My other comic, Your Wild City, is back! We’ve switched to a monthly schedule since things are busy. Enjoy these tough winter critters!
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I mean technically it was summer in Antarctica at the time
Based on estimates from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, The New York Times mapped the percentage of people who think global warming will harm the country against the percentage of people who think it will harm them personally. It’s a big contrast. A delayed trend essentially, which is a big source of why action is so slow-moving.
Check out the Yale interactive too to see more contrasting opinions.
Terrifying fact of the day.
Their conclusion was that there are 25m tonnes of spiders around the world and that, collectively, these arachnids consume between 400m and 800m tonnes of animal prey every year. This puts spiders in the same predatory league as humans as a species, and whales as a group. Each of these consumes, on an annual basis, in the region of 400m tonnes of other animals.
Somewhere between 400m and 500m tonnes is also the total mass of human beings now alive on Earth.
Here is the Economist article.
I acknowledge the irony of me 'liking' this post.
Here’s a little parable. A friend of mine was so enamored of Google Reader that he built a clone when it died. It was just like the original, except that you could add pictures to your posts, and you could Like comments. The original Reader was dominated by conversation, much of it thoughtful and earnest. The clone was dominated by GIFs and people trying to be funny.
I actually built my own Google Reader clone. (That’s part of the reason this friend and I became friends—we both loved Reader that much.) But my version was more conservative: I never added any Like buttons, and I made it difficult to add pictures to comments. In fact, it’s so hard that I don’t think there has ever been a GIF on the site.
I thought about building new social features into my clone until I heard my friend’s story. The first rule of social software design is that more engagement is better, and that the way you get engagement is by adding stuff like Like buttons and notifications. But the last thing I wanted was to somehow hurt the conversation that was happening, because the conversation was the whole reason for the thing.
Google Reader was engaging, but it had few of the features we associate with engagement. It did a bad job of giving you feedback. You could, eventually, Like articles that people shared, but the Likes went into an abyss; if you wanted to see new Likes come in, you had to scroll back through your share history, keeping track in your head of how many Likes each share had the last time you looked. The way you found out about new comments was similar: You navigated to reader.google.com and clicked the “Comments” link; the comments page was poorly designed and it was hard to know exactly how many new comments there had been. When you posted a comment it was never clear that anyone liked it, let alone that they read it.
When you are writing in the absence of feedback you have to rely on your own judgment. You want to please your audience, of course. But to do that you have to imagine what your audience will like, and since that’s hard, you end up leaning on what you like.
Once other people start telling you what they like via Like buttons, you inevitably start hewing to their idea of what’s good. And since “people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests,” the stuff you publish will start looking a lot like the stuff that everybody else publishes, because everybody sort of likes the same thing and everybody is fishing for Likes.
What I liked about Reader was that not knowing what people liked gave you a peculiar kind of freedom. Maybe it’s better described as plausible deniability: You couldn’t be sure that your friends didn’t like your latest post, so your next post wasn’t constrained by what had previously done well or poorly in terms of a metric like Likes or Views. Your only guide was taste and a rather coarse model of your audience.
Newspapers and magazines used to have a rather coarse model of their audience. It used to be that they couldn’t be sure how many people read each of their articles; they couldn’t see on a dashboard how much social traction one piece got as against the others. They were more free to experiment, because it was never clear ex-ante what kind of article was likely to fail. This could, of course, lead to deeply indulgent work that no one would read; but it could also lead to unexpected magic.
Is it any coincidence that the race to the bottom in media—toward clickbait headlines, toward the vulgar and prurient and dumb, toward provocative but often exaggerated takes—has accelerated in lock-step with the development of new technologies for measuring engagement?
You don’t have to spend more than 10 minutes talking to a purveyor of content on the web to realize that the question keeping them up at night is how to improve the performance of their stories against some engagement metric. And it’s easy enough to see the logical consequence of this incentive: At the bottom of article pages on nearly every major content site is an “Around the Web” widget powered either by Outbrain or Taboola. These widgets are aggressively optimized for clicks. (People do, in fact, click on that stuff. I click on that stuff.) And you can see that it’s mostly sexy, sexist, and sensationalist garbage. The more you let engagement metrics drive editorial, the more your site will look like a Taboola widget. That’s the drain it all circles toward.
And yet we keep designing software to give publishers better feedback about how their content is performing so that they can give people exactly what they want. This is true not just for regular media but for social media too—so that even an 11-year-old gets to develop a sophisticated sense of exactly what kind of post is going to net the most Likes.
In the Google Reader days, when RSS ruled the web, online publications—including blogs, which thrived because of it—kept an eye on how many subscribers they had. That was the key metric. They paid less attention to individual posts. In that sense their content was bundled: It was like a magazine, where a collection of articles is literally bound together and it’s the collection that you’re paying for, and that you’re consuming. But, as the journalist Alexis Madrigal pointed out to me, media on the web has come increasingly un-bundled—and we haven’t yet fully appreciated the consequences.
When content is bundled, the burden is taken off of any one piece to make a splash; the idea is for the bundle—in an accretive way—to make the splash. I think this has real consequences. I think creators of content bundles don’t have as much pressure on them to sex up individual stories. They can let stories be somewhat unattractive on their face, knowing that readers will find them anyway because they’re part of the bundle. There is room for narrative messiness, and for variety—for stuff, for instance, that’s not always of the moment. Like an essay about how oranges are made so long that it has to be serialized in two parts.
Conversely, when media is unbundled, which means each article has to justify its own existence in the content-o-sphere, more pressure than most individual stories can bear is put on those individual stories. That’s why so much of what you read today online has an irresistible claim or question in the title that the body never manages to cash in. Articles have to be their own advertisements—they can’t rely on the bundle to bring in readers—and the best advertising is salacious and exaggerated.
Madrigal suggested that the newest successful media bundle is the podcast. Perhaps that’s why podcasts have surged in popularity and why you find such a refreshing mixture of breadth and depth in that form: Individual episodes don’t matter; what matters is getting subscribers. You can occasionally whiff, or do something weird, and still be successful.
Imagine if podcasts were Twitterized in the sense that people cut up and reacted to individual segments, say a few minutes long. The content marketplace might shift away from the bundle—shows that you subscribe to—and toward individual fragments. The incentives would evolve toward producing fragments that get Likes. If that model came to dominate, such that the default was no longer to subscribe to any podcast in particular, it seems obvious that long-running shows devoted to niches would starve.
* * *
People aren’t using my Reader clone as much anymore. Part of it is that it’s just my friends on there, and my friends all have jobs now, and some of them have families, but part of it, I think, is that every other piece of software is so much more engaging, in the now-standard dopaminergic way. The loping pace of a Reader conversation—a few responses per day, from a few people, at the very best—isn’t much match for what happens on Twitter or Facebook, where you start getting likes in the first few minutes after you post.
But the conversations on Reader were very, very good.
Feeling small? Here’s some motivation(?) from an owl.
(Note: Northern Pygmy-Owls don’t really catch moose, but they have been recorded dispatching red squirrels, northern flickers, and Gambel’s quails. They mostly hunt smaller things, though.)
I hope disabled bi women are having a good day.
MRS. POTTS knocks on the door to a magic palace. An ENCHANTRESS opens it.
MRS. POTTS: Bonjour.
MRS. POTTS: Bon — No, enough of that. My name is Mrs. Potts. You don’t know me, but you transformed me into an anthropomorphized object for some reason.
MRS. POTTS: Remember the night you disguised yourself as a haggard old woman and showed up at a castle door to test the morality of the local monarch?
ENCHANTRESS: You’re going to have to be more specific.
MRS. POTTS: I remember it well. It’s the night I became a teapot.
ENCHANTRESS: Why did I do this, again?
MRS. POTTS: To teach my spoiled selfish employer a lesson. Because a great way to make a prince more selfless and considerate is to imprison and curse all of his servants alongside him, thus ensuring he can continue to live his life without having to lift a finger. That’ll learn him.
ENCHANTRESS: Okay, it’s coming back to me. I turned him into a lion/goat/bear hybrid?
MRS. POTTS: Yes. I just need to understand why. Why did you curse us? We were completely blameless, and if anything, oppressed in our own right by the feudalistic class system in place.
ENCHANTRESS: I wonder why I didn’t see the injustice there before.
MRS. POTTS: I don’t know, maybe because you’re a fairy princess who also lives in a castle. And kind of hard to believe there was no ill intent here. Mrs. Potts the teapot? Cogsworth the clock? Lumiere the candelabra?
ENCHANTRESS: I swear that wasn’t intentional. Probably some curse algorithm involving aptronyms. I’m ever so embarrassed.
MRS. POTTS: Whatever. So you think this asshole’s gonna change long-term because of a flower?
ENCHANTRESS: I was going more for trauma.
MRS. POTTS: If he’s been terrible to women his whole life — and his servants frankly — you think he’ll treat her differently?
MRS. POTTS: Belle.
ENCHANTRESS: Who’s Belle.
MRS. POTTS: The literate peasant he recently imprisoned in exchange for her father who he had previously imprisoned.
ENCHANTRESS: Ohhhhh, this was one of my love curses then?
MRS. POTTS: Your plan was essentially “place an unknowing teenage girl in the palm of an abuser who’s had no counseling, no anger management, no treatment for his own history of trauma as a man turned into a lion/goat/bear hybrid.” And she’s supposed to do what? Fix him? With her love?
ENCHANTRESS: Love is a powerful thing.
MRS. POTTS: So is Stockholm syndrome. Talk about squandered potential. She wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere, not to be imprisoned in a castle like a mile from her childhood home.
ENCHANTRESS: Look, I didn’t place any teen girls anywhere. I just set up an enchanted castle and a love-based curse. How was I to know that would attract a teen girl? And who’s to say I didn’t just want the prince to suffer with self loathing until he died? In all likelihood, that was my plan A.
MRS. POTTS: So what exactly happens to us, his staff, if he dies?
MRS. POTTS: Didn’t even give it a thought. Tale as old as the monarchy.
ENCHANTRESS: Sorry, I’m not entirely sure what happens.
MRS. POTTS: I stand before you as this porcelain kitchenware to say I sure as hell would like to know. Do my children die? Are we being treated as the extension of our master here, robbed entirely of our identities? Or are we doomed to be household objects for the rest of our lives? What even is the lifespan of a teapot? Do my teacup children age into teapots? Are we essentially immortal until broken? Do you see the existential mess you’ve created?
ENCHANTRESS: Well, I suppose there’s a chance you’d all go back to normal if he died.
MRS. POTTS: I mean yeah, we’ve discussed killing him. After all dear, this is France, and a revolt here is never second best. But seems too risky. From a utilitarian standpoint, Belle taking one for the team is a better option. But I don’t want that either.
ENCHANTRESS: You could kill him after the curse lifts?
MRS. POTTS: Or you could lift the curse now. At least the part involving me and the other servants.
ENCHANTRESS: Of course, of course.
MRS. POTTS: Look. I know your intentions were good, but just think it through next time.
ENCHANTRESS: You’re right. No more curses.
MRS. POTTS: I didn’t say that. I could think of a million ways to curse the French monarchy if you had thought to ask me.
ENCHANTRESS: I’ll make it up to you then. Curse by curse, one by one, till you shout, “Enough I’m done!”
ENCHANTRESS opens the door wide. MRS. POTTS smiles and hops into the castle.
MRS. POTTS: Tie your charms around your neck Cherie, and I’ll provide the rest.
A fantastic Russian blog collecting all the town & city welcome signs. So much variety and excellent type.
One percent of all the physicians in the United States come from the six countries targeted in Donald Trump’s new Executive Order. I found that a surprisingly high number. According to the Immigrant Doctors Project, those 7000 physicians provide 14 million doctors’ appointments each year and many of them are located in the poorer, whiter, and rural parts of the country.
I don’t see this as a knockdown argument against the policy but it does illustrate a surprising cost and also how much the United States benefits from the immigration of the highly-skilled and educated.
A recent cartoon for New Scientist.
The Japan Times is reporting that legendary director Hayao Miyazaki has un-retired and is currently working on a new feature-length animated film for Studio Ghibli!
The decision comes nearly 3½ years after Miyazaki, 76, announced his retirement amid persistent calls for him to make a comeback from his fans both in and outside Japan.
“He is creating it in Tokyo, working hard right now,” Toshio Suzuki, a producer at the major Japanese animation company, said Thursday on a talk show, adding he was presented by the animation maestro with the storyboard of the new film at the end of last year.
“(The storyboard) was quite exciting,” 68-year-old Suzuki said, adding, “but if I’d told him it was good, I know it would ruin my own retirement,” as making the film would dominate his life, Suzuki told the audience.
(via @garymross)Tags: animation Hayao Miyazaki movies Studio Ghibli
It’s International Women’s Day–a day to celebrate the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women. It’s a day we often take stock of gender inequality, look at how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. This is a day people in my corner of the world share posts about the gender wage gap, statistics surrounding the enduring reality of violence against women, information about women’s access to health care, and more. It’s a day that sociologists have the tools to make lots of charts.
In my feed, sociologist Jane Ward shared a post about a feminist bookstore in Cleveland, Ohio that chose to celebrate Women’s History Month in a unique way: they flipped all of the books written by men in the fiction room of the store around on the shelf. The room will be left that way for for two weeks – through March 14, 2017. Take a look at the result!
It’s a powerful piece of feminist installation art. And it’s sociological. While a sociologist might have produced a content analysis of the room (or genre) and produced a proportion of books written by women, this feels different. They’ve entitled the exhibit “Illustrating the Fiction Gender Gap” and explain the project with this simple sentence: “We’ve silenced male authors, leaving works of women in view.”
They could have simply counted the books and produced figures made available to the public. That’s what most sociologists I know would have done. But something critical would have been missing when compared with the illustration of the gender gap they produced here. Think about it this way: in 2015, the Census calculated that the poverty rate was 13.5% in the U.S. (that was a drop from the year prior). In actual numbers, there were 43.1 million people in poverty in the U.S. that year. Just to think about the size of that group, that’s a number that is basically the same as the total combined state populations of New York, Florida, and Iowa. Can you imagine everyone in all three states being in poverty. That’s the scale of poverty as a social problem in the U.S.
In a similar way, Loganberry Books, produced a really clever piece of feminist installation art to make a reality about literature more visible. It’s different from telling us the proportion of books written by women in the fiction section. In Loganberry, we get to see what that means. If you went in, you could feel it as you looked around. Works by women who be jumping off the shelves, rather than hidden between piles of books by men.
The owner of the bookstore, Harriet Logan, put it this way: “Pictures are loud communicators. So we are in essence not just highlighting the disparity but bringing more focus to the women’s books now, because they’re the only ones legible on the shelf” (here). In an interview with Cleveland Scene, she further explained: “To give the floor and attention to women, you need to be able to hear them. And if someone else is talking over them, that just doesn’t happen.”
It’s a small way of asking the question, What would this corner of the world look like if women’s accomplishments had not been systematically, structurally, and historically drowned out by men’s? What does women’s signal sound like here when we get rid of men’s noise? Books by men are still there. They’re not being banned, removed, or even mentioned as “unworthy” in any way. Men’s books are simply being silenced for two weeks to let women’s work shine. What a powerful, feminist, sociologically imaginative statement.
Happy International Women’s Day!Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.
I have complicated feelings about this. (Mostly *uncomfortable* feelings.)
February 6, 1993 — see The Complete Peanuts 1991-1994
When Picture Post published “Back to the Middle Ages” November 26th 1938, the magazine was less than two months old. Launched on October 1st, it was from the very beginning staunchly anti-fascist, thanks to the editorship of Stefan Lorant, an Hungarian refugee who had been previously imprisoned by the Nazis in Munich.
Situations had gotten worse in Germany that November. An assassination of a German diplomat in Paris provided the Nazis with the pretext for the Kristallnacht, an antisemitic pogrom. To cover the event, Lorant thought he should juxtaposed the faces of the Nazi leadership alongside those of the writers, actors and scientists they were persecuting.
Four central figures loomed large above the headlines, three still well-known, one less so. Alongside Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering was Julius Streicher whose newspaper Der Stürmer was the centerpiece of the Nazi propaganda. A former schoolmaster who was expelled from his profession, Streicher was anti-Semitic, almost to a comical degree: he wrote anti-Semitic books for children, and frequently repeated the medieval accusation that Jews killed Christian children to make matzoh. An early practitioner of what you would today call ‘Fake News’, Streicher argued that since his articles were based on race, not religion, they were protected by the German constitution.
When Picture Post went to press, Streicher was at the height of his noxious power: at Nuremberg, where he was the local Nazi party chief, he was treated almost as an absolute monarch. During Kristallnacht, he ordered his followers to sack the Great Synagogue of the city. But Kristallnacht also proved to be his downfall: he was accused of keeping Jewish property seized after Kristallnacht in November 1938, and his enemies within the Nazi party hierarchy — especially Goering whose daughter he once accused of being conceived by artificial insemination — were all to glad to denounce him. Hitler also grew tired of Streicher’s hysterical tirades, and would travel to Nuremberg only in secret, in order to avoid having to dine with Streicher.
In 1940, Streicher was finally stripped of his party offices, although his paper continued publishing until the war’s end. But Der Stürmer, like its publisher, itself limped into the 1940s. Once its pages were full of denunciations of Germans who were friendly to Jews or patrons of Jewish businesses, and exaggerated stories about misconduct and crimes by Jews, but as deportation of Jews intensified and Jewish life all but disappeared across Germany, there was little material for the paper. After 1940, this was literally true as paper restrictions were imposed on Der Stürmer.
The photo on page 19 read: Humanity at its Lowest. Young Nazis look on smiling while Elderly Jews are forced to scrub Vienna streets. On the back of this picture, the agency circulating it had felt it necessary to print: “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the source from which this picture was obtained, be revealed.”
Better late than never.
LGBT Valentine’s Day Cards
One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.
If there are people who can’t stand cats – and it seems there are many – one reason may be envy.
Gray, a renowned cultural and historical pessimist, also offers a critique of those thinkers who promote mass feline genocide, so at this point you may be wondering why he titled his book Straw Dogs. Here is the review. Here is Abigail Tucker’s very good cat book, The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.
Among its other improbabilities, 2016-2017 offers John Gray writing a positive review of Ross Douthat’s wife’s cat book. What will be next?