Monday, March 31, 2008


My brother, Daniel, has recently taken up photography, and I must say he's quite good. You can see some of his photos here.

This is his most recent (Tribune Tower in Oakland):

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gleeson Library Display

Our Digital Literacy class has taken the responsibility to fill this space:

for National Library Week in April. Our display will be in response to the questions:

What do I love about the library?
What do I wish the library offered?

I spent five semesters working at the Gleeson Library, so it's interesting to think about these questions. What I love most about the library is the books. I like Prof. Silver's idea about each of us choosing a few of our favorite books to display. Some books I would like to include are: Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (though it's checked out right now), Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer (also checked out), Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs.

Other things I love about the library: the 24-hour atrium, the Thacher Gallery, the old card catalog on the lower level, all the places you can hide in the stacks (especially in the lower level), the carrels (those individual study cubby things - I'm not sure how I know the name for them), and all the online resources (databases, e-books, online journals, etc.). In order to represent these things, I like the idea of taking photos. I see two main options for presenting the photos (and we could do both): 1) We can get photos printed and put them on the wall, 2) We can have a slideshow running on a laptop. My vote is for option 1, first because it will save us table/counter space for other things (like books), and second because most people are just going to glance at this exhibit as they walk by. They'll take in a lot more of the photos if they can see them all at once instead of waiting for them to cycle through on a computer screen.

What would I like the library to offer? Online study room reservation, clearly designated "quiet" and "okay to talk" areas, clocks throughout the library, a better access system than the terrible gates at the front, and more music and movies (also presented more accessibly than they currently are), and book discussion groups. Smarter and nicer patrons would be cool too, but I think that's beyond the library's control. I know I'm not dreaming big here (though I did like the in-class idea of hugs and head massages), but those are practical, doable things I would like to see.

These are harder to represent than what the library has already. I like the idea of a space where patrons can say what they would like the library to offer. That makes more sense to me than just the opinions of seven students and a professor. We could encourage people to draw as well as write. We could provide colored pencils, markers, and crayons. As a digital alternative (or addition), we could set up a computer with a blog (or something) where people could write their suggestions. That way, if people were writing inappropriate things, we could easily delete them.

A fun field trip for our class would be to go into the library storage space on Lone Mountain. You go through the Del Santo Reading Room, and there's a door in the back leading to the storage space. There are a few floors of books that used to be where they had closed stacks at the Lone Mountain College library. Now it's space for books that don't circulate very often. It's dark and hot and stuffy in there. Kind of scary when you're alone. If I were a ghost on Lone Mountain, I would definitely hang out in there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

High-speed internet in SF public housing

Brewster Kahle is so cool. He's putting high-speed internet in public housing in San Francisco. You can read about it in the New York Times here.

I really really want us to spend some time on the digital divide in our digital literacy class. I've been meaning to write more about it here, but I haven't gotten around to it. I actually did a brief presentation (plus reflection activity) for my coworkers about the digital divide, particularly in San Francisco, last month. I should post the basic information and reflection stuff on here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years in Iraq

Today is the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Last year I helped organize a vigil in our community when I was in El Salvador, and I wrote a prayer for peace, which I posted on my Amber en El Salvador blog. I'm re-posting it here with some minor edits.

God of Life, we pray for peace.
Let us be makers of peace
in ourselves,
in our communities,
in our country,
and in the world.
We pray for all people suffering from war,
especially the people of Iraq,
today, on the five-year anniversary of the war in that country.
We pray for all those who have died: the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, the soldiers of Iraq, the United States, and all other countries.
We pray for those who have died trying to make peace,
and we pray for those who are still alive, trying to make peace.
We pray for the politicians of the U.S. and Iraq,
that they see the injustice of war,
put an end to the violence,
and prioritize peace and true justice,
leaving behind selfish motivations,
and giving preference to the poor.
We pray that everyone understand that "collateral damage" and "casualties" means real people, killed unnecessarily:
Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, best friends.
We pray for an end to religious conflict and civil war,
that the world may hear your call to nonviolent resolutions,
to beat our swords into plowshares,
and to love our enemies.
We pray that we learn from history,
that we do not repeat war, violence, and injustice,
that we always remember the tragedy of war.
We pray for hope and strength in the struggle for peace.


The Iraq war costs $720 million a day. How else could it be spent? Watch this video:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jesus loves me, this I know...

... for the Bible tells me so.

This evening I watched an excellent documentary (part of the Human Rights Film Night at USF) about homosexuality, Christianity, and the Bible, called For the Bible Tells Me So.

A few points taken:

-The Bible needs to be interpreted with an understanding of its context, not completely literally. If you take it literally, you'd better be sure you don't eat shrimp or pork and that you've given away all your material possessions to the poor (actually, those sound like pretty good ideas to me...).

-The Biblical arguments against homosexuality are pretty weak and can easily be interpreted differently or attributed to the historical context (i.e. not a message from God).

-Homosexuality Homophobia is deeply linked to misogyny. People can't handle men putting themselves in the position of women, "lowering" themselves to that level. (Update note: I wrote homosexuality the first time because I was not paying attention. My apologies.)

-The Christian call is to love.

This also gives me an excellent excuse to attempt to embed a YouTube video. Here's the trailer:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Text Generation Gap article

There's an article in today's New York Times called "Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)." It's interesting and somewhat disturbing, talking about the way technology like cell phones (especially texting) has changed how children and parents communicate with each other.

This stuck out as especially disturbing:
Early on, Savannah’s parents agreed that they had to set rules. First, they banned cellphone use at the dinner table and, later, when the family watched television together, because Mr. Pence worried about the distraction. “They become unaware of your presence,” he said.
How has watching TV become family-togetherness time? Mr. Pence, if your children are watching TV and not texting, they're probably not thinking about your presence anyway. Heaven forbid that children be distracted from television with social interactions!

Pence now allows his daughter to text while they watch TV because otherwise she would just leave and text somewhere else.

This was also kind of depressing:
“Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he explained while taking a break from study hall. Now he won’t even consider writing a letter to his mother, Jan. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”
I don't really care about the preservation of the written snail mail letter. They're nice, but not really important to me. My problems:
  1. A text message is not anywhere near a letter (or most emails, for that matter). It rarely consists of more than a couple sentences.
  2. Again with the television thing. "Oh no, I can't make time to communicate with my mother because I have to watch TV!"
Technology can provide great tools for communication, but we need to be careful when they start pushing people apart instead of bringing them together. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) this isn't necessarily clear or black and white. Chances are a lot of young people are building closer and closer relationships with their friends while their relationships with parents suffer. All of these issues aren't unique to technology, especially not new technologies. It's just people trying to figure out how to interact with people.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A delicious meal: pupusas

One of our assignments this week was to make a delicious meal. Unlike many of my classmates, I am not much of a cook, and I knew I wouldn't get away with pulling something out of the freezer and sticking it in the microwave. I thought long and hard about what I could make that wasn't boring, and I decided to make pupusas. Pupusas are a Salvadoran food, and they are basically filled tortillas, usually with cheese, sometimes with beans, meat, or other fillings. They are delicious, and I had them at least once a week while I was in El Salvador. I had only made pupusas once before, under heavy supervision and help from a Salvadoran woman, so the process was a bit of a challenge, but I managed. Taking photos throughout the process was also a challenge, because my hands were usually covered in masa dough.

There are only three ingredients in these pupusas: masa, beans, and cheese. Masa is just ground up corn (what corn tortillas are made out of). In El Salvador they have a special soft cheese for pupusas, but I'm not even sure what it's called, so I used mozzarella.

My ingredients:

I already had this Maseca (dry masa), which I got at a store called Mi Tierra in Berkeley.

There is no exciting story behind this can of beans. I bought it at Haight Street Market (only because I happened to be on Haight Street). Note that it is vegetarian because most refried beans have lard (yuck).

The cheese has the same story as the beans.

And this is how I made the pupusas:

First step: prepare the masa. I mixed some Maseca with water to make the dough. I had to add a little more water than the packaging said to make it the right consistency.

Second step: make the pupusa. First you roll a hunk of masa into a ball.

Then you flatten it into something like a bowl-shape, using a circular motion with your hands to keep it even and round (this is pretty hard, and I definitely don't do it the "right" way). This photo is not a great example of how it should be, but you get the idea:

Put a little bit of beans and cheese in the middle and fold up the sides of the masa to make a closed ball again.

Then you want to flatten that ball, patting it back and forth between your hands.

You have to be careful not to put too much beans, or the masa will break open very easily (which happened to me a lot). When you're handling the masa, you have to wet your hands frequently to keep the dough from sticking to your skin (much).

Third step: cook it. I wasn't sure what temperature to have the pan or how long to cook it, so I improvised. It takes a long time for the masa to cook all the way through, which definitely tested my patience.

Cooked pupusas:

I cut up some cherry tomatoes and made a bit of simple guacamole (avocado, lemon juice, salt) to go with the pupusas, and it was all very delicious.

They weren't the same as authentic pupusas, but for gringa pupusas they were pretty yummy!

Andrea liked them:

And so did Melanie:

Overall, it was a delicious success.

Global Good Neighbor Principles

I'm writing a paper about the representation of immigration in news media for my Globalization and International Media class, and I ran across this in an article I'm reading. It seems like very sound advice for the U.S. government:

Global Good Neighbor Principles

Principle One: The first step toward being a good neighbor is to stop being a bad neighbor.

Principle Two: Our nation's foreign policy agenda must be tied to broad U.S. interests. To be effective and win public support, a new foreign policy agenda must work in tandem with new domestic policies to improve security, quality of life, and basic rights in our own country.

Principle Three: Given that our national interests, security, and social well-being are interconnected to those of other peoples, U.S. foreign policy must be based on reciprocity rather than domination, mutual well-being rather than cutthroat competition, and cooperation rather than confrontation.

Principle Four: As the world's foremost power, the United States will be best served by exercising responsible global leadership and partnership rather than seeking global dominance.

Principle Five: An effective security policy must be two-pronged. Genuine national safety requires both a well-prepared military capable of repelling attacks on our country and a proactive commitment to improving national and personal security through non-military measures and international cooperation.

Principle Six: The U.S. government should support sustainable development, first at home and then abroad, through its macroeconomic trade, investment, and aid policies.

Principle Seven: A peaceful and prosperous global neighborhood depends on effective governance at national, regional, and international levels. Effective governance is accountable, transparent, and representative.

(Source: "U.S. Hegemony or Global Good Neighbor Policy?" by Laura Carlsen and Tom Barry, IRC Americas Program)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Global Women's Rights Forum: Stop Firestone Campaign

Tuesday evening, as part of the Global Women's Rights Forum at USF, Emira Woods from the Institute for Policy Studies, spoke about Firestone's exploitation of workers and the environment in Liberia, and the movement stop it.

Firestone (the company that makes tires), is the largest foreign investor in Liberia. They have a quota system, and if their workers do not collect the required amount of rubber, they don't get paid. The amount is unachievable (and the pay tiny), so women and children come to help their husbands/fathers. This means that Firestone is getting free labor from women and children. They are also dumping lots of toxins and wreaking environmental havoc on the community. You can find a lot more information at

The really cool thing is that there is that the workers and community members are organizing for change. The movement is a global collaborative effort, but fundamentally, it is coming from the people of Liberia who are most effected by Firestone's abuses. This is essential (read Pedagogy of the Oppressed), and I was happy to hear both the speaker and members of the audience emphasize the importance of this point.

I also loved her hopefulness. I've spent a lot of time studying all the things that are wrong in the world, and it can be really discouraging. I sometimes forget that by knowing everything I do, I am empowered to make the change I know needs to happen.

Best and easiest blogging and photo tools

I have a question for all my digitally literate friends. In May, I will be going to Tacna, Peru with a group from USF (mainly computer science, and some dance people). We'll be serving a few schools down there, and one activity we want to do with the kids will be digital photography and blogging. Last year they did something similar to what we want to do this year, and they used Flickr for photos and Vox for blogging. When I tried Vox a year or two ago I didn't like it because you had to be a member to comment. I don't know if they've changed that, but my inclination is to use Blogger because that's what I've always used. My inclination is also to use Flickr, because it's what I'm most familiar with. However, there are other tools out there that may be better or easier. I looked at Picasa (Google's photo site), and it seems simpler to use than Flickr, though maybe less powerful. It would also probably make the kids' photos less visible because it isn't nearly as well-known as Flickr. For me, that's significant. I also tried poking around WordPress, and it seems more or less equivalent to Blogger (with an emphasis on open source, which is awesome). Does anyone have thoughts on Flickr vs. Picasa and Blogger vs. WordPress?

Here's an photo one of the kids took last year:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bryan Alexander at USF

As usual, everything took longer than it was supposed to today, and I'm afraid I can hardly do justice to Bryan Alexander's talk last Thursday, but I'll write what I can now (before class starts) and write some more later.

Bryan Alexander works for NITLE, focusing on use of technology in education. This is completely interesting and awesome. He talked about some of the great collaborative tools in Web 2.0, including collaborative writing and collective research. He said that there is a shift in the model of learning from individual experts to learning through networks (connectivism). This reminded me of this article on categorization and tagging, which describes the limitations of structured, institutionalized categorization (as we have in libraries), and some of the ways that tagging can change this. I have more thoughts on this article, which I will talk about later, but it's the same concept of collective creation.

I think the use of these tools is really exciting, and the formats of collaboration could really transform our culture. If people begin to feel empowered in their education, it's a different dynamic than the "sit down and do as you're told" model.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Does Religion Cause War? Panel event

Another cool-looking event at USF:

"Does Religion Cause War?"

A panel discussion
March 6, 2008
Xavier Room, Fromm Hall, 5:00-6:00 p.m.


Stephen Zunes, Politics
Vincent Pizzuto, Theology and Religious Studies
Anne Bartlett, Sociology

moderated by John Nelson, Theology and Religious Studies

It is a sobering fact that a majority of students at USF and universities elsewhere have lived half their lives in the climate of war. This panel discussion will investigate whether it is credible to claim, as have bestselling authors like Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (2006), that religion is a direct cause of war and violence. Ways in which religious motivations can be steered into conflict, whether “fundamentalist” forms of religion are prone to violence, and whether teachings of peace within a religion can constrain the belligerent tendencies of its adherents will all be considered.

Sponsored by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Zunes is awesome, and I've heard great things about Pizzuto, including that he's attractive (extra bonus!). I don't know anything about Anne Bartlett.

Gcast: easy podcasting

I'm holding off on my entry about Bryan Alexander's excellent talk until I've uploaded my photos, but in the meantime I thought I would write about Gcast. Gcast is a tool which allows you to easily create and upload podcasts. I am taking Spanish Conversation this semester, so instead of weekly written assignments, our professor has us do "audio blogs" either about our weekly cultural/linguistic activity, or in response to a prompt she has given us. You can find my broken Spanish aquí. En la ultima entrada, hablé sobre Tacna, Peru, y lo que aprendí de Wikipedia en español.

The thing I really like about Gcast is that it's very accessible. Podcasting sounds intimidating, but Gcast allows you to call a toll-free phone number to record your podcast. You don't need to download special audio software or anything. This is especially useful when the recording needs to be done by 5:00, and it's 4:50 and I'm nowhere near my computer. Of course, if you want, you can also upload an audio file from your computer. One drawback with using the phone is the sound quality is pretty poor (making my Spanish especially hard to understand), but depending in how you're using it, it's good enough.

Human Rights Film Night

These films look great:

2008 Human Rights Film Night

March 10
Presentation Theatre
2350 Turk Blvd. at Masonic Ave.

Father G and the Homeboys

Father G and the Homeboys chronicles the lives of 4 Latino gangbangers as they redirect their lives in a wartorn area of Los Angeles known as Boyle Heights, at one time, the street gang capital of the world. For over 20 years, Father Gregory Boyle (Father G) and his non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, have helped kids plan for their futures instead of their funerals.

For the Bible Tells Me So

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate? Dan Karslake’s provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible.

This event is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Center for Latino/a Studies in the Americas, the Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought, the Latin American Studies Program, the LGBTQ Caucus, and University Ministry.