Fact Checker

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Hot on the heels of the Iowa Caucus, with the 2008 US Presidential election race accelerating, artist Jon Winet is releasing a tool that can help educate people on the issues at stake. The Electoral College Widget is an easy-to-install widget for the Mac Dashboard and features digital flash cards with statistics and crucial info related to each of the contenders and issues such as poverty, health care, and religious discrimination. Given that the device is only for OS-X users, Winet and collaborator Craig Dietrich are also working on a cross-platform Ticker that will stream text, photos, audio, and other election-related content. Meanwhile, the widget is just one component of The Electoral College, a "year-long media project focusing on the U.S. Presidential elections and democracy in America." Winet is no stranger to covering elections and other political spectacles and aspects of The Electoral College grow nicely out of his Goal! 2006 project, which leveraged the popularity of the World Cup games to inform readers about under-reported issues important in the homelands of the athletes. In the next year, Winet will work together with community organizations and local activists to operate The Electoral College as "a hybrid new media art/ journalism project that recognizes the unique moment in history of this election, and the opportunities and challenges presented for democratic, civic engagement." The site will be a 24/7 headquarters for updates on the elections and critical discourse, beginning with the publication of an essay by D.L. Pughe, entitled "When Luck Grows Hard: Real Life in the Fiction Capital of America." Check out Winet's YouTube channel for videos related to the project and stay-tuned for Facebook apps and SMS subscription services. Meanwhile, the Electoral College Widget can be downloaded here. - Marisa Olson

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Dialing for Democracy

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Fred Benenson's Committee Caller allows Americans to participate in politics from the comfort of their couch. The web-based system is a tool for calling one's 'favorite politician,' by automatically putting users in touch with members of US House and Senate committees. Eliminating the time spent on researching names and phone numbers--a task which often dissuades voters from engaging in dialogue with their representatives--Committee Caller invites visitors to enter their phone number, select a committee, and click a button labeled 'Put me in touch with democracy.' After that, they need only wait for their phone to ring and they can cycle through each of the designated politicos in a single round, even rating their level of responsiveness, if so desired. Benenson, a graduate student, came up with the idea after a frustrating effort to track down and contact every member of the House Committee on Education and Labor regarding an amendment that would have limited on-campus privacy. He realized that he could use the Asterisk PBX system to automate the dialing process, and began creating a functional database for doing so. Less than a month old, the tool has become quite popular online, and Benenson believes this is because, "it short-circuits a familiar point of friction for people trying to participate in democracy while simultaneously encouraging them to actually speak to representatives and staffers with their own voice." One side-benefit, to the artist, is that this vocal exchange gives participants the ability to formulate and articulate their arguments about pressing issues. If users would like to make a practice run, they can elect to be put in touch with members of fictional committees, such as The House Committee on Google Oversight. This will prompt them to select names from a list of Futurama characters before being patched-through to the ...

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