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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.
10 Apr 13:07

This man is capturing the memories of World War II veterans while he still can

by Seamus Bellamy

The Second World War came to an end 73 years ago. The men and women who served during the war are rapidly succumbing to the ravages of old age. In my lifetime, I know I'll mourn the loss of the last surviving WWII soldier, as I did the loss of Florence Green, the last surviving veteran of the First World War, in 2012. What the veterans of these horrific conflicts saw and in many cases, were forced to do in combat, should never be forgotten: their deeds and memories give color to every discussion we could have about why war should be avoided at all cost. While there's no stopping their deaths, one man has dedicated his life to preserving as many of the life experiences that the veterans of the Second World War lived through as possible.

The CBC recently ran a fascinating profile on Rishi Sharma. He's a 20-year-old man from California that's dedicated years of his life to interviewing the surviving veterans of World War II. According to the CBC, Sharma has conducted over 870 interviews with U.S. veterans in 45 American States. Recently, he made his way to Canada to hear what our old soldiers had to say about their time at war.

From the CBC:

Sharma says he's been interested in the Second World War since he was a child. He'd pore over books, watch the History Channel and once aspired to be a marine. When he realized how easily accessible war veterans are, he began reaching out to them.

"To talk to a real life superhero, who went through the definition of hell, I could just call them. That's what hooked me. So I started riding my bike to the local nursing home and I started interviewing all those veterans," said Sharma.

It's not a long read, but a worthwhile one.

Oh, and if you'd like to help Sharma continue his quest to interview as many veterans as he can, you can throw a few dollars at his GoFundMe. Better still, check out Heroes of the Second World War and learn how to conduct your own interview with a veteran today.

Image: United States Marine Corps -, Public Domain, Link

06 Apr 19:45

Universities should take stronger leadership on knowledge and how it matters

by Lina Markauskaite, Associate professor in Learning Sciences, University of Sydney
Through their commitments to, and dependence on, professional education and multidisciplinary research, universities have skin in the epistemic game. Shutterstock

This is a longer read. Enjoy!

If reports in the media can be trusted, then “knowing” isn’t what it used to be. It seems that we are all caught in a rip, being swept helplessly from a knowledge-based world into a post-truth society, where robots will take all the best jobs.

The latest edition of the Innovating Pedagogy report, published annually by the UK’s Open University, names “epistemic education” as one of the “high impact” trends that will become widespread in education over the next two to five years.

Simultaneously, the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s Trend watch list is topped by the word “epistemic”. Something is going on here, but is it just a flash in the pan? An educational fad feeding off a moral panic about fake news, alternative facts and information bubbles?

Understanding today’s ‘epistemic’ world

Epistemic” comes from the Greek epistēmē meaning “knowledge”. Epistēmē has some specific connotations in the philosophy of knowledge, but “epistemic” has taken on a broad role in contemporary usage, covering everything to do with knowledge and how we know things.

In the popular media, one finds it used in such terms as “epistemic closure”, “epistemic violence” and “epistemic crisis”. These terms are coupled with a deep disquiet about the diminishing role of knowledge in political argument and decision-making, particularly in the US.

Popular media in the US turns to epistemology as they confront the diminishing role of knowledge in politics. David Maxwell/AAP

Read more: Post-truth politics and why the antidote isn't simply 'fact-checking' and truth

In academia, where knowing about knowledge still elicits some respect, philosophers refer to “epistemic virtues” such as careful and attentive reasoning, openness to evidence, and critical thinking.

Anthropologists identify “epistemic artefacts” – “tools for thinking”. These include scientific models, organisational plans and architectural sketches, which people use when solving problems and creating new knowledge.

In education, researchers and teachers are working on ways to foster students’ “epistemic cognition” and help them become more capably knowledgeable about knowing; to develop “epistemic fluency”.

Epistemic fluency is the capacity to recognise different kinds of knowledge and to work flexibly with different ways of knowing. For example, effective action on climate change, obesity, cybersecurity, or gun control needs specialist knowledge from research on these problems, combined with knowledge from areas like economics, politics and the law.

Why do students need epistemic fluency?

Our research suggests university teachers are very conscious of the need for epistemic fluency, but don’t always have the language to explain what it entails. We can point to at least four sets of challenges in economic, social and political life where more explicit attention to epistemic fluency is possible and urgent.

Read more: How do you know that what you know is true? That's epistemology

Acting knowledgeably in the workplace

Our own research focus has been on professional education – where students are being helped to prepare for work in areas such as pharmacy or nursing. In these courses, students are often given assessment tasks intended to help them connect academic knowledge with workplace practice.

The difficulties students face in doing this are not really problems of “transfer” – not simply a failure to apply prior knowledge. It turns out acting knowledgeably in the workplace involves constructing new actionable knowledge. This is knowledge that fuses together a number of different forms of knowledge and ways of knowing in order to deal with a specific situation.

For example, a pharmacist may combine knowledge of the medical properties of a drug, the prescribing habits of a local doctor and the various needs of elderly clients to customise advice for the person they’re serving.

A pharmacist may need to combine various types of knowledge to tailor advice to individual customers. Shutterstock

Working in multidisciplinary teams

The second area of our research explores how multidisciplinary teams of academics learn to work together. This is a significant challenge when academics move out of their disciplinary silos to work together in research centres that are oriented to complex societal problems, such as obesity and climate change.

Differences in what counts as reliable knowledge to biologists, computer scientists and sociologists are quite important in such organisations. The ability to work together depends on mutual respect and a degree of understanding of how various disciplines create knowledge.

Epistemic fluency is likely to remain valuable in these two important areas of university work – professional education and multidisciplinary research.

Working with smart machines

The third area in which this matters is future employment: specifically, what is sometimes succinctly called “heteromation”. Complex knowledge work is no longer done in individual human brains.

Now, it’s distributed across humans and machines. This includes computer programs that can extract useful information from large databases, measuring equipment that can detect things inaccessible to human senses, and robots that can perform complex physical operations that are beyond the capacities of human beings.

The knowledge and skills people need in order to participate productively in networks of other people and machines are different from the ones that will do for more autonomous work. The development of these network capabilities can be helped by a careful mix of explicit teaching and practical tasks. But those doing the teaching must master the new tools, as well as the concepts and words needed to explain to students new ways of working with knowledge.

Navigating post-truth societies

The fourth challenge is where we began: fake news and how to spot it. This is where schools are focusing their attention, extending courses on digital literacy to include the skills needed to break out of one’s own “information bubble” by engaging with alternative views and fighting “alternative facts” by testing the reliability of knowledge sources.

This educational initiative is unlikely to succeed on its own. Schools work best when their efforts align with broader movements. For some decades now, many school teachers have learned at university the fundamental truth that all knowledge is suspect. But this epistemological position offers shaky foundations for learning to participate in the joint creation of actionable knowledge necessary for working on complex societal challenges. It undermines the possibilities for informed action.

What could be done about this?

Concerns about fake news and the need to educate knowledgeable voters are important reasons for giving more serious attention to knowledge in universities and schools. There are also other deep and sustaining reasons for taking knowledge and knowing more seriously.

Students need to master epistemic tools with which they can act more knowledgeably in their future workplaces and communities. Tools need material to work on. So students’ learning activities need to involve both mastery of tools and progress on substantial problems: working across disciplinary and professional boundaries and in cooperation with other people and intelligent machines.

It will help if we all become better able to articulate the importance of understanding knowledge, and of knowing how to find the most useful combinations of knowledge for solving problems that we face in our lives.

Through their commitments to, and dependence on, professional education and multidisciplinary research, universities have skin in the epistemic game. It’s in their interests to take much stronger leadership over knowledge and how it matters.

The Conversation

Lina Markauskaite and Peter Goodyear recently published the book “Epistemic fluency and professional education: Innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge”. It is based on a study that was funded by the Australian Research Council.

Peter Goodyear receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

06 Apr 19:44

How to stop haemorrhaging data on Facebook

by Belinda Barnet, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology
Every time you open an app, click a link, like a post, read an article, hover over an ad, or connect to someone, you are generating data. Shutterstock

If you are one of 2.2 billion Facebook users worldwide, you have probably been alarmed by the recent coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a story that began when The Guardian revealed 50 million (now thought to be 87 million) user profiles had been retrieved and shared without the consent of users.

Though the #deletefacebook campaign has gained momentum on Twitter, it is simply not practical for most of us to delete our accounts. It is technically difficult to do, and given that one quarter of the human population is on the platform, there is an undeniable social cost for being absent.

Read more: Why we should all cut the Facebook cord. Or should we?

It is also not possible to use or even to have a Facebook profile without giving up at least some data: every time you open the app, click a link, like a post, hover over an ad, or connect to someone, you are generating data. This particular type of data is not something you can control, because Facebook considers such data its property.

Every service has a price, and the price for being on Facebook is your data.

However, you can remain on Facebook (and other social media platforms like it) without haemorrhaging data. If you want stay in touch with those old school friends – despite the fact you will probably never see them again – here’s what you can do, step by step. The following instructions are tailored to Facebook settings on mobile.

Your location

The first place to start is with the device you are holding in your hand. Facebook requests access to your GPS location by default, and unless you were reading the fine print when you installed the application (if you are that one person please tell me where you find the time), it will currently have access.

This means that whenever you open the app it knows where you are, and unless you have changed your location sharing setting from “Always” to “Never” or “Only while using”, it can track your location when you’re not using the app as well.

To keep your daily movements to yourself, go into Settings on Apple iPhone or Android, go to Location Services, and turn off or select “Never” for Facebook.

While you’re there, check for other social media apps with location access (like Twitter and Instagram) and consider changing them to “Never”.

Remember that pictures from your phone are GPS tagged too, so if you intend to share them on Facebook, revoke access to GPS for your camera as well.

Your content

The next thing to do is to control who can see what you post, who can see private information like your email address and phone number, and then apply these settings in retrospect to everything you’ve already posted.

Facebook has a “Privacy Shortcuts” tab under Settings, but we are going to start in Account Settings > Privacy.

You control who sees what you post, and who sees the people and pages you follow, by limiting the audience here.

Change “Who can see your future posts” and “Who can see the people and pages you follow” to “Only Friends”.

In the same menu, if you scroll down, you will see a setting called “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” Select No.

After you have made these changes, scroll down and limit the audience for past posts. Apply the new setting to all past posts, even though Facebook will try to alarm you. “The only way to undo this is to change the audience of each post one at a time! Oh my Goodness! You’ll need to change 1,700 posts over ten years.” Ignore your fears and click Limit.

Read more: It's time for third-party data brokers to emerge from the shadows

Next go in to Privacy Shortcuts – this is on the navigation bar below Settings. Then select Privacy Checkup. Limit who can see your personal information (date of birth, email address, phone number, place of birth if you provided it) to “Only Me”.

Third party apps

Every time you use Facebook to “login” to a service or application you are granting both Facebook and the third-party service access to your data.

Facebook has pledged to investigate and change this recently as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but in the meantime, it is best not to use Facebook to login to third party services. That includes Bingo Bash unfortunately.

The third screen of Privacy Checkup shows you which apps have access to your data at present. Delete any that you don’t recognise or that are unnecessary.

In the final step we will be turning off “Facebook integration” altogether. This is optional. If you choose to do this, it will revoke permission for all previous apps, plugins, and websites that have access to your data. It will also prevent your friends from harvesting your data for their apps.

In this case you don’t need to delete individual apps as they will all disappear.

Turning off Facebook integration

If you want to be as secure as it is possible to be on Facebook, you can revoke third-party access to your content completely. This means turning off all apps, plugins and websites.

If you take this step Facebook won’t be able to receive information about your use of apps outside of Facebook and apps won’t be able to receive your Facebook data.

If you’re a business this is not a good idea as you will need it to advertise and to test apps. This is for personal pages.

It may make life a little more difficult for you in that your next purchase from Farfetch will require you to set up your own account rather than just harvest your profile. Your Klout score may drop because it can’t see Facebook and that might feel terrible.

Remember this setting only applies to the data you post and provide yourself. The signals you generate using Facebook (what you like, click on, read) will still belong to Facebook and will be used to tailor advertising.

To turn off Facebook integration, go into Settings, then Apps. Select Apps, websites and games.

Read more: We need to talk about the data we give freely of ourselves online and why it's useful

Facebook will warn you about all the Farmville updates you will miss and how you will have a hard time logging in to The Guardian without Facebook. Ignore this and select “Turn off”.

Well done. Your data is now as secure as it is possible to be on Facebook. Remember, though, that everything you do on the platform still generates data.

The Conversation

Belinda Barnet 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.

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.

06 Apr 17:32

Are viewers of on-line contents entitled to the truth? “Excellences & Perfections” and the saga of Amalia Ulman

by (Neil Wilkof)
Do the viewers of digital contents have a reasonable expectation for verisimilitude, namely something that has the appearance of truth, in what 
they observe on-line? I am not referring to the genre of “reality shows”, where this Kat assumes that viewers recognize that “reality” is a relative term, and the ultimate result is fashioned by those who create and produce the program. Rather, I mean a situation where the viewer is attracted to these contents precisely because he or she believes that they are not being mediated.

“OK Kat”, I can already hear, “this is an interesting thought, but what does it have to do with anything under 39,000 feet?” Consider the story of Amalia Ulman. In connection with the publication of the book, “Excellences & Perfections”, a blog post recently published on, written by Alicia Eler and entitled “Amalia Ulman’s Instagram art hoax exposed the flaws in selfie culture”, recalls for us the great stir that Ulman created in 2014 in connection with her presentation of “Excellences & Perfections” on Instagram.

What Ulman, a young artist born in Argentina and having later lived in Spain did, was to present via postings on Instagram, largely through selfies, her life as a young woman ‘on the go’ in Los Angeles. Ulman’s project began innocuously enough, with her first post, which consisted of the phrase “Part I” together with the caption, “Excellences & Perfections”. The post received 28 likes. She went on to recount her day-by-day trials and tribulations, chronicling such things as the trauma of a lost boyfriend, pole-dancing classes, breast-enhancement surgery, posing in skimpy lingerie, escorting, this and more, augmented by emotive textual commentary, all against the background of being an “It girl” in Los Angeles.

In doing so, Ulman was being told that she was destroying her career as a “serious” artist. Au contraire--nearly five months after the first post, Ulman uploaded one last post, consisting of a black and white image of a rose, which was captioned---“The End”. During that time, she had attracted 90,000 avid followers to her Instagram site, enthusiastically waiting for each next installment of her personal saga. Far from destroying her career, she had succeeded in drawing more and more attention to herself.

Except that it was not really her personal story. Soon after her last post, Ulman announced that it had all been one great staged performance. In Ulman’s words—
“Everything was scripted. I spent a month researching the whole thing. There was a beginning, a climax and an end. I dyed my hair. I changed my wardrobe. I was acting: it wasn’t me.”
It was all (or nearly all) either made-up or staged. What Ulman had done was to divide up her Instagram performance into three distinct “episodes,” described by The Telegraph as “inspired by stereotypes of how young women present themselves online.”
Episode I-- Ulman as the artistic girl from the provinces comes to LA, breaks up with her boyfriend and becomes an escort.

Episode II- Described as “ghetto aesthetic” à la Kim Kardashian, Ulman cultivates an anti-heroine persona, “starts acting crazy and posting bad photos online”. She “gets a boob job, takes drugs, has a breakdown, and goes to rehab”.

Episode III- It is all about her “recovery”, uploading pictures signaling that Ulman was on the way to becoming a “kind of girl next door,” replete with yoga and juices.
But when it was all over, and the truth of her project came out, the response to Ulman’s performance took a bifurcated route. On the one hand, the art world saw it as a pioneering form of performance art within the context of social media, so much so that The Telegraph described Ulman, in an article entitled “Is this the first Instagram masterpiece?”, as now being “feted as one of the sensations of contemporary art.” She went to exhibit some of the pictures from Excellences & Perfections at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London, and Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera (London being the town in which she had struggled as an art student only a few years before). And now, Excellences & Perfections is being published as a book, replete with photos from the Instagram posts together with interpretative essays by notable commentators.

All well and good, no? Not exactly, because while Ulman had become the darling of the world of art commentary, she also became the object of anger among at least some of her Instagram followers. They, having become so invested in Ulman’s Instagram narrative, now felt deceived, like a consumer who becomes an avid fan of a certain brand, only to find out that the branded product is not what it had appeared to be.

Ulman views things differently. In her words—
“It’s more than a satire. I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman. Women understood the performance much faster than men. They were like, ‘We get it – and it’s very funny.’”

So, what was the ‘joke”? “The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn.”
The question that arises is whether, as a performer via the Instagram platform, Ulman owed something more to her audience. In the related context of copyright, Professor Niva Elkin Koren has argued for the recognition of a user’s rights. She writes (in the Abstract to “Copyright in a Digital Ecosystem: A User-Rights Approach”) --
“A user-rights approach holds that permissible uses under copyright law should be articulated and treated as rights…. [T]his approach shifts the locus of copyright analysis from author’s rights to the creative process, emphasizing the role of users as partners in promoting copyright objectives. Rather than being "parasites" that benefit — unjustly — from limits on the just rewards of authors, users actively participate in promoting the creation, dissemination and use of cultural works. A user-rights approach further suggests that to achieve its goals, copyright law should be drafted, interpreted and applied in ways that consider the rights and duties of both users and authors.”

Surely there was no partnership between Ulman and the on-line viewers of her Instagram performance. Indeed, this was the very point of the project—to gain the
audience’s trust and enthusiastic emotive involvement with her largely make-believe narrative, where the final punch line was— “Just kidding”.

In Ulman’s own words—
“The idea was to experiment with fiction online using the language of the internet.”
Which brings this Kat back to a version of his original question. Do users of on-line contents have any legitimate expectation of verisimilitude and, if that expectation is not met, do they have a legitimate claim that they were deceived? Or is the vantage wholly artist-centric, which, for Ulman, meant that misleading the viewer was the way that she sought to make her points about feminism, sexuality, identity, class, and even pornography.

By Neil Wilkof

Photo on upper right by Amalia Ulman and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Photo on left by Hans Peter Schaefer and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo on lower right by Instagram and is in the public domain.
05 Apr 19:51

He disfrutado mucho realizando las ilustraciones para ✨ ABISAL ✨, la nueva —y finísima– colección de @algodonpeinado . . Todos los modelos disponibles en su web:

by Ana Galvañ
05 Apr 19:32

Forget doom, gloom and alternative facts: The Conversation has #goodnews to share

by Misha Ketchell, Editor, The Conversation
In just seven years, we've reached a monthly audience of 10 million unique users (and that's not including our republishing reads).

In recent weeks we’ve been hearing a lot about Cambridge Analytica and fake news so I’m hoping you will indulge me for just a few moments as I try to balance the doom and gloom with a little encouraging news.

A little over seven years ago a group of Australian editors and journalists launched The Conversation. The idea behind it was unapologetically idealistic. We wanted to fight back against disinformation and spin by working with academics to unlock their deep knowledge and share it with the public. Few people thought it would work. Even the most sunny press coverage took on the ominous tone of Sir Humphrey Applebly praising his minister for being “courageous”. Well, just over seven years later here we are, proof that a little idealism can take you a very long way.

The Conversation is now a global network of editors and academics, with teams based in Canada, Indonesia, the US, the UK, Africa and France. We are working with academic experts to produce high quality, reliable, analytic journalism.

And we are serving a fast-growing audience. In the middle of last year when we had a smidge over five million unique readers coming to our website each month we launched a campaign to almost double our audience to 10 million. In March we hit that ambitious target with 10.6 million readers on site and 35 million through republication.

What’s most encouraging is that we’ve been able to achieve these sorts of numbers while keeping our idealism intact. We don’t sell advertising on our article pages and we are not in the business of infotainment, so we don’t publish articles merely because they might go viral. Instead, we work with academics to publish reliable information that we believe is essential for healthy democracy.

There’s still a long way to to go. The Conversation is too low-profile given the success we have had, and we’d like to change that. We still need more funding to secure our long-term future, but we are working on it. Most importantly though, we are still here, serving our 10 million onsite readers and 35 million through republishers, and sharing the work of academics who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge and service of the public good.

The Conversation
03 Apr 19:47

Danny Kaye has a wide vibrato

by Jason Weisberger

Danny Kaye is charming as ever, as he joins a vocal chorus sing to "Do You Ever Think of Me" on the January 22nd, 1964 episode of The Danny Kaye Show.

03 Apr 14:08

Why a census question about citizenship should worry you, whether you're a citizen or not

by Michael Blake, Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy, and Governance, University of Washington
What could be the consequences of including a question on citizenship? U.S. Department of Agriculture , CC BY-ND

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced last week that the 2020 census will include a question about citizenship. Ross argued that such a question is required for a “complete and accurate” count of Americans. Others in the Department of Justice have argued that the knowledge produced would be useful in ensuring against voter fraud.

Much recent commentary has focused on the ways in which Ross’ proposal might shift power from states with many undocumented residents to those with comparatively few – and, therefore, from Democratic states to Republican ones.

As a political philosopher who studies how abstract moral notions such as justice apply to political institutions, I am more concerned with the fact that undercounting the undocumented might introduce bias into our public policy. This bias might lead to injustice – toward citizens and noncitizens alike.

Injustice toward citizens

There is a long tradition in political philosophy that understands injustice as unequal treatment without justification. A state is unjust, on this account, when it treats different people in different ways – unless that particular difference in treatment can be shown to reflect some morally important difference between those people. In other words, if you and I are both subject to the law, I have the right to have my interests and desires treated as equal in importance to yours – unless we can find some morally important reason for us to be treated differently. The legal notion of equality before the law reflects this ideal.

It is for this reason that undercounting the undocumented could lead to injustice. The census will be the basis for the allocation of a great deal of funding – over US$600 billion, in areas including health, public health, nutrition and law enforcement. If the census were to count only citizens, rather than all residents, the budget allocations will not accurately reflect the actual number of people who will make demands upon public institutions.

To take a simple example: The police have a legal duty to respond to crimes committed by undocumented residents, as well as toward crimes committed against them. If a state with far more undocumented residents receives the same amount of money as one with very few undocumented residents, it will end up serving more people with fewer resources.

To understand how significant this difference could be, consider these numbers: There are approximately 22 million noncitizens in the United States – which amounts to 7 percent of the population. These residents are not distributed equally between states. California, for example, has more than 2.5 million undocumented residents, whereas states such as North Dakota, West Virginia and Maine have fewer than 5,000.

The citizens of states with a great many noncitizens may be placed at a significant disadvantage, in comparison with the citizens of states with few noncitizen residents.

If there is no good moral reason to justify this inequality – and in my view there is none – then we have a reason to regard this inequality as unjust.

Rights of the undocumented

A coalition of immigrants groups demand health care and minimum wages. Michael Fleshman, CC BY-NC

Furthermore, undercounting the undocumented might also entail injustice toward the undocumented themselves.

One immediate reply here, of course, is to say that the question of injustice toward the undocumented does not arise. Since they have no right to legal residency, there cannot be an issue about fairness toward their interests.

From my perspective, the proper response to that objection is to notice that there are some things states must do even for those who are present without right. Think, again, of police protection. The police are bound by law and morality to protect the bodily and property interests even of those present illegally.

It is true that a person who is a resident in the United States without right is liable to deportation. But that liability does not give the local police the right to refuse to act on that person’s behalf. Someone can be rightly subject to deportation, but still be entitled to have their basic human rights defended prior to deportation.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision, in Evenwel v. Abbott, reflects these moral facts. This case involved a challenge to the Texan policy of creating districts that reflected total population, rather than the population of legal voters. A unanimous court declared that Texas was permitted to apportion voting districts by population – including the undocumented.

There are some interests, said the court, that are held by everyone resident in a place, “regardless of whether they qualify as voters.”

Impact on the climate of fear

The proposed question about citizenship, finally, is liable to exacerbate an existing inequality in the administration of justice. It is likely to make the current climate of fear in immigrant communities worse. The police are charged with protecting the rights of the undocumented, but they are also frequently called upon to deport them.

A proposed question on citizenship could worsen the climate of fear. Michael Fleshman, CC BY-NC

This dual role has made the relationship between the undocumented and the police more adversarial than effective policing would recommend. As Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has noted, when people are afraid about interacting with the police, they are less likely to come forward as victims and as witnesses. The police, he argues, ought to “focus on crime, not be ICE agents.”

What is true for the policeman may also be true for the census-taker. Questions about citizenship may lead to a sense that even the census-taker – whose job is simply to get an accurate count of those resident within the United States – is helping the federal government with deportation. Sunshine Hillygus, who advises the federal government on the census, notes that this question is likely to fuel suspicion on the part of the undocumented that the census will become a political tool to be used against them – with negative implications for both data accuracy and for the long-run reputation of the Census Bureau as a nonpartisan agency.

It is not clear, at this point, that a question about citizenship will actually end up being a part of the 2020 census. Several states have filed a lawsuit, seeking to block Ross’ proposed question. Whether or not that lawsuit succeeds, the fact that this question is being considered should give all of us some moral concern – regardless of our perspectives on migration, and regardless of whether we are citizens ourselves.

The Conversation

Michael Blake receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

03 Apr 14:06

5 things to know about the teacher strike in Oklahoma

by Erin McHenry-Sorber, Assistant Professor of Higher Education, West Virginia University

Following the success of the West Virginia teachers strike earlier this year that led to a 5 percent pay raise, teachers throughout the nation are rising to demand better conditions and better pay. The latest example is Oklahoma, where teachers went on strike on April 2.

Here are five things to know about the Oklahoma teacher strike:

1. This strike goes beyond issues of pay.

The Oklahoma teachers’ strike is not just about low salaries. It is a movement against a decade of failed economic policies and the defunding of public education. Oklahoma average teacher salaries are ranked 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in average pay. Oklahoma teachers also have not seen a pay raise since 2008.

Critics blame bleak economic conditions in the state on reductions in state income taxes for top earners. Oklahoma also offered tax breaks to oil companies to attract their business, but these corporate tax breaks diminished state revenue from 2008 through 2014. The tax breaks ultimately led to a 24 percent reduction in per pupil funding over the same time period.

Oklahoma has cut funding to public education by US$1 billion in the last decade amid the oil industry’s economic downturn. These cuts have resulted in teachers working for low pay with outdated textbooks in overcrowded classrooms. About 20 percent of Oklahoma’s school districts have moved to a four-day week to save costs.

2. Oklahoma teachers are disappointed with their state legislature.

The Oklahoma legislature passed a teacher pay raise of $6,100 on March 28, less than the $10,000 increase demanded by the Oklahoma Education Association and Oklahoma Teachers United, a Facebook group negotiating in conjunction with the state teachers’ unions for better pay. While the governor signed the bill, teachers were unsatisfied, given the state Senate’s failure to pass a bill that would fund the pay raise. The failure to actually fund the pay raise that was approved by the legislature appears to have strengthened striking teachers’ resolve.

3. Right-to-work legislation has unintended consequences.

Oklahoma, like West Virginia, is a right-to-work state, meaning it is illegal to make union membership compulsory. The legislation has diminished the number of dues-paying teachers’ union members.

It has also created two consequences relevant to the Oklahoma strike.

First, in right-to-work states, teachers lack codified procedures for grieving issues like low pay. Without these measures in place, the only recourse left is to strike.

Second, the diminished power of the unions has led to the rise of grassroots organization via social media platforms. Oklahoma Teachers United has almost 14,000 followers on its Facebook page, allowing for fast communication to quickly organize rallies and walkouts. Further, the group isn’t tied to a specific union’s leadership, so it can affect negotiations without direction from union leaders.

4. Oklahoma has a critical teacher shortage.

As in West Virginia, Oklahoma is suffering from a teacher shortage that has reached crisis levels – with over 500 vacancies as of August 1 and nearly 500 more positions eliminated. The state issued a record number of emergency certifications last year – about 1,200 – to plug a hole in the large number of vacancies created, when a quarter of Oklahoma teachers left for positions in other states or simply quit the profession. The shortage is acutely felt in places like Edmond Public Schools, which currently has more than two dozen positions open in its middle and high schools. The shortage is so deep that one teacher dared lawmakers to fire striking workers, arguing they would teach in Texas, which would essentially make the shortage worse. Like in West Virginia, the teacher shortage means there are no replacements for striking teachers.

5. The Oklahoma strike is likely not the last.

Oklahoma is not alone in its strike efforts. Kentucky schools closed on April 2 in response to a statewide strike. Arizona teachers are poised to strike if the state legislature does not respond to their demands for pay increases. And there are rumblings of similar action in other states as well, including North Carolina. Arizona teachers rallied at their state Capitol in March in response to multiple tax cut bills that are appearing before the state legislature. The move suggests Arizona teachers will be the next to strike.

The Conversation

Erin McHenry-Sorber works for West Virginia University as an assistant professor of higher education and senior scholar for the Center for the Future of Land-Grant Education.

03 Apr 14:00

Vatican: More trained exorcists needed to fight the demonic

by Seamus Bellamy

According to the Vatican, demonic possessions are on the uptick. In order to meet the rising demand for assistance by those assailed by the demonic, the Vatican-backed International Association of Exorcists will be holding a training course for Priests interested in fighting the demonic. According to The Guardian, the course will held at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome between 16-21 April.

The announcement of the upcoming Vatican course comes at a time when concerns over whether the rite of exorcism could be seen as a form of spiritual and physical abuse are being raised.

From The Guardian:

Last year, the Christian thinktank Theos reported that exorcisms were a “booming industry” in the UK, particularly among Pentecostal churches.

But some warn that “deliverance ministry” can be a form of spiritual abuse. Critics also say LGBT people and those with mental health issues are targeted for deliverance in the belief that their sexuality or psychiatric problems are the result of demonic possession.

For their part, the Vatican, as well as the Anglican and Orthodox churches, acknowledge that medical care and psychological assessment of anyone asking for exorcism is a must--mistaking a medically treatable condition for spiritual affliction doesn't help anyone. Of equal importance is the fact that, as part of an exorcist's training, it's reinforced that unwanted touching or unrequested exorcisms should not take place.

No matter where your beliefs (or lack thereof) fall on the issue of exorcism, having more trained exorcists rolling around out there will likely be a good thing for those who feel that their only recourse from torment or spiritual danger is through a cleansing rite. Desperation always draws sharks. As it stands, the shortage of recognized clergy that have been trained in the rites of exorcism has led to a cottage industry of shady independent exorcists practicing their craft across Europe, sometimes at a cost of up to 500 euros per session.

That's a high price for people to be forced to pay for help with their assumed or legitimate spiritual woes.

Image by follower of Hieronymus Bosch - Sotheby's London, 14 April 2011, lot 5, Public Domain, Link

03 Apr 13:54

Lost 1924 film 'The City Without Jews' to get a timely re-release

by Andrea James

Following a crowdfunded restoration, the film of Hugo Bettauer's eerily prescient novel will tour Europe again as anti-Semitism is on the rise. At the film's release, Bettauer was doxxed by local media and murdered by a young Nazi soon after. (more…)

03 Apr 13:52

Typeface elegantly combines Braille and English characters

by Andrea James

Braille Neue is a dual typeface designed by Kosuke Takahashi that overlays Braille and English into one simple font. For sighted people who do not currently know Braille, it's also a great mnemonic for learning Braille characters. (more…)

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…)