Dangerous concentration of geeks in Boulder

Yesterday, there was a minor afterparty to Denver’s Thin Air Summit. At Boulder’s lovely Dushanbe Teahouse, we had a tweetup of over 30 local coding and media geeks. TAS keynoter Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research shot this video so we could put faces to names — that is, the really important kind of name for this conference: Twitter handles.

If you didn’t catch all those Twitter handles (they’re not all easy to spell), then check out the comments to Jeremiah’s post.

Letters to the Editor Blog: Why didn’t you just say so?…

One of the things I’ve liked about Boulder’s Daily Camera is that on their site they run an unfiltered Letters to the Editor blog. Unlike the letters that get published in the print edition, every letter the Camera receives gets posted to this blog — where (unlike comments left on Camera articles) they can be found via the site’s search engine.

And look how easy they make contributing your letters! All you have to do is send an e-mail to openforum@dailycamera.com.

Well, almost… Continue reading

Boulder Police DID Have Options: Disorderly Conduct Citation

Yesterday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Amy Bounds interviewed me about my experience at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run, where 12 streakers were cited by police for indecent exposure. She used that information to expand her Camera story naming those cited — a list that included several local scientists and students. (I wrote about this yesterday.)

Bounds also added to her story a brief quote from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner:

“Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said indecent exposure was the charge that best fit the violation. ‘We don’t set the law,’ he said. ‘As police officers, we enforce it. We don’t get into the sentencing part of it.”

It doesn’t look like the Camera saw fit to push back against Beckner’s facile claim, which is unfortunate. Because the Boulder police did have another option here. They could have chosen to cite the streakers instead under Colorado statute 18-9-106. Disorderly conduct.
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12 Naked Pumpkin Runners Named, Camera Catches Up

UPDATE NOV. 5: The Boulder police had other options. They could have cited streakers for disorderly conduct instead of indecent exposure. Also, the Daily Camera interviewed me on this controversy…

Yesterday, after much prodding from local bloggers (including me) and commenters on its site, the Boulder Daily Camera finally reported that the streakers who got busted by Boulder police at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run will, if convicted, have to register as sex offenders. Today, the paper also published the names and ages of the 12 streakers who were cited for indecent exposure. All of these people are over 18, and thus under current CO law must register as sex offenders if convicted.

No acknowledgement of the community/independent media role in pressing this issue was offered by the Camera.

I just called the Boulder Municipal Court (303-441-1842), which informed me that Boulder County Courts (303-441-3750) are handling these cases. The county court rep I spoke was surprised, since normally misdemeanor citations handed out within Boulder City Limits get processed through the municipal court system. However, he did say that if indeed the county will be handling those cases, they should have more information on Friday. So I’ll call back then and will post an update. I’ll also check back with the municipal court, just in case they gave me incorrect information.

I’m contacting the local courts because I want to learn the dates and locations of arraignment hearings for the busted streakers. As far as I know, the public (including media) can observe these hearings. It’d be here that we’d learn whether these cases are being plea bargained down, whether there are motions for dismissal, and in general the attitudes of the judges, cops, attorneys, and defendants.

Stay tuned…

Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

Scene of Boulder’s 2008 Naked Pumpkin Run busts, plus two nearby real (violent) crimes earlier that same day.

UPDATE NOV 4. The names of the 12 busted streakers have been published, so I’m following up on this case via local courts

On Halloween, as I wrote earlier, I went down to Boulder, CO’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall to check out the costumes — which are always spectacular — and to see the annual Naked Pumpkin Run. (Note: that link above goes to my blog post which includes a video containing nudity.) This loosely organized event has a lot of local fans.

The Naked Pumpkin Run is nothing more than that — sometime around 9-10 pm on Halloween, a bunch of people get naked, put jack-o-lanterns on their heads, and run en masse down the Pearl St. Mall. It’s not sexual, violent, dangerous, or threatening. It’s just silly. It’s unique. It’s fun. It’s exuberant. It’s positive and life-affirming.

And: It’s illegal.

Unlike in previous years, the Boulder police were out in force for this event, where they ticketed several runners for indecent exposure. Consequently, several fun-loving local folks may end up suffering life-altering public stigma as registered sex offenders.

No kidding.

The Colorado Daily posted this video of the event, including some footage of the busts:

Need some irony? All this happened less than 24 hours after two remarkably violent assaults, which occurred just a half-mile from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts.

Here are the details, as best as I’ve been able to gather them so far… Continue reading

Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

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This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…
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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

NOTE: This is part 1 of a multipart series. More to come over the next few days. See Part 2.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

If you want to strengthen communities, it helps to ask: What defines a community, really? Is it mostly a matter of “where” (geography)?

Last week I got into an interesting discussion with some folks at the Knight Foundation and elsewhere about whether “local” is the only (or most important) defining characteristic of a community. This was sparked by an event held last week by the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy — an effort to recommend both public and private measures that would help US communities better meet their information needs.

From the time I first heard of this project, I thought it was an excellent idea. It bothers me deeply that many (perhaps most) Americans routinely “tune out” to issues of law, regulation, and government that not only affect them, but also that they can influence — at least to some extent. (I say this fully aware that I often fall into the “democratically tuned out” category on several fronts.)

The problem then becomes, of course, that when citizens don’t participate, their interests are easy to ignore or trample.

Why do so many Americans abdicate their power as citizens in a democracy? It seems to me that many are too quick to “blame the victim,” pointing to widespread apathy, ignorance, or a prevailing sense of helplessness as common democracy cop-outs.

I think there’s a different answer: The way our democracy attempts to engage citizens actively opposes human nature. That is, it just doesn’t mesh well with how human beings function cognitively or emotionally.

Fighting human nature is almost always a losing battle — especially if you want people to participate and cooperate….

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Local: Just One Set of Ripples on the Lake of News and Information

Clearly Ambiguous, via Flickr (CC license)
Local is just one set of ripples on the lake of news and information.

UPDATE SEPT. 15: I’ve launched a new series fleshing out this discussion. See Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 1: Human Nature

When it comes to information that helps people function better as citizens in a democracy, how important is local, really?

Geographically defined local communities are the focus of the new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. Earlier this week, I posted this comment (and this one) on the Commission’s blog questioning the Commission’s assumption that community = local.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that Knight is trying to determine what kinds of information people really need to function as citizens today. I agree that’s a crucial line of inquiry these days. However, I’m concerned that by assuming those needs are inherently tied to “local,” the commission could miss a very important (perhaps the most important) part of what “community” really means to people today.

I was honored to see this very thoughtful response to my comment from Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He made several good points, including this excerpt…
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The Stereogram Approach to Finding the Meaning of Life

Gary W. Priester (Click image to enlarge.)
Often, the first challenge in life is simply to see the target.

I really used to hate stereograms.

When they became popular in the early 1990s, they often reduced me to serious frustration and headaches. I would stare at them — glare at them, really — trying to will their embedded 3D images to leap out. Everyone else seemed to enjoy these hidden illusions with ease. But my eyes and brain stubbornly refused to do the trick.

Then one day, I realized that I was looking at a dolphin. I just glanced at the cover of a book of stereogram art, and there it was. I was delighted to discover that the image wasn’t “leaping out” at me — rather, I was “seeing into” it. I wasn’t even sure how I’d started to see the hidden picture. All of the sudden, and quietly, it just worked.

Years later, I’ve come to realize that whenever I’ve identified a key mission or purpose I should pursue, it’s emerged (very much like that dolphin) from the background of the world around me. I get a sense that some vision is waiting to be seen, and I prepare my mind to be open to it. Then eventually I see it, and it feels like I always should have seen it.

In contrast, whenever I’ve tried the top-down, primarily rational (rather than intuitive) approach to choosing a course in life, I usually end up not really wanting what I’ve been working for, or liking what I’ve done — which is frustrating and demoralizing on many levels.

I’ve been quiet on this blog lately, mostly because I’ve been spending more time conversing, research, reading, and journaling. To be honest, I’ve been searching for purpose. For a couple of years now — although I’ve been doing a lot of interesting work, meeting a lot of interesting people, and learning a lot of interesting things — privately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been flailing around, seeking direction and purpose.

Finally, I feel like the picture is starting to emerge. Here is the outline so far…
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