September 26, 2004

NPR Online hits the spot 

Whilst touting the BBC for its worldly World Service, let us also give a nod to NPR. They've got some new online staff over there, and as someone who's been closely watching the development of NPR's online news service, I can see they're kicking it into a higher gear. As evidence, here's an example from this weekend, a Week in Review segment with Scott Simon and Juan Williams on Allawi, Iraq and the U.S. Election. Submitted for your approval.

Nice election you've got there 

If you're sick of swift boats and "Rathergate," you might find real election news and analysis of actual issues on the BBC's Vote USA 2004 web site. Sometimes the best way to understand something is to step outside of it.

September 14, 2004

Videotape of Police Riles State's Attorney 

OK, break it up, nothing to see here. Or is there? What happens when community activists begin videotaping the city police as they go about their work in the community? Traffic stops, shoplifting calls, crowds in front of nightclubs, various and sundry disturbances...mostly scenes of officer interaction with African-Americans, captured on consumer-grade video. What is the reaction? Mostly nothing, at least from the police officers themselves. One even tells the videographer he doesn't mind, the media does it all the time, and police even do it themselves. But at some point, an ill-defined line is crossed by the activists, or at least by the State's Attorney John Piland, who files charges of criminal eavesdropping against the documentarians. WILLblog saw the footage in question (and thanks to the quick work of Paul Riismandel, heard the audio as well) at Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign this past Sunday, along with about 150 other members of the community. I think if John Piland had not taken the unusual step of charging the activists (unusual given the lack of warning or complaint by the police), fewer people would know about the video. What does it show? Nothing like a smoking gun: no police brutality, no abusive language, nothing really to put the police in a bad light, even though the lighting was bad. The video is actually difficult to watch, because the quality is iffy at best. However, the viewer takes away a sense of unease not related to the jumpy camera work. Clearly, these encounters are tense, and the people in the frame don't trust each other the least little bit. It is a case where the police see it one way, and the citizens see it another way altogether. This is not a recipe for good relations, and the area authorities, including the State's Attorney, might want to be aware of that. The activists, Visionaries Educating Youth and Adults, have posted the video on their web site. WILLblog doesn't endorse eavesdropping, and we certainly can't testify at the trial if it comes to that. But the video itself might hold some pretty important lessons for the community, which the filing of charges seems only to underline, and let's hope somehow we make something positive from that.

September 13, 2004

Passing of a Fellow Blogger 

WILLblog has never been very hip to the incestuous aspect of blogging, wherein all the bloggers blog each other's blogs. We figured too many uses of the word 'blog' would, well, just blog down after a certain point. Which makes me even sadder to report the death of a true blog pioneer, the voice behind Uppity-Negro.com, Aaron Hawkins. His daily postings were always insightful, funny, and occasionally even profound. Here is a guy who was truly in the loop, had something to say, and the talent as a writer to make the reading worthwhile. Uppity-Negro was relevant, and gave us an example of something on the web that matters. I don't know if anything we do here is really going to last. But for some reason I have faith that good writing matters, and by that measure at the very least, Aaron's life counted for something important. We'll miss you Aaron, but long live Uppity-Negro.

September 10, 2004

The Internet, Libraries, and the Public Record 

"It is both a pity and a sign of the times that the libraries do not have recordings of both conventions for the civic review," writes Andrea Antulov in yesterday's Letters to the Editor section of the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. "I urge your readers to demand they ensure citizens have plentiful and easy access to historial, journalistic and civic records. After all, that was the purpose of libraries' creation, to ensure a literate, informed citizenship without regard to social class in order to protect democracy." WILLblog couldn't agree more, and Ms. Antulov's point aligns with a project we've been working on. We think things like convention speeches belong in the public domain, and anyone who wants to hear, view, or read transcripts of them should be able to freely and without hassle. The Internet could be that public library, and I know not everyone has access to the online universe at their homes, schools, and offices. But they do have access to the Internet at the physical library. So what's the problem? Simply this: Content like convention speeches on the Internet is "owned" and controlled by those who put it on their web sites. Whereas you as a citizen have a right to experience media coverage of the convention via television networks (if they bother to air it), and of course your local NPR station WILL-AM, you don't have a right to the audio and video records of these events. They're not in the local library, as Ms. Antulov attests. Here is a partial solution: NPR has all the convention speeches archived in RealAudio on the NPR web site. I spent a frustrating 15 minutes this morning tracking down all of the different pages that link to all of the content. (Maybe my search skills need work, but...) So here are the URLs that get you all the convention speeches: Republican National Convention: http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3877883 (Day One) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3882508 (Day Two) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3885136 (Day Three) http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3887311 (Day Four) Democratic National Convention: http://www.npr.org/politics/convention2004/dnc_schedule.html (All four days) All audio is encoded in RealAudio streaming format, meaning that without, ahem, special tools you can't download and save the audio. It's part of the public record, but the audio files aren't in the public domain. Some of us would like to change that. I suspect NPR would be more willing to contribute to that effort than, say, CNN which actually charges the online audience for streaming content. But for the Internet to fulfill its potential to serve the interests of citizenship and democracy, we must view it more as a public library than as a gated community. And keep stocking the shelves.

September 02, 2004

RNCBlog4 - Random Thoughts 

A few random thoughts about the RNC in NYC: -Just about every reception, breakfast, meal, etc. is sponsored by a company, activist group, or some combination of them. The Illinois Delegation events are no exception. But we hear these are the "minor league" events. The real receptions of power and note are invitation only, and closed to the media. For example, there are several wood trim, plush carpeted rooms at Madison Square Garden with their own security detail that host such events. A glimpse inside shows a level of posh reception not seen by most delegates. -Every hotel hosting a state delegation has a 24 hour security detail. Outside our hotel, there are always five NYC Police officers and a K-9 unit, and sometimes what appears to be a Secret Service members and cops on bicycles or motorcycles. Mind you, that is for one hotel housing one delegation. The Illinoisans took a luncheon harbor cruise around NY today. The whole time we were followed (closely) by a NYC police boat. -The delegates are making time for fun. Some stories of popular events: shopping, Broadway shows (Aida, The Lion King, and Chicago are most often mentioned), visiting Ground Zero, attending Yankees and/or Mets games, and walking through Central Park. Don't worry though, the IPR reporters are way too busy working to have any fun or see any sights. -The delegation took a trip to Ulysses S. Grant's Tomb yesterday. If you recall, Illinois made an attempt to have the tomb and remains of the president, general, and former Galena resident brought to Illinois. Officials here in New York say that attempt was the impetus for the NY state and federal government to get its act together and restore the monument, and install security to put an end to the vandalism and homeless shelter nature of the site. Anyway, Illinois delegates came lay a wreath at the tomb, hold a memorial service for Grant, and take a tour. Illinoisans say they are glad the tomb is in good shape, but still kind of wish it had come to Galena. Still, kind of a neat trip. -Everyone we have run into in New York has been very polite and nice. Especially the police. It may be a concerted effort to make the RNC feel at home, or could be the lingering effects of the post 9/11 New York mentality. Still, I think it's safe to say the rude New Yorker stereotype has been put to rest (at least a little bit) this week.

RNCBlog3 - Glitter and be Gay 

This morning the pattern of the RNC was thrown for a bit of a loop when comments U-S Senate Candidate Alan Keyes made about homosexuals become common knowledge. Keyes reiterated his long standing view that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and that sex is an act that should only be performed when procreation is a possible outcome. He said those who do otherwise are "selfish hedonists". That in itself probably wasn't a big deal -- only a restatement of Mr Keyes long standing beliefs. What got him into trouble was a question from a reporter about Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter. Keyes said by his definition, she would be one of those "selfish hedonists." Now moderate Republicans in Illinois have a long history of understanding members of the conservative branch of the tree have different views. For the most part, they have been able to peacefully coexist. But they draw the line at attacking (either directly or indirectly) the daughter of the Vice-President. Former Governor Jim Thompson called Keyes comments "offensive" and "extreme". State Party Chair Judy Baar Topinka called them "idiotic". Even the conservative Republicans from Illinois here in New York couldn't defend Keyes, and challenged him to focus on the Republican ideals of job creation, lower taxes, better defense, and less and more efficient government. The day's events seemed to be the final straw for many candidates that have suffered Keyes since his appointment to the ticket. On the shuttle buses around New York, Illinois delegates said things like "Why can't he just tone it down a bit", "Too bad we couldn't have a more mainstream candidate", and even"we would be better off if Jack Ryan stayed in the race." There is no doubt in my mind Mr. Keyes represents the feelings of many Republicans in Illinois. But those people don't seem to be represented by the Illinois Delegation. How many there are will, in part, be ferreted out by the November election. As an aside, "Equality Illinois", a Chicago-based gay rights group held a quickly put-together martini reception in the Illinois delegation hotel tonight at midnight. There were only 20 people there. But some of them were Republican delegates.

September 01, 2004

Garrison Keillor invades Central Illinois 

OK, he's a Lutheran so it's not really an invasion but I had to hype it somehow. Garrison Keillor visits Bloomington-Normal on September 22nd to present material from "Lake Wobegon Days" and field audience questions: 2 pm at Illinois Wesleyan University's Westbrook Auditorium, and 7 pm at ISU's Braden auditorium. Both events are free and open to anyone, but tickets must be acquired in advance. You can pick those up at Illinois Wesleyan's Ames Library information desk, and ISU's Milner Library general reference desk. Info available at 309-438-7402. These things tend to sell out quickly, so good luck.

RNCBlog2 - Protestors 

There has been a large amount of coverage on the National and New York media about protestors at the Republican National Convention. But I think most of the people attending the convention are not directly impacted by the demonstrations and related arrests. First of all, the area around Madison Square Garden is so closed off and secured by hundreds of police officers and security guards that none of the protests are getting very close to the actual convention. Secondly, New York is just so crowded and congested normally, and many people attending the convention do not have a means of comparison to assess whether protests are having an impact. For example, if a shuttle bus is running a half an hour late, is it because protestors are tying up traffic, or because New York is just plain crowded? There have been some incidents where the Illinois Delegation had to walk through small groups of protestors while coming and going on the sidewalks of New York. They have also been on the receiving end of verbal assaults, and a couple were spit on. But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Most of the people attending the convention are aware of the protestors, but they aren't having a significant impact on the event. Plus, even with the more than a thousand people arrested and lots of attention on the demonstrations, there have been only a couple of reports of injury. Many of the protestors I have talked to have said the police and the protestors have generally respected each other's space and roles. One protestor said competed to WTO Protests, the events at the RNC have been "calm and collected."

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