Saturday, December 31, 2011
Are videogames good or bad … or both?
IOWA STATE (US) —Videogames are powerful learning tools but the lessons—positive or negative—depend on the game, according to a new study.
In the article, published in the journal Nature Reviews/Neuroscience, six experts shed light on the positive and negative ways in which playing video games can affect cognition and behavior. The study explains how that knowledge can be harnessed for educational and rehabilitative purposes.
Straight from the Source
“Six researchers from four different research groups all wrote perspectives for this article—all independent of each other, but focusing on a wide range of issues,” says Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State. “What is most valuable is that it cites research that video games can contribute to real problems, but also can have some real benefits.”
The good news
Gentile cites research demonstrating that video games can have beneficial effects. One study by University of Rochester researchers Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green on the first-person shooter game “Unreal Tournament” found that players improved perceptual and attention skills by playing that game.
Although fewer studies have examined the positive effects of video gaming on social behavior, experimental studies (on which Gentile collaborated) in the U.S., Japan, and Singapore found that playing pro-social games led to more subsequent “helping” behavior in users.
In one longitudinal study, the researchers found that children who played more pro-social games early in the school year demonstrated increased helpful behaviors later in the school year.
“If content is chosen wisely, video games can actually enhance some skills,” Gentile says. “But overall, the research has demonstrated that they’re far more powerful teaching tools than we imagined. But the power can be both good and bad.”
The bad news
Gentile documents negative effects too, “which makes sense when one considers that most of the effects reported are learning effects at the core,” he writes.
He cites the most comprehensive meta-analysis conducted to date—one led by his colleague and ISU Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson—which included 136 papers detailing 381 independent tests of association conducted on 130,296 research participants. It found that violent game play led to significant increases in desensitization, physiological arousal, aggressive cognition, and aggressive behavior. It also decreased pro-social behavior.
“The evidence that playing video games induces criminal or serious physical violence is much weaker than the evidence that games increase the types of aggression that happen every day in school hallways,” Gentile writes.
“As a developmental psychologist, I care deeply about the everyday aggression (verbal, relational, and physical), whereas critics of the research seem to be mostly interested in criminal violence.”
He reports that there aren’t many studies on how playing video games affects attention needed in the classroom. But those that exist suggest that there is a relation between video gaming and attention problems in school.
Gentile also addresses video game addiction in the article. In addition to his two landmark studies on pathological game play, he wrote that there are now scores of studies showing that the pattern of problems pathological gamers face are very similar to the problems people with substance abuse or gambling addictions have.
He contends that games offer significant promise for education, particularly since they have been found to be such effective teaching tools. But while studies of educational software demonstrate that children do learn from playing educational games, Gentile says that the amount of money spent on educational games is a tiny fraction of the amount spent on a commercial entertainment game.
“Therefore,” he writes, “most educational games aren’t as interesting, fun, or good as even a mediocre commercial game.”
Given all the different effects of video games on the brain cited in the article, Gentile is hopeful it may reduce some dichotomous thinking in the field of video game research.
“Playing video games is neither good nor bad,” he concludes. “Existing research shows that they are powerful teaching tools, and therefore we need to harness that potential, aiming to maximize the benefits while minimizing the potential harms.”
More news from Iowa State University: www.news.iastate.edu/
Posted: 30 Dec 2011 03:21 PM PST
For anyone who’s unfamiliar with it, the proposed SOPA legislation gives both the U.S. government and copyright holders the authority to seek court orders against websites associated with infringing, pirating or counterfeiting intellectual property. If the act passes, it could drastically change the way the Internet operates.
On the surface, the gaming companies probably threw their support to the bill because it would also help curb piracy of gaming. However, I’m sure they’ve been paying attention to the onslaught of negative press and customer dissidence experienced by domain registrar Go Daddy over the last few weeks.
In Sony’s case, it’s probably best to stay clear of any piece of legislation that would draw attention from activists. Earlier today, “hacktivist” group Anonymous pledged to once again take down Sony’s Playstation online gaming network due to the company’s SOPA support.
Overall, public support for SOPA seems to be crumbling, as a number of big companies have removed their names from the official congressional list (see a PDF of what companies still support SOPA).
Occupy Geeks Are Building a Facebook for the 99%
- By Sean Captain
- December 27, 2011 |
- 7:42 pm |
“I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook,” said Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest.
They hope the technology they are developing can go well beyond Occupy Wall Street to help establish more distributed social networks, better online business collaboration and perhaps even add to the long-dreamed-of semantic web — an internet made not of messy text, but one unified by underlying meta-data that computers can easily parse.shut down Egypt’s internet service. A YouTube video posted in the name of Anonymous propelled Occupy Wall Street from an insider meme to national news. And top-trending Twitter hashtags turned Occupy from a ho-hum rally on Sept. 17 into a national and even international movement.
Now it’s time for activists to move beyond other people’s social networks and build their own, according to Knutson.
“We don’t want to trust Facebook with private messages among activists,” he said.
The same thinking applies to Twitter and other social networks — and the reasoning became clear last week, when a Massachusetts district attorney subpoenaed Twitter for information about the account @OccupyBoston and other accounts connected to the Boston movement. (To its credit, Twitter has a policy of giving users the opportunity to contest such orders when possible.)
“Those networks will be perfectly fine — until they are not. And it will be a one-day-to-the-next thing,” said Sam Boyer, an activist turned web developer, turned activist again, who works with the New York City occupation’s tech team.
The idea of an open alternative to corporate-owned social networking sites isn’t novel — efforts to build less centralized, open source alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have been in the works for years, with the best known examples being Diaspora and Identica.
But those developments aren’t specifically focused on protest movements. And the Occupy movement’s surprising rise in the U.S. has added new impetus to the desire for open source versions of the software that is playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing and connecting social movements, as well as broadcasting their efforts to the world.
One challenge that all of the new efforts face is a very difficult one for non-centralized services: ensuring that members are trustworthy. That’s critical for activists who risk injury and arrest in all countries and even death in some. To build trust, local and international networks will use a friend-of-a-friend model in Knutson and Boyer’s projects. People can’t become full members on their own as they can with social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
“You have to know someone in real life who sponsors you,” said Knutson.
To Boyer, it’s more important to identify someone as trustworthy than to ensure that their online name matches a passport or birth certificate.
“I respect pseudonyms as long as they treat them as pseudonyms and not as masks,” said Boyer. In other words, someone shouldn’t hide behind a fake name to get away with bad behavior — in an extreme case, infiltrating the movement to spy on or sabotage it.
Thirty-six-year-old Knutson, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, started the year as an observer of politics before evolving into a committed OWS activist. His metamorphosis started during public-employee strikes in February against proposed policies of Governor Scott Walker that would affect their benefits and collective-bargaining rights.
“Before this year we had the idea that things maybe were starting to improve a little,” he said. “But when things started happening in February we were like, ‘No, no. Things are getting worse.’”
While organizing a “Walkerville” protest camp in June, Knutson met, over Twitter, members of Spanish protest movement 15M. They had just built a web site, Take the Square, to track occupations around the world, from Tunisia to Madrid. He also met Alexa O’Brien – founder of campaign-finance-reform organization US Day of Rage and a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street. After OWS kicked off, Knutson came to the East Coast for a while, visiting New York, Boston and Philadelphia and joining with other techies in those cities.
Through all those connections, Knutson has focused on building the technology for an international occupations network. But the politics are tricky. “Some of the people in Spain are kind of resentful of OWS, because they got all of the credit,” he said, noting that the Spanish occupations started first and are still far bigger.
As a counterpart to Knutson, Sam Boyer focuses on the US occupations, building tech for a collection of interlinked social networks across the country with the working title Federated General Assembly, or FGA. Working on Occupy has brought him full-circle.
When he was an undergrad in 2005, Boyer, who is now 27, took a job at the Student Trade Justice Campaign, an organization focused on trade policy reform. In 2007, he wanted to build an online platform for individual chapters to organize into groups and to link those groups for national discussions – essentially what the FGA is meant to do. But Boyer couldn’t build it, he said. “I didn’t even know how to program at the point that I started with it.”
So Boyer started learning, and falling in love with, Web programming; and he switched from being mainly an activist to mainly an engineer. His specialty is an open-source content-management system for web sites called Drupal, which FGA will run on.
Knutson, Boyer and the other Occupy geeks don’t have to build everything from scratch. “These are standards that have been around for a while, and we are not reinventing the wheel,” said Boyer.
For instance, the projects will rely on set of technologies known as Open ID and OAuth that let a user sign into a new website using their logins and passwords from social networks like Facebook, Google and Twitter. Those technologies let you sign up for a new service by logging into a Twitter or Google account, which vouch for you to the new site without giving over your password or forcing you to get yet another username and password to keep track of.
In the new OWS tech, an activist’s local-occupation network can vouch for a user to another network, and the local networks all trust each other, they all trust that activist. Someone can sign into one network and post and comment on them all.
Some sensitive posts, say about civil disobedience, would be private. Others, like a statement of demands or press release, would be public, but only trusted members of the network could create them.
FGA wants to differentiate itself from the the me-me-me narcissism of Facebook. It has a strong focus on groups — working together on topics like alternative banking or electoral reform.
And there’s a lot of work today. Currently, the group aspects of Occupy web sites are a cacophony.
“You get there, and the first thing you look at is this useless activity feed,” said Boyer. Every comment – whether a brilliant idea, a troll comment or a me-too pile-on – pops into the list as it’s generated. “You’re only guaranteed that one person really thought that post was a good idea – not the whole group,” he said.
In the FGA system, each group has a discussion on what information to push to their home page, such as a description of an event, a blog post or minutes from a meeting. “In the same way that, when you look at Reddit, you know that the articles on top are the most upvoted, the user could know that posts appearing on a front page represent the concerted agreement of the group,” said Boyer.
The activist coders also want to be able to push and pull info to and from the rest of the movement. The idea is that they can have disparate systems that label info with shared tags that will, some day, make it possible to enter a search on any one site and pull precise results from around the world.
Ed Knutson’s job is to get those sites talking to each other, even though the content may be in different languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, etc.) and created with different content management systems, or CMSs, such as Drupal or Wordpress. The Global Square network will connect not through those systems but through “semantic Web” standards designed to link up disparate technologies.
One key standard has the wordy name Resource Description Framework, or RDF, a universal labeling system.
If an occupier wants to post the minutes of a meeting, for example, they might type them in the appropriate text box in the content management software running the site. That software pushes the information to an RDF database and tags it with some universal label – it could be called “minutes” or any other term that all the occupations agree on. The local occupier might also select “Group: Alternative Banking” from a dropdown list, and that label would be added as well. Using the same labels allows all the sites to trade information. So a search for minutes from an Alternative Banking group would pull up records from any occupation with that kind of group.
With RDF, sites can work together even if they run on different content management software, such as Drupal (as in the FGA) or Wordpress (as in the Spanish M15 group).
“The handoff point is that everything goes through RDF,” said Knutson. “You don’t care if they have a Drupal site or some kind of Frankenstein combination of different stuff.”
The problem the coders face will be the same one that’s faced the web for years – getting people to agree on standards and to then adopt them. One long-running attempt to do this quickly is called Microformats – a way of including markup data in HTML that’s invisible to an human visitor, but which can be understood by their browser or by a search engine. Examples include marking up contact information so that a reader can simply click contact information to add it to their address book and annotating a recipe so that search engines can let you search for recipes that include ’spinach’.
These linkage and collaboration capabilities would be useful well beyond the Occupy movement.
“I think any type of small or medium-sized group or a team that has one person in eight different cities,” could use it for collaboration, says Knutson. And he sees no reason against spinning off the tech to businesses.
“Every small and medium business owner is a member of the 99%,” said Knutson. “Furthermore, exploring relationships with businesses… is pretty important to having a tangible impact.”
“A lot of what we are tying to do is build a better conversation so that this cacophonous discussion can be more coordinated,” said Boyer. As an analogy, he recounted an OWS workshop from a conference on December 18 in New York City when the moderator asked everyone to shout out their best idea for the movement.
They were probably all good ideas, said Boyer. But he couldn’t hear any one of them through the noise of the others.
The Web of trust among networks, RDF labels that link data across occupations, working-group consensus on what to post – all are designed to help the right people connect to each other and to the right information. “Let the sheer number of people who are interested get out the way of the many things actually happening,” said Boyer.
But for now, all those ideas are just that – ideas. And whatever does emerge will come piecemeal.
Sam Boyer hopes to launch in the following weeks what he calls a stepping stone — a roster of occupations around the world called, for now, simply directory.occupy.net. M15’s Take the Square site has provided something like that since May, as have other sites. But directory.occupy.net will be unique in using RDF and other technologies to label all the entries. It will also allow people from each occupation to “own” and update their entries.
“The directory should be useful, but it’s not our big debut,” said Boyer. He’s hoping that will be sometime in the spring, when a rough version of the FGA social network launches.
The Global Square Knutson is helping to build is finalizing its tech and will launch, probably in January, with basic linkages for various Occupy sites to trade messages, re-publish articles and allow cross-commenting on them.
“I’d say it would be a pretty major accomplishment to get a couple of the [web site] systems that everyone is using, like ELGG and Drupal and media wiki and maybe Wordpress” to work together, he said.
But even just having the discussion has been a big deal. “It’s hard to get people to even think about that kind of stuff.”
Friday, December 30, 2011
Computer hackers plan to protect the internet by launching own satellites
Friday, December 30, 2011
Forget science fiction — this one sounds like pure fantasy — but hackers at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin are dreaming of creating their own network of communications satellites and ground stations to forestall any attempt to control the internet.
They’d also like to put a hacker on the moon by 2035.
According to the BBC, hacker activist Nick Farr began calling for contributions to the Hackerspace Global Grid last August, spurred on by threats of online censorship such as that posed by the Stop Online Privacy Act.
The Chaos Computer Club, which was founded in 1981, has been a center of support for transparency, freedom of information, and the hacker ethic, and its annual congress is Europe’s largest hacker event. The CCC is best known for its hacks carried out to demonstrate security flaws, but now it appears to be turning into a center of hardware tinkering as well.
As described by the BBC, “When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr [Armin] Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme. … In the open-source spirit of Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and some friends came up with the idea of a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals.”
“It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Bauer explained. “GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are.”
Photo by Thenetwalker at de.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Why we quit when others succeed
DUKE (US) — Seeing someone reach a goal or complete a task should inspire us to match that success, however new research indicates it can actually reduce our motivation.
“If we are aware of this pitfall, managers can try to avoid it by making it clear that positive feedback is directed at the individual and not shared by others who didn’t take part in the success.”
In an experiment, participants observed others trying to solve a series of word puzzles, a common task used by researchers to study goal pursuit. On video monitors, some observers viewed the puzzle solvers completing a word puzzle, others never saw a puzzle being completed, while a control group didn’t view any puzzle solving at all.
All observers were then asked to complete word puzzles of their own. The researchers found observers who watched the puzzles being completed were less successful with their own puzzles than the observers who saw the incomplete puzzles or the control group.
“Our sense of indirect goal fulfillment is stronger when we observe someone else completing a goal,” says study co-author Kathleen McCulloch of Idaho State University. “This is what my colleagues and I are calling ‘vicarious goal fulfillment.’ In effect, we may transfer others’ goal fulfillment to ourselves, even though we haven’t achieved anything.
“Conversely, when we see others failing to meet a goal, our own sense of fulfillment isn’t as strong, so we might actually work harder.”
Researchers from McGill University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign contributed to the study, which was funded by grants from Idaho State University and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
More news from Duke University: http://today.duke.edu/
By Diane Sweet
The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative along with Amnesty International are asking the U.S. to step up its efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by giving serious consideration to the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief for those at risk, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.
New government census reports have revealed disturbing information that details the cold, hard numbers of Americans who have been deeply affected by the state of our economy, and bank foreclosure practices:
In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.
Along with poverty and low incomes, the foreclosure rate has created its own crisis situation as the number of families removed from their homes has skyrocketed.
Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing. In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.
The stark realities that persist mean that millions of families will be facing the holidays in temporary homes, or homes under threat, and far too many children will be wishing for an end to the uncertainty and distress their family is facing rather than an Xbox or Barbie doll.
Housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet every day in the United States, banks are foreclosing on more than 10,000 mortgages and ordering evictions of individuals and families residing in foreclosed homes. The U.S. government’s steps to address the foreclosure crisis to date have been partial at best.
The depth and severity of the foreclosure crisis is a clear illustration of the urgent need for the U.S. government to put in place a system that respects, protects and fulfills human rights, including the right to housing. This includes implementing real protections to ensure that other actors, such as financial institutions, do not undermine or abuse human rights.
There is a link available at the Amnesty International website for anyone who is interested and would like to join the call on the Obama administration and Congress to urgently step up efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by seriously considering the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.
[Via Amnesty International]
America's Welfare "Reform" Laws Deepening and Perpetuating Poverty
Sherwood Ross is a public relations consultant for colleges, entrepreneurial start-ups and other worthy causes. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
A gigapixel is a thousand times larger than a megapixel, which means a 1.8 gigapixel image is pretty huge. The U.S. Army, along with Boeing, has developed and is preparing to deploy a new unmanned aircraft called the “Hummingbird.” It’s is a VTOL-UAS (vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial system). Three of them are being deployed to Afghanistan for a full year to survey and spy on Afghanistan from an altitude of 20,000 feet with the ability to scan 25 square miles of ground surface.
While the Army has deployed spy drones like this before, the Hummingbird is special in that it is a VTOL craft rather than a traditional airplane. That means that it uses a design and operates in a similar fashion to a helicopter. As a VTOL craft, the Army will not require long runways to be able to launch it into the air.
The Hummingbird drones will be equipped with the ARGUS sensor suite from DARPA. The ARGUS program promises that the sensors will be able to capture real-time, high-resolution, wide-area video for surveillance. Prior to it being outfitted on the the Hummingbird, the ARGUS sensor array had never been used in the air — the ARGUS system being what gives it the 1.8GP resolution. The ARGUS array is made up of several cameras and other types of imaging systems. The output of the imaging system is used to create extremely large high-resolution mosaic images and video.
This technique is used by artists as well, and it is often referred to as gigapixel imaging, since few actual gigapixel cameras exist. A more limited form of this is the panoramic imaging technique used on phones like the HTC Amaze 4G and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, where multiple shots are stitched together to create the panoramic image.
Anyone feeling paranoid about helicopters in the air scanning and recording your every move, yet? Don’t worry. The craft still has to go through trial runs before being deployed, and deployment will not begin until summer of 2012.
Read more at Army.mil
Posted: 28 Dec 2011 07:35 AM PST
Tech magazine Wired just covered our proposal for the Global Square, an online platform for the Occupy movement and a model for direct global democracy.
Dear friends and followers,
We’ve been taking a much-needed break for the past 2 weeks — but it’s not like the revolution has been standing still. In an excellent article, leading technology magazine Wired just covered The Global Square, a new independent social network we proposed back in November in collaboration with Take the Square, European Revolution and United for Global Change #15oct. Referring to the Global Square as “a Facebook for the 99%”, Sean Captain writes that:
The idea behind the Global Square, as we proposed it, was to create an online platform for our movement that could eventually transition into a functional model for direct global democracy, where local assemblies are linked together through an open-source network allowing them to coordinate grassroots activities and formulate common aspirations at the global level. Much more than building just another Facebook, the Global Square project aims to be a revolutionary experiment in radical self-organization at the global level.
The initiative, which received early support from Wikileaks and Richard Stallman, has since taken on a life of its own, with some extremely clever and creative people making major strides forward in its realization. As Captain reports, “The Global Square Knutson is helping to build is finalizing its tech and will launch, probably in January, with basic linkages for various Occupy sites to trade messages, re-publish articles and allow cross-commenting on them.”
As usual, we will keep you posted on the most relevant developments. We thank you for your support in spreading this proposal far and wide — and most of all we thank the techies like Knutson who are helping to transform the dream of global participatory democracy into reality.
La Lucha Sigue — The Struggle Goes On!
That's one reason why we need libertarians like Ron Paul in office. If Halliburton can make a buck arming Iran well...that's capitalism. Right?
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Bethlehem Steel was once a symbol of American prowess in industrial manufacturing. One of the country’s largest steel producers, it supplied ships and guns for wartime, created steel beams for the first skyscrapers, and ushered in an age of mass production. Steelmaking at its main plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, continued for nearly 150 years, until 1995.
In the heart of the Lehigh plant, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, five blast furnaces smelted iron from ore in the first phase of the steelmaking process.
Photo by KerbenThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled a Scrooge move just before Christmas. The agency published an entry in the Federal Register declaring that it will end its attempt at mandatory restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The agency isn't advertising the shift, though: This news would have remained a secret if not for Maryn McKenna's Superbug blog over at Wired. McKenna, who specializes in writing about antibiotics and their link to pathogens, caught the Federal Register notice.
This is a sorry end to a process that began in 1977 (!), but McKenna created an excellent timeline that traces the history of the issue back to the 1950s. In 2009, the Obama administration breathed new life into a moribund process because the top two Obama appointees at the FDA, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and her then-deputy Joshua Sharfstein, strongly supported restricting antibiotic use in agriculture.
But despite Hamburg and Sharfstein's many supportive statements, the FDA has only produced a draft set of "voluntary" guidelines. And, with this latest announcement, it looks like that's as far as they're willing to go.
Inaction has consequences: According to the vast majority of microbiologists and public health experts, restrictions on agricultural uses are key to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics as well as to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and salmonella Heidelberg (cause of last summer's record-breaking ground turkey recall). And it's no small dosage: Every year 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to animals -- often via their feed. That figure represents 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S.
Consumer groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Pew Charitable Trusts have been calling for an end to the practice for years. But it's not just outsiders who are fed up with the agency's work on this issue; the administration's own watchdog group, the Government Accountability Office, recently gave the agency a failing grade in the subject.
In many ways, this issue parallels the ongoing battle over BPA, the endocrine-disrupting chemical used in food packaging, plastics, and register receipts. When finally pushed to ban the chemical, the FDA declared that "its hands were tied" by regulatory hurdles and jurisdictional questions. Yet soon after, the industry lobbying group American Chemical Council responded to consumer anger and petitioned the agency to go ahead and ban BPA. Only then did the FDA indicate it would follow through.
In other words, the FDA is admitting that as long as the industry opposes it, the agency can't keep antibiotics out of our meat and dairy products (nor, for that matter, can it ensure that antibiotics will remain effective). It's also admitting it has no real power over the industries it regulates. If the agency continues to favor industry's concerns over the public health, it begs the question: Who exactly is looking out for us?
On the brighter side, several organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Public Citizen have actually filed a lawsuit against the FDA demanding the agency restrict antibiotics in animals. This is promising, because courts have shown more interest in defending science than the federal agencies (see this example from last year regarding rBST/rBGH in milk).
So it may just fall to a federal judge to determine what's truly good for the public interest. Of course, it would be nice if the agency actually tasked with that responsibility would step up to the plate. But I guess that's just too much to ask.A 17-year veteran of both traditional and online media, Tom is a founder and Executive Director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a Contributing Writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy. Tom's long and winding road to food politics writing passed through New York, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Florence, Italy and Philadelphia (which has a vibrant progressive food politics and sustainable agriculture scene, thank you very much). In addition to Grist, his writing has appeared online in the American Prospect, Slate, the New York Times and The New Republic. He is on record as believing that wrecking the planet is a bad idea. Follow him on Twitter.
Texas teen dies on Christmas, leaves online message [video]
He tells his story with note cards.
Ben Breedlove died on Christmas, leaving behind a wordless, two-part YouTube video message about chronic illness, death and the afterlife viewed more than 450,000 times as of Wednesday.
In the first part of the video, posted Dec. 18, the teen starts out smiling, brown hair neatly parted, staring into the camera and holding up the first card, written in blue marker. The only sound is instrumental music playing in the background, Gary Jules' "Mad World."
"Hello, I'm Ben Breedlove," the card says.
"All my life I've had a heart condition."
Breedlove, 18, of Austin, Texas, suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that worsened over time and eventually contributed to his death from a heart attack.
"As I grew older, I learned more that it is dangerous," he said in one of his note cards, followed by:
"It has scared me a lot, and I hate that feelling."
Before his death, he had started his own YouTube channel, Breedlovetv, where he sat behind a microphone, anchor-style, and talked about his best friend, his two younger siblings, his first date, his spirituality and his heart condition.
"I still get to do most of the stuff I want to do, like, wake boarding," he said in one video. "It's not a big problem."
But the message of his final two videos, titled "This is my story," was different.
In the beginning, Breedlove looks back on a childhood defined by illness and appears sad.
"I was never allowed to play all the sports that my friends did," one card said, "It kinda sucks that I missed out on that part of my life. I really just hoped that I could be the same as everyone else."
But he quickly veers into talk of death.
"The first time I cheated death," one note card said, "was when I was four."
He goes on to discuss near-death experiences, operations and hospitals, at one point tugging down the neck of his blue T-shirt to reveal a mean red scar on his chest where he had a pacemaker inserted in May 2009.
"I was scared to die, but am SO glad that I didn't," a card says.
In the second half of the video, Breedlove addresses his most recent illness.
"About two weeks ago, December 6, 2011," a card says, "Was the third time I cheated DEATH."
The rest of the cards tell the story, with Breedlove staring over them at the camera, his mouth a firm line.
"I was at at school, walking in the hall."
"I could tell I was going to faint, so I sat on a bench"
"I passed out."
"The next thing I know, I woke up with EMS around me."
"I couldn't talk or move, I could only watch what they were doing."
"They put the shock pads on my chest."
"I heard one of them say 'They are ready'."
"And the other guy said Go!'"
"I passed out again."
"My heart stopped and I wasn't breathing for 3 MINUTES."
"I really thought to myself. This is it. I'm dying."
In the cards that follow, Breedlove talks about how, when the heart stops, the brain can continue to function for some time before death.
He says that during his near-death experience, he had a vision of a white room, and a feeling of comfort familiar from his first brush with death at age 4. He was dressed in a white suit, alongside his favorite rap star, Kid Cudi. Breedlove looked in a mirror, and the cards tell the rest.
"The first thing I thought was Damn, we look GOOD!"
"I then looked at myself in the mirror. I was proud of MYSELF, of my entire life, everything I have done."
"It was the BEST feeling."
He eventually woke from the vision, revived by EMS, but not happy.
"I wish I NEVER woke up," a card says, and then:
"Do you believe in angels or God?"
Scores of viewers have been commenting on the videos, ruminating about how young and healthy Breedlove looked, about his positive attitude and the unfairness of death. Some even posted tributes and songs in memory of Breedlove. Kid Cudi wrote on his blog that after seeing the videos, he was in tears.
His family and friends apparently found the videos hours after Breedlove's death at home, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Deanne Breedlove told the newspaper that watching the posthumous messages from her son brought her joy.
"It was a gift to us," she said, "And for him to be so confident and unafraid of death and to share it with other people was so touching."
One of Breedlove's friends said the videos were a departure from the Ben he knew, who hated the hospital and didn't like to talk about his illness.
"It was rough seeing him and what he was thinking about," Grant Hamill said.