Lessig's U Chicago lectures on corruption this fall


Levi says, "Lawrence Lessig will be lecturing at the University of Chicago in October, launching a new series with a series of talks on institutional corruption, with separate talks on the problem in Congress, finance, the media, and the academy, then wrapping up with a lecture that covers possible remedies."

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Chicago PD's Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling


The Chicago Police Department has ramped up the use of its "predictive analysis" system to identify people it believes are likely to commit crimes. These people, who are placed on a "heat list," are visited by police officers who tell them that they are considered pre-criminals by CPD, and are warned that if they do commit any crimes, they are likely to be caught.

The CPD defends the practice, and its technical champion, Miles Wernick from the Illinois Institute of Technology, characterizes it as a neutral, data-driven system for preventing crime in a city that has struggled with street violence and other forms of crime. Wernick's approach involves seeking through the data for "abnormal" patterns that correlate with crime. He compares it with epidemiological approaches, stating that people whose social networks have violence within them are also likely to commit violence.

The CPD refuses to share the names of the people on its secret watchlist, nor will it disclose the algorithm that put it there.

This is a terrible way of running a criminal justice system.

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City of Chicago and public-spirited hackers unveil the Chicago City Code


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "Something pretty rare happened last week. City officials of Chicago got together with hackers from around the country to unveil a vastly better new online version of the Chicago City Code. Public.Resource.Org worked with the City to make bulk data available, the folks at the OpenGov Foundation turned that into the popular States Decoded format that folks are using in DC, Virginia, San Francisco, and other locations around the country. The code, the data, and the formats are all open source and we were there to celebrate the unveiling and encourage volunteers in Chicago to take it even further."

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel apologizes for decades of police torture

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has apologized for twenty years' worth of police torture under the stewardship of former Chicago PD Commander Jon Burge, and set aside $85M to compensate victims -- mostly black people from Chicago's South Side. At least two of Burge's victims spent 21 years in jail before being released and paid off. In a City Council meeting, Emmanuel called the torture "a stain on the city’s reputation." His predecessor, former Mayor Daley, refused to apologize for -- or admit -- torture, and used out-of-court settlements to avoid testifying in court about his administration's complicity in the torture.

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Libraries and makerspaces join up in DC, Chicago


This morning dawned with two exciting announcements from the world of libraries and makerspaces: first, the Chicago Public Library has opened a popup makerlab in the main downtown branch (this is merely the latest in a series of amazing, interactive, maker-ish initiatives from the CPL system). They've got 3D printers, laser cutters and a milling machine.

The other awesome news is that the 11,000 sqft the DC Library Digital Commons opens today in the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library, with 3D printers, book-on-demand printers, and computers with 3D design software running on them.

This is a great day for libraries and makers -- as I've written, that's a match made in heaven.

(Images: Jacqui Cheng, Benjamin R. Freed)

Suburban Express bus-line sends bullying, cowardly legal threat to Reddit, discovers Streisand Effect


A convicted cybersquatter named Dennis Toeppen now runs the Suburban Express bus service that is used to take students home from university in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa to Chicago. Suburban Express attracts many online complaints from riders who object to the company's policy of fining riders $100 (charged automatically to their ticket-purchase credit-card) if they present the wrong ticket when they board, and other, similar policies -- and who allege that the company hunts down its online critics and bans them from riding.

But Toeppen and Suburban Express went too far when it threatened a volunteer Reddit moderator with a defamation suit for failing to police the company's critics on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign subreddit, where a banner read, "Don't ride Suburban Express! They're likely to sue you, have terrible reviews, and also this." The banner implied that an anonymous Reddit commenter who accused Suburban Express critics of of being "lonely virgins" was run by Toeppen or his representatives.

The ensuing negative publicity (and a stern note from Ken "Popehat" White) frightened the bullying, cowardly company into withdrawing its threat. But with any luck, the company's public conduct will warn its potential customers away and make the offers presented by its rivals more attractive. If I was running a competing bus service, I'd be buying ad space on the subreddit in question, running ads that say, "Ride with us, we don't fine you, we don't ban you for complaining, and we won't threaten to sue you if you aren't happy!"

The company has developed a bad reputation online, with reviewers on Yelp and commenters on reddit sharing stories of what they claim are the company’s cutthroat business practices. For example, the company's ticket policy includes a "ticket fraud" clause that hits riders who hand the wrong ticket to a driver with a $100 fine, charged to the credit card used to purchase their ticket. "In the event that ticket is used to obtain transportation on another day or at another time," the company's policy statement reads, "or to or from a Chicago area stop other than printed on your ticket, you will be charged full fare for the trip you actually rode PLUS $100 penalty. You will also be permanently banned." The company also has a history of suing passengers for violating its terms and conditions—it has filed 125 tort and contract damage lawsuits against passengers this year alone, according to a report from a student newspaper.

The terms of service don't include not speaking ill of the company online, but apparently they might as well. Some commenters have accused the company's owner, Dennis Toeppen, of hunting down negative reviewers and banning them from the company's buses.

The Internet cauldron of opinion boiled over for Suburban Express after an incident on March 31. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student Jeremy Leval took to Facebook, describing a driver he saw make derogatory comments to an international student who was having difficulty understanding him—“If you don’t understand English, you don’t belong at the University of Illinois or any ‘American’ University," he reportedly told her.


Update: Aaand here it is: a rival company, Peoria Charter, is advertising to Suburban Express customers with a campaign that stresses that they don't sue their customers. They're offering $2 off if you book tickets on their coaches with the promo code "nolawsuits" -- thanks, Murph!

Express to Internet Hate: Bus company threatens redditor with lawsuit [Sean Gallagher/Ars Technica]

Why the stuff you don't see at the museum matters

Chicago's Field Museum isn't just a science museum. It's also a research center, especially for archaeologists and anthropologists who come to the museum to make use of its extensive collections of artifacts — only a tiny fraction of which is on public display at any given time. Unfortunately, the museum is currently up to its neck in debt, and part of the current administrators' plan to deal with that problem is to restructure the research department and cut back on curators and staffing there.It's hard to understand why this has the archaeology community so on edge unless you really understand what the Field Museum has in those vast Indiana-Jones-inspiring storage collections. Here's Michael Smith, an archaeologist who studies the ancient Aztecs, explaining why the Field Museum is so important to his work and that of his colleagues.

The photo above shows an Aztec flute in the museum. I have excavated many small fragments of these objects in Aztec domestic middens, but never an entire example. When one just has the animal's ear, or a segment with a hole, or a fragment of the mouthpiece, it is hard to figure out just what these are pieces of. It is through study of the whole flutes in the Field Museum or other museums that I learned to interpret the tiny fragments of musical instruments, and of many other unusual items, from my excavations. Or consider our knowledge of Aztec music. Scholars such as Adje Both have reconstructed aspects of Aztec music by studying flutes like this and by playing them (and recording the tones and doing analyses of the sound diagrams). Museums are the only places with the resources for such research, and the Field Museum is one of the most important in the U.S. and the world.

Read a Chicago Tribune story on the Field Museum's debt problem.

Cory in Evanston, IL tonight

Hey, Evanston, IL! I'll be at the Evanston Public Library tonight, on the final stop of the Chicago-area part of my Pirate Cinema tour (if you're coming, you can RSVP here). Tomorrow, I head to NYC for appearances at Comic-Con and WORD Books in Brooklyn (here's our video remix contest), and thence to Philly, Bethesda, Edmonton, and many other US and Canadian cities (here's the whole schedule). Be there, or be unprepared for the end-times! Cory

Cory in Naperville, IL tonight

Hey, Naperville, IL! I'll be speaking and signing at Anderson's Bookshop tonight at 7PM, in part two of the Chicagoland leg of my Pirate Cinema tour, which wraps up tomorrow night at the Evanston Public Library. Anderson's is one of the nation's great indie bookstores, ranking in my books with the likes of Powell's, and they're especially committed to kids' and YA books, doing tons of outreach to schools across the midwest. I hope you'll come out tonight and show them the love they've earned! After Chicago, I go to NYC for Comic-Con and an appearance at WORD in Brooklyn (check out the video remix contest) and then on to Philly, Bethesda, Edmonton and many other cities -- check the full schedule for more. Cory

Cory in Deerfield, IL tonight

Hey, Deerfield, IL! I'll be at the Deerfield High School Auditorium tonight at 7PM for the latest stop in my Pirate Cinema tour. I've got two other stops in the Chicago area: tomorrow, it's Anderson's Books in Naperville; on Thursday it's the Evanston Public Library. From there, I go to NYC for Comic-Con and an appearance at WORD in Brooklyn (check out our mashup video contest!), and then to Philiadelphia and many other cities in the US and Canada. Here's the whole schedule. Be there or be oblong! Cory

Pinochet 2.0: US economist talks Honduras' military dictator into establishing a private city owned and regulated by offshore corporations

Honduran president Porfirio Lobo came to power in a military coup and presides over the most murderous nation on earth. Now he has announced hastily assembled plans to desginate a region in his country to be a "charter city," owned and operated by offshore corporations, a plan inspired by a Chicago-trained economist called Paul Romer from NYU's business-school. The city will have all its laws -- labor laws, environmental laws, criminal codes, civil codes -- set by a private corporation that is unaccountable to anyone except its shareholders, to whom it will owe a duty of maximum profit. Honduran activists have attempted unsuccessfully to have the nation's supreme court hear their case, which rests on the legality of ceding governance over sovereign territory to foreign powers, and on indigenous land claims.

Critics say it will allow a foreign elite to set up a low-tax, sympathetically regulated enclave where they can skirt labour standards and environmental rules.

"This would violate the rights of every citizen because it means the cession of part of our territory to a city that would have its own police, its own juridical power, and its own tax system," said Sandra Marybel Sanchez, who joined a group of protesters who tried to lodge an appeal at the supreme court.

Ismael Moreno, a correspondent for the leftwing Nicaraguan magazine Envio, compared the charter cities to the banana enclaves, which were run on behalf of a foreign elite. He also spelled out the environmental risks, particularly if one of the development sites is the Sico valley, an area of virgin forest on the Mosquito Coast.

"This model city would end up eliminating the last agricultural frontier left to us," he wrote.

Chicago's economists have a grand tradition of helping military dictators establish unregulated zones where human rights take a backseat to profit, including their enormous contributions to Augusto Pinochet's murderous regime, which established the fundamental kinship between high profits and death squads.

Honduras to build new city with its own laws and tax system to attract investors [The Guardian]

'Catastrophe': Critics Slam Neoliberal Plan for Privatized Cities in Honduras [CommonDreams]

(via MeFi)

Kids and Mozilla hack my novel Little Brother

I'm proud and excited beyond words to see the running notes from the work being done in Chicago by a group of students and a facilitator from the Mozilla Foundation's Hive NYC on a number of video projects using Mozilla's Popcorn technology and my novel Little Brother. Here's an introductory set of notes on the project from leahatplay at Mozilla's Hive Learning Network NYC.

The result is the following challenge: To create a video that builds on the interactive and participatory nature of the web through peer sharing and collaboration. In practice, it’s a scavenger hunt with digital media content generation. Teams are given lists of assets to collect and lists of Popcorn features to include in their video. Then they work together to collect assets to build videos with specific themes and characteristics. We insert mini-challenges throughout the activity. To the users they seem like funny digressions. For us they are designed to have a cumulative effect. The goal of the mini-challenge is to fine-tune thinking about the web’s infrastructure and provide a practice space for producing engaging web content that can be incorporated into the final deliverable.

We begin the day by cutting the activity sheets into sections. Since the steps of creating the web-native video will be “unlocked” by different mini-challenges, having everything on-hand and easily accessible is key. Pizza arrives early so we fuel up. I’m wearing my “Adopt Mozilla” T-shirt, it has become crucial gear for these moments when I channel my inner Tim Gunn and RuPaul. Our goal for the experience is a sense of levity, fun and exploration that we hope will encourage the teens to seek out different styles and modes of production.

Popcorning Chicago

Chicago turned into giant Monopoly board by street artist(s)


Colossal has the story of a massive, awesome street-art installation in Chicago created by Bored, who turned the city into a huge, spread-out game of Monopoly, complete with enormous Chance cards containing marriage proposals and massive dice.

After a few desperate tweets and some emailing, I finally got in touch with the artist (or artists!) known as Bored. The person (or group) chooses to remain anonymous but expressed via email their dissatisfaction at the lack of quality street art around Chicago. Saying specifically that “the goal of this entire project has been to present something different than a stencil painted on the ground or a poster pasted to a wall. Something 3-dimensional that can be picked up, beaten down, kicked, yanked, grabbed, and broken. And if someone ever put forth the effort to remove it, like a weed it will always grow back. And if left alone it will evolve into something different.”

While there are a number of good street artists in Chicago, this is definitely a welcome change of pace. I’m really excited to see this project evolve and hope they have more ideas brewing.

New Street Artist ‘Bored’ Turns Chicago Sidewalks into an Alternative Monopoly Game

Tracking the arrest and harassment of journalists at US protests

Josh Stearns has an update on police harassment, detention, and arrest incidents involving journalists at protests this weekend. He says, "I have been tracking, confirming and verifying reports of journalist arrests at Occupy protests all over the country since September. Help me by sending tips and tweets to @jcstearns and tagging reports of press suppression and arrests with #journarrest." According to his tracking, 85 journalists have been arrested in 13 cities while covering Occupy-related protests.

NATO protests in Chicago: Police van drives into protesters, web video reporters detained, held at gunpoint (photos+video)

Photo: C.S. Muncy

"Occupy" movement participants and an array of protest groups are among those gathering in Chicago this wekeend to demonstrate outside the NATO summit. Sunday, protesters are ramping up for the largest demonstration of the weekend. So are police and Homeland Security agents. Today, thousands of demonstrators are marching to the convention center where President Obama and other world leaders are meeting. Four men have been arrested on terror charges. Lawyers for the men now referred to by some protesters as the "NATO 4" claim undercover agents set up a bomb plot, and entrapped the suspects.

Photo: C.S. Muncy

Saturday night, at about 10:40PM local time, a Chicago Police van "drove into a crowd of demonstrators who were attempting to cross westbound over the Jackson Street bridge at the Chicago River," according to this video report and testimony from people who were present.

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