THURSDAY | 18 JULY 2013

JOURNALISM

FROM TOM PAINE TO GLENN GREENWALD, WE NEED PARTISAN JOURNALISM

Jack Shafer | Reuters

I would sooner engage you in a week-long debate over which taxonomical subdivision the duck-billed platypus belongs to then spend a moment arguing whether Glenn Greenwald is a journalist or not, or whether an activist can be a journalist, or whether a journalist can be an activist, or how suspicious we should be of partisans in the newsroom.

It’s not that those arguments aren’t worthy of time — just not mine. I’d rather judge a work of journalism directly than run the author’s mental drippings through a gas chromatograph to detect whether his molecules hang left or right or cling to the center. In other words, I care less about where a journalist is coming from than to where his journalism takes me.

Greenwald’s collaborations with source Edward Snowden, which resulted in Page One scoops in the Guardian about the National Security Agency, caused such a rip in the time-space-journalism continuum that the question soon went from whether Greenwald’s lefty style of journalism could be trusted to whether he belonged in a jail cell. Last month, New York Times business journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin called for the arrest of Greenwald (he later apologized) and Meet the Press host David Gregory asked with a straight face if he shouldn’t “be charged with a crime.” NBC’s Chuck Todd and the Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus and Paul Farhi also asked if Greenwald hadn’t shape-shifted himself to some non-journalistic precinct with his work.

The reactions by Sorkin, Gregory, Todd, Pincus, Farhi, and others betray — dare I say it? — a sad devotion to the corporatist ideal of what journalism can be and — I don’t have any problem saying it — a painful lack of historical understanding of American journalism.

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LITERATURE | PHOTOGRAPHY

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THE KODAK IS HOLY: ALLEN GINSBERG’S PHOTOGRAPHS

Michael Miller | GalleristNY

In one of Allen Ginsberg’s early photographs, on view now as part of the retrospective “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, the poet focuses his lens on a homeless man sitting on the edge of Tompkins Square Park. The man’s face is bloated and scarred and his belongings are piled in a shopping cart. Narrow lunch counters and hulking sedans along Avenue A date the photo to the 1950s. Four decades later, Ginsberg composed a short prose poem along its lower margin:

The first shopping cart street prophet I’d directly noticed, fall leaves scattered on Tompkins Park sidewalk, Avenue A & St. Mark’s Place, over 40 years ago, Leshko’s Restaurant was cheap and popular as at present on the corner a block south, I had my snapshots developed at a drug store near Park Center eatery across the street on S.W. corner, & was living with W.S. Burroughs a few blocks away 206 East 7th Street—working as copyboy on now defunct New York World-Telegram, my apartment rent $29.00 a month, three small rooms, October 1953.

allen-ginsberg-1947
william-burroughs-1953
jack-kerouac-1964

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GEOGRAPHY

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WHY DICTATORS SHOULD FEAR BIG CITIES

Joshua Keating | Foreign Policy

From Cairo to Tehran to Moscow, we’ve seen plenty of examples of dramatic confrontations between autocratic governments and their people in the world’s major metropolises in recent years. But is there a measurable relationship between urbanization and anti-authoritarian politics? Ohio State University’s Jeremy Wallace argues that there is in a paper for the Journal of Politics:

For the 237 regimes with urban concentration levels above the mean level in the data, the mean duration is 8.6 years and the annual regime death rate is 9.2%. For the 198 regimes characterized by low levels of urban concentration, the incidence rate is only 5.6% and the mean duration is 12.4 years. Regimes with capital cities that dominate the urban landscape fail nearly four years sooner and face 60% greater death rates.

Cities are problems for authoritarian control, the traditional narrative goes, because by concentrating large masses of people, they improve communication networks, allowing anti-establishment sentiment to spread. In physical terms, dense neighborhoods are also ideal centers of resistance, easily blocked by barricades and featuring plenty of hiding places. To counter this, the wide boulevards of capitals like Washington, Paris, and Beijing have a practical as well as aesthetic purpose: allowing easy movement of police or the military in times of civil disturbance.

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DOCUMENTARY

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CALVIN & HOBBES DOC COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU

Scott Beggs | Film School Rejects

To get an idea of how long Dear Mr. Watterson has been in the works, consider that its creator Joel Schroeder posted a teaser trailer for it three years ago. And that was years after he’d started working on it. Fortunately, it was the exact kind of thing that Kickstarter was built for, and after 2,083 backers representing over $120,000 chipped in, the film is finished.

Now, according to Variety, the “Calvin & Hobbes” documentary will see theaters and VOD on November 15th.

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RACE

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RACISM AND RICHARD COHEN’S REALITY

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish

There’s no question that young urban black men commit a disproportionate number of crimes, compared, say, with young white men.
If you look at homicide, you’ll see, however, that a white person is far, far more likely to be killed by another white person than by a black one. 83 percent of white murders were committed by whites. In 2011, only 448 black men killed a white person in America. In a country of 300 million, that means that Richard Cohen’s fear of the young black men is as unjustified as Zimmerman’s description of Martin as a punk. The percentage odds of Richard Cohen being killed by a young black man is 0.00015 percent. And yet he’s scared. I guess it’s clarifying to have this fact of human nature expressed in a column. But it doesn’t make it any less repugnant.

Elspeth Reeve covers the rest. This is for me her best point:

“Urban crime” is shorthand for young black people committing crimes in big cities on the verge of collapse. But Martin wasn’t killed in Cabrini-Green. He was killed in Sanford, Florida (population 53,570), inside a gated community called the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which has about 260 townhouses. The alleged crime was a suburban crime. And, just for the record, it was not the black kid who was just acquitted of it.

THE BANALITY OF RICHARD COHEN AND RACIST PROFILING

Ta-Nehisi Coates | The Atlantic

. . . we should take a moment to appreciate the import of Cohen’s words. They hold that neither I, nor my twelve year old son, nor any of my nephews, nor any of my male family members deserve to be judged as individuals by the state. Instead we must be seen as members of a class more inclined to criminality. It does not matter that the vast, vast majority of black men commit no violent crime at all. Cohen argues that that majority should unduly bear the burden of police invasion, because of a minority who happens to live among us.

Richard Cohen concedes that this is a violation, but it is one he believes black people, for the good of their country, must learn to live with. Effectively he is arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax. The tax may, or may not, end with a frisking. More contact with the police, and people who want to be police, necessarily means more deadly tragedy. Thus Cohen is not simply calling for my son and I to bear the brunt of “violation,” he is calling for us to run a higher risk of death and serious injury at the hands of the state. Effectively he is calling for Sean Bell’s fianceé, Trayvon Martin’s parents, Amadou Diallo’s mother, Prince Jones’ daughter, the relatives of Kathryn Johnston to accept the deaths of their love ones as the price of doing business in America.

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SCULPTURE

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INFINITY: A MIND-BENDING NEW SAND SCULPTURE BY CARL JARA

Christopher Jobson | Colossal

Cleveland-based sand sculptor and woodworker Carl Jara (previously) just won fist-place at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competition with this fun sculpture titled Infinity. The piece, which also won the People’s Choice award, depicts a series of five consecutive human figures in the palm of another, each one smaller than the last. As an added bonus, he shot a time-lapse video of the entire piece coming together over a period of three days (warning: dubstep). In the various sand sculpture competitions around the U.S. Jara frequently comes in near or at first place with a imaginative range of figurative works.

You can check out more photos from the Hampton Beach event on Jara’s Flickr page.

jara-1jara-2

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INNOVATION

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WHAT CAN THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LEARN FROM DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS?

Adam Gurri | The Ümlaut

Dungeons and Dragons is one of those geeky activities that has still managed to retain a great deal of its stigma from those who do not participate in it, even as gaming culture in general has become increasingly mainstream. Part of this no doubt comes from the considerable time investment required to really enjoy the game to its fullest. A lot of gaming has been watered down to cater to ever broader audiences, but to water down D&D would be to deprive it of the very value proposition that has drawn fans for decades. Understanding the economics of this tension between seeking a large customer base and making customers work hard for bigger payoffs can tell us a lot about the power law shaped world we now live in.

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REVOLUTION

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THE AGE OF NEGATION OR HOW PROGRESSIVES REGRESSED

Martin Gurri | The Ümlaut

I can’t think of a single progressive activist or intellectual with any following who believes that revolution is possible or even desirable. The world can’t be made anew. For conservatives, this is a source of perverse satisfaction, but progressives sense, obscurely, that a rather large hole has opened in the logic of their beliefs. Without revolution, they have no true north, no way to define progress. They are marooned in a sort of ideological Gilligan’s Island, and all their elaborate schemes and escape plans only return them, at the end of the day, to the place where they started out.

I pin the new political pessimism on this feeling of being stuck in a tight place with unpleasant people, and no hope of escape.

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ANIMATION

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SHINJUKU

robert valley | Vimeo

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FOOD | HISTORY

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THE POISON SQUAD: AN INCREDIBLE HISTORY

Bruce Watson | Esquire

While the kitchen in the basement of the Agriculture Department’s offices in Washington DC was unorthodox, it was hard to fault the food. The menu was wide and varied, and the chef, known only as “Perry,” had an impressive resume, including a stint as the “head chef for the Queen of Bavaria.” The chicken was fresh, the potatoes perfectly prepared, the asparagus toothsome yet not tough. Everything was of the highest quality.

Including the poison.

At first, it was borax, a bright white mineral, finely ground, and shipped in fresh from the burnings wastes of Death Valley, CA, where it was mined. Perry hid it in the butter, until he noticed that the twelve workers who took their meals at his table were avoiding the spread. Next, he mixed it in with their milk, but they stopped drinking the milk, too, complaining that it tasted “metallic.” Finally, Perry gave up, and began packing the borax into capsules. Between courses, the diners would dutifully wash them down.

In 1902, when the group that ate at Perry’s table first convened, it didn’t have a name. Its leader, the Agriculture Department’s Chief Chemist, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, referred to the project as the “hygienic table trials,” but it wasn’t long before Washington Post reporter George Rothwell Brown came up with a better name: The Poison Squad.

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SOCIAL NETWORKS

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THE REMARKABLE PROPERTIES OF MYTHOLOGICAL SOCIAL NETWORKS

MIT Technology Review | via Joshua Keating

Today, P J Miranda at the Federal Technological University of Paraná in Brazil and a couple of pals study the social network between characters in Homer’s ancient Greek poem the Odyssey. Their conclusion is that this social network bears remarkable similarities to Facebook, Twitter and the like and that this may offer an important clue about the origin of this ancient story.

Miranda and co think of each character in the Odyssey as a node in the network. They say a link exists between two characters when they meet in the story, when they speak directly to each other, cite one another to a third character or when it is otherwise clear that they know each other.

In analysing the Odyssey, they identified 342 unique characters and over 1,700 relations between them.

Having constructed the social network, Miranda and co then examined its structure. “Odyssey’s social network is small world, highly clustered, slightly hierarchical and resilient to random attacks,” they say.

What’s interesting about this conclusion is that these same characteristics all crop up in social networks in the real world. Miranda and co say this is good evidence that the Odyssey is based, at least in part, on a real social network and so must be a mixture of myth and fact.

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COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

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WANT TO LEARN HOW TO THINK? READ FICTION

Tom Jacobs | Pacific Standard

Are you uncomfortable with ambiguity? It’s a common condition, but a highly problematic one. The compulsion to quell that unease can inspire snap judgments, rigid thinking, and bad decision-making.

Fortunately, new research suggests a simple antidote for this affliction: Read more literary fiction.

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

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ANGÉLICA GARCÍA

ANGELICA GARCIA.SEE.ME | via Not Shaking the Grass
angelica garcia - 01

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SCIENCE | MEDICINE

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DO CLINICAL TRIALS EVEN WORK?

Clifton Leaf | The New York Times

That we could be this uncertain about any medicine with $6 billion in annual global sales — and after 16 years of human trials involving tens of thousands of patients — is remarkable in itself. And yet this is the norm, not the exception. We are just as confused about a host of other long-tested therapies: neuroprotective drugs for stroke, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents for anemia, the antiviral drug Tamiflu — and, as recent headlines have shown, rosiglitazone (Avandia) for diabetes, a controversy that has now embroiled a related class of molecules. Which brings us to perhaps a more fundamental question, one that few people really want to ask: do clinical trials even work? Or are the diseases of individuals so particular that testing experimental medicines in broad groups is doomed to create more frustration than knowledge?

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PHILOSOPHY

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JOHN SEARLE ON FOUCAULT AND THE OBSCURANTISM IN FRENCH PHILOSOPHY

Dan Colman | Open Source Culture

Searle begins by reciting Paul Grice’s four Maxims of Manner: be clear, be brief, be orderly, and avoid obscurity of expression. These are systematically violated in France, Searle says, partly due to the influence of German philosophy. Searle translates Foucault’s admission to him this way: “In France, you gotta have ten percent incomprehensible, otherwise people won’t think it’s deep–they won’t think you’re a profound thinker.”

Searle has been careful to separate Foucault from Derrida, with whom Searle had an unfriendly debate in the 1970s over Speech Act theory. “Foucault was often lumped with Derrida,” Searle says in a 2000 interview with Reason magazine. “That’s very unfair to Foucault. He was a different caliber of thinker altogether.”


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EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY

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WHY CUNNILINGUS?

Scicurious | Neurotic Physiology | Scientopia

I would first like to note: there are some problems with this study, yes. But there is one thing I like about it. It turns out, the second half of their results don’t support the hypothesis. And the authors admit it, and PUBLISHED IT ANYWAY. You go, guys.

That said…I’m not so sure about the findings of their first hypothesis either. But we’ll get to that.

Anyway, these scientists (and, I would like you to know, unlike other evo psych studies I have seen, they are NOT all men!!! 50% female representation) were interested in the purpose of cunnilingus. Why does it exist? What’s it for? It’s can’t just be, you know, for good times or anything. They hypothesized that it served a purpose, and the purpose they believed it filled was securing your mate. They also hypothesized that it might help with the woman retaining sperm in her reproductive tract.

Where do you get these kind of hypotheses? Well, the first hypothesis, of securing your mate, comes from a whole pile of previous evolutionary psychology literature on the topic. The whole idea is that attractive females are in danger of being lured away by other males, so men have to adjust their behaviors to prevent cheating as much as possible. Previous studies have backed this up by noting that men want to have sex more, thrust harder, and ejaculate more sperm when they’ve been away from their partner for a while (I will get to my own concerns about this further on). So the idea here is that men want to keep ladies happy to keep them from straying, and therefore, they will give them cunnilingus to keep them happy.

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MARKETING

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THE MAKING OF THE DRAGON SKULL

blinkboxlive | youtube | via DesignBoom

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SCIENCE

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A NEW KIND OF PEER REVIEW

Neuroskeptic | Discover

Writing in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, a Dr Yvo Smulders of the Netherlands makes a proposal: A two-step manuscript submission process can reduce publication bias

Smulder’s point is that scientific manuscripts should be submitted for peer review with the results and discussion omitted. The reviewers would judge the submission on the strength of the methods and the introduction alone. If they recommended publication, the authors would then send them the full paper.

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SOCIAL NETWORKS

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DO WE NEED A FACEBOOK OF THE LEFT?

Michael Albert, Ed Lewis | The New Left Project

Facebook and Twitter are profit seeking corporations whereas we seek a new way to conduct production and consumption. How believable are our claims of wanting fundamental innovations when we routinely plaster free logos and ads for these giant corporations all over our sites while subordinating our communications to their oversight? What sense does it make to proclaim that we think information is special, and then lend support to corporations that commodify and control it?

Facebook and Twitter sell audience to advertisers. They seek profit, not social change. If we can’t understand the harsh implications of those motivations for social networking sufficiently to want an alternative, why should average folks without political background want alternatives to banks, pharmaceutical companies, and corporate news?

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GRAPHIC DESIGN

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FILM COLLECTIVE I OWN YOUTH’S ENGAGING STORYBOARDS

Rob Alderson | It’s Nice That

Great ideas are all well and good, but the creative process relies in no small part on the ability to sell those ideas to others (Stefan Sagmeister always says his mentor Tibor Kalman was a master at this). I Own Youth is a four-person east London-based film collective who work between fashion, music and documentary and are well aware of the importance of this side of the equation.

They harness their creative backgrounds (design, typography and advertising) to excellent effect, producing great-looking printed storyboards “to immerse our clients and colleagues into the stories and ideas we wish to tell” and to “establish the feel and vibe of the film before shooting.”

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IOY_Proposal0523IOY_Proposal0594IOY_Proposal0270IOY_Proposal0279

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MUSIC

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DANIEL WOHLS: CORPS EXQUIS

Jayson Greene | Pitchfork | amazon

To listen to Corps Exquis, an album of compositions by the Paris-born composer Daniel Wohl, is to be mowed over by a tiny army’s worth of interesting sounds. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, if those noises represent the crackle of cell phone interference or the creaky floor of an old house: The opening piece, “Neighborhood”, churns together little bits of composer and performer Aaron Roche’s processed voice with furious scribbles of tremolo’d string, a waveform that Wohl snags with his software and distends, so that we no longer picture human arms generating the sound. There are an abundance of other noises here, too, all of them of hazy origin– some percussive clicks, some radiant, soft-edged keyboard arpeggios, a shimmer effect that resembles locusts or a lawn sprinkler. There is some groaning, burping electronic noise in the music’s low end that could be a groaning double bass or electronics. This zone of confusion, between the digital glitch and bow-on-string screech, is where Wohl lives, and Corps Exquis gets more interesting the more confused you get.

daniel wohl - corps exquis


JUANA MOLINA: SON

Mark Richardson | Pitchfork | june 2006 | amazon

The subtle prettiness of Juana Molina’s music tends to engender an undermining passivity in listeners. Our ears have been conditioned by bossa nova records to hear a reserved voice singing a South American language next to plucked nylon string guitars and think of dinner parties, mimosas on sunny mornings, or, if it’s something more serious, perhaps a pensive film montage. This sort of thing is background music, we’ve learned, mostly just by living near stereos during the age of the Cocktail Nation.

Her music may have slipped into the background, even for some fans, but Molina is onto something interesting. Her twin obsessions with the folk music spanning Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil and the shading possibilities of electronics have pushed her work into an unusual place. The guitar is central, but Molina uses the instrument as a line instead of a shape. Chord changes are deployed sparingly, allowing her songs to build horizontally, gradually adding and subtracting sounds to create an endless music that could theoretically go on forever. Here on her fourth full-length, Son, the former television star from Argentina sharpens the focus, going even deeper into relentless and hypnotic repetition.

son

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