Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hey all, I've moved over to Twitter, so if you want my musings on life, death, and art, click on the link to the right for my Twitter. Or just click here and start Following me! Thanks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are Newspaper Blogs the Future of Intelligent Discussion?

The New York Times's wonderful blog The Lede was created to track news stories as they unfold in real time. It has recently shown itself to be extremely apt, however, at gathering public opinion toward newsworthy events and the Times's own coverage of those events. For example, The Lede has published great long-running series about Russia (including a dialogue with Russian-language readers) and about youth throughout the Arab world.

Today, The Lede posted a story about a new play by Caryl Churchill that was inspired by the events in Gaza. "Seven Jewish Children" is currently running in London and might be produced in New York City. There is controversy in London over whether the play (a 10-minute collection of rhetorical questions aimed at Israeli youth) espouses anti-Semitic themes. The brilliance of the post is that it not only includes links to reviews of the play by other esteemed news sources (The Guardian, The Times, etc.) but that the blog includes a link to the full text of Churchill's play (link to PDF).

With all that has been said over the past few years concerning the interactivity of the Internet, the democratization of information, and the opportunity for every single person to voice his or her opinion, the universe of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and comment-enabled newspaper websites is really just a clutter of millions of opinions on millions of separate trajectories throughout cyberspace that almost never cross paths. In other words, everyone is talking but no one is speaking.

I believe that a blog post like today's The Lede post about Churchill's play represents the best of these newer Internet tools. A respected news source (the NYT) reports a story and various opinions from other news sources. Then, it gives readers the chance to read the original source material to form their own opinions about the story, and to comment on the story. This could eventually be interactivity at its best.

I say "could" because one quick glance at the comments section below the original post reveals the dark side of such interactivity. What could have been an intelligent discussion about the merits of the play quickly (and I mean quickly) devolved into a hate-spewing argument about the Palestinian conflict. The last place many people look for a civil discussion might be the Internet. But there's plenty of time, news, and webspace to hope, isn't there?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Withholding Poll Results, Motives of U.S.-Funded Institute are Still Questioned

Voting that is strongly marked by tribalism? An explosion of bloodshed? And ballot-counting fraud? This is definitely a recent highly-contested African presidential race - and we're not talking about Zimbabwe.

But what about political meddling to help steer the outcome of the 2007 Kenyan Presidential election that came from--the United States?

That's what a recent New York Times investigation seems to claim.  The USAID-funded pro-democracy International Republican Institute conducted exit polls for the December 2007 election, but refused to release the results (saying that the results were technically flawed) even as partisan bickering turned into a mini civil war, leaving over 1,000 people dead, and a country still bitterly divided over a year later.  

The results were eventually released nine months later, and showed that opposition candidate Raila Odinga had led the incumbent Mwai Kibaki.  However, back in December 2007, Kibaki was named President (even though outside agencies reported numerous voting innacuracies).  Opposition leader Odinga now holds the new post of Prime Minister after a power-sharing agreement was brokered in February 2008.

However, the NYT consulted numerous outside experts who have found no basis for the organization's initial rationale for not releasing the results--that it was technically flawed.  Some have even suggested that events might have played out differently if the IRI's poll results were released in a timely manner.

The IRI released the results in August 2008 after consulting its own outside experts.  The results, as predicted, showed that Odinga was winning over the incumbent Kibaki by 6 percent of the vote.  To those interviewed for the article, the role of politics seems to be the only explanation for the institute's initial refusal to release the results:
None of those interviewed professed to know why the institute withheld the results.  But the decision was consistent with other American actions that seemed focused on preserving stability in Kenya, rather than determining the actual winner.
The IRI has posted an especially sharp-tongued rebuttal to the NYT piece, explaining that, in fact, the institute has worked with Odinga for over 20 years and that, "What IRI was not going to do was release a flawed poll" that would function only to help Odinga get elected.  

The response does seem defensive, but the IRI has requested that the State Department's Inspector General review "whether the Institute withheld the poll at the behest of U.S. government officials as charged by The New York Times."  This may not be CIA-type international spy intrigue, but the possibility of the U.S. government meddling in another country's presidential election always makes my ears perk up.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Financial Aspects of Closing the Rose Art Museum

I am a recent alumnus of Brandeis University, so I have been closely following the controversy over its decision to close the Rose Art Museum, which houses the best collection of modern art in New England.

There have been many Facebook groups created to galvanize support for the Rose, and many opinion articles written in support of the museum.

The best analysis of the situation I have read so far, however, is from the "Market Movers" blog from Portfolio, Conde Nast's business magazine.

Felix Salmon analyzes the precarious financial situation in which Brandeis finds itself, after a rapid decline in the university's endowment (which was estimated at around $700 million last year) caused by the global financial crisis (can we please have another name?). The university is also ailing because Brandeis is especially dependent upon donations to enrich its endowment, and those have frozen up for a variety of reasons (Madoff is just one).

After picking apart reasons Brandeis might want to close the Rose (artworks are easier to sell when not tied to a museum; the museum is kind of a money loser), Salmon ultimately does not really buy Reinharz/French's argument that the value of the Rose's 6,000+ artworks is frozen up because they are locked away in a lightly-trafficked museum that is (admittedly) off the beaten path.

Instead, Salmon argues that the artworks are protected under the valuable aegis of a prized cultural institution. Trying to sell the artworks after a dissolution of the Rose would be financial suicide. To raise money later on, Salmon asks, which would the Trustees like to hear: We have priceless artworks (a) that are party of a highly respected museum or (b) that have been sitting in storage ever since we closed that museum?

He concludes:
To put it another way: those artworks which Brandeis wishes to sell, it first puts in storage. It's a nasty and dishonest ploy on both an intellectual and an ethical level. And Brandeis shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dipping My Toe In

Hi all,

Here's to a successful blog. I'm taking this up because my Facebook page has become, for all intents and purposes, a crowded blog (some would even say tumblelog).

I am a new citizen of New York City and work in healthcare communications. I graduated in May 2007 and have worked in all sorts of neuroscience research. I'm sure you'll hear a lot of (fun! approachable! interesting!) science running through these posts. Get used to it.

I read a lot of fascinating articles (check out the blogroll on the right), watch numerous funny video clips, and constantly ruminate about science and media (at work and at home, respectively). I guess it's time to feel important enough to share all of that with the world.