Browsing the archives for the US culture category.

Blogs – “hitting the mainstream” or the new “old media”?

Culture, Media / journalism, US culture

In my previous post I wrote about the under-30s who are supposed to be the “digital natives”:

And yet they seem to be very much adapting still. After all, in 2006 and 2007 just a third of 18-29 year olds listed the Internet as a main source of news and information. It’s only this year that the big push to 50%+ came. And that’s America; I assume developments in Europe are lagging.

As a footnote of sorts, the world of blogging in Europe, in any case, definitely seems to lag behind its US counterpart, Technorati’s study of the State of the Blogosphere 2008 showed last September. The most conspicuous difference: both European and Asian bloggers are overwhelmingly male (73%); in the US, women have almost caught up, and men only make up 57% of bloggers.

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

Image used under CC license from Flickr user minifig

In Europe and especially Asia, bloggers are also more likely to be youngsters, or students specifically, whose income logically tends to be below-average. Although previous editions of the report don’t give data by continent, I’m guessing this is a question of development over time. As in: older and wealthier people in the US have already gotten in on blogging more – presumably also involving a higher share of professional and corporate bloggers. Unsurprisingly, then, US bloggers also tend to invest more money in their product.

Nevertheless, the Technorati report asserted that “All studies agree [..] that blogs are a global phenomenon that has hit the mainstream” and that “Blogs are Pervasive and Part of Our Daily Lives”. Go, digital adaptives: 63% of bloggers is 25-44 years old.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at RWW, however, panned these conclusions. For one, according to Technorati’s own data, the number of blog posts written each day has been fairly stable for a couple of years or is even slowing down, so what’s that about “hitting” the mainstream? Secondly, well:

Although reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream, is writing them? [..]

Of those 133 million blogs that Technorati has indexed – guess how many of them have been posted to in the last 7 days? 1.1% of them, or 1.5 million total. [..] Globally, fewer people are posting to their blogs each week than go to the Minnesota State Fair or speak Esperanto.

Kirkpatrick’s description of the future of blogging, in fact, make blogs seem like the new “old media”, at least in America. “Blogging may become centralized, profesionalized and increasingly scarce – just like other forms of media have, perhaps to a lesser degree.” Digital natives, meanwhile, are going elsewhere to air their thoughts:

Reading blogs is becoming increasingly mainstream and the line between a blog and another kind of website is growing increasingly blurred. Writing full length blog posts even as regularly as once a week is hard, though. We expect that microblogging may become more popular than blogging, if it hasn’t already! From updating your status message on Facebook or MySpace, to posting 140 word updates on lunch or politics on Twitter [..] – there are a whole lot of people already microblogging, if you will.

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Digital native is digital. (At least he is now.)

Culture, Media / journalism, US culture

At an expert meeting about the future of broadcasting I attended a month or two ago (as mere observer, obviously), one participant simply observed that “the broadcasting era is over”. Not that broadcasting itself will stop, but the era in which it is the primary, central means of disseminating and receiving information and entertainment is over.

An exceedingly smart guy, he waxed a little all too rhapsodically for my taste about what this meant. In an effort to impress the import of the developments on a group of mostly aging, European veterans of old-media policy, he sketched how participatory, democratic online media infrastructures will win an “epic battle” with the traditional ‘command and control’ infrastructure of broadcasting. Which is all fair enough, but reminded me a little too much of those glory days of the 1990s, when visionary internet philosophers declared the dawn of a new age of democratic empowerment. Remember how the net would remodel society into bottom-up communities that would change the very nature of nations and democracy?

To some extent, of course, we did eventually – ten to fifteen years on – come to witness that the net can transform how democracy works, at least in the US: Dean, Obama, etc. But post-national, bottom-up democracy is still a long way coming, and in the meantime the logic of corporate capitalism has firmly reaffirmed itself on a commercialised net.

In defense of idealistic visions, individual users do time and again show that, whichever corporate overlord owns the means of publication, so to say (YouTube, Facebook, Blogger, Flickr), they create most of the content and interaction in ways they never could with newspapers or TV – and pioneer ever new ways to do so.

Results from the Pew survey, overall population. For the under-30s, changes are more drastic (below the fold)

They generate today’s mash-up culture, the corporations merely chase after the results, buying up or clamping down accordingly.

The meeting belatedly acquainted me with the notion of digital natives, coined back in 2001 by Marc Prensky (even their brains are different, did you know?): the new generation of consumers who grew up with the Internet, video games and cellphones. Roughly speaking, that’s everyone born after 1980.

In case you missed it, a Pew report released just before Christmas appears to show these digital natives truly coming into their own.

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Public corruption in the US – Illinois easily bested by LA, MS, KY

US culture, US Politics

The “corruption rate” mapped below is calculated as the total number of public corruption convictions from 1997 to 2006 per 100,000 residents. The rates by state were compiled by Corporate Crime Reporter, based on Department of Justice statistics. Surprise: Illinois is not at the top; it’s pushed into the second tier by the Deep South. The ‘cleanest’ states, meanwhile, are in the West.

On The Monkey Cage, Prof. Sigelman first posted these data in tabular form, and Prof. Sides then followed up with a graph. That just left Prof. Gellman wishing for a map to better show the regional patterns. Well, this is my attempt at using the impressive-looking Many Eyes features to provide one. It’s a first attempt at using Many Eyes: I saw Nick Beaudrot use it to map out data before and I had to also give it a try.

The map may take a while to load, but is interactive: hover your mouse over a state and its corruption rate is shown. Clicking on a state highlights it; click on an unused area of the map to return to nationwide colour – and for some reason you may have to do this right at the beginning as well. On the version on the Many Eyes site itself, selecting a range of corruption rates in the legend highlights all states that fall within that range on the map.

Oddball observation of the day: at first glance I see a similarity between this map and the one showing where Obama did relatively best and worst, in comparison with the Democrats’ presidential score in 2004, among whites at least. Some parallel cultural elements at work?

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Entertaining news stories of the day …

Culture, Funny, International Politics, US culture

.. of a slightly dark, and very odd sort:

Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan (via The Stump)

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

Fake money isn’t what it used to be (via Kevin Drum)

The Secret Service agent in Kansas City peered hard at a counterfeit $100 bill, ran a finger over it and grimaced in disgust.

It was bad, ugly work.

“Too slick, too,” said Charles Green, special agent in charge.

More counterfeiters are using today’s ink-jet printers, computers and copiers to make money that’s just good enough to pass, he said, even though their product is awful.

In the past, he said, the best American counterfeiters were skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to turn out decent 20s, 50s and 100s. Now that kind of work is rare and almost all comes from abroad.

Among American thieves, the 22-year veteran said sadly, “it’s a lost art.”

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Dept. of WTF (your rant of the day)

Culture, US culture

I suppose someone has to write this kind of article about the new Obama age – all chatty and gossipy, and smug about it; even at a magazine like The New Republic. Or maybe especially there, because the deepest minds disappointingly often are also the most snobbish – or rub shoulders with them. And Michelle Cottle always knows just how to do the job – but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The New Yorker does this to me every time – I’ll read the issue’s feature articles and be left impressed by their depth and empathy, and then read the Talk of the Town section and just be left slack-jawed by the shallow, insular upper class brattiness in some of the items. Left thinking just, who are these people?

A telling moment in Cottle’s article comes when a parent at one of DC’s elite primary schools harrumphs:

It was remarkable how naked the status anxiety became at all the schools under consideration, recalls one dad [..]. Parents would just chatter away, he recalls, about “‘Oh my God, wouldn’t it be just amazing if’–their daughter, fill in the blank, Zoe or Chloe or whatever–‘wouldn’t it be amazing if they had a sleepover at the White House!’ Then they’d envision themselves having to pick up their child and telling people, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go over to the White House!'” He harrumphs, “People would actually say this stuff out loud. It was just embarrassing.”

Right. That’s exactly the reaction I have when I see otherwise smart and intelligent people being quoted saying stuff like this:

Washington old-timers and Obama insiders alike are predicting an urban renaissance of sorts. “There’s a glamour about Barack and Michelle that I think will infuse the capital in a way that we have not seen for some time,” says Holder. “They are both tall, good-looking, striking people with adorable little girls. I can’t help but think that’s going to have an impact.”

Yes, that’s Attorney General-to-be Eric Holder. I mean, WTF? What does that even mean? The Obamas are tall and good-looking and “I can’t help but think that’s going to have an impact”? What – how? 

And think about it – even if there is something there, hidden somewhere behind the nonsequitur, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to even admit it?

There’s superficiality of all kinds. I guess this is just a kind I don’t get, and which invariably gets up my nose. And yes, I hate celeb news too, with its humiliating Janus face of alternated licking and kicking. Its one-two of ingratiating prostration before those who are hot, and mean-spirited assults on those who can be torn down. It seems to me to reveal and condense the worst traits of humanity. And no, it’s probably not the most pressing issue in the Republic right now. But jeez.

Most grating is perhaps the fact that the kind of people being quoted saying embarassing shit like this actually think themselves the cool people who “get it” – you know, instead of feeling moved to temporarily hide underneath an ornamental garden rock. Rich people really are different.

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Everything Vibrates: Eagles Drop a Bomb in the Laps of the Supreme Court

US culture, US Politics

The Fraternal Order of Eagles (FOE), an organization founded in 1898, has been in the ten commandments racket since the early 1950s, when it handed out copies of the Mosaic law as part of its efforts to curtail juvenile delinquency. Thousands of the suitable-for-framing copies of the ten commandments, however, were evidently not making a significant dent in the ranks of juvenile delinquents, so the FOE decided that large granite monuments, plunked down in various governmental locations, would be far more efficacious. It seems, however, that no thought had been given to the possibility of dropping one of these massive monuments onto some of the most serious juvenile offenders, thus killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. Nevertheless, from about 1954 to 1985, as many as 4,000 of these monuments were deposited across the US, sometimes with help from the stars of the 1956 Paramount Pictures film epic The Ten Commandments, such as Charlton Heston (Moses), an early proponent, and Yul Brynner (Pharoah), who was apparently a late adopter.

nope, no religious expression here

The monument in question: nope, no religious expression here

Each of these monuments was like a constitutional time bomb waiting to explode in the nation’s courts. The problem is obvious: the establishment clause of the first amendment prohibits the government from setting up a state religion. Erecting a monument on government property that says something like “I AM the LORD thy God: Thou shalt have no other gods before me” tends to convey the message that the state is endorsing one particular religious viewpoint over all others, which is constitutionally suspect. But what if the government just passively allows a non-governmental organization, like the FOE, to erect such a monument? And what if that government doesn’t allow any other organization plop down a monument that displays a contrary religious message?

That’s the question that the supreme court encountered in the case of Pleasant Grove City v. Summum.

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It’s Not That I’m Anti-Erect Penis…

Funny, Uncategorized, US culture

… but is it really a good idea for a major company to convert its logo into an erect penis? (Or reveal the existing erect-penisness of its logo, as the case may be?)

Joe Camel: An early example of the effective use of penis fear in advertising.  (Nose = penis.  Not erect though.)

Joe Camel: An early example of the effective use of penis fear in advertising. (Nose = penis. Not erect though.)

This was playing on TV during a nice, innocuous show about doggies on Animal Planet. It’s not one of those edgy web-only ads you see when you’re reading the Onion or something. (Speaking of the Onion, I immediately remembered their 1989 cover story, “Penis Fear,” which exposed the subliminal use of penises in advertising. Joe Camel was featured prominently. I tried to find that story online but the only references were made by a) me, and b) a guy who said he kept the issue for years and then his wife threw it out. The noive.)

If it were an advertisement for, I dunno, mattresses or something, I could maybe understand it. Ha ha. Clever. But a restaurant?

I mean, I see it now… the Arby’s logo sure does look like (a rather stumpy) erect penis. Or maybe a partially unrolled condom.

These are really associations they want to create?

(I almost titled this “I Don’t Have Anything Against Erect Penises” but thought that might be a bit too much…)

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Just How Evil Are Real Christmas Trees?

Uncategorized, US culture

So I tend towards green-ness. I’m not an uber-environmentalist but I do what I can. I’m sitting here in my down jacket because I like to keep the thermostat relatively low in the winter, (and because it’s #@$% cold outside). We recycle. We don’t leave the water running when we brush our teeth. That kind of thing.

That means that when people say that real Christmas trees are evil and that fake trees are a more responsible choice (i.e., that plastic is greener than actual greenery), I am cowed enough to want to look into it before blithely buying another real tree this year. (Even though I LIKE real trees. A lot.)

My initial thoughts include:

– My community recycles (mulches) real Christmas trees. Does that count for anything?

– Christmas tree farms are better than strip malls, aren’t they? (But is that a false dichotomy? Maybe they tear down nice forests to plant the fertilized and insecticided Christmas trees.)

– Isn’t plastic, just, like, icky? And people don’t keep their plastic trees literally forever, do they? So is the environmental cost of dealing with giant hunks of plastic occasionally really less than dealing with gen-you-wine biodegradable trees annually?

So I set out to try to find out what is actually greener.

First, yes, it appears that plastic IS icky!

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Mistress market bottoms out as crisis sucks in millionaires, but toy boys spared a licking

US culture, US Economy

I’ve always wanted to be a Sun headline writer.

Soon it will be grape juice of wrath for mistresses, as the Moët’s off the table now multimillionaires are moved to downsize their despicable deeds of decadence. This shocking scoop comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal (h/t TNR), which has its finger all over the pulse:

According to a new survey by Prince & Assoc., more than 80% of multimillionaires who had extra-marital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances. [..]

“Rich people are getting hit, and they’re all expressing the need to curtail unnecessary spending,” said Russ Alan Prince, president of Prince & Assoc., a wealth-research firm based in Connecticut. “Lovers are part of the same calculation.” [..]

Fully 82% of men in the study said they planned to lower the allowances to their mistresses, while more than three quarters planned to provide fewer gifts, less expensive gifts and fewer perks, like jet rides, resort vacations and top restaurant meals. [..]

“What we found in talking to the respondents is that the magic of the relationship with their lover fades after a while, so they’re more willing to let them go,” Mr. Prince says.

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Riding the red lands: field reports from the media

Media / journalism, Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

While the reporters assigned to presidential candidates are condemned to a mix of grind and hype, reporters who get the chance to survey the country often come up with the best stories. Interviewing voters, sampling local opinion, sketching the political geography, they write the field reports, a ubiquitous genre of its own. No self-respecting election-time newspaper is complete without one.

A lot of them, of course, end up being cookie-cutter stuff: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and done is the day’s work. Here’s a few from the last couple of days I thought more interesting (h/t to the Electoral Map, where I think I found most of these on the “Morning Reading Lists”). The common thread: Obama’s chances to win over red states or counties.

Battling on the Other Side’s Turf
Washington Post
1 November

Best of the bunch: in-deph local flavour from Southside Virginia.

Heartwarming? Yes; moving stories, a hopeful narrative, characters who feel real and alive. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Pretty high. Strategic survey? Not so much; demographic analysis doesnt take much space here. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Present. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? Yes – US Rep. Virgil Goode, portrayed here as a well-established incumbent, is unexpectedly facing a tight race, according to the latest polls.

Why the New Virginia Is Leaning Toward Obama
Time
27 October

Timely dispatch from exurban Prince William County.

Heartwarming? Not so much. More of an analytical take, and what anecdotes are there are fairly depressing. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High enough; he studied the numbers and knows where to look. Strategic survey? Yes. The choice of location itself is an attempt to pinpoint the very frontier zone where the elections will be decided. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Not so much. Nuanced? Yes. Topical? There’s the account of a fearmongering McCain coordinator, but you might have seen it already.

Obamalina
The Nation
22 October

Long review of how the Obama campaign made North Carolina into a toss-up state.

Heartwarming? In a combative way. Fuelled more by awe at the campaign’s success than touching personal anecdotes. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? High. He’s from there and he’s got the political scars to prove it. Strategic survey? Yes: it’s all about pinning down the overall Obama strategy and why it’s successful (“it’s the economy, stupid”). Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Yes, but of the weary rather than wistful type. Nuanced? Not so much. Topical? No immediate hook beyond the electoral fate of the state itself.

Westmoreland County up for grabs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
28 October

Gritty impressions from a Pennsylvanian county that went for Bush and loved Hillary.

Heartwarming? Not really. The news is depressing – meet the working class McCain Democrats. But the people are real. Feeling that the reporter understands the local scene? Mwah. You keep wanting her to dig a little deeper. Strategic survey? Not so much. Though the description of how the polarisation between high-income, Republican subdivisions along Route 30 and low-income, Democratic riverside settlements are all muddled up this year should rouse the political geographer in you. Evocation of historical legacies, racial and/or industrial? Some wistful type of the latter. Nuanced? Fairly. Topical? Considering McCain’s decision to stake his fate on Pennsylvania and the racial/cultural resentments there, yes.

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Massive early voting … the wonder, the worry, the role of race

Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

WSB TV down in Georgia reports a story that’s at once heartwarming and horrifying: Clayton County voters on Monday, the first day of advance voting, stood in line for 12 hours to vote. Twelve hours!

While the polls officially closed at 7 p.m. Monday night [..], the line to vote at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale didn’t clear up until 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Clayton County voter Patricia Lewis finally voted in Riverdale after standing in line to vote for six hours. “I vote in every election and I couldn’t pass this one up. I think about my dad, about the struggles he went through and for me to vote again is just amazing,” Lewis. [..]

For much of the day, Clayton County voters stood in line for eight to nine hours to cast their ballots.

Channel 2 talked to one poll worker who worked an 18 hour shift. She still didn’t complain about the problems. She said she was just glad to see so many people interested in voting. “It makes me feel good,” said election worker Beatrice Lyons. “They can just come and stay all night and I’ll be right here.”

Lyons said she saw some people arrive at 1 p.m. Monday and they didn’t vote until 12:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Voting is fun! (Image used under CC license)

Voting is fun! (Image used under CC license)

Now those are moving stories, but once again I am just the foreigner with his mouth agape: how is this possible? I mean, I’m familiar enough with the election day reports to know that it’s fairly common for people in certain states and regions to have to wait in line for hours to vote – many hours sometimes. What’s the deal here – you’re the wealthiest country in the world, and you can’t set up enough polling stations to avoid making voters stand in line for hours on end to exercise their democratic rights?

The political salience of the story, meanwhile, is of course that this is not election day. Election day isn’t for another day. This is advance voting, and already people are standing in line for hours. What massive turnout is taking shape?

Daniel Nichanian at Campaign Diaries (where I got the above link from too) had some stunning numbers yesterday:

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WaPo/ABC Poll: the difference between white voters in the South and elsewhere

Politics, Presidential Elections, US culture, US Elections, US Politics

This bit of polling analysis caught my attention: Obama does well among whites, very, very well indeed. But with one glaring exception: the South. The Southern exception is alive and well:

Obama is outperforming any Democrat back to Jimmy Carter among white voters, getting 45 percent to McCain’s 52 percent. But in the South, it is a very different story. Obama fares worse among Southern whites than any Democrat since George McGovern in 1972.

My electoral map of how whites voted in 2004 already showed that when you single out white voters, it’s not Wyoming and Utah that are the most Republican states, it’s Mississippi, Alabama and South-Carolina. The latest ABC/WaPo poll suggests that even as whites across the country have been remarkably receptive to Obama’s message, those in the South are still very hostile:

Whites in the East and West tilt narrowly toward Obama (he’s up 8 and 7 points, respectively), and the two run about evenly among those in the Midwest. By contrast, Southern whites break more than 2 to 1 for McCain, 65 percent to 32 percent.

That stark divide is not simply a partisan difference. While white Democrats outside the South give Obama margins of 80 points or more, he leads by a more modest 65 points among white Southern Democrats. The Democrat is up 55 points among liberal whites in the region, far under his performance among those voters elsewhere, where he is up by 79 points.

Southern white independents are also far more likely than politically independent whites in other regions to support McCain: They break 62 to 33 percent in his favor. White independents in the West favor Obama by a similarly wide margin, 63 to 34 percent. White political independents in the East and Midwest divide much more evenly.

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