Now that the U.S. and Cuba have started the process of normalizing political relations, lovers of mojitos and cigars are rejoicing, and politicians are debating — but the question on everyone’s mind is: What kind of effect will this monumental event have on the industry of manufacturing merchandise emblazoned with the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara’s image?
The famous photo of Che looking into the distance is one of the most bootlegged and reproduced in the world. Graffiti artists paint it, protesters put it on signs and it can be found in college dorm rooms right beside the Scarface and Salvador Dali posters.
Known as Guerillero Heroico, the original photograph was taken by Alberto Korda in 1960. Later, in 1967, the Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick altered the photo into a stark poster design that is now available on practically anything you want to buy.
ANIMAL spoke with John Trigiani, owner of The Che Store to see how he thought the renewed relationship between Cuba and the U.S. might effect Che merchandise. Trigiani had this to say:
I’m not sure at this point. Anytime in the past that Che would come up in culture it has increased sales, if there was a movie or a book released, a little bit … People will probably learn more about him as they visit Cuba and the culture and history becomes better known, which could be good for sales.
Trigiani added that for his business, which is located in Canada, it might hurt if someone in the U.S. started competing with him. But for the time being, The Che Store holds the image license for all of North America from the Alberto Korda family.
When asked if he thinks that Che’s cache as a rebellious figure might be harmed now that the United States isn’t at odds with the Cuban government, he says:
Anytime I see images of revolution around the world on the news, I see Che’s image … so it’ll probably continue to be an image of revolution.
The original designer of the graphic image, Jim Fitzpatrick, had no direct comment on the business surrounding Che. In an email to ANIMAL, Fitzpatrick sent a single word, “Venceremos!” Which means “we will overcome”, or “we will win” in Spanish. Moments later he followed up with a P.S.:
Now let peace break out. God bless and protect your President from the nut cases.
The decline of western civilization continues! Some intrepid data-crunchers over at Proofreader went through the pop charts from Billboard, going all the way back to the 1890s to determine the most common words in song titles by their uniqueness to the decade. For example, no one in the 1920s said disco, because disco has always been dead. Just kidding, no one knew what the hell disco was. Narrowing it down to a top five for each decade, the results might surprise you.
In the Leave It To Beaver era of the 1950s, people liked Christmas. The actual words “Christmas” and “Rednosed” make it into the top five. Timewarp all the way to the 2010s and things aren’t so sugar-and-spice-with-everything-nice. HELL YEAH WE FUCK DIE. Those are our words. Seriously. That really could be the rallying cry of our generation.
Other random thoughts from the results:
“Uncle” was a really popular word for two decades. What’s up with that?
In the 2010s we may want to Hell Yeah Fuck Die, but “we” makes its first appearance after two decades of “U” and “You.” Does that mean we are coming together? Or are just inserting ourselves into the equation more often?
Genres of music pop up in titles often throughout the decades: Rock, Polka, Disco, Mambo, Rag all show up. But for the last 30 years, genres have been absent. We have to start using music genres as verbs; it’s the only solution. I think Trap music lends itself most readily. We need Nicki Minaj to make song called Trapped In The Club.
If you like nerdy data you can see how it was processed here.
As outrage continues over revelations that the CIA tortured terrorist suspects and often misled the government about the intel it received, it’s important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for such an enormous apparatus has to fall on George W. Bush — the commander in chief who allowed it to happen and defended the program for years. In addition to the shocking descriptions of what our government did to human beings, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report also makes it clear that the president turned a blind eye to how the CIA implemented orders. It has come to light that Bush expressly didn’t even want to know where CIA black sites were located because he was afraid he would accidentally disclose the information. According to Bloomberg, the White House also specifically requested that the President’s cabinet not be given details on torture techniques.
It wasn’t until 2006, four years after the president signed a sweeping executive order to authorize the program, that he was given a detailed account of techniques the CIA was employing. The President reportedly “expressed discomfort when told about one detainee being chained to the ceiling of his cell, clothed in a diaper and forced to urinate and defecate on himself.” That discomfort apparently wasn’t strong enough for Bush to change his mind that “the United States doesn’t torture people,” as he stated a year later.
Since President Bush never fully looked into the details of the program he put into action, we thought it might be helpful to illustrate some of the gruesome examples of torture mentioned in the report and have him bear witness to them. In recent years, Bush has brushed away his crimes and revamped his public image with silly, innocent paintings. To be sure the president can understand the atrocities committed under his watch, we’ve represented them in an approximation of his own child-like painting style. This is what torture might look like through Bush’s eyes.
Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth,” after he was waterboarded.
The Cobalt interrogation site was kept so dark that guards would wear head lamps to move around.
The aide said that the Cobalt site was dark, like a dungeon, and that experts who visited the site said they’d never seen an American prison where people were kept in such conditions. The facility was so dark in some places that guard had to wear head lamps, while other rooms were flooded with bright lights and white noise to disorient detainees.
A detainee “was chained to the ceiling clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.”
According to CIA records, when briefed in April 2006, the president expressed discomfort with the ‘image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.’
An unnamed CIA officer placed a pistol near a detainees head and operated a cordless drill near his body during interrogations.
Later, during the course of al-Nashiri’s debriefings, while he was blindfolded, [redacted] [CIA OFFICER 2] placed a pistol near al-Nashiri’s head and operated a cordless drill near al-Nashiri’s body. Al-Nashiri did no provide any additional threat information during, or after, these interrogations.
Detainees were fed rectally for no medical reason. The CIA is also accused of performing rectal exams with “excessive force” on two detainees.
ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, artist Morehshin Allahyari discusses her web-based project Like Pearls. You can see more of her work here and read an interview with the artist here.
October 6, 2013
Looking through my spam folder, I find one in Farsi that says: “Have you ever bought underwear for your spouse?” I pause and think to myself: “Wow. Women in Iran are now buying sexy underwear for their husbands?!” When I click and look at the pictures, I only see images of female underwear and bras (not exactly surprising). But what strikes me the most is a phenomenon called “Gol-Shorti” (English for: Rose/Flower Underwear). I continue to click on the links that the spam email takes me to. I surf from one online store to another and I am in awe of the passive-aggressive language, the visuals, cheesy GIFs/images and the “creative package” that comes as a “romantic” red underwear wrapped around a rose flower. That’s what “Gol-Shorti” is about. A gift a man can buy for his lover/wife to surprise her… or as I read it, eventually surprise and please himself.
I put my parents’ house address in the “check out” section just to see if the online stores are really delivering to locations in Iran, and the answer is “yes”. This is even more interesting, because that means many of them must be operating from Iran. I remember just before I moved out in 2007, there were some new fancy/expensive lingerie stores in Tehran that had just opened. But before that, advertising for sexy lingerie was never a common thing; especially online.
I share a screenshot on Facebook to hear my Iranian friends’s thoughts/responses. From there on, I just keep an eye on the next spam emails in my inbox and continue to gather images and GIFs for the next 5-6 months. I am fascinated by their (unconsciously) ironic advertisement methods; much wiser than those coming from Africa, but still equally silly and nonsensical. Explicitly regional in a way; much of it would only make sense to an Iranian or Muslim or Middle- Eastern person. That’s where it always gets complicated for me. The translation of something so specific to a universal audience.
I notice that all the model’s bodies are censored, but in a way, nicely censored, not with black colors or bars/starts, like it’s common in national television or foreign magazines that are imported to Iran, but with white or nice textured patterns. I think about how equally f*cked up and ridiculous (to the point of surreal/funny) these images are. In my work I like to bring humor and satire; and to critique these power structures and cultural issues by addressing/reproducing them in a completely different context that is equally surreal/ridiculous.
I have ended up with more than 250 images of censored bodies from these online stores, still images from “gol-shorti” product, text from the advertisements and GIFs that I’ve collected from different Iranian “romantic” blogs that I think have the similar passive/aggressive love language.
So many of the ads use hearts, candles, flowers, and birds to create a nice looking and romantic atmosphere/website… but then (like so much of contemporary Iranian music), there is this aggressive language that is like: “If you leave me, I will come after you.” It’s a love that is threatening if it’s not done the way the men want it. The result can be situations like “acid attacks” or other violence against women… men who love you so much that they can’t live without you, but also love you “enough” to hurt you so that they can take you back or ruin your life forever by throwing acid on your face.
May 20, 2014
I’ve never done this much coding by hand. It’s so much work. Takes forever. But also, I love the process. So much of the collages and ideas just come in the process. I only have a loose structure to start from. Then everything else happens based on what visually and conceptually feels right at the moment. It takes 3 weeks to finish the website.
May 28, 2014
Trying to think of a relevant audio piece to use, I remember how cool I thought Backstreet Boys were when I was 12-13 in Iran… and how disappointed I was when, later in my life, I actually started to “listen” and understand the lyrics in English. I wanted to make a point of how similar -in a way- the “I want it that way” lyrics are to the aggressive love in these advertisements.
For two weeks, I show my in-progress project to every single friend that I hang out with. Both Iranian and non-Iranian friends. I want to know how much of what I have so far makes sense to them. What each of them, with different cultural understandings and knowledge will take from it. I always do this; in all of my work. A price I am happy to pay for being stuck between the two worlds of Middle-East/West : )
Then I choose the best advertisement text that I’ve collected and translate them from Farsi to English to make hyperlink images that will be on the Like Pearls website as pop-out messages.
May 5, 2014
I think for days about a name. “Like Pearls” starts to make the most sense. Because it says so much about the binary of the objectification of the female body in Western and Eastern cultures. In Islam for example, women are encouraged to cover their bodies. Their bodies are “like pearls” as it’s said in different Islamic text… and Hijab is like a shell. The more they cover their body and hair, the more valuable they become (like natural pearls inside a living shelled mollusk; hidden; the most valuable pearl one can find). This also makes so much sense for the advertisements in online stores that were mostly for men. Because women in Islam are asked to always and only beautify themselves for their husbands, so that their husbands are not bored with them and won’t cheat on them. It’s a woman’s job to be available and open for sex anytime her husband asks. In Western culture, the objectification of female body is the complete opposite. A woman’s body is a tool for advertisement (like a pretty/shiny pearl that has now been taken out of the shell to be used to make money off of or to put on display for men’s pleasure). It all comes down to a similar misogyny, but in opposing ways…
“Like Pearls” is a mash-up of all these ideas and concepts. Like much of my other work, it starts from personal and political struggles or daily life events and experiences, and uses the most relevant digital tools (in this case a website) to question, highlight, and bring together so many invisible cultural, political, and social issues familiar and unfamiliar to a universal audience.
A month ago I made my Halloween NFL logos. They got around and were fairly popular, as my logo sets tend to be. A week later someone else made Disney NFL logos. Then something happened. NFL logos weren’t cool anymore. Deadspin got sassy when they posted the Disney ones, acting smug and superior about logos now being a stupid 2014 trend. Well excuse me, Deadspin, but I started doing these logos in 2012, thank you very much, and I think it’s hilarious that you should act all condescending about something you are using to generate clicks anyway. Deadspin certainly had no qualms using my previous works for clicks. Soon after that, SBNation got cute and made a parody where they just posted every NFL logo as is and called it “NFL Logos as NFL Logos”. I personally thought it was kinda funny, but it was also pretty lazy and I thought would have been funnier if he labeled the teams differently or at least changed the colors. SBNation, of course, also had no problem linking the Disney or Halloween logos.
I don’t think either site meant it to be mean but more to just try and comment on the overload. After all, I myself have probably made more versions than anyone else. I’ve made them Fat, British, Anime, Hipsters, Halloween, Potheads & Manningfaced but it does seem to indicate that so many of these redesigns have come out now that the overall meme of “NFL logos as Thing” has reached the stage of an internet meme where it’s no longer funny, and needs to be subverted and mocked ironically for it to become funny again. As the world’s premiere NFL Logo humorous re-designer and trend setter I am saddened by this development, but it was inevitable so there’s no use getting too worked up about it. Instead, lets one-up the snarks at their own game. Let’s pitch the biggest tent you’ve ever seen. Let’s rise to the occasion. Let’s thrust our way back into NFL history and show these bums that if you want to mock the NFL logos, you gotta do it right. Step aside folks, & let the master work.
NFL logos as penises.
Let’s see if anyone is bold enough to use these dicks for clicks. NSFW, obviously. You’ve been warned.
After the rookie officer entered a darkened stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses with his gun drawn, the officers have said there was an accidental discharge, a ricocheting bullet hit Gurley, 28, in the chest. Gurley’s female companion ran for help and called 9/11. Because the two officers were known to be in the area, dispatch tried to contact them to respond. For six and a half minutes they were out of communication before finally making a radio call for help.
To make matters worse, the two officers didn’t know the exact address and they had been explicitly instructed not to patrol the stairwells in an exercise known as “verticals.” The head officer of the local housing command, Deputy Inspector Miguel Iglesias, had specified that any officer who enters a building should go no further than the lobby. Insiders say that the shooting could be construed as an accident, but the subsequent response may be considered a criminal liability.
Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson has expressed feeling troubled by the shooting and says there will be “an immediate, fair and thorough investigation.” Thompson is supposed to present evidence to a grand jury “as early as the end of this month.”
Hello there! For the fourth year in a row, we are doing THE DECEMBER PROJECT. The plan is simple. If you are trans– or if you love someone who is trans– and you need a friendly voice, email us and we will call you on the phone.
Jennifer Finney Boylan began this project in 2011 because she had been thinking about how hard the holidays can be for people– but they can be especially hard for trans people and their families. Charles Dickens had it right when, in the CHRISTMAS CAROL, he suggested that it’s Christmas, not Halloween, that’s the most haunted of holidays. Our memories are heightened at this time of year– we think back to our childhood, to our many struggles. For some of us it’s a time when we’re acutely aware of how cut off we are from those we love. The world is full of transgender people who are unable to see their children, their parents, their loved ones, all because of the simple fact of who they are.
We cannot undo all the hurt in the world. But what we can do is CALL YOU ON THE PHONE and remind you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You don’t have to be in crisis to take advantage of this project. All you have to do is want a friendly voice.
The project this year will be run by five people – four to make calls, and one to organize the emails. Dylan Scholinski, director of Sent(a)mental Studios; Helen Boyd, Professor at Lawrence University; Allyson Robinson, pastor-teacher, and Brynn Tannehill, journalist and educator. We are two trans women, a trans man, and a spouse of a trans woman. Between the four of us, we have heard many different kinds of trans narratives. If we can help you, we would be glad to do so. Our fifth person, who will receive your emails and get the right ones to us callers, is Donna Levinsohn, a lawyer and old, trusted friend of Helen’s who has been involved in trans activism for years.
How do you get us to call you? By emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If (1) you have a particular preference to talk to one or the other of us, let us know– although I can’t guarantee that you’ll always hear from the person you request. Also (2) please tell us the time of day and the date you’d be free for a call; you might want to give us a couple of options. And of course, (3) tell us your phone number. WE WILL KEEP YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENTIAL.
We will start with calls as soon as possible after December 1, and keep this going until New Years.
Sound good? I hope so. We hope we can help, even if just a little.
Three other caveats I should mention at the end here:
1) First, no one in the December Project gets a dime out of it. This is a shoestring operation, largely consisting of four people trading phone numbers. If you want to support our causes, you can let us know, and we’ll tell you how to give. But this is not about that.
2) If you are in serious crisis, please bypass us and go directly to the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. WE ARE NOT TRAINED AS THERAPISTS or as counsellors for individuals in crisis. If you need something more serious than a “friendly voice,’ please call the lifeline.
3) For the moment we are content with this project consisting of only a few of us; in past years, we have been a little overwhelmed (and yes, deeply touched) by the many, many of you who have wanted to join us. While we thank you for your grace and your love, it’s also overwhelming for us to sort through the requests; we hope you’ll understand if we ask that folks writing us be primarily those who want a call. There are many ways you can get involved in your own community, and we heartily encourage everyone who wants to spread some love around to do so in their own way, starting right at home.
Thanks so much! Wishing you all the best for a positive, hopeful, loving holiday season!
While China was off banning the use of puns, Russia has banned all artwork and translations of albums by death metal band Cannibal Corpse, reports the Guardian. On November 28, a Russian district courts declared that the Buffalo, New York band may “damage the mental health of children,” and made it illegal to distribute the artwork or Russian-translated lyrics nationwide due to “descriptions of violence, the physical and mental abuse of people and animals, murder and suicide.”
Note that the ban doesn’t include the actual music, however. The Guardian hypothesizes why this may be the case:
Cannibal Corpse’s music has been banned before: Germany and Australia both had injunctions on their music, at least until 2006. Back in 1995, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole claimed the New York state band “undermined the character of the [American] nation”. But despite songs with titles such as Stripped, Raped, and Strangled, any ban on Cannibal Corpse’s recordings seems a little futile: as with most death metal bands, their lyrics are often indecipherable.
(If you tune into the clip above, you’ll understand what the Guardian is talking about.)
Still, it seems like any ban is sure to make Cannibal Corpse more popular, not less. As Dazed points out:
There is more or less nothing better for a death metal band’s rep than to be banned by an entire country on the grounds that the mere existence of the group and its material can cause permanent damage to the mental health of children.
While the FCC continues to debate net-neutrality regulations, scientists in China and America are quietly creating a new kind of internet, encyrpted by bursts of light instead of the standard long string of numbers.
Revelations gleaned from the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden showed that even the largest tech companies with the best security were vulnerable to having all of their communications over the web intercepted. The problem with the current setup is that all the NSA has to do is physically tap into a direct link from one of their servers and catch the decryption key the company uses for secure communication. If what’s known as quantum-encryption were used, then a potential victim would know someone’s listening before ever sending a message.
The research and development company Battelle is currently building out a nationwide quantum network that would stretch from Boston to Georgia, eventually reaching all the way to California. A similar project is already under way in China, spanning from Shanghai to Beijing. They’re the first networks of their kind, using the essential qualities of light to protect messages in transit.
This is how it works:
The new networks are designed to solve one of cryptography’s most persistent problems: how to distribute encryption keys. A long enough key can provide mathematically unbreakable encryption (known as a one-time pad), but if the key is ever intercepted, the attacker will be able to access everything. As a result, most modern encryption tools have given up on secure distribution entirely, splitting the key into a public key for encoding and a non-distributed private key for decoding. That allows for easier encryption, but it also limits the length of the key, making the system more vulnerable to brute-force attacks.
Quantum networks take a different approach, using long keys that are distributed across the network as bursts of light. To establish a key, one party generates random signal and the other listens in: whatever comes out of the network is the new encryption key. But what if someone else is listening in? To protect against interception, the network relies on the observer effect — the principle that light can’t be intercepted without altering the signal itself. For cryptography purposes, that means that if you’re using the right protocols, you can ensure no one else is on the line before you transmit the key. If everything goes right, it would mean a perfect encryption system, fueled by big, random keys that are impossible to intercept.
China has taken a giant leap in this area by building a a quantum backbone that’s more than 1,200 miles long, while America has little fiber infrastructure in place. Chip Eliot, a top scientist working on America’s quantum expansion, tells the Verge, “In practical terms, China’s way ahead.”
Complicating things further, a secure network would require relay points every sixty miles, opening up more possibilities for a compromised system. For any encryption communication that travels over sixty miles Eliot says, “If you’re really paranoid, you start to think…how do I know that they’re doing what I think they’re doing?” But Eliot says it’s still increases security to the point that it’s worth it, “You have to ask yourself why the Chinese want to do this.”
That’s right. Between Wednesday night, when nature takes another three-foot snow dump on Buffalo, and Sunday when the Jets visit to play the Bills, have locals clear the roads as much as they can. Get the snow out of the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium. But leave all the snow on the field.
There have been reports that 220,000 tons of snow have already been removed from the playing surface. Well, they need to put that snow the fuck back on the field because we’re about to have a football game played in seven feet of snow. This is an experiment that humanity owes itself to try. It would be greatest, sloppiest football game of all-time.
What do we stand to lose? A Jets-Bills game? Oh yeah, wouldn’t that be a travesty? One might argue that you would also be risking the healthy of the players, but I would say less so than your average NFL game. It’s not like players will be able to build up enough momentum trudging through snow to hit each other in any sort of damaging way. Most of the game would be tunnel warfare, with offensive linemen trying to dig a path to the end zone ahead of the ballcarrier.
If any players get too cold being submerged in snow for three hours, they can just burrow inside a tauntaun belly. SHUT UP SCIENCE THEY’LL BE FINE.
Steve Albini is the producer (he prefers the term “recording engineer”) behind several thousand records. He is also a member of the band Shellac. In 1993, he published The Problem with Music, an essay expounding his belief that the major label-dominated industry of the time was inefficient, exploited musicians and led to below par music. On Saturday he gave the keynote address at Melbourne’s Face the Music conference in which he celebrated the fact the internet had both dismantled this system and addressed its inequalities:
I’m going to first explain a few things about myself. I’m 52 years old, I have been in bands continuously, and active in the music scene in one way or another since about 1978. At the moment I’m in a band, I also work as a recording engineer and I own a recording studio in Chicago. In the past I have also been a fanzine writer, radio club DJ, concert promoter and I ran a small record label. I was not terribly successful at any of those things, but I have done them, so they qualify as part of my CV.
I work every day with music and with bands and I have for more than 30 years. I’ve made a couple thousand records for independent bands and rock stars, for big labels and small ones. I made a record two days ago and I’ll be making one on Monday when I get off the plane. So I believe this puts me in a pretty good position to evaluate the state of the music scene today, as it relates to how it used to be and how it has been.
We’re all here to talk about the state of the music scene and the health of the music community. I’ll start by saying that I’m both satisfied and optimistic about the state of the music scene. And I welcome the social and technological changes that have influenced it. I hope my remarks today will start a conversation and through that conversation we can invoke an appreciation of how resilient the music community is, how supportive it can be and how welcoming it should be.
I hear from some of my colleagues that these are rough times: that the internet has cut the legs off the music scene and that pretty soon nobody will be making music anymore because there’s no money in it. Virtually every place where music is written about, there is some version of this troubling perspective. People who used to make a nice income from royalties, they’ve seen the royalties dry up. And people who used to make a living selling records are having trouble selling downloads as substitute for records, and they no longer make records.
So there is a tacit assumption that this money, lost money, needs to be replaced and a lot of energy has been spent arguing from where that money will come. Bitchiness about this abounds, with everybody insisting that somebody else should be paying him, but that he shouldn’t have to pay for anybody else. I would like to see an end to this dissatisfaction.
It’s worthwhile to remember from where we’ve come. From where this bitchiness originates. In the 1970s through the 1990s, the period in which I was most active in bands in the music scene – let’s call this the pre-internet era. The music industry was essentially the record industry, in that records and radio were the venues through which people learned of music and principally experienced it. They were joined by MTV and videos in the 80s and 90s, but the principle relationship people had with music was as sound recordings. There was a booming band scene and all bands aspired to getting recorded, as a mark of legitimacy.
In the 70s and 80s most bands went through their entire lifecycle without so much as a note of their music recorded
But recording was a rare and expensive enterprise, so it wasn’t common. Even your demo tape required considerable investment. So when I started playing in bands in the 70s and 80s most bands went through their entire lifecycle without so much as a note of their music ever being recorded.
Now I’m going to describe the scene as I observed it in America, but I understand that most of the structures and conditions I observed have parallels in other markets. Maybe somebody from my generation can add the local Aussie colour to my comments – I prefer them shouted in as thick an accent as you can muster.
As a yardstick for the economics of the day or for the era, in 1979 you could buy a 45rpm single for a buck, a new album for $5, go see a club gig for $1 or a stadium gig for $7. I know these things because I still have some old ticket stubs and price stickers on my records. Note the relative parity between the live show costs and the recorded music costs. A gradual inflation of prices remained under way through the 90s, making recorded music more expensive, though it remained the principal means of experience.
The whole industry depended on these sales, and sales depended on exposure. Bands on big labels toured, essentially to promote their recordings. And the labels provided promotional and logistical support to keep the bands on the road. This supported a network of agents and managers and roadies and promotional staff, so the expense was considerable.
Retail outlets also offered special placements and promotion: displays, posters, mentions in print ads, giveaways, trinkets and what were called end cap displays. Record labels paid handsomely for these promotions and the stores used the sale of these promotions as additional income. Chain stores especially relied on corporate chain-wide promotions, regardless what the stores might think their local clientele might like. It wasn’t uncommon to see big displays of hair metal bands in urban outlets where they couldn’t sell a single stick but the labels had paid for their utility, so up they went.
Radio stations were enormously influential. Radio was the only place to hear music from any people and record companies paid dearly to influence them. Direct payola had been made illegal but this was a trivial workaround. Record pluggers acting as programming consultants were the middlemen. They paid radio stations for access to their programmers and conducted meetings where new records were promoted.
These promotional offers were quite lucrative. But their metrics depended on radio stations recording that they had added the records to their playlist. To satisfy this requirement and keep the promotional money flowing, radio stations often played tiny fragments of songs jumbled one after the other in any incomprehensible flow during late-night programming hours, to satisfy the programming requirement that they add songs to their playlist. Popular radio stations also staged mammoth concerts, often for free or for nominal cover featuring bands that the labels were promoting. These unpaid radio gigs were a drag on their touring income but the promotional value was presumed to be worth it.
Journalists and editors who could place reviews, program directors and independent DJs who could add records to playlists or played in nightclubs, were subject to much buttering up. Promotional trinkets and advance copies of records were sent their way. Sometimes by the box. Presumably these were listening and file copies. But they were actually a bribe. These promotional copies were immediately sold secondhand to record stores and it was not uncommon for such stores to be overstocked with a new release prior to its official release as a result. My wife worked in a record store that bought records secondhand in the 90s. And their biggest repeat customers, by a long shot, were the people on these label promo lists. The staff at her store kept a tally for awhile and the editor of the local weeklies music section made a comfortable second income amounting to a $1,000 or more a month from selling these promo copies.
So it was a leaky system, riddled with inefficiencies, but a lot of people made a living through it. Record store owners, buyers, employees, ad agencies, designers, club owners, label reps, A&R, producers, recording studios, publicists, lawyers, journalists, program directors, distributors, tour managers, booking agents, band managers, and all the ancillary services they required: banking, shipping, printing, photography, travel agencies, limos, spandex wardrobe, cocaine dealers, prostitutes. Because of this great bulk of the industry needed to sustain itself. Every facet of the industry was tailored to this need.
The most significant bit of tailoring was an accounting trick called recouping costs. The costs of making a record wasn’t borne by the record label, except initially. Those costs were recouped or taken out of the income the band might otherwise run as royalties. The same was true of all those promo copies, posters, radio pluggers and payola men, producers, publicists, tour support, 8x10 glossies, shipping, freight – basically anything that could be associated with a specific band or record was ultimately paid for by the band, not by the record label.
As the label shifted from vinyl to CD as the dominant format, the labels could easily sell the CD as a convenient, compact, trouble-free way to listen to music. The profit margin exploded and the money got stupid. Retails costs of a CD was half again or double more than an LP but the manufacturing, shipping and storage costs were a tiny fraction. The labels even used vinyl’s legacy as a tool to increase this profit margin by charging bands for unique packaging, despite the fact that CD packaging was designed to be standardised. Or pre-emptively charging back for broken CDs at a rate implying that someone was attacking the inventory with an axe.
If the label is paying you with someone else’s money, the label doesn’t need to care how much you charge
In the end the bands operating under this system earned very little from their record sales, unless they were monumental stars. Often enough bands would conduct their entire careers with a label and never reach the point where they had sufficiently recouped to get paid anything at all. Now the label made its per-piece profit on every record sold. And could recoup the cost of any records unsold. And all those other people got paid using the money that would have otherwise gone to the bands as royalties. Unsurprisingly, those other people also got paid pretty well. It stands to reason that if the label is paying you with someone else’s money, the label doesn’t need to care how much you charge.
During the 90s there was something of an arms race to see who could write the biggest deal. That is, the deal with the most money being spent on the band’s behalf. In a singularly painless contest the money would either be paid to the band as a royalty, which would take that money out of the system and put it into things like houses and groceries and college educations. Or it could be paid to other operators within the industry, increasing the clout and prestige of the person doing the spending. It’s as if your boss, instead of giving your paycheck to you, could pay that money to his friends and business associates, invoking your name as he did. Since his net cost was the same and his friends and associates could return the favour, why would he ever want to let any of that money end up in your hands? It was a system that ensured waste by rewarding the most profligate spendthrifts in a system specifically engineered to waste the band’s money.
Now bands existed outside that label spectrum. The working bands of the type I’ve always been in, and for those bands everything was always smaller and simpler. Promotion was usually down to flyers posted on poles, occasional mentions on college radio and fanzines. If you had booked a gig at a venue that didn’t advertise, then you faced a very real prospect of playing to an empty room. Local media didn’t take bands seriously until there was a national headline about them so you could basically forget about press coverage. And commercial radio was absolutely locked up by the payola-driven system of the pluggers and program directors.
International exposure was extraordinarily expensive. In order for your records to make it into overseas hands you had to convince a distributor to export them. And that was difficult with no means for anyone to hear the record and decide to buy it. So you ended up shipping promotional copies overseas at a terrific expense, never sure if they would be listened to or not.
The one exception to this was the brilliant BBC DJ John Peel. He listened religiously to every single record he received in the mail, devoting hours of every day to the task. I sent him a copy of the first album I ever made and not only did he play the record on air, he sent me back a postcard with a personal remembrance of Chicago, of visiting a matron aunt as a child in Evanston, the suburb where my post office box was kept. I treasured that note as the first indication that John Peel was a great man.
So these independent bands had to be resourceful. They’d built their own infrastructure of independent clubs, promoters, fanzines and DJs. They had their own channels of promotion, including the beginnings of the internet culture that is so prevalent today – that being bulletin boards, and newsgroups. These independent bands even made their own record label. Some were collectives and those that weren’t were likely to operate on a profit-sharing basis that encouraged efficiency, rather than a recoupable patronage system that encouraged indulgence.
That’s where I cut my teeth, in that independent scene full of punks and noise freaks and drag queens and experimental composers and jabbering street poets. You can thank punk rock for all of that. That’s where most of us learned that it was possible to make your own records, to conduct your own business and keep control of your own career. If a bunch of pimply glue sniffers could do it, we reasoned, then anybody could.
The number of records released this way was incredible. Thousands of small releases made their way into the “mom and pop” independent speciality stores, which then provided a market for independent distribution. It was the beginnings of an alternative to the label paradigm. It was cumbersome and slow but it was more efficient than a shotgun approach with the big labels, whose answer to every problem was to spend more of the band’s money on it.
It was the beginning of what we would call the peer network. By mid-90s there were independent labels and distributors moving millions of dollars of records and CDs. And there was a healthy underground economy of bands making a reasonable income owing to the superior efficiencies of the independent methods. My band, as an example, was returned 50% of the net profit on every title that we released through our record label. I worked it out and that earned us a better per-piece royalty than Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Madonna or any other superstar operating concurrently. And we were only one of thousands of such bands.
So, that was the system as it was. That’s what we lost when the internet made everything available everywhere for free. And make no mistake about it, we have lost it. There is still an independent label network but it’s a slim fraction of what it was. The labels continuing to survive do so by supplying niche music to a discerning audience. And because they have been steeled in the art of efficiency their constitution allows them to scale everything to suit the remaining demand.
You may have noticed that in my description of the mass market music scene and the industry as it was pre-internet I made little mention of the audience or the bands. Those two ends of the spectrum were hardly considered by the rest of the business. Fans were expected to listen to the radio and buy records and bands were expected to make records and tour to promote them. And that was about all the thought either were given. But the audience was where all the money came from and the bands were where all the music came from.
Music went from being rare, expensive ... to being free worldwide. What a fantastic development
Through the internet, which more than anything else creates access to things, limitless music eventually became available for free. The big record companies didn’t see how to make money from online distribution so they effectively ignored it, leaving it to the hackers and the audience to populate a new landscape of downloading. People who prefer the convenience of CDs over LPs naturally prefer downloaded music even more. You could download it or stream it or listen from YouTube or have your friends on message boards or acquaintances send you zip files. In the blink of an eye music went from being rare, expensive and only available through physical media in controlled outlets to being ubiquitous and free worldwide. What a fantastic development.
There’s a lot of shade thrown by people in the music industry about how terrible the free sharing of music is, how it’s the equivalent of theft, etc. That’s all bullshit and we’ll deal with that in a minute. But for a minute I want you to look at the experience of music from a fan’s perspective, post-internet. Music that is hard to find was now easy to find. Music to suit my specific tastes, as fucked up as they might be, was now accessible by a few clicks or maybe posting a query on a message board. In response I had more access to music than I had ever imagined. Curated by other enthusiasts, keen to turn me on to the good stuff; people, like me, who want other people to hear the best music ever.
This audience-driven music distribution has other benefits. Long-forgotten music has been given a second life. And bands whose music that was ahead of its time has been allowed to reach a niche audience that the old mass distribution failed to find for them, as one enthusiast turns on the next and this forgotten music finally gets it due. There’s a terrific documentary about one such case, the Detroit band Death whose sole album was released in a perfunctory edition in, I believe, 1975 and disappeared until a copy of it was digitised and made public on the internet. Gradually the band found an audience, their music got lovingly reissued, and the band has resurrected, complete with tours playing to packed houses. And the band are now being allowed the career that the old star system had denied them. There are hundreds of such stories and there are speciality labels that do nothing but reissue lost classics like that once they surface.
Now look at the conditions from a band’s perspective, the conditions faced by a band. In contrast to back in the day, recording equipment and technology has simplified and become readily available. Computers now come pre-loaded with enough software to make a decent demo recording and guitar stores sell microphones and other equipment inexpensively that previously was only available at a premium from arcane speciality sources. Essentially every band now has the opportunity to make recordings.
And they can do things with those recordings. They can post them online in any number of places: Bandcamp, YouTube, SoundCloud, their own websites. They can link to them on message boards, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter and even in the comment streams of other music. “LOL,” “this sucks,” “much better,” “death to false metal,” “LOL”. Instead of spending a fortune on international phone calls trying to find someone in each territory to listen to your music, every band on the planet now has free, instant access to the world at its fingertips.
I cannot overstate how important a development that is. Previously, in the top-down paradigm allowed local industry to dictate what music was available in isolated or remote markets, markets isolated by location or language. It was inconceivable that a smaller or independent band could have market penetration into, say, Greece or Turkey, Japan or China, South America, Africa or the Balkans. Who would you ask to handle your music? How would you find him? And how would you justify the business and currency complications required to send four or five copies of a record there?
Fans can find the music they like and develop direct relationships with the bands
Now those places are as well-served as New York and London. Fans can find the music they like and develop direct relationships with the bands. It is absolutely possible – I’m sure it happens every day – that a kid in one of these far-flung places can find a new favourite band, send that band a message, and that singer of that band will read it and personally reply to it from his cell phone half a world away. How much better is that? I’ll tell you, it’s infinitely better than having a relationship to a band limited to reading it on the back of the record jacket. If such a thing were possible when I was a teenager I’m certain I would have become a right nuisance to the Ramones.
A couple of years ago my band mounted a tour of eastern Europe. We played all the hot spots: the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, we made it as far as Istanbul, Turkey. It was a magical experience, playing in front of audiences who were relatively unjaded by the routine of touring bands and we were welcomed like friends. We played to full houses at the same size venues as the rest of Europe. The same sizes as we would play here in Australia. And the audiences seem equivocally familiar with our music. The key difference being that most of the places have literally never sold a single record. Essentially 100% of our exposure had been through informal means over the internet or hand-to-hand.
On that trip we established contacts with local promoters and arts organisations and audiences developed an appetite for our music and we have since sold quite a few records into the region. Our next tour through the region was easier as a result and we’re going back to Istanbul this spring, using contacts made on that first exploratory trip. I expect to have a marvellous time.
In short, the internet has made it much easier to conduct the day-to-day business of being in a band and has increased the efficiency. Everything from scheduling rehearsals using online calendars, to booking tours by email, to selling merchandise and records from online stores, down to raising the funds to make a record is a new simplicity that bands of the pre-internet era would salivate over. The old system was built by the industry to serve the players inside the industry. The new system where music is shared informally and the bands have a direct relationship to the fans was built by the bands and the fans in the manner of the old underground. It skips all the intermediary steps.
Bands now have default control of their exposure. It’s no longer necessary to pay people to pay other people to play your records on the radio, only to have those people lie about doing so. It’s no longer necessary to spend money to let people hear your band. It happens automatically.
There’s another, much subtler change that all this instigated. Since people no longer have to make do listening to whatever is on the radio playlist and are no longer limited to owning what the store decides to stock, they have become much more indulgent in their tastes. My friends now normally listen to exotic playlists that they have dreamed up themselves, full of counterintuitive and contrasting choices that are uniquely theirs.
Our office bearer has a hi-fi in that studio office and is as likely to be playing the new 45 from the hardcore band Leather or electro drone by Tim Hecker as he is to be playing a deep cut of Cincinnati soul or handbag disco or improv guitar noodlings, whether newly released from Oren Ambarchi or 30 years old from the Takoma label. People can now listen only to music they are ecstatic about, all the time.
There are active online communities for every kind of music and its subcultures. Whether you’re into Dusty’s Deep Cut reggae, minimal electronics, symphonic pop, Texas blues, Japanese noise, power electronics, children’s music, christmas music, Raymond Scott, or Burl Ives, I guarantee there is an online community where you can connect with other enthusiasts to indulge the minute specificity of your tastes.
These online communities are now a vital part of the scene and this debate and others are hashed out there daily. I’ve probably unconsciously lifted some of my positions in these remarks from discussions I’ve had online so I’d like to confess that plagiarism now, as a way to encourage all of you to get involved in these forums where all the interesting conversations about music is happening.
Imagine a great hall of fetishes where whatever you felt like fucking or being fucked by, however often your tastes might change, no matter what hardware or harnesses were required, you could open the gates and have at it on a comfy mattress at any time of day. That’s what the internet has become for music fans. Plus bleacher seats for a cheering section.
As a result fans are more ardent for this music. They are willing to spend more on seeing it played live. They are willing to buy more ephemera and eager to establish a personal relationship to the people who make the music. Gig prices have escalated as a result. And the merchandise tables at gigs are universally teeming with activity. Back home, gigs that used to cost five or six bucks are now 20 or 30. Over here the ticket inflation has been more pronounced, with club gigs going for $80 or more. As a result gig income for bands has increased exponentially. My band has been playing a lot of the same places for the entirety of our existence, over 20 years now. I guess you could say we’ve saturated our audience, no matter how long we stay at it. Some of these perennial gigs are now paying an over of magnitude better than they were 10 or 15 years ago. That’s right, some places where we used to earn four or five hundred dollars we now earn four or five grand.
This ease of access, redoubled interest and increase in income has created a new partnership and possibilities between individuals, bands and visual artists, online film-makers, choreographers and other kinds of public people. Collaborations take place in real time or displaced over the internet where the parties often never meet face-to-face. I have a dear friend who found himself with a bunch of time on his hands last year so he formed a couple of new bands. One of these bands was entirely populated by people he only knew online and all of their music was made by online collaboration. This music was a pure result of the interconnectivity of the internet.
All of that, all of those characteristics, all of those possibilities were instigated and made possible by the online sharing of music. If not directly, as in the case of building an audience for the band Death and my own band in the Balkans and beyond, then indirectly by changing the expectations of the listeners and musicians.
This explains my enthusiasm for the way the music scene has changed, but what about my optimism? I would like to address a platitude about the online exposure of music. From all quarters we hear that, this is the platitude: “We need to figure out how to make internet distribution work for everyone.” I use finger quotes to indicate intellectual distance between myself and the quotation. I have a friend, Tim Midgett, who uses three fingers for finger quotes to indicate extra irony. This is a two jobber.
I disagree with this rather inoffensive platitude. It’s innocuous and vapid and fills the air after someone asks the question, “How is the music scene these days?” And it maintains hope that the current state of affairs as mentioned, presumed to be tragic, can be changed for the better. For “everyone”. That word everyone is important to the people using the sentence. In their mind the physical distribution model worked for everyone. But the new one does not. Not yet, not yet. Not until we “figure it out”. I’m sure we’re all going to get tired of me doing that [air quotes].
Inside that trite sentence, 'We need to figure out how to make this work for everyone,' hides the skeleton of a monster
I disagree that the old way is better. And I do not believe this sentence to be true: “We need to figure out how to make this digital distribution work for everyone.” I disagree with it because within its mundane language are tacit assumptions: the framework of an exploitative system that I have been at odds with my whole creative life. Inside that trite sentence, “We need to figure out how to make this work for everyone,” hides the skeleton of a monster.
Let’s start at the beginning. “We need to figure out”: the subject of that sentence, the first-person plural, sounds inclusive but the context defeats that presumption. Who would have the power to implement a new distribution paradigm? Who would be in the room when we discuss our plans for it? Who would do the out figuring we need to do? Industry and consumers? Consumers is a likely response, but did the consumers get a vote about how their music would be compressed or tagged or copy protected or made volatile? Did anybody? Did the consumers get a choice about whether or not Apple stuck a U2 album on their iTunes library? Of course not. These things were just done and we had to deal with them as a state of being. Consumers rebelling or complaining about things – “market pushback” – isn’t the same thing as being involved in the decision to do something. Clearly the “we” of this sentence doesn’t include the listener. I believe any attempt to organise the music scene that ignores the listener is doomed.
How about the bands? Do the bands get a seat at the “we” table, while our figuring-out needs are met? Of course not. If you ask bands what they want – and I know this because I’m in a band and I deal with bands every day – what they want is a chance to expose their music and to have a shot at getting paid by their audience. I believe the current operating status satisfies the first of these conditions exquisitely and the latter at least as well as the old record label paradigm.
So who is this “we”? The administrative parts of the old record business, that’s who. The vertical labels who hold copyright on a lot of music. They want to do the figuring. They want to set the agenda. And they want to do all the structural tinkering. The bands, the audience, the people who make music and who pay for it – they are conspicuously not in the discussion.
How about the word “need”, we “need” to figure out? The need is actually a “want”, a preference. These remnants of the music industry are unsatisfied with how the internet, the bands and the audience can get along fine without them. So they prefer to change things to re-establish relevance. You see this in the spate of 360 deals that are being offered now, where everything a band does, from their music to their T-shirts to their Twitter accounts belong to the record label. In exchange the record label offers startup money. I believe this approach is doomed by things like Kickstarter, which have proven more effective and efficient at raising money directly from the audience that wants to support the music.
How about the infinitive “to figure out”? We need “to figure out”. That presumes that we can know how to attack a global distribution enterprise long after the internet has crowdsourced an efficient and painless way to do precisely that. There’s a reason the water faucet hasn’t changed radically over the years. Time and trial have demonstrated that the best and simplest way to control hot water is by turning a tap. Problem solved, no further solving of the hot water faucet problem is required. I cannot be the only one who is annoyed by the constantly misaligned proximity faucets in public washrooms. Imagine if listening to music was as frustrating as that.
The next part of the sentence: “make” distribution work. This implies that we have control over the distribution, that we can make it do some things but not others. The internet proves this to be a fallacy. Once we release music it’s out of our control. I use the verb “release” because it’s common vernacular. But I think it’s a perfect description. Even more apt if you consider what happens when you release other things, say a bird or a fart. When you release them they’re in the world and the world will react and use them as it sees fit. The fart may wrinkle noses until it dissipates. The bird may fly outside and crap on windshields; it may get shot down by a farmer. It’s been released, so you have no control over it. You can’t recall the fart, however much you would like to. You can’t protect the bird.
Distribution is a problematic word. Its prior meaning implies scarcity and allocation of physical products. You can inventory them, you could tax them, duty them, you could search somebody’s book bag for them. None of that is true with digital files. If it were possible to return digital files to the strict control of the record labels (it is impossible, don’t worry), what would be their incentive to be honest in their accounting? In the physical distribution model you could inventory the titles in the warehouse during an audit and compare them with the delivery manifests from the press manufacturing plant, and know with reasonable accuracy how many copies had been sold. How on earth would you inventory a digital file? Count how many were left on the shelf?
That word is problematic, but the most problematic word in the sentence is the word “work”: we need to figure out how to make it “work”. Work is an impossible word in this context. Depending on who uses it, it will have contradictory meanings. For a label the system would work if it generated a profit per play, controlled access to music while providing access to the audience for advertisers as an additional income, and allowed the availability of push marketing for promotion. For the listener it would mean open access, ability to find specific and niche music, continuous playback, lack of nuisance, ease of use, freedom from spying, low or no cost, utility on different devices, lack of push marketing and lack of advertising. For a band it would mean finding an audience and having no barrier to participation, and no limits on amount of material made available. You can see how this is problematic. It is literally impossible for a system to satisfy all of these needs simultaneously when they are contradictory.
And the hybrid approaches being tried are clumsy and insulting. I recently tried streaming a podcast from an official licensed site. When the cats started fighting I missed a little bit, having to separate the cats and then feed the cats and then calmed them down. I came back to my computer and tried to replay the last few minutes that I had missed but was greeted with a notice that due to copyright agreements this player was not allowed to rewind the podcast. I find it unimaginable that the people who posted the podcast wanted that provision enabled. And the site just ensured that I would never bother with their product again.
The conclusion of that sentence, the “for everyone” is also problematic. I don’t think it is necessary or even preferable to have everyone involved in defining the experience with music or more generally the relationship with the band and its audience. We seem to accept that record stores, who were once the welcoming face of the industry and the recipient of much promotional patronage described earlier, are not coming along in the digital era. Record stores now get their appeal from carrying secondhand records, something the industry used to have a regular shit fit about. And by carrying speciality and niche material that is too marginal for corporate attention, they are clearly not part of the “everyone” in the sentence.
So there’s no reason to insist that other obsolete bureaux and offices of the lapsed era be brought along into the new one. The music industry has shrunk. In shrinking it has rung out the middle, leaving the bands and the audiences to work out their relationship from the ends. I see this as both healthy and exciting. If we’ve learned anything over the past 30 years it’s that left to its own devices bands and their audiences can get along fine: the bands can figure out how to get their music out in front of an audience and the audience will figure out how to reward them.
The internet has facilitated the most direct and efficient, compact relationship ever between band and audience
The internet has facilitated the most direct and efficient, compact relationship ever between band and audience. And I do not mourn the loss of the offices of inefficiencies that died in the process. I suppose some people are out of work. But the same things happened when the automobile replaced the horse, and all the blacksmiths had to adapt, spending their time making garden gates rather than horseshoes.
When I read over these notes on the plane today I felt like I spent too much time enumerating complaints, and I don’t want to conclude without reiterating how terrific the current music environment is. I see more bands and I hear more music than ever before in my life. There are more gigs, more songs available than ever before, bands are being treated with more respect, and are more in control of their careers and destinies. I see them continuing as a constellation of enterprises: some big, some small – most small but all of them with a more immediate response from their audience and a greater chance to succeed. It is genuinely exciting.
I’ve been talking an awful long time, but I have not yet mentioned the intellectual property debate. I’ll try to get that out of the way briefly now. I would like to leave room for questions after I speak, and though I’m leaving out a lot – publishing, stolen credits, sampling, fair use, inspiration – I suspect there will be a healthy discussion afterward and think that such discussions are necessary and overdue.
From my part, I believe the very concept of exclusive intellectual property with respect to recorded music has come to a natural end, or something like an end. Technology has brought to a head a need to embrace the meaning of the word “release”, as in bird or fart. It is no longer possible to maintain control over digitised material and I don’t believe the public good is served by trying to.
There is great public good by letting creative material lapse into the public ownership. The copyright law has been modified so extensively in the past decades that now this essentially never happens, creating absurdities whenever copyright is invoked. There’s a huge body of work that is not legally in the public domain, though its rights holder, authors and creators have died or disappeared as businesses. And this material, from a legal standpoint now removed from our culture – nobody may copy it or re-release it because it’s still subject to copyright.
Other absurdities abound: innocuous usage of music in the background of home videos or student projects is technically an infringement and official obstacles are set up to prevent it. If you want a video of your wedding reception – your father’s first dance with a new bride – it’s off limits unless it is silent. If your little daughter does a kooky dance to a Prince song don’t bother putting it on YouTube for her grandparents to see or a purple dwarf in assless chaps will put an injunction on you. Did I offend the little guy? Fuck it. His music is poison.
Music has entered the environment as an atmospheric element, like the wind, and in that capacity should not be subject to control and compensation. Well, not unless the rights holders are willing to let me turn the tables on it. If you think my listening is worth something, OK then, so do I. Play a Phil Collins song while I’m grocery shopping? Pay me $20. Def Leppard? Make it $100. Miley Cyrus? They don’t print money big enough.
I must record here for you Reader a most Curious Discovery. I was investigating the Usage of Rhyme in a Historical Corpus of English Poetry, when, quite accidentally, while mixing together a Sample of Iambic Poems from the Sixteenth through the Twentieth Centuries, this Poem was randomly generated out of the Unseen Depths of Chance. And yet I think it is a wonderful Poem–a Sonnet in fact, after the Shakespearean manner–if perhaps wanting a little in Sense. Nonetheless I count it a Discovery: indeed, it reminds me of James Macpherson, who found and bravely brought to the World that glorious epic of Ossian. But I digress no further: here is the Poem: I have but added certain Punctuation, which it lacked Entirely:
01 Let us who pale to look for rest, retreat;
02 Now, vain resistance will but buy the task,
03 And light with smiles indulgent chear'd and beat.
04 The lightnings strike: the ende is good to ask
05 Thee, save these groves and lawns and shades, in vain
06 The fortress strong, the cage was wood: he chose
07 An ample plain where sickning pleasures reign.
08 Or, as her choice flowers, their beauty shows
09 From faces heavnly fair, in sight the black
10 Rock's side or flowry glade: a deep abyss
11 Prostrate he lies, enrowl'd now all the pack
12 And first is fed fancy, who with a kisse,
13 Was sealed to keep their fainty hopes alive.
14 But soon, shall prove thine utmost ire and drive.
I copy my Procedure below. But now let us address an important Question of Philosophy. What is the status of Meaning in this Poem? It calls to mind a similar Thought-Experiment: Professors Knapp and Michaels’ “Against Theory” article in the Critical Inquiry of Summer 1982 — in which the more Wordsworthian Conceit is, that Nature herself, while already occupied in splashing about a Beach with the Waves of the Sea, somehow manages, quite by Accident, to transcribe in perfectly readable English the following words: “A slumber did my spirit seal, I had no human fears:” &c. &c. For Profs. K. & M., because its creation is by Chance, it cannot be a Poem, nor bear any Meaning: for Meaning derives from Intentionality.
Let us who pale to look for rest, retreat;
Now, vain resistance will but buy the task,
And light with smiles indulgent chear’d and beat.
The lightnings strike: the ende is good to ask
Thee, save these groves and lawns and shades, in vain
The fortress strong, the cage was wood: he chose
An ample plain where sickning pleasures reign.
Or, as her choice flowers, their beauty shows
From faces heavnly fair, in sight the black
Rock’s side or flowry glade: a deep abyss
Prostrate he lies, enrowl’d now all the pack
And first is fed fancy, who with a kisse,
Was sealed to keep their fainty hopes alive.
But soon, shall prove thine utmost ire and drive.
But is this fascinating Sonnet, another Accident of Sorts, really not a Poem? — with no Meaning whatsoever? Absurd, in my Opinion. Look for instance at the poem’s opening pastoral affect, surrounding the Vanity of Ambition and the Virtue of Rest; followed by the prophesy of the End of Days; and then the ensuing, strange, gendered Dialectic, in which a Male Persona (“he”) of “sickning pleasures” alternates with a Female Persona (“her”) of “choice flowers” and “faces heavnly fair”. I could walk out this interpretation Further — and will — in this footnote. But in a word, I mean to say: this is a Poem. As a raindrop falls down a Window — unpredictably, and yet likely to follow the Channels of prior Drops — so this Sonnet wrote itself by falling down the Grooves made, not by Nature’s idle unthinking Waves, but by thousands of English Iambic Poems across the last five Centuries.
Herein lies the Problem with the Account of Knapp and Michaels: Nature could never write a Poem. They ask us to take this Falsity on Premise, but it is a Devious Falsity, for it obscures the Nature of those Forces that bring a Poem into being. Although constructed from an historically distributed Sample, this Poem has a predominant flavor of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, perhaps given its Seed Words, “let us”, with their monosyllabic Diction and prayer-like Invocation. But in any case, from this origin, to travel the Markov Chain of English Iambic Poetry is, for some reason, to travel through a thematics of Ambition versus Rest; of an interesting, and problematic, gendered Polarity of Affect, between Fancy and Delight on the one hand, and Aggression and Dissolution on the other. What gives these Thematics meaning, in this Accidental Poem, is identical to what gives meaning to the Thematics of a “Real” Poem: the Forces that led Language to take on this particular Shape and Pattern. In a Poet, these Forces are personal as well as literary, social, historical, &c.: here, while not personal, the Forces embedded in the Markov Chain are perhaps still more deeply historical, cultural, literary, and political. They represent a muted Afterglow of Poetry’s English History, an Afterglow which in spite of itself retains a Specificity of Meaning. For the eminent Philosopher of Events and Action, Donald Davidson, Reasons are Causes of Actions. So too here: Reasons are Causes of Poetry, even as these Reasons are de-personalized from Intentionality, per se — one could say that the ghost of Wordsworth is dispelled — to become instead a more persuasive, complex Form of Meaning: Forces and Causes; Grooves, and Raindrops.
Recipe: for a Sonnet
From 800 Poems sampled from each of eight Historical Periods as annotated in Chadwyck-Healy’s Corpus of Poetry, from the Tudor Period to the 20th Century
in the Poems which the Algorithm believes are Iambic
construct two Markov Chains
for words within lines only (to maximize Sense and Syntax)
for all words in the poem
a “Chain” meaning that for every three words (n1 + n2 + n3), increase in your Data the probability of (n3) given (n1 + n2)
this then allows, from a chosen starting point of an arbitrary (n1 + n2), a “random” decision of the next word, (n3), but weighted by the probability of (n3) derived from the foregoing operation, number 4.
Then (n2 + n3) become the new (n1 + n2), and predict a new (n3) in its turn, and so on ad infinitum, in potentia.
To generate a Pentameter Poem, however, run the Model (from the initial Seed Words [here, "let us"]) as many times as necessary until:
a perfect 10 Syllable Line is created
whose last word is not a function word
whose last two words were observed somewhere in the Corpus [to further prohibit ending on Syntactic Words]
and which, if necessary, rhymes with the appropriate line.
Once the first Line is created, the next line is generated using the Seed Words of the last two Words of the first Line — but only Lines generated that satisfy the above Conditions are accepted, all others are discarded, into a Heap of Combinations of English Words perhaps never before Seen, and perhaps, never after
The lines can be given a Rhyme Scheme to follow. In this case the scheme is the following: “A B A B C D C D E F E F G G.”
Rhymes are defined as a Correspondence of Phonemes in the Nucleus and Coda of the Final Syllable of two Lines.
Use the Within-Line Markov Model when within a Line, whenever possible; otherwise switch to the All Words Model
She was a pioneer in trans and lesbian issues, workers rights, and intersectionality long before anyone could define the phrase. Her partner, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and family offered us this obituary.
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall November 17 2014
Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness.
She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation,” and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing.
Her historical and theoretical writing has been widely anthologized and taught in the U.S. and international academic circles. Her impact on mass culture was primarily through her 1993 first novel, Stone Butch Blues, widely considered in and outside the U.S. as a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender. Sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies and also passed from hand-to-hand inside prisons, the novel has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Slovenian, Turkish, and Hebrew (with her earnings from that edition going to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women).
In a statement at the end of her life, she said she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she believed in the right of self-determination of oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.
She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been disrespectful to me with the wrong pronoun and respectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”
Feinberg was born September 1, 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Buffalo, NY, in a working-class Jewish family. At age 14, she began supporting herself by working in the display sign shop of a local department store, and eventually stopped going to her high school classes, though officially she received her diploma. It was during this time that she entered the social life of the Buffalo gay bars. She moved out of a biological family hostile to her sexuality and gender expression, and to the end of her life carried legal documents that made clear they were not her family.
Each year, some Shia Muslims in #Brujerd get into public baths, cover their bodies with mud and mourn the death of Imam Hossein by hitting their chests and chanting Islamic elegies. Afterwards, they wash their bodies, get out of the baths and continue the ritual by marching along the streets and chanting until noon. Ashura Day, early in the morning. #Lorestan, #Iran #everydayiran
Picture made by Vahid Behrouzian @vahid_behrouzian for @everydayiran
One of the great things about IKEA is the broad appeal of its furnishings. With understated styling, reasonable prices, and adequate quality, the Swedish-based megastore is the perfect place to find sofas for recent college graduates, dishes for newlyweds, and work desks for telecommuters.
And also, as clever Japanese pet owners have learned, adorable beds for cats.
Officially, IKEA hasn’t moved into the pet supply sector. The compact, 2,299-yen (US$20) Duktig is actually supposed to be used as a “bed” for children’s dolls.
Since it’s technically a toy, assembly is incredibly simple, consisting of inserting four pegs and four screws before slapping on a board.
Still, it seems like kind of a waste to buy creature comforts for inanimate objects like dolls. So instead, savvy Japanese pet owners have been picking up Duktigs for their cats.
The Duktig comes bundled with a tiny little sheet, but most pet owners who’re dedicated enough to buy furniture for their kitties seem to spruce the bed up with some extra linens and blankets.
▼ We wonder, since they’re already covered in hair, do cats appreciate a fuzzy blanket as much as we humans do?
Even though it wasn’t created with cats in mind, the bed turns out to have one very feline-friendly design point. Since there’s a gap in the edge of the frame where a person’s toes would be, the cats have a perfectly placed opening to stick their tails through.
Much like with human beings, the cats’ reactions upon being woken up seem to range from startled to stink eye.
▼ “Nope, not getting up yet.”
On the other hand, leave them alone, and they loo cozy enough to sleep all day.
Of course, a lot of cat lovers have multiple kitties in their homes, which of course require multiple beds.
If floor space is at a premium, though, drilling a couple of holes is about all you need to do to make a bunk bed.
Really, you can never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep in improving your mood. A solid 40 winks is enough to make even natural enemies get along, as this photo proves.
Hmm…why are we not surprised the cat snagged the top bunk?
Paper is wrongly attributing the inspiration for Kim Kardashian's cover to a vintage Goude photo called "Champagne Incident." The photo is actually 1976's "Carolina Beaumont," and it's about more than champagne.
It’s 8 PM and the kids just went to sleep. Not my kids (I’m only thirteen), but the kids I’m babysitting. And now I’m trying not to move a muscle or make a sound so that those kids stay put. It’s a serious struggle because the kitchen is basically calling to me. I’m practically all alone in a house full of of someone else’s junk food, and I can’t wait to launch my official raid of the snack cupboard, get a can of Fresca out of the fridge, and sit down in front of MTV.
When I see a Cheez-It, I'm transported back to that time. The red package immediately has me calculating how many crackers I can stuff into my mouth without the box feeling too empty to put back in the pantry. Let me just suggest that you keep these homemade cuties -- which are perhaps even more addictive than the originals -- very well hidden; better yet, take them with you when you leave the kids at home with the babysitter.
2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 7 1/2 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) finely grated sharp cheddar 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
In the bowl of a food processor add the flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until very well combined. Add 2 tablespoons of ice water and pulse until the dough is just wet enough to come together when squeezed. Add up to 2 tablespoons more water if necessary.
Divide the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap.
Press each half of dough into a flat square, wrap well, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Working with one square at a time, roll the dough out to a scant 1/8-inch thick. Using a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 3/4-inch wide strips.
Then cut the dough in the other direction to make 3/4-inch squares.
Use the flat end of a wooden skewer to poke a hole in the center of each square. Freeze the dough until firm, 10 to 15 minutes. Roll and cut the remaining dough, then preheat the oven to 350° F.
Brush half of the dough with beaten egg white and sprinkle it with salt. Use an offset spatula to gently break the egg-washed dough apart and place the squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake until puffed and set and browned on the bottom, about 14 to 16 minutes. (Make sure to cook them well so that the finished crackers are crisp. Completely frozen dough may take a few extra minutes to bake.)
Transfer the parchment with the baked crackers onto a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining frozen crackers. Store the cooled crackers in an airtight container.
This has been one amazing year for Laverne Cox in which she has broken ground for transkind on one level or another. She was the first transperson to appear on the cover of Time magazine. She was the first out transperson to be nominated for an Emmy thanks to her groundbreaking Sophia Burset role on Orange Is The New Black. She's produced a documentary on the unjust incarceration of CeCe McDonald for defending herself from a transphobic attack.
Bill Cosby invited the internet to make memes of him, providing a tool on his website so that anyone may easily do so. As you might have guessed, it’s backfiring spectacularly. Happy Monday, indeed.
Most people, on their best days, would consider this a bad idea. But, following 13 rape accusations, it’s a really bad idea. I wonder what subject internet strangers might reference in their custom memes?
Hend Rezk,30 years old,Boxing Egyptian champion from 2000 to 2010 and the first in Africa and the Arab World.Hend studied fashion besides boxing and she trains self-defense for girls. #everydayegypt
Picture made by Hadeer Mahmoud @hadeermahmoud1 for @everydayegypt