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.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ukrainian crisis devolves into Hitler vs. Hitler

Propaganda from Russian media and ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych claims the country's recent protests were led by ultranationalist, anti-Semitic thugs attempting a coup (despite the real story).

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has compared Putin's military actions in Crimea to Hitler.

There are plenty of valid comparisons to other authoritarian regimes throughout history.

But in light of recently-departed French filmmaker Alain Resnais' Holocaust documentary, Night and Fog, let's hope Ukraine (and the entire world) never sees another truly Hitler-like legacy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

12 Years A Slave and the shaping of American cuisine and capitalism

As anyone glued to American pop media knows, 12 Years A Slave won three Academy Awards this past Sunday.

What they may not know is the extent to which American slavery shaped the nation's well as the very fabric of 19th century American capitalism.

Or you can skip the movie and articles, and read the 12 Years A Slave author Solomon Northup's own words.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saving old research from trash vs. publishing new gibberish studies and Amazon payoffs

There are a variety of things happening in the world right now worth further scrutiny, but this juxaposition caught my eye:

FRAUD: 100 articles published in science journals are found to be gibberish
The real question, of course, is how these gobbledegook papers got past the publishers’ editors.

Monika Stickel, director of IEEE’s corporate communications, told Nature News that the publisher “took immediate action to remove the papers” and has “refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future.”

LabbĂ© isn’t sure whether the purported authors even knew their names were attached to the fake papers. He tried to contact them but only one responded, saying he wasn’t aware that he was listed as co-author on a paper, at least not until his university was informed in 2013, HNGN reports.

He also noted that most the conferences that accepted fake research papers as well as most of the authors had Chinese affiliations.
Saving a Remnant
Lost to future students will be the experience of just staring at the library shelves, and seeing questions emerge from the many books present there.

Back in the 1950s, before there were cheap paperback versions of assigned texts, university libraries would purchase ten, twenty, or even thirty copies of a single book, for use in popular courses. It was sometimes easy to see, in perusing the stacks as a graduate student, that certain texts were foundational for a whole generation of students.

Because how does an intellectual historian really know how ideas are transmitted? How books are read and comprehended? Sales figures are weak measures, and are difficult to compare. Trying to discern what books are assigned by faculty, or read by students, are a significant indication of how ideas are disseminated. It’s kind of like how early television executives tried to figure out how many people were actually watching a TV show, before the Nielsen box. A crude measure that was actually used, was measuring municipal water pressure – flushes increased during commercials, and could be measured to the pint. Looking at a university stack and seeing thirty hardcover copies of, say The Meeting of East and West by F.S.C Northrop, meant that this was a key text for thousands of undergraduates.

And that was one of the first volumes I saw on the discard shelf, slated for withdrawal.

How could I ever assign an interested student a research topic on the alternatives to the Cold War in 1945-47, without knowing that Northrop’s book, and others like it, were readily available in our library? A Wikipedia generation does not wait for interlibrary loan.
History and science are seemingly separate disciplines, but these articles raise questions about who should generate and preserve what ideas at the academic level.

Especially as corporate computers algorithms replace the human curator's eye.

Amazon buried my novel: Those search algorithms are for sale
The first time I searched for my novel, nothing came back. A couple weeks later, same thing. But then, after my third or fourth attempt, success.

To a point.

I typed in the title — “SWEETNESS #9″ — thinking I’d only have to put in a few letters before the search engine would autocomplete it. Not so. Next, thinking the computer might need a little help, I added my name: STEPHAN EIRIK CLARK. Then I hit ENTER, and though my novel did come up, it was at the end of a very long list of books, all of them related. Maybe you’ve read one or two?

Sweet Valley High? Sweet Valley High?

I felt ready to channel the words of the great unifier, Jonathan Franzen. “I’m writing in the high-art literary tradition!” I wanted to scream at my computer. “And you’re going to lump me in with “Sweet Valley High” and “Sweet Valley Confidential — The Sweet Life?”

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