Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Buddha, Lolita, Tunisia (Link Round-Up 11/26/13)

Buddha's birthdate pushed back after oldest-recorded shrine discovered in Nepal
The exact date of the Buddha's birth is disputed, with Nepalese authorities favoring 623 B.C., and other traditions favoring more recent dates, around 400 B.C.
How stories went viral in Antebellum America...loose copyright law
Cordell explained that larger newspapers had someone called the “exchanges editor” who combed through bundles of other newspapers as they arrived in the mail, and clipped interesting and relevant pieces as he found them. The clips were then organized by size, so if the newspaper had a little gap, the editor could go to the “four-inch” drawer and pop the other story right in. 
Though a literary scholar, Cordell worked with David Smith, a Northeastern computer scientist, “to look for patterns” and examine what kind of stories were going viral, at a time when doing so could take months or even years. It’s kind of comforting to hear that as much as the world changes, it’s pretty familiar. 
“In good internet fashion, there are a lot of lists that go viral,” Cordell said. “And there’s a lot of poetry. It was very common in 19th century newspapers. In some ways, I think, it’s like posting a song on YouTube, and there are lots of those.”
The science of "bitchiness" (aka "indirect aggression")
Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychology professor at the University of Ottawa, and a PhD student, Aanchal Sharma, then gauged the women’s reactions as the confederates, both sexy and not, left the room. The metric they used? A “bitchiness" scale, of course. 
“Why bitchiness?” I asked Vaillancourt, wondering why she chose to use such a loaded word. 
“Bitchiness is the term that people use,” she explained. “If I ask someone to describe what this is, they'd say it’s ‘bitchy.’”
Herodotus finds a translation worthy of his Homer-esque prose 
One crucial Herodotean stylistic feature is almost impossible to translate – the use of lonely, elevated polysyllabic words near the beginning or end of a sentence, anchoring the reader’s emotional reaction. But Holland ingeniously substitutes an arresting or unusual locution. He rarely forgets that Herodotus wrote in order to deliver live performances, rather than to be pored over in a library. Much of his translation is ripe for oral delivery.
Dorothy Parker and Vladmir Nabakov's curiously-timed Lolitas 
Dear Mr. Maxwell, 
I am dreadfully upset by the following coincidence. The Olympia Press (headquartered in Paris) are bringing out LOLITA, a novel of mine, on which I have worked for four years and which is scheduled to appear by September the 1st. Before I sold them the book, it had been seen by Viking, New Directions, Straus and Doubleday, and not only by their readers but also by the friends of their readers. There is a story entitled LOLITA in the last issue of The New Yorker by Dorothy Parker. 
Please do find out if the term “coincidence” I have used above needs some qualifications; and in any case would you consider my contributing a note in regard to both Lolitas to your Department of Corrections and Amplification? Or any other appeal, complaint, yelp or distress?
Tunisia’s embattled leaders face rising social discontent
He attributed the economic difficulties primarily to the political crisis, which has dragged on for months in the absence of any agreement between the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its secular opponents on the formation of a non-partisan transitional government. 
Saidane argues that the current 3.0 percent growth rate is insufficient to bring down unemployment significantly or to launch major development projects, two pressing issues for young Tunisians. 
Joblessness and regional inequality were driving factors behind the popular uprising that unseated former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, inspiring protests across the Middle East and North Africa that toppled leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. 
Meanwhile, the lack of functioning state institutions and a rise in attacks by Islamist militants continue to deter investors.
The myths (and precedents) behind the Beastie Boys/Goldieblox copyright dispute
In her decision, Judge Preska noted that the landmark 2 Live Crew case, settled by the Supreme Court only two years earlier, set a new precedent for deciding fair use cases. 
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that commercial use does not preclude a finding of fair use, so long as the work is "transformative" — does it add value to the original material and use it for a different purpose, such as criticism or parody? 
Delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court, Justice Souter wrote, "The goal of copyright, to promote science and the arts, is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works... The more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors, like commercialism, that may weigh against a finding of fair use." 
Later in the ruling, Justice Souter specifically addressed parodies in advertising. He wrote, "The use, for example, of a copyrighted work to advertise a product, even in a parody, will be entitled to less indulgence under the first factor of the fair use enquiry, than the sale of a parody for its own sake."
This also marks the second time in eight days that I have referenced the legacy of 2 Live Crew on the judicial system:
Party rap and blunt descriptions of women became a permanent part of popular music when, in 1992, Miami Bass group 2 Live Crew had an obscenity ruling that deemed their music illegal to sell overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit - in a defense based, in part, on the argument that the explicit language "reflect[s] exaggeration, parody, humor, even about delicate subjects." Music with filthy lyrics across all genres has since been free to sell and distribute across the United States. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Naked Oprahs as Dresses vs. Naked White Women as Scarves

[via Instagram via VICE]

Let's play compare and contrast:

1. Peggy Noland, the "white trash meets high class" fashion designer who makes logo mashup outfits and customized Miley Cyrus' Air Jordans (in that maybe-paid advertisement music video I wrote about last month), has been gaining buzz among the NYC/LA tastemaker contingent. 

But her and designer Sally Thurer's recent collection of dresses featuring recent Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Oprah's naked body [NSFW] has been decried as shock-value racism.
The dress is anything but “lighthearted.” She chose to use Oprah’s image — as the most powerful black woman in entertainment who’s waged a very public battle over her weight throughout her career— instead of, say, an actual designer, because it’s something that will create a spectacle.
In a curious local twist for Chicagoans, Noonan explained her inspiration in an interview with The Cut:
There's a David Nelson painting of the former mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. He's nude except for women's lingerie. It caused this huge uproar in the late eighties in Chicago. It's kind of an updated version of that. We feel very protective of our public figures. We don't want them to be exposed that way, but we feel like they're ours, too. The simpler, more lighthearted idea is that it's like one of those bikini-printed beach shirts. I think there are some really meaningful philosophical layers. I can’t believe I just said "philosophical" when talking about a dress. We share a humorous underpinning to all our work. That's why there's naked Oprah with a KISS face. It can nod to how ridiculous the fashion industry is at times.
2. NYC performance artist Nate Hill's latest project is wearing white women as scarves in a project called Trophy Scarves [NSFW].

The tagline is to-the-point:
I wear white women for status and power.
He also created White Power Milk - an online website selling milk that has been gargled by college-educated white girls.

In addition, his Soundcloud page makes supercuts of black references to white girls in rap.

Are they making clever, provocative critiques?

Or merely using nude female bodies and race-baiting for notoriety?


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Indian Toilets and The Beastie Boys (Link Round-Up 11/24/13)


I'll have plenty of pop culture and Chicago politics commentary in the near future, but for now, it's back to your regularly-scheduled geopolitical drama.

Beastie Boys attacked for citing copyright infringement over "Girls" engineering parody
While GoldieBlox was clearly using this for commercial purposes, plenty of commercial activity has been seen as fair use. Further, it seems likely that the viral success of the video almost certainly drove renewed attention (and therefore revenue) to the original Beastie Boys song. This should play into the fair use analysis, but unfortunately many courts focus solely on the "potential licensing revenue" that could have been earned, and ignore the positive impact on the original of a parody. Hopefully, a court will recognize that this is fair use but, again, fair use decisions are almost entirely arbitrary at times.
India and the politics of the toilet
It has become clear that in water-scarce and people-dense India, it's an impossible resource challenge to deliver the conventional flush toilet to more than 1 billion people and then treat the sewage water. The environmentalist Anil Agarwal coined the phrase "the political economy of defecation" to provoke policy makers to consider the many hidden costs and pro-rich biases of the current paradigm of flush toilets and sewage disposal. Agarwal's ideas were amplified by Sunita Narain in 2002, in an article in which she argues that what works in a Western context is "ecologically mindless" in an Indian one. After all, only 13 percent of piped sewage in India is currently treated
London Mayor to Scotland: don't leave
Then there is the basic question of what this independent state of Scotland is supposed to be, and how it is meant to relate to the rest of the world. We are talking about a secession from the Union of the United Kingdom, and many EU diplomats have now made it clear to Salmond that this is exactly the same as seceding from the EU. If the Scots wanted to remain in the EU (and they seem, for some reason, to think this is necessary) Scotland would have to seek an immediate accession – and the question is: who would conduct the negotiations?
Emperor Pedro II, Brazil’s first Arabist?
Emperor Pedro II fostered Arab immigration to Brazil and even visited Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, between 1871 - 1888. Due to his interest, even for learning the language, he translated the first 140 pages of the "Arabian Nights" straight from the original. After the Proclamation of the Republic, in 1889, and the emperor’s exile, in France, he donated his personal library to Brazil’s Historic and Geographic Institute.
 Secret US-Iran talks paved way for nuclear deal
Iran welcomed back its negotiators as heroes at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. Its currency, the rial, which has been pulverized by a grueling succession of economic sanctions, jumped more than 3%. “This is only a first step,” Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign affairs minister, said. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past.”

But there was silence from Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and dismal warnings from Israel that the deal would merely embolden its fiercest adversary. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,” said Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. David Cameron said the deal “demonstrates how persistent diplomacy and tough sanctions can together help us to advance our national interest”. In a tweet from Downing Street, he said: “Good progress on iran – nowhere near the end but a sign pressure works”.
 The case for ending foreign development aid
Actually it’s already scaling, on a national level. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia is a much-lauded direct-cash-transfer program which reaches an estimated 46 million. Earlier this year India launched a direct-transfer program tied to its Unique ID biometric identification scheme; hundreds of millions have already been registered. If these two famously fractious nations can implement direct cash transfers, then why can’t that extend to international aid?

In many places the tools are already in place. All you’d really need, technically, is a mobile banking network — Kenya’s M-Pesa is the most famous and most successful example, but there are a myriad of others around the world — combined with an international payment processor like Xoom or (soon enough, I expect) Stripe.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rahm Emanuel's French Connections

In Gapers Block, I explore four reasons by Rahm Emanuel won't ever publicly mock the French, despite a less-than-flattering travel advisory portrayal of Chicago on their Foreign Ministry website.

And as it turns out, the home of the original French Connection, Marseille, has been compared to Chicago in the international press for a variety of reasons:
Two weeks ago, before the spread of the French Ministry city warnings, a series of articles began describing the this year's European Capital of Culture as "the Chicago of France." 
To combat this image, the city--home of the infamous French Connection heroin smuggling scheme--is set to spend €3 Billion on improvements to "transportation infrastructure, urban renovation, education, security and jobs for underprivileged youth," along with 80 new cops on the streets to reduce crime and better integrate the comparatively poorer northern part of the city. 
Technically, Marseille's murder rate pales in comparison to Chicago's--the entirety of France had only 665 murders last year, while Chicago alone had 506. 
But in contrast to Rahm's gleeful escalation of the The Daily Show's tongue-in-cheek "Deep Dish vs. New York pizza" feud, no headline-grabbing "Chicago vs. Marseilles" story will do any favors for either city's reputation as a cultural hub or tourist destination.
We'll see how Marseille's current investment campaign fares in the coming years, and if it can serve as a model for other gang violence-plagued cities across the world.

Urban planners, start taking notes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Newsworthy Sing-Alongs (Link Round-Up 11/20/13)

[via BoingBoing]

The problem with media diet round-ups
Like a celebrity profile written by the celebrity himself, the media diet’s appeal is in part its illusion of intimacy, the fantasy of access to a private routine. As former Atlantic Wire senior writer Jen Doll, who compiled more than a dozen media diets over the course of her time at the Wire, put it: “If you were like, hey Brian Stelter, what do you do in the bedroom? he would never tell you, but if you are asking about how he interacts with media, you learn these really fascinating details that aren’t gross.” 
There’s also a back-pat aspect to the exercise, which makes an ideal forum for clubby industry shout-outs. “When Gladwell said that he reads The Awl, I was literally like: tee hee!” Sicha recalled. Emma Carmichael, editor of The Hairpin, used her media diet to take inventory of her influences: to name just a few, Hamilton Nolan, Tom Scocca, Caity Weaver, Maria Bustillos, Jim Behrle, Nitsuh Abebe, Jon Caramanica, Carrie Battan, Frannie Kelley, Molly Lambert, Charles Pierce, and Julianne Shephard. (“Names I was dropping,” Carmichael told me.)
The bewildering world of new media, as set to Lorde's "Royals"

RTA launching probe of Ventra problems
"Our main concern as the financial oversight body (of the transit agencies) is what impact (the Ventra problems) would have on finances this year," Costello said. The RTA expects full cooperation and all necessary information from the CTA, he said. 
In response, the CTA said Wednesday it found Gates' comments "surprising given the vast amount of information he and his staff have been provided by CTA over the last several months about Ventra's progress."
The only rap you'll ever hear about Ventra, the CTA, and Forrest Claypool

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ventra's RTA Origins and Rahm's Limited Role in the Problems

[via RedEye]

Earlier today, Gapers Block published a piece I wrote about how (and possibly why) the Regional Transportation Authority pushed the Ventra system onto Chicagoland.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA officials are claiming to hold Cubic accountable for Ventra errors, but not giving any specific answers as to how:
Neither Emanuel, Peterson nor Claypool answered a question Tuesday about whether Cubic will face financial penalties for the problems that have cropped up with the CTA card readers.
Personally, I think the entire RTA Board of Directors deserves questioning more than Rahm, as he doesn't have full oversight over the Ventra card distribution or any aspect of it beyond Chicago's borders.

But we'll see if the Ventra general public blame game ever spreads beyond Rahm and the CTA.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lily Allen, Juicy J, and the Atlanta Strip Club Hype Machine

At this point, it almost seems too late to comment on whether this new video for British pop singer Lily Allen...

...is a searing commentary on recent trends in pop music misogyny, or simply white feminist racism.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When Ventra Rains, It Pours

[via Ventra]

Since my Gapers Block piece went up Monday, the following has happened:

And today, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg quoted me in his summary of the whole farce:
“Unfortunately, Chicagoland is now only the latest in a long line of metropolitan customers dealing with problems sure to be familiar to Ventra’s legion of haters,” Jason Prechtel wrote in the Gaper’s Block website, in a detailed article on problems in Cubic cities from London to Brisbane to San Francisco. 
Were these rollouts bug-infested or just the standard problems that come with any new system? Hardly matters. It’s too late. Ventra has sailed past the still-a-few-kinks-in-the-system shakedown cruise into a special realm of PR debacle hell where each tiny trouble is waved about as Exhibit #246 in the epic Ventra Catastrophe of 2013.
He raised a question I asked myself, and he definitely gave the perfect answer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ventra, Cubic, and the Problems With Paying Transit Fare

My recent piece in Gapers Block explores how the parent company of the recently-installed, error-prone Ventra fare payment system for Chicago's public transit has faced similar problems across the globe.

Granted, I will concede that each transit system I analyzed has their own contributing bureaucratic and database hurdles beyond anything Cubic is directly responsible for.

At the same time, you only have to read so many stories about double-charging bank and fare cards to detect a pattern.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Holiday Blackface Happens in Europe, Too

[via Hip Hop Wired

For understandable reasons, recent pictures of Halloween costumes featuring white individuals in blackface have sparked widespread outrage.

The once-popular practice, however, isn't limited to the United States.

An Italian fashion industry party, Disco Africa (not be confused with the actual "Disco Africa") featured at least one prominent designer in a full-on, American minstrel show get-up, along with men with fake darkened skin wearing chains or "tribal" clothing.

The Netherlands have also seen a recent blackface fashion show controversy. But their particular version of the Christmas tradition has even more deep-seated racial implications:
EVERY year on December 5th and 6th, tens of thousands of Dutch people paint their faces black, don Renaissance-style jerkins and pantaloons, and assume the persona of Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete"). The comical character plays a vital part in the celebration of the feast day of St Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas, which overshadows Christmas as the most important children’s holiday. According to a custom standardised in the late 1800s, Sinterklaas arrives on a steamboat from Spain, accompanied by a team of his black-faced servants, who distribute presents and ginger biscuits to good children while threatening to scoop up naughty ones in a sack and carry them back to Spain to pick oranges.
Of course, not everyone there sees it as racism, or even sees it as a reasonable issue to openly discuss.
Many Dutch who have come out against Zwarte Piet have been hounded by the traditionalists. One group in the country’s north who had planned to paint themselves as multicoloured “rainbow-Piets” had to give up after receiving death threats. Anouk, the Dutch representative at this year’s Eurovision contest, was attacked with racial epithets for her opposition to the custom. When a Jamaican researcher for a UN cultural panel said she thought Zwarte Piet was racist, she was overwhelmed with racially offensive e-mails. Geert Wilders, the anti-immigrant populist whose Party for Freedom is currently on top of the Dutch polls, tweeted that he would rather eliminate the UN than Zwarte Piet. A pro-Piet protest in The Hague turned sour when a dark-skinned woman was surrounded by an angry mob and had to be rescued by police.
Perhaps the world can learn a thing or two from comedienne Ellen DeGeneres' Nicki Minaj costume - goofy, spot-on, and completely devoid of uncomfortable cartoonish racism via dark facepaint.

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