The Hedgehog’s Array: August 21, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Selling Out the Newspaper Comic Strip,” Luke Epplin
Calvin and Hobbes, which centered on a headstrong child and a stuffed tiger that comes to life under his gaze, shared many similarities with Peanuts: articulate children, fantasy sequences, episodic storylines, philosophical undercurrents, and an aversion to facile punch lines. But Schulz and Watterson harbored fundamental disagreements about the nature and direction of their medium, and their entrenched beliefs shaped their divergent approaches to comics as both an art and a business.”

“Melancholy,” Carina del Valle Schorske
“Melancholy is a word that has fallen out of favor for describing the condition we now call depression. The fact that our language has changed, without the earlier word disappearing completely, indicates that we are still able to make use of both.”

“The Ashley Madison Hack Should Scare You, Too,” Heather Havrilesky
“At the exact moment when citizens worldwide should be noticing that we’re all living in glass houses, many of us are picking up stones instead.”

“Why Can’t People Just Be Sensible?,” Jenny Diski
“Oh, Doris would say to anyone in any kind of emotional trouble, why can’t people just be sensible? Once or twice I shouted back: because we’re people. The answer carried no weight at all.”

“The Riders of the Waves,” Alice Gregory
“Reputations are made and maintained in the ocean, but they’re premised on more than just talent. Seniority, humility, pain tolerance, and a hundred other factors contribute to a surfer’s local eminence.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Gallery Chronicle,” Leann Davis Alspaugh
“El Greco (1541–1614) knew the value of his work and was not afraid to go to court to prove his point.”

“The Genealogy of Orals,” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
“When someone from abroad wants to learn about our university system, his first pressing question is: How do your students participate in university life? We answer: By means of the ear — they take part as listeners. The foreigner is amazed and asks: Purely by listening? Purely by listening, we repeat.”
(excerpted from Anti-Education, a volume of Nietzsche’s lectures edited by Chad Wellmon)

“Digital Star Chamber,” Frank Pasquale
“For wines or films, the stakes are not terribly high. But when algorithms start affecting critical opportunities for employment, career advancement, health, credit and education, they deserve more scrutiny.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 14, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Michael Dirda on Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books,” Bill Tipper and Michael Dirda
“In my younger days, when I was just trying to read as much as possible, I believed that the text alone mattered. But as soon as you start to collect seriously, to create a library that reflects who you are or that explores some interesting subject, you begin to see books as physical artifacts, as appealing objets d’art in their own right.”

“Mothers of ISIS,” Julia Ioffe
“These women are just four of thousands who have lost a child to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Since the Syrian civil war began four years ago, some 20,000 foreign nationals have made their way to Syria and Iraq to fight for various radical Islamist factions. Over 3,000 are from Western countries. While some go with their families’ blessing, most leave in secret, taking all sense of normalcy with them. After they’ve gone, their parents are left with a form of grief that is surreal in its specificity.”

“Pulp Inequality,” Benjamin J. Dueholm
“Kimmy Schmidt, on the other hand, is part of what has come to be known as the precariat. These Americans work in part-time, short-term, or piecemeal jobs that offer little prospect for security or stability, much less advancement.”

“What Does ‘Self-Care’ Really Mean?,” Jennifer Pan
“In its ideal forms, self-care enacts a labor slowdown and asserts the right to be lazy, the right to stop working. Yet, as demonstrated by my former co-worker, who ran herself in circles in her quest to de-stress, self-care can go awry when it ends up seeming like work in and of itself, something that we’re obligated to do to improve ourselves.”

“Family Bones,” Ryan Schnurr
“I don’t carry on any traditions. I know little of my heritage. But my family bones fill these holes in the ground in Oxford, Indiana.”

“My Summer with Proust,” Marion Coutts
“I don’t keep diaries, so I don’t know the year, but some time in the late 1980s I was spending the summer in a borrowed flat in Edinburgh. I had finished an art degree, my friends had left the city and all the usual distractions had gone. I didn’t have much money and my social life was minimal. I ate samosas from the corner shop and walked everywhere. It was a self-willed isolation.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Bloodbath & Beyond,” Alan Jacobs
“But the outlaw gangs are, implicitly, making another claim as well: that the state’s sovereignty doesn’t extend to all of its citizens in all circumstances. When, in the months before the Waco shoot-out, tensions were building between the Bandidos and the Cossacks, some of the gang leaders sent a clear and simple message to police: Stay out of this; let us sort it out.”

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The Daily Show in the Age of Irony

Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Cliff via flickr.

Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Cliff via flickr.

As Jon Stewart leaves the stage, we have a chance to reflect on his legacy. News comedy is much older than Stewart, but Stewart became not just a superstar but—for some Americans—a lodestar. How could that be?

Perhaps because, as Richard Rorty noted, we live in the age of irony. To Rorty, this meant that we must look askance at all and any truth claims. Americans just know better. The age of irony is, as Daniel Rodgers has shown, part of a larger “age of fracture” in which we learned to distrust the institutions that had once structured our lives. Before the 1970s, Americans had thought of themselves as having “common purposes and socially entangled lives.” But as we lost confidence in our institutions, “concepts of human nature that had been thick with context, social circumstance, and history gave way to an understanding that emphasized choice, agency, performance, language, and desire.” It became harder for Americans to “imagine spheres of collective solidarity—class, neighborhood, or the common good.” And this corrosive cultural force transformed politics and ideas on right and left. Continue reading

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The Quandary of Internet Openness

Sleep is the enemy by Hobvias Sudoneighm via flickr

“Sleep is the enemy,” by Hobvias Sudoneighm via flickr

The Internet is a strange animal: dedicated to free expression, it also protects bigotry and harassment. It has birthed revolutions and movements such as the Arab Spring and #BlackLivesMatter, and it offers a sense of community to those who feel isolated or alone. At the same time, however, the anonymity it affords makes the Internet a platform for racism, misogyny, homophobia, bullying, and other forms of aggression. On the Internet, values of free expression are pitted against those of providing protection and comfort for its users, and it is unclear how one is to be upheld without coming at the cost of the other. The recent departure of Ellen Pao as CEO of Reddit serves as a compelling illustration of this quandary.

Early in July, news broke that Ellen Pao, interim CEO of the popular online messaging board, Reddit, had stepped down. The move came as a response to the outcry against Pao and her administrative team for recent decisions made at the company, including the firing of Victoria Taylor, a Reddit executive who was popular among community members. Pao also came under fire for initiating efforts to reduce harassment and hostility on Reddit by removing offensive content from boards, including entire “subreddits” (users’ posts organized around single topics) containing racist, fat shaming, homophobic and transphobic content. In June, a Change.org petition appeared calling for Pao’s ouster, alleging that Reddit had “entered into a new age of censorship” since her arrival in November 2014. The petition eventually gathered more than 200,000 signatures. Around the same time, hundreds of subreddits were made unavailable by the website’s volunteer moderators in response to Taylor’s sudden and unexplained firing. Prompted to respond to these demonstrations, Pao issued a public apology to the community in which she acknowledged that she and her team had “screwed up” and vowed to maintain better communication between administrators and the community. Nonetheless, Pao resigned mere days later.

Despite its size—in 2013, Reddit boasted 731 million unique visitors and 56 billion page views—the community of users is tight-knit and loyal, bound together by its devotion to the value of free discourse and a commitment to keeping Reddit relevant as an information resource. Its members are also known for identifying with and uniting for causes (however superfluous). As the Ellen Pao incident proved, Reddit users are also wary of corporate intervention, distrustful that paid administrators always know what is best. Their response to what they deemed unnecessary “censorship” and a lack of transparency served as a check on Reddit’s corporate power over the community it created. To the common Redditor, this was a movement for the protection of Reddit itself. But to hear Ellen Pao tell the tale, the efforts against her amount to little more than online bullying.

In a July 16 Washington Post online op-ed piece discussing the events surrounding her resignation, Pao claims to have received harassing messages and death threats from angry Reddit users and describes herself as a victim of “one of the largest trolling attacks in history.” (A “troll” is someone who intentionally provokes and harasses others in online forums. Protected by anonymity, trolls often bait and attack their targets with provocative, bigoted language.) Exercising her right to free expression, Pao spotlights in her editorial how her security and peace of mind had been compromised by people who took advantage of a public forum to attack her and others. Her story is reflective of the difficulty of, as she puts it,  “balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of participants.”

Pao warns that “the trolls are winning,” that the value of free expression has come to take primacy over the protection of the Internet’s users. At the root of trolling lies the belief that expression can and should be unfettered, unconstrained even by civility or decency, and that those who might be offended should just “stay away.” But staying away from the Internet is simply unthinkable to those for whom being online is an integral part of daily life. To engage with others on the Internet is to recognize and accept, perhaps uneasily, that interaction comes with risk—just as it does in face-to-face encounters. The anxiety is legitimate and real, but if we want the Internet to remain free and open for everyone, is it right to exclude bullies and jerks? The Reddit community’s message to Ellen Pao was that she couldn’t have it both ways—either the Internet is free and open or it is not.

It would be inaccurate (and uncivil) to dismiss all of the more than 200,000 signers of the Change.org petition against Pao as mere Internet trolls. In truth, the majority of the signers were likely just concerned users who felt affronted by the changes being made to their cherished website. Be that as it may, in uniting to remove Pao, the Reddit community stood not only against “censorship,” but also against efforts to make the website safer for all of its users. More than anything, what this case reveals is that online communities have the power to enact real-world change—that the Internet has a voice. The question that remains is whether or not this a voice with which we would like to identify.

Joseph Kreiter is a third year student at the University of Virginia and a summer intern at The Hedgehog Review.

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The Hedgehog’s Array: August 7, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“I’m Not Dante or Milton, but Won’t You Remember Me, Too?,” David Wheatley
“I love minor poets. Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, Amy Levy, Charlotte Mew, Robert Fergusson, James Clarence Mangan, and Robert Garioch, are all poets I read with admiration and reverence.”

“The New Devil’s Dictionary,” T.C. Sottek
“transhumanist (n.): Someone so enamored with the misery of a natural lifespan that they wish to make it endless.”

“A Science of Literature,” Ben Merriman
“The statistics used in these works are mainly descriptive, and the faith placed in these descriptions is limited. A table or graph is treated as an object to be interpreted. In this and many other respects, distant reading remains a recognizably humanistic practice.”

“The Bully’s Pulpit,” David Graeber
“Our first instinct when we observe unprovoked aggression is either to pretend it isn’t happening or, if that becomes impossible, to equate attacker and victim, placing both under a kind of contagion, which, it is hoped, can be prevented from spreading to everybody else.”

“Big Love,” Cynthia Lewis
“I used to wonder whether Americans can pretend to analyze, act, or claim Shakespeare alongside the English. These days, however, I’m more concerned with whether love—unconditional and emptied of ego as it repeatedly emerges in these plays—can find a place among us, British, American, or otherwise. Can it even be understood, let alone valued?”

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My Love/Hate Relationship With Streaming

image by Todd via flickr

image by Todd via flickr

From a consumer standpoint, streaming services are the low-hanging fruit of the music industry: They are convenient, requiring little effort to listen to music and discover new artists. For a minimal fee (or, in some cases, no fee at all), users can access services that recommend new music, create playlists, and offer an extensive music catalog.

Streaming is not quite so simple for artists, who may be paid as little as thousandths of a cent for each stream. Even the massive number of plays (often in the low hundreds of millions) a most-played song receives is undermined by the tiny compensation rate; Taylor Swift’s record label Big Machine, for example, claims to have earned only $500,000 in one year for all of her songs. Artists at this level rarely need the money or the exposure, but it is still in their interest to protect the music. Some artists, notably Swift and Thom Yorke, have used their clout to protest this compensation model by withdrawing their music from low-paying services such as Spotify. It is entirely possible that the resulting negative publicity is worth the savings—the service won’t have to pay the artist if they don’t offer the artist’s music.

The streaming services’ large catalogs give the illusion of potentially limitless variety for playlist curators and recommendation algorithms, but using these services can also breed a sense of conforming to something. As Ben Ratliff observes in The New York Times, “I always feel like I’m shopping somewhere, and the music [on curated playlists] reflects What Our Customers Like To Listen To.” Curated playlists are publicly available to all users and thus must appeal to the broadest possible audience: one primarily interested in pop and radio-friendly songs. While there are ostensibly differentiated playlists to match different moods, times of day, or activities, discerning listeners might find any one of these playlists bland and lacking in adventure. Still, streaming flourishes because of the millions of users willing to undergo a generic experience in exchange for having their music choices made for them. Continue reading

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The Hedgehog’s Array: July 31, 2015

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Terry Castle: The Anti-Paglia,” Helen Andrews
“Like Paglia, Castle’s entrée into the literary tradition of sexual inversion was a teenage fascination with Oscar Wilde—she dreamed of being ‘male, dandified, and in some sort of filial relationship to various 1890s Decadents.’ Unlike Paglia, her grown-up persona is less flamboyant, more Jamesian.”

“Bedeviled by Books in Translation,” Michael Robbins
“As most translators’ prefaces attest, every translation, unless it’s a crib, negotiates in its own way the problem of how to achieve two contradictory desiderata: to be faithful to the original, and to create a work of art in the new language.”

“Masks,” Jake Orbison
“But looking back years later on the word’s full legacy, confessional’s greatest shortcoming is in its implication not for the poets of the past but for those to come. If all of us have taken our clothes off, where do we go from here?”

“Saigon Summer,” Sarah Mansfield Taber
“One summer evening in Saigon in 1974, we were invited to dinner at the home of another U.S. embassy employee, probably a covert operative like my father.”

“Mutually Assured Content,” John Herrman
“But for everyone else—the papers and magazines that became sites, the sites that became blogs, the blogs that became generalist news organizations—accepting the platform bargain is accepting that most of what they did before is legacy and burden. Most magazines never truly figured out the web, and never will.”

Hedgehogs abroad:

“Uber and the Lawlessness of ‘Sharing Economy’ Corporates,” Frank Pasquale and Siva Vaidhyanathan
“One could make a strong argument that France would benefit from more taxi drivers and more competition. But that’s for the people of France to decide through their elected representatives. The spirit of Silicon Valley should not dictate policy for the rest of the world.”

“Checked Out,” Siva Vaidhyanathan
“The Library of Congress, like all the majestic libraries that connect our nation to its history and future, is a temple to the Enlightenment. But it’s more than that.”

Our intern recommends:

“Fitted,” Moira Weigel
“Like confession and therapy, activity trackers promise to improve us by confronting us with who we are when we are not paying attention. The difference is that they produce clarity constantly, in real time.”

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The Hedgehog’s Array: July 24, 2014

hedgehog array logo_FLAT_72dpi[3]Noteworthy reads from the last week:

“Duties of Care in the Study of Literature,” Alex Wong
“How can anyone choose, except at random, what to take for representative? The judgement, the recommendations, the selectiveness of past readers can become, in this matter, a practical aid; ‘can become’, and in reality always do, like it or not. We might as well like it.”

“Indulgences: Counted & Forfeited,” Maureen Mullarkey
“Like any childhood game, my variant of double-entry bookkeeping was played in earnest. Saturday afternoon confession took care of the debit side. My little ledger memorialized the credit side.”

“Caved-in and Chopfallen,” Brett Busang
“It is Witkin’s capacity to both reflect and transform that is his greatest gift. For those of us who look for America in its facades and factories, Witkin’s apocalyptic vision is not reassuring. The old gods have been toppled, but not replaced.”

“John Craske’s Embroidered Life,” Alexandra Harris
“It is hard to tell whether this is a simple or a complicated book: its power lies in its being both.”

“In Praise of Boredom,” Claire Messud
“The need for art, film, and literature to entertain becomes disturbingly pressing: that is its purpose. It’s the reason why we bother with it, and without a reason, who would bother?”

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