The sovereign citizen “movement”

An AP article caught my eye today. Partly because of its content, partly because its dateline was Columbus, my old stomping grounds.

The article describes some 300,000 people living in the U.S. who call themselves “sovereign citizens,” meaning they don’t recognize the authority of U.S. law. Some of the ones featured in the article use this distinction to avoid paying taxes and bills, to stockpile weapons and to delude themselves into thinking that smuggling cocaine and other drugs into the country is OK. The story is also rife with descriptions of fraudulent banking and financial scamming.

If these people want to separate themselves from American law and its protections, all I ask is that they’re consistent. Which would necessitate the following:

1. Not using roads or highways, ever.

2. Not calling the police in the event that a crime is committed against them.

3. Not listening to or watching radio or network television.

4. Not sending their kids to school (from the look of the article, this one isn’t that hard for them to follow).

5. Not eating anything with corn in it. Ever. And that includes high-fructose corn syrup. Because corn is grown with tasty government subsidies.

6. Actually, just stop eating any produce they didn’t grow themselves, just to be sure.

7. Not eating food or taking medicine that’s been cleared by the FDA (and if it hasn’t, God only knows what’s in it).

8. Not buying imported products of any kind.

9. Not buying products whose manufacture is supported by government subsidies or other tax incentives of any kind.

10. Not using electricity, indoor plumbing or other public utilities.

11. Not driving any car that’s met government regulations of any kind.

12. Not flying on a plane. Ever.

13. Not living in a house whose construction met government-set building codes.

14. Not calling the fire department. Ever.

15. Not visiting any kind of hospital or emergency room.

16. Not using a clock or watch with a Congress-set time on it.

17. Not calling government-run consumer-protection advocates when they get taken by check fraudsters.

18. Not attending a public university of any kind (again, not a problem by the looks of it).

19. Not eating the food, wearing the clothing or using the facilities of any jail in which they might find themselves.

20. Not accepting any type of government-disbursed money or aid, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and/or public housing.

Good luck!


I’ve got your social media strategy right here

Every so often I find something online (or someone tells me about something) that makes me think, “Why didn’t I think of this?”

Whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy is one such gem.

In the year I spent managing, our biggest goal was to get more traffic to the site and get readers involved. We started manually managing the paper’s Twitter account. We added more polls, asked for reader submissions and ideas and increased multimedia offerings. If Foursquare had been around in any significant capacity, I’m sure we could have done a hell of a lot with it.

I feel like “social media” was the main buzz phrase my senior year of college. I spent a significant amount of time that year, and this past year, carefully cultivating an online presence in the “right” places. While I avoid consuming tech products for their own sake (I don’t own an iPhone or other smart phone and only very recently bought an iPod Touch), I like to think I’m fairly “with it” technologically, lest this come off like the rantings of an old cat lady screaming at kids to get off my lawn. I “get” the new media infatuation. But there are some problems.

My biggest annoyance with social media is basically what the aforementioned site makes fun of: People seem to be building it up as something more grandiose than it really is. And I can’t really understand why. Most of the phrases found on the site are ones I actually recognize, either from someone’s CV I’ve seen, a company manifesto or a press release. Somewhere out there is a guy, God bless him, who earnestly believes he’s “providing brand ambassadors with compelling conversation hooks to enter into communities and fuel advocacy” (quoted from the site).

I’m trying to figure out if this is just good old-fashioned CV posturing/bragging (if so, if it wasn’t their mad tweeting skills it’d be something else), or if new media kids are deliberately trying to be arch and vague about what it is that they do to maintain an air of importance and indispensability. If it sounds that important, it must be difficult, right? Or at least, something very few other people are capable of doing. Imagine that you’re a middle-aged manager who’s never tweeted before and barely knows how to send e-mail. Wouldn’t you be slightly impressed if a young whippersnapper came in and told you how awesome social media was, using language like that?

Part of it too is just being as young as I am. The basic job of managing a Twitter feed, starting a Facebook group, running promotions using Foursquare and writing a blog doesn’t sound terribly impressive to me simply because I’m so used to doing it and seeing it done. Perhaps if I were older and less familiar with those applications, I’d be less cynical about flowery language and rhetoric used to describe it.

On the news side of things, I’m afraid that the usefulness of the social media hasn’t caught up to the technology. We have social media apps out the ying-yang, but people are still trying to figure out what to do with them. It also doesn’t do us any good if we raise a generation of journalists who can format an iPhone, edit random video clips and check in on Gowalla but don’t know how to edit, report, lay out a page (and in this digital era, design skills are necessary for the Web, too), compose a photo or communicate with people in, you know, person.

The technology should never be bigger than the story you’re trying to tell. You should also never shoot for shinier tech displays in story-telling when simpler ones will do. I’m out of J school now, but I have this fear that the current new media hype will result in tons of alumni with little to no skills in the basics. I’ve been asked for advice before — What would you tell new J school graduates? And my answer then was the same as it is now: You can know how to use all the technology and applications in the world, but if you don’t know basic reporting skills, you’re screwed. And yes, of course, there’s plenty of room for Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare and so on in journalism. But it all depends on how you use it.

I guess a good baseline for young journalists should be the answer to this question: “If the Internet broke down tomorrow and your iPhone/laptop turned into a paperweight, could you still report this story?”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go check my Twitter feed.

An update

Quite a bit has happened since my last post!

I’m a little more than halfway through my editing internship with The Kansas City Star’s sports desk. I’m enjoying it a lot, and it’s really helping me to hone my (dormant) design skills. It’s fun trying to outsmart the dastardly CCI program, which I think is a Trojan horse engineered by Denmark to topple the American economic system. I also bring cupcakes from time to time, which has endeared me to the local population.

My visa application is at the British consulate in the amazing city of Chicago, and I’m getting ready to register at Kent. The school’s been very helpful with everything and I can’t wait to get there. There are a lot of activities and societies that I’m interested in, I have a part-time job I’m going to apply for (teaching international relations to A Level students) and I find out where I’m living in amazing Woolf College in a couple of weeks. It’s crazy how much there is to do to get ready — student ID registration, enrollment, NHS registration, doctors’ appointments, train and plane schedules, grocery stores, etc. The logistics of it all are pretty daunting.

I did have a small tragedy this week. I had decided, a few weeks ago, that rather than get an entirely new laptop, I’d patch up the one I have and hold onto it for another year. Sadly, during its maintenance, the motherboard freaked out and my beloved PowerBook G4 has gone up to the big coffee shop in the sky. So this Sunday I’m going with my mother to the Apple store on the Plaza to pick out a new one. Rather than get a lower-end one that will be “good enough,” I’m biting the bullet and getting what I would have gotten if I’d just gone ahead and bought a new one to begin with (ironic, eh?). Basically, a 15.4″ MacBook Pro with a 320GB hard drive and a 2.4GHz processor. Oh, and a 32GB iPod Touch because of the college promotion. It’s also a tax holiday in Missouri this weekend. I’d be stupid not to get one.

So that’s about where I am now. I’m hoping to turn this more into a commentary and less of a play-by-play once the school year starts, but right now I’m mostly working and planning, planning and working.