the Boston Marathon

Jenny Rice, a writing, rhetoric and digital media professor at the University of Kentucky, lectures about modern-day conspiracy theories in the Texas Union on Friday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

Modern-day conspiracy theories materialize from vast amounts of hyper-specific information gathered on the Internet, Jenny Rice, writing, rhetoric, and digital media professor at the University of Kentucky, said Friday in a talk at the Union.

Rice said “archival magnitude,” or the overwhelming amounts of information conspiracy theorists possess on controversial events, allows the theorists to easily view events through different perspectives. Conspiracy theorists known as “truthers” doubt widely-accepted theories about how major events unfolded, including events such as 9/11, Rice said.

“As I began to interview 9/11 truthers and joined Facebook groups devoted to 9/11 truth, as they call it, I very quickly found myself drowning in details, information and images and texts that circulated across these various groups,” Rice said. “The archive in conspiracy discourse is huge and also microscopic, often composed of time-lapsed images and still frames in order to give a second-by-second analysis.”

Rice said the Boston Marathon bombing is an example of an event that provided the “big data” theorists can collect on terrorist attacks. The marathon bombing, which took place in April 2013, killed three people and injured over 200.

“Such fine-grain attention to detail was seen in the truther community that sprung up overnight after the Boston Marathon bombing,” Rice said. “Many of the postings in online sites like Reddit and Facebook included intensive archival work.”

Rice said a distrust of the government often provides an underlying foundation for conspiracy theories, as evidenced by the Boston Marathon bombing.

“[Conspiracy theorists believe] the bombing was a false flag, which was perpetuated by the federal government in order to clamp down on civil liberties and take away guns,” Rice said. “The version of conspiracy is almost besides the point. Secrecy is at work. It’s nefarious. It must be revealed.”

Teddy Albiniak, a rhetoric and language doctoral student, said Rice’s discussion of big data opened his eyes to ideas he hadn’t previously considered.

“She was mentioning that the process of accumulation brings a certain type of enjoyment. That was one of the things I was taking out of it. To think about how processes are affected, I think, is integral to the ways we can kind of experience the world,” Albiniak said. 

Sarah Frank, a rhetoric and history doctoral student, said the lecture overlapped with her doctoral work in history. 

“I’ve been studying this woman who writes about doing history as mapping terrain, and she’s constantly gathering evidence to expand the map, and so what really clicked in the lecture for me was that the map could expand infinitely as you gather and accumulate more data,” Frank said. 

When Steven Moore, a project manager in the department of chemistry, crosses the finish line at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon, he expects he will feel triumphant. As of Sunday evening, Moore said he’s just focused on the race. 

“It’s an early bedtime for me tonight. I’m just taking it easy,” Moore said. “I’m competitive, and I want to run faster. I’m going to leave the emotional connections for after I cross the finish line.”

Moore is one of roughly 36,000 runners who will compete in this year’s marathon — a field 9,000 runners larger than last year, according to the Boston Athletic Association. Last year, on April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 250 others. 

Moore, who ran the race last year, said the death of Martin William Richard, an 8-year-old boy, resonated with him strongly during his preparation.

“He was there at the finish line to watch his father, with his mother and his sister,” Moore said. “That’s a carbon copy of my family. That could’ve been my wife and two kids, standing at the finish line to watch me. So I will run this race with him in mind.” 

Mechanical engineering senior Spencer Buxton, who also ran in last year’s marathon, said deciding to tackle the marathon again was an easy decision.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to come back up here. It didn’t take long,” Buxton said. “Watching the city bounce back like it did and seeing everybody out here running — that’s electric.” 

Buxton said he has tried not to dwell on concerns about the race’s safety, although he has noticed tightened security around Boston. This year, race officials have increased the number of law enforcement officers along the route, including undercover officers, banned baby strollers from the marathon area and set up checkpoints to search backpacks and coolers.

“You don’t let yourself think about it,” Buxton said. “It’s in the back of your mind … but everything is so much safer this year, and the energy of the city really overshadows anything else.”

Biology senior Patrick Hunt, who is also running the marathon for the second time, said he has also thought about the logistical difficulties of keeping the entire route safe.

“There’s always the worry, [but] I think I was more worried last year. … This year, I know security is so high,” Hunt said. “That wasn’t really going to stop me.”

Moore said he hopes finishing the marathon for a second time will be a gratifying experience.

“The first year, I ran the marathon out of respect for the sport,” Moore said. “After the events unfolded, I felt like there was some unfinished business. I felt like I needed to come back and be a part of things here.”

The 26.2-mile race will begin 10:30 a.m. CST and will be livestreamed on watchlive.baa.org.

Additional reporting by Alyssa Mahoney

Boston College professor Jerry Kane speaks about social networking technology at a research colloquium hosted by the School of Information on Tuesday afternoon. Kane presents his study on the influence of social networking technlogy on human behavior.  

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, when most Americans were checking Twitter for updates on the manhunt, Boston College professor Jerry Kane was checking Twitter to analyze the network itself.

At a research colloquium hosted by the School of Information on Tuesday, Kane spoke about what social media technology has done to modern human relationships.

“Social media provides us this power to visualize, quantify and analyze the network structure of our connections better than traditional networks,” Kane said. “So — if we were to conduct a survey in this room right now — you’re pretty good at saying who your friends are, but maybe not so good at identifying who your friend’s friends are.”

Kane said his research is focused on the varying ways modern social networks have evolved past the intrapersonal.

“We find that the flow of information can be independent from proximity or relation to others on social media,” Kane said. “If I retweet something about the Super Bowl, I see all sorts of information from people I’ve never met before, yet we’re having that shared experience.”

Kane said teaching classes at Boston College allowed him to see mass exchanges of information in connection to real-time events.

“I actually taught the night before the Boston Marathon bombings,” Kane said. “What I found was that as we used social media to share and talk about the bombing, Facebook and Twitter got used in very different ways. Twitter was much more about information flow; Facebook was more emotional support. I think it really comes back to the symmetry.”

Evelyn Veasey, information studies graduate student, said the colloquium led her to reflect on her own social media use.

“It’s much more instant now,” Veasey said. “You don’t stop and think as much about the connections you’re maintaining.”

Hillary Funk, information studies graduate student, said she saw the relevance of Kane’s research in her work life.

“I actually manage the social media accounts at my job, so I’m always interested in hearing how this relates to organizational use.” Funk said. “It’s good to be aware of how the people that are following you are using it.”

Kane said the future of communication will depend upon the limits of internet privacy.

“It changes the whole flow of how information flows through the network,” Kane said. “It’s less about your knowledge of the network and more about what your network is going to reveal to you.”

Near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, photographers watched the race through the delimiting frame of their viewfinders. They heard and felt two explosions, but most would not have seen the blasts — the magnified perspective of a telephoto lens narrows the field of view, eliminating peripheral vision. As they photographed the chaos of the unfolding scene, they documented the horrific injuries of the victims and the heroic efforts of emergency personnel and bystanders. One photograph has become the iconic image of the attack. In news articles and social media, people have been calling it “The Man in the Cowboy Hat.” 

Charles Krupa’s photo for the Associated Press depicts a man in a wheelchair being rushed from the scene, escorted by three people: a woman in a tracksuit (furthest from the camera), an EMT in neon with a radio clipped to his chest and another man with long hair and a cowboy hat. This is a photograph of four people — so why is it called “The Man in the Cowboy Hat?”  And, among the hundreds of photos of injury and rescue, why has Krupa’s photo become the singular iconic image of the Boston Marathon bombing?

The photo is one of the most graphic images of the attack, and surely that accelerated its viral spread across the Internet. The victim (later identified as Jeff Bauman) is ashen from shock and loss of blood. Shredded tissue dangles from the stumps of his legs, exposing the splintered tibias. His shirt and the side of his face are blackened, presumably by soot from the blast. Too explicit to be published unaltered in most newspapers, editors cropped the photo at Bauman’s knees (just where his legs were later amputated at Boston Medical Center). As in Nick Ut’s iconic photo “Napalm Girl” and Eddie Adams’s “Saigon Execution,” shocking violence is one part of what makes Krupa’s photo extraordinary — but violence and victimization aren’t the defining characteristics here. People aren’t calling this photo “Man with No Legs” — to most viewers, Bauman isn’t the primary subject of this photograph. It’s that other guy, the one with the hat.

In a story about a bombing, most Americans expect photographs of victims and medical technicians — a decade of photojournalism from Iraq has conditioned us to regard those images with the detached concern of conscientious civilians. To us, the violence of war is comprehensible, but also unimaginable. We read and believe the stories; we see the photos; but those men in uniform and those broken victims are so far away, their lives so unlike our own, that we can’t imagine ourselves there with them. We might likewise fail to empathize with Bauman, not from a lack of sympathy but from a lack of relatable experience. Most of us can’t relate to the EMT, either; his duties are highly specialized. Reacting to this photograph, we see a victim, an authority, and the man in the hat, who could be anybody.

It turns out that the man in the cowboy hat, Carlos Arredondo, has a dramatic story of his own. His son Alexander died in Iraq, and Carlos was so stricken with grief that he attempted suicide by immolation when he heard the news. His other son, Brian, killed himself in 2011. Carlos has become a peace activist and a suicide prevention advocate. But when this photo was flying through social media networks in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, few people knew anything about Carlos Arredondo, not even his name. His hat indicates that he is not a runner, not a paramedic, and probably not a Bostonian. He’s just a bystander. He’s not supposed to be doing anything in this moment but feeling terrified. But there he is, pinching closed Jeff Bauman’s severed femoral artery.

Shooting the Marathon for Bloomberg, Kelvin Ma photographed Arredondo and Bauman at the same moment that Krupa captured “The Man in the Cowboy Hat.” But Ma’s photograph will not be such an enduring icon. Iconic photographs are not the product of chance. Yes, Alfred Eisenstaedt happened to be in Times Square at the right moment to photograph an (initially) unidentified sailor as he grabbed an (initially) unidentified woman for a celebratory kiss on V-J Day, but Eisenstaedt wasn’t the only cameraman to capture that moment. Victor Jorgensen photographed the exact same kiss, but the disorganized composition of Jorgensen’s photograph feels like a voyeuristic snapshot. Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square” shows just a sliver of each kisser’s face, and all the bystanders in Eisenstaedt’s photo are facing the camera, as if coordinated in common purpose. Because they’re anonymous, the two kissers are surrogates expressing a national sentiment. Anyone could be, if not one of the kissers, at least somewhere in the crowd.

Ma’s photograph is shot from an elevated position, with a telephoto lens. Krupa photographed at street level, with a lens similar in magnification and angle-of-view to the human eye. When we look at “The Man in the Cowboy Hat,” we feel as if we are just inches away, because Krupa really was. We can imagine ourselves, if not wearing Arredondo’s hat, at least running by his side, pushing the wheelchair from Bauman’s left. That’s why this photograph has become an icon of the Boston Marathon bombing — it unflinchingly depicts the effect of violence, but the central narrative is about the response to violence, in which we are all invited to participate.

Valentine is a lecturer in the Plan II Honors Program who graduated from UT with a Bachelors of Arts in Plan II and English in 2000.

Media Monday

This past weekend more than 350 journalists converged at the Blanton Museum of Art for the annual International Symposium of Online Journalism. This year a record-breaking number of editors, reporters and academics attended the conference to discuss changes to the digital journalism industry.

And they could not have come together at a more important or interesting time. Examples of great and horrible journalism were prominently displayed this past week in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and the West fertilizer plant explosion.

It would be impossible to sum up the ISOJ quickly and do the entire conference justice. Instead, here are five big takeaways from the ISOJ for journalists and consumers of media:

1). Journalists are still struggling at engagement

Every time The Christian Science Monitor’s website hits 1 million page views in a day, a bell goes off in the office, according to Jonathan Groves, one of the authors of the research paper “40 Million Page Views is Not Enough.” The Christian Science Monitor is an online news site devoted to covering national and international news. Groves’ paper examined how the Monitor has succeeded in surpassing their goal of hitting 40 million page views a month, but is struggling to engage its readers. Getting millions of page views may keep a news publication in business, but it does not mean journalists are truly serving their readers by informing and engaging them.

2). “If you aren’t on Twitter ... you’re a bad journalist.”

During a Q&A session, Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of the Deseret News Publishing Company and Deseret Digital Media, said the following: “If you aren’t on Twitter, if you don’t follow the social flow, if you don’t curate, you are a bad journalist.”

This is old news, but it is important to rehash and repeat it until everyone is on board. Twitter is not some silly social media site. It is a serious tool that every journalist should be using. Using Twitter should be automatic, like breathing. 

3). “The best of times and the worst of times”

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, said this in reference to the past week of news coverage. In an era where anyone can make a blog and call themselves a journalist, there is a lot of bad journalism online. At the same time, digital platforms give journalists the ability to report faster and with more information than ever before. These digital tools are also inspiring expansive and ambitious multimedia projects, such as The New York Times’ “Snow Fall,” a 17,000 word story complete with videos and photographs presented in a way that is only possible online.

On the other side of the coin, these digital tools like Twitter allow false information and bad journalism to be spread faster than ever before. It’s important for journalists and media consumers to remember this and to always take breaking news reports with a grain of salt.

4). It’s a new era of news

Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, gave a presentation called “Post-industrial present.” At the talk, Bell said the “industrial” age of journalism is drawing to a close.

“We can’t really describe the industry anymore,” Bell said. “It’s so fragmented now.”

What Bell meant is there are so many different types of journalism and so many different mediums to deliver journalism. It’s hard to define just what journalism is and what journalism isn’t anymore.

5). Social media even troubles the top dogs

Andy Carvin, who leads NPR’s social media strategy, gave a moving speech at the ISOJ on social media and the troubles it presents for journalism. In his speech, Carvin spoke about how journalists are pressured to break news quickly, but that does not mean they should sacrifice accuracy just to be first.

“We messed up. We didn’t always get the story right. We didn’t serve the public as well as we could have,” Carvin said, referencing both the Newtown shooting and the Boston Marathon explosion.

Carvin was the reporter from NPR who sent the Twitter message falsely reporting Gabrielle Giffords died at the 2011 Tucson Shooting. He knows both the pressure of reporting breaking news and the consequences of falsely reporting it. When social media is troubling for even the best in the business, we can rest assured that we all have some learning to do.

Runners Amardeep Kahlon and Ron Mora converse in a group on the trail at Lady Bird Lake on Thursday evening, where a vigil run was organized in support of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

Austin runners came together in support of the victims of this week’s Boston bombings in a vigil Thursday night.

Gilbert’s Gazelles, an Austin-based running group that was in Boston this week, organized a run on the three-mile Ann and Roy Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake.

Amy Stewman, a runner who ran in the Boston Marathon, said although she is still working through the trauma, she is thankful to be OK.

“I think for my husband and I, I think we’re still processing it,” Stewman said. “I think we’re extremely grateful for the gift of life and not wanting to take it for granted.”

Like Stewman, many participating in the vigil were runners at the Boston Marathon hoping to comfort their running mates and turn the page on their experiences.

“For us it was good, because we haven’t talked to each other since then and we’re running partners, so for us it was good to come together during this time and compare stories and talk and see how we’re doing,” Stewman said.

Students and faculty at UT also reacted to the Boston bombings. 

Barry Brummett, professor and communication studies department chair, whose daughters were at the Boston Marathon but were uninjured in the explosion, said the Boston bombings represent another step in the United States’ fight against terror. 

“The attacks will certainly make the marathon a symbol of our long, ongoing ’war on terror,’ like the Twin Towers were,” Brummett said. “As for long term effects, I think we have to wait and see who the
perpetrators are.”

UT students said they were shocked by the news.

“Like most people, [I was] shocked at first,” said Zachary Reeves, international relations and global studies senior, “and then [I felt] just general despair as the number of the injured kept piling up.”

“I was just shocked and really sad,” psychology sophomore Mason Hunt said.

“I was sad, it was shocking,” said statistics graduate student Hakan Goren. “After that I was thoughtful that it might be another terrorist attack, and all the Muslim people would be blamed for that, because I come
from Turkey.” 

Bruins clinch playoff spot in emotional first pro sports game in Boston since marathon attack

“We are Boston. We are Strong.” Those were the words projected on the center ice screen during the emotional pregame ceremony in Boston Wednesday night.

It was an emotional night in the city as the Boston Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres in what was the first professional sports game in the city since the tragic events occurred at the Boston Marathon last Monday.

Although the Bruins lost the game in a shootout, they gained a point which clinched them a playoff berth as they are now tied with Montreal atop the Northeast Division.

The night was more than just a hockey game, however. It was a tribute to all of those affected by the events on “Marathon Monday”.

The night started with a moment of silence and then tribute video of the Boston Marathon. Tears came when Boston favorite Rene Rancourt, who was singing the National Anthem, let the audience take over singing and all 17,565 in attendance loudly sang the Star-Spangled Banner followed by a U.S.A. chant.

At the end of the game, both teams met at center ice with sticks raised in a salute to the crowd in Boston.

Instead of remembering a somewhat disappointing overtime loss for the Bruins, the city of Boston will remember the game for its inspiration and devotion.

English Assistant Professor Snehal Shingavi said even without a shred of evidence, a majority of people in the United States believed the explosions that took place at the Boston Marathon were the result of Muslims.

Texas Amnesty International invited Shingavi to speak at a rally intended to raise awareness for and petition against American drone strikes Tuesday evening, although he took the opportunity to briefly discuss the related topic of Monday’s Boston bombing. While Shingavi exposed the human rights violations of drone victims, he also said anti-war activists have to engage in honest dialogue about why these drone strikes happen and talk about what kind of political movement is required for change.

“The idea of Islamaphobia has become so pervasive that even before we know what’s happening,” Shingavi said. “The kind of ideology is that Islam is the enemy and Islam is violent and therefore everything that is done is justifiable.” 

Shingavi also said drone strikes not only destroy life in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they actually deplete resources in the United States.

"Everything that’s used to destroy lives there is money taken away from building here that can be useful for life,” Shingavi said. “That’s a very useful way to think about drone strikes.”

According to Ayesha Akbar, president of Texas Amnesty International, drone strikes have killed 2,000 civilians and 200 of them have been children. Akbar read three personal accounts from the Middle East of those personally affected by drone strikes. The victims who wrote the accounts said the expectation of potential drone strikes causes them to live in fear.

“These stories [show that many Americans] don’t realize how personal … of an issue and how deeply [a drone strike] affects those that lose loved ones,” Akbar said.

Amnesty International is the world’s largest grassroots organization with more than 150 countries and 3 million members, according to international relations and global studies sophomore Rachel Sullivan.  

Following Shingavi’s mini lecture, three students, Elijah Allred, Charles Stephens and Joseph Flores performed slam poetry on their feelings about United States foreign policy and the topic of drone strikes.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Katie Vlasoff attended the event because she said she wanted to see her friend perform poetry. Vlasoff said she thought the topic was very interesting especially because it’s very easy for people in the United States to feel disconnected from the issue.

“The disconnect is not only because it happens in countries so far away with people that we already alienate but also because it’s made to make you feel disconnected,” Vlasoff said. “No human can say that I pulled the trigger, and so it’s a dispersal of the responsibility and the dispersal of the ethical problems that fall when you are taking away lives.”  

A runner's perspective on the Boston marathon

To the rest of the world, runners are crazy. We wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, risking shin splints, nasty falls, back problems, IT band syndrome, pulled muscles and stress fractures. And for what? To continue our hobby, which non-runners liken to torture.

The media portrays running as glamorous, filmed in slow motion: muscular men smiling at the camera alongside tall women with long hair that flows behind them in the wind.

Running is nothing like that.

It’s sweaty, and painful. A constant conflict where the cramp in your stomach, the lack of breath in your chest and the weight of your legs fight against your willpower and dignity, which won’t let you quit even when everything else begs you to stop.

Why do we do it? We love it. How is that even possible? If you don't understand, then you probably can't. Nobody can. Except for others like us.

When we run past each other in the mornings, we’re exchanging more than just polite greetings between strangers. The wave-and-nod is a sign of mutual respect because we know exactly what the other person had to sacrifice to be right there on the sidewalk moving at a seven thirty pace past us.

In this religion we call running, races are holy days, where we hope that the gods of running will grace us with good weather and a personal record. Like druggies, we start small with mile runs leading into 5Ks, 10Ks, and eventually work our way up to harder stuff like half-marathons and marathons, which are seemingly never-ending stretches of agony, that test both your physical and mental endurance.

If you happen to be a man who finishes the 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 5 minutes, or a woman who makes it in under 3 hours and 35 minutes, you qualify for a long distance runner’s dream: running in the Boston Marathon.

And, for those lucky few who achieve that, it's among the very best days of their lives.

Unless somebody decides that it shouldn't be and all the ice baths, tempo runs, foam rollers, bloody nipples and blisters that led up to the event aren’t as important as hurting and killing wonderful people.

And I know they were wonderful people. They were runners.

If I had seen them on my daily route, I would have said, “Good morning,” and they would have smiled and said it right back to me. And then we would continue on our separate paths, enjoying the serenity of a quiet city that can only exist while everybody else is still asleep.

Journalism junior Jennifer Berke: "I'm glad my dad is ok"

Journalism junior Jennifer Berke's dad ran the Boston Marathon this morning:

“Thank goodness [my dad is] fine. He finished the race two or three hours before the bombs went off. He said a lot of things happening tonight were cancelled in the city. He was supposed to fly back to Texas tomorrow, and we’re just trying to figure out if he’s going to be able to. I was scared out of my mind and I’m glad my dad is ok.“