Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Light's out" for Google?

Google often celebrates holidays and other major events by changing the look of its home page. At Thanksgiving, for example, you're likely to find pilgrims gallivanting, or perhaps an unfortunate turkey or two running for their lives. Valentine's Day usually means hearts and all that mushy stuff, St. Patrick's Day brings shamrocks and get the drill. Well, today, Google's usually white background has been turned black in an effort to raise awareness for Earth Hour--an event designed to curb global energy consumption and raise awareness about global climate change.

Let me say that I'm behind the Earth Hour event. It's a fantastic idea, and I'd love to see its principles institutionalized. (It does make me wonder, though, about the prospects of Earth Day, which is a different event celebrated every April, getting downsized to a mere hour--but that's a topic for another post.)

However welcome Google's promotion of Earth Hour may be, I still find it strange for two reasons. First, I read a fascinating article by Ginger Strand called "Keyword: Evil--Google's Addiction to Cheap Electricity," which was published in the March 2008 issue of Harper's. There, she notes how Google's new server farm, to be built in The Dalles, Oregon, will consume about as much power in a given day as the entire city of Tacoma, Washington. Second, though I'm grateful to Google for plugging Earth Hour, the company gives no indication that it's planning on unplugging anything itself. It offers this statement instead:
Given our company's commitment to environmental awareness and energy efficiency, we strongly support the Earth Hour campaign, and have darkened our homepage today to help spread awareness of what we hope will be a highly successful global event.

Much as I respect Google--one of the most heavily-trafficked websites on the internet and host of Differences & Repetitions via Blogger--and its decision to promote Earth Hour, I'm sad to say its doing so seems more like carefully calculated corporate greenwashing than it does a genuine effort to cultivate environmentally sustainable practices. To point out the obvious: turning a computer screen black is not turning it off.

In addition to extinguishing all our lights for an hour, how much more of an impact could we make if we unplugged everything--lamps, toasters, computers, even Google itself (yes, YouTube too)--for an hour?

Print is dead

I've just added a new site to the blog roll: Jeff Gomez's Print is Dead. I discovered it by accident while doing some research on "the late age of print," which is a phrase Jay David Bolter coined and, as many of you know, is the title of my forthcoming book. I've only read a few of Jeff's posts thus far, and while we may come at some of the issues confronting today's book industry from different perspectives, it's clear he's got a lot of smart things to say. I love the title of his blog, too, which comes from a line Egon (Harold Ramis' character) delivers in the movie, Ghostbusters.

Speaking of The Late Age of Print (the book), I have a big, big, BIG announcement coming up very soon. Stay tuned--or whatever one does to keep one's attention on a blog. Would it be more apt to say, "ready your feed readers?" That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue now, does it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting the Constitution through security

This is the first in what I hope will be a periodic series of guest-posts.... --t


I am one of many millions of Americans who, like Dick Cheney, have a defibrillator/pacemaker implanted in their chest. The neat little device not only miraculously regulates your heartbeat and, if necessary, shocks you out of arrhythmia (mine has never fired, but others have told me it feels like getting kicked in the chest by a horse), it also manages to throw off the usual rhythms of airport security. Since it’s metal, the defibrillator sets off the detector, but you can’t very well remove it and put it in the gray tray. Not unless you want to all get all “priest from the Temple of Doom” on their asses.

The required alternative is to go through a pat down. Now that I’ve had perhaps a hundred of these, I could probably run the training session: 1. Check the passenger’s boarding pass. 2. Tell her or him to stand on the mat with the two footprints. 3. Tell her or him to spread their arms. 4. Ask them if they would prefer a “private screening.” 5. Inform them when you will be “touching sensitive areas” and that you will “be using the back of my hand.” And so on.

I find airport security, and particularly the post-9/11 version of airport security, extremely troubling and pointless. So I decided a few months ago to get some t-shirts made with the Fourth Amendment printed on the front and back. For a while, I didn’t feel like I was up to wearing them. What if I got stopped? (Sometimes I said to myself, “This trip is too important to wear it.”) What if people asked questions and I was tired and didn’t feel like talking? I have been traveling a lot and not enjoying it very much.

Anyway, I finally got up the nerve to wear the shirt a couple weeks ago. I found it strange that I was so nervous and self-conscious about wearing the Constitution. Yes, the shirts are not very fashionable and rather wordy. They demand a lot from the public. But more than that, I felt like I was doing something wrong – like I was getting the Constitution through security.

All in all, the trip from Baltimore to Baton Rouge and back again was pretty uneventful. Some passengers commented on the shirt – the completely drunk woman who sat next to me on one of my flights read it out loud and said: “OK! OK!” Other comments from passengers and people working the food places at the airport were mostly positive. When I went through security the first time, a TSA guy running the checkpoint, who from his accent seemed to be a first generation immigrant, tried making conversation: “Hmm … De Fourdth Ah-mednt-ment.” Out of nowhere and to my own surprise I said, “Yeah. This tells you why all of this is illegal.” He didn’t seem to care much. But as I spread my arms in the little fishbowl area among the scanners, his underling did give me an especially brisk pat down.

Dustin Howes is currently Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. Mary's College of Maryland and will join the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University in the Fall. His first book, Toward a Credible Pacifism: Violence and the Possibilities of Politics, is forthcoming with SUNY Press. He has published in International Studies Quarterly, has an article forthcoming in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and wrote the lead essay in the interdisciplinary volume, Ruminations on Violence (2008, Waveland Press).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

CFP: Accidents in Film and Media

CALL FOR PAPERS, special issue of the Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture

Greg Siegel, Film and Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara:

"Accidents in Film and Media"

In The Accident of Art (2005), Paul Virilio proposes that "as soon as there is invention, there is accident," and that the accident "reveals something important that we would not otherwise be able to perceive." Writing of one momentous invention, Mary Ann Doane identifies cinema's driving impulse as a "curious merger of contingency and structure," suggesting that the moving image participates in the taming of the unpredictable while simultaneously reinforcing its power.

Taking these provocations and paradoxes as points of departure, this special issue of Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture seeks original essays that examine the "something important" revealed by accidents, contingency, and the unexpected specific to media as technologies, expressive forms, and apparatuses of social power. What sorts of histories emerge when we treat media technologies as potential time bombs? media "texts" as veritable train wrecks? and ephemeral traces and transmissions as traumatic scars? How do forces of chance and contingency impact regimes of representation and mediated modes of perception? What political forms do the accidental and the unexpected inspire, imagine, or actualize? How do they intersect or unsettle questions of control, security, risk, wager, preemption, etc.?

In an age marked by increasingly intensified calculation, precision, and the capacity for global destruction, what is the status of chance and contingency? How do contemporary concepts such as viral media, "democratization," and ubiquity coexist with the digital promise of total numeric control of recorded images and sounds? What is the place of medium specificity and convergence in these discussions, and how have technological alterations (e.g., film-historical developments such as sound, color, and digital recording media) affected the relationship of media (as archives, repetitions, reproductions) to the unexpected? Moreover, how might notions of the accidental, the contingent, and the unexpected also inform the methodologies one uses to think about and interpret systems of representation and media?

The editors encourage submissions that inspect the unexpected in film and media (from print culture to digital media) from a breadth of disciplinary and methodological perspectives and invite work that focuses on diverse geographical locales and historical moments. Articles should be about 7,500-8,000 words in length, notes included, and formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. The submission deadline is 30 June 2008. Please email all queries and submissions using the subject header "Accidents" to:

For more information on Discourse see:

Issue Editors:
René Thoreau Bruckner, Critical Studies, Univ. of Southern California
James Leo Cahill, Critical Studies, Univ. of Southern California
Greg Siegel, Film and Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara

Friday, March 21, 2008

All those trees!

An interesting post I thought I'd pass along from the Environmental News Network....


Want to get a new book but worry about its environmental impact? Worry a little bit less. With the help of Eco-Libris, you can plant a tree for every book you buy or read.

Says Raz Godelnik, an Eco-Libris co-founder, the company works with readers, publishers, writers, bookstores, and others in the book industry to balance out the paper used for any book by planting trees. About 20 million trees are cut down annually for virgin paper to be used for the production of books sold in the U.S. alone. Eco-Libris raises awareness about the environmental impacts of using paper for the production of books and provides book lovers with a simple way to do something about it: plant a tree for every book they read. Ten dollars will cover tree planting for ten books.

To date, Eco-Libris has balanced out over 24,000 books, resulting in the planting of more than 31,500 new trees! Kedzie Press is collaborating with Eco-Libris in a "Million Tree-A-Thon" initiative to plant one million trees for one million books by the end of 2009.

The Eco-Libris program is being offered by some local bookstores; otherwise, it's easy to participate on-line.

Thumbs up, Eco-Libris.

You can read my interview with Eco-Libris here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goodbye, tenure-track faculty

I'm not sure what to make of this:
Every other year, data released by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics provide a snapshot of the growth of part-time positions in the professoriate. This year — an off-year for that data — the federal statistics provide evidence for another shift, in which the majority of full-time professional employees in higher education are in administrative rather than faculty job.

So I guess we tenure track faculty are now a minority in the academy. Could it be that we're also an endangered species? It's certainly odd to think about universities as places not abounding in professors (at least, as the term has tended to be understood).

I wonder: is this the university's version of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, or between the administrative class and an increasingly "casualized" workforce (for whom there is nothing casual about their labors)? Are tenure tack faculty getting "compressed" out of existence, given how cuts in state education budgets, combined with increasingly high administrative salaries, would seem to demand a more "flexible" workforce at the bottom? For any economists out there who may be reading, please chime in anytime....

For more on the global distribution of wealth, see my previous entry, below. And for the complete story about the changing shape of university employment, check out today's Inside Higher Ed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Poor little rich guy

I was just finishing up some research on Oprah Winfrey for my book when I came across this startling little nugget from Microsoft maven Bill Gates no longer is the richest person in the world. He's ceded the throne to über-investor Warren Buffett, after 13 gilded years at the top. Actually, he's slipped to number three, one notch below telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim Helú.

Before you go shedding any tears over Mr. Gates' fall from grace (or from the top of the Forbes list, at any rate), be sure to keep this tidbit in mind: the guy's still worth $58 billion, which is $2 billion more than he was worth this time last year. He's clearly not hurting.

And for those of you keeping track of the concentration of wealth, here's some depressing news. According to, there are 1,125 billionaires on the planet whose "total net $4.4 trillion, up $900 billion from last year." Yes, that's right--at a time when real wages are falling for the rest of us, the wealthiest people in the world got about 25% richer. So why not put that in your pipe and smoke it? They sure do.