Final Video

 

Screenshot of Final Video 2

                                                     Screenshot by Natasha Vos. All Rights Reserved.

For my final video project for COMM 240, I co-produced and edited a short video showcasing St. Cloud State University’s multicultural, or simply cultural, center. The center was the result of a 1995 hunger strike coordinated by a student organization, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). After student protestors called for more cultural inclusion, SCSU administrators established the cultural center on campus.

Our video was filmed using Panasonic AC 90 camera, tripod and external microphone. My partner and I edited the video using Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud on an iMac computer.  “Sky Blue,” the accompanying song composed by George Apsion, was used with permission from Killer Tracks.

Our video can be viewed on YouTube.

0:00-0:08 Shot 1 – Medium close-up shot of Natasha with title and subtitle

0:08-0:13 Shot 2 – Cutaway shot to the 13 Totem Poles

0:14-0:26 Shot 3 – Medium close-up shot of Natasha

0:27-0:32 Shot 4 – Very wide shot of the outside of the cultural center

0:33-0:35 Shot 5 – Low angle zoom-in of the sign

0:35-0:39 Shot 6 – Wide shot of a student walking into the center

0:39-0:45 Shot 7 – Wide shot of the student exiting the center

0:46-0:54 Shot 8 – Extreme wide shot horizontal panorama of students socializing in the center

0:55-1:00 Shot 9 – High angle of a closer look at the students

1:00-1:04 Shot 10 – High angle from a different perspective of the students

1:04-1:08 Shot 11 – Cut-in shot of a student using a computer in the center

1:08-1:12 Shot 12 – Low angle horizontal panorama of student associations

1:12-1:15 Shot 13 – Handheld and follow of Johnnathan entering the center

1:16-1:19 Shot 14 – Point of view shot from Johnnathan’s perspective entering the center

1:20-1:24 Shot 15 – Eye-level angle vertical down swipe of décor

1:24-1:28 Shot 16 – Eye-level angle vertical up swipe of decor

1:28-1:34 Shot 17 – Medium close-up shot of Johnnathan

1:34-1:40 Shot 18 – Rolling credits

My Case Against Citizens United

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC). During the presidential nomination cycle in 2008, partisan organization Citizens United produced a film that lambasted Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. When Citizens United was legally barred from airing the film within 30 days of the Democratic primaries, the group sued the FEC claiming its First Amendment rights were being suppressed. Citizens United won with a 5-4 vote. The ruling overturned legislation that banned airing certain ads immediately preceding elections, and it prohibited the government from regulating contributions made to independent organizations. In other words, so long as organizations like Citizens United do not “coordinate” with political campaigns directly, the government can no longer restrict contributions made by these organizations. Consequently, unregulated Super PACs have emerged, many funneling millions into political processes and, in so doing, creating communications that differ from campaign ads only by source of origin, not by content and certainly not by effect. This Supreme Court decision was justified by citing the First Amendment; however, corporations are inherently different from people, and the First Amendment should not be extended to them as though these differences and the threats imposed by these differences do not exist. In essence, the dissenting opinion of the Supreme Court in Citizens United, presented by Justice John Paul Stevens, offers a better argument than the majority opinion, presented by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Arguing in favor of extending the First Amendment to corporations and other groups, Justice Anthony Kennedy makes a fine case for free speech in his writing of the majority opinion. With appropriate focus on pre-election communications, Kennedy argues that the time period immediately preceding an election is critical for political messages. It is this window before voting when efficacy is maximized as a result of increased urgency as the election approaches. By restricting political communications during this period, argues Kennedy, society is denied access to a free marketplace of ideas when such a marketplace would be most useful. Undoubtedly, most advocates of free speech would concede that an open exchange of opinions benefits a democratic society. Unfortunately, Kennedy’s argument does not acknowledge the enormous differences between the opinions of people, who innately have a rich variety of interests, and the opinions that serve the fundamentally narrow interests of for-profit corporations.

In capitalist societies, most corporations exist solely to generate profits, a noble goal if not for the ethical concerns that abound. For example, Wal-Mart executives have been excoriated for allegedly urging their under-compensated employees to apply for financial assistance programs, a clear tactic to defer costs from the corporate giant onto the government. Looking further back, corporate greed inspired President Franklin D. Roosevelt to install a federal minimum wage to effectually balance the interests of the working people with the interests of corporations. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” also set other mandates for employers, including the introduction of child labor protection laws, signifying the conflict between the will of corporations and the will of the people. As should be well understood, the interests of corporations are often incompatible with the interests of the rest of society. We cannot surmise, then, that an open marketplace of ideas will benefit a diverse populace when profit-pushing corporate avatars help influence that marketplace.

To be fair, there are organizations that contribute to the public sphere and to the whole of society in positive ways. Sierra Club, for example, favors politicians that oppose environmental detriments, and its support is presumably lent irrespective of financial gain. Justice Kennedy explicitly refers to Sierra Club and similar organizations to demonstrate the virtue of upholding free speech for non-person entities. While assessing Justice Kennedy’s argument, we must understand why he exemplifies such groups.

As non-profits, organizations like Sierra Club are not designed to indulge in profit-seeking. Knowing this, we can infer that the interests of some incorporated non-profits expand beyond increasing revenue and help represent more varied perspectives. This would seem to dismantle the fears expressed previously of myopic corporations exerting enormous influence. Unfortunately, non-profits also leave unanswered some important ethical questions. Consider that Super PACs are often eligible to file as non-profits, which many have done.1 In doing so, Super PACs deceptively detach themselves from their donors, even though they are merely manifestations of the interests of those donors. This is so because non-profits generally do not have to disclose the identities of the people or the businesses from which their contributions are made. Super PACs registered as non-profits are thus able to secretly take money from any source, including foreign companies with questionable motives. Consequently, the donor lists of many influential Super PACs are protected from public scrutiny at the expense of that very public. Justice Kennedy’s argument does not directly address the distinction between non-profits and for-profit corporations, nor does it address concerns about the lack of transparency that plagues multi-million dollar Super PACs.

Justice Kennedy’s argument, though masterfully conveyed, is most culpable for being unrealistic. His argument applies ideal concepts to an imperfect system. In an idealized society, there would exist an inclusive marketplace in which all opinions are fairly represented and considered. In such a setting, even for-profit corporations could participate without threatening the integrity of the political sphere because all opinions would have the opportunity to influence based on their perceived merits to society. Clearly, this world is hypothetical. It is in this utopia, not our reality, that Justice Kennedy’s argument is most appropriate. We are doing a disservice to society by grossly distorting it as though it were free from imbalance. In reality, ours is a system in which money buys access to mass media, and thus the wealthy invariably have more freedom of expression than do those with less money. Regulations, which Justice John Paul Stevens of the dissenting opinion supports, are necessary to help equalize expression and influence during public election cycles.

Justice Stevens creates a strong argument by calling out the slippery slope upon which the majority opinion unsteadily rests. Writes Steven: “Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process.” We must consider both arguments and ask ourselves some very important questions: If corporations have First Amendment rights as though they are people, what other rights are they entitled to? Should corporations be allowed to bypass supporting or opposing political candidates completely and just run for office themselves? Should corporations be given a vote during public elections? Rational people are likely to agree that the answer to the last two questions is absolutely not. The issue is that the argument presented by Justice Kennedy does not answer the first question. Instead, it leaves the question lingering uncertainly in the air. In advocating for regulations like those established by the 1907 Tillman Act, Justice Stevens gives us more certainty in answering that question.

Corruption is an underlying controversy in a system devoid of regulation. Quid pro quo, alternatively expressed by the adage “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is harmful to democracy whether real or perceived. One illustration of this is voter turnout in the recent presidential nomination processes. From the very first caucus in Iowa, voter participation has been record-breaking on the Republican side as many voters cast overwhelming support for current front-runner Donald Trump.2 It is not a coincidence that voter turnout is high in an election that offers a self-funded candidate, a billionaire alleging that he is impenetrable to establishment corruption. As has been proven by these broken records, voter turnout increases when people believe in the legitimacy of elections. If this is so, then the opposite is also true: Voter turnout is low in elections that lack legitimacy. Even the perception of quid pro quo can deter the public from participating, causing harm to democracy. Justice Kennedy’s position seems to offer little defense against the likelihood of corruption, whereas Justice Stevens’ offers a reasonable solution in the form of regulation.

In fairness, Justice Stevens’ argument missed the mark on one occasion—it did not sufficiently address an excellent observation imparted by Justice Kennedy. The latter rightfully points out a hefty inconsistency in the pre-Citizens United system of regulation. That is, news corporations were immune to certain restrictions simply because they were news sources. Justice Kennedy calls attention to this hypocrisy, pointing out that a “conglomerate that owns both a media business and an unrelated business” would be allowed to use its connection to media to promote its business interests. Meanwhile, a different corporation “with an identical business interest” could not promote its interests to the same extent if it did not have connections to media. Justice Stevens clearly adopts the position in favor of the Federal Election Commission, which advocated for the existing regulations to remain intact. Yet those regulations did not protect society from the biases promulgated by mass media, and Justice Stevens does not aptly address this inconsistency. Overall, however, Justice Stevens provides a stronger argument than Justice Kennedy. As the former writes, Citizens United was a turning point in the conflict between “assertion over tradition, absolutism over empiricism, rhetoric over reality.” Unfortunately, it was a turning point that has allowed corporations to gamble heavily in political decision-making, and We the People are the ante.

1http://www.examiner.com/article/super-pacs-go-non-profit-and-opt-out-of-disclosure-requirements

2http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/mar/1/donald-trump-drives-republican-turnout-to-record-d/

Attribution

Much of what we encounter on the internet—including written works, photos, audio files, videos and other creative material—is protected by copyright laws. Although ideas and operational methods cannot be copyrighted, almost all other perceivable materials produced from creative thought are automatically protected by copyright laws. There is a common misconception that creative works must be legally registered for copyright protections to apply. This is simply not true in the United States and many other countries; formal registration is recommended, but it is not required in order to sue for copyright infringement. Legally speaking, it is important to receive permission from the owner before using her or his work, and it is expected that you cite your sources. This also ensures that you can trace your own trail of information, if needed.

Copyright

Public domain photo from Yahoo! images.

There are, however, exceptions to copyright restrictions. Public domain materials are those that no longer belong or have never belonged to a specific party. Rather, public domain works are owned by the public and may not be owned by anyone in its original form. There are four reasons creative work falls into this category: 1) the copyright has expired; 2) the owner did not comply with copyright rules, specifically those related to copyright renewal ; 3) the owner allows the material to be public domain; or 4) copyright protection does not apply to that specific work. The middle ground between copyrighted material and material belonging to the public is material placed under a Creative Commons license. This type of copyright license allows owners to be more flexible with respect to “lending” their works. For example, someone with a Creative Commons license can choose to let others use her work without explicit permission, but she may limit this sharing to non-commercial use. It is also worth noting that there are general “fair use” policies that include educational use, news reporting, parody, commentary and criticism, among other uses.

Ultimately, it’s beneficial as a secondary source to cite the original source—it builds your credibility and protects you from expensive litigation.

For additional context, view this video found on YouTube.

HTML and CSS

Neither this website nor any other could function the way it does without Hypertext Markup Language and most would not look the way they do without Cascading Style Sheets. WordPress, Adobe Dreamweaver and other applications supply users with text editors, and understanding the basic elements of Hypertext Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets can optimize your use of those text editors. (WordPress support explains more here.)

Hypertext Markup Language, commonly abbreviated HTML, is the plain-text language used to select the structure and layout of a website. HTML relies on special tags to communicate structural demands about the webpages. There are more than 120 markup tags, each indicated by angle brackets. For example, you would use the tag <b> if you wanted to add bold text.

HTML

An example of Hypertext Markup Language. Picture by Natasha Vos. All rights reserved.

Cascading Style Sheets, shortened to CSS, describe the specific designs for markup language like HTML. CSS adds additional visual elements to websites. A website created without using CSS will default to white backgrounds with black text. CSS is what makes a site more visually stimulating. For example, you would use CSS to add a colorful border and to adjust the margins.

You can see HTML and CSS on any webpage by pressing a couple of buttons. If you’re on a Windows computer, hit Ctrl+U. If you’re using a Mac, hit Command+U (or Command+Option+U). When you do so, the page will be transformed to reveal the hidden language with which it was created.

Visit this YouTube channel for more videos about HTML and web development!

 

 

Adobe Dreamweaver

 

First website

A screenshot of my first website created using Adobe Dreamweaver. Photo by Natasha Vos. All rights reserved.

Adobe Dreamweaver is an application that helps simplify website development, a process that incorporates Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets. Users with varying degrees of knowledge about website development can create website prototypes that feature text, images and responsive designs, all which can be accessed on computers and mobile devices. Heavily praised for its user-friendly features,  Adobe Dreamweaver is capable of appeasing users no matter where they fall on the experience spectrum. That is, highly experienced web designers and developers can appreciate the advanced options offered, while newbies like me are gently guided along by coding assistance. This is significant as we move away from traditional modes of communication and self-expression, and continue integrating the internet into our self-identities. With Adobe Dreamweaver, the once small group of people that comprised web developers is becoming more inclusive. Using web development software like Adobe Dreamweaver and standalone text editors like TextWrangler (which allow users to edit computer text files), creating a website is more possible for the self-taught than it was several years ago.

For an idea of how Adobe Dreamweaver functions, please see the YouTube video below (posted by YouTube channel “Greg Davis”). If you’re interested in learning more about Adobe Dreamweaver or are considering purchasing the program, visit Adobe’s  official site.

 

 

WordPress

You may be surprised to learn that more than 25% of all websites currently use WordPress. Statistically speaking, if you visit four websites, there’s a chance at least one of those sites is affiliated with WordPress. Such popularity is a testament to the growing appeal of Content Management Systems. A Content Management System (CMS) is a computer program (also referred to as an application) that allows users to create, edit and delete content on a website without proficiency in Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML. This is important because many people are not familiar with HTML and would be unable to fully contribute online without a head start. Offering templates through CMSs therefore increases the number of people who can share ideas in cyberspace, for better or for worse.

WordPress comes in two forms: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. The latter affords users more control, which in turn requires more responsibility. Unlike its commercial counterpart, WordPress.org gives its users the opportunity (or the burden, depending on your perspective) to self-host. This requires more technical knowledge and special software. Users do not have to register for WordPress.org; however, registration is mandatory for WordPress.com. Luckily, registration is simple, quick and a good indicator of the experience to come using WordPress.

Registration begins by registering a domain. Those registering can select a WordPress domain for free or a standalone domain for a monthly fee.

Registering at WordPress.com Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Registering at WordPress.com. Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Next, select the plan befitting your preference.

Registering at WordPress.com. Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Registering at WordPress.com. Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Finally, input your email address, pick a username, and create a password.

Registering at WordPress.com. Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Registering at WordPress.com. Source: Screenshot of WordPress.com

Once registered, you’re able to choose a theme, customize as desired and share your story with the cyber world.

Check out the step-by-step video, found on YouTube.

Writing Tips

I had seen online that a media grammar course was required for one of my intended majors. Having completed numerous writing-intensive courses at SCTCC* with great success,  I felt over-qualified for this single credit prerequisite. Flippant, I enrolled in the class and completed the pre-exam assuredly. When the answer key was offered after the assessment, my answers proved how unfamiliar I was with AP style.  The first graded test proved challenging as well; the class average was less than 70 percent.

After the first graded test, I sought out a tutor and reread large portions of the textbook.  Eventually, I earned an A+ in the class, but it was much more challenging than I anticipated. Grammar can be an insidious task of the writer.

Stephen King has said that he writes with no regard for proper grammar. Rather, King writes his ideas as they come and returns at a later time to fuss with his grammar. Although Stephen King is a celebrated authority in his industry, professional media writers are expected to be proficient in AP style and understanding the basics makes writing more consistent for both writer and reader. I still catch myself breaking some of the rules, but the AP Stylebook has, in many ways, made writing easier for me. The following are a few helpful tips to consider before drafting your next Ulysses.

Use the nominative case when the pronoun is the subject, predicate nominative, or noun of direct address. Nominative case pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, one, who.

Use objective case when the pronoun is the direct object, the indirect object, the object of a preposition/participle/gerund/infinitive, or the subject of an infinitive. Objective case pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, one, whom.

Use possessive case, as the term implies, to show possession or attribution. Possessive pronouns are my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our/ours, their/theirs, one’s, whose. Remember, only pronouns that end with one or body add ‘s to show possession. For example,  nobody’s fool or anyone’s guess.

Use the possessive case when the pronoun is followed by a gerund. For example, I appreciate his contributing.

Transitive verbs have a direct object. You set or lay a book down, and you raise a trophy in the air.

Intransitive verbs do not take a direct object. You sit or lie down, and you rise from your chair.

Use that for essential items (also called restrictive). For example, “The dog that was bitten by a bat became rabid.”

Use which for nonessential items (also called nonrestrictive). For example, “The dog, which was bitten by a bat, became rabid.)

When and connects two or more items in a subject, then the verb becomes plural. For example, “Mary and Bob have a dog.” This is true unless the connected words refer to a single thing, like “pork and beans.”

When or connects two or more items in a subject, then the verb is singular. For example, “Mary or Bob has a dog.” This is true unless one of the items is plural, such as “Mary or the neighbors have a dog.”

Nonessential items do not influence whether the verb is singular or plural. For example, “Mary, as well as her children, enjoys swimming.”

Collective nouns, such as army, faculty, or department, require a singular verb most of the time. A plural verb is only used when the collective noun comprises individuals operating independently or when members of the group are in a disagreement.

Both, few, many, others, and several are plural.

Another, anybody, anyone, anything, each one, either, everybody, everyone, everything, little, many a, more than one, much, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, other, somebody, someone, and something are singular.

All, any, each, more, most, none, plenty, some, and such are singular or plural according to context.

Do not use they, their, or theirs for single antecedents. To be gender neutral, either make the antecedent plural to enable using “they/their/theirs” or use a phrase like “his or her.”

For “neither. . . nor” phrases, the pronoun should correspond with the noun or pronoun that follows nor. For example, “Neither Mary nor Bob pulled his weight.”

The word following a colon should be capitalized if it is part of a complete sentence. If not, the word following a colon should be lowercase. For example, “She said one thing: Leave me alone.”

Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. Colons and semicolons always go outside quotation marks. Exclamation marks and question marks go inside quotation marks if they are part of the quoted material.

And, finally, the following are often-confused phrases used in the correct way:

Different from (not different than)

Convinced that (or) of

Persuaded to

Centers on

Revolves around

Supposed to / Used to

These guidelines were collected from the eighth edition of “Working With Words” (Brooks et al.), which I would strongly recommend. (Note: This post comprised my own examples and unique re-wording.) Luckily, however, help is readily available online as well.

*St. Cloud Technical & Community College

Analysis of John Edgar Wideman’s “Fatheralong”

John Edgar Wideman’s “Fatheralong” can be remembered as a relatively brief essay that dissects American racism in its most ominous form: willful ignorance and passive complicity. Wideman profiles the father of Emmett Till, the black fourteen-year-old whose racially motivated murder garnered additional impetus for the civil rights movement. The author’s arguments are driven by bold anecdotes—some public, others personal—and careful research. Overall, “Fatheralong” is compelling, though arguably flawed.

Wideman’s word choice is essentially telling. In other words, the essay moves from beginning to close with carefully selected words that ground the reader in the essay’s mood. For example, the government’s negative connections to Louis Till’s execution is described in the following passage, which states, “Although Mrs. Till was assisted by a lawyer, her attempt to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of her husband and the father of her only child had been stymied by the government’s terminal unresponsiveness, the very same government that ordered its colored soldiers to serve in what amounted to a separate, second-class army of conscripted laborers.” (p. 348). Note the term “stymied,” which carries tremendously negative connotations in this context, as well as the phrase “terminal unresponsiveness,” an outright effort to take the government to task. Skillfully, Wideman transitions to the more familiar case of Emmett Till by weaving in the government’s involvement in this case—again described with contempt. “The government that at its highest levels chose to break its own rules and violate the rights of Private Louis Till by sending his confidential service record . . . to lawyers defending the kidnappers and killers of his son Emmett.” (p. 348). Considering the essay’s focus on systemic issues concerning race, Wideman’s incorporation of the government’s roles in either scenario must be acknowledged. Effective word choice in these examples plays a huge part in setting the tone for the essay.

“Fatheralong” should also be praised for the research completed in the making of this personal essay. In general, this genre of essay—personal essay—seems to detach itself from formal research, relying more on personal experience and internal reflection. Wideman’s piece, however, is a worthwhile example of a personal essay that goes above and beyond, one that summons external resources in addition to internal factors that so often epitomize the personal essay. With that said, two personal statements in the essay seem uncharacteristically ambiguous. First, Wideman conveys Emmett’s date of birth before including a parenthetical detail, saying the date is “a month after [the author] was born.” (p. 349). He continues by comparing his own father with Louis Till, mentioning again via parentheticals that his father joined the war in 1942, just like Louis (p. 350). These personal assertions are never directly addressed; however, we might infer that Wideman’s point is to challenge the fate of Emmett Till, who evidently belonged to the same era in American history as the author and, perhaps more importantly, also lacked a father. Yet, in an essay that endorses the idea that race is a social construct and “whiteness” has relentlessly dominated other races, Wideman’s comparison between two black individuals (Emmett Till and himself) seems fairly incomplete. While minor, I would criticize the absence of elaboration in this essay where this parallel is concerned. In other words, I would have liked the author to either have completely built the comparison between himself and Emmett or to have avoided it completely.

Wideman, John Edgar. “Fatheralong.” The Best American Essays. Ed. Robert Atwan. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 347-352. Print.