Discussion Post: Week 16
Well, that’s pretty much it, isn’t it? Now that all of our COM 315 presentations are behind us, in what ways did you grow as a presenter over the course of the semester? What did you discover about presentations and about yourself as a result of the content we covered in class? Perhaps most importantly, how will you be applying what you’ve learned here to your work in the future?
Let’s tackle the more serious stories first. As you may already be aware, on Thursday Virginia Tech University suffered its second school shooting incident in four years (a 2007 rampage left 33 dead, including the culprit), as two people were killed in the wake of a gunman storming across the campus. Authorities say the nightmare began when the suspect held up his landlord at gunpoint on Wednesday and demanded the keys to his Mercedes-Benz. On Thursday, during what started as a routine traffic stop, the perpetrator approached a Virginia Tech police officer and shot him, then fled into a nearby parking garage, where a second victim was later found. The campus was locked down for several hours until authorities determined that the second victim, a 22-year-old part-time business student, was actually the gunman, and lifted the alert. Authorities believe he ultimately killed himself, but many questions remain about why this “typical college student” would commit such violent crimes without any apparent provocation.
On the political front, the case of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has finally reached its conclusion. You may recall that Blagojevich found himself in the center of a national scandal when, after President Barack Obama vacated his Senate seat to take his new role, details emerged that suggested Blagojevich had sold the seat to the highest bidder, a clear violation of federal law. (It is the governor’s right to appoint a senator’s replacement in such situations, but not to receive any personal gain in the process which could sway that decision.) He was convicted on 18 federal corruption charges in June and, after a final sentencing hearing on Wednesday, sentenced to 14 years in prison. Blagojevich’s attorneys had said Tuesday that, while their client was guilty of corruption, his behavior “does not call for a 15 to 20 year jail” term; one has to believe the 14-year sentence wasn’t quite what they had in mind. In any case, Blagojevich’s prison sentence will begin in 68 days, and it will be about 12 years before he can be considered for early release, by which time he will be 67 years old and two young daughters will have reached adulthood. In the meantime, the girls are making good on a promise their father made after his initial arrest three years ago, that if he ever went to prison “You can get another dog and call him, ‘Daddy.’” (The Maltese-poodle mix they adopted from a Chicago shelter on Friday is instead expected to be named “Twix.”)
Let’s shift our political gaze to those who haven’t been sentenced to jail time, shall we? With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, Republican candidates continue to jockey for position among their rivals, particularly to gain ground on current leader Newt Gingrich, who appears to have benefited the most from Herman Cain’s departure from the race. Gingrich, for his part, has been espousing many of the same ideals he touted during his time as Speaker of the House in the late 1990’s, particularly those of limiting government power and focusing on personal responsibility, messages that seem to be especially effective among his voter base right now. That’s not to say he’s safe in this race, though. With Republican Party leaders concerned that attacking Obama personally is too dangerous due to the sympathy voters still hold for him, the only obvious target left for candidates hoping to make up ground in the primary race is the frontrunner Gingrich himself. As we approach the final set of debates before Iowa makes its decision to start the string of primaries, it will be interesting to see whether Gingrich can hold his lead, which most polls now show as a double-digit margin.
Let’s move now to the international headlines. Amidst an economic crisis, European Union (EU) leaders worked late last week to resolve budget issues, restructure the EU itself, and revive the shaky euro currency. A deal was ultimately brokered — with Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron notably rejecting an invitation to join the treaty — and stocks climbed amidst the economic development. Cameron was welcomed home with open arms after the summit, although some in his government publicly questioned the merits of his decision to veto the treaty, which would have given substantially more fiscal control to a central European authority. As for the EU itself, a great deal of work remains to quell the crisis, as astronomical bond yields that have devastated some European nations’ economies have not yet begun to fall despite the extreme measures taken.
Elsewhere, Russia’s recent parliamentary elections have been fraught with turmoil, from rallies against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to attacks on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The volatile scene only worsened after Putin’s United Russia party was declared the winner alongside widespread accusations of vote fraud. A subsequent protest in Moscow attracted over 25,000 demonstrators, while similar protests emerged throughout the country.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood party, which has been leading its country’s parliamentary elections, withdrew from an advisory council being formed by military leaders and claimed that the military, which has been at the center of public discord in recent months, was trying to give the council significant power in writing Egypt’s new constitution. Israel and Palestine have seen increasing violence in their ongoing struggle: after the assassination of an al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade senior commander on Thursday, the Palestinian terrorist organization responded by firing seven rockets into Israeli territory, most of which exploded harmlessly in open areas, even though over one million Israelis currently live within rocket firing range. On Tuesday, Afghanistan saw some of its worst violence since the Taliban fell from dominance in the region, as 59 people were killed in suicide bombings disrupting the festival of Ashura. Perhaps the biggest international headline here in the U.S. came from our own downed forces, though. American controllers lost contact with a highly classified Lockheed Martin Corp. RQ-170 spy plane last Sunday, and a downed craft that appeared to be the RQ-170 subsequently appeared on Iranian television. It is expected that Iranian scientists are now working to reverse engineer the RQ-170, which was designed to be virtually invisible to radar. This incident has served, in large part, to expose the covert battle between the U.S. and Iran, which some have related to the Cold War with Russia a few decades ago, and has contributed to speculation that we may be moving ever closer to war between the two countries.
The United Nations (U.N.) has been tackling its own priorities, as participants in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change have struggled to develop a more comprehensive approach for reducing global carbon emissions. Deliberations have moved very slowly, so much so that the convention, which was supposed to end Friday, is still ongoing a day later, at the time of this writing. Still, some analysts are hopeful that a deal on the so-called “Green Fund” is close at hand, although critics worry that the agreement will be little more than a substance-less shell. That would spell bad news for walnut trees here in West Lafayette, which Purdue University professor Douglass Jacobs says would be unable to survive even a slight climate shift in the region.
In sports news, professional basketball seems to be well on its way to a Christmas Eve opening day, as NBA players formally approved the new collective bargaining agreement through this week’s vote. Owners still have to ratify the deal, but they are widely expected to do so without hesitation. The NBA Players Association, which had disbanded to allow players to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the league, has also been reinstated. Professional hockey has also seen some changes, as the league approved a new four-conference realignment with an updated playoff format to boot. Under the new system, which would be established in the 2012-13 season, the top four teams from each conference would earn playoff bids, and the first two rounds would decide the conference champions. The NHL Players Association still has to give final approval in order to make this deal official, but like the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, there’s little doubt in most analysts’ minds that it will happen.
The stories of celebrities being thrown off commercial planes continued last week, as actor Alec Baldwin was removed from an American Airlines flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday. His crime? Playing “Words with Friends” on his iPad. Apparently Baldwin refused to power down his iPad when flight attendants instructed passengers to turn off their electronic devices, and after a heated argument and a resulting one-hour flight delay, Baldwin was told to leave the plane. (He was eventually re-booked on a later American Airlines flight to New York.) Baldwin and the airline disagree on some of the details surrounding the incident — Baldwin insists that he was singled out while other passengers were still on their cell phones, while American Airlines released a statement saying that Baldwin swore at the flight attendants, stormed into the lavatory and locked himself inside to continue playing his game while the plane was preparing to depart. Following the chain of events, Baldwin’s Twitter account leapt to 600,000 followers, but the actor decided to shut down his account anyway, tweeting to followers, “Let’s play a game called Mass Unfollowing. I want to crash this acct and start again. But, tonight at 10 PM, NY time, unfollow me.”
In other social media news, Twitter has redesigned its site to make connecting with other users easier in its battle with Facebook and Google+, while Facebook had to scramble to fix a bug that revealed private photos to others through the inappropriate image-reporting mechanism. Google+ is winning points with privacy advocates over its opt-in facial recognition program that automatically tags images featuring your face — a direct contrast to Facebook’s own opt-out system — but the company is also squabbling with Verizon, which is trying to prevent Google Wallet’s e-commerce app from appearing on Verizon phones.
On the gaming side of things, the 2011 Video Game Awards were on Spike last night (albeit too late to include much analysis of the winners in this post). The industry is coming off what appears to be a banner November, as sales of disc-based titles were 15% higher than November 2010. This was, in fact, a record November for game sales. However, some analysts say that figure is misleading: when you combine software, hardware, and accessory sales, the increase from last November is a meager 0.4%. In any case, it’s possible that the next big title you buy won’t be played on a console, but on Google Chrome instead. On Thursday, Google representatives hosted a demo of the popular XBox Live Arcade game Bastion working directly in Chrome, a development three years in the making. Video game streaming service OnLive is trying to beat Chrome to the market by allowing users to play console games on tablets and smartphones, expanding its current service that only works with TV set or computer attachments. Even Microsoft is getting into the act, as an Xbox Live update last week transformed the system into a virtual media center with direct access to streaming movies, music, and other services (through voice commands, if you also own the Kinect accessory). It will be interesting to see how these competing PC-TV-gaming integration strategies pan out.
There you have it. What are your thoughts about our last news stories of the semester?
Other articles of interest:
Scientists find monster black holes, biggest yet
NASA: Moon may lose tons of soil during massive solar storm
Calif. teen takes $100K national science prize
When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids
College essay questions get weird
The Health Risks of Being Left-Handed
Generous couples have happier marriages
Fossils show shrimp-like superpredator’s eyes had 32,000 lenses
Endangered crocodile finds new life at nuclear power plant
Angelina Jolie sued, accused of plagiarizing movie
HP: WebOS Is Now an Open Source Project
To Remedy the Squeeze in Coach, New ‘Cuddle Class’ Seats
Babbitt resigns as FAA head days after arrest on drunken driving charge
Additional remains sent to landfill, Air Force acknowledges
Tennessee family home burns while firefighters watch
Alarm-pulling squirrel mentioned by board
Touchdown celebration penalty costs Mass. team a state title
Video: Kick return gaffe eliminates Wofford from playoffs
Albert Pujols, Angels agree to deal
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