Category: Free Posts

I (Kind Of) Know What I Did Last Summer

This past summer was quite busy, and I was quite bad at keeping track of it. During the summer, I participated in three separate events for CSTEM; a teacher professional development workshop (July), the Black Arts festival in Albany (August), and the 4S conference in Boston (August-September 1).

Professional Development Workshop

For this workshop, a bunch of teachers from around the Capital District came to RPI to learn about applying culturally responsive computing to their teaching. They split into groups based on which areas were most interesting to them, and a few teachers came to Cornrow Curves (I don’t remember how many). The teachers worked on a project that would use the pH concepts that the summer interns came up with. One of the teachers decided to combine programming LED lights with pH sensors, using CSnap as the programming language. Over the course of the workshop, I spent quite a bit of time with the son of one of the teachers. He was quick to understand the Cornrow Curves software and made some great designs – I did let him play Minecraft on my computer for a while.

For the pH sensor/LED lights idea, I was supposed to set up a pH sensor to work with CSnap, but I couldn’t get it to work. I liked getting the chance to breadboard again; I haven’t done that since I was in high school.


Black Arts Festival (August 5th)

Starting up for the Black Arts festival was a bit difficult. As soon as we (a few other undergrads, Bill, Mike, and I) got there, it started to drizzle. Then it started to drizzle a little harder. Then it started to rain.

Then, thirty minutes of torrential downpour in gale-force winds.

Thankfully, we were able to save the (very expensive) 3D printers, sensors, computer monitors, and some other materials. The paper posters didn’t fare so well. I was thoroughly soaked, so much so that it took the rest of the day for my hair to dry. My breakfast and computer were still warm and dry.

Once the rain stopped and we got everything up & running, the event ran smoothly. I set up a Cornrow Curves program with an infinite loop and talking to passerby was both illuminating and not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Talking about the research and how everything works was a good exercise for an introvert like me, and I valued the experience.

The Black Arts festival itself was vibrant with a great sense of fun. We were next to a small stage (one of three at the event), and this small stage hosted a fashion show, dance crew, and a display of the work of the students at the cosmetology program we work with. All in all, it was a good day.


4S (Society for Social Studies of Science) Meeting (August 29-September 1)

4S is a huge STS conference in Boston every year, and this was my first time going. It was a little overwhelming (I am still an introvert), and there was a ton of interesting stuff going on. I visited at least a couple of panels every day, and learned about some new ideas I may want to incorporate in future work. Later in the week, I went to Mike’s panel and Ron’s panel.

I presented at the Making and Doing session on Thursday, which was a three-hour poster session. Our (Mike, Bill and I) presentation was interactive, and I got the chance to explain generative justice and talk to people about the research. Over time, my discussion followed an informal script that covered pretty much everything and allowed me to show a Cornrow Curves program in an infinite loop. A few kids were there, so I had them guide me through changes to the little program that was running. I was in heels the entire time but I was still ready for more.

I don’t have a picture for 4S, but the general feeling could easily be captured by imagining you’re an introverted penguin who doesn’t like being touched in this picture:


photo credit: David Stanley

This was certainly an interesting summer, not all of which I talked about here. I learned a lot and had some great experiences.

The Prime Minister’s New Socks

I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s, so I remember JT meaning Justin Timberlake. He was/is a great entertainer, and in 2001 he sported a lovely and iconic full-denim suit. As an entertainer going to awards shows frequently, it is no surprise that Justin Timberlake’s fashion choices were analyzed. However, there is a more recent fashion phenomenon surrounding a different JT, who is not an entertainer but a politician – Justin Trudeau. That’s right – we are hearing news articles about the fashion statements of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Justin Trudeau has a deep love of novelty socks. Personally, I quite enjoy fun socks (I am wearing snowflake-covered ones at the moment). However, it makes no logical sense for news organizations to focus on a political leader’s socks rather than their policies. Justin Trudeau’s socks have been featured in not one, not two, but three separate New York Times articles. Granted, two of them were in the Fashion & Style section, but why are we seeing a political leader in the fashion section of the Times? Don’t they have celebrities to cover? I hear Kristen Stewart has frosted tips now – maybe cover that instead. I was under the impression that when discussing political leaders, we should be discussing their actions, not their accoutrements.

So, let’s take a look at these bad boys.

Here are his Eid-themed socks:

Here he is rocking maple-leaf socks:


Here he is in NATO socks:

And, of course, the very famous Star Wars socks:27otr3-master675

Wow, the man really likes his silly socks. Coverage of his socks extends to the Washington Post, Vogue (who attributed statement-making abilities to Trudeau’s socks), and even across the pond to feature in two posts at The Guardian. Elle, a fashion magazine like Vogue, posted an article about a week ago about Justin Trudeau hugging a puppet unicorn. You heard that right – a puppet unicorn. Elle starts out by saying that Canada is “actively trying to ascend to a higher, more magical spectral plane.” All this from giving a puppet a hug. The Vogue article is actually on the front page of Vogue’s website.

Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.47.52

However, Canada’s own newspapers are much less enthralled by the Prime Minister’s socks. CBC, one of the largest – if not the largest – news organizations in Canada posted an op-ed about Trudeau backing away from his campaign promise to replace the current voting system. The Chronicle Herald, another popular Canadian news site, shows this when you search for Trudeau’s socks, and the Calgary Herald shows no results at all:

Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.45.48Screenshot 2017-06-29 18.46.29

But why care about the PM’s socks?

What is notable is Teen Vogue’s coverage of Justin Trudeau’s presence at Pride in Toronto. They point out that Trudeau’s love of novelty socks wouldn’t be bad if he actually backed up his pageantry. The teen fashion magazine has become quite the politically active magazine, and I want to give them kudos for that. They frequently cover news stories about pressing topics such as LGBT rights, racism, and feminism. When many magazines that claim to be hard news fail to cover LGBT topics, Teen Vogue is there to pick up the pieces and run with them.

I am inclined to agree with Teen Vogue. In his op-ed discussing Trudeau’s attendance at Pride, Pablo Mhanna-Sandoval states that “last April, his government also approved export permits as part of a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a country infamous for their repressive crackdowns on the LGBTQ community.” In fact, Trudeau has a history of friendliness with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, both of which are oppressive towards their LGBT citizens. He also points out Trudeau’s failings to equitably treat Canada’s indigenous communities.

I now turn to the TrudeauMeter from On this site, I found 4 campaign promises that Trudeau broke which are troubling and revolve around environmentalism and/or justice with First Nations. The first is Trudeau’s continuation of fossil fuel subsidies – rather than phasing them out as promised, Trudeau has actually “locked in one recent liquefied natural gas subsidy until 2025.” In his campaign, Trudeau promised additional funding for postsecondary education for indigenous students – but did not do so. Even more troubling is his failure to back up his promise to guarantee First Nation communities veto power over natural resource development in their territories. He has also failed to lift the two percent cap on funding for First Nations programs.

According to the National Observer, it is unclear as to whether Trudeau wants to stand up for the Paris Climate agreement. TIME magazine reports that Trudeau has broken his promise to reform the country’s electoral system, which has been called a betrayal to his own Liberal Party as the “current first-past-the-post voting system, which generally benefits conservatives who vote in a block for the Conservative Party of Canada, and leaves out smaller and more liberal parties.”


In searching for Canadian news about Justin Trudeau’s socks, I came across an op-ed in The Star, a very popular Canadian news site. This hilarious op-ed has much of the same sentiment as me. The author, Vinay Menon, is tangibly annoyed at the prevalence of Justin Trudeau’s socks. Here is a snippet from the op-ed:

Canada, we have a problem on our hands.

And that problem is on Justin Trudeau’s feet. The endless obsession with the man’s socks — his socks — has tiptoed past the point of annoying and is now getting dangerously close to someone-hold-a-pillow-over-my-head.


As far as I can tell, Trudeau’s socks are now running the country. Bow down, citizens, and pledge fealty to your new woolly overlords that come in one-size-fits-all. I mean, why are we even paying taxes? Should we not just divert this money to the bespoke unit at McGregor to help pay for Canada’s future sock diplomacy?


It is fine that Trudeau has fun socks – I am of the belief that fun socks make for fun walks. However, using socks to cover up unfulfilled campaign promises and the continued environmental racism towards First Nations scalds the good name of the fun sock. When we see the fashion choices of a political leader plastered everywhere we look, there is almost definitely something shiftier going on. I’ve got my eyes on your socks, Trudeau. Keep them walking in the right direction.

If It Bleeds, It Reads: How the News Affects People, Part 1

For this post, I chose to focus on a specific section within our third textbook, Democracy and the News, written by Herbert Gans. The section within Chapter 2 is called “How the News Affects People.” The author admits that this section is mostly speculative, as it is hard to determine what news media is doing by itself because of confounding variables. He says people who make a living dealing with words, pictures, and other symbols (like sociologists, journalists, and media critics) pay more attention to the news than the general population. He states that lab studies systematically overestimate the effect of news, and many of the potential effects of news media never occur. This section goes over the different kinds of effects that may happen.

This post deals with the first three effects; the next post will deal with the next three effects.


The Social Continuity Effect

The social continuity of news media arises from its daily appearance as scheduled, showing that social life will go on as before. This is an unconscious effect brought on by the routine nature of many news items. This also makes the news more important or visible in times of crisis, with journalists reporting recovery efforts and the return to normalcy. In this subsection, Gans says that everyday routines would be interrupted but the government could function for a while through interoffice communication. Americans may be happy without political news for a while, but will come to rightly suspect government corruption due to lack of communication Gans also warns that without journalism, democracy cannot properly function due to an uninformed populace.

An interesting point from this subsection is that “…the absence of news practically guarantees the arrival of rumors to supply information when people need it” (Gans, p. 73). I wonder how the growing popularity of Twitter would affect this thought experiment. Twitter is used to spread information quickly and globally, and the trending section shows what people are talking most about. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people got quite a lot of their news explicitly from Twitter.


The Informing Effect

The point of journalism is to inform an audience – usually the general public. Gans says that people in the audience choose when they want to be informed. This makes sense, but the constant bombardment of information coming from Facebook and Twitter is involuntary, as are mandatory government warnings that come screeching and blaring onto a TV or radio station during a weather-related emergency. Gans makes an interesting point when he says that people acquaint themselves most eagerly with information they need for their daily lives or can use for emergencies. I don’t entirely agree with it; while it should make sense, it doesn’t account for the popularity of sports journalism (I know I seek out hockey news even though it doesn’t affect me personally).

A Pew research study in 1986 found that most people do not follow most news very closely. I suspect that a replication of this study may find something similar, especially with the increased bombardment availability of news due to social media. People do pay close attention to disaster, however. Many people get their news from something other than news media. The author points out the Daily Show as a news source. More recently, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal seem to be filling that role.


Legitimation and Control Effects

This section starts off with the statement that journalists treat the subject of their reporting with respect and earnest. I doubt that this is always the case, especially with political journalism and exposés. The author mentions that covering an individual gives them legitimacy. In class, we discussed Megyn Kelly’s interview of Alex Jones. A valid criticism of the interview is that Kelly is giving legitimacy to Jones’ views (which are abhorrent, to say the least). By showing him on national television, she is giving him a platform through which to gain more followers and spread his conspiracy theories (such as calling 9/11 and the Sandy Hook shooting hoaxes).

Gans says that advertisers are not big content controllers, but I do not see a lot of merit in this claim. Advertisers are not nearly as stuck to news media as Gans would believe; they can gain publicity through program television, social media, and billboards. The Internet makes advertisers even less beholden to news media; they can simply take their ads elsewhere. There is more pressure on news media outlets to be ad-friendly than for advertisers to be medium-friendly. Gans mentions that journalistic patriotism after 9/11 was a reaction to consumer pressure, and may have unintentionally helped the government reduce disagreement with its policies.

This subsection discusses how disasters and emergencies get more attention than routine stories. This brings us to September and October of 2001, some of the most memorable months in my entire life, and probably for many other people as well. Two major terror attacks occurred in the United States during this time; the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11th, and the Anthrax scare that took multiple lives beginning on October 18th. According to Gans, both stories were followed very closely by the entire country (and for good reason). 9/11 was especially huge on the East Coast, and was followed closely by 74% of respondents of a specific survey (Gans, p. 74). As the Anthrax scare was national rather than in a specific city, it was followed by 78%.

[Cover of the New York Times after 9/11]
Cover of the New York Times after 9/11
I was five years old at the time, but I remember a disturbing amount of what happened. I am from a town in New Jersey almost directly across the river from New York City, so I experienced the brunt of 9/11. 9/11 was during the second week of kindergarten, and because we were so close to the city we were sent home early that day; on the way home, I could see smoke in the distance and the fear in my father’s eyes. The news coverage of 9/11 brought the fear even closer, with images of destruction and the President calling the attackers evil. Gans was right about the influence of journalistic patriotism after 9/11; as a child, I was quite supportive of the American military and their fight with “the bad guys” who did 9/11. (I did know, however, that Bush was lying about weapons of mass destruction.)


There are examples backing up Gans’ claims about the effects of the news media, but I don’t think he quite hits the nail on the head – especially once social media gets involved. I will discuss more news media effects in my next post.


Works Cited

Gans, H. J. (2010). Democracy and the news. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 71-78
[Front page of the New York Times on September 12, 2001]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from
From the Newseum

Evergrowing Evergreen

My desire to learn more about Evergreen State College continues – for this post, I looked at two news sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The Chronicle article was written on June 2nd by Chris Quintana, and the Post article was written the same day by Susan Svrlunga and Joe Heim. The Chronicle is a well-regarded newspaper pertaining specifically to postsecondary education, and the Post is a left-leaning news site that covers a myriad of topics. My previous comments on the situation at Evergreen State College can be found here and here. Before going in and reading these topics, I have some hypotheses about what I will find. Because the Chronicle is read by professors, deans, administrators, and the like, it will focus more on the college administration. Because the Post is somewhat “trendy” and left-leaning, it will give some focus to students.

My goal here is to compare how the situation is handled in the Chronicle and Post as compared to the Times and Wall Street Journal. The Times and the Wall Street Journal were both supportive of biology professor Bret Weinstein, who protested when organizers for the yearly Day of Absence at Evergreen asked that white students and faculty leave campus for a day. According to Weinstein, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.” Weinstein’s protest led to students of color rising in outrage and calling for his dismissal from the institution, calling him a white supremacist and racist.

The Chronicle article uses the word ‘brouhaha’ in the first sentence, which made me like it right off the bat (I like silly words). The author states that someone threatened to come to campus while armed, and it was unclear whether the caller had any connection to recent student protests. According to the article, different media outlets have called the situation an extreme case of political correctness. The article uses Evergreen professor of economics Peter Dorman as a source for the story, but neglects to hear from students. According to Dorman, the reality on campus is more complicated than just being an extreme case of political correctness: “It’s fair to say there’s a lot of polarization on campus…. No one was required to do anything; it was all about invitation…A lot of the behavior on all sides has been unhelpful.” Quintana focuses on the college president’s response; he was willing to listen to student complaints and was being responsive. The Chronicle seems to be somewhat supportive of the college administration at this point. The Chronicle includes a bit of information that other news sources I read neglected to mention – organizers asked white people to voluntarily leave rather than telling them. This article cited a student representative, and they said that “a professor chose to misrepresent the nature of the events” and then called on the president of the college to publicly condemn Professor Weinstein. The main source of this article is Dorman, who says that the faculty is divided in their opinion of the situation. A good quote from this article is:

“Bret Weinstein’s decision to take his case to Fox News was regarded as quite negative, probably by most people on campus. We have a sense that the people Bret talked to and who took advantage of his comments are people who don’t wish us well and don’t want to see us succeed in any event. There’s a bad feeling from that.”

As I suspected, the Chronicle focuses more on the administration and faculty of Evergreen, which is not surprising given the nature of the publication. I didn’t learn much from this that I didn’t already know, except that faculty are divided.

The Post article started with the same set of information about the threat to campus. They summarized the situation well:

“Last week, students of color confronted a professor who had objected to a request by school officials that white people consider avoiding campus on a day of discussions about race. They called him racist and angrily demanded that he be fired.”

The Post includes a YouTube video of students protesting. This has not appeared on the other news sources I’ve looked at, which makes it a nice and welcome change. In the video, students kept talking over one another and who I assume to be some kind of Dean. When the college faculty person asks students to give him some privacy due to his claustrophobia, they refuse and one student adds that “students of color have to work in grinding environments every day.” The video is hard to watch because much of it sounds like whining – though this could be my white privilege talking.


The authors then discuss backlash against both the students and the school; either the school supports racism or the students protesting should be expelled. One student involved with the protests wrote that “our movement against police brutality & campus racism got co-opted by an angry white man.” Students demanded that the school fire several people, including Weinstein, who – according to the article – earlier in the year had criticized the school’s equity action plan for not being beneficial enough to students of color and is now being deemed a racist.

The Post did something none of the other news organizations did – it used a student as a source. This particular student said that she didn’t think Weinstein’s email had racist intent and that media coverage saying students took over the school are conflated.

We finally see some facet of the perspective of the students! It’s still not quite enough, as I think that the video shown may have been edited to make the students look bad. I would be interested to see what exactly the student leaders of the protest are saying about this situation, and what will happen at Evergreen in the future.

Interview with a Journalist: Social Media and Journalism

In class today, we briefly discussed the prevalence of social media in journalism. We talked about how social media can be overwhelming for journalists. For this blog post, I interviewed David Zatz, the editor of Allpar, an automotive news site that covers Fiat Chrysler. While Allpar covers news, it also features articles on classic cars, Chrysler history, and repair tips.

Allpar has social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and more platforms. The news section of Allpar operates based on WordPress, and it has an extensive forums site for readers to interact with each other. 

Zoe Zatz: How have advances in technology, such as faster servers and WiFi, affected the growth of Allpar?

David Zatz: Not really; in some ways it’s slowed our growth. On the one hand, we get more people browsing; on the other, everyone expects huge photos and video on big screens and tiny photos and video on phones.

ZZ: How has the explosion of the internet affected Allpar?

DZ: Up to a point, it’s been a major boon. The more people who can find the Internet, the more people can be readers. However, Facebook and Wikipedia have drawn off people faster than the Internet expansion has added them.

ZZ: Has attribution become an issue?

DZ: Heck, yes. It’s always been an issue. We have exclusive photos, and a Canadian newspaper, rather than simply giving credit, literally retouches the photos to remove our copyright notice. You get a photo or story, and everyone else just copies it. If you get any attribution on [a certain site], if you’re not part of the AOL family, it’s a tiny note at the end with a link – but who clicks on that? Nobody, really. And you don’t get “link credit” from Google because they only link your name, not a keyword.

ZZ: How have you used social media as an automotive journalist?

DZ: Mostly to publicize. It is rare I get anything from Facebook. Sometimes a story comes from someone doing something foolish on Twitter. If you count forums as social media, then the story is very different. Forums generate a lot of stories.

ZZ: Are there social media platforms that are useful for automotive journalism?

DZ: Not as far as I know.

ZZ: Are there social media platforms that hinder Allpar?

DZ: Facebook draws of visitors. It dominates the time of readers and they don’t go to my site. Also, it changes expectations. It makes everything have to be more instant, more visual, no depth.

When we post stories on Facebook, people make snap decisions based on the headline, nothing else. A small proportion click through.  It’s harder with the more nuanced stories, like “Who tuned the “offending” diesels?” The solution is not, as Facebook readers seem to believe, throwing the EPA into jail.

ZZ: What proportion of your views comes from social media links?

DZ: 6% come from Facebook, less than 1% come from Twitter and all other social media combined.

Note: It is likely that Allpar is somewhat different from other news sources as it caters to an older audience, which generally doesn’t use much social media. 

ZZ: How has social media affected the way you interact with your writers and inside sources?

DZ: Really, it hasn’t.

ZZ: How do you interact with your readers on social media?

DZ: Reluctantly, because many of them will make snap judgements based on their prejudices. Normal people become idiots when they’re on Facebook, including me.

My main interaction is posting for others to read, the old “one to many” media model. I do look at comments and if I find things I need to change or fix, I dot it, so there’s some self correction that I get from readers.

ZZ: Does the high prevalence of social media on the internet make your job easier or harder?

DZ: It makes it harder to attract and retain an audience.

ZZ: You have forums for readers to interact with each other and with you. Do you think this is more or less effective than a high social media presence?

DZ: It’s a lot more effective for interaction. People take more time for thought. It’s nearly all text. Memes are rare and simple-minded black-and-white views don’t usually last long. People learn from each other. Forums have been working well for years but most are suffering from Facebook, based on what I’ve read in a forum administrator forum.

ZZ: In one of the textbooks I’ve read, the authors stated that the news has a set of values, including: timeliness; impact; currency; conflict; emotions; prominence; and proximity. How does automotive journalism at Allpar relate to these values?

DZ: Yes, definitely. Emotions determine how much viewership (and therefore money) you get, regardless of anything else. Timeliness can make or break a story – but it’s weird, if we run something and [a big automotive news site] picks it up two weeks later, we  have to run it again because [a big automotive news site] doing it makes it a story again. Conflict increases discussion but not viewership. Not sure about the rest.

ZZ: Do you have any other comments or concerns? Is there anything I missed?

DZ: See my blog post Mild to wild: The nuttiness of ‘net comments

Dave maintains a blog much like the New York Times Insider where he discusses the inner workings of Allpar. This blog is run on WordPress. In the blog post linked above, Dave discusses the differences in online comments. He talks about how more technical websites get better comments than mass-media news sites. He suspects that bots have something to do with the quality, or lack thereof, of comments on the internet. This blog post includes this quote about Facebook: 

Facebook is a mixed bag, largely because it gets the fewest comments. The main distinction of Facebook is that most people never read more than the headline of any story, which is hard, because many headlines are mild clickbait — not untrue, but also not telling the whole story. That’s largely due to length limits and, well, my desire to have people leave Facebook and go to my site. I don’t get a salary from Facebook, after all.

America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times featured an article on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the black LGBT community in the southern United States. The article claims that “America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any” other country in the world. I will discuss that claim later in this post, but first I must take issue with the language that the author uses. The phrase “black gay and bisexual men” is an oddly put-together phrase. It makes it sound as though the black men in the southern LGBT community are both gay and bisexual, which is impossible as one is exclusive male-male attraction and the other is defined as attraction to all genders. Knowing the definition of “gay” and “bisexual” makes it somewhat obvious that the two are different sexualities.

Much of the article is anecdotal, following the philanthropy of Cedric Sturdevant in the HIV/AIDS-ridden Jackson, Mississippi. Sturdevant is a project coordinator for My Brother’s Keeper, an HIV/AIDS support group. Sturdevant watches over a plethora of young black men with HIV. Much of the article is centered around this. I was more interested in the empirical side of the article to see where the author’s claims came from.

The more empirical parts of the article make good points. The author talks about how the HIV crisis is the most prevalent in the South. The South makes up 37% of the country’s population and 54% of all new HIV cases. The South is home to 21 of 25 cities in the US with the highest HIV rates, and there are fewer resources for gay men in this area. 40% of the gay or bisexual men in Jackson, MI have HIV.

The article briefly talks about Truvada, a preventive drug against HIV. The acronym for this is PrEP, and was approved by the FDA based on two clinical trials. More than 80,000 patients have filled prescriptions in the past four years. This sounds great, but only 48% of black gay or bisexual men use preventive drugs against HIV, and the numbers are lower for younger men. Black people only account for 10% of all PrEP prescriptions.

The beginning of the article claims that rates of HIV/AIDS in the black LGBT community in the Southern United States are higher than in all countries. I found this to be an odd claim to make, given the anti-gay sentiments in many African countries that would prevent men from reporting their sickness. For example, Uganda passed an anti-LGBT bill that, according to the Guardian, led to a tenfold increase in violence against LGBT people. The BBC reports that anti-gay hate crimes are a quite large problem in South Africa, despite its allowance of same-sex marriage. Politicians in Kenya hold strong anti-gay sentiments, according to NPR.

Such a hostile environment against LGBT people, and the perceived connection between homosexuality and HIV will only prevent gay or bisexual men from reporting that they have the autoimmune disease. The NIH supports this phenomenon of inaccurate reporting.

I do agree with the article that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic, but at no point in the article did the author recognize the phenomenon of inaccurate reporting of HIV levels in Africa.

My next post will be on the comment section regarding this article.

Novelists as Journalists

In the first textbook reading, one particular section called out to me. On pages 32-34 of “The News Media: What Everyone Needs to Know,” the authors discuss how Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other novelists were also journalists. This caught my eye because I like Mark Twain and I enjoy any opportunity to learn more about him. Mark Twain was really funny, and his quotes on Congress still ring true (especially recently).

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
Mark Twain, a Biography

The section starts out with a small mention of Anne Frank, which I skipped over because when Anne Frank is mentioned, people are usually trying to guess what she would do if she hadn’t been murdered. I would rather not think about her death, especially given that my brother is the same age now as she was then.

What I found interesting is that Jack London was a journalist, and I would have been excited to learn more about London’s journalism because I read so many of his books as a kid. According to the book, John Steinbeck wrote about Okie migrant camps in California before writing The Grapes of Wrath. George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984, worked as a journalist.

The text points out that authors are told to write what they know, which would make journalism a logical occupation to chase. Many authors also wrote nonfiction in non-journalism form. Isaac Asimov was a scientist, and wrote scientific pieces as well as humor-filled science fiction.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”

Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992

Similar to Asimov, Keith Laumer had a scientific profession before becoming a writer: he was an officer in the United States Air Force. In 1960 (and revised in 1970), Laumer published his only non-fiction book How to Design and Build Flying Models, which RPI actually has a copy of in its library. During his lifetime, Laumer was lauded for his science fiction writing, with Dinosaur Beach being among one of his most well-liked books.

As the authors of The News Media write, authors are united in a deep love of fact; this includes science fiction writers such as Asimov, novelists such as Steinbeck, and journalists. The lines between these different types of authors is fuzzy.

Strangers in a Strange Land: Christian School Teachers in North Korea

Earlier today, Choe Sang-Hun, the Korean correspondent for the New York Times wrote an article on a Christian school being run in North Korea, which is an atheist country. This particular article caught my eye for because I find the ubiquity of Christianity across the globe a particularly interesting cultural phenomenon. Because Christianity is spread through proselytizing and has a history of forced conversion (as recently as the 1940s), it has become the largest religion in the world, followed by Islam and Hinduism. Christianity boasts a total of 2.1 billion members across all denominations, making up 33% of the world’s population. Islam includes 20.1% of the world’s population, and Hinduism trails behind at 13.3%.

In general, East Asia (China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea) is an atheist area of the world. Historically, this region is home to Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, Confucianism, and more, with Christianity first making an appearance in the 1600s in China.

The school boasts about 90 workers and 500 students. This Christian school is interesting because it teaches advanced subjects to the children of rich North Korean officials, and its American teachers are not allowed to preach. This is interesting because of the proselytizing nature of Christianity. The North Korean government has arrested two of the American teachers for “hostile behavior,” which could have been spying or proselytizing. According to the article, at some point one of the Christian professors tried to give a student a Bible; this got them deported.

The school could serve any number of functions for the North Korean government. The author mentions that the North Korean government can use Americans working at the school as bargaining chips with the increasingly aggressive U.S. government. Critics of the school say that it has helped the established North Korean government through training students to become part of the regime or giving information to the North Korean government. A journalist that used to work for the university wrote a book that discussed the compromises the school made with the North Korean government by giving them information.

This school seems to be somewhat both at-odds and compliant with the North Korean government. While it makes compromises, volunteers seem to have a habit of proselytizing (which may be an artifact of having multiple former missionaries on staff) and the North Korean government has arrested and/or deported volunteers from the school. The school aims to reinforce student loyalty to North Korea by requiring students to take a Saturday class on the state ideology of self-reliance.

An interesting but somewhat understated point in the article was the mention of the experiences of the students when meeting the volunteers. Because North Korea uses propaganda to demonize the United States, the students got nightmares when they first met the teachers. As a reader, I would have been interested to see a story discussing the acclimation of these students to their teachers and of the teachers to North Korea.