Superwoman Revisited: How one Mexican mayor stood against corruption, and paid the price.

Maria Santos Gorrostieta, former mayor of the Mexican town of Tiquicheo, was known not simply for being a major politician and mother of three, but for her unabashed stance against corruption and crime during her time in office from 2008-2011. She survived two assassination attempts, one of which claimed her husband and left her with dramatic scars, and still continued to fight against the cartels which dominate many Mexican cities. Recently, the cartels decided to exact their revenge.

It may sound like a Hollywood plot, but these events were all too real for Gorrostieta, who was recently cornered by thugs while driving her daughter to school, pulled from her vehicle, and beaten in the street. Begging her attackers to spare her daughter, she got into their white van without protest, and wasn’t seen again until several days later, when her mutilated body was found in a ditch a few days later. According to the New York Post:

Parts of Mexico have become a no-man’s-land, where legal authorities fear to tread and death comes cheap. Over the weekend, 19 bodies were found in the northern border state of Chihuahua, including those of eight people who had been tortured and killed on Friday. Many of the dead have been victims of the drug cartels, which have increasingly included elected and appointed officials. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a war on the cartels six years ago, about two dozen mayors have been murdered.

Gorrostieta was one of at least seven women who were willing to serve as mayors or police chiefs. Two of them, Hermila Garcia Quinones and Silvia Molina, were assassinated. A third, Erika Gandara, was kidnapped and is feared dead, and a fourth, Marisol Valles Garcia, 21, left her job and fled to the United States.

Obviously, it is an utter tragedy that the spirit of chaos reigns supreme in Mexico. One must wonder if the security detail and police escort, which were pulled after Gorrostieta left her position, would have saved her life. It is a shame that a woman so fearless essentially had to choose between WitSec and death, all because she refused to be bullied by local crime lords. She stands as an example of integrity and courage for all world leaders, and, in fact, for all of us.

Design Elements in FAQ Pages

Ah, the FAQ page. The forgotten runt of the web design litter. Almost as overlooked as the 404 Error page, it often sits alone in a dark, little-used corner, stripped of individuality and flair. Users who hit up the FAQ page are usually looking for help, and only stay until they’ve found what they need. But does that mean that these pages somehow don’t matter, or don’t need to be concerned with elements and principle of design? Not at all! Here are three strong examples:

  1. Youtube.
    YouTube’s page is straightforward and intuitive, with a search bar on the top, categories in a sidebar differentiated by a grey gradient, and answers provided in convenient drop-down style boxes. This, in my opinion, is critical. It’s extremely distracting to send your users away from your page with every single answer you provide, and YouTube avoids this problem with clever coding.
  2. Vimeo.

    Vimeo is perhaps the world’s most elegantly designed video website, built in the spirit of aesthetic minimalism. Their FAQ page is no different, with helpful categories linking to well-written tidbits answering common questions. It also wisely offers other resources, including forum topics and tutorials for those seeking extra help.

  3. Woot!

    Woot! is the quirky king of the online shopping world, offering one-day-only sales on novelty items, t-shirts, and electronics. Their FAQ page is a mixed bag: it features large blocks of text that don’t skim easily, and lacks a search bar. On the other hand, however, it demonstrates a critical component of the design process. The infusion of personality, something many web designers and copywriters often forget, is the crux of their brand, and their writing shows it. It’s clever, playful, and successful despite the construction of the rest of the page.

Prof Encourages Student Snitches to Monitor Laptop Use

If you’ve been in a college classroom in the last five years, you’ve more than likely seen it before: a student sits down for the lecture, opens their laptop, and… logs into Facebook. 20 minutes later, they still haven’t opened their notes; now they’re watching a Youtube video of a fat kid attempting a backflip and failing miserably. A few people around them chuckle in unison. Microeconomics is no match for the power of the Internet!

Many professors have been frustrated by this trend of distraction, and have opted to ban laptop use in classrooms in order to maintain order and focus. Unfortunately, this also means repercussions for students who use their laptops to take notes or look up context for lecture material. One educator, however, went a different route. At York University in Toronto, professor Henry Kim has begun asking students to snitch on nearby laptop users’ browsing activities when he suspects they aren’t on task.

“There’s not an ounce of scientific evidence that students can actually multi-task and learn,” argued Kim, who is not against technology in learning… “but our addiction to technology is like a powerful drug…”

“It’s not meant to be punitive — it’s almost like a thought experiment, and the whole point is to create a new social norm in my class,” said Kim, “where using the laptop in distracting ways is embarrassing not just for you, but for other students who may be asked to report on you.”

This method strikes an interesting balance between allowing technology in the classroom and controlling its use, and creates new questions about the nature of privacy in educational settings. No professor could get away with asking students to read aloud the content of other students’ notebooks or describe their doodles, but would certainly call someone out for reading a magazine during class; does the new highly-connected medium mean that students forfeit the right to content privacy? Though perusing Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube during class is absolutely rude to the professor and potentially distracting to nearby students, I’m not sure it’s worth the interruption and humiliation created by asking one student what another is doing with their class time.

A better method, I think, would be to divide class seating between laptop users and non-laptop users, or suggest that students move away from those by whom they may be distracted. Because the real problem here isn’t what students are doing with their time- if they want to waste it, that’s their business- but the way it affects the learning environment. Either way, policing methods are at least better than the alternative of banning laptops altogether, a practice which is both archaic and impractical.

Is pregnancy the new “fig leaf”?

In his recent article, The Guardian columnist Jonathan Jones addresses the recent nude portrait of celebrity Sienna Miller by painter Jonathan Yeo, which was recently unveiled for an exhibition in Berlin. In the painting, Sienna is depicted entirely nude, and just weeks before giving birth to her daughter, Marlowe. He remarks:

…pregnancy has become the modern equivalent of a fig leaf, making nude images of women acceptable to all sections of society and all divisions of the media… There is nothing new, in other words, in the artistic celebration of the pregnant body. It has simply become a way to soothe our worries about the naked depiction of women.

Regardless of the quality of the painting or the intentions of Miller herself in posing for the piece, I find it difficult to criticize this painting, or nudes in general, as pieces of misogynist culture. Such an attitude only continues to define women and their bodies by their position relative to men. While famous nude painters of antiquity often aimed only to arouse the attention and sexuality of men, to vilify every female nude as an object of male attention is to essentially say that there is no way for women’s bodies to be their own.

The Evolution of Linking in a Niche-Driven World

Disclaimer: per the November 1st in-class assignment, I wrote this post in 35 minutes.

In an earlier post, I referred to this morsel of advice from NYU Journalism professor and new media guru Jay Rosen on the topic of powerful blogging:

This method of niche domination isn’t only applicable in the blogosphere, either. Other online publications, particularly news outlets, are finding this advice more and more vital as they struggle to adapt to an online world that is increasingly saturated with coverage.

As BuzzMachine blogmaster Jeff Jarvis observed, “News is not one-size-fits-all.” He noted that the “architecture” of news is shifting dramatically, as major news organizations like the New York Times realize that trying to cover all stories in all niches means spreading resources thin for lackluster results.

The solution, as Jay Rosen explains in this video, is linking. He points out that as news organizations transitioned into the age of the Internet, they “set rules for themselves,” one of which was that sending people away from your site through links to other places was a BIG NO-NO. This, Rosen remarks, is explicitly “anti-web.” In fact, the ability to link to those who may be covering something more thoroughly, like an individual liveblogging an event or Perez Hilton covering the death of a celebrity, is at the heart of “connecting people to knowledge wherever it is.”

Ultimately, this technique proves surprisingly successful in bringing people back. Why? Because consumers like consuming, but they also like honesty. If you cover many stories, but don’t do it well, they’ll simply go somewhere else for their news. But if you cover stories and link to places that have the best possible information on each issue, readers will associate you with both thorough, accurate reporting, and the integrity it takes to provide it. As Jarvis concludes, “do what you do best… link to the rest.”

A fantastic example is this scene from Miracle on 34th Street, in which a holiday Santa directs Macy’s shoppers to another store in order to find the toy they seek. This was considered not only taboo, but virtual marketing suicide at the time. But rather than being bad for business, Macy’s gets calls and letters thanking them for helping them in their shopping endeavors. The store’s owner then decides to institute a new policy: “if we haven’t got what a customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it.”

And that, as Rosen, Jarvis, and millions of others will attest, is the new mantra of new media.

“Not Needing Feminism” Makes You Part of the Problem.

Earlier today, a friend of a friend posted a photo in response to the Who Needs Feminism? project, with the disclaimer that “As long as feminism means promoting the dignity and equality of women, I’m fine with it. But be careful with your definition of equality.”

It’s unfortunately clear that this girl, and many others, don’t understand what feminism is about at all. Now, I’ve made a couple other posts about this that pretty much say the same thing, but for those who have arrived from Facebook, here’s the rundown: Just like any movement, feminism’s core principles are subject to interpretation and implementation by individuals, which means that they span a wide spectrum. Hopefully, she and others like her don’t go about vilifying entire causes on the basis of individuals or extremists with whom they disagree. After all, it’s clear they don’t define Catholicism by those who use it in a hateful way or the few priests who have abused their positions of power.

To her credit, most feminists would ardently disagree with the pro-life stance, but it doesn’t mean that feminism as a whole, and all the other issues it addresses, should simply be swept under the rug. Furthermore, save for maybe a few radicals or old-schoolers, nobody in the mainstream modern feminist movement is telling people that equality means sameness in every way or that being a mother or wife, or being loving, caring, and “modest” is a crime, or shameful, or that is makes them any less of a woman, and THAT IS THE POINT.  Feminism is about “championing” a woman’s right to make decisions about her own life- whether she chooses fishnets or floorlength skirts, wants to be a stay-at-home-mom, a software engineer, or a solider, subscribes to Christianity or atheism. It also, however, calls for social reflexivity- for women to be aware of the social structures and attitudes that have historically deprived women of agency in a myriad of ways.

In any case, the most glaring part of this well-intended Facebook post isn’t the ignorance it demonstrates, but the mentalities it espouses. The real problem is that responding to the Who Needs Feminism project by making a poster like this is insulting to all those who have participated, and minimizes their very REAL and PAINFUL experiences of being abused, taken advantage of, or not taken seriously because of their gender.

The poster depicted above and posted to Facebook was made by a student at the University of Notre Dame, a school at which a girl KILLED HERSELF because the administration did nothing when one of its athletes made her feel as though her choices, her feelings, and her body weren’t in her control.

3 weeks ago, 15 year old Amanda Todd committed suicide after she was lured by a stranger on the internet into exposing her breasts, and then pictures of this act were posted to Facebook, shared, mocked, and vilified by her friends, fellow students, and people she didn’t even know.

A month ago, 15 year old Ciara Pugsley, a popular girl who struggled with depression, committed suicide after being “bombarded with hate messages” on Ask.fm, which told her that “she was depressed to attract attention, that she was fat, and that she had no respect for herself.”

5 days ago, 13 year old Erin Gallagher committed suicide after being continually “taunted about her weight and looks” via similar Ask.fm messages.

Countless others are subject to this sort of harassment in silence.

If that’s not relevant enough, consider the girl who has one night stands or is promiscuous in the college scene because she feels guilty for saying no. Her environment conditions her to honestly believe that if a guy buys her a few drinks, if she makes out with somebody, or if a guy lets her crash at his place, she would be rude and disappointing if she didn’t follow through. That “not delivering” on something she’s “offered” (via her attire, flirtatiousness, and/or other sexual acts) makes her a bad person. That there’s a “point of no return” past which she cannot back out. She may not even be conscious of this mentality at work in her actions- I certainly wasn’t.

In the end, the internet user who convinces a young girl to flash the camera, the Facebook users who mock and slut-shame a teenager for her self-proclaimed mistake, the internet users who take it upon themselves to make young girls’ mental health and physical appearance their business, the administration that doesn’t take sexual assault claims seriously, the society which continually reinforces the notion that sexualization and objectification (at younger ages every year) are simply means to validation, appreciation, and self-worth, and those who ignore, minimize, or encourage a culture of female subjugation, all send one message loud and clear: Girls, you, your bodies, your choices, and your feelings are merely sideshows at a circus. You exist to be advertised, scrutinized, commodified, and judged. Fuck your agency. You are not an individual. You are a public spectacle. 

These issues are real, and their effects are devastating. They aren’t going away. So when a girl makes a poster saying “I don’t need the kind of feminism you’re promoting,” this is what she’s standing against:

5 More Education + Technology Links

  1. “Personalized learning is here,” touts this Forbes list of 5 School Technologies to Watch. Cloud-based collaborative environments, game-based learning, and mobile technology are just a few things market innovators see becoming part of mainstream education. 
  2. Should your toddler start learning cybersecurity now? Sounds crazy, but the Department of Homeland Security wants to implement cybersecurity education from as early as kindergarten through graduate school in order to foster a “digitally literate workforce.”
  3. Need online storage space for pictures, papers, and more? From now through December 10th, Dropbox is giving 3GB of free space to anyone with a .edu email address. Consider it a reward for far too many all-nighters!
  4. Do your professors allow laptops in class? For many, bans on laptops in the classroom mean inefficient or incomplete notes, hundreds of dollars in textbook fees, and less comprehension. Across the world, teachers and students are struggling to find a compromise.
  5. If you’re an IU student, you have one of the best college perks ever: IUware. Indiana University has promotional deals with a multitude of companies that enable them to offer their students loads of free software. EndNote and Microsoft Office are nice resources, but the real deal comes in the form of Adobe Creative Suite 6, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Bridge, and Dreamweaver among other programs, and Adobe Lightroom 4. These would otherwise cost $2599 and $159, respectively. You get them for free.