Buenos Aires, the flappers of the twenties, the jitterbug, Armstrong's "cheek to cheek", to today's hip-hop, locking, grinding and spooning, social culture has extended away from black-tie elegance to the cries of the oppressed and restless in urban back-alleys and the angst-ridden minds of rebellious teens. They all want freedom; they want a cry of their injured sentiments to flare in the mainstream. All the while, each succeeding generation seeks more intimate physical, sexual, and emotional closeness, perhaps as a means of better understanding the human condition. Not surprisingly, it is the urgency for self-expression in the democratic world that catapults one generation's resentment towards another. Cultural rebellion, just like its political counterpart, is considered "cool." It is legitimized and paraded in disenchanted post-World War One literature, in the media-hyped '60s hippie revolution, in the cries of the civil rights movement, in James Joyce's Ulysses, and in many other similar movements.

The condemnation of racism, sexism, discrimination and the civilizing impulse to include all cultures and embrace all life-styles have been ever-present messages to a society that is steadily growing more self-conscious and inter-connected. The message infiltrates all our senses. At one moment, Dove's campaign for beauty is tearing down the long-held conceptions of established modeling; the next moment Katy Pary's "I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It" is stirring controversy about its appropriateness in the homosexual community, and the next moment the popular reality show So You Think You Can Dance crowns an untrained street performer as America's favorite dancer. The lights and flashes of open coexistence and the acceptance of movements long held underground seep through every media venue — TV, movies, radio, albums, blogs, personal videos, and even bumper stickers.

Ultimately, however, today's culture is only outwardly "open." Hip-hop, for instance, has followed the revolutionary path, moving from the street to the mainstream, and even to the pedestal of superior cultural music and dance. The past, meanwhile, is left in the dust. A teen in today's world interested in Mozart, Frank Sinatra, or impressionism (all formerly held in an elite cultural circle) is stereotypically deemed to be pretentious, a teacher's pet, someone who thinks he or she is just too smart for everyone else. The suggestion that a high school should host a '50s dance in today's world won't easily go down with the student government, which is merely being practical in suggesting that students would much rather be preoccupied with Soulja Boy.

We've come to view the past with the subtle resentment of our rebellious generation, which has, since its conception, fed from this sensory-loaded time — the ads, the TV programs, the music. All such media have shaped our liberal world view in the most democratic sense. Yet, for a second, we may look to the seemingly ancient conceptions of beauty and morality, and the elite culture of the past, like an old authority figure, spins on the back-burner, the "uncool" stigma yet attached.

"Roll over Beethoven," Mr. Berry demands. The question remains, though: What did Beethoven do to deserve such treatment?

(Graphic by TaranRampersad via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. To see Chuck Berry perform "Roll Over Beethoven," please check below.)

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September 16, 2008

Anatomy of a Political Dissident

by Melissa the Marinade Maker

Through the mere click of a button, ___ could face a 10-year imprisonment, jeopardize his entire family, or be sentenced to a tortuous death. Yet, ___ does it nonetheless. It’s posted, accessible to millions, and now ___ is susceptible to whatever may lie ahead. This is the anatomy of a political dissident blogger; one willing to sacrifice both life and limb so that a few hundred words may be enshrined on the world wide web — sometimes only until the government intercepts the highly critical, even incendiary post. Why would any human being be willing to make such a sacrifice for a few paragraphs? Clearly anonymous postings inhibit both fame and fortune. The lure must come from the ability to connect with the new community of global citizens, disseminate ideologies and concerns that otherwise would go neglected and provide an insider’s perspective untarnished from profit incentive and mainstream media influence. Through a Western lens, the significance of this blogging phenomena may seem trivial, yet for a populace riddled with warfare, political instability, and government corruption, these blogs may serve as the only means of public outcry. This is the human voice in its rawest form.

Political dissent has evolved to incorporate the revolutionary phenomenon of blogging. Thousands of political dissidents take to the streets, not through mass protests and violent demonstrations, but through daily, weekly or even monthly blog posts. While globalized mass communication allows such blogs to be accessible to virtually all of mankind, authoritative governments are catching on to the new trend. Countries such as (surprise, surprise) China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Egypt are intercepting the blogs and often arresting and/or torturing dissident bloggers for months, even years. Through the use of filtering, forum censorship, cyber-policing and government agencies, bloggers are being apprehended. For the past five years, roughly 65 bloggers have been arrested for reasons spanning from posting satirical comments about political figures to revealing how Iran's president is guarded by some high-priced and high-pedigree dogs.

Although mainstream media continue to be primary sources of credible news, due to their longevity in existence and wide range audience (among other factors,) grassroots journalism of which blogging is a part has revolutionized mass communication. The Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents, published by Reports Without Borders in September 2005, points out that with the lack of profit motive in political dissident bloggers allows for an unmediated first-hand perspective which the outside world can contemplate and become engaged. Issues which governments work diligently to conceal ought to become transparent and bloggers have the capability and the resource for bringing the limelight to the incessant struggles of the world’s people. Alas, this is where the new global community of conscientious citizens must step in. I am not advocating that citizens take to their pitchforks and demand government reform; rather I advocate reading blogs and expressing support for the justifiable concerns of political dissident bloggers. Find a blog that captivates you, and read it. Research for yourself and find the truth behind the words; some blogs may exaggerate, others may be less concerned with political outcry. Regardless, get out of your comfort zone and read. What do YOU have to lose?

(The graphic collage shows material from dissident Egyptian bloggers and is from the blog Global Voices.)

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September 15, 2008

The Kitchen Table

by Rick Rockwell

This author has sworn not to reveal the nature of this blog’s name. No matter what you might think, this post is not about that subject.

This post is about “the kitchen table.” Not “the kitchen sink” (which has also shown up a time or two in political discourse this year). Not “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,” a saying that at least dates to the Truman era, if not beyond. No. This is strictly about the phrase “the kitchen table,” which these days seems to be a favorite of speech makers.

The phrase showed up prominently in the convention speech of Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) as he accepted his party’s nod to serve as Barack Obama’s running mate. Biden used the line to set up a zinger about how does Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decide to have a conversation of importance around the kitchen table, if he has to choose from all those tables in all those houses he owns.

Immediately, the phrase is meant to evoke the middle class heartland, a place of home and hearth. Literally, the phrase is a political and cultural tableau. Families gather around this piece of furniture to dine, to pray, to toast, and to discuss the hard times we see confronting the nation. It’s a nice piece of speech-making because it is evocative. But will it soon become the political cliché of this very political year?

Biden, someone who’s not above lifting a clever line, is not the first to use the term in political parlance this year. This month, Ted Anthony of the Associated Press noted “the kitchen table” seemed to be the one image in almost every speech supporting Sen. Obama (D-IL) and his presidential campaign. Perhaps marketers for the Obama campaign gathered voters for a focus group and that seemed to be the phrase that touched those voters best. Perhaps they were at a kitchen table during the focus group. Using the kitchen table as the centerpiece of a campaign is also a not so subtle way, apparently, to approach disaffected female voters. Although it is certainly open to question if doing so is also unintentionally sexist. (No, this is not an invitation to re-open the tempest in a teapot over Obama’s “lipstick on a pig” remark.)

Perhaps playing off the power of the phrase, two professors at Princeton maintain a blog called The Kitchen Table as a place to discuss politics. Certainly, many American families do that. Growing up, that's what this author remembers: the kitchen table was where all the great family debates happened.

Actually, Biden is not the first one to inject the phrase into the campaign. The roots of the phrase can be traced all the way back to the 2004 debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and the now disgraced John Edwards. Edwards had used it as a way to say the Democrats believed in middle class family values. In this election cycle, Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia (a Republican, and someone few remember was in the race) was the first to use the kitchen table line at a candidates’ forum in the summer of 2007. Two months later at a forum for Democratic candidates, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) responded to a question that used the phrase and he talked about the kitchen as a place where families hash out problems like health care costs. Obama finally used the phrase during a debate in April of this year.

Gov. Janet Napolitano (the Democrat who runs McCain’s state of Arizona) notes there’s another reason for the kitchen table imagery: "In my kitchen, that's where I pay my bills." She notes that the Democrats feel the image resonates as a reminder of a poor economy. Of course, the further subtlety here is that the image will also make voters blame McCain for that economy.

Sadly, these days, in this author’s house, no one debates, pays bills or even eats at the kitchen table. That piece of furniture has long ago been covered by mail (mostly bills); old copies of The Washington Post waiting to be recycled; and an assortment of toys and children's drawings. All those important discussions about the economy, the war, the environment, politics and the sad state of affairs still happen. But they’ve moved to the dining room table. Does that make us elitists, or just messy?

(Photo jreichert37 via Photobucket.)

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September 14, 2008


Welcome to Ward’s Kitchen where the Global Media/Global Politics Learning Community of American University will begin the process of becoming active consumers of media! We will have at least two substantive blog entries a week and every student will cook up a post twice during the semester. The subjects of the posts will vary, of course, but will mainly deal with the media and their relation to culture, society and politics.

Students, get ready to challenge yourselves and others on the topics that arise! There will be a diversity of views and opinions you are bound to learn from. Visitors, stop by often to see what is cooking in Ward’s Kitchen!

To the right, you will find links to other blogs addressing political, cultural and media topics. You will also find links to the top news stories of the day! If there are cool blogs you would like me to add for others to have essay access to let me know!

(Photo by ericericnshee1987 via Photobucket.)

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