Monday, December 8, 2014

Gone Fishin'

As most of the post ideas I have are worth pitching to other outlets as articles, Culture Bore will be on indefinite hiatus.

You can find my most recent writing on Curbed Chicago and Gapers Block and follow me on Twitter @jasonprechtel.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coffee will A. save you B. kill you C. swindle you or D. none of the above

I drink more Keurig dark roast coffee at work than any self-styled environmentalist has any right to, so I couldn't help but notice the contrasting studies this week on the world's favorite bean drink:

Coffee May Protect the Liver
More than 14,000 of the subjects drank coffee. After controlling for age, sex, race, education, smoking, alcohol consumption and other factors, the researchers found that compared with people who drank no coffee, those who drank three cups a day were about 25 percent less likely to have abnormal liver enzyme levels. Among the more than 2,000 who drank only decaffeinated coffee, the results were similar.
Two cups of coffee a day can harm fertility
Men who drank two or more cups of strong coffee a day had just a one in five chance of becoming fathers through IVF. However, for those who drank less than a cup, the chance of having a child rose to nearly 52 per cent.

The researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, told a conference in Hawaii that caffeine may harm sperm at a molecular level. A shot of espresso contains around 100mg of caffeine. Those men who drank 265mg or more had the least chance of becoming fathers.

The study also showed that men who drink around a pint and a half of beer a night could improve their fertility.
Study on coffee, weight loss retracted
A 2012 study showing that green coffee bean extract helps dieters lose weight has been retracted, and a company selling the extract has paid a $3.5 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for touting the unproven research in its advertising.

The FTC said Applied Food Sciences issued a misleading news release about the study, which it had commissioned, and then sent out a second news release promoting its extract after the topic was highlighted on "The Dr. Oz Show."
Perhaps once we've had our morning cup with Swiss Hitler creamers, we can all settle down, grill up some food with our Coffee Charcoals, and sort things out from there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

From Doha to Dearborn: twin pillars of ISIS support

As Kobane falls and a Kurdish humanitarian crisis seems all but imminent, let's review two crucial chapters in the ISIS cause-and-effect story:

1. Doha, Qatar -- the Silicon Valley of Islamic militancy

2. Dearborn, United States -- home of the house-arrested preacher telling American kids to join ISIS

I'll let you peruse these two longreads and draw your own conclusions.

As much as I'd hate to dwell on ISIS on this blog, it's impossible not to watch a slow-motion trainwreck as it happens live across websites, Twitter, YouTube, and broadcast news.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Secret Service and ISIS: The White House has a problem with communication problems

The head of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, resigned today over yet another revelation of a security fumble...adding to its long list of lapses in judgement.

Speaking of security, U.S. airstrikes are reportedly happening despite intelligence gaps -- which makes the Iraqi army plane accidentally dropping off food and ammunition to ISIS forces all the more fitting.

Not to mention the failed online counter-propaganda efforts rooted in inter-agency squabbling and the failure to fully understand how much Turkey will actually help out against ISIS in favor of letting them decimate separatist Kurds.

At least President Obama finally admitted to underestimating ISIS,  Now we just need him to admit to overestimating the competence of his confidants.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

K-Pop + DramaFever = South Korean political soft power. No, really.


The unavoidable popularity of PSY's "Gangnam Style" two years ago probably tipped you off to the world of South Korean pop music (if you weren't aware already).

But now K-Pop is making Turkey?
It is largely a product of the “Hallyu” (Korean Wave), an expression first coined by Chinese journalists to describe the massive increase in popularity of South Korean cultural products over the past 10 years. Fueled by a strategic effort by the South Korean government to fend off the encroachment of Japanese culture and bolster the South Korean economy, the nation’s pop music and soap operas (K-pop and K-drama) have found a particularly ardent fan base in Turkey, where veritable communities have arisen in the form of K-drama fan clubs, K-pop music groups, and websites like

The Hallyu arrived in Turkey when TRT, a government-owned TV station, began running episodes of “A Jewel in the Palace,” a wildly popular Korean soap opera set in the 15th century, about a kitchen cook who becomes the king’s first female doctor. Like many of its kind, the drama explores themes of class mobility and forbidden love. Heartbreak and romantic reconciliation are usually major plot points of all K-dramas.

These themes also pervade the lyrics of K-pop music, which taps into the mercurial passions of adolescence to maximum effect, with universal narratives about love, relationships, and belonging. In the K-drama and K-pop universe, princes commonly fall in love with paupers.
Korean dramas have also surged in popularity in the United States -- with viewers in the millions and Hollywood remakes in the works -- thanks to Hulu, DramaFever, and other streaming services.

Turns out Korean officials have taken notice.
That K-dramas have bolstered South Korea's cultural capital is quite established. In May 2013, Park was invited to Los Angeles to participate in the Leaders' Meeting for Creative Economy. The meeting brought together South Korean government and entrepreneurs to discuss Korea's economic growth on the world stage. Park was there to discuss how DramaFever and similar initiatives were helping to bolster South Korea's global influence. "We've always believed," he said in a press release, "that through the distribution of Korean content we are increasing Korea's country brand and promoting its culture and global initiatives."

In political terminology, what Park is talking about is called soft power — a term coined by Joseph Nye to refer to "the ability to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion." Unlike hard power, writes Nye, South Korea's soft power "is not prisoner to … geographical limitations," meaning its cultural influence can easily exceed its borders, so long as a global demand for its products exists. And as DramaFever's numbers show, this demand is already there.
South Korea, lest we forget, is surrounded by pop cultural (and military) juggernauts China and Japan.

The former mass produces nearly everything. The latter has sparked global imaginations for decades with anime/manga, video games, and the dumbest possible interpretation of "ninja".

Then again, even China is investing in the next wave of Hallyu.
Some experts are tipping the start of the next wave of Hallyu, this time driven by China. According to CLSA, China's Tencent's decision in March to invest half a billion dollars in CJ Games, a unit of Korean media firm CJ E&M, is a big deal for the firm and a ringing endorsement for K-culture.

The investment gives China's largest online-games and social-networking company a 28 percent stake in CJ Games, one the most successful game developers in Korea.

"Hallyu will continue to gain momentum and CJ E&M is at the forefront of this wave," Seungjoo Ro, an analyst at CLSA, said in a report this week. "Demand is high in China and will unlock much awaited earnings expansion for CJ's media and films."
But despite having trend-setting global pop culture in their clutches, not everything coming out of the Gangnam district is chaste, teen-friendly fare.

Infamous boy/girl group talent sweatshop, SM Town, just threw a curveball with a mysterious new artist named Hitchhiker -- and a bizarre video that screams "Vaporwave" more than K-Pop:

And not a moment too soon -- some Korean officials are already worried Hallyu is getting too stale.
New Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok said Wednesday that hallyu was bound to lose its appeal unless it moves on from its current cookie-cutter style and content.

“Hallyu is now driven mostly by (the popularity of a small bunch of) entertainers (the so-called hallyu stars,)” he told a group of reporters in Seoul on Wednesday. But that’s not a sustainable strategy.

Speaking at his first press conference since taking office on Aug. 21, the minister stressed the need for genuine cultural exchange and cultural diversity if hallyu is to reach another level and develop into a source of “soft power” for Korea.
So maybe there's hope for Seoul-loving weirdos everywhere.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

is now tweeting @jasonprechtel - follow me!

In an effort to separate Culture Bore posts from my constant stream of news retweets on @culturebore, I've created @jasonprechtel.

No, that does not mean this blog is dead -- just means there are bolder plans for the future.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Turkish ISIS and tastemakers (link round-up 9/21/14)

"Despite its ubiquity in popular discussions, however, acting white theory has come under sustained criticism from education scholars."

"The U.N. refugee agency said earlier that about 70,000 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in the past 24 hours, and that it was preparing for the arrival of hundreds of thousands more."

“There are clearly recruitment centers being set up in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, but the government doesn’t seem to care.”

"Personal attacks conveyed through email and Twitter aimed at the correspondent, Ceylan Yeginsu, have intensified in Turkey since the publication of her article on Tuesday about the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts."

"With Uber valued at $18 billion, Airbnb valued at $10 billion, and new imitators popping up daily, Silicon Valley is clearly infatuated with the middleman model."

"The scientists said they don’t know when the North Eurasians moved into the rest of Europe, or understand why they mated with the people they encountered as frequently as they did."

"For those of us who are frantic in our daily lives, incorruptible human cultural curators of eclectic taste mean the world to us."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pabst Blue Russians, Oakland street Buddhas, and Ivy League idiocy (link round-up 9/19/14)


"Just as troublingly, why are elite universities, of all institutions, perpetuating the destructive stereotype that smart people are one-dimensional dweebs?"

"The Buddha has withstood two attempts to remove him from his watch, one criminal and one governmental. Neither has worked."

"From Ireland to Turkey, nearly every country in Europe has at least one red dot on a map visualizing threats to journalists."

"So New York is implying that the Chinese Americans in Brooklyn either do not count, do not exist, or aren’t really in Brooklyn."

 "At the Smorgasburg food fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mikheil Saakashvili motored in fluorescent green sneakers among bearded men with tattoos and women in revealing overalls."

"A Russian company has purchased Pabst Blue Ribbon, an iconic brew that’s been in production in the U.S. since 1844."

 "...they're consistent with the pre-election polls, which found consistently higher levels of support for independence among lower-income Scots."

 "Culturally, Khartoum is monolithically Arab and Muslim, with a watered-down version of a Sudanese urban identity."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chimps, anti-depressants, and Alt-Bros (link round-up 9/18/14)


"New research from an international coalition of ape researchers suggests that killing among chimpanzees results from normal competition, not human interference."

"The world population may balloon to anywhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by 2100, according to a new report that used statistics from the United Nations. The new estimates far outstrip previous calculations of 7.2 billion."

"'It really does look like the indigenous West European hunter gatherers had this striking combination of dark skin and blue eyes that doesn't exist any more.'"

"A single dose of a popular class of psychiatric drug used to treat depression can alter the brain’s architecture within hours, even though most patients usually don’t report improvement for weeks, a new study suggests."

"Uniqueness is as much a mechanism of control as an apparent expression of our distinctiveness. No wonder it’s been automated."

"The Alt-Bro listens to Ethiopian jazz.
The Alt-Bro wants to astral-project.
The Alt-Bro who reads this will think he’s an exception."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The links between Islamic State and Chicago (so far)


For a group based in Syria and Iraq, ISIS/Islamic State has been popping up the local media lately...

ISIS recruitment tool features Chicago Skyline
The producer of ISIS videos also distributes a magazine named Azan, a call to jihad. It is similar to an al Qaeda magazine published in the years after 9/11.

As the I-Team was working through pages of Azan's latest summer issue, we found a photo of the Chicago skyline, looking west across Michigan Avenue and the South Loop.

It sets up an article about judgment day: "Muslims under attack... and stated that attacking us interests has worked and needs to continue for the foreseeable future... a ruling to kill the Americans and their allies-civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country... a man with a rocket propelled grenade, fulfilling the duty of jihad and responding to the call of the lord."
The issue of Azan with the skyline picture in question
The world we live in is quite a uni-polar world with America at the axis, and with Europe and the majority of the states of the world content to be under its flag. They may have their differences of opinion here and there, but all of them are united in their enmity against “terrorism” and the absolute rejection of Islam as the absolute truth and a political power.
Man With ISIS Flag Threatens Chicago Cop With Bomb: Police
A man with the flag of Iraqi militant group ISIS waving from his car threatening to bomb police when he was pulled over on Chicago's Southwest Side on Wednesday morning, police say.

Emad Karakrah, 49, faces felony charges of disorderly conduct and aggravated fleeing, and a misdemeanor count of driving on a never-issued
Chicago Native Killed Fighting For ISIS
Family members and friends in Chicago told NBC 5 that they had no idea McCain had joined the ranks of ISIS and gone to Syria to fight. 
McCain moved to Minneapolis with his family for high school and had most recently been living in San Diego, California. 
His family said he loved music and wanted to be a rapper, and several years ago changed his name and converted from Christianity to Islam.
‘We are in your streets’: Chicago gets chilling Islamic State terror tweet
The location of the tweet was 307 N. Michigan Avenue at the city’s Old Republic Building, Chicago’s WGN network reported Friday. The tweet, dated June 20, allegedly says, “Soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria will pass from here soon,” the station reported.
Further coverage:
Slain journalist James Foley studied his craft in the Chicago area, earning a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. For a time he was a teacher in the Cook County Jail boot camp program. He was familiar with the streets of Chicago. So, apparently, is the Islamic State that beheaded him.
"Many terror organizations refer to Chicago as Obama Town," according to CBS Chicago security expert Ross Rice, a former FBI agent assigned to the Windy City. Islamists remember that Osama bin Laden was killed on Obama's watch as drone strikes disrupted and decapitated their terrorist networks, he notes.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Islamists take airports in Syria, Libya

In spite of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and calls for Assad to turn his attention away from fighting the Syrian moderate opposition, Islamic State forces took over a Syrian military airport.

Meanwhile, Libyan Islamist militias have taken over the Tripoli airport amid the country's own internal power vacuum chaos.

The separatist shuffle hits Europe and China

While Islamic State and Eastern Ukraine have dominated the news cycle, Fortune points out the parts of Europe on the verge of secession.
Many in Europe fear that Scotland’s independence fervor could ripple across the continent, where a number of separatist campaigns have simmered for years. The hotspots range from the mountainous Basque region at the border of Spain and France to the Mediterranean island of Corsica to the lowlands of Belgium, where many in the Flemish majority want to say tot ziens to their French-speaking countrymen. Some of these movements have a history of violence; several more seem merely rhetorical—and, well, quixotic (independent Venice?).
Separatism, as it turns out, is a crime in China -- particularly if you're a Uiguhr scholar.
Although the Chinese Constitution provides the nation’s 10 million Uighurs with a large degree of autonomy, the vast Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, as it is called, is tightly controlled by ethnic Han officials who are appointed by the central government in Beijing. Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people, have grown increasingly unhappy with policies that they say restrict religious practices while favoring Mandarin over the Uighur language in schools and government jobs.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Iraq, Turkey, and Thailand: fighting parallel states with new prime ministers

As the world waits to see if new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi can keep his country together, other newly elected PMs will soon flex their muscles for domestic control.

Thailand's army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, has been voted into the position, just three months after he led a coup.
Political analysts say the army is now likely to devise a more-limited form of democracy before allowing elections, which Gen. Prayuth has slated for the end of 2015. In this sense, this latest coup differs from the 2006 putsch, when the army quickly handed power back to a civilian administration. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a professor at Japan's Kyoto University and a critic of the May coup, argues that the army's goal now is "to ensure that Thaksin's proxies will not be returning to politics again."
Meanwhile, Turkish president-elect (and former PM) Tayyip Erdogan has nominated Foreign Minister (and fellow AKP member) Ahmet Davutoglu to take his place:
Erdogan vowed to back Davutoglu in fighting the "parallel state" he blames for plotting against him with a corruption scandal earlier this year, and in advancing a peace process with the country's Kurdish minority.
Incidentally, former Irish PM Albert Reynolds has passed away.
The high point of his political career came in 1993 when, as prime minister, he signed the Downing Street Declaration in London with his British counterpart, John Major, paving the way for an Irish Republican Army cease-fire the next year and a Loyalist cease-fire shortly afterward.

To those who considered the obstacles insurmountable after centuries of fighting, Mr. Reynolds said, “I don’t mind if others think I’ll fail, when I believe the greatest prize of all, peace, is still achievable.”
Perhaps Al-Abadi could learn a thing or two.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Go watch this #ferguson live feed right now

Via Vice News and YouTube:

The blue-green toxic algae blues


Since the recent toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie...

Local politicians have called for action:
What ended up on Governor Kasich's desk was a bill that represented input from all interested parties, from boat owners to the Ohio Environmental Council, from the aforementioned departments to the Ohio Farm Bureau. The educational initiatives and requirements in S.B. 150 will go a long way toward making our agricultural community even more knowledgeable about best practices in the use of fertilizer.

Also this year, a $10 million program called the Healthy Lake Erie Initiative provides, for the first time ever, state funds through the capital budget to support initiatives that will improve the environmental and economic health of the Lake Erie region. Working with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Ohio Environmental Council, this new capital fund is viewed as part of a series of long-term strategies to help clean up the lake.
Politicians representing other Great Lakes cities have called for action:
State officials said they know of no immediate drinking water threats from algae anywhere in Kentucky. And officials with the Louisville Water Co. — which provides water to about 850,000 people in Louisville and parts of Bullitt, Nelson, Oldham, Shelby and Spencer counties — said they do not have any issues with toxic algae.

But state officials said they want all Kentucky drinking water providers to be ready to handle algae problems, and that is why they are taking a closer look at Kentucky's drinking water systems.
...including our very own Rahm:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday called on Great Lakes mayors to come together for a summit, likely in the fall, to develop a strategy to clean up the Great Lakes in the wake of the Toledo water crisis. “Access to clean drinking water is something that all residents expect when they turn on the tap,” said Emanuel. “By convening the leaders of the municipalities that depend on this fresh water supply, we can most effectively discuss the strategies necessary to protect this vital water source for years to come.”
Toledo-area factory farms face regulation over runoff:
The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.
The Land of Lakes has entered algae season:
"A lot of the lakes are turning green this year where they didn't last year," said Gerry Maciej, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District manager.

In June, a dog's death after swimming in Prairie Lake near Clear Lake prompted warnings about blue-green algae.
...along with their neighbors to the north:
Blue-green algae has been reported in Lake Winnipeg and Dauphin Lake in Manitoba, prompting advisories from conservation authorities.

Officials say the algae levels are above the recreational water quality guideline but the toxins are below them.

According to health experts, ingesting water containing blue-green algae can be fatal to some animals and can cause serious illness in humans.
Scientists even discovered how algae caused mass extinction 252 million years ago:
In the atmosphere, the volcanic gases mixed with water to form acid rain, which decimated forests and left the soil with no roots to keep it in place. Intensified weathering then washed this soil, along with extra nutrients, into the ocean. The additional nutrients in the water encouraged the growth of algae, which increased the amount of organic matter that sank into the ocean depths. The decay process of this organic matter consumed oxygen, and depleted the oxygen faster than it could be replenished.
Yet would-be entrepreneurs are plowing ahead with algae biofuel dreams:
Although algae grow prodigiously and contain potentially useful molecules — especially lipids, which can be turned into high-energy fuel and other products — extracting those molecules has proved complicated and expensive. So far, virtually the only marketable products based on algae have been high-end skin creams.

But a Nevada company, Algae Systems, has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.

If it works, the company says, the process will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than is added when the fuel is burned.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why didn't Chicago make the Forbes 2014 "America's Coolest Cities" rankings? Segregation, population loss, and a flawed model.


Last week, Forbes released its 2014 list of the "Coolest Cities" in the United States.

Washington D.C. came out on top. L.A. tied with San Jose. Chicago came up short.


Some accused Forbes of clickbait trolling. But that explanation is too easy.

If you look closer, Forbes spelled out the statistical criteria they were using based on data provided by three of the savviest cultural tastemakers around: Sperling's BestPlaces, Moody's Analytics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So let's break this "hip urban center" formula down in their own words:
We considered entertainment and recreational amenities as well as each city's "foodie" culture.
I'm not gonna delve into the Yelp database to add up total numbers of entertainment hotspots for 20+ cities.

Forbes' "foodie" culture ranking, on the other hand, is easier to analyze:
With the help of Sperling’s we also included a “foodie” factor, based on the number of restaurants and bars per capita. We gave preference to cities with a greater percentage of local spots–chain establishments like TGI Fridays tend to be less exciting than home-grown bistros. The “foodie” measure also factors in the number of farmer’s markets, breweries and CSAs per capita.
The problem here is that Forbes is ranking based on percentage rather than total number.

For example, X number of craft breweries in a city population greater than 2.7 million (like Chicago) has a smaller skew than X number in a city less than 1 million (like the majority of the Forbes Top 20).

It's not like there's a dearth of local restaurants, farmer's markets, breweries, and CSAs in Chicago. Plus, by these criteria alone, Portland should have been number one (let alone in the top 20 to begin with).

But this isn't the only place where favoring percentage over total population skews the data:
And we factored in age, drawing on U.S. Census Bureau data and favoring places with a large population of people aged 20-34.
There are two flawed assumptions with this statistic:

1. That the population percentage matters more than the total population of that age group. Though the Forbes data is from 2014, as of 2009, the majority of the cities listed were under 1 million people:


2. That the 20-34 age bracket within each city is both monolithic and interchangeable across other cities.

What this "millennial" factor doesn't account for is racial/ethnic identity, primary language spoken at home, income level, education level, occupation, or marital status. These all shape someone's likely consumer habits, as the specific interests of the "average" San Francisco 28-year-old aren't going to be the same as the "average" San Antonio 28-year-old.

This "specific interests" factor matters because much of what's "cool" is in the details, particularly when it comes to the ones Forbes is measuring, such as the comparatively-expensive "foodie" food and "craft" alcohol. Hell, theater and art ain't cheap, either.

Not all young people are on board with these trends (certainly not in Chicago). Thus, ranking percentage/concentration of young people and presuming that it fully correlates with a percentage concentration of a city's measurable cultural amenities gives a different picture of "cool" than measuring some sort of range of "cool vs. not cool" consumer habits among a city's total population of young people.

(nevermind if that's even possible)

Forbes' failure to account for demographic divides within the 20-34 age bracket is curious given another major factor in their "cool" scale.
Using Sperling's Diversity Index, which measures the likelihood of meeting someone of a different race or ethnicity, favoring cities with greater diversity.
This is an interesting variable choice. Forbes' explanation?
We think cities with a cultural mix are more interesting in terms of restaurants, shops, and events–as well as simply providing the opportunity to get to know someone whose perspectives may diverge from your own.
While I personally agree, the history of cultural cool is a bit more complicated than that.

The very notion of "cool" or "hip" as argued in John Leland's Hip: The History can more or less be summed up by this decade-old New York Times review as: outgrowth of the process whereby Europeans and Africans built a new country side by side, inventing identities as Americans "in each other's orbit." That they did so as social unequals is what made things interesting -- blacks developed their own insular customs and code-speak, which were appropriated, if not totally understood, by curious whites, whose own customs were copied by aspirational blacks, whose artistic flowering during the Harlem Renaissance enthralled white bohemians, and so on and so forth, creating a "feedback loop of hip" (Leland's words) that has engendered all manner of mutant hipster poses, from Dizzy Gillespie's French-existentialist specs-and-beret get-up to Lou Reed's quasi-ironic proclamation ''I wanna be black."
Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in America, and countless books and articles can attest to the city's longstanding commitment to ethnic and racial segregation. So by Forbes' measurement here, Chicago's missing presence in the Top 20 totally makes sense.

Paradoxically, Chicago's segregation played a crucial role in a number of culturally-recognized benchmarks of "cool" ranging from the Blues to modern comedy.

The most recent examples of this may be the rise in popularity over the last few years in Drill and Footwork. Both subgenres incubated in predominately black Chicago neighborhoods, and eventually, names like Chief Keef and DJ Rashad (RIP) spread to international recognition...with a little help from predominately white music writers and music nerds, of course.

But there's one more Forbes variable to take into account that drives the nail into Chicago's "cool" coffin:
Finally, with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Moody’s Analytics, we ranked the cities based on population growth since 2000, as well as on how much of their recent growth was due to net migration, since cities with greater influxes of new people tend to be more desirable.
As Chicago lost 6.9% of its population between 2000 and 2010 (the lowest since 1910), and the greater Cook County lost 13,000 residents making six-figure salaries, its easy to see why the city's ranking would've plummeted here.

So now that we've broken down the basics of the Forbes model, does it mean anything? No and yes.

To a certain extent, what Forbes really measured with their "coolest" American city criteria are economically-thriving cities that have the highest concentration of novel experiences to consume.

Chicago may be in rough financial shape as a whole (and definitely in large swaths). But in terms of artistic expression, it probably has the 3rd greatest number of things to see and do on any given night in America compared to New York and L.A., and that output is far cheaper to access here than those cities.

Broadly speaking, calling something "cool" more or less operates on a "know it when you see it" working definition, even when trying to disambiguate the meaning beyond temperature (even Forbes acknowledges this).

I'm sure the "what is cool?" debate will continue for decades to come, regardless of what I have to say about it.

But if there's one thing we can all agree on, Moody's Analytics will never be cool.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What do Reagan, True Detective, and Ashton Kutcher have in common? Plagiarism controversies.


The eternal debate over prose authorship and proper attribution is all over the news:
  • Author Rick Perlstein has been sued for alleged plagiarization in his new Reagan bio.
(He heavily-referenced my Ventra article in The Nation last December to the point where I'm not sure he could/would have written that particular post without my prior compilation of most of the examples he used)
  • Montana Senator John Walsh has dropped out of his election race for plagiarizing his Army War College masters degree final paper.
  • Students using the Roget's Thesaurus app to change synonyms in plagiarized papers yield amusing results like "sinister buttocks" in place of "left behind".
  • True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto has denied allegations that he stole lines of the show's iconic dialogue from author Thomas Ligotti.
  • Buzzfeed defended (then fired) political editor Benny Johnson after 41 documented instances of plagiarism.
  • Ashton Kutcher's viral content website, A+, in turn, has been caught plagiarizing content from Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, among others.
(fittingly, Huffington Post once lifted part of one of my articles)
Look, content creation is at a salary race-to-the-bottom and sparking uncomfortable questions of what it ought to be worth.

Which is why any and every allegation of stealing from other writers is worth a listen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 articles that explain 45 maps that explain the "Middle East"


Earlier this week, I toyed around with making a Google Maps display of the recent events across Iraq.

Good thing I didn't, because the smart parts of internet are tossing them around like Frisbees. 

First up, there's Vox
The conflict has roots in Iraq's complicated history, its religious and ethnic divisions, and of course in the Iraq War that began with the 2003 US-led invasion. These 27 maps are a rough guide to today's crisis and the deeper forces behind it.
Then there's The Atlantic's wry take on "explainer" articles, complete with plenty of yesteryear "what-if" scenarios. 
But for all these maps don’t show, they do illustrate one thing: the sobering fact that no one map—or even set of maps—can ever explain the region’s complex history and politics.
Finally, the incomparable GeoCurrents -- who has been writing about the Yedizis long before the ISIS genocide crisis -- weighs in:
Abandoning the idea of the intrinsic unity of a country such as Iraq or Somalia by acknowledging instead the reality of Iraqi Kurdistan or Somaliland, such reasoning has it, would potentially destabilize the global world order. It would do so by encouraging other disgruntled ethnic, religious, or regional groups to seek their own independence, thus fostering secession, rebellion, and warfare. This argument, however, fails from the onset by assuming a degree of international stability that simply does not exist. [emphasis mine]
Real or imagined, all maps tell stories rooted in what is, what was, and what could've been.

Where the Middle East goes from here is anyone's guess...or their stroke of a pen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ari-palooza: how much is Rahm's brother making off Lolla?

[via WBEZ]

The link between Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel's brother, Ari, and Lollapalooza --- as well as their insider sweetheart deals with the city --- have been well-documented in the past.

But to my knowledge, no one has asked how much the infamous entertainment mogul actually rakes from the festival, now having passed its 10th anniversary in its Chicago incarnation.

As the co-CEO of of William Morris Endeavor, Ari's agency had at least 25 clients (by my count) on the 133-act Lollapalooza bill this year:

Calvin Harris
Iggy Azalea
Foster the People
Sebastian Ingrosso
Broken Bells
Fitz and the Tantrums
J. Roddy Walston & The Business
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
The Airborne Toxic Event
The Temper Trap
Royal Blood
Meg Myers
Bebe Rexha
Jon Batiste and Stay Human
Fly Golden Eagle
Crass Mamoth
Parquet Courts
(and there are probably more)

WME also co-operates the festival each year with C3 Presents, which sounds ripe for a conflict of interest in-of-itself, given that WME artists at Lollapalooza are effectively signing performance contracts with a WME festival brand.

But to even buy a ticket, concertgoers likely had to go through Ticketmaster/Live Nation, which Ari also sits on the board of.

So he's getting a cut from the Ticketmaster/Live Nation concert revenue itself, part of the WME percentages from each of his clients (who are getting probably paid anywhere from four to seven figures, depending on size of the act), plus a cut of whatever revenue gets generated from selling official Lolla merch and from the festival's various vendors.

Oh, and don't forget the prominent official promotion of Uber rides to and from Grant Park - which just so happened to co-sponsor the festival (and WME just so happened to invest in).

WME even represents several entertainment publications, such as PitchforkVice, and The Onion, that have posted a barrage of pre- and post-Lollapalooza content. This sort of mass coverage ensures its sustained cultural relevance to key target demographics of music fans for years to come, without any disclosure from these outlets that their business partner has a financial stake in how Lollapalooza is portrayed.

(to be fair, these outlets have been covering the less-than-flattering allegations that Lolla security assaulted Blood Orange mastermind Dev Hynes and his girlfriend).

In addition, Ari also sits on the board of investment bank Raine, which invests in Vice Media (one consequence of which I have written about here and here).

Worth noting from the Raine front page under the "Media & Entertainment" bullet point:
Live entertainment remains a valuable monetization engine and the sector has traditionally done little to monetize its online and social networking capabilities. These trends present significant opportunities for our firm.
So guess who bought an ad agency last year?
The tie-up with WME opens up to Droga5 an impressive network – global event promotion powerhouse Live Nation (Emanuel serves on Live Nation’s board of directors), venture capital firm Silver Lake (who via their investment in WME are now investors in Droga5), social media company theAudience, Vice Media (WME is involved via its Raine investment fund) and a huge pool of A-list talent – including the likes of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Adele, Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino. Not a bad list of people to have in your contacts file.
And guess who's expanding their festival portfolio?
Much of WME’s activity will be with Premier Global Production under the well-established Country Thunder brand, with Country Thunder events in Florence, Ariz., Twin Lakes, Wis., along with Texas Thunder in Midland, Texas, and the Craven (Sask.) Country Jamboree. WME is also partnering in the Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville, Ore., and the Cape Blanco Country Music Festival in Sixes, Ore., both sponsored by Bi-Mart.

“WME is looking for great opportunities to expand into other businesses, and forming a strategic alliance with festivals is a good business practice we want to continue to do,” Rob Beckham, co-head of WME’s Nashville office, tells Beckham declined to discuss financial details, but it is believed that WME has invested financially in the PGP brands, and purchased the Oregon festivals outright.
Not bad for the son of a former Chicago rock club owner.

But not exactly good for current Chicago club owners:
A part of every band's contract that reportedly bars festival performers from playing within 300 miles of Chicago for six months before the festival and three months after it. For the geographically disinclined, that's an area that stretches as far as Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Iowa City and Indianapolis. It's a clause that gives them a near-dictatorial control over music in America's midwest.
So will this vertically-integrated gravy train even last in coming years?
According to Billboard estimates, gross ticket revenue for festivals in the United States increased nearly 50 percent over the last five years. The reason: more festivals launched in the U.S. over the past five years than over the last 30 , crowding the market with competition for the ever-shrinking pool of marquee-name headliners. So promoters are being forced to come up with new ways to drive sales, or to create a unique identity, which may not necessarily rely on just the music.
With Lollapalooza's expansion into Europe, South America, and possibly Canada and Israel, the snowballing festival juggernaut is poised to take a hefty chunk of the market...and make a hefty chunk of change for the real-life Ari Gold.

At this point, he might as well just pick up a MacBook and pay himself to press play.

Friday, August 1, 2014

I was walking down the street one day...

In light of recent events, this debut album seems like an appropriate soundtrack to the weekend.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My response to the CTA's response to my Ventra lawsuit

In response to my suit, CTA is claiming that they produced "most" of what I asked for.  
Here's the thing: Illinois FOIA law doesn't say I'm only entitled to "most" of these records.

What CTA gave me was the instructions for Step 2 of the RFP process, the contract signed between the CTA and Cubic, along with some peripheral contract documents.  

What they didn't provide---the bids they didn't select and contracts and invoices for the CTA's advisers on the deal---should matter a lot to anyone who thinks it's important to look closely at deals like this.  

CTA basically wants us to take their word for it that they got a good deal, without disclosing any real info about how the bidding process went down.

I don't know how we can be expected to do that in light of the Redflex bribery scandals, the patronage culture in the City and the state, and all the other problems with City contracting.

Coupled with the fact that the parking meter deal's lead advisor --- William Blair --- also played the lead advisory role on the bidding process that gave us Ventra, there is more than enough reason to question whether the CTA ultimately made a competent decision, and we can't do that without the records.

...especially now that Pace and Metra are stuck with Ventra, too.

P3 deals all over the world (link round-up 7/31/14)

Yesterday, I filed a lawsuit concerning a P3 deal in Chicago.

Since this is usually a blog about comparative global trends, here's what's happening all over:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I'm suing the CTA over the Ventra bid

Earlier today, I filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Transit Authority over records concerning the bidding and evaluation process that led to Ventra.

You can read about it here and here.

I will have a lot more to say in the coming days and weeks about this. In the meantime, you can check out my previous work about Ventra over at Gapers Block.

Obama touts P3 deals, but have Ventra and the parking meter deal worked out for Chicago?

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced the Build America Investment Initiative, an executive action designed to make it easier for state and local governments to enter in Public-Private Partnerships (PPP or P3). Supposedly, it would also help bypass the need for federal funds blocked by perpetual conservative opposition to raising taxes.

This should come as no surprise. Two years ago, I wrote about the Democratic and Republican Party's advocacy of P3 deals on a national level and Congressional attempts to create an national infrastructure bank.

I have also written about recent P3 deals in Chicago before, most notably with the Chicago Transit Authority and some of the dubious circumstances leading to the recent Ventra fare payment system.

Ventra comes in the wake of the equally-unpopular leasing of the Chicago Parking Meter system to Morgan Stanley in 2009, and 2006 leasing of the downtown Chicago parking garages.

All three deals were brokered by Chicago-based private equity firm William Blair, which has touted them as successful P3 case studies.

If Obama really wants a new wave of P3s to save America's future, he should take note of the major recent pitfalls in his own home city of Chicago.

But since the last two mayors have been Rahm Emanuel and Richard Daley, don't expect him to even mention the Chicago-style P3s any time soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Antonioni vs. the video editing algorithms

Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni was famous for his long, contemplative framing shots. he probably would have hated this new algorithm.
Called LiveLight, this method constantly evaluates action in the video, looking for visual novelty and ignoring repetitive or eventless sequences, to create a summary that enables a viewer to get the gist of what happened. What it produces is a miniature video trailer. Although not yet comparable to a professionally edited video, it can help people quickly review a long video of an event, a security camera feed, or video from a police cruiser's windshield camera.
Much like the Hemingway app for writers, LiveLight trumps the human output in favor of pre-conceived elegance - which could be fundamentally offensive on an artistic level.

Then again, this would have made L'Avventura a lot easier to sit through.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Forget Jill Abramson for a New York Times contributor just died in CAR

Not to discount the seriousness of the Abramson controversy, but across the world (away from the plush confines of the NYC media sphere) a young French photojournalist, Camille Lepage, was found dead in the Central African Republic:
Lepage's work had appeared in The New York Times as well as in The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. She also had sold images to French newspapers including Le Monde and Liberation.

Her death comes as the security situation worsens for reporters and photographers in the volatile country; two Central African journalists already have been killed this month in Bangui, the capital.

Lepage's body was found by French peacekeepers inside a vehicle driven by Christian militia fighters, the French statement said. In her last tweet a week ago, Lepage said she was embedding with Christian anti-Balaka fighters who were battling the remnants of a Muslim rebellion known as the Seleka.
I won't upload her photos because you should check them out yourself.

It's just a shame this won't get a fraction of the attention in the English-language press as the high drama of newsroom politics.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Study: Marijuana is bad for brains, worse for droughts

recent study claims that casual marijuana use between ages 18-25 causes "significant structural changes in key regions of the brain affecting emotion and decision-making." 

Meanwhile, an upcoming study shows its negative environmental impact around California pot farms.

Did I just spark another Ventra Vancouver?

I couldn't help but notice the number of news stories about the class action lawsuits against Ventra that popped up over the weekend.

Funny thing is, they were all in Vancouver outlets.

Compass Card operator faces three U.S. lawsuits - 24 Hours Vancouver
Madill said Compass also wouldn’t allow touchless credit and debit cards when first rolled out. According to Cubic’s 2011 press release announcing the contract, the system is supposed to have that capability.

But he said comparing Ventra and Compass is like comparing “an iPhone with an Android,” albeit in this case, they share the same manufacturer.

Compass isn’t without its own issues, though. Madill added some users have reported an “error message” when they try to tap and that problem is now being tweaked.

“All the experience in Chicago did was it just reinforced our approach of taking it slow and phasing it in is the best practice,” he added.
TransLink Compass card system facing questions over cost - CBC News
In its annual report, Cubic Transportation admits the 2013 fiscal year was "challenging" and "very poor." In part because of problems installing the Vancouver system, the report states, "operating margins declined due to an increase in estimated costs."

In Chicago, Cubic's Ventra card system has also had serious problems and is the subject of several class action lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the Compass card system in Vancouver is a year behind schedule with no firm start date in sight.
Company behind Translink’s upcoming Compass card target of class-action lawsuit - Global News
Chicago’s card, called “Ventra,” is similar to Compass and launched last month, Some users are alleging they have been getting double and even triple-billed when they “tap in” with the card.

Other users are having problems scanning their cards, and there are allegedly billing-method errors. In addition, users’ debit cards are accidentally being scanned instead of their Venture [sic] cards.

All these stories went up on the 10th and 11th. My story, which listed the Ventra class action lawsuits on the first page - went up on the 9th.
These stories just so happened to pop up a day or two after my Cubic legal timeline.

Coincidence? Doubtful.

As much as I was hoping to get more local pick-up, I DID write an international compare-and-contrast about a multinational corporation. A long one. One the internet kids these days would call a #deepdive.

Chicago may be too scandal-choked right now to shine (yet another) light on Ventra's origins, but leave it to the Windy City's old news to rock the boat thousands of miles away.

(for more on Ventra and Compass, click here and here)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The TL;DR of my latest Ventra piece

Today, Gapers Block published my latest piece, How Lawsuits, Lobbyists and Parking Meter Deals Led to Ventra.

In it, I overlap a timeline of Cubic Transportation System's less than savory legal and lobbyist history with the suspicious events and key players leading up to the creation of the Ventra card.

You can view it in plain text or the sweet interactive version I made courtesy of Northwestern University Knight Lab's free tool, StoryMap JS.

It's a long read, so here are the highlights:
  • Cubic's legal battles in metropolitan-area transit systems include New York City, London, Sydney, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and -- on two separate occasions -- Atlanta
  • Cubic used well-connected lobbyists in Vancouver, the Bay Area, and Sydney to help secure multimillion dollar fare collection contracts
  • William Blair & Co., the firm that set up the privatization of Chicago's parking meters and garages, was put in charge of the CTA's Open Fare bid 
  • The bidding began in late August 2009, just months after the city's Inspector General deemed William Blair's parking meter valuation too low by $975 million 
  • WB employees visited Rahm Emanuel in the White House twice during the first part of the bidding phase
  • One of the losing bidders in Chicago was Xerox, who won a similar Open Fare system bid in Philadelphia the same day the CTA approved Cubic's bid for what became Ventra
  • Cubic donated $1,500 to PAC for Rahm's mayoral campaign
  • Most interestingly of all, Ventra is pretty much exactly what the original CTA Open Fare RFP asked for
Now that I think about, looks like I need a TL;DR for my own TL;DR. 

In that case: When you combine a secretive investment bank and a litigious transit company that both have ties to Rahm Emanuel, you get Ventra.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'm a Lisagor Award finalist!

I'm pleased to announce that I've been named a Lisagor Award "Best Individual Blog Post" finalist for my Gapers Block summary of Cubic Transportation Systems' global history of fare collection problems.

Speaking of which, GB Managing Editor David Schalliol and his team have also been named "Best Use of Features Video" finalists for their must-watch documentary on Englewood and neighborhood displacement, The Area.

The 37th Annual Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism will take place May 2nd at the Union League Club of Chicago.

You better believe I'll be there.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

4 American propaganda machines for Putin

Now that Crimeans have voted to leave Ukraine for Russia, it's worth pointing out what some of Putin's English-language supporters have said...and their motivations.

1. Russia Today
Judging by interviews with seven former and current employees, Bivens’ story is typical. RT, the global English-language news network funded by the Russian government, has come into the spotlight since the Russian invasion of Crimea, which the network has defended tooth-and-nail. The invasion has led to two high-profile rebellions within the ranks: first, an on-air condemnation of the invasion by RT America host Abby Martin, followed days later by the live resignation of another host, Liz Wahl. Martin, who hosts an opinion show, said that Russia’s actions were wrong; Wahl, a news anchor, went one step further, saying that she could not work at a network that found Russia’s actions acceptable.

The public shake-up and skewed coverage of Ukraine has pulled aside RT’s curtain, exposing the network’s propaganda apparatus, which relies on a number of Western reporters and producers. Former and current RT employees from both the Moscow headquarters and its D.C. bureau, which heads a channel called RT America, described to BuzzFeed an atmosphere of censorship and pressure, in which young journalists on their first or second job are lured by the promise of a relatively well-paying position covering news for an international network. Except for Bevins and Wahl, all spoke on the condition of anonymity — some because they didn’t want their name associated with the network or were afraid they would face repercussions in their current jobs.

Soon after joining the network, the current and former employees said, they realized they were not covering news, but producing Russian propaganda. Some employees go in clear-eyed, looking for the experience above all else. Others don’t realize what RT really wants until they’re already there. Still others are chosen for already having displayed views amenable to the Kremlin. Anti-American language is injected into TV scripts by editors, and stories that don’t toe the editorial line regularly get killed.
2. Ron Paul
Paul and his supporters used to complain that the American media and political establishment never gave him a fair shake in his various presidential campaigns, so it is a little odd to see him and his denizens providing a democratic gloss to Sunday’s “referendum” on Crimea’s status. The referendum on the Crimea is happening quite literally at gunpoint as Russian forces have occupied the entire peninsula and offers no option for Crimeans to maintain their current status within the Ukraine. Instead, voters can either vote to allow Russia to annex the peninsula or "reunification of Crimea with Russia" in the parlance of the ballot or to "restore the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine." (Early exit polls show 93% of Crimean voters chose to join Russia.)

The referendum -- which has been denounced as illegal by outside observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- was only scheduled by the Crimean parliament after armed men occupied that body in late February. Those gunmen installed a pro-Russian figurehead as the region's Prime Minister, as well – a guy named Sergey Aksyonov, the alleged criminal leader of a miniscule pro-Russian political party which has never earned more than 4% at the polls.

But for Ron Paul and the acolytes at his think tank, a motley crew of Putin apologists and admirers of post-Soviet thugs, Sunday’s sham election is all about the spirit of 1776. He recently wrote that "The only question that remains is whether there will there be an honest election, and I don’t see any reason there can’t be.” He did this on the website of his Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, which, in light of current events might be better called the Ron Paul Institute for Russian Aggression and Economic Exploitation (Its director, Daniel McAdams, has referred to the American ambassador to Ukraine as an “outlaw.”)
3. New York public reations firm, Ketchum 
The firm also placed an op-ed by Vladimir Putin in The New York Times in September in which the Russian President wrote that he wanted "to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders" and urged caution as Washington was considering a military strike against Syria. (In the PR world it was quite a coup, and although Ketchum's role was well understood, the firm seems to have only really acknowledged it in January, with its report to Justice.) In the Times piece, Putin wrote: "It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it." That might look strange in light of recent events, but it worked out well for Ketchum, landing the No. 5 spot on the list of most-visited content on for 2013.

And it paid well, too. Ketchum reported bringing in $1.6 million for its work for the Russian Federation for the six months that ended on Nov. 30, 2013. More than a million of those dollars stayed with Ketchum, but $476,000 was used to cover expenses and fees paid to others to work on the Russians' behalf.

Thanks to the details required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, we know where that half a million dollars went. There was $138,553 to maslanksy + partners, a communication firm that says it finds "the right language so people hear what you're trying to say." Um, okay. In an earlier iteration, this was longtime GOP strategist Frank Luntz's company, but he left in 2008, according to a corporate history on the firm's Web site. Another $100,000 went to Alston & Bird, a Washington law firm. And there are smaller payments, too, like $34.22 to FedEx and $137.28 to RMA Chauffeured Transportation, based in Rockville, Md.
4. Stephen F. Cohen
Many of Cohen’s arguments about post-Communist Russia are legitimate subjects of debate, and his scholarship has been serious enough to draw praise from the likes of Robert Conquest, the British historian and author of The Great Terror. And yet his Putin cheerleading increasingly crosses the line into denial or outright recycling of Kremlin propaganda. Last October, at a New York University symposium, Cohen asserted with a straight face that the game of musical chairs between Putin and Dmitry Medvedev (who was handpicked to succeed Putin in 2007, then stepped aside for his mentor four years later) was not a carefully orchestrated ploy to circumvent the Russian constitution’s ban on two consecutive presidential terms but a genuine, though unsuccessful, “tryout” for Medvedev. “I don’t believe that Putin’s return was agreed upon in advance,” said Cohen—flatly contradicting Medvedev’s own statement to the media in 2011 that he and Putin had “long ago” agreed on the power arrangement.

In a 2012 Reuters column, Cohen complained that Putin is often blamed for the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, even though “the editors of Politkovskaya’s newspaper, the devoutly anti-Putin Novaya Gazeta, believe her killing was ordered by Chechen leaders, whose human-rights abuses were one of her special subjects.” He forgets to mention that the Chechen leader in question, Ramzan Kadyrov, is Putin’s best buddy—or that Novaya Gazeta has also asserted that the actual killers are connected to Russian special services and protected by the government.

But the disconnect from reality is most glaringly evident in Cohen’s Newsweek interview. Take this gem: “We don’t know that Putin went into Crimea. We literally don’t know. We’re talking about ‘facts’ that are coming out of Kiev, which is a mass of disinformation.” Cohen must be the only person in the world who thinks there’s any doubt that the armed men who are all over Crimea wearing Russian army uniforms without insignia and wielding Russian weaponry—“little green men,” as irreverent Russians call them—are actually Russian soldiers.
Of course, pro-Putin outlets would simply accuse these writers (and me) of shilling for Western interests.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I was like, good gracious, #Nelly1057 is bodacious

People always complain that pop radio plays the same few songs over and over.

But sometimes it's hilarious.

As of 3 pm (PST), Univision's Bay Area Latino Mix 105.7 has played Nelly's "Hot in Herre" on repeat.

Turns out it's a publicity stunt to announce the new format switch.
Update 3/15 “Latino Mix” is no more as KVVF/KVVZ began stunting at 3pm Friday with a loop of Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” to preparation of its relaunch as “Hot 105.7“.
This wouldn't be the first on-repeat onslaught in the history of American broadcast media.

Back in 2006, VH1 ran a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser where viewers could pay $25 to see their favorite video, or $35,000 for an entire hour of songs.

One generous soul paid $35,000 to play Nena's 1984 hit "99 Luftballons".

For the whole hour.
99 Luftballons is a Cold-War era protest song that tells the story of 99 red balloons floating into the air, triggering an apocalypse when the military sends planes to intercept them.
Let's just hope the Crimea crisis doesn't go that far.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Let's talk about sex (in a strictly academic manner, of course)

[via...where else?]

Some of the following studies probably have more statistical rigor than others (I still can't believe I saw regression models analyzing pimps), but what follows may be far less arousing than you'd expect.

Can you make enough as a part-time porn star to pay for Duke?
  •  Female performers always get paid more than male performers, with rare exception 
  •  A girl that is in-demand, at the height of her earning potential can make between $80,000-$120,000 annually 
  •  Streams of revenue include film work, cam shows, dancing engagements & personal appearances, product (sex toy) endorsements & merchandise. 
  •  Per scene rates will vary by hi or lo-end producers; the type of scene (girl/girl, girl/boy, girl/girl/boy); the type of sex…and also by the prominence of the performer
8 facts about the U.S. sex economy
7. Pimps find prostitutes from their friend groups. Social circles and home neighborhood are more likely venues for pimps to scout than clubs or the Internet. One in nine pimps surveyed said they recruit from schools.
Tunisia sex workers call for brothel to reopen in resort of Sousse
A court ordered the brothel to close around November 2012, after a lawyer argued before a judge on behalf of neighbors in the area. The case came at a time when radical Islamists had launched a campaign in several parts of Tunisia against the licensed brothels.

The head of the delegation told Labidi, "There is no problem. ... We were attacked by the Salafists, radical Islamists, who attacked us and closed the premises by force."

Although it is a conservative Muslim country, Tunisia allows prostitution in licensed brothels. Buying sex elsewhere is illegal.

The country's licensed brothels date back almost a century and were first documented during the French colonial period.
Utah trucker accused of keeping sex slaves
Timothy Jay Vafeades, 54, made an initial appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Fargo, N.D., and will now be transferred to Utah for further proceedings.

The charges against him include kidnapping, transportation for illegal sexual activity, and possession of child pornography, and could bring a life sentence if he is convicted. His public defender, Richard Henderson, could not be reached for comment.

An arrest warrant filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City claims Vafeades kidnapped a 19-year-old female relative who had come from Florida in May 2013 to work with him on his truck, the "Twilight Express."

After a week, the teen told Vafeades she wanted to go home, but she later told authorities that he strangled her until she blacked out and used threats and violence to keep her with him for the next six months while they traveled to Washington state, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee and other states.
Gel protects monkeys from HIV after sex, study finds
In another promising development in AIDS prevention, scientists have shown that monkeys can be protected against infection with a vaginal gel even when it is used as long as three hours after sex.

If it works in humans, such a gel would be particularly useful in countries where women have little protection against domestic violence or rape, because they could apply it surreptitiously after a partner fell asleep or a clinic could administer it after a rape.

But if the technique does move into human trials, scientists said, it is more likely that women will be asked to try to use it both before and after sex.

The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, did not show 100 percent protection. One of six macaques became infected despite the gel; all that got a placebo gel became infected.
Gonorrhea is about to become impossible to treat
That's right: penicillin and various tetracyclines have all stopped working against the most prevalent strains. This means that today's gonorrhea patient has very few treatment options left. And with symptoms like burning, swelling of the testicles, vaginal discharge and anal itching, it's not exactly something that you want to leave untreated. Unfortunately, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) thinks that emerging resistant strains will one day take the last remaining first-line treatment option away — a treatment that currently consists of a cephalosporin injection combined with an oral dose of either azithromycin or doxycycline. The government agency outlined how that scenario could unfold in a study released today.

By analyzing long-term surveillance data for 17 US cities between 1991 and 2006, researchers were able to trace how gonorrhea became resistant to ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that lost its CDC recommendation in 2007 because studies demonstrated that 13.8 percent of patient samples were resistant to the drug.
11 ways mainstream porn misleads women about sex
10. That men are always ready and willing: "I thought that all men liked being aggressive and dominant, like in porn, and that if they were under 50, they were always going to be able to get hard and orgasm."
Male peacocks make fake sex noises to seem more attractive than they are
The fake-sex hoot, says the BBC, may be a learned behavior: “By pretending they are mating when they are not the birds could convince females they are more sexually active - and therefore genetically fitter - than their rivals.”

With fake sex being reinforced by real sex, some males seem to have learned to keep up the ruse.
Reddit is creeping on your Facebook photos
With Imgur unwilling to take down these images, is there anything a woman can do to protect herself from showing up on either forum? Short of making all her personal Facebook photos completely private, there’s not much she can do to hide them from redditor friends.

“No one cares,” writes Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel, “because dudes want to make jerking off a social activity, and women aren’t people.”

Reddit has consistently prized free speech over all else. In the words of general manager Erik Martin, “Morally questionable reddits like jailbait are part of the price of free speech on a site like this.”

Yet doxing and harassment have always tested the limits of free speech. Using the social news site to spread personal information about its subjects is among the site’s biggest no-nos.

Reddit just can’t figure out whether those rules apply to ripped-off photos of young women in swimsuits.
61% of young Republicans favor same-sex marriage
Today, 61% of Republicans and Republican leaners under 30 favor same-sex marriage while just 35% oppose it. By contrast, just 27% of Republicans ages 50 and older favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
"Love formula" claims 5th partner could be The One
While qualities such as sense of humour are important, so too are the number of previous lovers each partner has had. You guessed it, the magic number is five.

Exactly a quarter (25%) of both men and women believe their partner should have had four sexual partners before them – though one in five men (21%) are holding on to tradition, believing they should be their ideal woman’s FIRST partner.
The Holy Grail of celebrity gossip content
A list of all the male celebrities Lindsay Lohan has slept with, allegedly written by Lindsay herself back in January 2013. The magazine explains she "was trying to impress her friends" with the revelations while they all laughed and gossiped about celebrity peen sizes, as you would. But then she casually "tossed [the list] away afterwards," which seems like a risky thing to do, particularly in retrospect given this whole tabloid magazine cover story and because you can also be fined for littering these days. Hey, what's risky for Lilo is great for the rest of us.

In Touch is only running half of the celebs' names. The other half are blurred for legal reasons, apparently, because "they’re not all single guys." That said, not all the men they have named are either. (Presumably this means the named guys were single when they hooked up with Lilo, while maybe the blurred out folk weren't.)

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