Learning from foreign correspondence

I’ve been thinking a lot not just about how people get their news, but how they understand the news and what happens after that. Too often in complex stories about climate change, or even the Affordable Care Act, those seemingly “dumb” questions are glossed over and acts as a barrier to entry to those concepts. Those dumb questions help to create fluency around issues.

The foreign gaze makes Al Jazeera America treat nothing as obvious. When done well, this is in the finest tradition of foreign correspondence: a genre that soars when offering sharp, deeply reported answers to seemingly dumb questions — dumb because they are so basic and self-evident that the smugly well settled never think to ask them, any more than fish inquire about the water.

via The New York Times

The third class

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” —Albert Einstein

I’ve been meaning to write about teaching an evening introductory computer class for low-income residents with this awesome organization called Byte Back, but haven’t found the time just yet.

So last night, because we had skipped our internet lesson the last class due to connection problems (we did a lesson on copy and paste instead — that’s another story), we ended up focusing on using the internet to do basic searches and how the more “clues” or keywords you give the search engine, the better it can find what you’re looking for. Anyway, as it would happen, Google’s doodle yesterday wasn’t a doodle at all, but a black block, so I had to opportunity to explain to my class why and what Google was protesting by being blacked out. It was not on the lesson plan, but we spent about 20 minutes talking about what piracy is (not privacy, as they originally thought!), why it is indeed a problem, and whether SOPA/PIPA was the solution.

It was difficult not to espouse my own views, which made it more rewarding when, as a class, they decided that having a free internet was worth more than possible censorship by a blanket policy to block websites based on copyright infringement and that while piracy is still a big issue, the onus should not be on websites such as YouTube (they were all familiar with YouTube) to monitor and track everything that its users post because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act already forces something similar, except you’re innocent before proven guilty (i.e. if an artist tells you, the website, to remove something due to copyright infringement, you have to remove it).

Now, I don’t think I can explain all the intricacies and nuances of SOPA or PIPA, but it was nice to be forced to explain SOPA/PIPA in a simple way to an audience without the vocabulary to fully understand things such DNS, IP, or ISPs.

The rest of the world in 2012

As I’m making my way through Andrew Sullivan’s latest piece in Newsweek (which, I think, will be a nice foil piece to Jonathan Chait’s article in NYMag awhile back about liberal discontent), I wanted to stop and share this useful roundup from Foreign Policy of all of the presidential elections in 2012 including China, France, Russia, Iran, Venezeula, and Libya.

Having studied global studies and being more interested in foreign affairs than domestic, it’s been quite a change to think of everything through a domestic/national framework because of my work at National Journal. Keeping up with domestic policy and politics is excruciatingly difficult sometimes — no thanks to the sports-style, minute-by-minute plays of things in Washington — but of course it’s important and essential to understand. The bulk of my reading for the past few months have been articles and things about the US with little time left for keeping up with the rest of the world. Speaking of keeping up, my subscription to the Economist just expired! Gah.

This site is supposedly back

Human(s) curating content is back! Anyway, I think a good way to restart is to showcase what some of my friends are doing because nothing’s a better motivator than your friends being way cooler than you:

Nicole is currently interning at The New Republic (in DC! With me!), doing all sorts of neat things. Follow her here: nicolenguyen.com and twitter.com/itsnicolenguyen.

Hayes just started his new blog, At Water’s Edge, on foreign affairs and domestic policies/politics, with IR theory in the mix. But really, it’s an elaboration of his tweets, which are also fantastic. Also, he writes headlines like these: “Venezuela is basically the Lady Gaga of the United Nations” and “Syria Business: Syria’s FM Blames Everyone but Al-Assad for Syria’s Problems.”

Alex, my DC boyfriend, is always feeding me delicious Spats and pieces on NYTimes trend stories and Jon Hamm on The Atlantic Wire. Follow him online unless you’re lucky enough to have weekly date nights with him at MeiWah.

Seth just drove cross country from LA to Manchester, New Hampshire because well, Southern New Hampshire University was smart enough to woo him away from UCLA to work on their digital marketing. Follow him on Twitter, or his casually updated blog on media.

Andrew Roush is teasing with a relaunch of Reply Magazine and I have no idea when that’ll happen, so in the meantime, follow his angsty tweets about Thomas Friedman. He’s best during GOP debates though.

To be continued.

I think there’s an outlier

I generally like recommendations. They require some existing data and an understanding of the data to make the recommendation. My friends often suggest articles and direct me to links that I usually like and enjoy. The reason their recommendations are “successful” is because they have some preexisting knowledge about my interests and can infer what I’d like based on that data. Fortunately for me, my friends are really good at this. So, you could imagine my excitement when the NYTimes introduced their Recommendations page for readers who have an account on the site, which combines a list of recommended articles and aggregated data of previously read stories. It’s pretty good, though it doesn’t include articles read on other devices (iPhone/iPad). The problem with data collection and the recommendations borne out of them is that once we become aware of the collecting, we alter our behavior to accomodate a preferred recommendation. That’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. We use data to gauge and manipulate our behavior accordingly all the time.

Also, I say “generally like” because, well, look at those topics. Embarrassed.

If you’re curious, Derek Gottfrid talks a bit more about this project on his site.