Here is a list of good songs from 2014. It’s the same stuff everyone else likes, but just songs, and a list, and by me. I put “Problem” and “Talk Dirty” back-to-back so you can have 6 full minutes of uninterrupted SAX JAMS.
Here’s a piece that does a pretty good job responding to the criticism of that Facebook study. The argument is as follows: Facebook already manipulates what you see in your news feed; Facebook users are well aware of that; therefore, manipulating users’ Facebook feeds in this new way (to display less positive or negative content) isn’t an ethical violation.
The thing I don’t get here, though, is that, if Facebook already alters users’ Facebook feeds, why didn’t the researchers use this existing manipulations as a kind of “natural experiment”? After all, surely the existing Facebook algorithm already produces news feeds that have different emotional valences, and a researcher that had access to the full set of Facebook data could use those instances to test a hypothesis. It wouldn’t have been too hard: just find two people that share, say, 95% of the same friends, look for instances when those two people saw different posts in their news feed, assess the emotional valence of each news feed, and look for differences in the posts they then produce. Sure, that’s a slightly different design (paired-subjects v. pretest/posttest) but it would have entirely gotten around the ethical issues. Why not use this far more unobtrusive method?
After a day of exploring we came back to the pool to swim and have a few drinks before dinner. There was this kid with Justin Bieber hair and I said he looked like an asshole. We found an inflatable ball floating in the deep end and tried to keep it in the air for as long as possible, which wasn’t very long.
After a while the kid came over to us. He was 13 years old and from Texas and on vacation with his grandparents and so he didn’t have anyone to play with. My wife asked if he wanted to hit the ball around with us and he said sure, so this barely post-tween spent his time on vacation hitting an inflatable ball around the pool with two thirtysomethings.
He had trouble in the water, not just moving through it but staying afloat, so my wife taught him the three basic strokes: the crawl, the backstroke, the breaststroke . He took to then quickly, but they seemed utterly new to him, like pushing through water with your hands cupped was something he’d never even heard of before. “How did you learn this stuff?” he asked.
"I took swim classes. Didn’t you ever take swim classes?"
His head dipped under the water and he gulped and spat. “I have a lot to do for school. I’m too busy to take swim classes.”
I tossed the ball to my wife, she set it to the kid, and he slammed it back at me, way too hard, over my head and onto the deck. Maybe he didn’t understand how the game worked.
I enjoyed the WWI focus in the Arts section of the Sunday Times. This piece, by Ed Rothstein, wonders why people reacted so negatively to the carnage of WWI when they hadn’t done so to almost equally horrific carnages, like that of the US Civil War. It seems to me that one of the biggest changes in cultural attitudes over the last 200 years involves not only the value but the meaning of a human life. Before modern medicine, death is so frequent, arbitrary, and unavoidable that a life must mean less, or else we would have spent all our time in grief; there must be life after life, or else we have surely been shortchanged by our meager lifespans. As medicine and standards of living improve, a cult of mourning emerges that gives more meaning to life by extending it past death in the lives of the still-living, while at the same time recognizing the inevitability of death. Death has meaning, even if life does not. And then the Great War provides the first widespread example of technology being used to end life at the same time technology has the capacity to safe life. This was not the case during the Civil War: if you didn’t die on the battlefield, you were almost equally likely to die at home. Now, no more. If a human life becomes something we can preserve, it becomes something we must preserve. The idea that we have a duty to prevent all death (seen, for instance, in calls to prevent mass shootings by making it easier to involuntarily commit people with mental health problems) seems like a moral inevitability, but it is very much a historical development.
Today I was waiting to pay at the supermarket and the clerk in the next line over started whistling “All Star” by Smash Mouth. He was doing it very deliberately at the guy bagging in my line but I couldn’t tell if he was being friendly or aggressive. It was a little of both. He whistled the entire song front to back, all the verses and all the choruses. It was the cruelest thing I’ve ever seen another human being do.
Dwone’s shooting fits into a pattern that has been largely ignored by the national media descending on Seattle this week in the wake of the SPU shooting. The Seattle police were censured by the Justice Department for a pattern of civil rights abuses. Dwone was shot a block away from where another man was shot just over a month ago, and near two other murders in April. Yet there were no police near him Sunday morning, no one to deter the fourth and fifth murders in that same small neighborhood within a month and a half. While there are certainly large-scale factors leading to crimes like this, we know that a greater police presence results in lower violent crime. If you go up to Capitol Hill on Saturday night, you’ll have no trouble finding the police; if you call yourself an anarchist and organize a march through Capitol Hill, the police will turn out in riot gear and put up barricades. But if you live in a poor neighborhood and there are repeated homicides, you can’t get enough police presence to stop two young men from getting shot in the street.
City officials have promised changes in the wake of last weekend’s shootings. They have cut down tree branches to improve visibility. They will also install three new streetlights. Dwone was twenty-three years old.
(made this for a friend the other night and she requested the writeup, so here you go.)
6-8 cloves garlic 4 springs rosemary Juice of one medium lemon 1/4 cup(ish) olive oil (enough to coat all the chicken, basically) Shitload of salt and pepper (Teaspoon and a half of salt at least? And a bunch of pepper) 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 2” cubes
Take the garlic and rosemary and either chop it up fine or pulse it in a food processor. Whisk it together with everything else that’s not chicken. Taste it and add salt as needed; it should taste pretty salty. (It shouldn’t be too lemony, though.) Add the chicken and mix until coated. Let it all sit in a shallow dish for 2-12 hours, turning once if you have the time/inclination.
Thread onto skewers, scraping off as much of the marinade as you can without driving yourself crazy. (Like give it a swipe or two, don’t go picking off bits.) Salt and pepper (again) and cook over a very hot fire until done through. (15 minutes? Just pull one skewer off and cut open the cube farthest from the fire to see if it’s done.) A broiler would work too.
This served 3, so you can scale up or down, depending. You really can’t put in too much garlic.
“What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.”—Carolyn Forché, “The Colonel,” May, 1978.
There’s an idea out there that culture has somehow “stopped" in the last twenty years, that the wild innovations we saw throughout the 20th century have stagnated and solidified into a fairly consistent mismash of pop culture. This clearly isn’t true. Compare Pharrell’s "Happy,” Usher’s “Yeah,” Ace of Base’s “The Sign,” and Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” the #1 songs of May 2014, 2004, 1994, and 1984 respectively: they all sound equally different, which is to say there are big changes over any 20 or 30 year jump, but not a lot of movement over 10 years. You’d see the same thing across any other area of culture, as long as you contained it to a single category (pop, rock, studio movies, bestselling novels). It’s only when you jump around that it looks like things are changing rapidly.
What is true is this: people think culture is changing less now than it used to. Which means a better question is: why has that perception changed?
“Take, as one example of this region’s bumbling dealings with Jews, the silly contretemps that erupted this year over the Christmas trees at Sea-Tac airport. The whole thing was absurd and dripped with a thinly veiled small-town longing for national attention (no matter that getting this national attention involved boarding the “War on Christmas” crazy train). But it was nevertheless telling that after Sea-Tac officials were confronted by a litigious rabbi who wanted a menorah on display at the airport in addition to the Christmas trees, the officials temporarily took down the trees and publicly admitted that they had never given any thought to their exclusively Chistmas-y decorations. This would be too embarrassing an admission to make in a more Jewish city. However, in a region that tends not to think much about Jews, it was accepted as an understandable oversight.
Similarly, last year, when a candidate for the board of the Seattle Monorail Project, Cindi Laws, suggested that her Jewish opponent was being financed by wealthy Jews in an alleged anti-Monorail Jewish conspiracy, her defense was largely the same—that she hadn’t thought much about Jewish sensitivities until some vaguely anti-Semitic sentences came tumbling out of her mouth.
In the 2000 census by the Jewish Federation, 28 percent of Seattle-area respondents said they had personally experienced anti-Semitism in the past five years, and the most commonly reported experience was being singled out unfavorably in a social relationship. This doesn’t surprise me. In Seattle, I haven’t experienced anti-Semitism in the classic sense of being called a “kike” or checked for horns beneath my hair, or in any of its more violent manifestations, such as the shooting earlier this year at the Jewish Federation, in which Naveed Afzal Haq, a loner upset with Jews, killed Pamela Waechter, a 58-year-old Jewish fund-raiser, and injured five other women. But I do frequently find myself in social situations where people say amazingly stupid things about me, or Jews in general. Often, I chalk it up to them never having known a Jew. But at times it can seem an almost willful ignorance, one that makes me wonder whether, at the root of this ignorance, there is some anti-Semitic disinterest, or perhaps disdain.”—“The Jewish Problem" by Stranger editor Eli Sanders is from 2006, but perfectly answers a question that same publication asked today: “Why Didn’t Anyone Notice Macklemore’s Anti-Semitic Costume at EMP?”
Calling online media a “gold rush” seems wildly erroneous, but if we specify a barely profitable, if at all, goldrush, the analogy seems to stand up over its decade-ish history: some new source of traffic is discovered, whether it’s video curation or Facebook headline gaming or tweet recycling; the early adopters drive it into the ground, making massive gains as they do; everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, lest they lose out; and the whole thing is abandoned in 3-4 years. It makes for a much more turbulent media landscape than we’re used to, and one in which the meaning of “a typical post” has varied widely over time. (Try reading old Gawker posts! Try reading old political blogs! Assuming the page isn’t inaccessible or illegible after a jillion site redesigns!) Newspapers have certainly changed over time, but very gradually; the introduction of graphics, for instance, took a good solid decade, and even today the changes are glacial compared to the online space.
What this means for people who argue about the media is that an argument about “online media” in 2014 differs from an argument about “online media” in 2008 waaaaaaaaay more than an argument about newspapers or TV news or magazines differs over that period, let alone over a comparable period from the 20th century. Now, we’re arguing about data journalism, VC-funded startups, and personal franchise sites; then, we were arguing about aggregation, unethical SEO, the need for “actual reporting,” and whether any site could be profitable. For newspapers, though, it’s pretty much the same set of issues: newsroom staffing reductions, the need for new revenue streams, the digital switch, paywalls, etc.
In some ways, this makes arguments about digital media more vital. A number of recent changes in the online space have resulted directly from arguments about how digital media should be different: longform, explainers, First Look, etc. But it’s also made for an environment where working out any sort of enduring principles or even standards is enormously difficult. When your subject keeps moving, it’s really hard to get a clear picture.
I’ve always disliked using the word “broken” to refer to things that aren’t purely functional—government, the mainstream media, etc. Saying something is “broken” implies that it has stopped working entirely, which is almost never the case with this usage; instead, the thing is usually just having some problems fulfilling certain functions. Worse, the assessment is usually made based not on function but on particular desires about how things should be; for instance, the government is “broken” because the speaker would like it to be better at achieving equality, or spending money efficiently, but neither of these are core functions of government. (See also.)
I suspect this usage derived from software (note the uptick since 2002). A “broken link” is one that no longer works, which is a way of transferring the language from the physical realm (a broken arm, a broken glass) to the virtual. But within software development, there is a use of “broken” that would be closer to the actual meaning of “broken” as it’s used in relation to government, etc.—one meant to express that particular component parts are non-functional. Except the antecedent of “broken” it’s drawing on is the broken windows theory, which is a very different metaphorical invocation: not this thing doesn’t work because its basic physical structure has been destroyed, but a series of small, seemingly inconsequential problems can have large and unexpected effects. “Broken government” means the opposite of that: there are so many giant, obvious problems that the whole enterprise now serves no purpose. It’s not broken windows, it’s broken buildings, demolished bridges, abandoned hospitals.
Which is not, needless to say, exactly what “broken government” is really intended to mean. Instead, it’s a gambit, a bit of rhetoric that appeals to our historical vanity, implying that there was once a golden age but we, in our unique and special present moment, have ruined everything. It’s been very effective at rallying the faithful; who, after all, could disagree that old things are broken, and should make way for the new. But it’s not terribly helpful. If we all agree that something is “broken,” then surely the most interesting question isn’t “how is it broken?” It’s “then why is it still functioning?”