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24 Apr 13:35

The Drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel (1565)

by Adam Green
Highlights from a book of 120 woodcuts depicting a series of fantastically bizarre and grotesque figures, reminiscent of some of the more inventive and twisted creations of Brueghel or Bosch.
06 Apr 18:35

CASE Act Set to Empower Creators and Impose Accountability

by Kevin Madigan

Next week, the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act is scheduled for markup before the House Judiciary Committee, promising long-overdue support for small creators and copyright owners in their fight against overwhelming infringement in the digital age. While the bill has bipartisan support and the backing of a wide array of individual creators, artist organizations, and the creative industries, some detractors are now raising questions of constitutionality in an attempt to interfere with the bill’s passage. But the constitutional argument is merely a meritless rhetorical refrain put forward to mask a steadfast resistance by certain companies to any effort to impose accountability for online infringement.

A product of years of advocacy on behalf of the creative community and a thorough report by the Copyright Office, The CASE Act would create a Copyright Claims Board (CCB) within the Copyright Office to hear claims brought by individual creators and copyright owners. It would provide a venue to address rampant copyright infringement online, empowering a class of creators who have limited means and few opportunities to protect their intellectual property. The idea of a routinely ignored group of artists and copyright owners finally having a venue to protect their rights has infringers and those who enable infringement spooked, and they’re struggling to defeat the CASE Act in any way they can.

A testament to the CASE Act’s sound provisions is the fact that its critics are left grasping for challengeable issues. One of their tactics has been to contest the constitutionality of an administrative Article I court that would render decisions affecting intellectual property rights. It’s actually somewhat of a crafty approach to impeding the bills advancement, if only because of the inevitable reaction that comes any time the word “unconstitutional” is uttered. But regardless of the strategic game being played, anyone willing to pay attention will see that the creation of a Copyright Claims Board is clearly constitutional and that arguments to the contrary are hollow.

Some critics claim that the establishment of an alternative dispute forum within an executive agency would violate Article III of the Constitution, arguing that because the cases involve private property rights, they must be heard by an Article III tribunal. It’s an unconvincing argument that ignores hundreds of years of Supreme Court analysis which confirms Congress’s right to create special tribunals that adjudicate a variety of disputes outside the federal court system. As my colleague, Sandra Aistars, explains in her detailed article on copyright small claims, examples of these non Article III courts or administrative agencies include Tax Courts, the Court of Federal Claims, the Social Security Appeals Council, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

But what makes the constitutionality argument utterly groundless is the fact that participation in the small claims court would be voluntary. The Supreme Court has clearly held that a litigant’s right to an Article III decision-maker is violated only when the defendant is involuntarily forced to litigate before a non-Article III court. In Wellness International v. Sharif, the Supreme Court stated that “the court has never … h[e]ld that a litigant who has the right to an Article III court may not waive that right through his consent.”

In the procedure set forth by the CASE Act, those accused of infringement would be notified of a claim against them and have the ability to “opt out” of the process. The voluntary nature of the process adheres to Supreme Court precedent and is entirely consistent with Article III of the Constitution.

Critics of the CASE Act have also pushed for the small claims process to be “opt in,” rather than “opt out,” meaning that unless a defendant actively agrees to participate, the case cannot go forward. Essentially, a defendant could ignore any notice of a claim against them without consequence, drastically weakening the small claims process the CASE Act seeks to promote. It’s a brazen proposal, and it’s one that elevates a culture of casual misappropriation and disregard for small creators above a culture that promotes respect for the property rights of others.

The groups challenging the CASE Act represent tech companies that rely on the content and creative works of others to thrive, and the fight for the CASE Act has become a battle between these dominant entities and exploited creators. As these tech companies have consolidated wealth and power in ways few thought possible, they’ve garnered considerable influence in Washington, and they are working to shut down the first opportunity individuals and small businesses in the arts have to enjoy the fruits of their constitutionally guaranteed property right.

The tide is turning in the way we interact with technology and the internet and what we as a society expect from the companies that control our digital existence. Business models that enable companies to profit off intellectual property theft must be challenged. It’s not particularly surprising that these new global titans would resist efforts like the CASE Act that plan to inject accountability into cyber space, but let’s not be fooled by empty arguments aimed at distracting us from moving towards a greater respect for creators in the digital age.

02 Apr 18:18

Five years after Google conquered and abandoned RSS, the news-reader ecosystem is showing green shoots

by Cory Doctorow

RSS was a revelation for blogging and online media; we got our first RSS feed in 2001 and I have relied heavily on RSS feeds to write this site (and stay informed) for nearly two decades now; in 2005, Google bet heavily on RSS with its Google Reader product, which quickly eclipsed every other reader, so that by the time they killed it in 2013, there wasn't anything sophisticated, robust and well-maintained to switch to. (more…)

28 Mar 19:45

The environmental case for keeping the clocks on summer time – all the time

by Philipp Grünewald, Fellow in Lower Carbon Futures, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
photosampler / shutterstock

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and … also energy efficient, as it turns out.

After 1am on Sunday night here in Oxford the time suddenly jumped forward to 2am – the UK is now officially on “British Summer Time”, where it will remain for the next seven months. The rest of Europe also put its clocks forward at the same moment, while the US and Canada moved to summer time earlier in March. Collectively, this is known as daylight saving time.

But what if all these countries kept to summer time throughout the winter? About a decade ago researchers at the University of Cambridge made a strong case that, in the UK at least, it would have a range of positive effects. Twelve months of summer time could reduce road deaths and crime, boost business and trade and also reduce energy consumption at peak times by up to 8%. All of this is possible because our most active periods would be better aligned with daylight hours.

Shifting the timing of electricity use has gone up the academic agenda for another reason. Flexible demand has the potential to save billions in the integration of renewables, such as wind and solar.

The logic is simple: the highest energy demand occurs in winter around 5.30pm. This is when people come home and many businesses are still open. It’s also when it is cold and dark and we need extra energy for heat and light. Yet, output from low-carbon solar power is pretty much guaranteed to be zero.

5pm in December – or 6pm? mvtstockshot / shutterstock

If British Summer Time was continued through the winter, the peak-demand problem would be reduced. Everyone would get up an hour earlier, work earlier and come home earlier, often when it is still light. Activity would still peak at around 5.30pm human time, but that same time would be earlier relative to sunset.

Given that lighting alone may be responsible for 20% of peak demand in the UK, there is lots of scope for saving energy. One review found that using energy at different times could lead to peak reductions of up to 8%.

In lighter evenings there might even still be some solar power available to further reduce the net demand for fossil fuels. The savings in the evening would exceed any potential increase in the mornings.

So why don’t we talk more about how daylight saving hours could help the effort to decarbonise? One reason is political economy – while getting up an hour earlier makes sense to an expert in energy policy or road safety, it won’t necessarily be popular with the public (not to mention Scottish farmers or teenage children).

This is the same problem that affects many other potentially very sensible energy saving measures: as soon as there is even a remote chance of inconveniencing people, it is likely not to see the light of day. This is part of the reason why energy policy making is dominated by measures to boost supply such as new nuclear plants, fracking, or support for renewables. Tampering with the demand side requires a lot of political courage.

However, we may be able to put a more positive spin on it. Why should changing what we call “7am” to “8am” make such a difference anyway? After all, it is just a relabelling exercise.

It is fascinating how an entire society re-synchronises its activities based on a change of the clock hands. Yet if people stuck to their own rhythm they could avoid the worst rush hours and even get home in daylight during the winter.

Of course it is not that simple. Our daily rhythms are strongly reinforced by traditional conventions, such as working hours, schooling hours and shop opening hours. It began in the 19th century with factories using time to synchronise their workforce into shifts. With the arrival of the railways, clocks across the country were synchronised and millions of people began to operate to the same rhythm – not their natural rhythm, but the clock rhythm.

There are some obvious benefits to having a workforce in the same place at the same time. However, when looking at the system as a whole, synchronisation brings with it some serious challenges, most notably peak demand constraints.

It may therefore not be all that helpful to shift everyone’s day by one hour with a nationally synchronised clock change. Allowing for some more diversity to develop instead could be advantageous. More flexible working hours could reduce and spread peaks. This could even be encouraged regionally, given that Cornwall, on England’s south coast, faces very different daylight conditions than, say, north Scotland.

You don’t need to wait for the government either. Next autumn, when the clocks go back, be a rebel and just go to bed one hour earlier – that is, don’t change anything. You’ll not only reduce energy demand, but also help to diversify it.

The Conversation

Philipp Grünewald is part of the EPSRC-funded METER project which investigates what we use electricity for, and how we can reduce consumption at peak times.

28 Mar 19:11

These modern-day 1920s' style swimsuits are for any body

by Rusty Blazenhoff

Self-proclaimed tomboy surfer Mel Wells of Portland, Oregon was inspired by the modest, one-piece bathing suits from the twenties to create her own line of similarly-cut swimwear. Her company is called Beefcake and her genderless swimsuits are for any body.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign for the suits last year, she told PopSugar in an interview:

"If you look at old photos of people on the beach, [body shame] didn't used to be a part of our culture," she said. "The main excitement [I've heard from people is] 'I've been looking for a swimsuit like this for years.' . . . I think a lot of people are looking for swimwear that is more function than fashion, but not ugly. A lot of performance swimwear is not very fashionable — it's all about performance. And I think there's a lot of people who want something kind of in between."

Her "beefcakes" (how she refers to the swimsuits) are made in the USA, come in sizes XS to 5X, and sell for $95/each (right now they're 20% off).

Thanks, Whitney!

28 Mar 18:54

Platypuses sweat milk, use electricity to see underwater, and are composed 100% of wtf

by Clive Thompson

Every time I think I understand how weird platypuses are, I obtain additional information that further weirdifies them.

Popular Science has a great little piece that kicks off by talking about a new study on platypus milk, which is apparently loaded with a powerful antibiotic that science has found nowhere else in nature. That's pretty cool to begin with – it might be possible to harness that antibiotic, for example, to deal with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria!

But PopSci uses this study as a hook to deliver a full-on recitation of platypian oddness, which brought untold joy into my heart:

Really, almost everything about platypuses defies how we think about most mammals.

They do give milk to their babies, but unlike almost all other mammals they don’t have nipples. Instead, they essentially sweat out their milk from pores along their stomachs. The platypus has a bill kind of like a duck, but it’s really more of a hard snout. Their nostrils are on top of the snout, the mouth on the bottom, and oh yeah, they also sense their prey by detecting electrical fields. They literally close their eyes, ears, and nose when they dive underwater and go mainly on electroreception.

It also has some bonus bones in its shoulder not found in any other mammals, and rather than having its legs mounted beneath the body, its appendages spring out from the sides like a reptile. That means they also don’t swim like other mammals, who tend to use all four limbs. Platypuses let their back legs dangle—even though they, too, are webbed—and propel themselves entirely with the front feet, steering with the tail.

They have venom, but not in the teeth. It's found in little spurs on their feet, and seemingly not to kill prey. Venom is for intimidating other platypuses.

Platypus eyes aren’t like those found on any other four-legged creature, either. They more closely resemble those of a hagfish or lamprey, because of course they do.

As one of the scientists for that milk-study said in her own press release, "Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry."

(CC-licensed photo via Matt Chan)

27 Mar 19:22

CopyTalk: Are librarians confident assessing fair use?

by Carrie Russell

Please join us on April 5th for “Assessing Librarians’ Confidence and Comprehension in Explaining Fair Use Following an Expert Workshop” presented by Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois.

Sara will discuss her study to measure both academic librarian confidence and comprehension of fair use. The results, though limited in scope, provide encouraging evidence that appropriate training, even on a time-limited level, can help library professionals improve their knowledge of fair use. Testing revealed that the level of confidence and comprehension rose after the academic librarian participants were provided with the three-hour fair use training. The survey results collected two weeks after the training demonstrated that some librarians had the opportunity to use the skills learned in the training workshop in their daily work.

Sara Benson is an Assistant Professor and the Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois Library. She has a JD, a Masters of Law, and an MSLIS and enjoys discussing and researching the many contours of copyright as it impacts educators and creators. You can find her podcast (titled ©hat or “Copyright Chat”) at or on iTunes.

Mark your calendars and set aside some time for this webinar. Thursday, April 5 at 2 p.m. Eastern / 11 a.m. Pacific for our hour-long free webinar.

Go to and sign in as a guest.

This program is brought to you by the Washington Office’s copyright education subcommittee. Did you miss a CopyTalk? Check out our CopyTalk webinar archive!

The post CopyTalk: Are librarians confident assessing fair use? appeared first on District Dispatch.

23 Mar 17:00

A beginner's guide to the foggy wilderness of ambient music

by Lawrence English, Adjunct Lecturer, The University of Queensland
Clouds and sun glint over the Indian Ocean. NASA on The Commons/flickr

Brian Eno’s Music For Airports celebrates its 40th anniversary this month. This record is widely regarded as formalising ambient music as we know it today.

To those of us used to the repetitious rhythms and hooks of pop music, ambient music may sound a little sparse. Often devoid of lyrics, a hummable melody and pop song structures, it is about the creation of an environment around the listener. Ambient music floats in the air like a fog, creating a kind of acoustic tint that can be truly affective.

Music For Airports proposed a new way of approaching music, not as something to whistle or sing along to, but to be gently consumed by. Attached to the record was a short essay by Eno that laid out the groundwork for this approach:

Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

While ignorable music might seem a touch redundant in the age of effortless distraction, Eno’s initial notes on ambient music still hold weight. Specifically, his ideas on accommodating the varied listening states we each bring to our musical encounters have flourished and allowed ambient to become a music of lived moments.

Each time you encounter a piece of ambient music, it shifts and alters ever so subtly as the sounds around you merge with it. Similarly, our capacities to listen and focus (or not focus) greatly affect our encounters with it.

To mark this anniversary, here’s a chronological selection of ambient recordings that have helped map out its sonic geography. It is by no means exhaustive: plenty of other records have been equally influential, genre-expanding and commercially successful. Consider this a way to wade into the foggy wilderness that is ambient music.


Harold Budd’s Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror is second in Brian Eno’s Ambient series. This record, along with The Pearl, came to epitomise the open musical structures that form the basic building blocks of ambient. Budd’s fingers navigate perpetual cycles across the piano keys, the tones reflecting some imagined walk in a place you might never have been.


Pauline Oliveros remains one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Accordion and Voice captures her creating vast spaces from the simplest of inputs: voice and a single instrument.

While not as celebrated as his ambient music debut, Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land is the first record to significantly explore the influences of land and place in ambient composition. It’s also a record that captured a distinct sense of the “eerie”, as cultural theorist Mark Fisher recently observed.


Best remembered for their publicity stunt involving the burning of a million pounds, The KLF’s Chillout typified ambient’s rising popularity and shift into the mainstream early in the 1990s. Indeed at that time, the term was overused to the point where its meaning became opaque at best. Chillout spaces dotted most raves and other underground dance parties, providing music that expressly shunned hard rhythms and fast beats per minutes.


Thomas Köner’s Permafrost spearheaded a new, so-called isolationist thread of ambient music, one concerned with icy sound fields and harrowing, low-frequency explosions, which felt like the listener was tapping into the songs of tectonic plates.


If there’s one record that solidified ambient’s continued relevance into the 1990s, it was Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. It remains a touchstone for the more accessible end of the genre, a gently sweeping collection of warm harmonic phrases washing over pulsing bass lines and filtered downtempo grooves.


With the simple introduction of a pulsing kick drum, Wolfgang Voight (under the moniker Gas, perhaps a reference to ambient’s nebulous musical form) marked out a new territory for the music with a series of recordings including Königsforst. In this fresh terrain, a low-frequency heartbeat could pump energy through uneasy clouds of sound and melody.


William Basinski’s extended work Disintegration Loops stands as one of the most quietly powerful executions of ambient music this century. With the literal sound of magnetic materials falling off decaying tape loops, the singular simplicity of this work never fails to astound.


Whilst her work exists in excess of what some might consider ambient music, Éliane Radigue’s L'île re-sonante crystallises so much about the capacity of the genre to be deeply affecting without becoming didactic in any way. Radigue’s pieces, which often drew from her interest in Buddhist philosophy, were largely made with the legendary Arp 2500 synthesizer, which was adept at creating wavering electronic tones.


Grouper’s Dragging A Dead Dear Up A Hill is another record that recontoured the boundaries of ambient. Its use of blurry, cavernous spaces, within which Grouper buries her songs, creates a unique realm of indistinct beauty.


Félicia Atkinson’s Hand In Hand is one of many recent examples that further extend the possibilities of this music, by recognising the subjectivity of listening. Atkinson is part of a generation of artists whose work is set to push ambient forward into its next 40 years.

The Conversation

Lawrence English is the director of Room40.

23 Mar 14:49

Responsibility Deflected, the CLOUD Act Passes

by David Ruiz

UPDATE, March 23, 2018: President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion government spending bill—which includes the CLOUD Act—into law Friday morning.

“People deserve the right to a better process.”

Those are the words of Jim McGovern, representative for Massachusetts and member of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules, when, after 8:00 PM EST on Wednesday, he and his colleagues were handed a 2,232-page bill to review and approve for a floor vote by the next morning.

In the final pages of the bill—meant only to appropriate future government spending—lawmakers snuck in a separate piece of legislation that made no mention of funds, salaries, or budget cuts. Instead, this final, tacked-on piece of legislation will erode privacy protections around the globe.

This bill is the CLOUD Act. It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate. It never received a hearing. It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this un-vetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill. Congress has a professional responsibility to listen to the American people’s concerns, to represent their constituents, and to debate the merits and concerns of this proposal amongst themselves, and this week, they failed.

On Thursday, the House approved the omnibus government spending bill, with the CLOUD Act attached, in a 256-167 vote. The Senate followed up late that night with a 65-32 vote in favor. All the bill requires now is the president’s signature.

Make no mistake—you spoke up. You emailed your representatives. You told them to protect privacy and to reject the CLOUD Act, including any efforts to attach it to must-pass spending bills. You did your part. It is Congressional leadership—negotiating behind closed doors—who failed.

Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information. Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil.

As we wrote before, the CLOUD Act is a far-reaching, privacy-upending piece of legislation that will:

  • Enable foreign police to collect and wiretap people's communications from U.S. companies, without obtaining a U.S. warrant.
  • Allow foreign nations to demand personal data stored in the United States, without prior review by a judge.
  • Allow the U.S. president to enter "executive agreements" that empower police in foreign nations that have weaker privacy laws than the United States to seize data in the United States while ignoring U.S. privacy laws.
  • Allow foreign police to collect someone's data without notifying them about it.
  • Empower U.S. police to grab any data, regardless if it's a U.S. person's or not, no matter where it is stored.

And, as we wrote before, this is how the CLOUD Act could work in practice:

London investigators want the private Slack messages of a Londoner they suspect of bank fraud. The London police could go directly to Slack, a U.S. company, to request and collect those messages. The London police would not necessarily need prior judicial review for this request. The London police would not be required to notify U.S. law enforcement about this request. The London police would not need a probable cause warrant for this collection.

Predictably, in this request, the London police might also collect Slack messages written by U.S. persons communicating with the Londoner suspected of bank fraud. Those messages could be read, stored, and potentially shared, all without the U.S. person knowing about it. Those messages, if shared with U.S. law enforcement, could be used to criminally charge the U.S. person in a U.S. court, even though a warrant was never issued.

This bill has large privacy implications both in the U.S. and abroad. It was never given the attention it deserved in Congress.

As Rep. McGovern said, the people deserve the right to a better process.

21 Mar 18:36

YouTube hides The Atlantic's coverage of "Heil Trump" salutes at Nazi speech

by Rob Beschizza

The Atlantic's video coverage of Nazi salutes at a Trump rally was removed from YouTube's search results under its hate-speech policy. It reinstated the video after the magazine noticed and complained.

“Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” said the leader, Richard B. Spencer. Attendees in the room replied with shouts, applause, and Nazi salutes... Specifically, YouTube removed the video of Spencer’s speech from all public search results on its site and made it much more difficult to access overall. The YouTube video was only accessible during this period by clicking a direct link or by first finding The Atlantic’s user page, then locating the video in a menu. (The video was still indexed by Google, YouTube’s parent company.)

This delisting accompanied a broader change in status for the video. When it removed the video from search, YouTube also closed comments on the video, hid social-media share buttons on the page, and did not provide a way for users to embed the video on another page. In a message below the video, YouTube said it had “disabled some features” of the video.

Anger at this is good and proper, but remember that private platforms can't guarantee you free speech even if they think they want to. So instead of getting mired in that particular abstract tar pit, today, demand that YouTube consistently enforce reasonable community standards with a long-term human commitment, instead of treating all this stuff as something nerds can solve with algorithms in service of short-term PR goals.

21 Mar 18:34

New York Filmed in 1929 with Sound

by Richard Kaufman

I was in New York City this past weekend—a place where no one uses the word “Manhattan”—and spent some time fighting the other pedestrians in order to walk down the street, and fighting the cars to cross from Third Avenue to Second Avenue.

New York is always insanely busy. I lived there until 31 years of age and couldn’t wait to get out. I had assumed, perhaps naively, that it was a more peaceful place almost a century ago. Apparently not!

What is surprising about the two videos below, which were apparently filmed with a camera on the back of a flatbed truck while driving around, is how crowded the city was even in 1929. The sounds of streetcars and people are omnipresent. The city looks more interesting, and more appealing, in black and white. Color often makes it seem garish or dirty ... at least to me.

Now for your bit of time travel today.

21 Mar 11:35

Mattel reintroduces Barbie’s 1962 Dream House® including a Barbie to go with — mine is on the way!

by Pam Kueber

Barbie’s 1962 Dream House® — is back. I just found out. And I just ordered mine, via Amazon. Hey: It ALSO includes the Barbie!  Note: Links in this story are Amazon affiliate links, meaning, if ya click and buy I earn a small commission (currently all going toward weebit’s law school fund — Mom so proud!)

I visited my longtime friend Pat Henry, publisher of Fashion Doll Quarterly, this past weekend, and she told me about this product revival — and, she also had one in hand for us to play with.  

As longtime readers may know, Barbie was quite a figure in my life. I loved the dolls and played with Barbie, Skipper, Midge — and all their houses an cars — avidly ’til I was like… 13. Oh. Ken, too. But frankly: Ken was always … an afterthought. 

Topping on the cake: I was born same year as Barbie — I am 17 days older  — and we have marked every major birthday together since. 

The 1962 Dream House is a cardboard marvel genius product. It is completely self-contained and portable…. It includes “Slim-line” midcentury modern furniture, also cardboard-engineered, that you put together … And you get a Barbie. But not just any Barbies: She’s also a 1960s design, including a 1960s dress. 

On Mattel’s Barbie blog, Barbie® Signature Principal Designer Bill Greening provided some history on the House and on the project: 

Barbie® debuted in 1959, but she didn’t move into her first Dream House until three years later, in 1962….

They were only able to find one sample in their archives with the furniture still unassembled, but that was enough. They scanned the “sheets” with the furniture and sent them out for development….

[The doll that comes with the house is] a vintage blonde ponytail Barbie, wearing a floral PAK sheath dress collectors know as ‘On the Go’ from that original Dream House era…. That makes the reproduction of the Dream House even more special, since the doll was sold separately back in the 1960s.

I am pretty darned excited to get my own 1962 Dream House.

  • You can get yours, too, on Amazon here

More Barbie love:

The post Mattel reintroduces Barbie’s 1962 Dream House® including a Barbie to go with — mine is on the way! appeared first on Retro Renovation.

20 Mar 19:31

Graffiti: At the Edge of Copyright

by Jonathan Bailey

Graffiti Example ImageWhen graffiti artist Jason Williams, better known as REVOK, noticed some of his work appearing in an ad campaign for H&M, he did what many artists would do: He sent a cease and desist letter.

H&M, rather than ceasing and desisting, responded by filing a lawsuit against Williams saying that his work can not be copyright protected. According to H&M, since Williams’ art is a “product of criminal conduct” Williams has no copyright at all in the work.

However, this isn’t the first example of graffiti artists battling over copyright. Whether its artists suing over the destruction of 5Pointz in Queens, the estate of another artist suing McDonalds over the use of his tag in a restaurant or another suing when their work appeared in a fashion line.

Much of this is owed to the fact that street art has been pushing its way into the mainstream. Though the process has been going on for decades, in recent years artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have become household names. With mass appeal comes inevitable commercialization and that commercialization has forced many graffiti artists out of the shadows and into the courtroom.

But this raises a difficult issue: Where does graffiti fall when it comes to copyright? Can it be protected at all? If so, what can artists do to prevent the destruction of their work? What about commercial use of their work?

The answers are difficult and many are still being decided but, given how important this area is becoming to copyright law, it’s well worth taking a look.

Some Quick Terminology

Graffiti ImageWhen it comes to this kind of art, there are three terms commonly used to describe it: Street art, graffiti and vandalism

For the purpose of this article, street art is an umbrella term for nearly all public art, permitted and illicit. This includes commissioned murals, graffiti and even public art displays.

Graffiti is simply illicit public art, usually in the form of spray painted murals writing or drawings. It can be extremely simple or complex, but they don’t have advance permission from the property owner, even if they are welcome after the fact.

Finally, vandalism is any willful destruction of property. Many people consider graffiti vandalism, many do not. We’re going to avoid this term for this reason.

With that aside, we can delve into the issues.

Can Graffiti Be Copyright Protected?

Copyright law is pretty clear. For a work to qualify for copyright protection it only needs two things:

  1. Have a modicum of creativity
  2. Be fixed into a any tangible medium of expression.

Interestingly, the law even includes the word “any” in its language, further emphasizing that the term is meant to be as broad as possible.

Graffiti Art ImageGraffiti, without a doubt, meets both of those qualifications. It is creative and a wall, whether it’s legal or not, is a tangible medium of expression.

The argument against copyright protection for graffiti comes from a very different angle.

When the fashion designer Moschino and their creative director Jeremy Scott were sued by street artist Jeremy Tierney (AKA: Rime), they argued it was the criminal nature of graffiti that made it devoid of copyright protection.

In an argument that literally compared graffiti to the Black Dahlia murders, they asked whether or not the Black Dahlia murder could hold the copyright in their “art”, namely the rearranging of body parts following a ghastly murder.

The idea here is the doctrine of unclean hands. It basically states that no person should benefit from their crimes. Obviously, a graffiti artist getting copyright protection in their work would be a huge benefit and many argue that precludes copyright protection in illegally-created art.

One case that addressed this (at least briefly) was Villa v. Pearson Education, where a graffiti artist, Hiram Villa, sued Pearson Education over the use of his art in a strategy guide for a Tony Hawk video game. After some procedural issues, Pearson attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed by claiming the illegal nature of the work made it ineligible for copyright protection.

The judge declined to do so, saying that the illegality of the art was fact-dependent and not appropriate to address at that stage. Unfortunately for those interested, before the court could rule on it, the two sides reached a settlement.

To make matters even more frustrating, the same happened in Tierney’s case. There, just as with Villa, we didn’t get to hear from the courts as both sides reached a settlement in the case shortly after the argument was made.

Other cases, however, didn’t feel the need to deal with copyrightability at all. For example, in a 2013 case involving graffiti appearing in a Green Day concert video the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the use of the art was a fair use. While that’s still a defeat for the artist, one can’t find fair use if the work is not protected by copyright.

Still, the issue is a divisive one. However, as time has moved on artists have, generally, been more and more successful in enforcing copyright in their work. To quote an article by Sara Cloon for the Notre Dame Law Review:

“These cases reveal that courts tend to analyze cases regarding unsanctioned graffiti on the premise that such works are copyrightable, though they have not held explicitly that such works hold valid copyrights. They have focused on copyright defenses in dismissing causes of action, rather than the defense of illegality.”

The article goes on to say that “This widespread judicial approach gives weight to the argument that unsanctioned graffiti is copyrightable.” This, by in large, appears to be the prevailing thought at the time, even if no court has said it expressly.

What About Destroying Graffiti?

Even if we wholly accept the copyrightability of graffiti, that doesn’t mean it receives all of the same rights as other forms of street art.

One example of this is the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which is the United States’ attempt to introduce elements of moral rights into copyright law. One of the components of VARA is that author of works of “recognized stature” can prohibit intentionally or grossly negligent destruction of their work.

However, courts have not been kind when applying VARA to graffiti.

Two cases, English v. BFC & R East 11th Street LLC and Pollara v. Seymour found that VARA did not apply to illicitly placed works of art. However, they made a distinction between removable and non-removable, hinting that, if a work can be trivially removed, it can’t be destroyed even if it was placed illegally.

The latter case also looked at the issue of whether or not illegally-placed artwork is “of a recognized stature” and, ultimately, found that it was not as it “was not intended to have any lasting value.”

Many will point to the 5Pointz case, where a judge awarded a collection of artists $6.7 million for destroying their creations ahead of a planned demolition. However, the 5Pointz case isn’t a case about graffiti, the museum was created with the permission of the property owner. While it was certainly street art, it wasn’t graffiti.

Furthermore, the judge said the reason for the high damages was because the developer had acted willfully. If the developer had waited until they received a demolition permit, 10 months later, the case might have ended very differently.

That’s because, even if we accept that graffiti is entitled to full protection under both copyright and VARA, the rights of artists have to be balanced against the rights of the property owner.

In short, it’s probable that graffiti will always be vulnerable to destruction. However, that temporary nature is something that’s very much a part of the ethos of graffiti as an art from. The problem is that it’s going to clash constantly with the the increased commercialization graffiti, and all street art, are seeing.

Bottom Line

Graffiti, as an art form, has always existed at the fringes of society. It should be no surprise that it also exists at the fringes of copyright law.

However, the mainstream success of graffiti has brought it commercial success and, where there’s money there’s litigation.

Many of the issues surrounding graffiti and copyright remain unsettled and may still be for some time. Settlements are easier and cheaper than wading through murky legal waters.

Still, these issues won’t go away. As long as there’s a drive to commercialize graffiti, there will be copyright issues. So expect a lot more from this area over the coming months and years.

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20 Mar 13:19

Beginner painters try to learn from the master: Bob Ross

by Rusty Blazenhoff

Most of us have enjoyed the soothing, soft-spoken art instructions of public TV painter Bob Ross, but how many of us have actually tried to paint using his methods?

I guessed "not many" but I was wrong. On YouTube, there's this "Bob Ross Challenge" which means lots of folks are taking a stab at creating their own "happy little trees," with mixed results.

In the Buzzfeed video from 2017 (above), watch as three beginning painters fearlessly try their hand at following the master.

Then, watch these two brave souls do the same thing:

Previously: Zen out on Bob Ross peeling off contact paper


20 Mar 13:14

How to permanently delete your Facebook account

by Mark Frauenfelder

By now, every sane person realizes that Facebook is horrible. It uses your personal data in unsavory ways. It sells your data to unscrupulous companies. It encourages businesses to build their online headquarters on Facebook and then ruins those companies by changing its algorithm. And, maybe worst of all, it has one of the ugliest and most confusing interfaces ever made. I deactivated my account a long time ago, but this week's news about Facebook's relationship with the ultra sleazy data mining firm Cambridge Analytica prompted me to permanently delete my account. Wired has an article that shows you how to do it:

Now, to permanently delete your account, you'll need to learn where the delete option resides. The easiest way to find it is by clicking the "Quick Help" icon in the top-right corner, then the "Search" icon. When you see the search field, type “delete account.” You'll see a list of search results. Click on "How do I permanently delete my account?" and Facebook will give you the obscure instructions to “log into your account and let us know.” In this case, “let us know” is code for “delete my account,” so click on that link. From here, the final steps are clear: Enter your password and solve the security captcha, and your request to permanently delete your account is underway.
19 Mar 19:45

My Lai: 50 years after, American soldiers' shocking crimes must be remembered

by Robert Hodierne, Chair and Professor of Journalism, University of Richmond
Dead from the My Lai massacre Peers Inquiry, v.3/Ron Haeberle

Sa Thi Quy was 43 years old on the morning of March 16, 1968, when Americans came to her hamlet near the coast of the South China Sea in what was then South Vietnam.

“The first time the Americans came, the children followed them. They gave the children sweets to eat. Then they smiled and left. We don’t know their language – they smiled and said OK and so we learned the word OK.”

“The second time they came, we poured them water to drink. They didn’t say anything.”

“The third time they killed everyone.”

The name of her hamlet was My Lai.

Dim memories of a horrific crime

If Americans remember that name at all, they most likely remember that something dark and awful happened there. They are probably fuzzy on the details. Maybe they remember some grainy color photographs of Vietnamese bodies piled in a ditch. Or a lieutenant named Calley.

But on this 50th anniversary of what happened in that Vietnamese hamlet, it is worth recalling the grotesque details, in the hope that doing so will help prevent a future My Lai.

It is still an unsettled question about what, exactly, the troops of the Americal Division were ordered to do and who, exactly, issued the orders. What is settled is that for four hours that morning, American young men went on a rampage of killing and rape.

When they finally broke for lunch, the Americans had butchered 504 Vietnamese old men, women, children and babies. No military-aged men were killed. Only one weapon belonging to the Vietnamese was found.

Sometimes, the soldiers shot Vietnamese one at a time. Sometimes they herded them into ditches and machine-gunned them down in groups.

Sometimes it seemed as if the Americans were making a sport out of it.

One soldier threw a wounded elderly man down a well then dropped a grenade in after him. A soldier bayoneted an old man to death.

Another soldier was armed with an M-79 grenade launcher. Other soldiers testified at Army hearings that the man was frustrated that he hadn’t been able to use his weapon, so he herded some women and children together, backed off and fired several explosive rounds into them. Other soldiers with pistols killed those who were only wounded.

In a better-disciplined outfit, the officers in the field would have stopped such violence.

But in this outfit, officers took part in the killing.

‘Blew her brains out’

According to testimony from his men, one company commander, Capt. Ernest Medina, shot and killed a wounded and helpless woman. Lt. William Calley grabbed one woman by the hair and blew her brains out with his .45-caliber pistol. Then he shot to death an infant she’d been carrying. In total, Calley is thought to have killed or ordered killed more than 100 civilians.

Lt. William S. Calley, shown on Nov. 21, 1969, with newsmen at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where he was charged with premeditated murder of approximately 100 Vietnamese civilians. AP

It is worth noting that the massacre may never have come to light if it weren’t for a soldier who was an aspiring journalist. Ronald Ridenhour served in the Americal Division in Vietnam at the time of the massacre but was not present at My Lai. Ridenhour got wind of it, interviewed men who had been there and wrote his findings in a letter to 30 members of Congress and the Pentagon.

As the story started to break – mostly due to the efforts of young investigative reporter Seymour Hersh – another soldier who had been in My Lai published the color photos that are the best documentation of the horror at My Lai.

I covered Vietnam for two years as a photojournalist and was in Vietnam when the My Lai story broke. I remember that I was stunned. I’d seen villages burned and Vietnamese pushed around, but nothing even approaching My Lai.

In the wake of all that bad publicity, the Army appointed a highly decorated and well regarded three-star general, Lt. Gen. William R. Peers, to investigate the cover-up. Over four months, he and his staff took sworn testimony from about 400 witnesses. The transcript runs to 20,000 pages.

Ten years ago a sharp producer in London, Celina Dunlop, found out that the testimony had been tape-recorded. I worked on a two-part BBC radio documentary about My Lai, using those tapes. It was the first time I’d heard the voices of the men who took part, describing what they had done and seen.

Their voices haunt me. I used voices to write a play about the massacre – called simply enough, “My Lai” – and in doing so, read all 20,000 pages of their testimony. No writer could do better than their simple, direct description of the horror they let loose on that village.

Heroes amid the carnage

There were really only three Americans who behaved heroically that day. Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was flying a small scout helicopter with two crewmen, Glenn Andreotti and Lawrence Colburn. They witnessed the massacre from above. When they saw American troops advancing toward a group of old men, women and children, Thompson landed his helicopter between the soldiers and the civilians and ordered his crewmen to shoot the Americans if they opened fire on the civilians. He called other choppers to evacuate the civilians. For that, Thompson was shunned by fellow officers for years afterward.

What isn’t usually written about at My Lai are the rapes.

While the exact number may never be known, the Americans raped at least several dozen women and girls, some as young as 12. And then murdered and mutilated many of them.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nov. 20, 1969.

One soldier, Dennis Bunning of Raymond, California, testified that a sergeant “took one girl there, and drug her into a compartment, like in a hootch there, you know, and hootches don’t have doors or nothing, and you could see, and he raped one girl inside there. And then there was three other guys and one girl all at one time. … A guy would just grab one of the girls there and in one or two incidents they shot the girls when they got done.”

Pham Thi Tuan, who lived in My Lai, told a documentary filmmaker, “Over there a naked woman who had been raped and a virgin girl with her vagina slit open. We don’t know why they behaved liked that.”

‘Failure of leadership’

And that, finally, is the question that is most vexing.

How could American boys behave like that? How could they behave like Nazi and Japanese soldiers in World War II?

One excuse frequently offered is that the unit had been hard hit and was in some sort of shock. In fact, the unit had only been in Vietnam for three months and had never been in a firefight. Before My Lai, only five men from the unit had been killed, all by mines or snipers, at a time when Americans were losing 15-20 men per day.

Another excuse is that the men were subpar, draftees, the bottom of a rapidly emptying barrel. But that’s not true either, according to an Army investigation. By every measure – intelligence, education, physical fitness – they were typical of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who never engaged in such behavior.

In the end, Peers, who headed the investigation, concluded that the massacre was a failure of leadership, from the commanding general on down. He concluded that 28 officers and enlisted men had committed war crimes – murder and rape – or conspired to cover up the crimes.

But in the end, only 14 officers were charged. And only Calley was convicted. President Richard Nixon, bowing to public pressure from those who believed Calley was a scapegoat, commuted his life sentence. He spent three and half years confined, most of that time under house arrest.

Nixon wouldn’t even allow Peers to call it a massacre. The massacre became, instead, “a tragedy of major proportions.”

The darkest side of American exceptionalism is the belief that somehow we are more moral than others and that our troops would never slaughter innocents civilians. Americans need to understand that in every war in the history of humankind, soldiers commit hideous acts. Even our troops. It is inevitable.

Americans need to be prepared to share the moral responsibility for those crimes when we send our young men and women off to fight wars on our behalf.

This article has been updated to correct producer Celina Dunlop’s name and work title.

The Conversation

Robert Hodierne does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

19 Mar 18:38

More than a decade's worth of Facebook catastrophes

by Cory Doctorow

In the wake of the latest Facebook data breach catastrophe, Josh Constantine rounds up more than a decade's worth of major catastrophes wrought by Facebook's recklessness, greed, and foolishness, from Beacon to the "Engagement Ranked Feed" to the "Engagement Priced Ad Auctions" to the choices that created spamming games like Zynga's offerings, to the mass overwriting of privacy preferences, to "ethnic affinity" ad targeting, to the Real Names policy and the stalkers it abetted to Facebook's global anti-Net-Neutrality campaigns; to self-serve ads; to developer data access and the gift it handed to crooks like Cambridge Analytica. (more…)

19 Mar 18:33

Facebook insists that Cambridge Analytica didn't "breach" data, but "misused" it, and they're willing to sue anyone who says otherwise

by Cory Doctorow

Yesterday's bombshell article in the Guardian about the way that Cambridge Analytica was able to extract tens of millions of Facebook users' data without their consent was preceded by plenty of damage control on Facebook's part: they repeatedly threatened to sue news outlets if they reported on the story and fired the whistleblower who came forward with the story. (more…)

15 Mar 18:16

Once at the vanguard of national policy, California plays defense under Trump

by Char Miller, W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pomona College
A San Diego rally against a scheduled visit by President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

On March 13, President Donald Trump inspected towering border wall prototypes at the U.S.-Mexico border during the two-day trip to California – his first to the Golden State since the November 2016 election.

Surely he did not expect a warm welcome. Not only did Trump lose the state by more than 4 million votes, but his trip comes hard on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department against the state of California in federal court to strike down legislative initiatives to protect immigrants and block their enforcement.

It was Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, who offered a very public rebuttal to Washington’s move. Unfurling the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, he asserted that the states, not federal officials, are the final authority on public safety.

“We believe we are in full compliance with the federal constitution and federal law,” Becerra said.

This is the latest evidence that Becerra is the Golden State’s face of resistance to the Trump administration’s policies – especially its attempts to roll back progressive immigration and environmental policies that are central to California’s identity.

Becerra is mounting a rearguard action because he has little choice. Even so, his defensive posture runs counter to the no-holds-barred approach that defined California’s post-World War II drive for economic growth and social justice.

Challenging Trump

Becerra is the hardworking son of immigrants and the first in his family to go to college. He finished law school in 1984, was elected to the state assembly, and then served in the state’s Department of Justice before winning an impressive 12 terms to the U.S. House of Representatives.

California’s first Latino attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has taken a defiant – and, by necessity, a defensive – tone vis a vis Washington. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

His personal story is etched into his staunch advocacy for the poor and marginalized – a stark contrast to the president’s silver-spoon background. It is no wonder Gov. Jerry Brown tapped Becerra to replace newly elected Sen. Kamala Harris as attorney general in January 2017. Becerra became the first Latino to hold this office in California.

Becerra’s tough-minded approach to his latest job has made him a frequent and forceful critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. He has also championed a kind of states-rights environmentalism by attacking the administration’s attempts to gut clean air and water regulations, destroy California’s green energy economy, and undercut protections for national forests, parks, grasslands and refuges.

Becerra’s relentlessness earned him praise from the environmental magazine Grist as “The Planet’s Lawyer.”

California’s cultural clout

Becerra’s defensive strategy is born from what historian Kevin Starr argued in his magisterial study of California is the state’s particular genius: It is the “best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.”

The Sequoia National Monument is one of the national monuments the Trump administration has put under review, which the state is fighting. David Prasad/flickr, CC BY-SA

Fueled by a generous stream of tax dollars, in the 1960s and 1970s the state’s educational systems became the envy of the world. Its high-speed highways, highly engineered water systems, agricultural productivity, artistic energy and technological creativity inspired visitors from near and far.

Today, its many benefits are broadly accessible: Beaches are public, parks and open spaces plentiful. Higher education is relatively cheap. Here, democracy has flourished, or at least it could do so. Where it has not, people fought to ensure that it would.

Since the mid-20th century, for example, thousands of migrant farm workers in the Central, Salinas and Imperial valleys have picked cotton, harvested fruits, nuts and produce. They have endured oppressive conditions for decades, but when they formed the United Farm Workers of America in the early 1960s and launched the first nationwide grape boycott, they gained an important measure of control over their lives.

So have Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women and people in the LGBTQ community. Although their struggle to secure increased rights and opportunities did not always originate in California, and although there were setbacks along the way, their arguments gained greater political visibility, social currency, and cultural clout when manifest on the coast. The state, as Kevin Starr once asserted, nurtured everyone’s golden dreams.

Setting pace on public health

Even those who dreamed of blue skies. It has also taken decades to scrub the state’s polluted air, as grassroots activists, educators, scientists and some public officials fought long and hard against entrenched opposition in the state capital, among Detroit automakers and within the federal government. But eventually they succeeded in securing what now are the nation’s toughest environmental controls.

It is not by happenstance that the air-monitoring EPA owes its existence to a Californian – President Richard Nixon signed it into law December 1970. Or that the Clean Air Acts grants California the right to institute stricter smog controls than the federal government requires of the rest of the nation.

For all its progress in ameliorating pressing racial, political, social and environmental problems, California today finds itself in a conundrum. To continue to advance what Becerra’s characterizes as the state’s “forward-leaning” mission, it must vigorously defend its past achievements. But the vigor of that defense may complicate its ability to plan for and invest in a future that expands on California’s democratic promise.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on June 17, 2017.

The Conversation

Char Miller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 18:05

Articulate US teenagers could finally force action on gun control

by George Rennie, Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne

On Wednesday in the US, thousands of students left their classrooms in a national day of action designed to force political change on gun crime. Following the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, this walkout is part of an extraordinary national movement. Young people across the US are doing what countless others have tried and failed to do: using grassroots strategies to take on the powerful gun lobby.

The US has an epidemic of gun crime. Mass shootings occur every day, and school shootings have become so common that over 170 schools and some 150,000 students have been affected by school-based gun violence since 1999.

Beyond the psychological trauma such attacks inflict, these shootings have a profound effect on academic success rates.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

And yet, in spite of the overwhelming majority of Americans who want tighter gun control laws, very little is done to stem the presence of guns in schools, or the ability of Americans to access high-powered weaponry with relative ease.

Policy inertia and the NRA

The main reason for this inertia is the extraordinary influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Since it turned to a more aggressive lobbying strategy in the 1970s, the NRA has helped redefine the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, bestowed a divine blessing on guns, and bent half of Congress to its will.

The NRA succeeds because it has created powerful (and mostly false or distorted) narratives to support gun use. It deploys familiar tropes to distract from tragedies. When gun-related tragedy hits, NRA-backed politicians call for “thoughts and prayers”.

The reality of US gun deaths is set against such pro-gun arguments, and each tragedy widens the stark divide between those who associate guns with freedom, and those who see them as devices for terror. So, when others call for legislative action, as they did following the massacre at Sandy Hook and other mass shootings, the gun lobby scolds them for “politicising tragedy”.

But murdered kids are political. Sandy Hook exposed the US to the faces of erstwhile happy kindergarteners, their lives snuffed out by a disturbed young man with easy access to guns. It’s an all-too-familiar story for Americans and, by international comparison, a unique one at that.

Yet the resulting push for change soon turned to despair: many came to believe that if 26 deaths at an elementary school can’t bring Congress to act, nothing can.

Gun laws and the possibility of change

The last last major piece of gun control legislation to pass Congress was the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. It was specifically designed to reduce the incidence of mass shootings, and targeted the enhanced killing power of assault rifles. But, under sustained attack from the gun lobby, the ban expired under its “sunset clause”.

Since then, the one major piece of gun legislation in the US, in spite of the national rise in mass and school shootings, has been an act designed to protect gun manufacturers in 2005.

Now, for the first time in decades, there is a real possibility that some gun controls might be implemented. The NRA, as well as numerous politicians associated with it, are facing significant pressure to act.

Recent news footage showed Senator Marco Rubio and the NRA’s Dana Loesh publicly sparring with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, to a chorus of boos and jeers. Millions witnessed their discomfort.

This has already led to some action by states. Florida is looking to pass age restrictions and waiting periods for gun purchases, and Oregon has imposed gun prohibitions on domestic abusers and those with restraining orders.

Even President Donald Trump, who has been keen to show off his pro-gun credentials in the past, has recognised the public outcry. He has called for regulation of bump-stocks and age restrictions (though he is wavering on both).

The high school advocates

The reason gun control looks possible right now is largely due to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Beyond the pressure they have been applying directly to the NRA and politicians, the students have been busy using advocating on social media, writing op-eds, organising rallies and walkouts, making media appearances, and pressuring companies to drop support for the NRA or pro-gun politicians.

As a result of these efforts, the students are presenting important, emotionally powerful counter-narratives to those of the gun lobby. They are offering examples of successful gun control and pointing out that guns in schools are the problem, not the solution. They are also forming a coalition in opposition to the well-organised 2-4 million members of the NRA and affiliated organisations.

Whether these efforts are successful or not will depend largely on whether they are sustained. This is why the gun lobby calls for “hopes and prayers” and to not “politicise tragedy”. These are stalling tactics: if the NRA can wait it out, while at the same time applying pressure to its political allies, nothing gets done.

However, the gun lobby has not faced a political force like this before. While it is inevitable that media attention will eventually wane, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas and around the country have access to tools — such as social media — that circumvent traditional outlets. They also have the ability to draw the national spotlight back, especially via their use of rallies and walkouts.

These tactics reinvigorate the Democratic base and ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans, already jittery following a string of shock political losses.

If the passion and dedication they have shown so far is sustained, especially as the congressional midterm elections approach, the young people of the US might just be able do what no one has done in decades, and force action on gun control.

This article has been update to correct the statement that the federal assault weapons ban followed the Columbine school shooting.

The Conversation

George Rennie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 17:49

Zero tolerance discipline policies won't fix school shootings

by Derek W. Black, Professor of Law, University of South Carolina
The Trump administration aims to revisit school discipline policies. Roman Bodnarchuk/Shutterstock

As outrage over the Parkland school shooting persists, lawmakers are looking for actual policy solutions. Unfortunately, they sometimes misunderstand or misuse the facts that should drive policy.

The Trump administration and its supporters are latching onto school discipline reform as the solution. But by reform, they do not mean improving school climate, ensuring fairness or getting students the mental and social services they need. They mean doing away with the school discipline reform the Obama administration helped spur. They mean doubling down on zero tolerance. Last week, Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio went so far as to write that “federal guidance may have contributed to systemic failures to report Nikolas Cruz’s dangerous behaviors to local law enforcement.” Cruz is accused of carrying out the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Rubio is referencing a 2014 memo by the Department of Education and Department of Justice under President Barack Obama. The memo placed some limits on zero tolerance and encouraged school districts to adopt proactive research-based approaches to student misbehavior. It took over a decade, but social scientists and educators began convincing policymakers that the country had made a mistake with its zero tolerance discipline policies.

Trump officials and supporters think — or would have people believe — that the new push to improve school discipline had something to do with the Parkland shooting. It didn’t. And getting rid of research-based approaches to discipline is, in my opinion as a professor of law and education policy, an even worse idea than arming school teachers.

What really works and doesn’t

But powerful stories drive perception and policy. The stories that get told and retold eventually come to matter just as much as research. So here’s a story that runs counter to the Trump adminstration’s current narrative that stronger discipline is the answer. On Sept. 28, 2016, a 14-year-old boy in Ashland City, Tennessee, entered his school with a gun. His plan was to kill teachers and a police officer. But he stopped by his guidance counselor’s office first. After 45 minutes, the guidance counselor, Molly Hudgens, talked him into giving her the gun. She said her training in de-escalation allowed her to persuade him. The local sheriff said: “She did something even the most experienced law enforcement officer might not do. Had she not been there, it could have been very different.”

The aftermath of Columbine also offers its own lessons. In the panic that followed, the nation ratcheted up its school punishments. Not only would students be expelled for bringing guns and drugs to school, they would be expelled for things like “habitual disruption” and disrespect. Some schools went so far as to suspend students for chewing Pop-Tarts into the shape of guns and for playing games like cops and robbers when they include imaginary guns.

As I detail in my book, “Ending Zero Tolerance,” the results of harsh discipline policies have been disappointing to say the least. If zero tolerance was an effective deterrent, it would have eventually caused suspensions to decline, while safety and achievement increased. But suspension rates steadily increased across time. By 2011, schools were suspending and expelling 3.5 million students a year. For African-American students, the rate of suspension increased by 60 percent. Most of these suspensions and expulsions were for relatively minor misbehavior. For instance, fewer than 10 percent of those suspensions and expulsions involved guns or drugs. And the incidental effects were equally disturbing.

How suspensions impact schools

Research has shown that high suspension rates are related to lower academic achievement, including for the well-behaved students that suspensions purportedly protect. One of the reasons is that when schools regularly suspend students for minor misbehavior, they alter the overall student body’s perception of school. Students no longer see school officials making the learning environment safe or orderly. They see school officials acting punitively toward their friends, family and peers.

And when students see a school’s discipline approach as overly strict or harsh, they see school authority as arbitrary and unfair. When student bystanders see schools suspend friends who are struggling due to factors beyond their control – such as homelessness, poverty, abuse or a disability — students come to see suspension and expulsion as downright perverse. These perceptions produce more chaos, not less.

Parkland, to its credit, had been providing students with services and support, rather than jumping straight to suspensions and expulsions. It had recognized the shooter’s struggles well before the tragedy and attempted to connect him with social supports, before finally expelling him last year. Regardless, students from Parkland aren’t claiming that the school’s discipline philosophy was related to this tragedy. It is politicians, who do not know what they are talking about, who make this claim. These voices would have us repeat the zero tolerance craze that followed Columbine.

Progressive versus punitive

As I warned in my book, “No matter how much progress is made at the federal, state, and local levels in the coming years, harsh discipline and zero tolerance will almost certainly persist.” So discipline reformers should not assume they had secured victory simply because the Obama administration had adopted a progressive school discipline memo. Now the fight for sane discipline has returned to their doorsteps.

Training and supportive approaches to discipline cannot guarantee school shootings won’t happen, but research says the best chance of reducing violence, and also improving the overall academic achievement and environment of schools, rests in rejecting punitive school discipline and replacing it with supportive systems. If we abandon the progressive steps that schools are taking, we will consign students to a darker world, not a safer one.

The Conversation

Derek W. Black does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

15 Mar 17:20

Google launches "plus codes": open geocodes for locations that don't have street addresses

by Cory Doctorow

In much of the world, addresses are difficult to convey because they refer to locations on unnamed streets, in unnumbered buildings, in unincorporated townships, sometimes in disputed national boundaries (I have often corresponded with people in rural Costa Rica whose addresses were "So-and-so, Road Without Name, 300m west of the bus stop, village, nearest town, region"). (more…)

15 Mar 17:18

Study finds that for-pay scholarly journals contribute virtually nothing to the papers they publish

by Cory Doctorow

In the open access debate, advocates for traditional, for-profit scholarly journals often claim that these journals add value to the papers they publish in the form of editorial services that improve their readability and clarity. (more…)

15 Mar 17:15

A high school teacher accidentally fired his gun in class, injures 3 students

by Jason Weisberger

Highly trained with firearms, Police reservist Dennis Alexander was teaching his high school class about gun safety when the handgun accidentally went off. Splintered fragments of the bullet ricocheted off of the ceiling and hit three students.

Guns do not belong on campus.

Via SF Gate:

A teacher who also serves as a reserve police officer accidentally fired a gun inside a Seaside High School classroom Tuesday, police said, and three students were injured.

Dennis Alexander was teaching a course about gun safety for his Administration of Justice class when his gun went off at 1:20 p.m.

Teachers are not legally allowed to have firearms in California classrooms, even if they have a concealed carry permit.

Alexander, who is a reserve officer for the Sand City Police Department, was pointing his gun at the ceiling when it fired. Pieces of the ceiling fell to the ground.

A press release from the Seaside Police Department said no one suffered "serious injuries." One 17-year-old boy suffered moderate injuries when fragments from the bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and lodged into his neck, the student's father, Fermin Gonzales, told KSBW.

The teacher had just told the class that he wanted to make sure his gun wasn't loaded, when the gun fired, according to Gonzales.

15 Mar 17:15

Scenes from today's national gun control student walkout

by Cory Doctorow

Today at 10AM local time, students across America walked out of their classes for 17 minutes, in memoriam of the 17 students murdered in the Parkland massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, exactly one month ago. (more…)

15 Mar 17:10

Someone tracked all the songs played on "WKRP in Cincinnati"

by Rusty Blazenhoff

Someone watched reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati, tracked all the songs played on the show, and then put them in this spreadsheet.

Dr. Johnny Fever played the first song played on the show, Ted Nugent's "Queen of the Forest," which marked the end to the previous radio station's format (Muzak/Swing) and the beginning of the new WKRP format (Rock, Punk and Top 40). All right, Cincinnati, it is time for this town to get down! You've got Johnny... Doctor Johnny Fever, and I am burnin' up in here! Whoa! Whoo! We all in critical condition, babies, but you can tell me where it hurts, because I got the healing prescription here from the big 'KRP musical medicine cabinet. Now I am talking about your 50,000 watt intensive care unit, babies! So just sit right down, relax, open your ears real wide and say, "Give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it!"

Now someone just needs to make this into a Spotify playlist. Who wants to volunteer?

Previously: WKRP in Cincinnati redacted to save on license fees

Thanks, Christopher Bickel!

15 Mar 17:07

Chris Slane's privacy-oriented editorial cartoons are painfully funny

by Cory Doctorow

Online privacy is pretty much a dumpster-fire, but it's a funny dumpster fire in the world of Kiwi editorial cartoonist Chris Slane, whose one-panel strips are hilarious in a kind of oh-shit-we're-doomed kind of way. (more…)

15 Mar 16:35

What are Sorbian Easter Eggs? How are they made & Who are the Sorbs?

by karenanne

Some of the most beautifully decorated Easter Eggs that I’ve ever seen are Sorbian Easter Eggs. My mother introduced us to them when we were children, and she remembered them from her childhood. You see, my Opa, her father, is from Weißwasser… a town in eastern Saxony, Germany..,a town that once belonged to Upper Lusatia […]

The post What are Sorbian Easter Eggs? How are they made & Who are the Sorbs? appeared first on A German Girl in America.

13 Mar 18:26

Here are five signs that universities are turning into corporations

by Sioux McKenna, Director of PG Studies & Higher Education Studies PhD Co-ordinator, Rhodes University
When paperwork, forms and bureaucracy start to dominate, universities suffer. Stock-asso/Shutterstock

Universities in many parts of the world are buckling under multiple financial, societal and political demands. This has led to increasingly loud calls for what are called “enhanced efficiencies” – a term drawn from the business world.

And some institutions are heeding those calls. They’re drawing wholesale on the logic of the market in their bid to survive. They are becoming administrative universities without truly understanding how such initiatives chip away at the very purpose of higher education: the academic project.

The nature of the academic project differs from institution to institution – some will focus more on workplace employment, others on critical citizenship, and so on. But it will always be about the furthering of knowledge and the development of knowers.

In 2011, Benjamin Ginsberg, political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, argued that US universities were losing hold of the academic project by becoming administrative institutions.

He also showed that as student numbers increased across the US, the number of academics being employed to teach them and guide their research rose at the same or a slightly slower pace. But there was an astounding simultaneous increase in executive positions, usually people with business rather than academic acumen.

Despite these warnings, other countries have followed the US’s lead. South Africa is among them. This is cause for concern for both those inside universities and those in broader society who benefit from having a strong academic sector that fosters sustainable development, builds democracy and contributes to various other public goods.

It is crucial to ensure that the academic project at South African universities is vigorously and bravely safeguarded.

Five signs

South Africa’s universities are turning into administrative institutions for several reasons. They’re dealing with crippling financial constraints; their costs are rising, but state funding is not matching these increases. There’s also a need to decolonise the structure and content of the curriculum.

Massification – the rapid growth of student numbers – is another issue. More than 20% of South Africans aged between 18 and 23 are now at university. The system has to attend to a diverse student body with highly uneven schooling and other prior experiences.

Leaders at many institutions seem to think the solution lies in learning from the world of business and putting more administrative structures in place.

There are five tell-tale signs of the administrative university:

1. New executive positions (and salaries): These positions, almost always prefaced by the words “executive director”, are becoming increasingly common. Their roles are related to everything from human resources to strategic planning to quality assurance. Each comes with a number of support staff – and a lot of meetings.

Individually such posts seem reasonable. Collectively, they shift the institution from university to corporation.

2. Appointments, not elections: In administrative universities deans are appointed by a selection committee, usually with a strong focus on their management skills. They must implement management decisions down into faculties and are often hired on contract with clearly stated performance targets.

Gone is the elected dean, chosen by a specific faculty to offer academic leadership, defend the academic project, and represent the needs and concerns of staff and students to management.

3. Decisions and policies: The moment the “executive management” team is made up of more administrator positions than academic ones, it is unlikely that decisions will primarily serve the academic project. Administrative efficiency, legal compliance and financial sustainability are all vitally important. But decisions and policies around these issues must first and foremost follow the logic of the academic project

4. Regulatory frameworks: Administrative universities love a politically correct catchphrase. In South Africa, the current favourites are transparency and social justice. These terms are then used to justify the implementation of many one-size-fits-all regulatory frameworks which govern every process from admission through to graduation.

Of course decisions need to be transparent, recorded and justified but we also need to make sure that decisions are based on what is fairest in a particular context. It cannot be considered social justice when processes become swathed in bureaucracy with no flexibility to take individual contexts into account in a very uneven society.

5. Quick fixes: Because these administrators set themselves up as being responsible for instilling efficiency into every aspect of the system, there is significant role confusion.

Soon, as Ginsberg showed in the US, administrators are commenting on issues which are entirely entwined with the academic project. Proposed common sense “interventions”, like add-on remedial classes, are advocated as being supportive. But they actually fly in the face of well documented teaching and learning research.

Bureaucratic bloat

This article is not an attack on the dedicated individual administrators who help universities run smoothly. They are as crucial to keeping institutions going as academic staff. And they, just like academic staff, become badly overburdened in an overly administrative university. The issue is that introducing significant, expensive administrative structures too often comes at the cost of the pursuit and development of knowledge.

The blame for this bloat of bureaucracy doesn’t only rest with executive administrators. Academics have ceded the academic project to the empty rhetoric of efficiency. For academics to collectively resist these processes, they need to put up their hands to take on leadership roles and to participate in processes aimed at keeping the academic project as their university’s central driving logic.

The Conversation

Sioux McKenna receives funding from the National Research Foundation for research on institutional differentiation in South African Higher Education.

13 Mar 17:53

A "digital rosetta stone" for translating obsolete computer files

by Rob Beschizza

It's not for the public ("accessible in the Yale library"), but researchers are working on a "universal translator" for old computer files that might otherwise be lost to obsolescence. Jessica Leigh Hester, at Atlas Obscura:

When one CCA visitor wanted to take a look at a CD-ROM-based “multimedia website” produced in conjunction with a 1996 exhibition of work by the architect Benjamin Nicholson, Walsh needed to wind back the clock. He tracked down an old license for Windows NT and installed Netscape Navigator and an old version of Adobe Reader. This all enabled decades-old functionality on a two-year-old HP tower.

This strategy works, but it has drawbacks. “These environments are time-intensive to create, will only run on a local computer, and they typically require a lot of technical know-how to set up and use,” Walsh says. Ad hoc emulation is not for the novice or the busy.

Researchers at Yale are working to solve this problem by creating a kind of digital Rosetta Stone, a universal translator, through an emulation infrastructure that will live online. “A few clicks in your web browser will allow users to open files containing data that would otherwise be lost or corrupted,” said Cochrane, who is now the library’s digital preservation manager. “You’re removing the physical element of it,” says Seth Anderson, the library’s software preservation manager. “It’s a virtual computer running on a server, so it’s not tethered to a desktop.”

Image: Euan Cochrane/CC by 2.0