Discussion Post: Week 15
It’s time for our final set of presentations! What last adjustments did your group make in anticipation of your presentation, and what sorts of challenges do you expect to face? Are there any particular questions you expect to receive during the Q&A session? What other concerns do you have, and what strategies are you employing to overcome them?
As a reminder, please remember to submit your web portfolios no later than the start of class on Thursday of this week. Recall that you need to turn in two things: 1) the web address of your portfolio and 2) the short write-up about your rationale, as we discussed in class. You can find more information in the assignment guidelines posted on Blackboard.
We’ll start this week with a big aviation news item: American Airlines’ parent firm, AMR Corp., filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday. Company representatives were quick to add that the airline will continue to function as usual as AMR attempts to stay afloat by restructuring its operations, but the announcement prompted enough FAA concern that it will be substantially increasing scrutiny on the airline during safety inspections. One might speculate that they are working to ensure that any cost-cutting measures American Airlines might take don’t include compromising aircraft safety. Were a shutdown to ultimately occur, the loss of American Airlines, one of the largest airlines in the United States, could significantly harm airports that rely on American Airlines’ business. Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, for instance, could lose $1.4 million a month if the hanger devoted to American was shut down, as the company pays that hefty fee 12 times a year to land planes in the airport, to use its wide-body hangar, and so forth. Some have speculated that American Eagle may be axed for the sake of the broader organization, while others think that an American Airlines-US Airways merger may be the only solution. In the meantime, American Airlines workers are facing a potential pension plan disaster if the airline collapses.
The rest of the U.S. has faced some mixed news about our overall economic situation. Fitch Ratings lowered the nation’s credit outlook to “negative” this week, indicating that our trajectory remained rather unfavorable or, at best, stagnant, while Standard & Poor’s made a similar downgrade to U.S. banks. Shortly thereafter, however, stocks around the world (including here in the U.S.) soared on Wednesday when the world’s central banks lowered the cost of borrowing. This was a bold and somewhat risky move that some have cheered and that others have said only delays and worsens a potential future “bubble burst” while policymakers buy time. In any event, November was a disappointing month for retailers looking to open the Christmas shopping season with major sales. American factories, on the other hand, have seen a great deal of growth in the second half of 2011, which some analysts say demonstrates promise for the domestic economy. The news hasn’t been much clearer for individual workers: jobless claims spiked last week even as most analysts projected declining numbers, but the November jobs report showed a 0.4% unemployment drop to 8.6% — its lowest level since mid-2009 — which was also an unanticipated development. However, some have argued that the drop is misleading: some unemployed workers may have simply stopped looking for jobs, and therefore would not register in this report, so the number could easily return to its previous level next month.
As an extension of the economic news, law enforcement is taking stronger action against “Occupy” protests, with almost 300 people held in police custody after raids in Los Angeles and Philadelphia earlier this week. The Occupy L.A. encampment in particular remains a bit of a mess for sanitation officials, now that the protesters are gone: sanitation officials expect to carry off about 30 tons of trash left in a park outside City Hall. Some have claimed that the park was left in such disarray because the protests lacked leadership and blamed those involved for related defacement of public property. Others, however, point out that the protesters didn’t exactly have time to clean up when they were being taken by police, and argue that the protests were a great lesson in democracy which, when short-circuited, leave only an “empty, dirty park” behind instead. In any case, Los Angeles prosecutors had filed criminal charges against 19 protesters as of Friday morning, while over 200 still waited in jail. Regardless of how you feel about the protests, they’re not stopping just because of this incident. Some of the arrested Occupy L.A. protesters, many of whom have been ordered not to go near City Hall again, are already planning a wave of smaller protests at banks and country clubs in the area.
In international headlines, the Islamist party in Egypt made major gains in the country’s first round of Parliamentary elections earlier this week, while the Muslim Brotherhood predictably remained the frontrunners (although the margin was not as significant as expected). While those elections were mostly peaceful affairs, Iran saw much more violence in the past week, as Iranian protesters stormed Great Britain’s embassy, which was supposed to be guarded by Iranian security officers. In response, the United Kingdom (or U.K., which includes Great Britain) expelled Iranian diplomats from Iran’s embassies in the U.K. — the diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country.
The U.S. has been dealing with its own diplomatic conflict, as a NATO-led airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in what appears to have been a friendly fire incident. NATO forces reported coming under fire before the strike was ordered, but Pakistani officials claim that the attack was unprovoked. In any case, Pakistan’s representatives are upset about this apparent violation of their country’s sovereignty, particularly given the support it has offered in the war on terror. In response to this incident, Pakistan has now authorized its troops to return fire without first seeking permission, further adding to questions about whether the tenuous U.S.-Pakistan relationship can be sustained.
Syria’s dealing with problems of its own: the United Nations says that the country is on the brink of civil war in the midst of governmental repression. With over 4,000 already dead from the escalating conflicts, though, civil war may have already arrived. Other national issues are a little less obvious. Transparency International publishes an annual index of corruption perception for 183 nations, in which India fell from 87th least corrupt to 95th this year, its most dramatic downgrade since its erosion began in 2007. Indian citizens have taken notice, with anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare leading the charge for transparency legislation by engaging in lengthy hunger strikes and calling for others to further pressure the government. Elsewhere, China’s “Underground Great Wall” is becoming a little clearer everyday. The thousands of miles of tunnels were dug by the Second Artillery Corps, “a secretive branch of the Chinese military in charge of protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.” A small group of students at Georgetown University, led by Prof. Phillip A. Karber, a former top Pentagon official, have “translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, obtained restricted Chinese military documents and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data” over the past three years in order to elucidate details about the tunnels.
Climate remains a big issue around the globe, with delegates from 191 countries and the European Union debating over when and how — or if — to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol with a legally binding agreement for all major greenhouse gas-emitting countries as opposed to only industrially developed nations. With the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due in 2014, some countries including the U.S. are reluctant to support a major policy change without knowing what the change is likely to entail, which the IPCC report could ultimately dictate. Alternatively, the countries involved could extend the Kyoto Protocol for another five-year enforcement period (the current one expires at the end of 2012), but several countries have said that they will not accept new emission-reduction targets, and the U.S. withdrew from the Kyoto process a decade ago. The three biggest emitters, China, the U.S., and India, have all hesitated to agree to a new “climate road map” from the European Union, which would contribute toward extending the Kyoto Protocol. In the meantime, the second “climategate” scandal still lurks, which (as we’ve previously discussed) has fueled public skepticism about climate research and whether global warming is an actual problem or merely a political battleground. Perhaps as a response, some groups have begun framing the climate and our emissions as a “moral cause,” saying that our zest for reckless industrial advancement has hurt disadvantages people and the planet itself, neither of which had any choice in the matter.
Is your Facebook account still being used against you? Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a settlement that will require Facebook “to respect the privacy wishes of its users and subjects it to regular privacy audits for the next 20 years.” Presumably, this means that information you’ve marked as “private” will no longer suddenly be opened for public consumption without your consent. However, skeptics are quick to point out top executives’ statements since the judgment that don’t seem to treat “privacy” with as much care as the FTC may have intended. For instance, consider Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent assertion that the Washington Post Social Reader is a good example of clear privacy settings when you first log into the service. As Forbes reporter Jeff Bercovici noted, if that screen says “This app shares articles you read and more on Facebook with: Custom” and your “Custom” category is set to “Only Me,” others can still see every article you read — those articles just don’t appear in their feeds. The only way to completely keep your reading activity private is to cancel sharing on an article-by-article basis. Additionally, Facebook has yet to fully address the issue of tracking users’ browsing activity when they’re not even logged into Facebook. Of course, sharing may eventually prove irrelevant in the privacy game, particularly if more employers start asking for Facebook passwords on job applications. Furthermore, Facebook isn’t alone in having privacy issues: there’s mounting evidence that Carrier IQ, whose software appears on 140 million phones on a wide range of devices, “secretly chronicles a user’s phone experience, from its apps, battery life and texts,” as well as a slew of other data such as location and keystrokes. If true, this would represent several million violations of federal wiretap laws. At least with Facebook, we can use not-quite-private information to examine trends in user behavior or to play games like Mafia Wars 2… even if the sequel isn’t generating quite as much excitement as the original game.
Okay, all of these were pretty serious topics — a number of big events transpired this week! — so let’s at least close on some brighter subjects. First, we should all expect to see the year 2013, apparently. Mayan experts now say that the ancient civilization never predicted 2012 as an apocalyptic event, but that the 2012 end-of-the-world predictions are nothing more than propaganda: marketers twisting the words of the two registered Mayan glyphic texts (out of over 15,000) that even mention next year. That’s good news for all the kids who will be watching NORAD’s annual Santa Claus-tracking activity on television throughout Christmas Eve… unless, of course, they downloaded the NORAD Tracks Santa app! The application, available on iPhone and Android devices, offers games like Elf Toss as users watch the countdown to Santa’s takeoff. The strangest story this week, though, may be the case of a dog who shot his owner in the buttocks. Yes, you read that right. The 46-year-old man, whom police have not identified, had been hunting in a canoe with his trusty canine companion and a friend when he left to place decoys 10 ft. away. The dog jumped and landed on the gun, causing it to fire 27 birdshot pellets into his owner’s backside. Amazingly, he was able to walk to a nearby road with his friends to wait for emergency crews, as his waders thankfully prevented more serious injury; hospital crews were able to successfully extract the birdshot from his behind.
That should do it for this week. You know what to do.
Other articles of interest:
Former “sheriff of the year” arrested and sent to jail named after him
Exclusive: Comedy of Errors Led to False ‘Water-Pump Hack’ Report
Whizz Kids Crack UK Intelligence Agency’s Online Ad for Code-Breaking Spies
Lawsuit says NYC dentist seeks to muzzle patients
New Path 2.0 automatically chronicles, shares your life
iPhone 4S Users Rate Siri Top Feature
Meet Cluzee, Android’s next Siri alternative
Oh, for the Good Old Days of Rude Cellphone Gabbers
Chrome Overtakes Firefox in Global Browser Share … Or Does It?
New Google+ Ad Shows Off The Social Network’s Biggest Problem
Google Indoor Maps: 6 Uses, Good To Ugly
Toxic Levels of Arsenic Found in Popular Juice Brands
Horses could soon be slaughtered for meat in US
Obama Legalizes Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption
Burger King debuts thicker fries amid competition
Want a toy with that Happy Meal? 10 cents please
Rick Perry Forgets Two Things in the Same Sentence
Gingrich knows what he’d actually do if he won
Does Herman Cain think the Arab Spring is a bad thing?
A Setback for Electric Cars
Teen tweeter 1, Kansas governor 0
NBA players can use team facilities beginning Thursday
Walmart pepper spraying may have been self-defense
China, in Surprising Shift, Takes Steps to Spur Bank Lending
Payroll tax bills defeated in Senate. Now what?
Names proposed for new elements
The mystery of the humongous Christmas space explosion
Christmas gamma burst stupendo-explosion DEATHMATCH
Space Appropriator Congratulates NASA Administrator on Mars Rover Launch
Obama’s signature graces rover bound for Mars
Is Phobos-Grunt dead? Europeans end rescue effort
Military space shuttle receives mission extension
Stephen Hawking says mankind’s survival depends on manned space exploration
Liquid living worms survive space
Harvard researchers build flexible robot that can crawl, slither under a pane of glass
Many HIV Positive Americans Are Unaware
Obama to set new goal on fighting global AIDS
FDA Appeals Block on Cigarette Warning Labels
Moms have it harder than dads? “Multitasking” study says yes
Scientists’ Elusive Goal: Reproducing Study Results
Self goal? Heading football can lead to brain damage
Eating Fish May Be Good for Brain Health
Ways to Inflate Your IQ
Tags: 2012, Afghanistan, American Airlines, American Eagle, AMR Corp., Android, Anna Hazare, Carrier IQ, China, Chinese Second Artillery Corps, climate change, climategate, Corruption Perception Index, Egypt, Egyptian Parliament, European Union, Facebook, Federal Trade Commission, Fitch Ratings, Forbes, Georgetown University, Great Britain, India, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, iPhone, Iran, Islamist party, Jeff Bercovici, jobs report, Kyoto Protocol, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Los Angeles, Mafia Wars 2, Mayan calendar, Muslim Brotherhood, NATO, NORAD, NORAD Tracks Santa, Occupy L.A., Occupy Wall Street, Pakistan, Philadelphia, Phillip A. Karber, Presentation IV, Santa Claus, Sheryl Sandberg, Standard & Poor's, Syria, Transparency International, U.S., unemployment, United Kingdom, US Airways, Washington Post Social Reader, web portfolio