Forgiving My Music


A few years ago (I don’t really remember when) someone on this blog (don’t remember who) [edit: it was nathan] lamented the fact that the increased visibility of our childhood indiscretions, thanks in no small part to Facebook, had never resulted in a change in how we forgive one-another for our past-selves. That instead of saying, “eh I was a kid once too” we continue to roll our eyes, clutch our pearls, and even deny each other jobs based on the contents of timelines, profiles, and posts. Today I’m starting to feel like such forgiveness might have to begin with ourselves because –as many of us might be experiencing at this moment—I have started a free trial of Apple Music and I am confronted with my old iTunes music purchases. I need to forgive myself for the purchase of A Bigger Bang when it came out in 2006. This is hard. more...

Dethroning the Public Sphere

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Today seems like a good day to talk about political participation and how it can affect actual change.

Habermas’ public sphere has long been the model of ideal democracy, and the benchmark against which researchers evaluate past and current political participation. The public sphere refers to a space of open debate, through which all members of the community can express their opinions and access the opinions of others. It is in such a space that reasoned political discourse develops, and an informed citizenry prepares to enact their civic rights and duties (i.e., voting, petitioning, protesting, etc.). A successful public sphere relies upon a diversity of voices through which citizens not only express themselves, but also expose themselves to the full range of thought.

Internet researchers have long occupied themselves trying to understand how new technologies affect political processes. One key question is how the shift from broadcast media to peer-based media bring society closer to, or farther from, a public sphere. Increasing the diversity of voices indicates a closer approximation, while narrowing the range of voices indicates democratic demise. more...

Technological Determinism Dies Hard: A Corollary to Graeber’s “Of Flying Cars”

Scene from Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard
Scene from Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard

David Graeber has republished his popular essay Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit in his new book Utopia of Rules with some small changes that go toward supporting the book’s over-all argument that the hallmark of American neoliberalism is not dynamism and a freeing up of individuals to peruse “creative class” jobs but rather a bureaucratization of every aspect of life. This total bureaucratization (almost literally) papers over the structural violence that supports capitalism. Of Flying Cars specifically argues that the utter failure to deliver on the implicit promises of Jetsons-level automation by the 21st century is not necessarily a matter of market forces (no one actually wants a flying car!) or technical impossibility (Moore’s law hasn’t delivered thinking computers yet!) but is in fact a product of both squashing the imagination through bureaucratic devices, and the immense devaluing of labor and elimination of corporate profit taxation that leads to paltry civilian research and development. In essence, capitalism in its present form, is anathema to the future it once promised.

Graeber states in the beginning of the essay that he is puzzled by the near silence from those people who saw the moon landing on their televisions but today do not, themselves, live on the moon (or can easily teleport there, or take a drug that might extend their life to the time that both of those things are available). “Instead,” he writes, “just about all the authoritative voices—both on the Left and Right—began their reflections from the assumption that a world of technological wonders had, in fact, arrived.”

Graeber relatively quickly drops the issue of how our collective expectations of the future could be so quickly and completely re-aligned (his answer is postmodernism) and goes on to explain why such an alignment has become necessary (capitalism’s secret love of bureaucracy) but I want to dwell on the “how” question a little bit longer by offering up a corollary to Of Flying Cars. The argument that follows is also a reprinting of my own work, an article published in a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Engineering Social Justice in Peace, co-authored with Arizona State University’s Joseph R. Herkert. I want to argue that our expectations for the future are purposefully managed through a circulation of imagined threats to capitalism, the popularizing of narratives that flesh out that threat, and the re-articulation of those imagined threats as real ones that must be met with massive government funding. I will demonstrate this process using a beloved and uniquely American franchise: Die Hard. more...

Most Wanted: Cameras, Criminal Justice and the Persistence of Vision

A 1916 American Mug Shot
A 1916 American Mug Shot

Visual technologies continue to play an increasingly key role in strategies for monitoring and surveillance in modern capitalist societies in crime prevention and detection, and the apprehension, recording, documenting and classification of criminals and criminal activities. Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world. more...

Record or it Wasn’t Rape


A new duo of apps purports to curb sexual assault on college campuses. WE-CONSENT and WHAT-ABOUT-NO work together to account for both consensual sexual engagement (“yes means yes”) and unwanted sexual advances, respectively.

The CONSENT app works by recording consent proceedings, encrypting the video, and saving it in on secure servers. The video is only accessible to law enforcement through a court order or as part of a university disciplinary hearing. The NO app gives a textual “NO” and shows an image of a stern looking police officer. If the user pays $5.99/month for the premium version, the app records and stores the recipient of the “no” message, documenting nonconsent. The apps are intended to facilitate mutually respectful sexual engagement, prevent unwanted sexual contact, and circumvent questions about false accusations. See below for quick tutorials provided by the developers more...



Atrocities in Eritrea atop my Twitter feed. A few tweets below that, police violence against an innocent African American girl at a pool party. Below that, the story of a teen unfairly held at Rikers Island for three years, who eventually killed himself. Below that, news about the seemingly unending bombing campaign in Yemen. Below that, several tweets about the Iraq war and climate change—two longtime staples of my timeline. It reminds me of the writer Teju Cole exclaiming on Twitter last summer that “we’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us….”

This torrent of news about war, injustice, and suffering is something many of us experience online today, be it on Facebook, Twitter, in our inboxes, or elsewhere. But I wonder about the ‘evolutionary’ framing of this problem—do we really need to develop some new kinds of emotional or social or technical filters for the bad news that engulfs us? Has it gotten that bad? more...

Why Does Reddit Love to Hate?

Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit. image credit: Christopher Michel
Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit. image credit: Christopher Michel

An unfortunately predictable thing happened on Reddit last week. Reddit’s corporate administrators announced that they would be shutting down “five subreddits that break our reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals.” These were fairly small subreddits, except for r/fatpeoplehate which had 150,000 subscribers at time of banning. The primary mission of r/fatpeoplehate was to find pictures of fat people, make fun of them in the comments and –if at all possible—find these people and harass them for being fat. [If you’re unfamiliar with the structure and vocabulary of Reddit I’ve provided a primer at the bottom of this page.]

The administrators were careful to point that they were “banning behavior, not ideas.” That is, while they know that there are dozens of subreddits devoted to white supremacy, tactics for violent raping women, and doxxing young women for espousing feminist beliefs on Tumblr, (yes, all of those exist and they are a lot bigger than you or I want to believe) those communities should rest assured that they will be safe so long as moderators make overtures to discouraging collective behavior that goes beyond reaffirming each other’s dangerous and hateful thoughts.

One could be forgiven for thinking that banning such disgusting behavior from a small minority of people would be met with some “that makes sense” head nods and any sort of outrage would be directed at the failure to ban more subreddits, not less. What in fact happened was quite the opposite: within the day there were dozens of new subreddits playing host to the kind of content and behavior that characterized r/fatpeoplehate. What’s more disturbing though, is that the content from these new subreddits were making it to the frontpage with thousands of votes. There were also countless posts calling for Reddit’s CEO Ellen Pao to do everything from resign to defile herself. As of writing, a full four days after the announcement, there’s an “Ellen Pao Must Resign” subreddit with over seven thousand subscribers that are still able to get links to the front page. more...

the lone and level sands

image courtesy of Little Visuals
image courtesy of Little Visuals

We live in the cloud.

We live in the clouds. Plural. There are so many of them. Three billion of them, give or take, everywhere. Surrounding. Enclosing. Auras of eyes, ghosting over your limbs, trunk, neck and head; there isn’t anywhere they won’t go. There’s a tremendous degree of comfort in this perfected and perfectly complete surveillance – and in fact surveillance is an ugly term, far too politically loaded. Observation and documentation are cold and clinical and don’t even come close to capturing what the experience of this is like.


Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” Video–Too Many Drops To Be ‘Pop’

According to Steven Shaviro, the combination of digital media and neoliberal capitalism has changed the way movies are composed, their underlying logic. I’ve argued that these changes in film composition parallel recent-ish changes in pop music song composition. Brostep sounds like Transformers having sex because, well, Skrillex and Michael Bay are using the same basic methods to achieve the same general aesthetic. (Seriously, there’s a “Transformers having sex” tag on Mixcloud.) This 2011 video mashes a Transformers clip with a brostep song, and in the same way that 2 Many DJs showed that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Bootylicious” are effectively the same song structure, it shows that Bey and brostep are effectively the same compositional structure.

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But that’s all a preface to what I really want to talk about: Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video.

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Like “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together,” “Bad Blood” is another Max Martin produced pop dubstep track, with verses and choruses organized around a soar or a drop. The first soar/drop happens as Swift’s character is getting suited up by the Trinity, around 1:20-1:30. Here the handclaps rhythmically intensify till a drop, but a drop with no wobble. We just land on the downbeat as Swift sings “now,” and the bass and percussion comes back in. [1] This is repeated at 2:15. These soars take us from the verses into the choruses; they’re mini-climaxes.


Audible Gentrification: Apple Music’s Play for Global Dominance

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Yesterday Apple announced something many of us were expecting: a streaming service to rival Spotify and possibly expand/destroy the services provided by recently acquired Beats Music. At first glance the recently announced service seems to be not much more than an also-ran for streaming: Apple Music lets you stream the iTunes catalog, make playlists, and provide a radio service for a reasonable monthly subscription. Unlike other services however, Apple is claiming to keep some of the human-curated playlists that gave Robin James’ 80 gig iPod classic a run for its money.

At the center of this “we’re not just Spotify” pitch are not only ad-free stations with real DJs playing music available to a global audience, but a kind of global radio brand that is something much more than Spotify’s pre-made playlists. The inaugural station “Beats 1” will be available in 100 countries when the service launches at the end of this month and even though, at time of writing, most of the world has known about this service for all of half an hour there’s still a lot gleam from the introductory demo. Apple is interested in not only shedding its U2 Dad Rock Albatross (someone photoshop a literal visual representation of that please), it wants to do so by establishing itself as the arbiter of global pop. more...