New York Comic Book Scene Goes Digital

New York Comic Book Scene Goes Digital

The days of expansive comic book stores are numbered as more readers go digital forcing physical shops to downsize.

With access to applications like ComiXology, readers are able to download their favorite issues digitally to their smartphones or tablets, anytime and anywhere there’s Internet connection. And, just as iTunes signaled the death of the record store, a similar sense of mortality is creeping upon the neighborhood comic book store.

Last year, Comixology CEO David Steinberger said in an interview with the tech publication, “WiRed,” that users had downloaded 25 million comics from the digital comic platform. That same year Diamond Comics Distributor, the sole book distributor for comics, sold an estimate of 31 million comics through May of 2012.

While these sales numbers were estimates that did not account for international or graphic novels sold through Diamond, the growing popularity of ComiXology has comic shops feeling the pressure.

Shop owners, like Robert Conte of New York’s Manhattan Comics, has had to adjust his inventory to compete with the new digital market. He no longer carries as many action figures or memorabilia, and instead sells more trade paperbacks of high selling heroes such as Spider-Man and Batman.

Conte said he was constantly conflicted between stocking what he wants to carry and what actually sells. One-time comic store staples, like long boxes filled with older issues saved for enthusiastic collectors, were getting the axe.

“The back issue market isn’t what it used to be, so we don’t really focus on that as most comic shops used to,” he said. “We really focus on the new product.”

However, stores like Conte’s can’t compete with ComiXology’s unlimited inventory and 24 hour accessibility.

Accessible through their site or application, The ComiXology store boasts over 30,000 comics from 75 different publishers like Marvel, DC, Image, IDW and Valiant.

Accessible through their site or application, ComiXology’s store boasts over 30,000 comics from 75 different publishers like Marvel, DC, Image, IDW and Valiant.

Founded in 2007 as a digital pull list service that allowed users to track what they wanted to buy in stores, ComiXology revolutionized the comic book and graphic novel industry by delivering a cloud-based digital comics platform that made discovering, buying, and reading comics more accessible than ever before.

John D. Roberts, co-founder of ComiXology, said in an email interview that his application had completely altered the comic book industry by appealing to a broader audience.

“ComiXology has an international user base of comic book fans all hungry to read comics,” said Roberts. “Our international audience now has unprecedented access to comics like they never have before, and those fans who live in the United States, who live 50 miles or more away from a comic shop, now have a more convenient way to buy and read comics. As a result we’re seeing a resurgence of lapsed readers returning to comics.”

Notable comic publishers such as Marvel, DC, IDW, and Image sell their books through Comixology. This has made the app the only legitimate digital equivalent a physical retail store.

However, this is not desired competition from comic book stores, who are already struggling to stay afloat with higher comic book prices and a diminishing demographic of young readers.

Though rolling with the punches, Conte said he firmly believed that digital has its place but cannot compete with a dedicated comic book shop.

“When you’re on a smartphone, you’re really reliant on whatever the smartphone says to you and the recommendations that show up there,” he said. “While readers may get comic recommendations from friends, if there’s one thing a tablet cannot replicate, it’s the customer service and community around a comic book store.”

The digital experience is more than just swiping on a tablet, however, as the device’s backlight and the ability to zoom along the pages allows for easy reading at any time. Depending on a device’s resolution, the coloring and art of a book can be visually enhance, showing the true talent of the industry.

The issue of shelf-space, something many readers struggle with, is non-existent as the application stores each issue in its digital library. However, it is only accessible with an Internet connection, and longer books may require longer loading times during reading. Issues such as these are why many fans are holding out from going completely digital, still preferring to read physical issues from their local comic book store.

Stores like JHU Comics offer a friendly, welcoming atmosphere to attract new and returning customers to their shop.

Stores like JHU Comics offer a friendly, welcoming atmosphere to attract new and returning customers to their shop.

Customer loyalty and strong word of mouth are what keep shops alive, especially in a densely populated city like Manhattan. Stephen Norman, store manager at the recently renamed JHU Comics (formerly known as Jim Hanley’s Universe), hasn’t seen a significant drop in the store’s physical comic sales – at least not yet.

Norman prides his store’s strong customer loyalty due to its membership programs, special events, and friendly staff.

However, the revolution has not only affected comic store owners but the comic creators themselves.

As more people read comics for the first time digitally, Robert said that the industry will see changes in the way comics are produced.

“Creators are going to begin focusing on digital as their primary market and print as their secondary, which means the digital experience will be the preferred experience,” said Roberts. “Things like double page spreads, font sizes, even page layouts will evolve as a result.”

Even with this innovation, Norman said publishers are still trying to figure out how to utilize digital distribution without eliminating shops.

“I’ve seen a lot of different titles provide combo-packs where publishers will provide codes for a digital version of the comic if you purchase a print version,” said Norman. “Besides from things like that, they haven’t really reached in that much outside of specific sites like Comixology. I’m not sure how much publishers are trying to push their comic content via digital.”

While publishers and storefronts continue to struggle with the new medium, independent comic creators have embraced the digital frontier.

Comic creator, Eric Alexander Arroyo, is a senior cartooning student at the School of Visual Arts and author of the webcomic “Punch Gun.” He has sold his books through JHU Comics, and is currently preparing his work for digital distribution.

“Even though the Internet is a bigger sea of people, having that kind of global access is great for cartoonists, but also comic consumers,” said Arroyo. “They are now able to explore so many genres of work for cheap or even free, and it’s really accessible for people.”

If the digital industry keeps comics afloat Dan Parent, a veteran writer and penciler with Archie Comics, said he’s all for that.

“I think there will always be comic shops, although much fewer, unfortunately. People will always want paper comics too,” said Parent, who sees publishers investing more in trade paperbacks and digital comics. “I see less 32 page comics and if I could change one thing it would be to bring back the publishing standards from 10 or 20 years ago.”

As ComiXology works to bridge the gap between young and old readers, there is aspiration to inspire higher standards for comics as a result. In the meantime, Roberts and his team are working hard to continue to play a major role in the revolution.

“I like to say that if we can sell comics on a microwave oven we’re going to sell comics on a microwave oven,” said Roberts. “Our mission is convert every person on the planet into a comic book fan.”


Audio Assignment: Barack Obama’s Voicemail

After going through everyone’s assingments in class, I decided to change my assignment from the “Make weather” audio to the “Create a Voicemail Recording,” which is an assignment to a record voice mail message for use samples, impressions, and/or music.

Instead of trying to (poorly) impersonate Barack Obama, I decided to instead create an automatic voice messaging system for his answering machine. This allowed me to think about what issues the president is facing that people would want to ask him about like the economy, the job numbers, and the ongoing wars and conflicts overseas. I also added the “swipe” at the G.O.P and Fox News, as they have been a notorious thorn in the president’s side during his terms.

The reason I switched my assignments is because I think the voicemail assignment offered more space for a historical argument. Mine being – what  questions has Obama left unanswered?

The voicemail format of the audio really helps so that – what about the economy, job growth, immigration and the Gaza conflict? I only added 5 for time purposes, but I could’ve added at least five more, and had interviewees record their questions under each number, like a recording.

Next, I could go back into Obama’s speeches, and see if he can answer these questions in another recording. His view on job growth, how he’s going to handle Afghanistan, new policies he’ll announce on immigration. It could also be a means to listen to the silences  as the numbers keep adding up “Press 12…Press 13…” with the more conflicts Obama faces in his term.

The thing about a voicemail is that it’s a message you leave because you want to be answered. Called back. Responded to.

What if Obama can’t respond back because he doesn’t have an answer? The silence of an ignored voicemail can say a lot.

Wonder Woman: A Symbol of Sexism and the Modern Woman

Until fairly recently, the world of comic books have been a predominately male centric industry. Constantly scrutinized, comics have been accused of various atrocities ranging from sexism to the corruption of the innocent. The business realized it needed to grow-up and throughout the years has matured the ways it has treated its characters. An interesting case study is Wonder Woman, and how the comic book industry has portrayed a woman who’s modust operardi is being a strong female character. However, her symbolism has changed over the years as well as how her creators have handled her character, the values she promotes, and what it really means to be the most powerful woman alive.

Since 1941, Wonder Woman has been DC Comics’ main superheroines.

Throughout the ages, women comic book characters have regularly been subject to horrific violence, a trend that many felt reflected negatively on America’s values. Gail Simone, the first female ongoing writer for Wonder Woman, has pointed out that many women were being brutally murdered “just as plot points for the male characters, who could then vow revenge against the killer” (Simone). Wonder Woman was a solution to such a trend that the modern woman found to be in poor taste. Her character reflects an independent woman who does not need a male character to vow revenge for her sake, due to that fact that she can fight her own battles. Her strength without a man is a highly relatable topic as more women find themselves living their lives single, raising families without fathers, or taking executive jobs that years ago was only considered to be man’s work. The values that Wonder Woman promoted to the comic book community were very similar to the values reflected onto America’s more modern society. She symbolized the empowerment of women, and labeled anything lesser as sexism.

However, the term “sexism” is also a rather modern term and was not in common use during Wonder Woman’s more formable years. Along with Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman is one of few characters to have been continuously circulated by her publisher since her December 1941 introduction (Hendrix). While her character was popular enough to sustain such a long shelf life, women in the 1940s were not reading comic books. If a woman was even aware of Wonder Woman’s existence, it was usually due to her son having a stack of her comic books cluttering his bedroom. The Ninetieth Amendment was only passed twenty-years prior, and a majority of women were still too busy serving as homemakers to even acknowledge the magnitude of the change that Wonder Woman was creating. A woman super hero was a ground breaking change in these early times, and her writers were aware of this factor. Afraid of low sales, creators would usually pair her up with a strong male characters such as Superman in hopes of boosting her sales. Another aspect of her character that they hoped would increase profits was her sexual appeal, which could be easily witnessed as she fought evildoers dressed in only a leotard and heeled-boots.

A spandex suit, a cape, and burley mussels may be what comes to mind when thinking of a typical super hero however, the icons associated with Wonder Woman are none of these stereotypes. Clad in the red, white and blue of American nationalism, Wonder Woman’s outfit is directly based off the American Flag, even down to the stars that decorate the bottom of her unitard. However, regardless of this patriotism, there have been speculations that Wonder Woman’s weapons have a more adult aspect. Over the years, the equipment that she uses have been analyzed to have been associated to carry a type of bondage element. For example, her weapon is a golden lasso, which critics have called an erotic symbol of sexual control since she uses it to make her adversaries obey her commands. Another of her more commonly used weapons are her Amazon bracelets, which she uses to deflect bullets. These bracelets have been said to be symbols of her all-female tribe’s enslavement under Hercules (Stuever). In the early publications of her stories, creators’s writings of her often had the bondage elements of being tied up and helpless, often with role-reversal, playing with the meaning of power and using sex as one of the ingredients.

While the idea of sexual undertones may lead some to believe that Wonder Woman was objectified, there is another way to spin this interpretation. The idea of sexism in the Wonder Woman story-lines have been a looming black cloud above the franchise for decades. Instead of seeing her as being used as a sexual product for young adult male consumption, it could be spun that Wonder Woman used her sexuality as a means of empowerment. By being self-aware of her sexuality, Wonder Woman is able to gain control of the situation instead of hiding sheepishly or covering up her femininity. She knows she holds the most powerful weapon against men which is not a lasso or pair of magical bracelets, but sex appeal. By not being afraid to acknowledge this, she has proven that superiority is not repressing sexuality, but embracing it and using it to her advantage.

As mentioned previously, Wonder Woman was not always a strong feminist icon. It was not until the early 1970s that she was adopted as a role model by feminist and even appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue of the publication Ms. magazine (Crawford). Over the years, Wonder Woman has been used to end the objectification of women, a task which ironically lead her to own creation. Once a woman who was only seen to be a tongue-in-cheek representation of a dominatrix from a male’s sexual fantasy, her mission has changed to bring the ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the violence of men. Her role as a female icon has changed as rapidly and significantly as that of America’s modern woman.

Simply by being a female super hero, from the very beginning Wonder Woman was tiptoeing on the thin line between empowerment and sexism. Created by Dr. Charles Moulton, Harvard psychologist, Wonder Woman was a feature of what Moulton believed to be a strong, assertive, and dominating woman. Following the guidelines of the Comic Code Authority, Moulton designed his super hero as a muscular female drawn “realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities” (Les Daniels). Her strength as a strong female icon can be compared to that of Rosie the Riveter from early American war propaganda. Wonder Woman has become a symbol of not only female sexuality, but of the battle that every woman must face in society. Whether it is supporting a family, or trying to break into the business world as a CEO, every woman is fighting against human sexuality, gender discrimination, and the constantly changing values of American society. All woman, like Wonder Woman, work tirelessly to over come these obstacles, making her not only a relevant character in popular culture, but also a highly relatable character in modern society.

Gender Diversity and the 2012 Presidential Debates

Though every vote counts the same, during the 2012 Presidential Debates, it was apparent that there was a stratification system between the gender of the four debates’ moderators and the four Presidential  and Vice Presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, as well as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

The presidential hopefuls did not treat all of their constituents with the same courtesy and one could observe a glaring discrepancy between the way they addressed the two women and men moderators. The women moderators, Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz, were patronized to during both their debates and babied while the men, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer, were treated not just as equals, but more aggressively as both Obama and Romney interrupted and fought back.

This change in mood was incredibly apparent even before the actual debates, where in an interview with the NPR-sponsored radio show On the Media in September of 2012, former moderator Carole Simpson spoke of how in 1992 she was the first and last woman to moderate the presidential debates. Breaking the 20-year lull, Raddatz and Crowley now follow Simpson, though she says that women moderators are confined to the vice presidential debate and a town-hall style debate where the moderator cannot ask questions of their own. 

“The men are going to be able to go head-to-head with the candidates. I just found out that Jim Lehrer is going to devote half of the 90-minutes to the economy, then we have Bob Schieffer and he will be asking about national affairs for the last debate. Inbetween that is Candy Crowley. She will be doing what I did, be the lady with the microphone among an audience of undecided voters. I didn’t have any opportunity to ask my own questions of the candidates, now Candy, who is one of the most politically astute reporters in the country, has got the same Town Hall format. It looks like the commission has decided that that the Town Hall format is what women should do, and the real tough questioning should come from men,” (Carole Simpson, On the Media).

In Judith Lorber’s piece “The Social Construction of Gender,” she admits that gender is very much like culture in that it is a human  production that depends on everyone constantly “doing gender.” By going by these roles, ideas such as “real tough questioning should come from men,” are seen as normal, and having women in second-tier positions of power is part of how this “system” works. 
In both Lehrer and Schieffer’s debates, President Obama and Romney stepped on toes, interrupted, and at times were just aggressive towards the men. 

An example of such could be seen in the first debate as Lehrer attempted (in vain) to rein in Romney’s first response after going five-minutes over his alloted time, to which the Governor smugly replied, “It’s fun, isn’t it?” and Lehrer saying it was alright since the answer was still “about the economy.”  Obama was not much better after Lehrer cut-off his response informing him that “Two minutes is up, sir.” The President shot-back, “No, I think — I had five seconds before you interrupted me.” He then continued speaking for at least fifteen seconds, before Lehrer replied, “Your five seconds went away a long time ago,” (Oct. 3 Presidential Debate, Comission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The agressive attutide changed by the third debate, where the candiate were in the Town Hall format and, whether it be to win voters good will or not, were much less short with Crowley than they were with Leher. Both candiates would often thank the moderator before or after taking a question from the crowd, and even when they would fight amongst eachother, when Crowley reined them back to the question, they obeyed. The atmosphere of the night was very much like that of two boys agruing and their mother stepping-in when they would get too rowdy.  It was a night where everyone was, quite literally, doing “gender.”

The idea of “doing gender,” though it sounds simplied, in Lorber’s opinion is something that is keeping the male and female gender routines in place, and what makes society raise eyebrows at men caring for children, or women doing manual labor (or in this case, ask hardball questions during a presidential debate).

“Gender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questioning its taken-for-granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whether the sun will come up,” (Lorber, 21). This brings upon the question as to why both genders continue this song-and-dance of gender roles, even with the knowledge of the negative impact it imposes.

The gender struggle between the moderators was seen even with the types of questions Crowley and Raddatz asked as compared to Leher and Schieffer. During the round table Vice Presidential debate, for the final question of the night Raddatz asked both candidates their view on abortion and how their religion has played a role in their own personal views on abortion. After her question Raddatz had added, “And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country please talk personally about this, if you could.” (Oct. 11 Vice Presidential Debate, Commission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The fact that a woman had asked about abortion to two male candidates had already set-up the stage for the framing of the question. There is a bias that is already constructed that is hammered home with the tone of Raddatz voice as she asks for Biden and Ryan to talk about the issue “personally.” Regardless of their answers, it was shown by their facial expressions, the pause taken within their answers, and discomfort in the way they looked at Raddatz that they were forming their answer around their situation – that they were two men talking about what is seen as a “women’s issue” to a woman.

Another uneasy question was raised during the second presidential debate, during Crowley’s Town Hall debate, where an audience member named Katherine Fenton asked the candidates, “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”  (Oct. 16 Presidential Debate, Commission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The issue of women being paid less is something that The New York Times has touched upon as seen in the chart below:
Once again a question involving women’s issues was asked during a debate that was moderated by a woman. Neither of these kinds of questions were asked during Leher or Schieffer’s debates, even though they though they (especially Leher) could have integrated the issue of inequality into their set of questions. The choice to avoid these issues could be an unconscious choice framed by the fact these men were raised in a patriarchal society.

In an opinions pieced from The New York Times titled, “The Myth of Male Decline” Stephanie Coontz blames the ongoing assignment of gender roles on the idea that males are afraid of a sharing the power of gender. 

“Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men. The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a  crime. The curtailment of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy. Indeed, in many arenas the progress of women has actually stalled over the past 15 years,” (Coontz, 1).

Though an intense point of view, Coontz debunking of the Male Decline Myth can possibly account toward the ongoing trend of males squeezing-out women and their issues from these debates, and instead focusing on the economy and national security, which can be seen as more “masculine” topics. 
The stereotypical man, too burly and aggressive to be concerned by women’s issues such as abortion and equal pay, cannot break the on-going cycle of “doing gender” and living in a “patriarchal dividend” society. The aggressive nature of the debates shows how the male candidates worked to show dominates over not over each other, but the moderators as well. 

In the case of Raddatz and Crowley, they did not do much to help their cases, as perhaps going rogue and breaking out of their roles as women with microphones would allow them to gain some sort of stance on the political playing field. During Crowley’s debate, however, she had tried to dip her toe into the political ring by correcting Romney after he had claimed that Obama referred to the consulate attack in Benghazi as an “act of terror.” 

Though earning some applause, the exchange had later caused her to have to explain herself on the Daytime Talk Show circuit, calling-out political figures is impressive when a male does it, as seen in the famous Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy exchange, but when a female does so she is forced to explain if she had producers guiding her via an earpiece. Proving that gender roles, much like habits, are just hard to break.

Comparing Paid Maternity Leave Around the World

In this graphic by, the issue of paid maternity leave in the United States is called into question as it is compared to that of other nations.

Geniusly, the number of weeks of paid maternity leave are designed in a circle, from most to least, with corresponding colors of the rainbow, making it bright, colorful and easy to read.

Though the numbers may be staggering (if I were to have a baby, I’d really like to have one in Canada!) the way the data is presented is very appealing.

Illustrating the 1968 Women's Movement

Demonstrators from the National Women’s Liberation Movement picket the 1968 Miss America Pageant. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)

  • After checking out the database’s citation, the says that the Photographer is Anonymous. I’m assuming that means that the photographer is uncredited as they bought the picture from an amateur photographer.
  • Saturday, September 07, 1968
  • Atlantic City
  • The Miss America pageant became a target of protests, as feminist and civil rights activist fought against what they saw as a show that was degrading to women. In 1968, 400 women from the New York Radical Women protested the event on the Atlantic City boardwalk by crowning a live sheep Miss America. They also symbolically trashed a number of feminine products such as fake eyelashes, make up and bras.
  • The photograph is a primary source because the AP photos, though anonymous, are taken by their own photographers and kept in their archives. It’s been digitized for the website, but because it’s the Associated Press, it’s a reliable news wire and it is trusted to have a copy in it’s own physical archives.
  • The Associated Press has been around since the mid-1800s, and is the most widely (if not only) news-wire used in most journalistic broadcasts and publications. Its style book is taught at Baruch College’s Copy Editing course, and all articles in the department as well as campus publications such as Dollars and Sense and The Ticker are written in AP Style. AP Image, as an offshoot of the Associated Press, has gained its credibility through its age, it’s influence and it’s newsworthiness.
  • I would ask to see the physical copy of the photograph, and I would like to see if I could learn more about who was responsible for taking the photo and why they were kept anonymous. As mentioned in an earlier reading, curating history is not just looking into what’s been recorded, but what’s been left out of history.

In the context of the 1968 election, I would do background information on the history of this particular women’s organization, the National Women’s Liberation Movement. With the creation of the National Organization for Women (NOW) I would like to see if the two organizations ever clashed or if they worked together.

Regarding the protests, I would go back and see how it was covered in the news – were the demonstrator villainized or supported by the media? How did the presidential candidates handle the movement – did they lump it together with the civil rights and youth movements at the time, or was it its own separate issue?

Also, after the candidates made their stance, was there any policies passed to reflect their views, or was the issue pushed aside until the next administration? Did the conflict cause controversy? Were the candidates comfortable or uncomfortable talking about the women’s liberation movement?

For the photograph, I would truly like to know why the photographer is Anonymous. Being such a highly credible publication, the Associated Press is not one to just find a photo, shrug its shoulders and say, “Guess we’ll just use this one.” The people in charge at the time knew the photographer and chose not to credit them (or the photographer did not want to receive credit) – why was this? Was the conflict between women’s liberation and the mainstream media too tense at the time?

The silence speaks volumes in this case, and while the conflict of the women’s liberation movement most likely had less supporters than fans, I would like to get a better understanding of the ripple effects of protests like the one illustrated at the Atlantic City boardwalk.


Women's Issues and the 1968 Presidential Election

Elected in 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned on the coat-tails of equal right, however his lack of attention toward’s women’s issues caused him plenty of backlash.  During the election, women’s liberation was a hot topic, as the new wave of feminism flooded American politics, clashing with the culture of a “typical” female (think Doris Day and Mrs. Cleaver.)

Issues such as legalized abortions (remember, the Roe v. Wade decision wasn’t made until 1973,) the value of women’s votes, and the equality for women (especially married women) in the workplace were all highly charged issues, as women climbed the social, class and status ladder and clashed against the men who were already sitting on top.

Working women:

Currently, women make $0.77 to every man’s dollar, though this gap in wages is not something that hasn’t be fought before. In a 1962 issues of the Wall Street Journal (just six year before the election) women were already fighting for equal pay. In an article titled Senate Unit Approves ‘Equal Pay for Women’ Bill; Changes Possible: Tower to Seek to Put Limit on Labor Agency’s Role, Allow for Added Cost of Women Employes, talks of putting a limit on the Labor Agency’s role in the issue to allow for employers to afford the “added cost of women employees.” However, as the printed of this article the bill was not yet passed, women’s lobbying groups rallied for “equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill.” The article also spoke of ridiculous amendments that would be added to such a simply bill (because it’s so hard to pay everyone the same wage when you’re cheap) such as not being able to look into earlier complaints by female worker’s on unjust actions, and the bill would only cover based on “seniority or merit increase systems.” The bill looked to favor the excuses by avoiding the harsh truth that employers just do not want to pay women equally.

Abortion Laws:

In an article dated December 1968 (right after the 1968 election) by Keith Monore ,titled How California’s Abortion Law Isn’t Working: California’s abortion law The abortion reformers look to the courts for change, spoke of how California was reforming its Abortion Law. It allowed for abortions to be approved and undergone only if the mother was mentally ill. In effect, many women were suddenly mentally ill to have their cases approved, and as Monore reported, if their cases weren’t approved women would find other means to abort their pregnancies, such as seeking unsafe “alternative abortions.” While Pro-choice and Pro-lifers battle it now during this election, in 1968 women were still having the “legitimacy” of their rapes questioned, as the article quoted stories of a raped girl who became pregnant who died after she jumped off her parents’ roof to abort the child, another was of a child who despised his “parents” who was conceived after his mother (a married women) was raped though abortion was approved by medical authorities it was the declined by the district attorney.

Sexual Discrimination:

In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed, and is currently the largest feminist organization in the United States. Since it’s formation, NOW focuses on issues pertaining to women such as abortion rights and reproductive issues, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity and ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice. Using the database “Women and Social Movements,” I was able to find an article titled “How and Why Was Feminist Legal Strategy Transformed, 1960-1973.” In Document 15 was an article from November 1967 which dealt with Constitutional Protection Against Sex Discrimination, written by Mary Eastwood. The core of Eastwood’s memorandum can be summed up by one quote:

“The power of American law, and the protection guaranteed by the U.S.Constitution to the civil rights of all individuals, must be effectively applied and enforced to isolate and remove patterns of sex discrimination, to ensure equality of opportunity in employment and education, and equality of civil and political rights and responsibilities on behalf of women, as well as for Negroes and other deprived groups.”

Just like the issues before this, women have been fighting against sexual discrimination on a political for decades. Though progress has been made, there is still much to be done, and this current election may choose whether or not the war on women truly blooms to fruition.

Connecting to the #DS106 Experience

When first assigned, the DS106 site looked like one huge monster filled with pictures, video and text. There were hyperlinks to every which-way, pictures moving up and down and with it all being against a black background, DS106 appeared to have a Frankenstein’s monster-like hold on the internet. After exploring some links, I realized that’s exactly what it was hoping to achieve.

DS106 is a mass online course that deals with Digital Storytelling (I felt incredibly proud when I realized that’s it’s what the DS stood for) by use of text, image, sound and video. It deals heavily with blogging, with students completing assignments and posting them up on their blog.

On the official DS106, under the About section the instructors pride that “the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.”

The class works to create a narrative that can frame the student’s internet identity – and yes, it’s extremely progressive with a side of “Matrix” science-fiction.  Still curious about the inner workings of the course, I reached-out instructors Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and Michael B. Smith, in true DS106 style, via twitter. To which I learned that curating the internet, so to speak, is no simple task.

Michael Smith was the first to respond, and he discussed how DS160 deals with fair use and how the program avoids copywrite issues.

Smith tweeted me about the copyright issues around not just the DS106 course, but the internet as a whole.

Linking to a post in his blog, he shared a post by Groom regarding what really counts as “fair use.”  The post titled “Is There No Sanctuary?” is told entirely with .gifs, youtube clips and a few sentences of narration for flow. It tells the story of how Groom’s Youtube account was shut-down after various copyright complaints after using clips of copyrighted videos for educational purposes.

In Groom’s blog about the situation he writes,

I feel like a criminal for quoting works I love. I feel like a criminal for wanting to further imagine through the offspring of our moment. Worst of all, I have to feel like a criminal when I am having fun. It’s becoming a much more serious crime, and I’m scared about that prospect. Not so much that they’ll sue me, but more that they have already occupied my mind trying to convince me that sharing online is evil. To convince me that a video sharing site owned by an advertising company that promises to “do no evil” has become the de facto mediary between millions of people and what seems a basic human right to re-use, remix, and re-imagine the media we inhabit.

 – Jim Grooms, Fear of a YouTube Planet

The idea of reusing,  remix, and re-imaging the internet is a central aspect of the DS160 course. Smith tweeted that a lot of images are also taken from public domain sites such as but “mashing bits of popular media like digital punk flyers.”

Smith then linked me to a Youtube video by Groom, titled No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences.

In his lecture, Groom notes the importance of Narration, Curation and Sharing when dealing with any type of digital history and web content.

Which leads me to my conversation with Groom himself. Our conversation was more about the fundamental philosophy of what DS106 is and the inspiration behind such a deeply embedded course for the web.

Jim Groom is the director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington and is the brainpower behind DS106.

Groom also directed me to Gardner Campbell’s article titled A Personal Cyberinfrastructur, which focused on how the internet should be used in an educational setting.

In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.

In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own “engagement streams” throughout the learning environment.

– Gardner Campbell,  A Personal Cyberinfrastructur

Much like our own class, the DS106 is a larger version of our own digital curation. With hundreds of students creating content for the web, by the web, with the web. Which left me wonder just how the community is to interact on such a grandiose scale. This is where Alan Levine came in, who explained me to how MOC classes like DS106 work as a community.

So…what now? As a new semester begins to rev its engine, the DS106 community is already finishing up their first few assignments. In a call-out using the #DS106 hash-tag on twitter, I asked students how they felt about the course. Some appeared excited, others confused, but one user tweeted back to me personally.

There’s a famous quote by Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher of communication theory, that claims that “the medium is the message.” As the lines between offline and online become more blurred, the tools of the web are constantly changing, and with that so is the message. Courses like DS106 are providing podiums for students to share their messages with the world, to be heard through a new medium.  Now what remains is the question of just how many people are willing to listen, and will obstacles such as copyright laws limit creativity.

Mud Slinging Leads to Election Exhaustion

In Mitt Romney’s latest speech to rally up his troops for the November elections, he claims that President Obama is “intellectually exhausted, out of Ideas, and out of Energy.” Pointing to the fact that a majority of the Obama/Biden campaign is running on the ground that Obama’s social changes are in motion, and he’ll need four more years to get them to be effective.

Though a striking blow, Romney’s campaign doesn’t seem as progressive either, as his tax reform ideas involves cutting funding to many resources, such a medicare, medicaid, and various other social goods. With neither of the candidates really “looking forwards” could it be said that this is an election based on “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” arguments, instead of a “should, will, have” agenda?

In Peter Baker’s New York Times article “Candidates Racing for Future, Gaze Fixed Firmly on the Past,” he discusses how neither campaigns are offering dramatic declarations.

“At a time when the country faces an uncertain future economically and internationally,” said Baker in his piece. “The conversation in the capital and on the campaign trail has dwelled largely on the past as the two contenders for the White House and their allies spend their time and energy relitigating old fights rather than focusing on new ideas for the next four years.

With dirty campaigns aimed at the other, it feels at if this campaign is becoming less about the issues – such as the economy, job creation, clean energy and the personal finances of the american population – and more about the candidates themselves.  A trend that Baker notices himself.

“With federal debt rising, the economy sputtering and partisan divisions polarizing the capital, there is less room or appetite for the sorts of sweeping initiatives offered by previous presidents and challengers.”

But is that really the best way to win this election – by dividing an already incredibly polarizing country? Obama won the 2008 on his “Hope and Change” platform, which energized the country, connecting them and motivating them to go out and vote for a change they believed in. A change, many thing, is too slow coming to keep their hopes up.

In a NPR article from last spring titled “Six Reasons We’re Feeling Debate Fatigue,” writer Linton Weeks described why they believe the overexposure of political candidates leave voters feeling over informed, and not motivated to vote. The most interesting being that in this election there has been an emphasis on the personality of the politicians and not the  policies they want to enact.

With so many slam tactics from the Romney campaign calling the Obama team “sinking to a new low” for using the term “chained” to African American voters, to the Obama camp calling out Romney for his tax returns, it feels as if all we’re hearing is about how one guy is worst than the other guy. It’s getting to the point where when we actually take the time to go through policies, people are actually surprised that Obama’s health care bill was modeled after the health care reform taken place in Massachusetts, under Romney’s jurisdiction.  
If there was focus on the policies, then there would be more people wondering why Romney suddenly went against his own ideals, instead of wondering if he was a nice boss at Bane Captial.
With voters mislead, it seems that both candidates are instead playing up the “he said, she said” act, like bickering siblings to their mother. The problem being with this tactic is that  the American voters are to act like their  mothers and they’re tired of their squabbling.
“There are no easy choices to make looking forward,” said John Feehery, a longtime Republican strategist, in Baker’s piece. “So both campaigns are probably more comfortable relitigating the past.”
While drama can sell tabloids and make people care about celebrity romances, it’s not the same thing in politics. Hearing the two men who the American public are supposed to represent and lead our country forward is incredibly hard to do when they’re constantly nitpicking on the other’s mistakes. It’s alienating voters, not because they don’t want what’s best for their county, but because they don’t want to play referee with their votes – they want help in improving their country.
Maybe when the two boys are tired of slinging mud at each other they’ll come inside and tell us what their policies are for the next four years, until then they can stay outside in dirt.

A Few Word on Mark Bittman’s “The Endless Summer”

The failing state of the environment if not a new issue, as it appears in the news more and more. As we undergo the hottest month on record, with droughts leaving much of the country barren, the growing problem is just heating up. As issues involving our environment are becoming more pressing, though it appears to be more widely ignored.

In Mark Bittman’s piece in the New York Times’ Opinionator, titled “The Endless Summer,” he rhetorically asked “how bad will things get” and how long “before we wake up to it.”

       The strangest thing about environmental woes is that people are just not ready to face the facts. Texas Governor, and almost-GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry said in an interview last spring that he didn’t believe in climate change.

“I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change,” Perry said in an interview. “I don’t think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question.”
Though it’s still baffling that someone in any sort of leadership status, especially a governor of a state, could even question that climate change is just a “theory.” Though, Perry is not exactly the poster-child for rational thought when it comes to social issues. Just ask the LGBT community.
In Bittman’s piece, he talks about how the wealthy in this country are able to see the ongoing changes in our environment as “manageable.”
“As long as you’re wealthy and able to move around at will. But it’s not manageable to the corn farmers losing their crops,” said Bittman in his article. “The ranchers selling off their cattle, the thousands of people in Colorado burned out of their homes in fires caused by the worst drought since 1956 or those who will lose their homes or jobs to fire, flood, drought or whatever in coming years.”
Bittman also mentions the recently released book Global Weirdness, which explains climate change in simple, easy-to-understand language and ultra-short chapters. It’s calmly toned informational book that author Michael Lemonick explains is due to the fact that “some people respond well to ‘Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,’ but others are overwhelmed and just turn off. We believe that if you look at all the available evidence it’s clear we’re pushing the earth into a regime where it hasn’t been before, and the effects could well be disastrous.”
In Lemonick’s interview on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show, he explained how easy it is to disregard climate change, as it’s happening so slowly, though there are many indicators that our weather is being changed because of it.
“It’s too early to connect the dots with a really thick, solid black line,” he said in the interview. “The reason being that climate change pushes on weather in a more statistical way. Meaning you can’t say this particular heat-wave was caused by climate change, but you can say is that in a warming world, these things will come along more and more often.”

The argument that climate change is going to lead to major problems for a lot of people living on this planet is not a new notion, though the consequences that the weather of our future will bring is something that appears to not have stuck with the general populace.

Growing concern/disregard for the environment are one of the many aspects of american public policy that are ignoring real issue at hand; the widening gap between the rich and poor in America. However, it’s important to look at the aspects of industrialization that were the cause of these “greenhouse gases” – oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. These are all multibillion-dollar industries that have strong lobbyist that have Washington in a choke hold.
Bittman mentions the Kyoto Protocol in his piece, a 15 year-old agreement that claimed countries who signed would annually reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. The protocol was ratified and acted upon by almost every country in the world, including every industrialized nation but one: the United States.
“Bill Clinton signed Kyoto,” said Bittman. “George W. Bush, despite an election pledge, repudiated it.”
Only reducing carbon emissions can keep matters from becoming worse, but who is willing to take pay-cut for it? Americans don’t seem to be the answer, and its incredibly selfish of us to push this burden on other countries, and burying our heads in the sand. It becomes increasingly hard to do, especially with weather acting as weird as it had recently, things like winters that feel like springs and blizzards before Halloween.
“Things like snow storms in October is not something that’s unheard of,” said Lemonick, when asked about the bizarre snowstorm last October. “The question is, are they happening more often? And following to see if they continue to happen more often as this century plays out.”
In an uncertain future on the health of our planet, concerns sprung early this month as NASA’s own Curiosity rover droid landed on Mars, taking photos of new strange planet. Thousands of views on the web watched the landing in real-time, through a live webcast, and many followers on twitter posted statuses along the lines of, “Time to pollute Mars, the new Earth!”
It appears that climate change is something that has left us with more questions than answers, and a heavy sense of shame as a species. Though it’s not hopeless, it’s crunch time to open-up to new ideas and start combating the change that has already taken effect. It will take time, though, and if there is a virtue humans are not keen on it is patience.