Category Archives: media

Juxtaposition: Marvel donates to the president campaigns

Artifact 1: Goldmacher & Schorey, “Trump Campaign’s $63 Million Dwarfed by Biden’s $177 Million.” New York Times, October 20, 2020.

Artifact 2: Maddeus “‘Avengers’ Stars Encourage Fans to Vote Blue During Biden Fundraiser” Variety. October 20, 2020.

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Wingspan: creating inclusive boardgames

Wingspan and a tasty summer meal.

Long out of print in 2019, I was pleased to get a copy of the boardgame Wingspan this summer. Since it arrived we have played Wingspan almost every two days. Wingspan is one of the best constructed and fun to play games of all time.

Wingspan allows you to build an collection of birds in meadows, forests and wetlands. You operate mostly in solitaire mode, drafting birds, getting food and laying eggs for future generations. The mechanics resemble natural processes and the subject (170+birds) are simply beautiful.

The game play is very pleasing. I find myself lost in my own (almost solitaire-like) joy in strategizing how to get the right food to build a magnificent Golden Eagle or Mississippi Kite, the sense of competition falls away and I’m just in the zone. It is an innovative game mechanic – you finish every game wishing for one more turn.

Wingspan was created by Elizabeth Hargrave who has a robust life as a thoughtful board game intellectual. I’ve watched a few videos where she documents the process of creating Wingspan. She comes across as sincere, thoughtful and aware of issues of representation and power in all aspects of life. The below lecture given at the NYU Game Center is a good example.

https://www.twitch.tv/nyugamecenter/video/757846824

Hargrave outlines the creation of the game and the development of the innovative game mechanics. When given the opportunity she also unpacks some of the gendered assumptions about Wingspan (“Am I making games for women?” she asks at 41:20. ) The response includes this great slide:

Hargrave’s talk is for a group of students (MA and BA) who are studying game design. You can watch the video on a number of platforms, but watching it on twitch has the added benefit of seeing the commentary as Hargrave’s lecture unfolds. (This is also a refreshing juxtaposition, traditionally the text chat on the side of a twitch stream would be rapid-fire trolling copy/paste spam, replaced in this case by earnest classmates joking with each other and riffing sincerely on Hargrave’s arguments).

Hargrave is on top of the significance of representation in boardgames. She also shared the tools and strategies she used to build, and publish her game. She shares information about inclusive calls by game companies and scholarships for new designers. She seems earnest in a desire to open up games for new creators and to encourage sincere support for each other.

I appreciate the values expressed by this approach of game design. She also just comes across as cool. At 46:00 when she encourages future boardgame makers to experience wonder by making games about things that they care about or describing her ban on games that include castles, I got the sense that Hargrave would be fun to hang out with and game with.

One thing that consumers who share the values of inclusion, accessibility and nonviolence can do is BUY these kinds of games. Wingspan is published by Stonemaeir games and you can get all sorts of cool stuff there. I recommend the European bird expansion set.

While praising the game you have to pause at the incredible art that covers the cards of Wingspan. The hundreds of birds illustrated for the game are almost scientific-style drawings, but are really beautiful. You can check out the artwork of Ana M. Martinez and Natalia Rojas on their respective websites.

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Filed under Animals, art, communication, gender, juxtaposition, learning, media, nature, representation, science

1UP global graffiti innovations

I appreciate the thoughtfulness and strategic communication of the 1UP graffiti crew. The above videos are a pretty good representation of the trans-national cohort bent on leaving their shared name on any (un)available surface.

1UP have challenged the stereotypes before with their coral reef tag, and the #LEAVENOONEBEHIND campaigns. They are graffiti extenders – moving the practices of graffiti into new mediums and methods. The crew seem comfortable with a variety of new application strategies including the whole crew whole car strategy with the car in service, fire extinguisher painting, and of course repetition.

These two videos present some of the more interesting elements of 1UP practice. I’ll observe:

  1. Collaborative vacation. These videos document 2019-20 New Years Eve in Napoli. The crew pick a location and then paint up the town and socialize. They share a crew tag and a goal of making it beam from every surface in the city.
  2. interactions on the street. The 1UP crew zip around Napoli and paint on the walls with passersby interacting. These offer up some great moments like the memorial tag at 2:28. But the 1UP crew seem social, jolly, the paintings all seem pretty crisp and they seem to pass cans to people walking by if they express an interest.
  3. Include the failures. I really like the disruption of the standard graffiti video format. Including some high profile failures and semi-honest reflection about those tactics adds a lot to these two films.
  4. Strategic painting. Two giant cans of silver paint with fat caps allow a person to cover a lot of terrain. The use of teams (one person doing the fill and another to do the outline) and the multiplication of these roles if they are doing something larger was really impressive.
  5. Nostalgia. After a half a year of COVID-19 and stresses of the end of democracy in the United States, seeing a band of artists run through a European city on New Years eve seems like nostalgic hi-jinx.
  6. Vele. The Vele houses in the second video (10:45) offer up one of the best case studies of representation and voice. My concern is that it would be exploitative for the community members, so I appreciated that they foregrounded consent with the neighborhood and participation in the message-making.
  7. Art. I have some aesthetic preferences. Not sure what the face on the Vele houses was. Was not moved by the addition of the yellow streaks to most of the finished throwups. Really liked the rainbow drip piece. Appreciated the solid lines and old school letter styles used for 1UP across the project.
  8. Ethics. I’m sympathetic to anyone who was disrupted in their transportation to work. I bet quite a few people were terrified by the giant firework explosions. And I think that some of the crew shots of large gatherings of hooded men may seem menacing to some.

Overall these two videos are great examples of communicative strategy both in the video construction and the 1UP artwork.

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Filed under art, communication, cultural appropriation, do-it-yourself, documentary, graffiti, media, representation, Surveillance, technology

Information literacy as self defense: COVID-19 edition

The election of 2016 marked an deep downward pull for American democratic traditions. After the election the institutions that make up government became under attack by the President and the cabinet members. Each American agency seems to have been sapped of leadership, undercut, and in many cases, the people working at the State Department or the NEH found themselves directed to work 180 degrees opposite the purpose of the agency. The Environmental Protection Agency for instance:

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he was freeing oil and gas companies from “burdensome and ineffective regulations.” By rolling back an Obama-era policy designed to curb gas leaks at pipelines and wells, the EPA administrator was essentially giving energy companies the go-ahead to release much more climate-warming methane into the atmosphere.

MSN – https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/another-giveaway-to-polluters-from-the-trump-epa/ar-BB18ecp1

Let’s not pretend that the United States confidence in government was very strong before all this. But you pile on the increasingly refined ways that people gather news and form opinions and the genuine cynicism that everyone seems to share, and we face a deeper problem.

We risk losing the inability to discern fiction from truth – (and I’m a postmodernist), or the ability to debate complex ideas. I’m sure that the basic skills still exist on college campuses and the nod toward some shell of debate and rigorous argument can be found in corners of youtube.

Joshua Yaffa writes in the New Yorker about the continued focus on Russian propaganda (Yaffa outlines how much of this should be considered a threat) and the more problematic impact of the President and Fox News reporters muddying the waters over the significance and response to Covid-19.

Yaffa writes: “When it comes to COVID-19, the apparent result of the combined disinformation campaign of Trump and Fox News has been devastating. A working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May analyzed anonymous location data from millions of cell phones to show that residents of Zip Codes with higher Fox News viewership were less likely to follow stay-at-home orders. Another study, by economists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, suggested a disparity in health outcomes between areas where Fox News viewers primarily tuned in to tucker Carlson, who, among Fox hosts, spoke early and with relative urgency about the danger of COVID-19, and places where viewers preferred Sean Hannity, who spent weeks downplaying its severity. The economists found that in March, viewership of Hannity over Carlson, in the locales they studied was associated with a thirty-two-per-cent increase in infections, and a twenty-three-per-cent increase in COVID-19-related deaths

(Yaffa, Joshua.”Believe it or Not.” New Yorker. September 14, 2020, p. 29)

With these kinds of numbers, we need to be making the connection that information literacy is a public health investment. In 2020 being able to discern if a source is lying to you is a survival skill. Fortunately it is one that a couple of hundred thousand teachers can resolve with some investment and support.

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Filed under academics, capitalism, communication, critique, health, juxtaposition, learning, media, propaganda, resistance, rhetoric, science, technology

RIP “Muffwiggler” Mike

The guy who founded the online forum Muffwiggler passed away.  His vision of a forum to make modular synths accessible has been really meaningful to a lot of people and has corresponded with the rise in Eurorack.  He had been an opaque figure for me – a mostly unknown founder with a basement full of rare synths.  With his passing a number of interesting videos have emerged including this one which gives Mike a chance to talk about the origins of the forum and reflect on the often consumerist nature of modular synths.

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Berlin Kidz: Graffiti for the ages

 

 

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21st Century Boycott: Fox News, O’Reilly, retaliation and institutional protection for sexual harassment

I appreciate the strong reporting in the New York Times article: “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.”  Authors Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt cover the systematic protection of Bill O’Reilly who comes off as a serial predator.

The article looks at five settlements that have been paid to women who have alleged and often documented harassment from the Fox News star.  Two of the settlements were known, but three were uncovered by Steel and Schmidt.

The article is phenomenal journalism and highlights the pattern of toxic behavior and the costly efforts to retaliate against those who have complained.   This is a good opportunity to examine some of the patterns of retaliation that were visible in this article.

Most of the women who complained were threatened with professional harm when they didn’t comply with threats or when they came forward.  Andrea Mackris filed a sexual harassment suit against O’Reilly in 2004.  The New York Times article describes the retaliatory threats:

“Two years later, allegations about Mr. O’Reilly entered the public arena in lurid fashion when a producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, then 33, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the suit, she said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her. Ms. Mackris had recorded some of the conversations, people familiar with the case said.

Ms. Mackris also said in the suit that Mr. O’Reilly, who was married at the time (he and his wife divorced in 2011), threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints, current and former employees told The Times. Before Ms. Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own, asserting she was seeking to extort $60 million in return for not going public with “scandalous and scurrilous” claims about Mr. O’Reilly.

“This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I have seen a lot,” he said on his show the day both suits were filed. “But these people picked the wrong guy.”

A public relations firm was hired to help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor, and the private investigator Bo Dietl was retained to dig up information on Ms. Mackris. The goal was to depict her as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the strategy. Several unflattering stories about her appeared in the tabloids.

After two weeks of sensational headlines, the two sides settled, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Mackris about $9 million, according to people briefed on the agreement. The parties agreed to issue a public statement that “no wrongdoing whatsoever” had occurred.”

Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt. “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.” April 1, 2017. New York Times.

It is worth noting the techniques used to attack the victim.  The perpetrator attacks the survivor personally, the company defends the perpetrator with a heavy-handed lawsuit, and the company hires a PR firm and private investigators to destroy the survivors reputation.

And then they settle.  That means that all the personal attacks and reputation smearing that ruin someone’s life were essentially pressure to beat someone down so they will take less money for their silence.  I can imagine the meeting where someone at 21st Century Fox has to run the numbers on how much they could save in destroying the lives of sexual harassment survivors.

The cost-benefit-analysis strategies of corporations who decide to try to ruin the reputations of employees who come forward to complain about sexual harassment may undervalue the public relations costs of being associated with a serial rapist or a serial harasser.

The Brock Turner survivor letter, Emma Sulkowicz and the performative mattress carry, an Obama/Biden administration with a robust advocacy for Title IX have changed public opinion about sexual harassment and rape.   The ascendance of a generation of young activists like Know your IX committed to fighting rape culture will not return to the cover-up and blame-the-victims days.

Which means that large corporations who are in the business of making money are going to have to factor in what explicit boycotts and affiliated bad PR will cost them when they defend a prominent figure like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailles.

It seems grotesque that an institution would protect a serial predator because they make the business a lot of money.  Steel and Schmidt’s expose does a good job documenting how much advertising revenue O’Reilly’s show pulls in ($446 million from 2014-2016).  So what would a boycott have to cost the parent company to dump O’Reilly?   A couple of hundred million dollars?

More importantly, I wonder how little effort it would take for people on social media to destroy the 21st Century brand.  A dozen volunteers could watch O’Reilly’s show, note advertisers and then illustrate businesses which give money to support victim-blaming.  Simply posting the New York Times article in the publicity threads for each new 20th Century Fox blockbuster movie would convince me to spend my movie money elsewhere.   Artists who might record soundtrack music for Fox Music can be gently reminded through fan pages or tweets about the retaliatory behavior of the parent company.

Steel and Schmidt’s article is a good piece of investigative journalism that makes visible the retaliatory behavior of one of the largest companies in the world.  It also exposes how much the company has to lose if they mishandle the public relations associated with their brand being tainted by O’Reilly’s harassment lawsuits.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, gender, media, protest, representation, resistance, sexism, sexual assault

Big Money: Robert Mercer and Trump

Jane Mayer is a national treasure.  A thoughtful investigative journalist for the New Yorker, Mayer has authored books on torture (The Dark Side) and on the Koch brothers funding the Tea Party uprising (Dark Money).  Mayer is scholarly, relentless and enthusiastic for details.

Her new essay in the New Yorker is a great write up on Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund financier (and his family) who helped to create and sustain Donald Trump.  The essay has a number of vital arguments to archive:

  1.  The Mercer family has been the money behind the rise of Breitbart and Steve Bannon.

“In 2011, Bannon drafted a business plan for the Mercers that called for them to invest ten million dollars in Breitbart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Breitbart site was little more than a collection of blogs. The Mercers signed the deal that June, and one of its provisions placed Bannon on the company’s board.

Nine months later, Andrew Breitbart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Bannon became the site’s executive chairman, overseeing its content. The Mercers, meanwhile, became Bannon’s principal patrons. The Washington Post recently published a house-rental lease that Bannon signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Breitbart News was seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Under Bannon’s leadership, the Web site expanded dramatically, adding a fleet of full-time writers. It became a new force on the right, boosting extreme insurgents against the G.O.P. establishment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Cantor, the Virginia congressman. But it also provided a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

2.  Those seemingly innocent “personality tests” on Facebook may have been part of the data-mining and political work of Cambridge Analytics.

“In 2012, one area in which the Republicans had lagged badly behind the Democrats was in the use of digital analytics. The Mercers decided to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosinski, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge, was working in the emerging field of psychometrics, the quantitative study of human characteristics. He learned from a colleague that a British company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, wanted to hire academics to pursue similar research, for commercial purposes. Kosinski had circulated personality tests on Facebook and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of information about users. From this data, algorithms could be fashioned that would predict people’s behavior and anticipate their reactions to other online prompts. Those who took the Facebook quizzes, however, had been promised that the information would be used strictly for academic purposes. Kosinski felt that repurposing it for commercial use was unethical, and possibly illegal. His concerns deepened when he researched S.C.L. He was disturbed to learn that the company specialized in psychological warfare, and in influencing elections. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his colleague signed a contract with the company.

Kosinski was further disconcerted when he learned that a new American affiliate of S.C.L., Cambridge Analytica—owned principally by an American hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempting to influence elections in the U.S. Kosinski, who is now an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s business school, supports the idea of using psychometric data to “nudge” people toward socially positive behavior, such as voting. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”

It is unclear if the Mercers have pushed Cambridge Analytica to cross that line. A company spokesman declined to comment for this story. What is clear is that Mercer, having revolutionized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accomplish the same feat in the political realm.”

Source: The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker

The rest of Mayer’s article is a great read.  Useful to keep a list of the right-wing funded “research” organizations that are thinly-veiled research firms designed to dig up (or create) dirt on an opponent.   It is also interesting how small the circle of funders, activists and decision-makers appears to be from this essay.

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#Blacklivesmatter and Militarized police responses to protest

Baton Rouge Police officer points machine gun at peaceful crowd. Photo by David Lohr/Huffpost

Astounding images of militarized responses to peaceful protestare emerging from the July actions against police violence.  Stunned by the graphic videos of the police killing Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana many people have taken to the streets to express their outrage.   They have been met with police seemingly ready for confrontations.

While thinking about heavy-handed police responses  it is essential to consider the killings of police officers in Dallas.  Police were covering a peaceful #blacklivesmatter rally when they were shot.  Five officers were killed and seven people were shot by a sniper unaffiliated with the movement.  I can imagine that the police are looking for enemies around every corner.

I hold both things true at the same time.  I mourn the dead and hurt police officers in Dallas.  I mourn the black people killed by police officers.

***

DeRay McKesson was arrested in Baton Rouge last night.  You may have seen the photo of his arrest.

11McKesson-2-superJumbo

DeRay McKesson getting arrested in Baton Rouge. Photo by Max Becherer AP.

Mckesson is a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who had traveled to Louisiana to document the protests.  One of hundreds arrested, Mckesson was filming when he was tackled by two police officers while walking on the side of the road.  The New York Times reports:

Mr. McKesson, 31, repeatedly tells viewers in the broadcast that there is no sidewalk where they are marching. In the background, an officer can be heard shouting, “You with them loud shoes, I see you in the road. If I get close to you, you’re going to jail.”

“I think he’s talking to me, y’all,” says Mr. McKesson, who often wears a blue vest and red sneakers to demonstrations.

Soon after, Mr. McKesson repeats that there is no sidewalk. “Watch the police, they are just literally provoking people,” he says.

Then, about five minutes into the broadcast, the video gets shaky and a police officer can be heard saying: “City police. You’re under arrest. Don’t fight me. Don’t fight me.” Then Mr. McKesson shouts, “I’m under arrest, y’all.”

Source: DeRay McKesson Among Protesters Arrested Nationwide – The New York Times

This seems like a targeted grab to arrest a spokesperson.  An arrest to intimidate and bully a journalist.  It also seems to be a particularly military response to activists calling attention to disparate racial policing.   Police have to know that these gun-waving, activist tackling moments make them look irrational and violent.

So many of these arbitrary and scary arrests appear to intentionally silence people.   A protester was doing an interview with Rochester journalist Tara Grimes when she was charged and grabbed and arrested by a circle of armored police officers.

These images are not inspiring.  I hope for civil dialogue and rapid cultural change.  But along the way we are going to have to document the logic and reasoning of these moments of militarized policing and hold them accountable.  I think public visibility is the only hope we have. I bet it will be hard, but it is necessary that communities continue to insist on respectful engaged police.

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Cops on Alton Sterling: ‘Just leave him’

Louisiana Police killed Alton Sterling.  This is the 558th police killing of civilians THIS YEAR.   The convenience store clerk (Abdullah Muflahi) who witnessed the killing and reported to The Advocate:

Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said. “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. “They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”

Source: ‘He’s got a gun! Gun’: Video shows fatal confrontation between Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge police officer | The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Its worth watching the video of the killing taken by bystanders.  Let’s note that both of the officer’s body cameras “fell off” according to law enforcement and the first thing the cops did is seize the surveillance footage from the convenience store.

Thanks to the Guardian for The Counted, the web site which documents police killings in the US.  Here is to peace and justice for the family.  Here is to accountability and a hope for change.

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