Using google docs for presentations

November 25, 2007 at 12:38 am | In housekeeping | 7 Comments

Here’s a technical question that I need answered by …oh, early tomorrow. Lunchtime at the latest.  On Monday morning I’m supposed to do a technical dry-run for a talk I’m presenting on Wednesday. There are some logistics involved, in terms of equipment. I don’t have a projector, and the organizer of the venue is kind enough to arrange one for me. I have a laptop. And I’m putting my presentation together using google docs‘s “Presentation Editor,” which is a real joy to use. Very easy.

But now I wonder if I haven’t dug myself a big hole.

I realized this afternoon that I can’t save this presentation as, say, a PowerPoint. I can save it as a compressed file to my computer, but when I open it, it opens in Firefox.

So …does that mean I need wifi at the venue? Like, do I need internet access to “play” my slide show?

Do any of my 2 or 3 readers have any idea if there’s a work-around for Google Docs “presentation editor,” to save it to one’s computer, open it, but not need internet access to play it?

Otherwise I will be spending tomorrow not just finishing the presentation, but transferring every single slide by hand (pictures and some text) to that clunker PowerPoint format, which I know I can save to my computer and open without benefit of wifi access….

Testing YouTube “embed” function

November 25, 2007 at 12:15 am | In just_so, media, web | 9 Comments

Gordon Price is having trouble embedding YouTube videos on his blog.

I have never been able to embed them on this blog — only link to. But I thought I’d give it another try… Here’s an architecture-related video: Jean Nouvels Torre Agbar in Barcelona

Wanna bet it’ll show up as just code?

Pish. It didn’t even appear as code. I suspect that the free version of WordPress doesn’t allow it. On the other hand, if I simply copy the url for that video and link it to text — like this — I can link to YouTube videos directly. But no pretty embedding…


November 19, 2007 at 11:12 am | In architecture, futurismo, innovation, wiki | Comments Off on Wikitecture?

Another intriguing link from Digital Urban: Collaborative Virtual Architecture – Wikitecture …Well, “wikitecture,” who would have predicted that 10 years ago? I admit, this is something yours truly needs to explore before she can really comment.

But it’s serendipidous at the very least, to run across this nugget now, as I’m thinking about social apps and their effect on the representation of place. This might not be a social app as such, but “wiki” does imply a collaborative paradigm that didn’t quite exist in quite this way before the web got us all to play along…

The people behind the concept ask

Can mass collaboration and collective intelligence improve the quality of architecture and urban planning?

Right now it’s still on the level of an experiment in Second Life, but at some point I could see this integrated seamlessly into community visioning sessions.

But don’t ask me just yet how I actually feel about it all. Frankly, I wasn’t won over by the design that got built in the video clip…

Could culture marketing go into overdrive?

November 18, 2007 at 6:19 pm | In arts, philanthropy, taxes | Comments Off on Could culture marketing go into overdrive?

This could get tricky or messy or both. CEOs for Cities’ blog entry, To Tax or Not to Tax?, shines a light on the (potential?) problem of non-profit organizations having tax-exempt status. In the US, collectively over 23 cities, non-profits represent ~$1.5b in “lost” tax revenue, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

CEOs for Cities writes:

Universities, hospitals, museums and other nonprofits are generally exempt from taxes, most notably property taxes. These exemptions in 23 cities, according to a survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, amount to $1.5 billion.

The biggest exemptions are in NYC, Boston, LA, DC, Houston and Philadelphia. But the biggest impacts are in Denver, Baltimore, San Diego and Memphis.

Most exemptions go to universities and hospitals in exchange for the public good they are expected to provide. But the pressure on city budgets continues to grow, so pressure is increasing on nonprofits to pay something for the city services they require (or for the land they take out of circulation that could yield property tax).

Clearly, not all nonprofits are created equal. Some hospitals, for instance, serve more indigent patients than other hospitals. We may be moving to a time when cities will demand that nonprofits exempt from property taxes account for the value of the public service they actually provide, as well of the cost of public services they use.

The really far-reaching idea is that cities might eventually “demand that nonprofits exempt from property taxes account for the value of the public service they actually provide, as well of the cost of public services they use.”

Obviously, that’s possible to do — to an extent. But it will be a nasty food fight all around when it comes time to determine the dollar amounts of “intangibles” provided by cultural non-profits.

I can just imagine it… “Our art exhibit/ music performance/ theatre piece provides mental stimulation, keeps people off drugs, and saves souls, therefore it’s worth x-amount of dollars,” says the pro-culture camp. The opposition, who don’t want “their” tax money to support the “useless” arts, counters, “Your cultural product drives people crazy, and far from providing a benefit, in fact adds to social costs.”

Well, maybe that’s a bit far-fetched, but trying to pin a price on everything and anything could get absurd pretty quickly. Just look at advertising, which wants us to pay the price (buy the product) — silly claims abound.

On Robert Dziekanski’s death by Taser at the hands of the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport

November 17, 2007 at 12:02 am | In canada, justice, social_critique | 5 Comments

Below, several articles that report on this matter. I watched the video two days ago, it’s shocking on several levels. It’s a record of stupidity aggregating into calamity — the endless prattle of the moron in the background, insisting that Dziekanski is speaking Russian, alerting us to every detail (“he threw a chair” blah blah blah), and who is clearly chomping at the bit for action of some sort: that is the sound of the devil’s lowest minion hissing into your ear. Frightening, that people can be so stupid. When the RCMP arrives, the stupidity is complete, and thoroughly evil.

Where’s the accountability? In one of the articles, RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr actually has the gall to complain that people are being mean to him by complaining about the RCMP officers’ actions. (Boo-hoo, Cpl. Carr.) Oh, so this is what we do in Canada, eh? We don’t take responsibility, we whine about being picked on? And as for the airport staff — they’ve got their union to protect their hide. No one there will step up, no manager is going to go and commit seppuko on the runway for having a staff that lets a passenger wait, unattended, for nearly 10 hours in a holding area (after what was probably a 15-hour journey), dehydrated, sleep-deprived, and disoriented. Oh no, heaven forbid anyone should step up and actually admit that he or she fucked up.

It’s not just the RCMP, everybody was in on this one.

It’s also very interesting to see how individuality and reason break down in a group dynamic like this. The woman who approaches Dziekanski and tries to talk to him is the only one showing compassion. For the others, it looks like it’s just …spectacle.

From UPI: Report: Cops broke rules in Taser death

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Nov. 16 (UPI) — Police officers involved in the Taser death of a man at the Vancouver airport appear to have violated recommendations in a 2005 report.

Robert Dziekanski, an immigrant from Poland, died Oct. 14 after being stunned with the electric shock weapon. The incident was recorded on video.

The video shows that Dziekanski, who apparently became agitated after waiting at the airport for several hours for his mother to meet him, was not a danger to anyone else. Dziekanski was shocked twice and the four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers then restrained him face down, with two of them kneeling on his neck and back.

The British Columbia police complaint commissioner said in 2005 that police should only use Tasers on people who pose a threat to others or were actively resisting arrest, The Vancouver Province reported. The report said there should be no multiple shocks, and after using a Taser police should be careful not to restrain subjects in any way that would impede their breathing.

A woman who witnessed the incident told the Toronto Globe & Mail that Dziekanski’s agitation appeared to be a product of language difficulties and that an interpreter would have been able to calm him down.

From the Canadian Press: Victoria man who shot airport Taser video says experience changing his life:

VICTORIA – Paul Pritchard was on an emergency flight home to Victoria to help his ailing father when he was confronted by another real-life emergency at Vancouver airport that changed his life.

The 25-year-old teacher arrived on a flight from China and stumbled into a deadly drama, recording with his video camera the final moments of a Polish immigrant who died after being shot by an RCMP Taser stun gun.

Pritchard says the video has helped him realize it’s time to get serious about his future and his proud father says his son has always had his feet squarely planted on the ground and a deep sense of what’s right.

Pritchard’s video of events leading up to the death of Robert Dziekanski on Oct. 14 raced around the world on the Internet and on TV broadcasts after it was released Wednesday.

The Mounties themselves called it the single best record they had of what happened early that Sunday morning in a near empty international arrivals area, though investigators insist it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Still, the emotional public reaction to the video and the furious political debate surrounding the police’s use of Tasers convinces Pritchard changes are afoot when it comes to the current use of weapons by police.

“Something good is going to come out of it,” Pritchard said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“For me, to have a part in changing something at a national level is huge. This is definitely … changing my life.”

Pritchard’s father John, who is dying of an illness neither he nor his son would discuss, said he’s proud of how his son handled the battle to regain control of the video from police and the intense spotlight he’s been under for a month as a result.

“He’s always had a sense of fairness and loyalty about being bullied,” said John Pritchard.

“He would never back down, like in school. He would never back down to older boys who wanted to push him around.”

Pritchard leaped to prominence soon after the Taser incident when he went public with complaints the RCMP had reneged on a promise to return the video recording, which he handed over voluntarily, within 48 hours. Police gave it back after he threatened legal action.

The recording was made public Wednesday evening and the major Canadian TV networks paid Pritchard a small fee for its use.

The Canadian Press was also given a copy and posted it for use by its online news clients but did not pay a fee.

Pritchard was whisked to New York on Thursday to tape appearances on U.S. network television.

“I woke up this morning and did a couple of phone interviews and all of a sudden I’m flying to New York,” he said Thursday.

Pritchard said he’s considering becoming a reporter now after spending the last two years travelling and teaching English in China.

“I’m looking into a journalism route now,” he said. “I’m really interested in how the media has worked. I’ve got to see the whole media side of things and it’s kind of sparked an interest in me.”

Pritchard said he’s been content until now to travel, but it’s now time to make long-term plans.

“I was travelling around the world,” he said. “I had a couple years left in me. My plans, I was moving to India after China. I was going to South America after that.”

John Pritchard said his son has always stuck to his principles and his determination to ensure the public saw the video is a sign of that inner strength.

“He’s not always made the right decision, like all teenagers,” he said. “But there’s also a very sensitive side to him which I don’t think he lets come through that often.”

He said he’s seen pictures of Paul teaching children in China and the Philippines that show his caring side.

Paul Pritchard said he leaned on his father for guidance after witnessing the Taser incident. He said it was his father who gave him the phone number of a lawyer to contact about getting his video back.

“I needed someone’s influence and help in these situations with my choices, for most of them anyway,” said Pritchard.

“I’ve got a father who’s dying … It’s really brought us together at a pivotal point in my life, our life.”

A cultural analyst at the University of Victoria’s English faculty said Pritchard should guard against being caught up and spit out of a media whirlwind.

He must remember he was a witness to an extraordinary event and he’s not an expert in police tactics or dealing with traumatic situations, said Prof. Kim Blank.

“He’s become somewhat of a celebrity just by the fact of witnessing something,” he said.

Blank said he can’t say if the Taser incident will end up changing Pritchard’s life.

“It may open up some doors. It may make him interested in something he wasn’t interested in before,” he said. “But he may feel he ends up getting used. People can go from naivete to experience very quickly in this.”

John Pritchard said everything has happened so quickly that he and his son haven’t had the chance to talk about the pros and cons of the video experience.

“I’m just myself wondering now how he views the outcome of all of this and where it’s going to go,” he said.

But Pritchard said he’s extremely proud of what his son has done.

“I can’t walk very far at the moment, so he takes me shopping,” he said. “He’s been a really really good son and I’m very proud of him, very thankful he came home.”

From CBC news: Few answers from Airport Customs union in Taser death:

Can’t explain why no one offered help to connect Dziekanski, mother

Last Updated: Friday, November 16, 2007 | 6:54 PM ET


The head of the union representing customs officers at the Vancouver airport says it was unusual no one offered to help Robert Dziekanski connect with his mother the night he died, after being stunned with a Taser by the RCMP.

Before police arrived, Robert Dziekanski picked up a small table and put it in the doorway between the customs exit area and a public lounge.Before police arrived, Robert Dziekanski picked up a small table and put it in the doorway between the customs exit area and a public lounge.
(Paul Pritchard)

George Scott, vice-president with the Customs Excise Union, told CBC News he can’t explain why nobody was willing to check where Dziekanski was on the night of October 14, despite repeated requests from his mother.

“It’s something that wouldn’t be hard to find out,” Scott told CBC News on Thursday said. “We certainly do have the resources.”

The comments from the union leader are the first public statement about Canada Border Services Agency conduct during the incident.

The agency has remained silent about how Dzeikanski went unnoticed for more than eight hours in the highly controlled customs and passport area inside the immigration hall at the airport.

Meanwhile on the other side of the wall, Dziekanski’s mother Sofia Cisowski spent more than six hours in the international arrivals lounge that night trying desperately — even crying to officials — to persuade anyone at the airport to help her make contact with her son.

“I was asking the woman and she said do not worry because security people or somebody else… they’ll find him,” Cisowski told CBC news.

But nobody did. Larry Berg, the Vancouver Airport C.E.O was also unable to explain why airport staff would not help Cisowski contact her son in the immigration hall.

Airport staff refused to help mother find son

“I can’t speak for everybody who works at the airport that was in involved that evening. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me,” Berg told CBC News last week. “We’re going to…wait for the coroner’s report before we make any conclusions or decisions relative to that.”

Berg said staff did eventually page Dziekanski, but used a public address system that did not broadcast in the secure customs area controlled by the CBSA.

Cisowski said she was sure here son was inside the secure customs area waiting for her by the baggage carousel because she had told him specifically to wait for her there.

But she later found out the public could not access that area, and she turned to airport officials for help to make contact with her son, who spoke only Polish and had never been on a plane before.

After her repeated requests for help were turned down at the first airport help desk, Cisowski told CBC News she went to the CBSA office in the waiting area near the international arrivals lounge.

But when officials there checked a computer, they told her told there was no sign of her son, even though records would later show he had pass through the primary passport check into the area.

Mother advised to go home

She then found a second airport help kiosk and made several more requests for help making contact with her son, but eventually she was told he was not there, and she should go home.

At around 10:30 p.m., she drove back to Kamloops.

Around the same time, Dziekanski finally made his way to the secondary customs check inside the secure customs area, where he was redirected to immigration control, and eventually emerged from the customs area around midnight.

An hour later an agitated and confused Dziekanski was confronted by the police. Within 30 seconds they stunned him at least twice with a Taser. He died a minute and half later.

Currently there are four investigations into the death underway, by the B.C. coroner’s service, the RCMP, the public complaints commissioner of the RCMP and the Vancouver international Airport.

The Canada Border Services Agency has not said if it is conducting an investigation of its own.

From the Canadian Press: Police statements differ from what video shows of Taser death:Amnesty Int’l:


Police statements differ from what video shows of Taser death:Amnesty Int?l

VANCOUVER – There are too many differences between what police told the public and what a video shows of the fatal night RCMP used a Taser to subdue a frantic Polish immigrant at Vancouver’s airport, critics say.

Amnesty International Canada is calling for an independent investigation and an expert in police force says the Oct. 14 incident and the video released this week raise serious concerns that need to be addressed.

“For me, it (the video) raises a lot of questions as to how decisions were made going into that incident because what you appear to see is that they show up and move to Taser somebody,” Hilary Homes of Amnesty International said from Ottawa.

Robert Dziekanski died minutes after being zapped twice by a Taser-wielding officer in the airport’s international arrivals area.

Police were called because Dziekanski had been acting strangely after spending hours waiting vainly to meet his mother.

The video shows Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, trying to barricade himself into the secure area of the arrivals terminal while bystanders try to communicate with him.

Immediately after the incident, Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, spokesman for the RCMP’s E Division, said three Mounties tried to hold Dziekanski down after approaching him in a secure area of the airport.

In fact, the video shows four officers confronting the agitated Dziekanski and backing him up to a counter inside the terminal’s secure area. The Taser was deployed within a minute of police confronting him.

It’s unclear whether Lemaitre meant officers tried to subdue him before he was shot with the Taser or afterwards.

The video shows the four Mounties piling on to a fallen Dziekanski after he was zapped.

Lemaitre wasn’t available for comment Thursday.

The video shows the officers crowding around the fallen man as he writhed and moaned. At least one of them appeared to put his full weight on the man’s neck.

Dziekanski eventually stopped moving and the video ends soon after a man in a suit bends over to see if he had a pulse.

Traveller Paul Pritchard, who shot the video, said officers seemed to come prepared to zap Dziekanski.

“As they ran in, I heard one of the officers say, ‘Can I Taser him, should I Taser?’ before they actually even got to Mr. Dziekanski,” said Pritchard, who lives in Victoria.

Homes said 17 Canadians have died after being shot by a Taser, which jolts the body with 50,000 volts and is often used to subdue people deemed dangerous to police, themselves or others.

But she said the video clearly shows Dziekanski wasn’t a threat to anybody and the footage does not indicate Mounties tried to restrain him before he was shot, if that’s what Lemaitre meant.

A report published by Amnesty International in May says all police departments should stop using Tasers until thorough studies have been done on its effects.

RCMP Cpl. Dale Carr said he doesn’t understand why people would think Dziekanski was shot with the Taser prematurely.

“How much time does one need to make an assessment that there is potential of danger or potential of somebody being harmed?”

Carr wouldn’t comment on whether the four Mounties could have used other tactics to deal with Dziekanski, who does not appear to threaten them and at one point backs away.

“The whole basis of our investigation is to get to the bottom of how Mr. Dziekanski ended up in the state that he did: deceased,” said Carr, who speaks for the RCMP homicide unit investigating the death.

“We want to answer those questions but they’re not going to be answered through the media.”

He said a coroner’s inquest, which has yet to be scheduled, would answer a crucial question about why the officers involved didn’t use other means of trying to subdue Dziekanski.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “That’s a question for those officers while they’re under oath at the inquest.”

Carr said he’s been getting angry calls about the incident from “people who feel that they have the right to call me and blast me.”

“I suspect they’re making conclusions, based on one piece of evidence and they’re not waiting, perhaps, for all of the evidence to come out down the road and that’s unfortunate.”

He said the video is a strong piece of evidence but it’s only one side of the story.

Carr wouldn’t say if police have a video recording of their own of the incident that has generated buzz on radio talk shows and led to a website called Justice for Robert Dziekanski.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the RCMP is reviewing the practices related to Taser use and that a report is being prepared.

Day is waiting to see the conclusions of that report before commenting.

Michael Lyman, a professor in the criminal justice and forensic science department at Columbia College in Missouri, said the video shows Dziekanski to be in crisis but that he certainly didn’t pose a threat to the four police officers.

“I don’t see where the officers made any attempts to rush him or to control him physically through the use of soft-handed control techniques as in simply just holding him and securing him without having to resort to any weaponry,” he said.

Lyman, who has testified in hundreds of cases in the United States involving proper use of police force, said he’s particularly concerned about a Mountie putting his full weight on Dziekanski after he’s been flailing on the floor.

“That is very, very dangerous because persons have difficulty breathing when an officer places weight on them, especially on a hard floor.”

Lyman said many questions need answers in what has become a huge international story.

“We have to just take a breath and consider what the police might have known about this person, if anything, prior to their arrival.

“How did they receive their message? Was there anybody else that might have come to them and said, ‘This person’s going to hurt somebody?’

“I’d like to approach a situation like this from the standpoint of listening to what the police have to say but holding them accountable for their actions that are clearly depicted by what we see on the video.”

Quote, from above:

Carr said he’s been getting angry calls about the incident from “people who feel that they have the right to call me and blast me.”

Oh, boo-hoo Mr Carr, that must really hurt. Almost as much as getting tasered?

From AP: Cameraman Changes Mind About Taser Death:


Cameraman Changes Mind About Taser Death

TORONTO (AP) — Videotaping the last moments of a Polish immigrant’s life, Paul Pritchard thought the police were 100 percent right to use a Taser stun gun to subdue the man.

That was a month ago, before the police returned the videotape they borrowed from Pritchard, a Canadian who had filmed Robert Dziekanski’s death.

Now that Pritchard has watched his own tape — and no longer believes Dziekanski posed any threat of violence — he condemns the police use of a stun gun just 46 seconds after confronting Dziekanski at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“At the time I thought it was the right thing,” Pritchard said Friday. “I thought it was more of a standoff, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t like that at all.”

A coroner’s inquest has been called and police have launched an investigation. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have said they are reviewing Taser use; 18 people have died in Canada after being hit with a Taser in the last four years.

Dziekanski, 40, of Gliwice, Poland, arrived at the airport Oct. 14. It was his first flight, and was to be the start of a new life with his mother in western Canada.

But Dziekanski, who spoke only Polish, began acting erratically at the airport. He apparently became upset when he didn’t see his mother in the secure baggage area — which she was not allowed to enter.

She had told him to wait for her there, and he did, for about 10 hours. When she could not find anyone to help her get to the secure area, and he did not emerge, she thought he had missed his flight and she left the airport.

Pritchard pulled out his camera after watching Dziekanski pace back and forth. Dziekanski threw a computer to the ground, and he lined up chairs, a small wooden table and a clipboard along glass doors that separated the secure zone from the public waiting area.

“He was acting erratically,” said Pritchard. “I saw what I saw, but I didn’t realize the seriousness until I got the footage back. He wasn’t acting violent in any way. That’s what is most disturbing.”

Robert Szaniawski, a spokesman for Poland’s Foreign Ministry, said Poland has asked Canada for an explanation of Dziekanski’s death.

“We believe that the use of Taser on Mr. Dziekanski was excessively brutal and unjustified,” Szaniawski said. “No attempts were made to use other means to solve the situation but from the very start the toughest means available to the police was used. We want the matter clarified and we want those guilty named and prosecuted.”

The video shows:

_Dziekanski acting confused for several minutes before four police officers arrive and vault over a railing and confront an agitated Dziekanski behind the glass doors. Loud cries of what sound like “polizia,” can be heard as the officers are told by someone that the man only speaks Russian.

_The officers stand before him and Dziekanski throws his hands in the air and walks away, and the officers follow, apparently indicating he should put his hands on a desk top. Dziekanski stands with his back to the counter and the officers surround him before they use a Taser stun gun on him and he falls, screaming in pain.

_A voice is heard yelling, “Hit him again, hit him again.” The four officers clamber on top of him, restraining his arms and his head, as Dziekanski twitches. Finally, he is still.

Pritchard turned over the video to police that day and was told he would get it back within 48 hours. When police later refused he hired a lawyer. He got it back on Wednesday following a court order.

Pritchard said police told him they didn’t want the video to taint potential witness testimony. Pritchard didn’t believe it.

“There’s obviously something that they didn’t want the public to see which is why we took the steps to get it,” Pritchard said by telephone from New York City.

Police Cpl. Dale Carr said the video is just one small piece of evidence. “Although the video is compelling and does demonstrate a great deal of what went on there, it’s only one piece of evidence,” said Carr.

“There are a number of other witnesses that have an account and we are interested in getting to the bottom of it,” he said. “We want people to make judgment on the totality of all of the evidence and that will be shared at the inquest.”

I haven’t arranged these articles in any particular order. They tell a balanced story, I think.



Survival in the newspaper business: rethinking mass culture

November 16, 2007 at 11:09 pm | In free_press, innovation, media, newspapers | 1 Comment

Terrific post by CEOs for Cities, Rethinking Mass Culture:

“If the average reading level is eighth grade, in a mass-culture model you want to write to that level and hope you capture the largest demographic segment. And you hope that those below the level will give you a chance. In fact, you aggressively court this group by trying to prove your accessibility. As for the group reading above the level: your strategy for success is “where else are they going to go?” Your paper is probably the only/best/major source of news in your community.”Newspapers have not traditionally been mass market. In fact they were the classic niche subsidy model. The genius of newspapers was that they aggregated lots of mini-content – comics, bridge columns, stock tables, crossword puzzles, the arts, business, sports – and built enough of a combined audience to subsidize the content that otherwise would not have paid for itself.

“…the fact is that the content that journalists think counts most – coverage of city hall, foreign reporting, investigations – does not have a big enough audience to pay for itself on its own.

“Yet somewhere along the way, this idea of niche aggregation slipped away from the local paper and was replaced by the sense that every story ought to be comprehensible by every reader. The problem: in a culture that increasingly offers more and more choice and allows people to get more precisely what they want, when they want, and how they want it, a generalized product that doesn’t specifically satisfy anyone finds its audience erode away. The more general, the more broad, the more “mass culture” a newspaper tries to become, the faster its readers look elsewhere.

“The very things you see newspapers doing to try to bring in new readers… are the things that while they might have worked 20 years ago, don’t today. That’s because the celebutantes get better dish at TMZ and the Live at 5 guys do better fire and missing kids.”

Read the full post here.

And if you are interested in arts news, you can’t do better than ArtsJournal for news and the array of blogs sponsored by ArtsJournal.

More later, and on other topics, too, but I’m in a total rush right now. Just for now, on the newspaper topic, though: DO, if you’re in that business, PLEASE do consider what Invisible Inkling has to say in 10 Obvious Things About the Future of Newspapers You Need to Get Through Your Head… Really, read it. Great stuff.

Parents in MySpace: disaster follows (potentially for the internet? See update below)

November 14, 2007 at 11:13 pm | In health, justice, media, MySpace, scandal | 5 Comments

My daughter told me about this story, and when I said that it must be some sort of fake “news,” she sent me the following link: St. Charles Journal – News – POKIN AROUND: A real person, a real death. Alas, it looks real enough (the “Pokin Around” part is a play on the columnist’s name, Steve Pokin).

I find this story so disturbing on so many levels that I don’t really want to go over it with commentary — I’m struck by the level of surveillance (and perhaps judgementalism) exercised by Megan’s parents, but admittedly I’m not a parent dealing with a teen who has issues like Megan’s. As for the rest, any sane person can draw their own conclusions. …Maybe, if your brain can handle it.

I’ll copy & paste relevant bits below, but I’d encourage interested readers to go to the story itself and follow the comments, which are also disturbing.

First, a quick synopsis: a 13-year old girl named Megan Meier, who was just days shy of her 14th birthday, commits suicide by hanging herself in her bedroom closet. The reason? She was being bullied by a “hot” 16-year old male, who had initially captured her heart on MySpace by making her feel valued, but who then turned on her. He cyberbullied her with taunts and finally told her that she was a horrible person who deserved to have a horrible life. After Megan’s death, her grieving parents learn that the “hot” 16-year old male was in fact a fictitious character created by the parents of one of Megan’s girl friends — a girl she had become estranged from. This girl — and her parents — can’t be named, apparently, not least because nothing can be decisively proven against them.

That’s the official story in skeletal form. There are other details that add to “understanding” the situation (perhaps), the setting, the timeline, and so on.

You read it and decide for yourself (read the comments, too — they’re part and parcel of the trauma). If it’s true, then… Well, then the barbarians aren’t at the gates, they’re well inside. Everything about this tale is weird.

A real person, a real death

His name was Josh Evans. He was 16 years old. And he was hot.

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Look at him!” Tina Meier recalls her daughter saying.

Josh had contacted Megan Meier through her MySpace page and wanted to be added as a friend.Yes, he’s cute, Tina Meier told her daughter. “Do you know who he is?”

“No, but look at him! He’s hot! Please, please, can I add him?”

Mom said yes. And for six weeks Megan and Josh – under Tina’s watchful eye – became acquainted in the virtual world of MySpace.


[Megan] loved swimming, boating, fishing, dogs, rap music and boys. But her life had not always been easy, her mother says.

She was heavy and for years had tried to lose weight. She had attention deficit disorder and battled depression. Back in third grade she had talked about suicide, Tina says, and ever since had seen a therapist.

But things were going exceptionally well. She had shed 20 pounds, getting down to 175. She was 5 foot 5½ inches tall.


Amid all these positives, Tina says, her daughter decided to end a friendship with a girlfriend who lived down the street from them. The girls had spent much of seventh grade alternating between being friends and, the next day, not being friends, Tina says.


And then on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006, Megan received a puzzling and disturbing message from Josh. Tina recalls that it said: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.”


Why did he suddenly think she was mean? Who had he been talking to?

Tina signed on. But she was in a hurry. She had to take her younger daughter, Allison, to the orthodontist.

Before Tina could get out the door it was clear Megan was upset. Josh still was sending troubling messages. And he apparently had shared some of Megan’s messages with others.

Tina recalled telling Megan to sign off.

“I will Mom,” Megan said. “Let me finish up.”

Tina was pressed for time. She had to go. But once at the orthodontist’s office she called Megan: Did you sign off?

“No, Mom. They are all being so mean to me.”

“You are not listening to me, Megan! Sign off, now!”

Fifteen minutes later, Megan called her mother. By now Megan was in tears.

“They are posting bulletins about me.” A bulletin is like a survey. “Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat.”

Megan was sobbing hysterically. Tina was furious that she had not signed off.

Once Tina returned home she rushed into the basement where the computer was. Tina was shocked at the vulgar language her daughter was firing back at people.

“I am so aggravated at you for doing this!” she told Megan.

Megan ran from the computer and left, but not without first telling Tina, “You’re supposed to be my mom! You’re supposed to be on my side!”


[After running to her room, while her parents stayed in the kitchen to chat, Megan hung herself.]


Later that day, Ron opened his daughter’s MySpace account and viewed what he believes to be the final message Megan saw – one the FBI would be unable to retrieve from the hard drive.

It was from Josh and, according to Ron’s best recollection, it said, “Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you.”


[Now it moves from tragic to downright sordid:]

The day after Megan’s death, they went down the street to comfort the family of the girl who had once been Megan’s friend. They let the girl and her family know that although she and Megan had their ups and down, Megan valued her friendship.

They also attended the girl’s birthday party, although Ron had to leave when it came time to sing “Happy Birthday.” The Meiers went to the father’s 50th birthday celebration. In addition, the Meiers stored a foosball table, a Christmas gift, for that family.

Six weeks after Megan died, on a Saturday morning, a neighbor down the street, a different neighbor, one they didn’t know well, called and insisted that they meet that morning at a counselor’s office in northern O’Fallon.

The woman would not provide details. Ron and Tina went. Their grief counselor was there. As well as a counselor from Fort Zumwalt West Middle School.

The neighbor from down the street, a single mom with a daughter the same age as Megan, informed the Meiers that Josh Evans never existed.

She told the Meiers that Josh Evans was created by adults, a family on their block. These adults, she told the Meiers, were the parents of Megan’s former girlfriend, the one with whom she had a falling out. These were the people who’d asked the Meiers to store their foosball table.


According to Tina, Megan had gone on vacations with this family. They knew how she struggled with depression, that she took medication.

“I know that they did not physically come up to our house and tie a belt around her neck,” Tina says. “But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old – with or without mental problems – it is absolutely vile.

“She wanted to get Megan to feel like she was liked by a boy and let everyone know this was a false MySpace and have everyone laugh at her.

“I don’t feel their intentions were for her to kill herself. But that’s how it ended.”


The Suburban Journals have decided not to name the family out of consideration for their teenage daughter.

The mother declined comment.


Follow-up: I’m very sorry for the Meiers, but this sentence, from MySpace Prank Leads Teenager Girl to Suicide, makes me afraid, very afraid: “…Megan’s family wants that family to be held responsible for what they did, so they’re working with lawmakers to pass new legislation regulating the Internet.” I really don’t want the Tina Meiers of this world breathing down my or my children’s neck when we’re using what I hope will continue to be a free internet.

Ed Boyden of MIT on “how to think”

November 13, 2007 at 11:21 pm | In ideas | 2 Comments

Some brilliant ideas here:  Technology Review: Blogs: Ed Boyden’s blog: How to ThinkI think that I better print this out and read it very carefully.  And then repeat.  Often.


Van Jones: blending social justice and green initiative, ensuring that “green-collar” economies lift all boats

November 12, 2007 at 12:08 am | In green, justice, leadership | 1 Comment

A big thanks to Anna Fahey at the Sightline Institute for posting this entry, A Green Wave Shall Lift All Boats, about Van Jones. I confess that I hadn’t heard of Jones before, nor have I had enough time to explore his website and agenda with the full attention they deserve. But I think it’s pretty obvious that his is a seriously brilliant example of lateral thinking, and that his proposals have incredible potential.

From Fahey’s post:

Van Jones is a civil-rights lawyer and founder and executive director of an innovative nonprofit working to ensure that low-income, working poor, and minority youth have access to the coming wave of “green-collar” jobs. Jones — brought to Seattle by Climate Solutions , King County, El Centro de la Raza, Puget Sound Sage, and Earth Ministry — made a compelling case that social justice is the moral anchor that’s required to fuse the climate movement into a powerful and cohesive force. He sees that the solutions to global warming are the solutions to the biggest social and economic problems in urban and rural America.

Basically, his point is this: You can pass all the climate legislation you want but you have to provide the local workforce to make it happen on the ground. “We have to retrofit a nation,” he says. “No magical green fairies are going to come down and put up all those solar panels.” This is going to take skilled labor. “We can make a green pathway out of poverty.”

And it gets better, he says. These jobs can’t be outsourced. “You can’t put a building on a barge to Asia and weatherize it on the cheap.” This is about kitchen table issues: jobs, industry, manufacturing, health, education.


As far as opportunity and partnership goes, Jones points to the galloping green economy, but asks: “Are we going to have eco-apartheid? Are we going to settle for that? Are we going to have a society divided between ecological-haves and ecological-have nots?” The green economy is growing, but it’s the most segregated part of the US economy. Jones asks: “We’ve worked for 200 years to integrate a poison and pollution based economy; what can we do to ensure the green economy has a place in it for everybody?”

Click through on Fahey’s post for the rest of her article, which includes many useful links, too. And support Van Jones’s efforts to bring about an economy that’s green and just.

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