Write a paragraph for each question:-
1. An issue that took over the world of electronic gaming, especially in the last few month of 2017, was the issue of game companies including “loot box” microtransactions into video games, many of which were in “Triple-A” games which normally retail at $60 or more base price. These boxes usually contain game elements that would either not normally be available to a regular player, or could be unlocked by a player with extreme amounts of gameplay. While some “loot box” systems are claimed to be purely “cosmetic” upgrades by their developer (one prominent example being Destiny 2), other games such as Middle Earth: Shadows of War, Overwatch, and most damningly Star Wars Battlefront 2 have had allegations leveled against them that loot boxes are used as a “pay to win” system.
The situation has reached a boiling point, to the point that legal action is either being considered or is in motion to regulate or outright ban loot boxes in gaming. Two lawmakers have proposed parallel pieces of legislation: a Belgian lawmaker has proposed making loot boxes illegal in the European Union, while a state representative in Hawaii has proposed regulating them as gambling. The gambling connection has also given lease to new criticisms that loot boxes are a gateway for underage users to full scale gambling. While some gaming elements in 2017 were outright gambling (CS:GO Lotto), the loot box systems are largely seen as merely a cash grab by the publishers by those who do not follow the gambling line of reasoning.
For your discussion this week, take a side on the following question: Is a loot box system in a video game a form of gambling? Why or why not? Present logical reasoning behind your side of the argument, and feel free to seek out further resources on the issue.
2. In the last week and a half, a dramatic story has developed which has revealed lapses of judgment, willful ignorance, and a disturbing pattern of behavior violating the bond between doctor and patient, all within the realm of women’s gymnastics. Larry Nassar, a former doctor who worked with USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University, is currently in the midst of a sentencing hearing after being convicted of sexual assault on numerous of his (primarily underage girl) patients, over the course of a 20+ year career. The victims have been allowed by the judge in the sentencing to present victim impact statements in court, a process which started last Monday and as of this writing (2pm CST Tuesday) is still ongoing. Among 98 victims making statements, the more prominent victims to present statements either in court or recorded were past Olympians Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and Aly Raisman, all of which were patients of Nassar and were abused by him. Nassar is currently serving a 60 year federal sentence on child pornography charges; the current charges carry a maximum total sentence of 125 years, a maximum every victim thus far has recommended to the judge.
With the statements being made, there has now been a debate over where the responsibility lies in regards to how Nassar was allowed to continue for such a long time, and who should pay the price for this. Criticism has been leveled toward officials at USA Gymnastics, three of which have since resigned in disgrace over the scandal, and to Michigan State, which is facing a current petition for its president to resign and has, as revealed in court, still been billing Nassar victims for the “treatments” he administered. Reports show that possibly as many as 14 officials at Michigan State were made aware of Nassar’s abuses and either did nothing with the information or actively covered it up to protect his reputation as an Olympic team doctor. For this week, who should be held responsible in addition to Larry Nassar; USA Gymnastics, Michigan State, both, or neither? Use as much information as you can find in regards to the Nassar case, including the victim impact statements, almost all of which are publicly available. Make an argument about where the further responsibility lies, and support it with evidence from both the current case and past similar cases (for example, the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal which eventually led to the dismissal, and possibly indirectly to the death, of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and long-reaching repercussions for the university).
3. In a momentous event for many activists, yesterday the Cleveland Indians announced that the 2018 Major League Baseball season will be their final season using the controversial “Chief Wahoo” mascot image as their primary logo. The logo, which has evolved into its current form after 50 years’ worth of usage by the team, has been a primary target of social activists for Native American rights, who claimed that the mascot image was a derogatory portrayal.
Native groups for years have been targeting teams on all levels … prep, college, and pro … to change team names and/or eliminate racial stereotype mascots, which they claim to be dehumanizing to the community. Some teams retain Native American imagery and names with permission from those particular groups … for instance, the University of Utah (Utes) and Florida State University (Seminoles) have the backing of the respective tribes their teams are named for … while others have done similar to the Cleveland Indians and removed their offensive mascots, such as San Diego State University (Aztecs, used to have a costumed Aztec warrior) or the University of Illinois (Fighting Illini, formerly represented by a student dressed in buckskins and a headdress called “Chief Illiniwek”). The efforts have led to some teams removing Native American team names entirely, such as St. John’s University (Redhawks, formerly Redskins) and Eastern Michigan University (Eagles, formerly Hurons). There are, however, still teams that are resistant to these efforts, primary of which being two professional franchises, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks (whose logo portrays a Native American head in profile) and the NFL’s Washington Redskins (whose name is an ethnic slur and, like the Blackhawks, uses a culturally insensitive portrayal of a Native American in profile as their primary logo).For this week’s discussion, on what side of this issue do you fall? Do you believe the team names and/or mascots are offensive? If you were in the target groups, would you find them offensive? The Cleveland Indians announced the phase-out of Chief Wahoo, but for the time being will retain their team name; how does this affect the argument in relation to this particular team?
4. Viswanathan wrote the book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, her debut novel which was initially published by Little, Brown, and Company after being submitted through the William Morris Literary Agency. (Viswanathan got an agent on the recommendation of a personal academic counselor her parents hired to help her get admitted to Harvard.) Little, Brown, and Company bought the book based on a synopsis and four completed chapters and paid a (reported) $500,000 advance for the rights. Viswanathan finished the book during her freshman year at Harvard, and it was published in April 2006.On April 23rd, the Harvard Crimson published a report that Opal Mehta lifted full passages from the first two books of a series by Megan McCafferty. McCafferty confirmed after receiving an e-mail regarding the accusations that there were at least a dozen passages lifted from the books Sloppy Firsts (2001) and Second Helpings (2003). Viswanathan’s explanation regarding “internalizing” the books and not intentionally plagiarizing was released both by her publisher and by her agent, a response which McCafferty’s representatives found severely lacking. In the days that followed, others who analyzed the Opal Mehta text found it also plagiarized a number of other authors’ works: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie; Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella; The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot; and Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. The last was particularly damning because Viswanathan in her apology claimed she had never read a book with an Indian-American protagonist, which Hidier’s book prominently features.The eventual fallout from the scandal: Opal Mehta was recalled by the publisher less than a month after its initial release, and Viswanathan lost her lucrative contract as well as a contract with DreamWorks for a film adaptation of the book. Viswanathan’s academic standing at Harvard, however, was not damaged and she graduated with honors in 2008, shortly afterward entering law school at Georgetown University. Viswanathan’s advance was split between herself and Alloy Entertainment, now a division of Warner Brothers, who claimed they helped the author “visualize” the book but took no part in writing it; however, McCafferty, the first author cited as a victim of the plagiarism, had not ruled out legal action against Alloy.
For your discussion for this week, look into the after-effects of Viswanathan’s scandal and argue whether the consequences for plagiarizing the novel were too severe or too lenient. In the position of McCafferty or any of the other affected authors in the scandal, what action if any would you have pursued against Viswanathan, Alloy Entertainment, William Morris, or Little, Brown, and Company? What do you feel would have been a suitable punishment for wrongdoing in this situation?
5. In its most recent effort to enforce tougher restrictions intended to reduce hate speech on its platform, yesterday Twitter banned a political candidate, Paul Nehlen, from the site after he posted a racially charged image which superimposed the face of “Cheddar Man” (a dark-skinned prehistoric English ancestor) on the face of Megan Markle (fiance of Prince Harry) in a blatantly racist manner. Nehlen is a known white supremacist and anti-Semite who is running for Congress in Wisconsin against House Speaker Paul Ryan, and has a history of supporting hate groups and rousing up online gangs to bully his “enemies,” which primarily involve critics of his who he equates to the “Jewish media.”
This is the most recent of Twitter’s actions in an attempt to minimize the white supremacist/alt-right footprint on the site. It began in earnest in August in the wake of the Charlottesville riots, as the site banned and removed “Confirmed” status from numerous white supremacists. The effort is an extension of the site’s efforts against cyberbullying, an effort which resulted, most prominently, in the banning of alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulous from the site in 2016 after he organized a bullying campaign against actress Leslie Jones.
For your discussion this week, think about the impact of efforts to remove hate speech. Are these tactics effective and sufficient, or should Twitter be doing more to combat the problem? Many purveyors of hate speech have been utilizing social media as a convenient means of organizing followers; what steps could other platforms such as Facebook take to eliminate hate speech in a similar way to Twitter’s efforts?
6. Nerves and emotions are very raw after the tragedy of last Wednesday’s shooting in Parkland, Florida. Rising out of these emotions is coming a fresh wave of outrage over the availability of military style weapons to civilians and efforts made to weaken gun control legislation, primarily by politicians receiving large donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Students are protesting in front of the White House and planning national-scale walkout protests until gun legislation is passed by Congress. One Twitter user, Bess Kalb, used her feed to protest by responding to politicians’ “thoughts and prayers” tweets with the amount of money each politician accepted from the NRA (scroll down on her feed to see these tweets).Money also played into another surprising protest, as Republican donors announced that they would be withdrawing their support for candidates until they passed a ban on assault rifles. This started with Florida donor Al Hoffman Jr., who announced he would no longer support candidates and electioneering groups who did not oppose selling military-style weaponry to civilians, followed by another Florida donor, and seeking others nationwide to help in the effort. Today, the mayor pro tempore of Dallas, Dwaine Caraway, announced that although he was a gun owner himself, he was withdrawing support for the NRA to hold its national convention in the city this year until they make a real effort to discuss gun law reform.For this week, in considering the money issue, how effective will the withdrawing of fundraising support from the donors, combined with the exposing of contributions from the NRA to these politicians, be in affecting the change sought? How much influence does campaign contributions have, in your opinion, on how a lawmaker legislates or votes? What side do you take in this debate, and why?
7. In the last two years, there has been great strides made in the form of representation of certain societal classes in popular culture, most significantly in film. Much of this has been credited to have started in 2015, as the portrayal of female characters in traditionally male roles increased, most notably in the characters of Rey and Captain Phasma in the new Star Wars trilogy and Imperator Furiosa in the Oscar-nominated film Mad Max Fury Road. This female representation increased as more characters appeared, most significantly Wonder Woman (who had never previously been in a cinematic form) making an appearance in 2016’s Batman v. Superman prior to her own critically-acclaimed film in 2017, but also to a lesser extent with other characters and actresses such as Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron.
In 2017, this trend increased to encompass more representation for African-American characters and actors, widening the scope of roles that actors and roles within this group could portray. Of most significance was the horror film Get Out, which earned a Best Picture nomination for the 2018 Oscars (extremely rare for a horror film), in addition to nominations in other categories such as Best Actor for lead Daniel Kaluuya and Best Director for Jordan Peele (also rare for horror, even rarer in that Peele is only the fifth African-American nominee in the category after John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and Barry Jenkins; none of the previous five have won, and Peele is expected to lose as well). This trend has continued into this year, as the 95% African and African-American cast and primary crew of the Marvel film Black Panther has also triggered another cultural wave.
The impact of these properties and characters has had wide-ranging effects. More girls and ethnic minorities are seeing themselves represented in positive lights. Black Panther currently holds the record for highest-rated superhero film on Rotten Tomatoes (97% as of 2/27), and renewed the subgenre of Afro-futurism in science fiction. Even the smallest effects of the film are extraordinary in nature, benefiting even another species; reports are coming out that in the two weeks since the release of Black Panther, animal shelters have had a large upswing in the adoption of black cats, a color of cat that has been traditionally hard to adopt out due to rampant superstition. (The shelters are sure the movie is the reason because the cats are being given names like T’Challa, Okoye, and Shuri, characters from the film).For this week, discuss the potential for the future if further representation can be found in popular culture for under-represented or badly represented societal groups. Why is this important? Which group do you believe will be the next to benefit from this trend, and why? Is there any downside to this trend, and if so what might it be?
8. Spring is approaching, and with it comes the announcement of new attractions at seasonal amusement parks, looking for summer traffic. The single-most popular seasonal amusement park in North America, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, is no exception to this, as the park regularly opens new roller coasters on a nearly annual basis (The park has the highest concentration of roller coasters per square acre in the world). This year, Cedar Point announced their new coaster is a ride called Steel Vengeance, a hybrid steel and wooden roller coaster … wooden supports with steel tracks.
What’s not included in the promotional materials, though, is the ride’s relationship to the coaster it replaces, Mean Streak (which at one time was the world’s longest wooden roller coaster). The materials simply state that Steel Vengeance resides in the park where Mean Streak used to be, but that’s only half the story. Steel Vengeance was constructed simply by placing the steel tracks on the Mean Streak’s existing superstructure, to create a new, smoother hybrid coaster.
This is a commonplace practice in the theme park industry, renovating or dressing up older rides to get new interest by re-theming old rides. This is not even limited to seasonal parks, as Disney and Universal have done this in their parks in the past. Sometimes this is a successful way to re-theme an old ride that may have a poor reputation, but other times it backfires.
For your discussion this week, if you were a theme park patron, would you trust a “new” ride which was a renovated old one? Are there any rides like this that you have either enjoyed or regretted the changes to? In the examples below, which renovations do you think were good ones and which were not? Why or why not?
9. A public uproar erupted late last week after actor/artist Jim Carrey posted a piece of artwork he painted to Twitter, which divided users in opinion. The work was presented only with following caption:
This is the portrait of a so-called Christian whose only purpose is to lie for the wicked. Monstrous!
The piece of artwork in question is a stylized portrait of an angry woman’s face, drawn in an unflattering manner. Most of the consensus around social media is that it is a portrait of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman.
Reaction was swift from both sides of the political aisle. Numerous Trump supporters criticized the work, including Sanders’ father, former Presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Supporters of Carrey, however, have praised the artwork and clamored for more. The work in question was part of an ongoing series Carrey has been creating portraying prominent conservative politicians including Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan.
Defenders of the work also cite how it is not much different from political cartooning, a form of satire, and thus a form of protected speech that was specifically addressed by the Supreme court in the landmark decision Hustler magazine v. Falwell (1988). This decision, which overturned a monetary award to prominent evangelist Jerry Falwell for damages incurred from a parody from Hustler founder Larry Flynt, established that public figures, by virtue of their prominence, are allowed to be satirically portrayed without the satirist facing consequences due to the protections of the First Amendment.
For your discussion this week, in your opinion, how far is Carrey allowed to go in his satire of the political right wing? Is there a line that should not be crossed, and if so what is that line? Does the Supreme Court precedent allow any satire to go forth without consequence, or is there a price to be paid for having fun at a public figure’s expense?
10. This week, a California-based federal judge handed down a ruling tossing out a lawsuit against YouTube which alleged the platform censors conservatives. The suit, brought by conservative vlogger and radio host Dennis Prager, claimed that YouTube had placed age restrictions and blocked monetization on his videos solely because of their content, which involved discussions about abortion, climate change, and income inequality from a conservative perspective.
Prager’s case rode on the interpretation of a 1954 Supreme Court decision (Marsh v. Alabama) in which Jehovah’s Witnesses sued to be allowed to knock on doors in a corporate-owned town; Prager argued that despite YouTube being privately owned by Google, it is run as a public forum and is therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The judge, however, used in her own interpretation of the law a newer decision from 1972 (Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner) in which a mall was allowed to ban protestors distributing flyers against the Vietnam War, and ruled that because YouTube is owned privately it is not subject to First Amendment jurisdiction.
For your discussion this week, argue one side or the other in this case. If you side with YouTube, why should the site be allowed to influence the conversation by distributing advertising dollars and placing age restrictions? Do you feel that in this case Prager is right to feel unjustly targeted for his political beliefs? Why or why not?
11. Among the big news stories in the past few weeks are the massive walkouts of teachers, on statewide levels, marching in protest on state capitols to call for better school funding and better pay/benefits for the teachers themselves. It started with West Virginia, where teachers were successful in protesting for a 15% pay raise. Kentucky was the next state to strike, followed by Oklahoma. It is speculated that by the end of this week Arizona will be the next to have a general teachers’ strike.
The issues presented by the teachers hit at the heart of the debates over public education in the country. As the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, pushes for more federal funding for private and charter schools, the money is being taken from public schools to fund the programs, either from supply/building funds, teacher salaries and benefit plans, or both combined. The striking teachers in Oklahoma have framed this battle as their main cause for the strike, which was called even as the legislature approved a pay and funding increase; the approved amount, however, was less than half of what the strikers had asked for.
For this week’s discussion, talk about the effectiveness of these teacher strikes. How do you feel these strikes are going to impact the districts of the teachers, the education system in general, and the teachers’ students in particular? How justified do you feel the teachers are in striking on a statewide level? In your opinion, based on what you know about the system, which states do you believe are in danger of being the next to have a teacher strike happen, and why?
12. As this is being written, a Congressional hearing is taking place where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying about breaches of private user information, which may have wound up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a political strategy firm which used the data to gather information on voting-age individuals during the 2016 presidential campaign. The breach brings forth renewed concerns about the privacy of information, as the data obtained by CA involved user preferences, most of which was gathered from third-party add-on apps to Facebook profiles. A number of prominent figures have since closed their Facebook accounts, most recently as of this writing (4/10) Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer.
For your discussion, talk about what can be done about ensuring privacy on social media sites. If you knew your information was obtained by Cambridge Analytica, what measures would you take to ensure no other firms obtained your data? How much do you share on social media? Do you feel it is just right, not enough, or too much?
13. The news cycle lately has been inundated in the kinds of stories we have tried to avoid this semester … stories which have inherent political bias or angles to them, which could lead to negative consequences if discussed in this forum. As such, this week’s discussion is a bit different … it requires some creativity on your part, and some speculative thinking.
Speculative fiction has a number of different subgenres within it, ranging from fantasy to dystopian fiction to science fiction. A little-known branch of the genre is alternate history, where authors explore how historical events or even eras might have changed if a small difference occurred in our own timeline. The premier author in this genre is Harry Turtledove, whose entire career is built on “what if” thinking about history. He has ranged in his history retellings from an alternate Civil War (twice), to the 13 original American colonies being built on the island of Atlantis, to World War II being interrupted by an alien invasion. Some, like the WWII story told in two major series (Worldwar and Colonization), hinge on crazy science fiction tropes, while others arc off from a real point in history, such as the South Triumphant series in which a real historical item (a set of orders from General Robert E. Lee wrapped around a bundle of cigars) makes it to its intended recipient instead of being intercepted, leading to a divided America where the South evolves into an equivalent to Nazi Germany by the period of WWII.
For your discussion this week, think about a historical period that you are familiar with. Use some creative thinking and imagine how history might have changed if one event was different, or a decision was made differently, or an outcome changed. How would the changes affect the world in the 21st Century? What changes could take place in our interactions with each other, or with other countries?
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