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July 26, 2016

Media grandparents

I just got my copy of Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative, edited by Renee Hobbs. The subtitle could be “How I met my grandparents,” where the grandparents are crucial figures in the history of media studies.

The essays take a fruitful approach. In each of the chapters, someone in the field recounts how s/he first encountered a figure who became important to her/him and why that person mattered. That entails explaining the figure’s ideas and place in the history of media studies — although almost none of the figures would have characterized their work as being within that relatively newly-minted field.

I write about how Heidegger’s ideas about language pulled me out of an adolescent “identity crisis” [draft]. Lance Strate explains his struggle to understand McLuhan (I feel his pain!) and how the struggle paid off for him. Cynthia Lewis connects her interest in Mikhail Bakhtin to her precocious recognition that “the presence of other interpreters always already exists” in the words one hears and uses. Michael Robbgrieco explains how Foucault became a crucial thinker for him about media and education, even though Foucault doesn’t talk about the former and views the latter primarily as a system of oppression, which was far from Michael’s experience as a teacher. Henry Jenkins talks about how Raymond Williams’ work spoke to him as a son of a construction company owner in Georgia, and how that led Jenkins to John Fiske who had been tutored by Williams.

These are just a few of the seventeen essays.

The personal approach enables the authors to walks us through their intellectual grandparents’ ideas the way they first did — and the paths these authors took clearly worked for them. It simultaneously makes clear why those grandparents, with their often quite difficult ideas, mattered so personally to the authors. Overall it works splendidly. All credit to Renee.

 


 

Errata: For the imaginary record, I want to note that an error was introduced into my chapter on Heidegger. Somehow John William Miller’s ‘ “mid world” mutated into “mind world” and I did not catch it in the copy-edit phase. Also “a preacher of narcissism” became “a preacher or narcissist.” I should have caught these attempts to make my text better. Ack.

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July 23, 2016

Why Hillary picked Tim Kaine

No one can best me in my ElizabethWarrenLove, but if you want to know why Hillary picked Tim, watch this speech from their first event together:

It’s like mind-bleach for Donald Trump’s Harangue of Fear

Trump channels Mussolini at RNC
Click here to make the big scary man go away.

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July 22, 2016

Now it's on us

We can no longer think this is just a reality TV star who says whatever he has to to keep us amused.

Now we’ve seen American fascism naked.

Now we have no excuse for not stopping it.

Now it’s on us.

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July 19, 2016

Melania's speech rickrolled us: Is there a mole in the Trump campaign?

On Reddit, user Amaranthine cites a tweet from Soniasaraiya that points to a signal that one of Melania’s speechwriters may be a mole working against the Trump campaign: Was Melania rickrolled?

Rickrolling is a prank in which misleading text links to a video of Rick Astley singing his 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” For example, if I wrote “Here’s an incredible secret video of Hillary whispering to Bill that she lied about Benghazi,” and you click on the link, you’ve been rickrolled.” The video has been viewed over 224 million times, but no one knows how many times on purpose. (Interestingly, Rick Astley seems to have plagiarized the song from this awkward amateur version.)

Last night Melania said (transcript here):

He will never, ever, give up. And, most importantly, he will never, ever, let you down.

Here is the opening of the chorus of Never Gonna Give You Up:

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down

This not such a unique, unexpected turn of phrase that it could only have been plagiarized. On the other hand: 224,238,266 views! This is the opposite of obscure.

So, if you were the speechwriter who not only put plagiarized text into Melania Trump’s introduce-yourself-to-America speech, but you took that text from Michelle Obama’s introduce-yourself-to-America speech eight years earlier, you might well want to flag that Melania’s speech rickrolled us and her: Melania’s words, uttered sincerely, turn out to “link” to an annoyingly lightweight pop song.

 


 

Just for fun, here’s an autotuned version of Melania singing her lyrics, created by redditor cbuntz:

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July 18, 2016

Most pathetic national convention ever

From Politico, here is the list of speakers for the Republican National Convention:

Monday: Make America Safe Again

Headliners: Melania Trump, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, and veterans activist Jason Beardsley.

Also speaking: Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, actor Scott Baio, Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Jeff Sessions and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others.
Tuesday: Make America Work Again

Headliners: Donald Trump Jr., West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Dr. Ben Carson and actress-businesswoman Kimberlin Brown.

Also speaking: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, among others.

Wednesday: Make America First Again

Headliners: Lynne Patton of the Eric Trump Foundation; Eric Trump; Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista; and Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Also speaking: Radio host Laura Ingraham, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Ted Cruz, among others.

Thursday: Make America One Again

Headliners: Business leaders Peter Thiel and Tom Barrack, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump.

Also speaking: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., among others.

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July 13, 2016

Making the place better

I was supposed to give an opening talk at the 9th annual Ethics & Publishing conference put on by George Washington Uinversity. Unfortunately, a family emergency kept me from going, so I sent a very homemade video of the presentation that I recorded at my desk with my monitor raised to head height.

The theme of my talk was a change in how we make the place better — “the place” being where we live — in the networked age. It’s part of what I’ve been thinking about as I prepare to write a book about the change in our paradigm of the future. So, these are thoughts-in-progress. And I know I could have stuck the landing better. In any case, here it is.

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July 2, 2016

Corrupting "Earned media"

The Intercept reports on several news media who are selling special services at the national political conventions — meetings, cocktail parties, and more. The services are corrosive. Some are explicitly corrupt, “…they make explicit the inevitable failure of the distinction between “paid” and “earned” content.”making explicit the inevitable failure of the distinction between “paid” and “earned” content.

The less controversial services are corrosive because they let the media take money from the people they cover. Having spent a few decades as a marketing communications guy, I can promise you that in every business considering these offers, the conversation includes someone saying, “It doesn’t matter if no one comes to the cocktail party. It’d still improve our relationship with the publication.” Why? Because it’s a way to pay the journal money. That’s corrosive.

Larry Lessig points out that it’s not much different from news organizations tuning their coverage to their ratings. But such tuning at least caters to perceived piopular interest. These new services let an organization or candidate buy coverage despite a decided lack of public interest. It is worse than buying ads because the news media have traditionally had a “Chinese wall” between the advertising and editorial departments. This has been a fairly effective way of protecting editorial content from the direct influence of the marketing needs of the journal, even though the wall is sometimes breached, and Time Magazine has shamefully torn it down.

Once the media started letting companies pay for phony news coverage, they pretended to honor the breach by distinguishing “earned” and “paid” content. “Earned content” is coverage provided by media of events they think are newsworthy. “Paid content” is, well, paid content. Non-sleazebag companies and their PR reps expect media to mark paid content as paid for. Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR company, created ethical guidelines that not only say that the paid content must be well marked, but that Edelman will have its own Chinese wall between the processes by which earned content is pitched (“Yo, I have a client who’s invented a time travel machine. Wanna an interview? How’s yesterday for you?”) and the negotiations that result in the placement of paid content. (Disclosure: I had a tiny hand — Trump-sized — in drafting those guidelines.)

That’s better than nothing, but paid content still makes me queasy. Companies are willing to pay for content precisely because it looks like real coverage and thus tends to be taken more seriously than obvious ads. This erodes the phenomenological line between news and ads, which is bad for democracy and culture. Indeed, “the point of paid content is to erode the line. ”the point of paid content is to erode the line.

But letting candidates pay for interviews takes this to a whole new level. This is what The Intercept says:

Sponsors who pay $200,000 are promised convention interviews with The Hill’s editorial staff for “up to three named executives or organization representatives of your choice,” according to a brochure obtained by The Intercept. “These interviews are pieces of earned media,” the brochure says, “and will be hosted on a dedicated page on thehill.com and promoted across The Hill’s digital and social media channels.”

The Hill says the resulting interviews will be earned media. Suppose the interview is stupid, boring, self-serving and non-newsworthy? If it weren’t, the client wouldn’t be paying for it. But The Hill is promising it’s going to run anyway because the client paid them $200,000. That is the very definition of paid content. So, by calling it “earned content,” The Hill can only mean that the article will not be marked as paid content, even though that is precisely what it is.

This corrupts the already corrosive practice of accepting paid content. It is disgraceful.

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July 1, 2016

Will blockchain kill culture?

Peter Brantley [@naypinya] has posted an important and succinct warning about the effect blockchain technology may have on culture: by making the mechanism of trust cheap, transparent, and more reliable, blockchain could destroy the ambiguity that culture needs in order to thrive. Peter’s post is clearly thought and powerfully put.

Pardon me while I agree with him, including about blockchain’s positive promise.

Culture is the ultimate analog phenomenon, even when it’s communicated digitally, for it is only culture to the extent to which people—we—make it our own. We understand our lives and our world through culture. If we can’t appropriate it, re-express it, and re-use it, culture simply dies.

As Peter says, blockchain could perfect the system of tracking and control, leading us further into the tragic error of thinking that ideas and culture are property. Property has boundaries and borders that can be precisely demarcated and can be defended. Culture by definition does not. Blockchain technology can further the illusion that culture is property.

While blockchain will have a positive, transformative effect on systems where trust is valuable and expensive, it almost inevitably will also be used to impose restrictions on the appropriation of culture that lets culture thrive. If so, I expect we’ll see the same sort of response that we’ve already seen to the Internet’s inherent transparency—the transparency that has simultaneously made it the liberator of culture and the surveillor’s wet dream: We will route around it with some degree of success. And we will—I hope— continue to encourage an ethos of sharing in which creators explicitly exempt their works from the system of copyright totalitarianism.

The license you adopt will be your uniform in the coming culture wars. It already is.

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June 25, 2016

TED, scraped

TED used to have an open API. TED no longer supports its open API. I want to do a little exploring of what the world looks like to TED, so I scraped the data from 2,228 TED Talk pages. This includes the title, author, tags, description, link to the transcript, number of times shared, and year. You can get it from here. (I named it tedTalksMetadata.txt, but it’s really a JSON file.)

“Scraping” means having a computer program look at the HTML underneath a Web page and try to figure out which elements refer to what. Scraping is always a chancy enterprise because the cues indicating which text is,say, the date and which is the title may be inconsistent across pages, and may be changed by the owners at any time. So I did the best I could, which is not very good. (Sometimes page owners aren’t happy about being scraped, but in this case it only meant one visit for each page, which is not a lot of burden for a site that has pages that get hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of visits. If they really don’t want to be scraped, they could re-open their API, which provides far more reliable info far more efficiently.)

I’ve also posted at GitHub the php scripts I wrote to do the scraping. Please don’t laugh.

If you use the JSON to explore TED metadata, please let me know if you come up with anything interesting that you’re willing to share. Thanks!

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June 23, 2016

No more rockstars

Leigh Honeywell [twitter: @hypatiadotca] has posted an important essay — No More Rockstars — written by her, Valerie Aurora (@vaurorapub), and Mary Gardiner (@me_gardiner). There’s a lot in it, and it’s clear and well-written, so it does not need summarizing by me, except to let you know why I think you should read it: It addresses the power imbalance implicit in a conceptual framework that thinks some industry leaders are special and therefore not subject to the same rules as the rest of us. The post analytically describes the phenomenon and suggests ways to avoid the dangers.

Lexi Gill writes a follow-on piece about one particular way that the rockstar culture leads to inequities:

… rock stars are often unofficial gatekeepers to an entire community or industry. They not only get to decide who’s “in” and who’s “out,” but have privileged access to an endless stream of new victims to choose from. Once “in,” the rock star also has special power to manipulate a newcomer’s experience, role and relationships within the community.

Having worked for many people and having observed many more, I can say that for me the best leaders are people whose joy comes from helping people flourish, that is, to discover and become who they are, even if that means developing away from the organization. Those are the women and men who have made the biggest difference in my professional life. I thank them for it.

…All part of the privilege of being a man.

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