Monday, September 25, 2006

Google takes over world

Google is going to take over the world one online ad supported program at a time, and Microsoft is beginning to show fear.  The software giant has just announced its plans to begin distributing lower end versions of word on its website. The release comes at a strange time for Microsoft, with constant delays of its next generation operating system, Vista, have even the most faithful Windows users doubting the companies credibility. I think Microsoft is doing what it has to, in order to survive.  But is the future of computing at stake?

Freeware, the term given to free computer programs, are often ad supported and at times open source (the ability for the user to edit the programs by getting into the code). This may seem far-fetched, but in the future advertisers may begin to take over our desktops in an effort by companies like Microsoft and Google to produce programs faster and cheaper in a never ending race for our screens.

But what is the price to consumers? Besides cheaper and possibly even free programs the price is privacy. Even now the highly touted Gmail (Google mail) has code inserted into it that scans your e-mail and sends advertisements based on what words it finds. So if you e-mail home about how you're out of money, it is likely that banking advertisements will pop up with low interest student loans.
Google and Microsoft have changed the way we manage with the information in our world. But how much longer is it, with advances like this, until this information is controlling us?

John LaRue
DI columnist

Education makes strides

The past week and a half has seen two developments which promise to increase the opportunities for higher education available to students in under-represented socioeconomic groups. Firstly, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics voted to return to a focus on basic skills in math instruction for grades K-8. Secondly is Harvard University’s decision to terminate its early admissions program, a move which has also been adopted by Princeton. Neither of these ideas involves creating separate admissions standards for under-represented applicants, rather, they call for equal standards to be imposed for all students both during formative years and during the admissions process.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendation is being viewed as a break from a 1989 report which advocated for a less “basic facts” approach to learning math. The 1989 recommendations called for the presentation of a variety of topics and methods, and instead of encouraging mastery of material, encouraged students to reason through problems in their own ways. While learning how to think through problems is an important ability to foster, this program left many students far behind their peers by the time they got to high school and college. With out consistent standards, it was often poorer students who suffered from this the most.

The early admissions programs at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities was utilized by the most competitive prospects as a means of determining early whether they would be admitted into their top choice school. In many, but not all of these programs, students must commit a priori to attend the school if admitted. Thus, they would be locked into a deal without knowing how much financial aid they would receive. By eliminating the early admissions program Harvard University has set a precedent from more equality in the opportunity for admission.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Split personality

Iowa City has multiple personalities. Some of them occupy the same bodies. 

Look at the Hawkeye football team, playing in the yearly grudge match against the Cyclones. (This is a relatively new phenomenon for me, being a transfer student from a tiny college with a Division-III football program. No, we didn’t get that excited about football games.) They looked miserable right from the opening kick, when that kid Jackson ran for 62 yards.  Immediately, the feeling was "Oh, damn, here we go again.” Iowa has had a first-rate program for many years now, but it seems like when the Cyclones show up, we become the black-and-gold Eleven Stooges. 

A completely different team showed up for the second half. I know sports journalists say things like that all the time, but I’m starting to wonder if I haven’t been taking them seriously enough. I’m not at all sure those were the same people. Adam Shada, who looked tiny and sad during the first half, suddenly turned into Agent Smith - seemingly everywhere at once.  Marshal Yanda blocked a Cyclone defender so hard that I thought for a moment he’d killed the poor guy. It was a sight to see, boy. 

What a day!  We came from behind to beat the Cyclones at Kinnick! Huzzah! And then we drank. And we drank. And we did some breathtakingly stupid things. The police blotter in Monday's DI looked like a phone book. Ho-hum, some will say, boys and girls will be boys and girls once in awhile. Consider, though: Eleven people had to be treated for alcohol poisoning at UIHC on Friday and Saturday nights. That’s not partying, that’s coming within nodding distance of death. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like beer. I agree with Benjamin Franklin, who said that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But I just don’t get this moronic impulse that seizes so many otherwise-normal UI folks on the weekend. 
Have a drink. Have several, in fact. But don’t have 25. That’s just dumb.

Jonathan Gold
DI columnist

Monday, September 18, 2006

Stability a must in Gaza Strip

The dire poverty of the Gaza Strip that has resulted from the suspension of funds to the Palestinian government by Israel, the United States, and European Union exemplifies the importance of having the infrastructure of a legitimately recognized state in economic development. The lack of such institutions renders the Palestinian Authority virtually ineffective without the financial assistance of outside states.

During the years prior to the first Intifada (meaning ‘uprising’ in Arabic) in 1987, Palestinian society experienced social transformations that facilitated the development of embryonic municipal and national institutions. The resistance movement during this time was largely non-violent and centered on the creation of grassroots organizations, for exampling farming cooperatives and health care committees, which were intended to break the Palestinians reliance upon Israel for livelihood.

Initial success was met with euphoria as the holy grail of the movement, attaining an autonomous state, seemed at the time, a dawning reality. The new leadership created the entire infrastructure, albeit in infancy, of a fully functioning municipality.  Ultimately though, the political underpinnings of these social programs caused them to fragment. The new elite that had constructed the diffuse network of institutions did not possess the ability to consolidate them into a force capable of maintaining power and building a state. 

The lack of effective institutions creates frustration at the lack of bargaining power, vis-à-vis states like Israel and the US and makes security a nearly insurmountable hurdle. The cycle of violence which results, has proved difficult to interrupt. So long as infrastructure development is lacking, the prospect of a successful settlement remains gloomy.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hold onto your music

It's been in the news lately that MySpace now plans to start selling music to rival other online competitors like iTunes and Napster. I'm wondering when people are going to get sick of not having something to hold onto for their dollar.

Sure iTunes offers a digital booklet for people who purchase entire albums but what kind of consolation is this, if your computer crashes and you lose it all? The average iTunes album is around $9.99 and the average song is about 99 cents. For an extra four or five dollars at a music store like the Record Collector you not only get the rights to that CD for a lifetime but you're also supporting local business which in an era of consumer flytraps like Best Buy and Sam Goody is an invaluable contribution. Music, being a medium unique to the ears (unless at a performance), has the advantage of being able to hold many different forms whether on a CD or MP3 player. 

The visceral response to music is much the same whether on either of these two formats, but the same does not hold true for art forms of a primarily visual format. The six dollar Van Gogh posters at the IMU do not incite the sort of response one would have, if the painting were viewed in the Louvre, though they are an excellent way to get acquainted with art. Digital music, on one hand is easy to produce and allows the music industry to not only enact greater privacy controls but also increase profits by not having to manufacture thousands of CDs. With the emergence of these new music outlets consumers are going to have to be careful where and how they manage their digital music world.  

John LaRue
DI columnist

Coverage not overkill

So everyone knows Monday was the 5th anniversary of 9/11. It was plastered all over cable and network TV all day long, and
pretty much every single news source in the United States did as much content as they possibly could to cover it.
Is it overkill?

I would say no. Five years is a relatively short time period, and 9/11 was such a drastic event that basically changed the way
we think and feel and fight and fear that we can't possibly get over it in the short time span we've been through.

Not only have the changes been social, economic, and cultural, but personal as well. I would say there is not a single person who was alive in the U.S. after the events of 9/11 that has not been affected in some way. The effect on me was significant —basically, a change in career choice from what I thought I'd do since I was a child.

And i'm just one random guy in the middle of Iowa who didn't know anyone directly that was hurt, killed, or maimed in the attacks. There are nearly 300 million people in this country, all of whom have reasons why they were impacted from this tragedy.

5 years is not long at all.

Eric Kochneff
DI columnist

Nice guys play tennis

I’ll admit that over the past year, I’ve gotten sucked into watching more sports than I ever thought I’d be interested in. The World Cup turned me on to soccer in a big way, though there’s not much I can do about this, since there’s nobody in Iowa City who seems to care about Arsenal vs. Manchester United the way I do. (I’m rooting for Arsenal, in case you were wondering.) I watched curling during the Olympics, and even cast an eye over a lacrosse game (match?) once. 

The problem is that a lot of big-time athletes seem to be correspondingly big-time jackasses. From Terrell Owens and his serial teamwrecking, Latrell Sprewell trying to strangle a coach, all the way to Barry Bonds’ self-righteous media bashing, a lot of professional jocks are tiresomely childish.   

This is why I’m rapidly becoming a tennis fan.  

If, for whatever reason, you weren’t watching football on Sunday, you could have seen Roger Federer smack Andy Roddick all over Arthur Ashe Stadium in the U.S. Open finals. Federer is really something to watch, unbelievably fast and breathtakingly skillful. Andy Roddick is a great tennis player himself, but he was barely in the game before the second set. The Swiss phenom is already, at the age of 25, indisputably the best player in the world, and arguably the best ever.   

And, mystifyingly, Roger Federer appears to be a genuinely normal, amiable guy. He never rants about his greatness in public, though he’s got far more reason than most to do so. He’s still dating the girl he was with before he was a big star. He doesn’t exchange juvenile insults with opponents. He doesn’t travel with a massive entourage of bodyguards, media spinners, and manicurists.  

What a pleasant change of pace. 

Jon Gold
DI columnist

Monday, September 11, 2006

'World War III' title not fitting for current conflicts

World War III, in past, was the term used to describe what would have occurred if war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, one would have thought it the remnant of a bygone era. Alas, some politicians are attempting to resurrect it for use in their own political maneuvering. World War III is now being used to describe the “war on terror.”

President Bush in May referred to the war on terror as “World War III,” and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, in a gutsier move, has stated that the United States has been fighting this war since the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut — strangely enough, at the same time we were still fearing World War III with the Soviets. It’s rather odd that we’ve apparently been involved in a world war and didn’t even notice for 20 years. What’s far more absurd, though, is what happens when you start to compare what World War III with the U.S.S.R. would be like to the current situation — nuclear holocaust versus war on terror?

The title of “world war” simply is not fitting. The current battles occurring in the world simply do not have the markings of a world war. The enemy is a number of loosely affiliated, nongovernmental groups with their own goals and motivations. In the Cold War, we had a discernible foe in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, but we now have a hodgepodge of fighters from all over the globe.

While the claim that we are engaged in the third world war makes for a weak argument, it does raise an interesting concern, which has tentatively been remarked upon following the 9/11 attacks. It has been said before, but it needs to be stated again: Terrorism is the new communism. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States found itself without a worthy adversary to direct aggression against. There is a lot of history repeating itself, albeit in a very short span of time. Most noticeably has been the rationale offered in explaining the conflict. One of the initial explanations was the “clash of civilizations” claim, that there was an inevitable showdown between the East and the West, the modern world versus radical Islam. This sounds strikingly similar to the criticisms of the Soviet Union started by former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who saw an atheist nation and advocated the U.S. role as a God-fearing nation was to resist such a scourge.

The advantage that terrorism has over communism is its ambiguity and ubiquity. It’s an enemy that can be found in any country where individuals are willing to resort to violence for political means — and will be a lasting problem. Unlike the Soviet Union, which occupied definite geographical boundaries and had a government and a standing army, this threat could be the person sitting next to you on a plane. It sets no limit to the paranoia it can instill, a bogeyman for the adult world that can carry all the fear and blame that needs to be laid.

Joe Dunkle
editorial writer

The education debate

The never-ending debate about the cost of obtaining a higher education has recently garnered attention. While students are likely, of course, to object to the amount of funding allocated to financial aid, the importance of affordable education is difficult to understate.

A comparison of the levels of economic development between Eastern and Western Iowa demonstrates the importance of large research institutions in attracting business and investment to a region. Universities provide services, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for example, that contribute to the attractiveness of an area. Every year thousands of graduates enter the workforce, providing a constant source of educated employees. Within university towns themselves, the student population enables the success of a variety of unique business.

Financial aid typically goes to the neediest students and to the most high-achieving students, as it should. But what often gets over looked in the financial aid debate is the difficultly for average, middle-class students to afford an education. In order to qualify for financial aid, people need not be responsible with their earnings; in fact it might be advantageous not to be. Middle class families that are responsible savers are in effect punished. They are not likely to qualify for aid even though, they may really need assistance.

It is deplorable that this demographic is often overlooked since most of these students will in turn become the core of the workforce. Improving the affordability of a college education for the middle class is a vital component of building a sustainable workforce. The state of Iowa would be wise to consider it a top priority.

Lydia Pfaff
DI columnist

Waxing Facebook

Facebook, the fascinating social phenomenon sweeping the country, has apparently 'gone too far.' Of course, it has 'gone too far' before: High School Facebook, allowing contact between 'normal' Facebook and High School Facebook, the addition of photo albums, global groups, etc, etc.
But I'm most upset by the removal of user's creation dates. I want my October 10, 2004 (the day Iowa joined Facebook) status shown to the world, proving I am not a Facebook-follower or a sell-out. I'm legit, bitches.

The addition of both the mini-feed and news-feed have prompted a uproar from the Facebook base, very similar to the conservative Republican base reacting to the immigration debate. Indeed, I was initially appalled, joining anti-new Facebook (global) groups. The amazingly huge backlash even found itself into Thursday's edition of the Wall Street Journal.

But my feelings have begun to turn the other way. Slightly after noon on Thursday, while perusing Facebook in the DI newsroom, I noticed that both my news and mini-feeds were no longer updating. I quickly felt a void inside: I had been disconnected from the larger world, not unlike third world countries shut out of the global trading system by developed countries. But I still have qualms with the principle of the new additions: They are rather unseemly, after all.

But my new opinion has been cemented largely because of the forementioned backlash. Indeed, my bizarrely-inherent-universal-contrarian nature has swayed my beliefs. Since public opinion is so vastly against the new Facebook changes, I find myself drawn to them. Facebook previously so-perfectly exemplified the information age our generation lives in. But apparently once the obvious is made more obvious, people take to the barricades.

If you really, really are pissy about mini and news-feeds, edit your freaking privacy settings. But get used to them - because as Mark Zuckerberg himself says, they're here to stay.

Andrew Swift
DI columnist and editorial writer

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

"Ocean's Deadliest"

Poor Steve Irwin.  Who would have guessed that a wild animal would be his undoing? 

The Croc Hunter was filming off the coast of his native Australia when he was mortally speared by a stingray. The show’s title, sadly enough, was to be “Ocean’s Deadliest.” Editors across the world forced themselves not to write sarcastic headlines. 

I don’t know how many people watched “The Croc Hunter” or its spin-offs as a matter of routine, but chances are you know who the guy was. And his fame here was nothing compared to his popularity in Australia. A lot of Aussies believe he should have a state funeral.   

Let’s be honest, though, he was kind of goofy, with that vegemite-thick accent, and bizarre overuse of the word “crikey.” He was a quick laugh and oh-so-easy to parody. The Washington Post points out that “his catchphrases were used in college drinking games,” putting me in the odd position of knowing less about collegiate culture than the Washington Post does.   

It’s unfair, though, to write off Steve Irwin as one of those “why-are-you-famous-again?” celebrities so common in the public eye. In spite of all the hyperactive Aussie yammering, the guy was a real-life naturalist. He did a lot to make the public more aware of the natural world around them, and his fame and fortune contributed enormously to the cause of conservation and the promotion of environmentalism. On top of that, it was hard not to like the guy. He was always so completely and obviously thrilled to be doing what he was doing. Name me five people who had more fun at work than the Croc Hunter. 

We’ll miss you, mate.
Jonathan Gold

Movie mania

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, "I know what would make this so much better!"? Well, researchers at an Australian university may have given you your chance to actually make it better. They have created a new form of cinema that allows the average moviegoer to create their own movies in real time. The participant positions himself in a stand which is in the middle of a 360 degree screen. Then hundreds of individual video clips are projected onto the screen and the person chooses which clips to splice together to create their own specialized movie.

While this may seem like a revolutionary technology aimed at giving the viewer their own highly specialized interactive form of entertainment, it is in fact lagging behind in the race for individualized technologies like RSS feeds and customizable homepages. While Hollywood is struggling with quality, this may be their low-budget saving grace. Why heck, if they can't put out a movie anyone likes then why not just let them do it themselves. It's like a choose your own adventure novel without all those big words!

I predict that it would not be hard to please the average American audience member. Here is a failsafe equation for the researchers creating the clips: 1 semi loaded with jet fuel + 1 half dead hero and a flare gun + 10 men dressed in black on top of the semi shooting at the half dead hero = a pleased audience member pumping their fist and shouting, "Didja see that!"

John LaRue

Monday, September 4, 2006

Traffic flow not that complicated

As thousands of students have flocked back to Iowa City for the start of a new school year, the ubiquitous problem of pedestrian-driver conflict has unsurprisingly flared once again. While some of this angst will subside as the novelty of the year fades into routine, some locations on campus seem to always present problems. Although technically pedestrians have the right of way over vehicles, this should not be viewed as a blank check to impulsively walk in front of whatever car one feels like. With an intrinsic appreciation for traffic flow and a genuine concern for safety in mind, here are a few humble observations.

Although it may seem obvious, many people seem unable to grasp the idea that since the intersection of Iowa and Clinton form a "T", the cars heading west on Iowa Avenue must turn onto Clinton. Pedestrians crossing Clinton should keep in mind that even if Clinton traffic has a red light, all traffic from Iowa will be turning through the crosswalks. At the Cleary walkway, traffic on Market is regulated by the Clinton stoplight. When drivers stop to allow droves of pedestrians to cross, traffic from the next light cycle will be approaching the intersection where the first group of cars is still mired. This produces a seemingly endless knot. The solution would be for vehicles to assert themselves and not stop in the middle of the road. Most pedestrians don’t want to die, so they will wait until the light at Clinton turns red and offers the chance to cross.

As a final note to students going to class, double doors are designed in a way that their name implies. Since the entryway consists of two doors, both of them should be used. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will stand in a clog while two directions of traffic attempt to travel through one door. The consequential bottleneck can be easily avoided by opening the other door. I know that this is a time consuming and labor intensive solution, but we will all be better off in the end.

Lydia Pfaff

College should prepare you for life, not just a career

The first college I went to, not the UI, was jokingly referred to as the “high school after high school," and, for the most part, that seemed right. And though the advising system was more active, it also conveyed contradictory messages. We were going to become well-rounded individuals, while simultaneously pushed into making decisions regarding careers in our freshman year. The last straw was when alumni spoke about what they got out of college.

What were the important lessons learned, you might ask? That the career you think you'll end up with will probably change, public speaking is a useful skill, and, most importantly, forming social networks is crucial. Unfortunately for the social-networking approach, cronyism can be a serious problem. A prime example is former FEMA Director Michael Brown, who lacked any real qualifications for his position but, nonetheless, was selected. Vouched for by his friend, then FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh, helped. Not all jobs are as important as head of FEMA, but this underscores the consequences of social networking. It takes less effort to get ahead but at a cost of quality and certainly fairness to those who did actually put in the effort.

The best solution lies with the students. Many students come in with this notion of what they’re going to do in life, become a doctor or lawyer, earn the big bucks, and live out the life of luxury. With the first semester upon us, it will be the time for students to drop those classes that don’t quite pan out — those that sounded interesting but turned out to be boring or the professor a sadist.

If you can, take a class outside your major and general-education requirements, something you might have an interest in but didn’t plan on pursuing or something you never thought about doing. College is about making well-rounded people and not just another step on the way to a career.

Joe Dunkle
editorial writer

Conflicts conflicting meanings

Israel’s refusal to end its blockade of Lebanon highlights a perhaps growing phenomenon in which states enter into conflicts with non-state actors. In the case of the current crisis, although Lebanon has received the brunt of the harm, they are not at war against Israel since the Lebanese government has not actively declared war. This conflict pits Israel against the political party Hezbollah.

This is an interesting case since typically political parties do not support active militias. This would be like the Democrats or Republicans taking up arms against one another whenever they disagree. Although there is plenty of talk about the vehement atmosphere in Congress, this really is nothing compared to what goes on elsewhere. Traditionally, the only actors that posses the legitimate use of force are states, in other words, sovereign, geographic entities with a government that acts for its population. Much of this power to use force comes from the recognition of legitimacy by other states or the international community.

War in the traditional sense pits states against other states, so the entry of more diverse actors into international warfare causes some problems in how we approach conflict. This issue can be generalized beyond the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. The U.S. war on terror is a primary example. Although we are defining our struggle against terrorism as a war in this sense, in other instances, Iraq for example, we claim that we are fighting an insurgency. The problem with nomenclature can produce some serious legal hang-ups. We had laws of war, but how do these apply when we fight non-traditional actors?

By nature, the development of legal language will proceed slowly as events continue to challenge how we define war. Yet in the mean time, it is pertinent to reflect on the specific meanings of the conflicts in which we engage.

Lydia Pfaff

Jaywalking debate a waste of space

The Daily Iowan's editorial condemning the ICPD’s enforcement of jaywalking penalties is irresponsible. The shaky logic and flawed rhetoric brought forth in bashing the ICPD is representative of the common tendency by students to blindly decry police action in stunning displays of immaturity and laziness. 

Traffic lights direct both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, turning a naturally anarchic jumble of harried students and motorized vehicles into a calm and orderly procession in which everyone takes turns. It all goes back to kindergarten, right? We line up single file and proceed until the crossing guard tells us to stop, then we take turns skipping across the intersection. Some people were apparently never taught the value of sharing, and seem to feel that their time is more valuable than that of the motorists they cut off while haphazardly darting across Iowa Avenue.

The editorial makes the claim that the ICPD was created as a way of extracting money from hapless students, or in some cases, their parents in Naperville. Unfortunately for students deluded by visions of being held down by the man, the truth is far less nefarious, and is more along the lines of the police, having noticed an area where there existed both a blatant disregard for law and order and serious safety issue, stepped in to fulfill their duty to enforced laws designed to protect the well-being of this town’s citizens. 

The author of the editorial seems to feel one’s ability to pay a fine supersedes that person’s responsibility to obey the law. Why not extend this shaky logic to speeding tickets and PAULAs? A student who is caught jaywalking or pounding tequila on his twentieth birthday has broken the law; being a student does not make him less deserving of a fine.

If students see a problem with the laws that govern their lives, the appropriate target is the lawmakers who can actually effect change, not the police officers who merely enforce those laws. And if you’re afraid you can’t afford the ticket, try waiting thirty seconds for the walk light.

Imron Bhatti
editorial writer