So is the Academy trolling us or what?

Dear Internet,

Are we being trolled by the Academy, ABC and Seth MacFarlane? Before I get into that, let me do some housekeeping: I agree with the general consensus that he was a terrible host, mostly unfunny and very offensive. He managed to be sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic and a lot more while mostly not being very funny. So yeah, let the floodgates be opened and the valid criticism be unleashed upon all who deserve it. It’s real, it’s fair and we should be having conversations about why all these things continue to stubbornly persist in society.

But okay, this is Seth MacFarlane, creator of the most offensive show on television that is nonetheless so popular that the Fox network brought it back on the air after cancellation because of its cult following (cough, but not Firefly?!?!?!, cough). Did we, the Academy, ABC and everyone else really expect him to not be offensive? Was it worse because it was a human being, not animations this time?

Or…was that the idea all along? Remember the Oscar’s intro where Captain Kirk shows MacFarlane the newspaper articles from the day after as he changes his performance? Look at the comment numbers on the articles as his performance goes from bad to good (sharing also appears to follow the pattern, but it’s hard to tell).

  • ‘Seth MacFarlane, Worst Oscar Host Ever’ – 2236 comments
  • ‘Seth MacFarlane, pretty bad Oscar host’ – 1256 comments
  • ‘Seth MacFarlane proves to be mediocre host’ – 893 comments

Now reflect on the media storm his terrible performance generated. How many of you tuned in because your friends were whining about his jokes on Twitter? Did any of you, like me, at one point even feel bad for advertisers who were being associated with this stuff without knowing it ahead of time?

There’s a lot of backwards thinking in Hollywood when it comes to technology, but they still know how to get eyeballs in front of things. Someone may have left an easter egg to that effect right in the middle of the show.

Henry Blodget Thanks Me For Aggregating Him

Henry Blodget of Business Insider personally thanked me for aggregating his content today in a note that I just had to share with you, my dear readers. The note is produced in its entirety below, but please DO NOT SCROLL DOWN, DO NOT CLICK CONTINUE READING. Instead, click on this link and read it at the original site. Thanks!


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Dear Internet: Has someone written this piece on drones?

I need to read a news article that asks: are drones logical as a replacement for troops, are they really cost-effective and (how) do they work as both deterrents and killing tools. The problem with everything I’ve read, on all sides of the issue, is that they’re filled with emotion and innuendo, name-calling and drama.

What I want is a data-driven article that examines the assumptions the military is making that drone warfare is cheaper and more effective than ground warfare. It should also look at the effects drones have on people – economical, sociological, psychological – in targeted areas vs. the effects of ground combat. It would be nice if this article also touched on drone-based warfare in the broader context of technological disruption.

The problem I have with the articles I’ve read so far is that they don’t seem grounded in reality. Drone opponents largely ignore the fact that we’re a society that tolerates some violence and death in exchange for security and that, broadly speaking, air power is probably the best asymmetric deterrent the US has right now. Drone proponents tend to overstate the “surgical” nature of strikes, ignoring the side effects of reigning terror down from the sky on populations and to dismiss the fact that the permanent, global war on terror has been extremely inefficient, only partially successful and has dangerously altered civil rights in this country.

Has someone written this article? If so, link me. If not, someone get on that. I’ve had enough demagoguery from everyone.

Student work owned by the school district? Old news.

There’s an interesting article from the Washington Post up today about Prince George County Board of Education’s proposal to claim ownership over all the work done by students and teachers (somewhat related side note: Mr. Weinstein, where do I send the check?). It’s a ridiculous proposal for many reasons, most of them involving the work of teachers. But interestingly, the student side of it is not entirely new. It brought up an incident from high school that I had almost forgotten about. I’m recording it here so I don’t forget it again, and also to serve as an example of how ridiculous this proposed policy would be in practice.

I attended George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado, graduating from the International Baccalaureate program in 2007. I was a captain of the speech and debate team, co-founder of a controversial underground magazine, managing editor of the newspaper and probably the biggest nerd in the whole place. Perhaps a bit too far ahead of my time, I bought a palm pilot with bar-mitzvah money on the first day of high school and used it with a portable folding keyboard to take notes. I also secretly used my bluetooth feature phone and some free dial-up providers to connect to the internet on the Palm Pilot during class to read news and play games. This was still years before the iPhone made high school teachers hyper-sensitive to technology. Because my phone was always in my pocket, because Palm Pilots had a reputation for being offline assistants and because most teachers didn’t know about bluetooth’s capabilities, they were delightfully ignorant about what I was doing.

Despite some bad learning habits, I got a great education there. GW’s IB program was one of the best in the country. The teachers were excellent and the students were there to learn. This was the case 90% of the time, except every year in the spring, when we were forced to spend an entire week participating in the mandatory Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, Colorado’s implementation of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. For those who don’t remember this particularly dreadful attempt at education reform, the tests were designed to grade the school as a whole and allocate funding based on those grades. Students’ results were not collected or reported on individually.

Now, there are some very difficult social issues that come into play in this next bit and in the interest of telling this story I’m going to tread over them lightly. Suffice it to say that the NCLB was completely backwards and reinforced a lot of institutionalized racism. Test results are not the way to allocate funding. The IB program at my school was also controversial. On the one hand, it was pretty segregated from the rest of the school and mostly white, whereas the rest of the school was mostly black. On the other hand, the program’s high test scores helped the school get more money. I still have difficulty unpacking my feelings about it and this isn’t the right place to do it.

At the time, however – and remember we were teenagers – my friends and I absolutely detested the CSAPs. We hated them for being an utterly useless waste of time, for the stupidity of the way they distributed resources and in no small part because they reinforced the discomfort IB kids felt for being simultaneously disdained by most of the rest of the school and at the same time responsible for a lot of its funding. We protested the CSAPs in some interesting ways. A group of us founded an underground print magazine called The Green Light (which paid for itself with advertising) and distributed copies of CSAP opt-out forms with the first issue. This drove the administration crazy because each opt-out counted as a zero for the school.

The CSAP had an essay portion, which usually asked you to respond to an insipid prompt. One year the prompt asked students what non-profit group they would volunteer for. Responses from Green Lighters included “Drugs for Tots,” a fake organization that supposedly “teaches kids the metric system,” and the Boy Scouts, an essay filled with innuendo. These essays became citywide news when the school somehow discovered them and suspended the two students for “defacing school property.” This was especially absurd because schools weren’t supposed to look at completed tests before sending them to the state.

We responded by re-writing the essays and publishing them in The Green Light.

The next year, the prompt was “what would you change about the world?” My response was the CSAPs. I pointed out the flaws with the test in an essay that felt to my teenage mind like a pretty awesome takedown. Eager to republish this too, I pulled out my Palm Pilot – it had an epic 1.2 megapixel camera, way better than most phones at the time – and without thinking took a picture of the essay. A teacher who was apparently watching from the hallway through the window of the classroom door saw me, burst through the door, confiscated my Palm Pilot and dragged me to the principal’s office.

What awaited me there may have been one of the weirdest disciplinary meetings ever. I knew the principal pretty well because I was active in lots of school activities, and he seemed as amused as he was angry. The problem was, no one really knew what I had actually done wrong. The test rules said nothing about using electronics except graphing calculators. I wasn’t copying anyone else’s answers, so I hadn’t technically cheated. They didn’t really know what to do, so they called Denver Public Schools to ask for help.

Eventually, someone from the district called to inform them that I was guilty of “copyright infringement.” They said they were sending my Palm Pilot “downtown” to delete the photos I had taken and that I would face suspension. Then they called my parents.

This is where I got pretty lucky. My dad was in the media and knew what to do. He first told me I had made a stupid mistake. Then he asked the administration how they could possibly accuse me of infringing on the copyright of an essay I had written and how it could be grounds for a suspension. He said he would expect the Palm Pilot to be returned undamaged. He mentioned what an interesting story it was.

The administration took the hint. They dropped the idea of suspension and instead asked that I perform some community service around the school (they never followed up to arrange this). They returned the Palm Pilot a few weeks later, forcing me to rediscover my awful handwriting. The memory card had been wiped but it was undamaged.

Was it smart to photograph the test? No, I was being a dumb teenager. But why shouldn’t that essay be my property? Far from being paid to write it, which is the usual implicit agreement behind workplace IP assignments, I was required to write it to help the school. And more generally: what does it say to kids just starting to learn about academic building blocks like plagiarism and citation that their work doesn’t belong to them? What kind of message does that send about the value of intellectual work? And this was 2006. Given the role technology plays in education today, doesn’t it limit a student’s ability to connect their work to broader academic discussion?

Of course, they made me finish the test to avoid giving the school another zero. The next day, an entire page of new language had been added to the proctor’s notes. Anything written during the test, it claimed, was property of the state. Copying it would be considered copyright infringement and grounds for suspension, expulsion and possible criminal charges.

Let’s politicize America’s death problem, or, guns may not kill people, but someone still died

Another day, another horrific shooting in America. And every time progressives come together and whisper to one another, “maybe this will be the one that sparks action.” But not one seems to spark anything but “gun control now” on the left, “more guns” on the right and complete stasis in Washington.

If there is a common theme after these things happen, it’s the call that we not “politicize” the event right now, in the immediate aftermath. Some people really are too heartbroken to discuss much of anything after tragedies like these. But most people fall into one of two camps: either they think “politicizing” the issue will look bad and draw false ire and outrage from the other side, making reasonable discussion impossible, or they think that by producing conditions where it’s impossible to discuss fixing the issue right away, the strong feelings brought about by events like these will gradually drift away, leaving behind the status quo.

I question what these latter two camps think “politicize” means. A society that can’t protect its children, its future, has a huge problem. Politics, perhaps too indirectly these days, is about solving society’s problems in some way or another. So let’s politicize, if it means solving the problem.

To get there, I beg all of you to look in earnest at what happened today. Here it is, gloves off: six adults and twenty children, the oldest of them ten, were murdered today. Period. Full stop. It shouldn’t matter where, by whose hand they were slain, what their racial composition was, what kind of community it was, who there parents were, how rich they were, what kind of school it was or even how they were killed. I mean, these were people. Living, breathing human beings. There’s no excuse for them to be gunned down. Less so because they were mostly completely innocent children, but we need to get to the place where it is universally unacceptable for human beings, sans qualification, to die of anything but natural causes in this country. Yes, nothing but natural causes. Impossible as it might seem to prevent all gun violence, war, car accidents, cancer and every other mortal evil, until we reach that mindset I don’t think the American project – life being the first of the unalienable rights – will ever be complete.

There are many different opinions on how we can solve the gun violence problem we have in this country. But I don’t know if it’s limited to a gun violence problem. We have a death problem. We glorify it. Make television shows, movies, books, games about it. Most of this media involves guns, yes, because they are the most efficient tools of death an average person can wield effectively. So we can’t ignore that they and their glorification are a large part of the problem. But they aren’t the only problem. The overarching problem is that we tolerate preventable death in this country. Death from gun violence, death from starvation, death from preventable illness, death from accidents in badly regulated environments, death from pollution…death.

One mistake a lot of activists make is getting bogged down in the gun problem alone, opening themselves to an avalanche of slogans, (often shaky) statistics, stories of unlikely (and likely unrepeatable) heroism and two-bit constitutional law theory designed to stop the conversation in its tracks. But it’s hard to defend death.

So, I beg us all to focus the discussion on the tragedy and how to stop it from recurring. Twenty young kids are not going to be at the dinner table tonight because somebody shot them. We should all be talking and listening, in earnest, about how to prevent this specific ill – the loss of human life. Not talking in terms of statistics or constitutional theory. Not hiding out of fear that politicization will taint the process. Not trying to shut out voices by crying foul or deliberately shutting the conversation down.

We should be coming together to solve death in America, whatever it takes.