Monday, August 30, 2010

Superman Has Fallen On Hard Times

I learned today that Superman is having a hard time making ends meet as a superhero. His reporting job disappeared a long time ago. He now works as a celebrity endorser on the streets of New York.

There Are Only FOUR Phone Booths Remaining In Manhattan!

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Writer Peter Ackerman was walking past the phone booth on the corner of West End Avenue and West 100th Street with his then 3-year-old son Alvin a few years ago when Alvin asked, "Why is that phone in a box?"

The question inspired Ackerman to write the children's book The Lonely Phone Booth, published last month by publishing house David R. Godine.

Ackerman, 39, says he was startled when he realized his son had no idea what a phone booth was. It wasn't too long ago, he thought, that phone booths were an essential part of daily life.

Ackerman says some of his most important memories are tied to phone booths. For example, when he won his first acting part in a New York show, he rushed to the nearest phone booth to call his mom.

Today there are just four outdoor phone booths left in Manhattan, all on West End Avenue, said Verizon spokesman John Bonomo.

A blog called Payphone Project features photos of the nearly-extinct booths.


"It feels like we're on a historical cusp," Ackerman said. "I thought, at some point, these won't exist, and it would be nice to immortalize that this existed."

The Lonely Phone Booth is told from the phone booth's perspective, in the tradition of classics such as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little Red Lighthouse.

The illustrations by Max Dalton are in a jaunty style similar to the 1960 book This is New York.

In the story, the phone booth watches with dismay as the people who once used it suddenly start passing it by, pressing "shiny silver objects" to their ears.

"What would it be like to be the phone booth, and have this great value in the community, but  then one day you don't?" Ackerman said.

"You imagine the phone booth saying, "I'm a phone booth! I used to be really important!"

In The Lonely Phone Booth, a sudden storm knocks out power and cell phone reception, and people are forced to use the phone booth again.

In the end, the community rallies to save the phone booth from being carted off to the dump.

Ackerman, a screenwriter who co-wrote "Ice Age" and "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," lives not far from the lonely phone booth.

He says he hopes his book inspires others to save it.

"The phone booth can't speak for itself," Ackerman said. "A community can all speak for something."

That's happened before.

Verizon kept the phone booths along West End Avenue at the request of a local resident in the 1980s, Bonomo said.

Verizon has no plans to remove the booths, but Bonomo said maintaining the booths could become more difficult as fewer manufacturers make replacement parts for them.

My New Drug of Choice: Naproxen Sodium

I started taking Naproxen yesterday afternoon and if the last 18 hours are indicative I am ready to call it a wonder drug.  My knees and ankles hurt much less, so far:  I don't have nearly the pain I had, say, yesterday morning in rising out of chairs.  The next big test will come soon:  negotiating stairs.  I'm going to have to read up on the effects of taking it long-term.  So far, though, so good!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

They're Throwing An All-Day Concert In The Lot Next to My Son's House

...and Joel has a few thoughts

I get that South Side has the constitutional right to hold an open-air all-day concert and booze-a-palooza in the vacant lot IMMEDIATELY outside my window (I mean, it’s right there.  I could throw an egg at the acoustic guitarist playing what sounds like a pretty edgy ditty from the comfort of my bed, if I was a more mean-spirited and possibly forty-seven-years-older/crotchety individual).  I get that at least the first and possibly third, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth amendments (because those are the ones, within the Bill of Rights, whose purpose I don’t understand- time for a civics lesson!) entitle South Side to do this.  I also get that for many Tremonters (and guests who frequent our admittedly sweet restaurant scene) will probably really enjoy this event.  Lord knows I enjoyed Ale Fest, in Lincoln Park:

This was definitely in the Top 5 best days of the summer. It would have been number one if Emelio didn't freakin' smell so much.

So I can’t really blame people.  If it wasn’t next to my domicile and didn’t wake me up at 9:00 with the sounds of pavilion/stage erection, I’d probably enjoy it too, if I had the cash to do so.

But dudes, good neighbor policy (no, not that one!) dictate that you at least give personal notice (and not just the flyers they posted advertising the thing either), if you’re not gonna ask for permission and blessing, before throwing a loud all-day rager!  I mean come on.  This could be a house full of Case Med Students trying to cram for a monster test.  It isn’t, and I plan on being a layabout today (hence writing this post), but some consideration if you please!

Now granted, my sentiments do come from a place of bias.  I really wish that I owned that lot so I could put a community garden there.  It’s really a gorgeous little plot, with pretty damn lush grass that, while I know nothing about soil quality, I hope means that it’d be good for at least growing some community plots and maybe erecting a chicken coop.  I admit it, I covet the heck out of my neighbor’s property.  And I am sometimes envious of the meat-smells wafting in my general direction from South Side.  And occasionally am irritated by the roar of departing motorcycles while I’m trying to sleep.  And I sometimes fantasize about the awesome view of downtown we’d have from our porch if South Side didn’t exist.

But all that counter-evidence notwithstanding, I really wish they’d have at least asked before throwing this thing.  My theoretical exams/yoga regimen/poetry composition/data entry are really being compromised (or would be if I was going to do them) by ‘The Lot’ (the title of the party being thrown right next door… or plot).

Ah well, at least rent is cheap.


Joel currently lives in Tremont, a neighborhood in Cleveland

Friday, August 27, 2010

Clearly, the World Is Impressed By Our Nuanced and Civilized Approach to Liberty and Diversity.

I'm so happy God put Americans on this earth to teach the rest of the world about democracy, tolerance, and freedom.

People Who Need People...

Mimi and Eunice strike again!

Ramadan -- A Great Time For Fast Food?

How do Muslims feel about this 2010 Ramadan advertisement from McDonalds?  Do other food providers similarly exploit Ramadan?

How about this Ramadan McDonalds commercial?



Or this Coca-Cola Ramadan commercial:



Do fast food companies offer similar advertising geared to Jewish fasting days in Israel?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rules For Activists: Don't Piss Off Your Young Supporters

There is, I guess, a feminist establishment. From what I read here I am guessing that it is an entrenched feminist establishment. That this is so reflects a measure of success, resulting from decades of hard, relentless work. The job, however, is far from over and a next generation needs to be recognized and brought into the fold. This is unlikely to happen if the current leadership acts like a bunch of old farts.

A few choice words from my favorite feminist blog:


Remember this epic fail of an article from back in April, in which Newsweek posited that young voters, women in particular, are “lukewarm” on pro-choice politics and think abortion rights “don’t need defending”?

Ugh. If you’d forgotten, I’m sorry to bring it up.

The article relies heavily on commentary from Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. To be fair, there are not many direct quotes from her, but there are monumentally disheartening paragraphs like this:

NARAL president Nancy Keenan had grown fearful about the future of her movement even before the health-care debate. Keenan considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization. Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.

Ahem. Emphasis on the “they still run.” Young women, and particularly young women of color, are systematically kept out of the boardroom and away from leadership positions in non-profit and advocacy groups. Latifa Lyles’ campaign for president of NOW is a perfect example of this. Notes from the campaign in June 2009:

Both contenders [Latifa Lyles and Terry O'Neill] expect the election to be close, and both are promoting themselves as best able to bolster NOW’s membership.

“We are not the strongest grass-roots movement we can be — we both agree on that,” Lyles said. “The question is how we deal with that.”

Noting that she contrasts with NOW’s mostly white and over-40 membership, Lyles said she could help give NOW a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists and reinvigorate the broader movement.

“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” she said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”

Lyles, a 33-year-old black vice president of the organization, was edged out by 56-year-old white activist Terry O’Neill, despite an enthusiastic endorsement by NOW’s then-president Kim Gandy. Qualified, passionate, well-recommended… but not elected. Clearly it’s not for lack of interest that young women aren’t running the pro-choice show.

Back to Keenan and NARAL.

These leaders will retire in a decade or so. And what worries Keenan is that she just doesn’t see a passion among the post-Roe generation — at least, not among those on her side.

THIS SHIT IS OUTRAGEOUS. MY PRO-CHOICE GIRLS GOT PASSION RUNNING OUT THEIR EARS. For me, the cherry on top is that I have been working at NARAL Pro-Choice New York for years — in a conference room mere feet from Nancy Keenan’s office.

I just don’t know what we have to do to be seen and heard. Online activism isn’t taken seriously, apparently — even though groups like NARAL certainly rely on blogs and social networking sites to get the word out. But it seems that the hundreds of hours of in-person volunteer work that this lady, right here has contributed — collecting petition signatures for the Reproductive Health Act, calling voters in support of pro-choice candidates, distributing condoms and information about emergency contraception, blah blah blah — aren’t taken seriously either.

Jessica Valenti was so fucking right on when she wrote of this debacle last summer:

Who do you think has been making your photocopies and volunteering and organizing for these big organizations all of these years?

The work of the mainstream pro-choice movement is built on younger women’s labor — unpaid and underpaid — who do the majority of the grunt work but who are rarely recognized. And I don’t know about you — but I’m sick of working so hard on behalf of a movement that continues to insist that we don’t exist.

Where would NARAL Pro-Choice America or NOW be without the work done by younger women?

Who would do their outreach? Who would volunteer? Who would take unpaid internships? Who would carry their action items on blogs and forward them by email, Facebook and Twitter? Who would Blog for Choice?

Seriously, what would happen if young women decided they had enough of being ignored and started simply decided to stop working for these organizations? Even if for a month young women boycotted the organizations that refuse to acknowledge their hard work — the movement would fall on its ass.

And there’s the rub — young women don’t want to forsake this movement. We don’t want to let it crumble to the side of the road, because control over our own bodies is infinitely more important than “postmenopausal militia” doubt about our commitment. Dropping out of the race is counterproductive. We’re still running, we’re still working damn fucking hard, no matter what any president says.

Check out all the other entries in the THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE blog carnival over at Fair and Feminist.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seth's Godin Puts the "B" In Subtle

Subtle is a cousin of beautiful.

Subtle design and messaging challenge the user to make her own connections instead of spelling out every detail. Connections we make are more powerful than connections made for us. If Amazon and Zappos had been called "" and "" it might have made some early investors happy, but they would have built little of value.

Subtle details demonstrate power. Instead of being in an urgent hurry to yell about every feature or benefit, you demonstrate confidence by taking your time and allowing people to explore. They don't put huge banners on the Hermes store, announcing how good the silk is and how many famous people shop there...

And subtle messaging communicates insider status. I don't have to say, "Hey I was in Skull and Bones too! You should hire me!" Instead, a subtle (secret) handshake does all the talking that's needed.

It's tempting to turn the dial all the way to 11, the make everything just a bit louder. The opposite is precisely what you might need.

I'm aware of the oxymoronic nature of spelling out details about subtlety. At least I didn't explicitly point out the Spinal Tap reference.

Review Of "Latching On", In Which My Wife Appears:

My wife Bev, a lactation consultant, was interviewed for the movie Latching On by documentarian Katja Esson Here is a review of recent movies about mothering, including Latching On, from "Mama at the Movies" Caroline Grant.

#Listening to Nadia Kazmi

Helen Kane - Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930)

Boop boopa doop, indeed!

Fashion Designs Are Not Copyrightable. Fashion Designs Don't Need to Be Copyrightable.

Newsweek Explains Why Fashion Designers Don't Need Copyright

from the good-to-see dept

For many years, we've been troubled by the effort by some fashion designers to add a totally unnecessary copyright to fashion design. We had noted that the fashion industry was actually a great example of a creative industry that was thriving without copyrights. It's quite innovative and has a ton of competition, which is what we'd like to see -- so it never made sense that some politicians keep introducing a bill to extend copyright protection to fashion designers. This year, Sen. Chuck Schumer is back again with another attempt at extending copyright to fashion, and he's been able to sign up a large number of co-sponsors. In the past, similar proposals haven't gone far, but there's a feeling that there may be some momentum behind it this year.

Thankfully, some in the mainstream press are calling foul. Over at Newsweek, Ezra Klein has a fantastic column questioning the need for this bill and highlighting just how ridiculous it is. My favorite part is the following:

But perhaps the strongest argument is that America's apparel industry doesn't seem broken--so why try and fix it? "America is the world fashion leader," said Steven Kolb, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the lead trade group in support of the Schumer bill, "and yet it is basically the only industrialized country that does not provide protection for fashion design."

Run that by me one more time? We're the world leader in fashion, so we should change our policy to mimic our lagging competitors?

Klein quotes Jamie Boyle, pointing out that:
"Intellectual property is legalized monopoly," says James Boyle, a professor at Duke Law School. "And like any monopoly, its tendency is to raise prices and diminish availability. We should have a high burden of proof for whether it's necessary."
Indeed. The supporters of this bill don't seem to realize that copyright is supposed to be about "promoting the progress," not about "protecting an industry." The comments from Steven Kolb show that fashion designers want this not to promote the progress, but because they feel blatantly entitled to extra protectionism. Yet, as Boyle points out, this can seriously harm the public. There should be a high burden of proof to show that any such expansion of copyright law is necessary, and the evidence (as even Kolb implicitly admits) is totally lacking.

Aiding and Abetting?

Young Muslims in jihadi chatrooms are all abuzz about recent "Ground Zero Mosque" rancor.  They are confident that increasing numbers of American Muslims will be alienated by the debate, interpreting it as an expression of deep-seated American anti-Muslim sentiment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't Let Studio Ghibli Close!

From Princess Mononoke to Spirited Away, from My Neighbor Totoro to Whisper of the Heart, from Grave of the Fireflies to Howl's Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli (directed by Hayao Miyazaki) has been one of the greatest sources of animated films in the world.  It MUST NOT FOLD.


(Thank you to niece Caitlin for bringing this to my attention).


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Replaced Battery In Desk PC And All Is Well! Huzzah!

#Appple Is Not Your Friend: --

UCLA celebrates 90th Birthday of #RayBradbury

Happy 90th Birthday to Ray Bradbury

Warner Bros. Goes Down Hard On Swiss Condom Manufacturer

Well, boys and girls, it appears that lawyers at Warner Brothers are out to establish that the combination of glasses and a wand is a rigid designator (in fact, an obstinately rigid desgnator).  They are suing Swiss condom manufacturer Magic X over their "Harry Popper" condom bearing the likeness of a young man in round glasses, carrying a wand, his tongue sticking out.

"Everyone who sees the condoms automatically thinks of Harry Potter," says a lawyer for the studio.

"Our product has nothing to do with Harry Potter," claims a spokesperson for the company.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

WNYC's Radiolab on Words

I have just (belatedly) listened to Radiolab's hour-long show devoted to words.  This show is NOT (for the most part) about word origins or about felicitous grammar or about exemplary uses.  It is, instead, an inquiry into the part our words play in our thoughts.  What happens to thought when we don't have words?  What happens to people who are cut off from words?  What is it with Shakespeare and words?

This is a really wonderful hour, well worth listening to.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jack Valenti vs. Thomas Jefferson

Robert Darnton reviews Lewis Hyde's new book, Common As Air:


Intellectual property has become such a hot topic that it needs to be doused with some history. Strange as it may sound, this is an argument developed convincingly in Lewis Hyde’s “Common as Air,” an eloquent and erudite plea for protecting our cultural patrimony from appropriation by commercial interests.



I've read four chapters and I find it to be a satisfying, ruminative essay.

Compromise Near In Ground Zero "Mosque" Kerfuffle:

You heard it here first, folks.

It's NOT too soon for strippers near Ground Zero

The patrons of the strip joint three blocks from Ground Zero, no doubt, experience the sacral nature of the neighborhood in particularly poignant ways.  They know that -- even nine years after the terrible, pivotal tragedy that redefined America's sense of itself -- every pole dance, every gyration, every nearly-naked woman sitting on the lap of a patron expresses that mournful sense of loss all of us -- especially the families of those who perished --  feel deep down in our guts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Desk PC Seems to Have Died! !%@!!?#!

I get a BIOS screen but nothing else.  I can't even get into setup mode.  It won't boot off the Live Linux CD I inserted into the CD Drive -- something it has had no  problem with multiple times in the past.  I can't even get into Setup mode.  Absent any inspired suggestions I think I'm screwed.  Backups should be relatively recent.  Hard drive may very well be functional...never get far enough in the boot process to fiind out.  Not good.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

YouTube Video Shows Police Spraying Mace on Dominican Day Revelers

YouTube Video Shows Police Spraying Mace on Dominican Day Revelers

August 17, 2010 1:00pm   Updated August 17, 2010 1:09pm6commentsshareprint

A police officer is shown macing a crowd of revelers at a street party in Washington Heights after the Dominican Day Parade.


By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A YouTube video that shows a police officer spraying mace at a crowd of post-Dominican Day Parade revelers has the neighborhood up in arms.

Witnesses who were part of the large group singing and dancing on 186th Street, near St. Nicholas Avenue, about 11 p.m. on Aug. 8 said they were surprised by the police officer’s actions, and called the crowd loud and rowdy, but not violent.

Local residents who viewed the video after the incident all voiced disappointment with the way it portrayed the community, revelers and police.

Although noise and rowdy crowds after the parade can be a nuisance, they did not believe macing of revelers was an appropriate tactic for police to quell the crowds.

"A small but vocal number of revelers obviously went too far but by the same token it is reprehensible that the police officers decided that the way to fix the situation was by macing the crowd en masse," said local resident Leo Black, 36.

The video shows the crowd of revelers surrounded by a police squad car and unmarked car sitting in traffic with their lights and sirens on.

The crowd appears rowdy and boisterous as it chants “get out” in Spanish and motions for the police cars to move.

As the traffic seems to pick up, four plainclothes officers in the unmarked car suddenly get out and run toward the crowd, with one officer spraying people with what appears to be a can of mace.

The crowd then scatters and people can be heard saying they were “maced” with several people clutching their faces or being helped by friends.

Moments later bottles begin hitting the parked police car, which then takes off from the scene.

Arvey Valderrama, 21, said he was in the crowd when the police got out of their car and the officer began spraying mace.

“They did it 4 no reason,” he wrote in an email.

The creator of the video, filmaker Jay Arees, 23, said he was maced on his arm, neck and right eye at approximately 10:30 p.m.

“It wasn’t violent, he was just intimidated by the people, how many people there were,” Arees said of the officer who sprayed the crowd.

“He was a Caucasian male and there were minorities there,” he later added. “As a police officer you expect respect and they weren’t giving it to him so he maced them.”

Police did not respond to requests for comment about incident and could not provide information about arrests related to the day’s parade.

A pregnant teen was reportedly stabbed in the back of the head at the corner of 47th Street and Seventh Avenue during the parade, but no other arrests have been made public.

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It was dangerous and risky how this officer took things into his own hands, but I think a mob drinking and being rowdy on residential streets that late on Sunday night merits a harsher response. These idiots make us look bad carrying on this way long after the parade is over. This is not a justice or civil rights issue: the mob got the level of professionalism it asked for brazenly.
uptownergface | August 17, 2010
By the way I think it your point of view " Has the neighborhood up in arms " is your opinion and you have a right to it. But I find it to be throwing gas on the fire. You can bet there where many a happy resident when the party ended.
Onaha | August 17, 2010
perhaps some of you should take a step back and think. the cam was not close enough to the vehicles to hear or catch everything. its dark out and its a lame cell phone cam. You can't tell if there was anything else going on out of your line of site or within the cams listening range. You all know the gathering was ILLEGAL, UNORGANIZED, and in an instant could have been completely out of control. Its obviouse that if it did get out of control before there were any cops on the scene you would all be crying lack of protection, lack of enforcement , why did the city let this go on. please don't kid yourselves. Is anyone even looking at this with an open mind? Seems not. I can hear the us against them crowd now and its sickening. there are many other celebrations in this city,can any of you show me or us how many of those celebrations end up like this? This group acts soley by intimidation, intimidation by numbers. The crowd beleives that they are the ones in control. Look at the filth (trash)all over those streets. If anyone mentions respect all I can say is this group has none, not even for themselves. When you can give respect you'll get respect. Personally I beleive the parade should be BANNED. Take your blinders off people and look at it for what it is.
Onaha | August 17, 2010 thing chops off comments at a particular length without a warning popup box or something, and removes all formatting. Ooops.
ArtForStrangers | August 17, 2010
... riot, but hey, I gotta back my partner up, no matter what, cuz, you know, it's US against THEM". So now the police higher ups will offer their usual "it's being investigated" which means "gee I hope this all blows over cuz we don't wanna fire a cop and take responsibility and hopefully some muslims will open a holy hotdog stand somewhere and distract the public and media away from this mess". This isn't to defend the loud, obnoxious party people. I know it's awful to be exposed to that kind of noise. I've lived there. I know how loud, obnoxious people can practically drive you insane, as they did to my grandparents many years ago. But that doesn't give police the right to randomly assault people, just because the people assaulted are the sort you don't personally like. Cuz if that's the case, I'd like to sic this Aerosol Rambo on the mommies who let their little gremlin kids start grabbing my expensive acoustic guitar with their ice cream stained fingers as I try to enjoy a sunny day in the park, and the douche bag daddies who think the toys for sale in RiteAid are there for their little spawn to play with and throw around while the rest of us shop for overpriced batteries. People who think they're entitled to whatever the heck they want at the expense of others are obnoxious a-holes, no matter what race/culture/ethnicity/sneaker brand.
ArtForStrangers | August 17, 2010
So what's new? A police officer completely steps over the line and basically assaults a bunch of citizens with mace. Cops are having a ball with their new "non-lethal" toys, because they basically get to assault and torture human beings, but instead of beatdowns and illegal choke holds, they get to use 'approved' methods of assault anytime they feel 'threatened' and by 'they' I mean their ego and by 'threatened' I mean "that little spicsonuvabich just gave me a dirty look". It just happened to be caught on video this time. And whether they publicly state it here or not, there are a good portion of local residents who will feel a certain joy in watching these kids get maced, because the cop did what many of them would have liked to do themselves to the people that make noise out their own windows. And that's why it all starts to fall apart. That's where chaos starts, where bottles fly, and (while it was fortunate it didn't happen in this case), where bullets fly. And riots start. The police are supposed to act professionally. Obviously, this officer saw the kids basically teasing them by telling them to "get out", and this hurt his already inflated ego, pride, and sense of entitlement to unquestionable authority, and lost his temper with a "I'll show you, you pieces of s#!7 mace fest!". And his partner, naturally, has no choice but to stay on the coming rollercoaster ride, though I'd bet a million bucks he thought to himself "oh man, I hope we didn't just start a f#@
ArtForStrangers | August 17, 2010
View all comments

It is often not possible to tell, from videos such as this one, everything that happened. If we have learned anything in the past few months we should have learned how easy it is to take a clip out of context and lead the viewer to conclusions that are not justified when a fuller picture is provided. If that is the case here then the police should work to set the record straight. So far, however, police have provided no explanation of this event, nine days after it occurred.

Must. Go. Outside...

Damn! I Wish I Could Attend SXSW!

A lot of topics in which I am interested are being discussed at SXSW next March. I wish I could afford to sign up and attend! As it is I will have to content myself with the reports of others...

Personal to Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean just tweeted: "Shooting for 1500 words today. Go team go! Go team go! Oh, wait -- I don't have a team. Okay, just...GO."

It seems to me that this "Mimi and Eunice" (by Nina Paley) is apropos.

Scott Brown on How Max Headroom Predicted the Demise of TV Journalism

Illustration: Leo Espinosa
Illustration: Leo Espinosa
Pity Max Headroom. We think of him today as an empty-headed relic of the 1980s—if we think of him at all. Well, allow me to refresh your Memorex: Max was a computer-enhanced “talking head” with a freakishly sculpted scalp, chronic stutter, and a knack for one-liners. Though he spent most of the late ’80s hawking New Coke (“C-c-c-catch the wave!”), Max was more than a Spuds MacKenzie-style spokesgimmick. His creators designed him as high satire and dark prophecy. In 1987, he starred in a landmark cyberpunk series on ABC, a media-spoofing sci-fi adventure set in a dystopia that exists “twenty minutes into the future.”
Two decades later, right around the time that future is supposed to be happening, Max Headroom is getting a DVD release, and maybe Max will get his due. Turns out he sold us more than sugar water. “I’m an image whose time has come,” he told us back then, and he wasn’t kidding. Max was the forehead of today’s mass punditocracy, presaging Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, and the rest of today’s flesh-and-blood bloviators.
Max wasn’t the first talking head, of course. Hired to invent a new kind of free-floating veejay personality for Britain’s Channel 4, British video artists Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton created him in reaction to the “false intimacy” of US television personalities in the Reagan era. The concept was picked up in the US by ABC, and the pair (along with writer-futurist George Stone) poured all their tele-disgust into Max and his mythos — enough to fill 14 episodes of the short-lived prime-time drama. (It was canceled after one season.) In the series, Max is the accidentally downloaded consciousness of a crusading TV newsman named Edison Carter. (Both were played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer.) Max was the true journalist’s evil twin: Where Edison sought the facts at any cost, Max was content with flash-fried opinion. Where Edison bemoaned the creeping commercialization of the airwaves, Max embraced it (albeit ironically), going to commercial with “And the Max Headroom award for worst commercial goes to …” Max was a fact-free zone, supremely confident and totally subjective. For Jankel, he was a Frankenstein monster of media excess, a figure of “pure, amped-up, swaggering arrogance.”
The irony, of course, is that two decades on, Max wouldn’t stand out in a crowd (and not just because he has no legs). There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of heads-in-boxes today, each with just as many catchphrases — and just as few facts. With the hair and the hyperwhiteness, Fox News’ Beck is clearly the child of Max; he simply substitutes crocodile tears for neck-jerks when he tells us to “t-t-t-take our country back!”
Thankfully, Max gave birth to more than a new generation of screen-hoarding Svengalis: He also gave us the key to busting their monopoly. See, on the show, Max was uncontrollable. He represented both the machine and the ghost that haunted it. He flitted from screen to screen, saying his piece to anyone who’d listen. Today, we’re all little Maxes, opining away, fragmenting the feared and revered Boob Tube of the ’80s into that far less monolithic series of tubes we call the Internet. Which, unlike TV, talks back. That’s why the days of all-powerful networks are already as distant as the cola wars.
That’s cold comfort for Max, of course, who clearly misses his celebrity status. He was recently brought back for a British PSA on the changeover to digital television. He was old and cranky, bemoaning the loss of his uniqueness. “Don’t they realize that it all started with me?” he whines — adding ominously, “You’ll be digital like me s-s-s-someday!” Someday is now, Max. And th-th-thank you for making it possible. Sorry you’re now stuck in the same box as Chris Matthews. I’d suggest you change the channel, but, well, you don’t have any hands.
I'll say it again..."Max Headroom" was a brilliant television satire/dystopia. Viewing it now, over twenty years later, will prove to be a rewarding experience. It deserves to be remembered, studied and honored.

Perl as the epitome of remix culture - interview with Larry Wall

Although he does not use the word in this interview, Larry Wall repeatedly describes the Perl programming language as, essentially, an embodiment of remix culture. He does so in the course of describing Perl as a culture as well as a computer language, as being modelled on natural language, and as an artistic medium.

A Mosque At Ground Zero

Here is a recent tweet from Debra Dickerson:

YES u have a rite 2 a mosque @ground zero just as theres a rite 2 desecrate the flag. & FU very VERY much 4 exercising it.#goahead&hateme
 I am not mad at Debra Dickerson but I do strongly disagree. 

When I attended yeshiva in Baltimore (many, MANY years ago) you could pretty much rely on the sides of the building being covered in graffiti swastikas on the morning after Halloween.  People did not want a yeshiva anywhere nearby.  It was a Jewish institution (nondescript as it was) and people didn't like having a building full of Jews (CHRIST-KILLERS!) in their immediate vicinity.  They wanted us to go away, somewhere where they wouldn't have to be reminded of the accommodations required of them by the spirit of tolerance.  Nobody was advocating that we be rounded up and arrested or that we be expelled.  They preferred, however, that we not so apparently occupy the city they lived in.  We were citizens, they would have grudgingly admitted, many of us even born in the United States...but we weren't REAL citizens.  Fuck us for taking advantage of the rights which, technically, we were granted.

This thinking (although it is a stretch to call it such) is destructive of the very American spirit people seem to think they are upholding. So it is with the question of a mosque being built near Ground Zero.  

Lest anyone think that I can respond this way only because I did not experience the pain of 9/11/01 I offer the following:

  • Many of the streets of my neighborhood (Inwood, Upper Manhattan) have been renamed to commemorate neighbors who perished -- both as occupants and as rescue workers -- at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  They are a constant reminder of what happened.
  • Inwood Hill Park, three blocks from where I live, was the site of an extensive memorial installation of flags in 2006.  
  • Both my wife and myself had worked in World Trade Tower 6 for about ten years (although we had departed for other jobs by 2001). 
  • I was working on 45th street, walked about 70 blocks uptown to finally catch a subway home.  
  • Phone lines were so congested we could not communicate with our kids or with their schools for hours -- during which time we were unsure whether another attack on New York might be imminent.  
  • None of my personal friends died in the World Trade Center that day but many of them were present and I have heard them tell horrifying stories of what happened.  
  • If, after a full, open and legally proper trial, the individual perpetrators of the horrors at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were to be found guilty I would have no qualms about seeing their lives ended.  
  • In fact, although my personal involvement in 9/11 does not approach that of thousands of people who were there and thousands more who lost friends and loved ones it is still greater than at least 95% of the population of the United States.

None of the above, however, has any bearing on whether a mosque should be built near Ground Zero.  It isn't proposed in an adversarial spirit but in a healing one.  

People whose guts tell them that a mosque near Ground Zero is a repugnant prospect should carefully interrogate their guts; they are being led astray by their visceral responses.

I welcome dissenting opinions articulated reasonably.  I want to talk about this.  I do not welcome epithets, screeds, or thoughtless blathering.

Roku Really IS Worth Looking Into

I don't do a lot of endorsement on this blog but I have gotten a lot of value from my Roku and I find myself enthusiastically recommending it to people in conversation, as a way of getting rid of cable, why not?

Click here to get 10% off a Roku AND to get me a free month of Netflix.

Goodbye, Good-Goody Girl, I'm Changing And How!

Jane Austen's subtle and wry observations of human foibles have been an inspiration to generations of artists. I am filled with an ineffable sense of the continuity of culture when I see the ways in which Austen's work informs creators even today:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Storied Trove of 1930s Jazz Is Acquired by Museum...But When Will We Get To Own Copies?

This New York Times article  is good news...until you get to the end.  While the National Jazz Museum In Harlem would like to make this extraordinary collection of radio performances public they have a rough time ahead of them.  Copyright law, which seems to apply even 70 years after these performances were recorded imposes the responsibility of tracking down each and every rights holder.  This is at the very least a daunting task and almost certainly an expensive one, both in terms of time and money.

Once again, copyright law achieves the exact opposite of what was intended when provisions for it were first made in the Constitution.  The "temporary monopoly" which, back then, was meant to encourage creation and to enlarge the cultural commons, now puts barriers between us and our cultural heritage.


For decades jazz cognoscenti have talked reverently of “the Savory Collection.” Recorded from radio broadcasts in the late 1930s by an audio engineer named William Savory, it was known to include extended live performances by some of the most honored names in jazz — but only a handful of people had ever heard even the smallest fraction of that music, adding to its mystique


After 70 years that wait has now ended. This year the National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired the entire set of nearly 1,000 discs, made at the height of the swing era, and has begun digitizing recordings of inspired performances by Louis Armstrong,Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Bunny Berigan, Harry James and others that had been thought to be lost forever. Some of these remarkable long-form performances simply could not be captured by the standard recording technology of the time...


Mr. Schoenberg said the museum planned to make as much as possible of the Savory collection publicly available at the museum and eventually online. But the copyright status of the recorded material is complicated, which could inhibit plans to share the music. While the museum has title to Mr. Savory’s discs as physical objects, it does not possess rights to the music on the discs.


“The short answer is that ownership is unclear,” said June M. Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at the Columbia University School of Law. “There was never any arrangement for distribution of copies” in contracts between performers and radio stations in the 1930s, she explained, “because it was never envisioned that there would be such a distribution, so somewhere between the radio station and the band is where the ownership would lay.”


At 70 years’ remove, however, the bands, and even some of the radio networks that broadcast the performances, no longer exist, and tracking down all the heirs of the individual musicians who played in the orchestras is nearly impossible.



Crowdfunded Documentary: "Adventures In Plymptoons"

Alexia Anastastio is on a deadline.  She is trying to raise $10,000 by October to fund her new film, "Adventures In Plymptoons".  And she's made a very special promise to her fans if she raises the money ahead of schedule.






Is it legal to eat your cat?

I, of course, am a vegetarian. The question, nevertheless, is an interesting one...
Cat. Click image to expand.
When police in Western New York pulled over Gary Korkuc for blowing off a stop sign on Sunday, they found a live cat in his trunk, covered in cooking oil, peppers, and salt. Korkuc told authorities that his pet feline was "possessive, greedy, and wasteful" and that he intended to cook and eat it. Korkuc has been charged with animal cruelty. Is there a legal way to cook and eat a cat?
Maybe in some places, but not New York. Few states have specific laws barring the use of pets for food. The ones that do typically ban the slaughter or sale of dog and cat meat. The state of New York expressly prohibits "any person to slaughter or butcher domesticated dog (canis familiaris) or domesticated cat (felis catus or domesticus) to create food, meat or meat products for human or animal consumption." It's not clear whether the eating itself is outlawed or only the butchery. If you managed to buy dog or cat flesh from someone else who broke the anti-slaughter law, you might be OK. The law also doesn't cover ferrets, gerbils, parakeets, or other less familiar pet species. (Although the general anti-cruelty law might protect exotics.)
California's anti-pet-eating law has a broader reach. It bars possession of the carcass, so having bought your cat steaks from someone else wouldn't be a useful alibi. The California law also protects "any animal traditionally or commonly kept as a pet or companion," rather than just Fido and Fluffy. The statute is somewhat untested, though, so no one really knows which animals are included. Pigs are not, even though they are commonly kept as pets, because they are farm animals. Horses are specifically covered by a different section of the code. There's no precedent on iguanas, goldfish, or boa constrictors.
In most of the country, the legality of pet-eating would come down to the specific language of the general animal cruelty statute and how a judge interpreted it. Some states, such as Virginia, bar the unnecessary killing of an animal, with a specific exemption for "farming activities." In those places, it's very likely that killing a cat for dinner would get you in trouble, because the killing wouldn't be necessary, and cats aren't commonly associated with farming.
On the other end of the spectrum are states like Missouri, where very few restrictions are placed on when, why, and how an owner can kill his pet. In these areas, it would be difficult to lock up a cat-eater, unless his chosen means of slaughter were particularly inhumane.
Authorities won't have any trouble prosecuting Korkuc, the Western New Yorker who was marinating his cat in the trunk. Whether or not he really intended to eat his feline, keeping a companion animal in a motor vehicle without proper ventilation is illegal. Rubbing the cat with chili-infused oil, while not specifically addressed, is also a violation of the state's general cruelty law, which prohibits torture.
Worldwide, cat and dog meat seem to be at a crossroads. China pulled dog meat off the market for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is considering a law barring it permanently. South Korea, on the other hand, has inched toward explicitly legalizing the widespread and officially tolerated dog-meat trade.
Got a question about today's news? ")Ask the Explainer');.
Explainer thanks Debora Bresch of the ASPCA, David Favre of Michigan State University College of Law, Adam Parascandola of the Humane Society of the United States, and David Wolfson of Columbia University.

Like Slate and the Explainer on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.
Brian Palmer is a freelance writer living in New York City. He can be reached at ")');.
Photograph of cat by George Doyle and Ciaran Griffin/Thinkstock.

Every Move You Make...

Disney, Ustream, SodaHead, Warner Bros., and a number of other websites are spying on kids' Internet use, according to a lawsuit filed recently by a group of parents and their children. The suit accuses ad widget company Clearspring Technologies of enabling these sites to track kids all over the Internet, and not just on Clearspring partner sites, leaving them in violation of numerous federal and California state privacy laws.

According to the complaint, each of the Clearspring affiliates independently and knowingly authorized the company to track users, even on non-Clearspring affiliated sites. A Flash-based tracking cookie was allegedly installed by the affiliate sites without users' knowledge, and would recreate itself by digging into the Flash storage bin for the same user information if deleted. Essentially, users who were trying to remain privacy-conscious by regularly deleting their cookies were not able to rid themselves of the cookies deposited by Clearspring.

From there, the defendants allegedly collected personally identifying information about their users in order to sell the data, which includes video viewing habits, gender, age, race, education level, geographic location, sexual preference, what the users like to read, home address, phone number, health condition, and more, says the lawsuit. The parents behind the lawsuit cited a recent study out of UC California-Berkeley about Flash Cookies and Privacy, which found that certain Flash cookies would respawn when deleted—without any notice to or consent from the user.

The complaint is very similar to one filed against Clearspring competitor Quantcast in July, whose Flash cookies are used by MTV, ESPN, Hulu, MySpace, NBC, ABC, and Scribd. That suit also cited the UC Berkeley study, accusing Quantcast of following a "pattern of covert online surveillance." Quantcast stopped its zombie cookie behavior after Berkeley's study was published in August of 2009, but the users represented in the lawsuit still felt that their privacy had been violated thanks to the collection and distribution of their personal information.

In the Clearspring case, the defendants claim that they don't share the collected data with third parties—though they do share it with their corporate affiliates. Still, those behind the lawsuit say they never gave authorization to the Clearspring partners that would allow them to collect the data in the first place, and are seeking class action status as a result.

Not only do they accuse Clearspring and its affiliates of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the plaintiffs also say the sites are in violation of California's Computer Crime Law, Invasion of Privacy Act, Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and the state's Unfair Competition Law. Given Quantcast's response to the accusations, we wouldn't be surprised to see Clearspring issue a "fix" to this behavior, especially if put under pressure by some of its big-name partners like Disney. Still, the damage has already been done and the parents behind the suit are unlikely to let up until they get a satisfactory ruling or settlement.

A group of parents are accusing companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers of, essentially, digitally stalking their children.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sunday, August 08, 2010

It Happened Here, by Kevin Brownlow

I was not surprised to read that Kevin Brownlow's 1966 It Happened Here (a documentary-style alternative-history film about Nazi-occupied Britain) was originally conceived as a Hammer-style horror film.  There is a scene toward end the which caused me to marvel, even as I watched it, at the use to which he was putting a traditional horror/thriller trope. 

If It Happened Here is to be thought of as a horror film, however, it is best thought of as kindred to such films as Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, and maybe The Manchurian Candidate.  It is far less polished a film than any of these, though...there is not a trace of slickness in it.

It is remarkable in many respects:

  • It uses a great number of non-performers in crucial roles;
  • It recreates the look of the WWII years in Britain without using a single frame of stock footage;
  • It was conceived of by an 18-year-old (Brownlow) who enlisted a 16-year-old military expert (Andrew Mollo) to help him;
  • It employed real British Fascists to make a case against Jews in Britain and for euthanasia;
  • It was made for almost no money;
There is a story about the aformentioned scene filmed with British Fascists.  Jewish groups objected to those seven minutes of the film, causing the producers to excise them from the original release.  They were only restored 30 years later, when Brownlow regained control of the film.

This is not what I'd call an entertaining film.  It is sometimes hard to watch just for technical reasons (some muddy sound, for instance).  It is, however, a surprisingly rich film as I think about it.  The "documentary" style nicely parallels Italian Neo-Realism and the black-and-white photography and lighting puts Film Noir looks to fascinating use.

You should consider watching this film at least once.  I intend to watch it again.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

How, Without Copyright, Would Filmmakers Make $200 Movies?

Well, as TechDirt pointed out nearly four years ago, they probably wouldn't. It is not clear that this would be bad for either the movie industry or for cinematic art.

The Case For The Future of Curation

Jeff Jarvis uses the word "publicness" to denote the increasingly public quality of our lives. Privacy is at a premium, as is attention. There is a future in providing reliable filters to which users can turn so that they don't have to negotiate the oceans of available information in order to find the islands of value. A typo caused him to write about "the wisdom of the crowed"...but upon reflection he decided to let it stand. "The wisdom of the crowed" turns out to be an apt way to talk about this phenomenon.

Friday, August 06, 2010

John Robbins: The Dark Side of Vitaminwater

In a staggering feat of twisted logic, lawyers for Coca-Cola are defending the lawsuit by asserting that "no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage."

Does this mean that you'd have to be an unreasonable person to think that a product named "vitaminwater," a product that has been heavily and aggressively marketed as a healthy beverage, actually had health benefits?

Or does it mean that it's okay for a corporation to lie about its products, as long as they can then turn around and claim that no one actually believes their lies?

John Robbins: The Dark Side of Vitaminwater

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Benjamin Franklin Was a Pirate

"...Franklin's principles didn't inhibit him from re-publishing the works of eighteenth century British authors without seeking their permission or offering remuneration..."

From the same article:

"Piracy was rampant because the United States refused to sign international agreements protecting copyright, in the belief that this would damage its own publishing industry."

"The copyright law of 1790, which allowed pirating, was nationalistic in intent. Drafted by Noah Webster, the great lexicographer who later compiled an American dictionary, the law protected only the work of American authors; it was felt that English writers should look out for themselves."

"Bad as the law was, none of the early publishers were willing to have it changed because it proved profitable for them... the cheap and plentiful supply of pirated foreign books and classics in the first 50 years of the new country did educate Americans, including the first great writers, who began to make their appearance around 1825."

"American copyright law was not reformed until 1891. Even then, no compensation was provided for works published before that date, and at the behest of the American print unions, a clause was inserted that required that in order for a work to be copyrighted it must contain a copyright notice and be registered at the US Copyright Office, which effectively meant that the first editions of a work had to be printed in the US for the book to be eligible for copyright protection."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What Is That Sound In The Distance, Growing Louder and Louder?

It is the approach of Expire Magazine!

ASCAP Hacked!

Hackers have apparently hacked ASCAP's website and, in a related attack, Peter Himmelman's YouTube account in order to plant this hoax video, which renders in ludicrous, reductio ad absurdum, terms certain claims the organization has been making about artists' need for strong copyright protection...

It has been suggested that the hacker is Himmelman himself, who has been cited for his  "non-sequiturs"which are "semi-lgendary"  but nobody acquainted with the humility of the man takes this suggestion seriously.

In a masterpiece of subtle subversion the hackers have included, on the ASCAP page, the following recommendation:


If you are a music creator and want to help spread the message that you value your work and deserve to be compensated for it, we encourage you to view Himmelman's video and share it with your friends and fans via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or any other method you choose. A suggested Tweet/Facebook post is below."