Monthly Archives: October 2013

Open Government vs Security – A Question of Balance

Never since Agent Max Smart and his Cone of Silence have Americans been so enthralled with the complex world of secrecy.  Snowden and Mnaning’s disgorging of NSA secrets has spawned a techie battle of the wits and a market flooded with encryption tools and snoop-repellent tricks.  Just this week the HuffPost tells the market impact story.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/13/nsa-backlash_n_4092804.html) Assuming that the records of these troubled times are made public in time, Snowden and Manning will go down as espionage trendsetters.

If there is good news in this unprecedented attention to the game of secrecy it is that people are paying attention to the power and elusive nature of information, especially information hidden from the public in the name of national security and/or patriotism.  The long-term impact of their disclosures may never be measured.  In the short term, we know that their whistle-blowing                                                 has made a difference.  It has raised dormant questions about the fundamental tension between the need for secrecy and need for transparency —  about what, how and who strikes the balance.

It is no secret that the secrecy ball is in the air.

When Barack Obama came into office access advocates cheered his promise that “we will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration.” In 2010 the President signed H.R. 553, The Reducing Over-Classification Act.

Among the requirements of H.R. 553 are these: a) a requirement that the Department of Homeland Security designate a Classified Information Advisory Office to disseminate educational materials and administer training programs to assist state, local, tribal, and private sector entities.”  b) a requirement that the Director of National Intelligence establish guidance to standardize formats for intelligence products; c) annual training for employees with original classification authority, and d)  requirement that federal Inspectors General  assess the effectiveness of agency classification policies.

By Sunshine Week 2012 the federal Information Security Oversight Office could report a sharp decline in expenditures for secrecy.  Stil,l veteran open government advocate Steven Aftergood was cautious, advising that “many classification decisions are still excluded from critical security and instances of over-classification are not hard to find.”

And then Manning and Snowden threw open Pandora’s Box of Secrets!

Alerted to issues, the public is demanding to know more about the balance between open government vs. security.  Last month the Justice Department’s inspector general issued the results of a study to determine if the government’s tendency to over-classify documents actually hurts the very national security it purports to protect.

The DOJ inspector general concluded that the study “did not find indications of widespread misclassification.”  Still, the report “did identify deficiencies with the implementation of the Department of Justice’s classification program, including persistent misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of certain classification processes by officials within Justice Department components.”

Open government advocates find some hope in the report.  For starts, they hope that the report may help to alleviate the burden of backlogged FOIA requests.  In spite of increased staff the FOIA backlog increased in one year (2010-2011) from 70,000 to 83,000.

A closer look at the internal bureaucratic processes that hinder or facilitate the flow of information by and about the government points out some basic facts:  The mechanisms are not mechanical at all, but human.  Humans not only set the policy, they interpret the policy and implement the process; they make the decisions about classification, interpret the rules, handle the requests, and deal with the public.  Right now they are probably furloughed, even as the influx of FOIA requests mounts.

At the same time, information itself is at its core a human resource, produced, recorded, organized and made accessible by humans for use by humans.

Possibly that helps to explain why determining information policy is so intriguing and yet so troublesome.

Note:  Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, provides a thoughtful and timely overview of the issue of government secrecy in his paper  “An Inquiry into the Dynamic of Government Secrecy” (https://www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/dynamics.pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

 

University of Minnesota Press: Positioning the Press in an evolving “megacosm”

Not only has the world changed – universities presses are used to that – but the cosmos has shifted, calling into question the place of presses not just in the university – again, a familiar dilemma – but in a far more diverse, fast-moving, and increasingly decentered system of scholarly communications.  The issue at hand isn’t simply print vs. electronic nor even “Open” vs proprietary, copy-left vs. copy-right.  These are economic and thus solvable problems.  It is, to my mind, the emergence of more informal, iterative, and collaborative scholarly communications vs. formal, fixed, and author centered-literally: authorized-scholarly publishing. ~~ Doug Armato, Director of U of M Press.

These are the thoughtful words of the head of the University of Minnesota Press, a one of the state’s rich resources known by academics but beyond the ken of most Minnesotans. University Press Week, November 10-16, 2013, offers a rare opportunity to take a close look at one feature of what Governor Rudy Perpich dubbed “the brainpower state.”  The University of Minnesota Press deserves to take its rightful place in the state’s and nation’s academic and publishing circles.

Since its founding in 1925 the U of M Press has published tomes that could stock a healthy library.  At the rate of approximately ten books each year (culled from the 2000 submitted manuscripts) the Press now boasts 2,270 titles in print.  The yearly sale of books is 345,000 titles of which 5% are published in e-book or similar digital format. The Press also publishes five journals.  The test division which publishes the renowned MMPI in its various manifestations, began publishing in 1943; today it publishes the tests in 29 languages.

The first book off the presses was Cyrus Northrop: A memoir, by Oscar W. Firkins.  (yes, that Northrup, President of the University).  The first Press catalog for 1927-29 included The Marketing of Farm Products, The Attitudes of Mothers Toward Education, The Development of the Twin Cities as a Metropolitan Market and Prunes or Pancakes, a “popular guide to the science of eating…[and] dietetic reform” by the Dean of the College of Dentistry.  Today approximately 75% of Press authors are academic faculty; the rest include “journalists, critics and a broad range of individuals with varying expertise, from chefs to composers to wilderness guides.”

In case you wondered, the all-time best seller from the U of M Press is Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An introduction; the text has sold more than 250,000 copies since its first publication thirty years ago.

The economics of the Press may come as a surprise to legislators and students alike.  Approximately 92% of the Press’s operations are funded by sales and other income from the mix of publications. Two percent of the budget comes from grants, gifts and endowments.  University support comprises the remaining 6% of the total annual Press budget; adjusted for fees paid by the University, the net support from the University is less than 1% of its costs.

U of M Press points to a number of highlights in their decades of publishing.  For example, in the 1980’s the Press was the first university press to define its editorial program by critical method and perspective rather than by traditional scholarly disciplines.  The policy defined the priorities as works that feature “social and cultural theory and interdisciplinary inquiry”.  Those priorities still guide the Press that has evolved to include other areas of inquiry including race and ethnic studies, urbanism, feminist criticism, and media studies. In addition, “the Press is among the most active publishers of translations of significant works of European and Latin American thought and scholarship.” Minnesota also publishes works on the cultural and natural heritage of the state and the upper Midwest region.

The Press heralded another recent innovation with the decision to publish all of its past publications as reprints or e-books.  The Quadrant initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, explores new collaborative approaches to scholarly research and publication through a partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study at the U of M.

Director Armato envisions “the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication….more akin to the emergence of a new cosmology of scholarly communication – a time not so much of economic reallocation or technological transformation…as much as a dramatic expansion and realignment of the megacosm.”

Take note as the U of M Press takes its place in the realignment of that evolving megacosm.

 

 

Travel with the Joads during the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary Celebration

It’s not (quite) too late to hop on board for the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary trek. (http://grapesofwrath75.org/october-2013/) The tour tracing the Joad family’s travels started ten days ago and ends Monday, October 14, at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.  The re-creation of the trek is the kick-off to a year-long celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the publication of Grapes of Wrath.

 Stops along the way the Steinbeck Center hosted discussions about Grapes of Wrath.  Stops included the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.

The tour features story telling, music, and a traveling team of artists who will collect oral histories.  Artists include playwright Octavio Solis, visual artist Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer.

If you missed the day-by-day experiences and historic interludes, you’ll find the daily posts on the official journal blog   Celebration of the Grapes of Wrath 75th Anniversary continues through 2014.  Check the official website to follow all the action (http://grapesofwrath75.org)  The story of the Joads is a poignant portrayal of a time to be revisited by an author whose work deserves re-examination in these troubled times.  The website offers a rich and enticing chance to follow the Joads and their story.

 

Ideas + Collaboration = Solutions at CityCampMN and Hackathon

If the mayhem in Our Nation’s Capitol does nothing else it does inspire one to face and possibly solve the problems right here at home – the little stuff that makes a difference in our daily lives, the sorts of challenges that people of good can and will work together to solve.   Civic-minded activists who see the possibilities in technology should seize the chance to participate in these related projects set for Saturday-Sunday, November 9 and 10.

CityCampMN 2013: Engaging Civic Innovations (http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/2276) is an “unconference” for Minnesotans who want to explore “passion-fueled technology-enhanced civic ideas and solutions.”  The unconference, organized by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities, offers a chance to connect “active citizens, community leaders, technology buffs and government officials.”  The project promises to be a unique opportunity for collaborative problem solving during which “the group will discuss and imagine how to use technology to strengthen communities and create more open government.”

CityCampMN is Saturday, November 9, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM at the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus, Schulze Hall.  Registration options are $10 guaranteed spot, open donation, or free (limited space lottery).  All include free lunch and reception.

Topics of the day are wide ranging, something for everyone:  open government, civic technology apps, online engagement, digital journalism, open data, visualization and analytics, tech for social justice and equity, neighbors online, digital youth empowerment, civic hacking, digital inclusion, social media for good, with room for new ideas from participants.  (WHEW!)

The following day, Sunday, November 10, the learning continues at “A Hack for MN Mini-camp” sponsored by Open Twin Cities (http://www.opentwincities.org).  The hackathon is at DevJam Studios (http://devjam.com/about/devjam).  It’s a follow up to the issues and ideas discussed at CityCampMN.

The events are open to everyone who believes that access to information is key to a vital community.  Non-techies welcome.

Click here to register online for either or both events:  http://citycampmn2013.eventbrite.com.

 

 

 

Documentary premiers portray stories of the disabilities community

During the next few weeks Twin Citians will enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to view and read about the lives and media triumphs of people with disabilities – and how their stories are told in the media.

The premiere of the documentary, The Real Story, produced by Access Press (http://www.accesspress.org), Minnesota’s disability community newspaper, and Verso Creative is set for October 28.  Funded in part by UCare, the documentary explores issues related to past and present media coverage of disability issues. 

Producers of The Real Story note that “the real story is how news coverage of disability issues has changed over the years.”   According to Access Press, “investigative journalists, particularly in Minnesota, have been instrumental in advancing the cause of equal rights for people with disabilities.  Starting in the 1940’s and culminating in the 1970’s journalists reported on the horrible conditions of state institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  That reporting led to changes that improved the lives of many people.”

Still, “stories intended to be factual are often influenced by misconceptions that are ultimately harmful to people with disabilities.”  Though in some cases the mainstream media recognize their own biased reporting, in other cases, stereotypes persist.  According to Access Press “too often stories about disability are more inspirational than factual, or rely on old stereotypes…..People are either portrayed as heroic figures or as objects of pity. “   Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin has observed that “we used to do stories … that were more charity stories.”

One significant challenge reflected in The Real Story is the role of self-advocacy as an instrument of change.   “Being a self-advocate is a benchmark of the community now as people are encouraged to speak up for themselves.”

The Real Story premiers on Monday, October 26, 6:30 p.m. at the U of M Alumni Center; the documentary will be shown again on Monday, November 4, 4:00 p.m. at Coffman Union on the U of M campus.  Both events are sponsored by the U of M Disabled Students Cultural Center and Access Press.  The free and open screenings will include a panel discussion with newsmakers, scholars, activists – and refreshments.

A second opportunity to explore the lives and work of people with disabilities is set for early November.   ReelAbilities: New York Disabilities Film Festival (www.reelabilities.org) is hosted locally by Partnership Resources, Inc. a nonprofit that provides employment and arts experience opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

This is the Minnesota premiere of  “the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.”  The local festival, November 1-5, opens on Friday, November 1, with a noontime program at MacPhail Center for Music and a reception that evening at Pracna on Main.

Venues for the showings of the nine featured films include MacPhail Center for Music, the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre and the St. Paul Jewish Community Center.  All venues are fully accessible.  Post-screening discussions and other programs “bring together the community to explore, discuss, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.”  There’s a complete schedule of events and background online at http://Minneapolis.reelabilities.org/schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indies Reign at the Twin Cities Book Festival & Beyond

Readers relax and refresh!   Popular reviews, awards and stacks of soul-less bestsellers are no measure of a reading culture.  Turn to the indies – the publishers and the booksellers – who know a good read when they read one and who make sure the words and ideas of creative writers reach the reading public.

This weekend presents an awesome opportunity when Rain Taxi opens the doors to the Twin Cities Book Festival,  their annual reader-magnet bonanza!   It’s Saturday, October 12 (that’s actually tomorrow!) at the Progress Center on the Fairgrounds.

Check their website (http://www.raintaxi.com/bookfest/) for all the details, including a guide to a robust agenda for the children’s pavilion.  Admission and parking are free with options for ticketed events set for Friday evening.

If your faith in the power of independent presses needs more of a boost, check the reviews of a couple of Minnesota’s finest, in Jason Diamond’s piece on “25 Independent Presses That Prove This is the Golden Age of Indie Publishing.”  In an October 1 article published in Shelf Awareness Diamond writes  that “no matter what the latest doomsday prognostication about the future of big publishing happens to be, this is an exciting time to be a fan of literature.”

Among the presses Diamond lauds are Minnesota’s own:  About Graywolf he writes: “We almost feel silly saying this, but this Minnesota nonprofit press gets better with age.  Their last few years have featured a killer streak of releases from Joshua Cohen, Thomas Sayers Ellis, a stunning new translation of Dante’s Inferno, Stephen Elliott, Benjamin Percy, Fiona Maazel, and many other books that should be on your TBR pile.”

Describing Coffee House Press, the pride of Northeast Minneapolis, Diamond writes:  “Growing from a 1970’s poetry magazine into one of the most well respected indie presses is no small feat., but this nonprofit press that’s housed in Minneapolis’ historic Grain Belt Bottling House has published more than its share of award-winning writers (Stephen Dixon, Anne Waldman, Frank Chin) and continues to be one of the presses that all other indies – and even big publishers – look to for inspiration.”

One way to show your support for the work of the indies is to join forces with other avid readers who are supporting  the indie booksellers’ Indies First project set for November 30.  More on that in an earlier post or check one of the several websites that cover the events of the day, e.g. Bookweb (http://www.bookweb.org/news/sherman-alexie-spearheads-indies-first)

 

Handy Guide for Mixed-Up Minneapolis Voters

Minneapolis voters, their friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, carry a heavy challenge this season – trying to unravel the complexities of ranked choice voting while faced with a roster of candidates that would befuddle the most ardent observer of the election process.

E-Democracy has created a handy tool that might ease the pain, or at least steer the hapless voter in the right direction.   The voter guide is a gateway to the process and to the candidates themselves.    It provides links to the candidates’ websites, a listing of voter guides, issues discussions online and the basics about voter registration and voting sites.   All you’ll need is time to do the research, read the materials, think about it and decide!  This will make the job easier.

Click here for the E-Democracy election guide:

 http://pages.e-democracy.org/Minneapolis_elections