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Social Media Posts Feb 2016

See also: Index of all Social Media Posts

I suspect that within 48 hours, the hilarious Donald Trump takedown video by John Oliver will be shared thousands (if not millions) of times on social media. Up to now, talk show hosts and political satirists have used Trump as an object for humor, not really an object of contempt. Oliver (and his predecessor John Stewart) satirize with overt political purposes. Just laughing at the video clip is not enough; you have to take action. Two reactions: 1)Why hasn’t the partisan Fox channel tried to pull off their own John Oliver show? (Is it somehow incompatible with the sensibilities of their conservative audience?) and 2)do political critics in China/Russia/Iran view this kind of satire as something peculiar to the U.S. or something that could also work in their own country? The assumption behind John Oliver’s “satirical advocacy” is that citizens can be persuaded to change their minds and take action. I’m just not sure this is true in closed political systems (and I don’t just mean that a government could block Youtube). Even if a Chinese version of “John Oliver” produced an effective takedown of Xi Jinping, a Chinese citizen might be able to enjoy it, but never think that it could make any difference politically. In contrast, the US political system may be rigged, but at least it be occasionally unrigged during moments of political clarity.

It’s behind a paywall, but New York Times wrote a feature article about Ukrainian protest songs and music videos.

Here’s one of my favorite moments from the Oscars: Kristin Chenoweth and Seth MacFarlane singing, “Here’s to the Losers!” (Strangely, this clip keeps getting removed from Youtube).

When I taught in Albania and Ukraine, I was both amused and surprised to learn how popular “Gone with the Wind” was in those countries. I made it a point to see “Gone with the Wind” film in 1998 at the movie theatre; (fun fact, I also saw Titanic at the theater on the same day). But I have never actually read the book! Since then, I have seen multiple critics praise GWTW for its literary qualities — so today I decided to read it myself! I just read the first chapter and found it entertaining, multilayered and full of complex characters. Can’t wait to read more!

Here’s an amazing song which was chosen to represent Ukraine in this year’s Eurovision contest. Ostensibly about Stalin’s genocidal deportation of Crimean Tartars in 1944, the song is sure to resonate in the current European political climate. Eurovision has had rules against songs with overt political messages, but this song’s lyrics are more nuanced and abstract than particular to current politics; it’s hard to label this song as political without seeming to erect a censorship regime. It would be a shame if Eurovision decides to disqualify it, because it may be the most interesting (and beautiful) entry for the contest in decades.

People who know me already know that I’m quite good at doing math in my head. Two weeks ago at the supermarket I took a guess about the grocery bill — and my guess turned out to be EXACTLY RIGHT! Since then I have tried to guess my bill (this time with bigger and more complicated orders with fruits and vegetables), and each time I have been right within a dollar. It’s a fun game to play, but you have to remember that junk food is taxable — you should separate taxable and nontaxable in the cart. Also, you need to doublecheck your numbers — dividing your groceries into piles of about $15-20 to make them doublecheck. Once a math geek, always a math geek, I guess.

“Trump is an attention-craving parasite, and such creatures are powerful only when indulged and paid attention to. Clinton will be forced to pay attention to Trump because of his constant evocation of her scandals. She will attempt to go after him. She will, in other words, feed the troll. Sanders, by contrast, will almost certainly behave as if Trump isn’t even there. He is unlikely to rise to Trump’s bait, because Sanders doesn’t even care to listen to anything that’s not about saving social security or the disappearing middle class. He will almost certainly seem as if he barely knows who Trump is. Sanders’s commercials will be similar to those he has run in the primary, featuring uplifting images of America, aspirational sentiments about what we can be together, and moving testimonies from ordinary Americans. Putting such genuine dignity and good feeling against Trump’s race-baiting clownishness will be like finally pouring water on the Wicked Witch. Hillary Clinton cannot do this; with her, the campaign will inevitably descend into the gutter, and the unstoppable bloated Trump menace will continue to grow ever larger. Sanders is thus an almost perfect secret weapon against Trump. He can pull off the only maneuver that is capable of neutralizing Trump: ignoring him and actually keeping the focus on the issues.”

In this amusing article, a marketing pro talks about how to game the Amazon ratings to win the “Best Seller” label. He does it with a book consisting solely of a picture of his foot.

Much of what he reports is pretty common knowledge to anyone in publishing (and keep in mind that he makes a living convincing authors to pay for his marketing services). The problem with the piece is that he assumes that authors can price their ebooks for free. This is certainly NOT the case; it only applies to authors who sign up for KDP (and even in that case it’s only for 2 days out of 60). (There are workarounds to make your item permanently free, but even those fail after a while). Strategic buying and strategic category domination can succeed … but only with continuous effort (and often investment of time and money). Pursuing a meaningless metric is not a way to become a successful author. In this case, the “fake book” didn’t exactly make a profit; if anything it probably cost more money than it made. So even if you judge a book’s merits by how much money has made, this marketing guy’s techniques seem wrong-headed. But still, an amusing article….
Ignore for a moment the video’s heavy-handed post-apocalyptic visual style, this great rap song combines the fierce/socially conscious rap lyrics of Austin rapper Zeale with the amazing voice of Austin’s new talent Patricia Lynn. Lynn has performed with several bands but her latest band “The Wind and the Wave” has been making waves at South by Southwest and other places.
Just learned a fascinating fact: In 1971 a songwriter telephoned actor/friend Lee Majors. Instead he ended up talking to his girlfriend (and soon to be superstar) Farrah Fawcett who told him she was getting ready to take a midnight plane to Houston to see her family. That sentence inspired Jim Weatherly to write the song “Midnight Plane to Houston.” Later Whitney Houston’s mother (soul singer Cissy Houston) recorded it with a different title “Midnight Train to Georgia” (saying “My people are originally from Georgia… and they didn’t take planes to Houston or anywhere else. They took trains.”). Eventually Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded the version which became famous. (By the way, I think the  Cissy Houston version of the song is better than Gladys Knight.) This comes from a very interesting article in the Texas Monthly about the backstory behind many famous songs about Texas.
Here’s the Cissy Houston adaptation of the song and here’s the original “Midnight Plane to Houston” — Jim Weatherly version.

Now’s a good time to boycott Sony Products because of the way they treated the singer Kesha. They should have negotiated a reasonable way for Kesha to terminate her contract in a way that respects her rights as an artist and a (potential) victim. These sort of disputes happen all the time in the music business (with or without criminal allegations). Artists frequently have to buy back their rights or release some perfunctory album to end their contract with a company they don’t like. But in this case, Kesha made credible ground for misconduct on the producer’s part. I’m sure Sony’s lawyers wrote the contract in a way that guaranteed Sony’s financial participation in her career. But they could have certainly negotiated a payout or percent of her future profits that would have allowed Kesha work independently. The fact remains is that Sony’s strategy was to intimidate Kesha with a contract which was unconscionable under the circumstances and left her no path but extinguishing her career. I know emotions are high here, but lawyers on both sides could have easily settled this; the fact that it did not happen suggests intransigence (probably on Sony’s part). In the meantime, we have an artist caught in the middle, whose artistic career is now over because she refuses to work with a man she believes has ruined her life. Sony claims to be great about marketing; why then did they let this suit drag on to the point where the media product has essentially lost its value?

An Austin physicist tries to reimagine Austin to solve its transportation and infrastructure problems. His solution: using elevated trains and elevated bicycle routes! Lots of food for thought here. Great quote from Houston’s mayor Turner :
” TxDOT has noted that 97% of the Texans currently drive a single occupancy vehicle for their daily trips. One could conclude that our state agencies should therefore focus their resources to support these kinds of trips. However, this approach is actually exacerbating our congestion problems. We need a paradigm shift in order to achieve the kind of mobility outcomes we desire. The Katy Freeway, or Interstate 10 west of Houston, is the widest freeway in the world, with up to 26 lanes including frontage road lanes. The 2008 widening had a significant impact on the adjacent businesses and communities. Yet, despite all these lanes, in 2015 the section of this freeway near Beltway 8 was identified as the eighth most congested roadway in the state. This was only seven years after being reconstructed! This example, and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.”
NETFLIX RECOMMENDATION FOR NERDS AND THEIR KIDS: “The story of maths” is a fascinating 4 episode BBC series about the history of mathematics. An Oxford U. mathematician visits the cities where several important mathematical discoveries took place. Fun, accessible and full of interesting cultural facts and math puzzles. Very fun. I also recommend the Nat Geo series “Brain Games” (also on Netflix) which is about psychology of perception and thought. By the way, in UK, “maths” is the proper term for the class subject. In the US, we use “math” in the singular.
Here’s a great 9 minute trippy track by a Norwegian electronic band.
I don’t go to South by Southwest anymore (it’s become WAY too expensive), but I was amused to see that on the roster of “featured speakers” were the Winklevoss Twins. (Innovators? Yeah, right!). Somehow I don’t feel I’m missing anything this year….
49 minutes of shop talk by the world’s top comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais,Louis CK).. Great insights into the nature of comedy and storytelling. The show doesn’t try on purpose to be funny, but there’s some really great riffing — especially at the 30:00minute mark…
I have been listening and loving this singer’s dance pop album for more than a year, and it just now occurred to me to google her name. Turns out 1)this Russian singer is from Uzbekistan (where I almost taught) and 2)she’s a real hottie. By the way, this song is translated as “Heart Magnet” (which I guess is a fitting song for National Love Slave day).
Here’s a fun diversion. Have you ever wondered what song was number one on the day you were born? Here’s a quick way to find yours. (I”ll post my “birth song” in the comments; feel free to add your own). Mine is Diana Ross’s “I hear a symphony”.
Reflecting on the presidential race, I just realized that the most likely matchup will be HILARY CLINTON/JULIAN CASTRO vs. JEB BUSH/NIKKI HALEY. That would be a remarkable matchup because 1)both sides would consist of a man and a woman, 2)both sides would consist of 1 Caucasian and 1 person with a mixed ethnic background. Even though the MCCAIN/PALIN team was seriously defective, I think it’s a good template to have for a leadership team. Obviously there’s a fine line between inclusiveness and tokenism, but I expect that from now on, having a coed presidential team will be the norm rather than the exception.
Here’s a visually striking music video of a very catchy song by Christina Soloviy, young Ukrainian singer from Lviv. I can’t get this lovely song out of my head…. This comes from her lyrical/folk 2015 album “Жива вода” which is streamable on soundcloud.
QUOTE: “When (Michigan) Governor Snyder took office in 2011, one of the first things he did was to get a multi-billion dollar tax break passed by the Republican legislature for the wealthy and for corporations. But with less tax revenues, that meant he had to start cutting costs. So, many things – schools, pensions, welfare, safe drinking water – were slashed. Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as “dictators” over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million! It was easy. Suspend democracy. Cut taxes for the rich. Make the poor drink toxic river water. And everybody’s happy.”  (FILM DIRECTOR — AND MICHIGAN RESIDENT, MICHAEL MOORE)
Starting in about a month, it will be legal to sing “Happy Birthday” anywhere without having to pay a fee. Warner Chappell finally admits that its claim of ownership of the “Happy Birthday” song was illegitimate. The settlement details are still being worked out, but Warner will pay $14 million to parties it had required to pay licensing fees over the years. (It was estimated that Warner Music Group had been earning more than $2 million per year on these licensing fees … a total of $50 million overall).
I vow to myself that I will not talk or write about or even mention the name “Donald Trump.” Oh, did I just do so? Shucks. Ok, this vow starts right NOW!
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