Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
If you still haven’t bought a gift for me, don’t sweat it. My true love already has me covered:
12 farting Santa pillows
11 Star Trek pizza cutters
10 frog guts models
9 Tweeting collars
8 bacon wallets
7 pink machine guns
6 zombie targets
5 eyeball rings
4 Chiefs logo toasters
3 lizard phone covers
2 useless clocks
And a $2 million personal submarine.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
The current month is likely to leave a couple of interesting points unresolved. In early December the United States backed out of talks about a new international telecommunications accord. At the outset of the consideration the terms seemed completely uncontroversial, the sorts of things that would interest only telecom nerds. But then a coalition led by Russia and China began building references to the Internet into the language. Though the accord wouldn’t have imposed an actual duty on any government to censor the net, the idea of incorporating content restrictions into a purely technical bargain rubbed the United States and several other countries the wrong way. As of this writing the deal looks dead, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. At least it’s nice to know that someone in our government understands the issues at stake.
Less comforting is the FCC’s current stance on ownership deregulation. Rumors from DC suggest that the commission is poised to further relax the rules governing how much of the country’s media markets may be dominated by a single company. The name Rupert Murdoch keeps coming up in criticism of the anticipated move, though of course Newscorp isn’t the only player that stands to benefit. So far the commission hasn’t made an official announcement, so this stands to be big starting early next year.
With the election over and politicians less immediately concerned about their popularity with voters, we need to watch closely for a brain-eating-zombie resurgence of SOPA. Recall that big media companies want this draconian crap something fierce, and folks with that kind of money generally aren’t great at taking no for an answer.
The net neutrality question will also probably continue to percolate. AT&T’s back-track on the FaceTime front feels more like a strategic retreat than a genuine surrender. I don’t know exactly where the next battle will flare up, but I nonetheless feel it coming.
A couple of media industries bear watching in the coming year. For some time now I’ve been wondering exactly when non-media corporations were going to start taking a closer look at the value of advertising. With budgets tightening and audiences migrating, I expect more and more companies are going to start asking hard question about the effectiveness of spending money on ads. I’m not predicting some sudden, momentous collapse of the entire ad industry. Still, this is an area worth keeping an eye on.
The movie industry also may be making some changes. For decades now Hollywood’s revenues have steadily increased with only a few relatively small hiccups here and there. But in 2011 the studios saw a decrease in box office receipts for the first time in years. The final numbers for 2012 aren’t in yet, but if they show continuing downward progress then we may start to see some changes.
One of the more disappointing trends to emerge during the election this year was wholesale disregard for media aimed at Hispanic audiences. Spanish-language and other Hispanic-oriented TV networks saw only a small fraction of the total money spent on campaign advertising. This was likely tied to efforts by the parties in power to prevent Hispanic people from voting (because if you can’t vote, why would anyone bother trying to talk you into voting for his candidate?). That might reflect the short-term status of this crucial demographic, but it isn’t sustainable in the long term. This segment of the population is growing too rapidly to be successfully marginalized forever. So wise media planners will monitor the growth of Hispanic-oriented media.
And finally, I’m counting the days until Google Fiber actually arrives. The company’s web site currently indicates that I can expect my fiberhood to get hooked up sometime this coming fall. Let’s hope the process stays on schedule. Because if it does, the “biggest moments” list in 2013 is likely to have at least one obvious entry.
And on that cheery note, I wish you all a happy new year.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
The claim was technically questionable. Worse, the decision was barred by the FCC’s net neutrality regulations. Though a service provider could conceivably charge users extra for excessive use, it can’t block software entirely. Only Ma Bell knows for sure whether the decision was prompted by potential legal woes or the possibility of losing customers to less assholish competitors.
Friday, December 21, 2012
The run-up was also disturbing stuff. The map on the Missouri side revealed a sharp division between the gonna-get-its and not-going-to-get-its, a literal “digital divide” running right down Troost. Faced with criticism about who would get connected and who wouldn’t, Google extended its upcoming reach to neighborhoods that likely would not have qualified on their own. That partially resolved the backbone issue, but it should keep us all mindful of the social, cultural and economic differences between those who can consume the most up-to-date digital media and those who can’t.
On the plus side, at least I now have a general idea of when I’m finally at long last going to be able to fire AT&T.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Oh, wait. No we didn’t. Plug pullers like me got to see little or nothing of the Olympics. Even the stupid ad with Her Royal Majesty and James Bond failed to play properly, crapping out in the middle and leaving me to wonder why Betty Battenberg, Daniel Craig and a gaggle of corgis walking down a hallway was such a big deal.
I already griped about this when it happened, so at this happy time of year I’m prepared to let the matter rest. However, when the festivities move to Sochi in 2014, I’m going to be quite put out if Comcast’s atavistic self interest deprives me of my beloved biathlon coverage.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
This video came out in July. By my presentation in November, it was the number two video in YouTube history, rapidly gaining on Justin Bieber. As of this writing, it’s now number one by a substantial margin and likely to become the first video in YouTube history to get more than a billion views.
Its immense popularity has a few lessons to teach us about media in the 21st century. First, it reminds us that our media marketplace is global. One of the few things the United States exports more than imports is media products. And here we have a piece of K-pop fluff surpassing sophisticated efforts from big record companies.
The source is also significant. South Korea tends to live in the giant media shadows of Japan and China, so PSY’s success at least got the world to recognize that Korea exists. A big part of the video’s popularity comes from viewers throughout East Asia.
Except Japan, where it seems to be more of a “meh.” Anti-Korean racism aside, the Japanese may be forgiven for their luke-warm reaction to the whole “Gangnam Style” thing. After all, Japan has been producing weird goofiness like this for decades. PSY’s magnum opus (op-op-op-op-oppa Gangnam style! damn this thing gets stuck in my head) isn’t particularly different from literally thousands of Japanese animations, music videos and other pop culture offerings.
And that’s the real million-dollar question: what makes a video that isn’t really much different from a lot of other videos suddenly catch on and “go viral”? This drives Big Media nuts. In most other realms, they’ve got success formulas all worked out. They know what makes a blockbuster movie turn a huge profit. They know which singers are going to sell tracks and get airplay. They know what works and what doesn’t in just about every medium. Sure, sometimes they guess wrong. But they’re right often enough to maintain their considerable profit margins.
But not with stuff like this. There’s no apparent formula for raising a PSY out of peninsular obscurity and selling his performance to hundreds of millions of people. This lack of predictability makes web-based media one of the most interesting things going on now and an area to watch closely in the future.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
News folk have always had an uneasy relationship with press releases. In an ideal world, a reporter would start with a press release from an outside source (company, government agency, charity, etc.) and – convinced of the story’s newsworthiness – use it as a springboard to go out and find her own facts and quotes. Someone lazier – or more pressed for time, if we want to give this practice a positive spin – might use quotes directly from a press release, provided of course that the source was clearly identified in the story.
Back in my days working PR, I heard stories about newspaper folk doing what Penn did. In fact, I heard about some reporters who copied entire releases, stuck their bylines on them and passed the whole thing off as their work. At least Penn didn’t go that far. Still, what he did was bad enough, a clear violation of the ethics we all learned in J-school.
If the firing had been the end of the story, it would at best have been one of the Eight Most “That’s Just Sad” Media Moments of 2011. But then Penn put the mess on this list by filing a wrongful termination suit in June. His most disturbing allegation was that he shouldn’t have been fired for plagiarism because what he did was common practice at The Star and in the newspaper industry.
Though I hate to see a big media company get away with firing someone who worked for it for decades, I hope he loses his suit (or at least wins it on grounds other than his “common practice” argument). I’d really hate to see him successfully prove that news writers everywhere are parroting corporate spin rather than going out and gathering the news. As if the newspaper industry isn’t already beset by enough trouble. The last thing it needs right now is erosion of confidence from the few readers it has left.
Monday, December 17, 2012
But one of the biggest moments on the political ad front went largely unnoticed, taking place months before the non-stop onslaught got underway. In April the FCC ordered broadcasters to make their political advertising files available online.
By virtue of their use of the public airwaves, broadcasters are subject to a lengthy list of regulations that don’t apply to other media. In the realm of political advertising, broadcasters are required to accept ads from candidates and run them at the lowest rate available. Stations must keep records of all such ads and make the records available for public inspection. The new twist this year was the requirement that the records be made available via the Internet.
The National Association of Broadcasters challenged the change in court, but the suit went nowhere. Now anyone can go to the FCC’s web site and find out exactly how much each campaign is paying each TV station. Of course a lot of advertising – such as ads from pressure groups – isn’t subject to the rules. But at least now it’s possible to track at least some of the doings on the airwaves without a trek to broadcasters’ offices.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Mickey Mouse law was bad enough, but this pair were plain crazy. They would have introduced the principle of “guilty by accusation,” allowing big media companies to run crying to the federal government and get entire sites shut down based on a simple claim of copyright violation. The edges of the law’s protection are fuzzy enough – particularly in the realm of the fair use exception – to require proper adjudication, not censorship based on mere suspicion.
But more interesting than the proposals themselves was the reaction to them. Big Media (with Disney and Time Warner in the lead) lobbied hard, but they found themselves up against Big Internet (particularly Google). And worse, they faced a sudden groundswell of grassroots opposition from Internet users. After a 24-hour protest that blacked out Wikipedia and several other popular sites, legislators turned tail and removed the bills from consideration.
That alone made it a big moment. How often do you see Congress pay attention to anyone other than lobbyists?
Saturday, December 15, 2012
In January 8sails officially released the Media Survival Guide. I wrote the bulk of the text while on sabbatical in the fall of 2011, and in the spring the guide underwent a largely successful “beta test.” In the summer I added a downloadable PDF and a Kindle edition. In the future I hope to release it as an iBook and on the web in a format customized for mobile devices.
Based on the “bite-sized learning” model, the guide is designed for easy reading in smaller chunks, customized for students who need to study in short bursts between other activities (such as during a break at work). If a particular topic happens to pique the reader’s interest, she can delve further by exploring the links at the bottom of each page.
Amazon makes me charge 99 cents for the Kindle version, but everything else is available free of charge, a considerable savings over the $80 or so the textbook publisher charged for the textbook I used to use for my Intro to Mass Comm class. And that’s the real importance here. In the old publishing world, creating a textbook was a costly proposition requiring students to pay the substantial costs of production. Now content is key and distribution is free (or near enough to free that publication costs don’t have to be passed along to those least able to pay them).
I’m not ready to proclaim “behold the future of textbook publishing” just yet. Too many people (professors and publishers alike) are still making too much money for this new approach to learning to instantly catch on. But at least now such a thing is possible.
Friday, December 14, 2012
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Monday, November 5, 2012
Friday, November 2, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Friday, October 5, 2012
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Monday, October 1, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
At first the whole talking-to-an-empty chair thing was just bewildering. Apparently an imaginary Barack Obama heckled Eastwood throughout his rambling, incoherent speech, repeatedly telling him to shut up. That by itself would have been odd, as I can’t say as I’ve ever heard the President tell anyone to shut up. I suppose he’s done it, but it seems more like Bill O’Reilly’s thing.
Far more chilling was the spirit of Ralph Ellison invoked by the stunt. Black people have gone from not being seen when they are there to being seen when they aren’t. That’s a funny kind of progress.
Overall the experience just made me sad. I’ve enjoyed Eastwood’s work in the past, even admired some of it. But here he was clearly trotted out by the GOP with the cynical supposition that no matter what he said, his remarks would still serve as a rallying point for the party faithful. Mission accomplished. I posted a dig on Facebook about the difference between Eastwood’s notion of who owns America and what the Constitution says on the subject. It drew an “I liked his speech” from an acquaintance who sports hunter orange in his avatar photo.
The most telling moment: when even Eastwood wouldn’t stoop to uttering the line for which the crowd so deeply lusted: the Reagan-co-opted line from Sudden Impact. Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle raised the only question worth pondering about this legendary moment: why the hell would a handful of heavily-armed criminals just sit there gawking while Dirty Harry reached into his jacket to draw out his trusty hand cannon? “Do 50 bullets in your ass make your day?”
Do you feel lucky? Well do you, RNC?
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
A remark Mitt Romney made during a recent speech set me off, so this is what I posted:
“Hey Mitt Romney, here's a citizenship test for you: does being born in Michigan automatically make you a U.S. citizen even if one of your parents was Satan and the other was a jackal? I don't want to see your birth certificate, Mitt. I want you to shave your big, stupid, rubbery head on live TV to prove that you don't have a triple-six birthmark.
“Congratulations, jackass. You just made me decide to vote in November. I know the electoral college keeps you safe from the likes of me. But now I'm going to vote against state and local Republicans as well, something I might not have done if not for your birther crap. Keep up the good work.”
So as I expect you’ve gathered from that, the “birther” stupidity really pisses me off. Romney just made it worse by helping de-marginalize it.
Mass media nexus: this rant drew more feedback than anything else I’ve ever put on Facebook.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
When I posted a link to Freepress’s petition to the FCC on Facebook, the whole mess brought me mindful of those ancient days of yore when the Justice Department actually tried to do anything about monopolies. Seriously, didn’t this noise get broken up back in the 1970s? And now here it is again. This thing is like a T-1000. There’s no point to busting it into a thousand pieces, because it’ll just put itself back together and come after us again.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
This post commemorates our neighborhood’s achievement of the minimum number of pre-registrations for Google Fiber. So now it’s official. When the company starts installation, we’ll get hooked up.
Oddly, it isn’t even the prospect of an internet connection 100 times faster and more reliable than our current arrangement. It’s that long-cherished dream that someday, if I was pure at heart and said my prayers by night, I’d finally get the opportunity to fire AT&T.
Because I don’t just hate AT&T. I hatey hatey hatey hate AT&T. Hate it so much that flames out the side of my face, burning ...
Well, you get the picture.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Or to be still more precise, I used to like watching the venues. This is my first once-every-four-years without cable or the dish, so I’m forced to limit my viewing to what the Web can provide. Which turns out to be not much. I tried downloading NBC’s Olympics coverage iPad app, but to no avail. It required a userid and password from my multichannel service provider, which of course I don’t have.
So here’s the latest elaborate corporate relationship: NBC has no problem screwing its broadcast affiliates by allowing viewers to watch directly over the Internet. Yet it still seeks to compel us to remain thralls of Comcast, Time Warner, or DirecTV.
I suspect this will work out okay for the network this time around. But I wonder about the state of the infoscape four years from now. How tempting might it become to pick up five or ten bucks per viewer for an app for people without MSPs? And how much more of key age and income demographics will become unreachable except via the net?
Monday, July 30, 2012
Friday, July 27, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Awhile back Staban was driving down Kansas Avenue when he happened to see a Morlock driving the car next to him. Or at least he thinks it was a Morlock. It had stringy, white hair. It had a shriveled face. It looked like it had never seen the light of day.
Trouble was, it was smoking a cigarette.
This prompted a discussion about whether or not Morlocks smoked. Certainly we never see them doing so at any time during the George Pal production of The Time Machine. But that doesn’t definitively answer the question, because all the Morlocks we see in the movie are at work. They’re on the Eloi-boiling production line, and of course in the food service business you can’t smoke on the job.
Further, I’ll bet Morlock smoke breaks are short. Eloi boiling seems like the kind of job where if you and your co-workers wander off for even a couple of minutes that you’d have the boiling foreman all up in your business.
“You Morlocks need to keep busy. I can’t have you Morlocks loafing off. If the boss comes up here and sees you loafing off, he ain’t gonna yell at you. He’s going to yell at me. So get back to boiling those Eloi.”
Thus they only get to really bust out the Winstons and relax in the car on the way home.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
19-0 – This was a good stream of trivia about Harriet Tubman’s perfect record of slave rescue missions.
The Wu Tang Clan – I had no idea this apparently-silly group had such a profound effect on music marketing.
101 Masterpieces: Jaws – The article made some good points about the importance of this movie to the blockbuster marketing process, but it didn’t do much to justify its inclusion in the canon of world art treasures.
In Praise of Sin – Once again, Mental Floss runs a piece that’s more concept than content.
Complicated Concepts Explained Using Kitchen Items – Sadly, most of the explanations weren’t all that illuminating.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
The “Scatterbrained” devoted to bears – Every issue the trivia flood at the start is devoted to a theme object. This time it was bears, a personal favorite subject. I was intrigued to learn that polar bears are invisible to infrared cameras and that the Humane Association has specific rules for handling bears on movie sets. Of course part of it was bear hunters and Berenstains. But for the most part the section was good.
The Easter Island Statues Have Bodies! – And so they do.
10 Shocking Secrets of Flight Attendants – I wouldn’t go as far as “shocking,” but some of these were interesting. The height and clothing restrictions aren’t all that fascinating, but I would have figured stories about sneaking dead bodies onto planes were urban legends until I read this.
Are Dogs Really Man’s Best Friend? – Spoiler: cats win.
Cheat Sheet: The Kentucky Derby – Once again explain to me how doing this with animals is okay while dog and chicken fighting isn’t.
10 Essential Life Pointers from John Hodgman – Who? Or more directly to the point, why?
9 Weapons That Failed Spectacularly – Too much animal suffering. Bad enough we have to come up with new, stupid ways to make people suffer.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
Thursday, July 5, 2012
The fireworks are all shot. I’ve finally got the ash cleaned out of my hair and my left eye. The brush fire has been extinguished. So the final cap for the Independence Day holiday is to post the answers to the Fireworks or Justified quiz.
The first one was a giveaway, as it was both the first episode of the series and also a basic bit of pyrotechnics. The rest, on the other hand, were far trickier.
1. Fire in the Hole – Both
2. Missouri Kicker – Fireworks
3. Bad to the Bone – Fireworks
4. The Lord of War and Thunder – Justified
5. Shock and Awe – Fireworks
6. The Hammer – Justified
7. Cottonmouth – Justified
8. Total Blowout – Fireworks
9. Midnight Rider – Fireworks
10. Blaze of Glory – Justified
11. All Jacked Up – Fireworks
12. The Gunfighter – Justified
Hope you all had a great Fourth of July.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
For those unfamiliar with the latter, Justified is a crime drama on FX. The 8sails staff got started watching it mostly because of the star, Timothy Olyphant. Who of course pretty much guaranteed that the show is known informally around the office as Not Deadwood.
The series follows the exploits of federal marshal Raylan Givens, a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-if-he-feels-like-it lawman who brings his particular brand of justice to Harlan County, Kentucky (locale of a famous documentary about the hard lives of coal miners). This testosterone festival is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, who is also one of the show’s executive producers.
So it should surprise precisely nobody that the names of the episodes are typically bite-sized chunks of machismo that would be right at home on T-shirts from Labor Day in Sturgis. Or a Bob Seger greatest hits collection. Or fireworks.
1. Fire in the Hole
2. Missouri Kicker
3. Bad to the Bone
4. The Lord of War and Thunder
5. Shock and Awe
6. The Hammer
8. Total Blowout
9. Midnight Rider
10. Blaze of Glory
11. All Jacked Up
12. The Gunfighter
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
How long has it been since I actually liked a low budget horror movie? But then, how long has it been since I saw one that employed any amount of subtlety? Further, this picture seems custom designed to appeal to those of us who were kids back in the early 70s when the nation went paranoid nuts over the Manson murders. In this tale, a boy is sent to live on his grandparents’ farm while his parents take some time to “work it out.” Though cautioned to stay out of the corn field, he goes exploring. Soon thereafter a sinister, invisible presence begins to threaten the family. The picture combines childhood anxiety, nightmares and actual threat with still unmatched by most expensive productions. The picture also features Chloris Leachman and Tara Reid, both of whom do good jobs despite not exactly sporting résumés with “subtle” written all over them. Worth seeing
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
A group of people trapped on an isolated island start dying one by one. Who’s killing them, and why? This worked well for Agatha Christie (title notwithstanding). But wow does it not work here. The sole survivor of the island massacre struggles to regain her memory, telling the tale of slaughter in drawn-out chunks. Personally, my chief suspect for most of the movie was the lost chihuahua. See if desperate
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Actually, Pizza Hut seems to think that I’m willing to eat anything with a P and an apostrophe in front of it. What’s next, guys? P’Garbage? P’Shit? Oh, wait ...
Further down, the copy describes this thing as “heroic.” That’s either an insinuation that a P’Zolo is distant kin to a hero sandwich or just the latest lost battle in the war to assure that the word “hero” means anything at all.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
|How can we go on without masterpieces like this?|
The 8sails staff meeting is online this week, as a scheduling conflict prevents our usual Friday get-together. Despite the odd venue, we have important business to deal with: the passing of Thomas Kinkade.
Dead at 54 of "natural causes"? Who the hell do you people think you're fooling? Apparently behind the twinkly born-again glow the guy was a serious alcoholic and poon hound. My favorite tidbit: he was ejected from a Disney theme park for urinating on a statue of Winnie the Pooh. Given the character's name, perhaps we should be grateful it was just urine.
So now I envision a painting. Sunset. Pine trees twinkling in a gentle breeze. A babbling brook. Old-timey pick up trucks parked around a ramshackle building, a warm glow emerging from the open doorway. And up top, another kind of warm glow shines forth from a neon sign announcing "Live Nude Girls." Thomas Kinkade's "Love Shack."
What a fraud, Beria says. I hope that when portal to the motel of the mysteries is first breeched, the future Carnarvon isn't assailed by the scared religious paintings of Thomas Kincaid or videos of the orgiastic gospel weltanshauung of Lawrence Welk. They'd just pull the backhoe up and bury the whole mess.
So now I find myself wondering if civilizations get some kind of advance warning when their time comes, sort of like individuals who can sense that the end is near.
Pharaoh: Okay, everyone. I just got the word from on high. Our civilization is going to come to an end, so we need to tidy the place up a bit. We don't want archaeologists 2000 years from now to think we were a pack of idiots, so I need you all to get rid of anything that might make us look bad. Take all those velvet paintings of "Ammuts playing poker" and "My dad drowned chasing Jews across the Red Sea and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" apparel out into the front yard and set fire to it.
We should be so lucky.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Friday, March 9, 2012
I honestly wish the Internet didn't facilitate package tracking. Before I could peek behind the scenes, I just figured that if something took awhile to get from the source to my doorstep, it spent most of the time in transit somewhere. But now I know that more often than not an item will cross the country in less than 24 hours and then spend the rest of the time sitting on a shelf less than ten miles from my house.
Maybe they could introduce a you-pick-it-up service. At least then it would be my own fault if it just sat there for awhile.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
The idea here is to recreate classic covers using nothing but clip art and Comic Sans. I’m not sure exactly what lesson I’m supposed to be learning from this, but clearly it’s a good one.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
One of the chapter’s “key players” is Harriet Beecher Stowe. And as standard practice (to increase student comfort with the material) I’ve been including Wikipedia entries. Stowe’s just happened to have a “this article may include inaccuracies” flag at the top, so I hopped over to the discussion section to see what the problem was.
As if I didn’t already know. And yes, there they were. Crypto-racist trolls insisting that the entry should include a mention that “Stowe never actually visited a plantation.”
Problems with this argument:
1. It implies that you can’t accurately depict the horrors of slavery unless you’ve seen them first-hand. I hope the next stop on the troll journey was over to George Lucas’s Wikipedia entry, demanding that it point out that Lucas has never actually been to outer space. Though Star Wars includes no end of disconnect with reality, Stowe’s writing was based not only on proximity to the problem (she lived right across the river from a slave state) but also on extensive research.
2. It implies that Stowe unfairly portrayed slavery as an unending hell of pain and misery. Not so. The protagonists begin Uncle Tom’s Cabin on a relatively benign plantation. But their owner falls on hard times and has to sell some human beings in order to make ends meet (breaking promises to them in the process). And that’s when the trouble really starts.
3. It side-steps the issue. What’s the counter argument to Stowe’s abolitionist thesis? That slavery wasn’t all bad? That some slaves were happy just like Stowe’s contemporary detractors claimed? Are such claims subject to proof? How could you possibly reliably demonstrate the happiness of a slave?
More directly to the point, is anyone really claiming that it should be okay for one person to be the legal property of another, to be forced to work without compensation, to be bought and sold at will, to be treated in whatever manner the master sees fit? Even under the best of conditions, on a hypothetical plantation on which a kindly, generous master provides good food and comfortable homes, plenty of time off to rest and pursue cultural activities of the slaves’ choosing, and never overworks, sells, tortures, rapes or murders any of them, slavery is still wrong.
A century and a half later, are we still having this debate?
No we aren’t. The entire Confederacy-was-misunderstood jerkweed coalition needs to come to grips with the rotten roots of this belief. If you think slavery is such a hot idea, go to one of the countries where it’s still legal and sell yourself to someone. Send us all a postcard letting us know how it works out for you.
Until then, take your traitor flags down and join the rest of us in the 21st century.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Friday, March 2, 2012
14 Essential Talking Points for the Constitutional Enthusiast – I already knew a fair amount of this, but it was nice to know that it was nice to know.
101 Masterpieces: American Gothic – I like this series. Though this particular painting doesn’t number among my favorites, I do like it a little better now that I know a little more about it.
The Most Important Questions of 2012: How secure are electronic voting machines? Not very, apparently. Sorta creepy, if you think about it.
Pop Quiz: Name that Cereal – The quiz is interesting enough, but it was better when it was originally published on the web. Whenever I encounter shovelware (regardless of which direction it’s being shoveled), it leaves me wondering why I’m paying for content that I could be getting for free.
Octopus Wrestling! – Return with me now to the ancient days of yore, when people apparently had nothing better to do than bother wildlife that wanted nothing more than to not be bothered. The Washington state legislature tried to dump this “sport” in the dustbin of history in 1976. Thank goodness Mental Floss dug it back out again.
The Meticulous Patriot’s Guide to Celebrating Presidents’ Day – This too-clever bit divides 24 hours up proportionally based on presidential popularity based on a Gallup poll. Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton (in that order) take up nearly half the day all by themselves. I get that we don’t collectively think too clearly about The Great Emancipator, but I’m deeply saddened by the notion that anyone would consider either a traitor-coddling dimwit or a tail-chasing jackass “history’s greatest president.”
The Most Important Questions of 2012: What’s the future of tattoo removal? – Because everyone who gets a tattoo will eventually want to have it removed, right? Assholes. Actually, other than the voting machine “clear spot,” most of the cover story was pretty useless.
Forget About Garage Bands – It’s All About Garage Science – Normally I’m a big fan of DIY tech, but these are some genuinely non-inspirational examples, stuff that bears the same relationship to serious science that garage bands have to actual, talented musicians.
No Business Like Shoe Business – I started reading this with a heavy dose of skepticism about the need for “The Story of the Sneaker.” Oh boy, right again.
The Airplane Graveyard – More reverse shovelware. Or is it just that this place has already been covered by so many other sources that it doesn’t really matter if this is new to Floss or not?
A+B=BBC – I already griped about this in a previous blog entry.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Fast forward to last year. Mental Floss magazine changed hands, and the new corporate owners naturally made some changes. And naturally some were better than others. The switch came at a bad time for me, because as a reader I’d reached the end-of-the-honeymoon point where I’d stopped reading it cover to cover anyway.
So I find myself wondering if the time has come to part company with this publication. To get a little longitudinal perspective, I’m going to write a “disclosing tablet” Floss critique each time I finish a new issue.
Starting now, with Volume 11, Issue 2, March-April 2012.
The Greatest Greeting Card of All Time – A few brief paragraphs about the Pansy Card, which has outsold every other card ever printed.
Visa: An Underdog Story – What a pleasure it was to read about the rat bastards at Bank of America taking a multi-million-dollar loss. Too bad the tale has a “happy ending.”
101 Masterpieces: City Lights – This entry wasn’t quite as good as some of the other installments in the 101 series. Still, I do love Chaplin in general and this movie in particular.
Going Viral – I’ve been in the computer business long enough to remember the first legends about Brain, the world’s first computer virus. So it was kinda cool to learn the real details.
The Oldest Living Things on the Planet – Because trees rule, especially impossibly ancient ones.
Arbitrary Throwdown: The Architecture Edition – Too clever for its own good, but the ancient vs. new comparisons were interesting enough.
Poker Lingo Worth Knowing – Is there such a thing? If so, it isn’t to be found in this quartet. Everyone already knows about Wild Bill’s legendary, fatal eights and aces. And is a pair of fives really known as a “Sammy Hagar” by anyone other than those sad individuals who self-identify as Sammy Hagar fans?
The Unauthorized Biography of the Easter Bunny – This is an example of one of the new ownership’s less attractive practices: working too hard to make stories clever. A straight presentation of Easter Bunny trivia would have been more readable than this working-it-too-hard “celebrity tell-all.”
Science on the Rocks – Maybe this was just a matter of taste, as I don’t personally give much of a crap about either molecular gastronomy or cocktails.
Hard-Drinking Hamsters – Always nice to know what inventive new ways scientists have found to mistreat animals.
A.J. Jacobs Is Your New Personal Trainer – No he isn’t.
The Fix: $100 and a Box – Journalist Jonah Lehrer assembles a “creativity kit” that apparently includes a DVD of Robin Williams Live on Broadway. Maybe if you gathered your friends together and used it as inspiration for a contest to come up with the most creative way for Robin Williams to die. Extra bonus for anything especially painful and lingering.
The Quiz – These have sucked consistently since the format change. The magazine’s online offerings are way better in this department.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
The book was pretty much what you’d expect (evangelist Iris Delgado shares fundamentalist family value hogwash). But one of the reviews was absolutely priceless. I reproduce it here in its entirety:
False advertising. Satan still got my kids. After buying this book, I put into practice all the recommended techniques. But the dark one still got my kids. He used their weakness, taffy, to lure them out into the back yard where they were escorted aboard his star-cruiser (which I've heard is roomier on the inside than it looks). For all I know, they're half-way to the Death Star by now! I've only received two calls from them, and it turns out Satan is treating them OK. But still, I want my kids back. Iris Delgado is a crook!
One of the other (actual serious) reviews of the Satan book pointed out that moms should make their daughters dress in demure, conservative outfits so that their fathers won't become aroused and molest them. Which makes me wonder how reliable an anti-Satan guide can possibly be if Satan himself actually wrote it.