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Archive for January, 2009

THE REVOLUTION WILL BE COMMERCIALIZED: Q&A With NYT’s Consumed Columnist Rob Walker

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

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elizabethflynnavatar2.thumbnail.jpgBY ELIZABETH FLYNN Rob Walker wants you to think before you sink your money into another superficial purchase. Walker — who writes the Consumed column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, and author of Buying In, a highly-readable dissection of the dark art of branding — began his career focusing on advertising and media campaigns in 2000, writing the Moneybox column and other contributions for the online magazine Slate. Through his research into corporate strategies to incite a buying frenzy in consumers, he started asking some questions: If consumers had become, as many studies proclaimed “hyperaware” and “immune” to traditional advertising strategies, why had “the personal savings rate [fallen] into negative territory for the first time since the great depression?”

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At the same time corporations were reporting higher earnings than ever before. Walker, noticing this “disconnect between what the experts say and how they behave,” came up with some fundamental questions about the relationship between “who we buy and who we are,” that are at the heart of Buying In. “When marketing experts in particular talked about the birth of the new consumer, what they were really talking about was the reinvention of their own business.” This new consumer hyper awareness, combined with the accelerating progression of new media technologies spawned a new form of advertising —  meta by design, stealthy in execution, and viral if all goes well — that is so non-traditional that Walker had to create a new name for it: murketing. In Buying In, Walker describes murketing as “a blend of murky and marketing, murketing has two parts. The first refers to the increasingly sophisticated tactics of marketer who blur the line between branding channels and everyday life.” The second is the “frank complicity” with which the “new consumer” was complicit, sometimes wittingly but often less so, in the marketing and creating of brands. Phawker reached Walker at his home In Savannah, Georgia.

 

PHAWKER: How has the recent economic collapse affected “murketers” advertising strategies?buying_in.jpg

 

ROB WALKER: The new trend in marketing is that it is not as message driven. There’s a change towards the broad trends of using non-traditional marketing against the traditional pitch. Now companies are thinking about placing more emphasis on value. I do notice a different tone in a traditional 30 second ad – but the point of the book has much more to do with subtle changes. The reason that I wrote the book was about consumers who were smart and savvy  and immune to savings pitches — trying to say it’s beneficial to have a healthy skepticism about pitches. The message changes with the times.

 

PHAWKER: In Buying In you talk about the inner conflict of wanting to feel like an individual and simultaneously wanting to feel like one is part of something larger than themselves. It’s an ancient problem, but in Buying In you have it couched in distinctly modern terms.

 

ROB WALKER: Yeah I agree that it’s both an ancient and contemporary thing. I’m not so much suggesting that humans have changed in some way — but the way that branding has evolved, buying something is really easy to do — much easier than it is to connect with a community in some meaningful way, which takes time and effort. Like belonging to a church, or the army or something, which requires sacrifices. It’s much easier to just buy something. Marketing messages have evolved over time to be about these big ideas rather than functionality — that’s just powerful messaging that’s around us all day long.

 

robwalkerconsumed.jpgPHAWKER: You also talk about the differences between instrumental materialism and terminal materialism*. Do you think a green approach can be described as instrumental materialism? Like in one of your interviews you talked about how many companies would do disingenuous things like just slap a tree on their label and consider their product green.

 

ROB WALKER: One of the things that I like about DIY is that its largely coming from the bottom — the creators have pretty sincere intent, it’s not just a matter of changing the package design to suggest an ethical dimension that isn’t particularly legitimate. DIY is also not preachy, it’s not exclusive — you can be involved in it as a consumer without having to agree ethically, or be a creator yourself. Recently I found out that “natural” is the most used word on packaging with absolutely no regulations to define what that means. The whole idea that “Main Street has gone green” that was so popular a year ago is being severely tested right now, because the buying paradigm has shifted to the lowest prices no matter what. The fact that Wall Mart’s revenues are way up doesn’t suggest to me that the green idea is holding up really well.

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WEEKEND UPDATE: The Good News Flower Hour

Friday, January 30th, 2009

The latest edition of our five-minute week-in-review, wherein I’m a flower that reads the news. This is by far the best one yet. Hats off to our partners in crime at Collateral News and Woodshop Films.

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HEAR YE: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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Now playing on PHAWKER RADIO! Why? Because it’s GREAT! That’s why.

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Inky/DN Seeking $10 Million Bailout From State

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Newspaperchart_042808_1.jpgNEWSBUSTERS: We all wondered if it would happen. NB readers said it would very soon. NB author Tom Blumer even predicted this would be the year for it. Now the largest newspaper in Philadelphia is requesting a bailout. In a perfectly ironic fashion it took a lawsuit for the public to learn that the Philadelphia Inquirer is seeking $10 million dollars from the state of Pennsylvania. The bailout request was revealed after the school filed suit against the paper for a series of articles questioning the school’s use of government funds.Now, according to an interview between the Philadelphia Bulletin and Pennsylvania Governor Democrat Ed Rendell’s press secretary, there is little doubt that the Philadelphia Inquirer is indeed requesting a $10 million bailout. The request comes at a time of great financial trouble for the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Media Holdings. The company has been missing its debt payments since June and is in “technical default” according to the Bulletin. MORE

INQUIRER EDITORIAL: Everyone, it seems, is looking for a bailout. Many leading financial firms have already received billions from the federal government, and some are already back for a second helping. Likewise, many states and cities are counting on stimulus funds from the feds to help balance their budgets. So let’s remember that with any and all of the recommendations for the latest $825 billion stimulus inkyeditboard.thumbnail.jpgpackage – whether it’s the increased spending favored by Democrats or the tax cuts preferred by Republicans – the money is all borrowed and will have to be paid back by taxpayers. That’s why it is best to make sure the money is properly spent and not earmarked for a wish list of pet projects by a long line of pols. [...] The wish list for some of the stimulus funds seems dubious at best. For example, should stimulus spending include hundreds of millions for contraceptives, or for new grass on the Washington Mall, or billions to revamp federal offices? Any stimulus spending should go to create jobs or to provide assistance for those hurt by the recession. Earmarking funds for dubious pet projects has no place, especially when resources are so limited. It’s incumbent upon the Obama administration and Congress to ensure that the taxpayers get the best bang for their bailout bucks. MORE

Newspaperchart_042808_1.jpgRELATED: Amidst parent Tribune Co.’s struggle to emerge from bankruptcy protection, the Los Angeles Times said Friday it is cutting 300 positions and will shrink the number of daily sections to four from five. The paper’s publisher, Eddy Hartenstein, informed staff in a memo on Friday, explaining the cuts “are designed to help us deal with the economic realities of the day.” MORE

TWITTER: Denver-based Clarity Media Group said it’s closing the Baltimore Examiner after its Feb. 15 editions.

MRBIGGLESWORTHLOVESYOU: Earlier this week Village Voice Media suspended publication of all its comic strips across its entire chain of alternative weekly papers in a iraqtomtomorrow.gifcost-cutting move. Let me restate this so the significance sinks in: Village Voice Media suspended publication of ALL its comic strip across its ENTIRE CHAIN of alternative weekly papers. For those who don’t know, Village Voice Media owns fifteen papers in key cities like New York and LA and is a huge component of the alternative comic strip lifeblood. With roughly one hundred thirty alternative weekly papers in the USA, shutting out fifteen papers accounts for a drop in 12% of the print outlets alternative comic artists can see their work published. This is a huge blow to the alternative comics industry. In addition, across the board, the other 88% of papers have been cutting comics in hopes of staying afloat in the tough economic times. On top of the loss of these fifteen papers, a lot of the cartoonists who were syndicated by them have already, or soon will, lose outlets in the one hundred other non VVM-owned papers. This is a big deal. MORE

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CINEMA: Dancing In The Dark

Friday, January 30th, 2009

waltz_with_bashir1_1.jpgWALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008, directed by Ari Folman, 90 minutes, Israel)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC

Like last years’ Persepolis, the true-life mystery Waltz With Bashir delivers the West some much-needed Middle Eastern history in an easy-to-digest cartoon format. Make that “easier-to-digest” format, because even when told with this expressionist mix of flash and hand-drawn animation this difficult-to-shake tale of the toll of war lures us to stare at some truly grueling memories that would be unbearable on film.

With interviews collected as documentary then sculpted and rendered in animation, filmmaker Ari Folman presents the stories of his comrades from the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War. Folman fought in Lebanon when he was only 19 and he believes he may have taken part in a massacre against Palestinians yet his memory seems partially erased. The film follows Folman’s travels as he collects pieces of memory from his still traumatized fellow soldiers in order to get a glimpse of his role in this tragic play.

The animation, at times crude but beautiful, presents itself as the perfect vehicle to tell this story; it can show the scope of the Lebanon’s destruction without needing a budget of millions and the sometimes garish and colorful imagery is particularly well-suited to capture the surreal quality of front line warfare. Bashir is most exciting when it veers into the dreams and fantasies of it soldiers, like the virginal soldier who, shipboard and headed to battle, imagines floating away on a giant nude woman or the twenty-seven hellhounds who haunt the dreams of a man who was once forced to shoot down a neighborhood’s pets during a mission.

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EARLY WORD: Velvet Goldmine

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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Mercury Music Prize winner

ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS

KESWICK THEATRE

MON., FEB. 2, 8 PM

 

In their first area appearance since 2005, ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS will perform their internationally-acclaimed blend of highly dramatic, emotional and lyrical chamber cabaret at Glenside’s Keswick Theatre on Mon. Feb. 2 @ 8 PM .ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS will be touring in support of their highly-anticipated January 2009 release, The Crying Light. Their last full-length album, 2005’s I am a Bird Now, won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize for the best album of 2005 over rival nominees the Kaiser Chiefs, and was greeted with positive reviews. At the helms of this ensemble is vocalist ANTONY HEGARTY. The pioneering soul singer has been compared to everyone from Nina Simone to Lotte Lenya. Having first presented his songs in after-hours cabarets at the Pyramid Club in New York City, ANTONY assembled THE JOHNSONS, an ensemble featuring a string trio, piano, bass and drums, and produced his first concerts at The Kitchen and Knitting Factory in New York City. Since then, the group has found themselves successfully bridging the gap between avant-classical music and the blues resulting in sold out performances & standing ovations from Carnegie Hall to Los Angeles Disney Hall.

ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS: Candy Says

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BOOK EXCERPT: Tear Down This Myth

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Phawker is proud to bring you this excerpt from Daily News scribe/Attytood blogger-in-chief Will Bunch’s soon-to-publish Tear Down This Myth: How The Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics And Haunts Our Future, a meaty, pointed dissection of the dream factory mythologizing of Ronald Reagan’s presidency — how this is being done, why, and the impact such historical revisionism has on our current politcal landscape. The short answer to all the above can be found the following quote from George Orwell, which kicks off the book:

‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'” — George Orwell, 1984

The long answer, in part, is as follows:

There has always been a place for mythology in American democracy – the hulking granite edifices of the reaganteardownthismyth.jpgCapitol Mall in Washington are a powerful testament to that – but this nation has arguably never seen the kind of bold, crudely calculated and ideologically driven legend-manufacturing as has taken place with Ronald Reagan. It is a myth machine that has been spectacularly successful, launched in the mid-1990s when the conservative brand was at a low ebb. It has operated not in secrecy but at a low enough frequency that its central premise has infiltrated our current politics to the extent that few bothered to protest at the bizarre framing or misstatements of events like the Simi Valley debates.

The docudrama version of the Gipper’s life story, successfully sold to the American public, helped to keep united and refuel a right-wing movement that consolidated power while citing Reaganism – as separate and apart from the flesh-and-blood Reagan – for misguided policies from lowering taxes in the time of war in Iraq to maintaining that unpopular conflict in a time of increasing bloodshed and questionable gains. Despite what viewers saw and heard in the 2008 campaign, the modern conservative agenda is not based on the once sentient flesh-and-blood Ronald Reagan who ruled America a generation ago. Instead, a brand new Ronald Reagan was cast out of bronze — just like the cowboy model with the Stetson hat at the Simi Valley library entrance — in order to fit the modern conservative agenda, and cover up its flaws.

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PAPERBOY: ‘We’re All Polar Bears Now’ Edition

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week, PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

ON THE COVER

CP: Believe in Green, but forget about the Iggles. Paul Glover, a Temple prof and a flagwaver for the green economy, lays out an idealistic but reasonable vision for Philly. I’ll flag him for an unnecessary Rocky reference, but credit him with a smart, optimistic take on the city’s future. He looks at nearly every aspect of city life and how it can be transformed. Here’s his take on transportation, as a sample:

Challenges: Philadelphia’s rail system was ripped out for cars, which clog streets and slow emergency response.cp_2009-01-29.jpg Cars smash, kill, maim. They inhale paychecks and taxes, exhale rotten air. They compel war for oil. We’ll become stronger and sexier as pedaling bipeds.

Next steps: To risk your life for your country, ride a bike. Hop on the bus. Revive street rail with ultralight passenger cars. Restore regional freight routes. Raise transit funds with local gasoline tax. Make pathways for bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, Segways, scooters and wheelchairs. Restore canals. Zone for mixed use, to reduce travel needs. Live near your work. Employ multitudes making mosaic sidewalks. Convert paving to playgrounds.

Local heroes: PhillyCarShare, Bike Share Philadelphia, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works and Bike Church, Critical Mass bike rides, bike shops, Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, Pennsylvania Transit Coalition, PenTrans. Even SEPTA: Trains are clunky and late, but they’re there.

World champions: Carfree Cities conferences, carfree.com, World Naked Bike Ride, Urban Ecology.

Big picture: The first cities rebuilt for proximity rather than speed will win this race.

Remember Obama on the campaign, talking about investing in green technology? This is the action that rhetoric promised. Look past the weird, disarming cover art — polar bears don’t strike me as a local concern — and dig into Glover’s rundown. Don’t let the composting toilets throw you off; it’s not whacked-out hippie stuff. It could save this city.

PW: Usually mental health issues are Liz Spikol’s beat, but this week, she turns it over to Jacob Lambert for a highly personal story. Lambert takes on the complex issues of care and hospitalization for his older brother David, who suffers from acute bipolar disorder. It’s different from a fully-reported story, but it’s still very real.

…In blocking him access to most of my life, I became inured to the unpleasant realities of his. I had a brother three times a year: on his birthday, on Thanksgiving and on Christmas; the rest of the time, I was effectively an only child.

pw1_29_09.jpgEarly last September, that changed. I was forced to confront my brother’s reality when he was released in error from Essex County Hospital Center. Following three days on the streets and benches of New York, he hopped a bus to Philadelphia—crossing state lines and, in the process, plunging my parents, my wife and me into the swirling bureaucracy of Pennsylvania’s mental healthcare system.

 

I was at home in Bella Vista when he called. Last I’d heard he’d “eloped” from the hospital and was wandering his old East Village haunts. This was nothing new; many times over the years, his ward status had been upgraded, giving him a bit of freedom—and he’d simply walk off, winding up in Manhattan, then Bellevue, then back at the hospital he’d started from.

Today, though, he wasn’t calling from a pay phone on Bleecker Street. He was on a cell phone at Seventh and Pine, saying he was browsing apartments, was owed $100,000 and would be buying me a new Mercedes. He sounded as bad as ever, and the call ended when he set down the phone to talk to a stranger.

Jacob and his family struggle to provide adequate care for David, while an interstate tangle of bureaucracy — thanks for nothing, New Jersey — keeps them from a solution and threatens to dump him out on the streets. It’s so wrenching because there are so few options, and many of the figures in the story, like the cop on South Street or the doctor at Belmont psych hospital, don’t seem to get it. Props to Jacob for telling the story straight and to PW for giving him the space to do it.

INSIDE THE BOOK

CP: The city is now more carnivorous (yes, another steak house), less fashionable (R.I.P., Shirt Corner), and less safe to be born in (“What are you doing, creating Calcutta here?”). Glad I’m not a cow, a wearer of wide lapels, or a fetus. On Saturday night, it’ll get a little weirder, too. Man, that show is gonna be sweet.

PW: Racism everywhere! In Yiddish racial slurs and lame caricatures of American Idol judges (point taken, though — Antony’s awesome). Plus, the best food on four wheels and all the college-scene stuff the spring semester has to offer. The Ivy League without grades or exams? I’ll take it.

WINNER: PW takes it, because the last thing I want to see on the cover is more snow and ice. I’m done with this shit. Wake me in late March. I’ll be in my cave.

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OBJECTION: Today’s Inky Homeless Story

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY This morning’s Inquirer story on Camden’s tent city strikes me as a step backwards in the paper’s coverage of the homelessness issue. Last year Inky reporter Jennifer Lin made incredible strides towards covering the region’s homelessness problem the way it should be covered. Chronic street homelessness is a mental health and addictions crisis. There are professionals in the field who are applying new methods of attacking the problem, which has resulted in precipitous drops of people living on the streets in cities around the country. This new method of attacking homelessness is called “housing first” and it involves bundling permanent housing resources with the kind of intensive community mental health and addictions resources that can help someone coming off the streets, stay off the streets.

Housing first has a substantial track record of efficacy at this point. It was refreshing to see the Inky finally give the subject the serious treatment it deserved, their reporters finally connecting with the serious professionals who do this work. In years past the paper has continually spotlighted the charity groups and do-gooders whose efforts to help the homeless, while certainly not without merit, aren’t going to get people out of the cold and into permanent homes. During that time other newspapers in other cities were out in front covering the housing first story, and winning accolades for doing so.

I was hoping Jennifer Lin would be the permanent regional homelessness reporter; the Inky likes to run homelessness coverage a lot, especially during the winter, so having someone who’s plugged into what’s happening in the field strikes me as important. It also strikes me that reporter Matt Katz is not plugged into the what’s happening in the field and didn’t try very hard to find out. He starts by framing his story as a mental health story, describing the delusions one of the tent city’s occupants. He then proceeds to describe the personal stories of a number of other homeless men and women, many of whom also suffer from mental illness. However, at no point in the article does Katz contact any mental health professionals in the region to find out what, if anything, is being done in Camden, and what needs to be done to try to fix the city’s mounting homelessness problem. [continues after the jump]

OBSCENE: Homeless Man Encased In Ice, Meanwhile Life Goes On All Around Him

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DETROIT NEWS: It starts with a phone call made by a man who said his friend found a dead body in the elevator shaft of an abandoned building on the city’s west side. “He’s encased in ice, except his legs, which are sticking out like Popsicle sticks,” the caller phoned to tell this reporter. “Why didn’t your friend call the police?”

“He was trespassing and didn’t want to get in trouble,” the caller replied. As it happens, the caller’s friend is an urban explorer who gets thrills rummaging through and photographing the ruins of Detroit. It turns out that this explorer last week was playing hockey with a group of other explorers on the frozen waters that had collected in the basement of the building. None of the men called the police, the explorer said. They, in fact, continued their hockey game.

Before calling the police, this reporter went to check on the tip, skeptical of a hoax. Sure enough, in the well of the cargo elevator, two feet jutted out above the ice. Closer inspection revealed that the rest of the body was encased in 2-3 feet of ice, the body prostrate, suspended into the ice like a porpoising walrus.

The hem of a beige jacket could be made out, as could the cuffs of blue jeans. The socks were relatively clean and white. The left shoe was worn at the heel but carried fresh laces. Adding to the macabre and incongruous scene was a pillow that gently propped up the left foot of the corpse. It looked almost peaceful. MORE

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HEAR YE: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

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Now playing on PHAWKER RADIO! Why? Because it’s GREAT! That’s why.

Of all the bands to come out of the Elephant 6 collective — that loose-knit cross-country cabal of weedy bus-station transcendentalists and grass-stained pranksters — Neutral Milk Hotel was the least beholden to classic psych-rock neutralmilkalbumcover.thumbnail.jpgtemplates, yet somehow managed to evoke and advance them all at once. On 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Jeff Mangum’s mewling sunshine Superman melodies are colored by bare, ruined choirs of singing saw, fuzz bass, mariachi horns, bowed banjo, accordion, home organ and Salvation Army marching band brass. Produced by the Apples in Stereo’s Robert Schneider, these harrowing, heart-tugging tunes follow Mangum’s fractured yelp, soaring on wax wings toward the sun only to land softly on a surrealistic pillow of sound fashioned out of enough obscure instrumentation to give your average ethnomusicologist a Viagra woody–zanzithophone, euphonium, uilleann pipes and a shortwave radio. Like Jack with his magic beans, Neutral Milk Hotel proved that with little more than a pocketful of seeds and stems, you could grow a beanstalk to heaven. – JONATHAN VALANIA

neutralparishilton_1.jpgRADIO EXILE: The story of Neutral Milk Hotel’s short existence has been told and told well (see Kim Cooper’s wonderful 33 1/3 book on the subject).  What is untold, and in many respects, far more interesting, is the influence of Neutral Milk Hotel.  There are five major themes that spring forth from Neutral Milk Hotel that you see repeated time and time again.  Jeff Mangum and his crew did not synthesize these themes; all existed prior to the formation of the band in the mid-‘90’s.  But, going back to the black hole analogy, all the matter in the universe existed before it collapsed into a singular point in space and time.  Similarly, these five pre-existing themes all collapsed into a singularity known as Neutral Milk Hotel before they were expelled outward into the musical universe, altered and defined by the impact of Neutral Milk Hotel. MORE

BONUS TRACK: Wilco“King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1″ [mp3]

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL: Holland, 1945

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CNN: We all suffer occasional lapses in memory. Some people suffer severe neurological conditions, such as homer_brain.thumbnail.jpgAlzheimer’s, that rob them of their ability to form memories or remember recent events.Three new studies shed light on the way the brain forms, stores and retrieves memories. Experts say they could have implications for people with certain mental disorders. Newly born brain cells, thousands of which are generated each day, help “time stamp” memories, according to a computer simulation by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and the University of Queensland in Australia. The research was published in the journal Neuron. These cells do not record an exact, absolute date — such as January 28, 2009 — but instead encode memories that occur around the same time similarly. In this way, the mind knows whether a memory happened before, after or alongside something else. Neuroscientists believe that if the same neurons are active during two events, a memory linking the two may be formed. MORE

Newspaperchart_042808_1.jpgEDITOR & PUBLISHER: Just two weeks after Gannett instituted a mandatory one-week furlough for all employees, a major regional chain of MediaNews Group is doing the same. The Bay Area News Group–East Bay, which includes nine daily papers outside San Francisco such as the Oakland Tribune, is informing staffers that they will have to take an unpaid week off during February or March, according to a memo first posted on the Poynter.org Romenesko site. The note, from David Rounds, president and publisher of the group, states: “In a further effort to help offset the continuing decline in revenue and position the company for future financial success while mitigating further job losses, I am announcing the implementation of a mandatory one (1) week furlough for employees to be scheduled during the period beginning February 1, 2009 and running through the month of March. All executives and management of the Company will be included. Each employee’s department head will determine the actual week an employee is furloughed.” MORE

Newspaperchart_042808_1.jpgPHILLY MAG: [Brian] Tierney offered himself up as The Man Who Would Save Philadelphia’s Newspapers at a tumultuous time. In the years just before he purchased the Inquirer and Daily News, frequent cost-cutting had become the industry norm. Employees, mostly reporters, were shed like unwanted fat. Revenue was in free fall. Philadelphia’s papers earned the Knight-Ridder chain a $100 million profit in 2004 but only $76 million in 2005, and were on course for just $50 million when Tierney purchased them the next year. But Tierney is a former advertising and public relations executive, and words like “decline” and “fall” aren’t part of his vocabulary. And so the savior walked into the Inquirer building speaking not of retrenchment, but of expansion. He said local ownership would provide an antidote to the toxic requirements of Wall Street, which demanded ever-increasing profits. And when he first took to a podium in the Inquirer building, he made a particularly grand promise: “The Next Great Era in Philadelphia Journalism,” he said, “begins today.” Legacy time.

Now, less than three years later, it’s all gone to hell. Circulation has fallen. In early 2008, Tierney warned union filthy_inky_box.jpgrepresentatives of “a dire situation” if costs weren’t cut by 10 percent. The papers have slashed more than 400 staff members across all departments since he took over. According to Newspaper Guild representative Bill Ross, Tierney once shook up a management meeting by barking “I will not lose my fucking house over this!” And Ross says a couple of people emerged from a private meeting with the CEO claiming that he’d spoken to them, in his 12th-floor office, with a baseball bat in his hands. Ross also adds that in January, Tierney took to patrolling the parking garage, watching to see what time employees were arriving to work and asking managers about those who were late. “That’s what I’m getting calls about now,” says Ross. “He’s walking around the parking garage. If he gets hit by a car, it’ll be his own fault.” Tierney’s ownership group, Philadelphia Media Holdings, stopped making interest payments to its creditors over the summer. Thirty-five further editorial layoffs were announced in December. No one knows what tomorrow will bring — except that some tomorrow could mark the end of Philadelphia’s newspapers. MORE

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, clearly we’re seeing the end of newspapers, and in a way we’re seeing the end of broadcast news also. So it was this radical movement to this new medium. That’s where people get their news. The digital world is the news world now. And I think that’s incontrovertible. What’s curious is that there have yet to be any really successful native news applications online. In essence what we [as news consumers] have available are the following: the automated aggregators, the Yahoo or Google news feeds or aggregators, then we have the legacy brands – the NYTimes/MSNBC/CNN and so on – and we have blogs.

napoleanphawker_copy.jpgWe don’t really have anything that begins to be comparable to the evening news. And remember in the history of news, news isn’t really a fractured medium. People like to get the same news that everyone else is getting. That’s sort of one of the points about news – I know what you know. So I thought there was a real opportunity to create a mass market, online news-outlet.

My thesis here is that while the nature of the news consumption and news distribution is changing, certain habits that have always been constant would remain constant; which is to say that people want news efficiently and quickly, unlike most news online which demand a huge amount of time, attention, and sorting. [...] I thought the key would be that news had to be entertaining, and efficient. I thought that the conceit that people want unedited and unfiltered packaged data is probably not true. It may be true for some people, but most people probably don’t. So I thought:
Okay, let’s look at this medium. What are the key changes in this medium? And one of the key changes of course is that the thought that news would come from one source is over; it’s archaic. So look at what this medium does – bringing together all these sources for one thing – and combine that with what remains constant. MORE

PHAWKER: No shit, Sherlock.

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BURN AFTER READING: CIA’s Algerian Station Chief Accused Of Drugging And Raping Two Muslim Women

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

spywhocametweaked.jpgABC NEWS: The CIA’s station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News. The suspect in the case is identified as Andrew Warren in an affidavit for a search warrant filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by an investigator for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Officials say the 41-year old Warren, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September. The affidavit says the first victim says she was raped by Warren in Sept. 2007 after being invited to a party at Warren’s residence by U.S. embassy employees. She told a State Department investigator that after Warren prepared a mixed drink of cola and whiskey, she felt a “violent onset of nausea” and Warren said she should spend the night at his home. When she woke up the next morning, according to the affidavit, “she was lying on a bed, completely nude, with no memory of how she had been undressed.” She said she realized “she recently had engaged in sexual intercourse, though she had no memory of having intercourse.” MORE

THE FUGS: CIA Man

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WIKIPEDIA: The Fugs are a band formed in New York City in 1965 by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Soon afterwards, they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of the Holy Modal Rounders. The band was named by Kupferberg, from a euphemism for “fuck” used in Norman Mailer‘s novel, The Naked and the Dead. A satirical and self-satirizing rock band with a political slant, they have performed at various war protests — against the Vietnam War and since the 1980s at events around other US-involved wars. The band’s often frank and almost always humorous lyrics about sex, drugs, and politics have caused a hostile reaction in some quarters. Their participation in a protest against the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s, during which they purportedly attempted to encircle and levitate the Pentagon, is chronicled in Norman Mailer‘s novel, Armies of the Night. MORE

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Google Launches Diagnostic Tools That Allow Users To Determine If Your ISP Is Rationing Your Web Access

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

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PC MAGAZINE: Is your ISP throttling your Internet connection or is it just time to get a new computer? How much bandwidth are you actually using? Are you getting the Internet speeds promised by your provider?  These may seem like basic questions, but they are not easily answered. At the root of last year’s Comcast network management debacle was whether or not the cable provider was blocking access to file-sharing Web sites. Comcast said no, the Federal Communications Commission said yes, but we never got a clear answer.

Measurement Lab (M-Lab), a new open platform announced Wednesday, is looking to clear up that confusion. google_cartoon.thumbnail.jpgM-Lab is the brainchild of Google, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), and the PlanetLab consortium. It will allow a platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools in order to share data about their accuracy and reliability.

At this point, M-Labs is in the proof of concept stage. When initially deployed, it will provide three tools on three servers in one location and expand beyond that. Those tools include: a network diagnostic tool, which reports the upload and download speeds and also attempts to determine what, if any, problems limited these speeds; a Glasnost, which detects whether your ISP is performing application-specific shaping; and network and path application diagnosis (NPAD), which diagnoses some of the common problems affecting the last network mile and end-users’ systems.

In the future, M-Labs will also deploy DiffProbe, which attempts to detect if an ISP is classifying certain kinds of traffic as “low priority”, and NANO, which attempts to detect if an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, apps, or destinations. MORE

coxTORRENT FREAK: Cox, the third largest ISP in the U.S, is none too fond of BitTorrent users. Previously we reported that they disconnect alleged copyright infringers without warning. Today, Cox announced a new ‘network management’ trial where P2P, Usenet and FTP users will be slowed down when the network is congested. Cox is known to manage its network by slowing down BitTorrent users, or by making it impossible for them to share files with others. Comcast was slapped by the FCC last year for a similarly unfair treatment of BitTorrent users, but Cox managed to get away relatively unscathed, even though it was using the same TCP RST packet forging techniques. Cox has no intention of stopping the traffic slowdowns in 2009, it will just use different methods. MORE

riaa_paranoia_1.jpgCNET: AT&T and Comcast, two of the nation’s largest Internet service providers, are expected to be among a group of ISPs that will cooperate with the music industry in battling illegal file sharing, three sources close to the companies told CNET News. The Recording Industry Association of America, the lobbying group representing the four largest recording companies, said last month that it had enlisted the help of ISPs as part of a new antipiracy campaign. The RIAA has declined to identify which ISPs or how many. It’s important to note that none of the half dozen or so ISPs involved has signed agreements. The companies are “skittish” about negative press and could still back out, said the sources. But as it stands, AT&T and Comcast are among the companies that have indicated they wish to participate in what the RIAA calls a “graduated response program.”  An RIAA spokesman declined to comment, and a Comcast representative said he wouldn’t confirm the company’s participation. The RIAA may disclose participating ISPs as soon as next month, according to a music industry source, adding that AT&T and Comcast are expected to be part of the group. MORE

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COMPUTER WORLD: Google Inc. late yesterday launched an updated version of Gmail that lets users access their gmail_1.jpgaccounts without an Internet connection. The updated Gmail hosted e-mail service is designed to load in a browser even when the user doesn’t have an Internet connection, according to Joyce Sohn, a Google spokewoman, in a company blog. The updated service, which the company said was developed in its Gmail Labs, will give flight to users who have been wanting to get some work done while on a plane, for instance. Now, even without an Internet connection, users can read e-mail, write new ones and archive others — all while 30,000 feet in the air. MORE

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Massive deficits could force the post office to cut out one day of mail delivery, the postmaster general told Congress on Wednesday, in asking lawmakers to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week. If the change happens, that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to Saturday mail delivery. mailman.thumbnail.jpgPrevious post office studies have looked at the possibility of skipping some other day when mail flow is light, such as Tuesday. Faced with dwindling mail volume and rising costs, the post office was $2.8 billion in the red last year. “If current trends continue, we could experience a net loss of $6 billion or more this fiscal year,” Potter said in testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee. Total mail volume was 202 billion items last year, over 9 billion less than the year before, the largest single volume drop in history. Massive deficits could force the post office to cut out one day of mail delivery, the postmaster general told Congress on Wednesday, in asking lawmakers to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week. MORE

zombieTV.gifFORBES: Chalk one up for retailers and landfill operators. Congress on Wednesday failed to delay the transition to digital from analog television in the United States after legislation to do so failed to muster sufficient support in the House of Representatives. That is expected to encourage consumers to dump their old television sets and buy new ones. The legislation would have delayed the transition to June 12 from Feb. 17. It got a majority of the votes, mainly supported by Democrats, but failed to achieve the required two-thirds in favor. MORE

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SEE NO EVIL: Judge Dismisses Graffiti Beatdown

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

police_brutality.jpgDAILY NEWS: A Common Pleas judge – like another judge before him – dismissed all charges yesterday against two former Philadelphia police officers accused of punching and kicking a graffiti vandal in Feltonville two years ago. After an 80-minute hearing involving two new witnesses, plenty of objections by high-profile defense attorneys, and impassioned arguments, Judge Frank Palumbo ended the case by announcing: “Discharged.” The two ex-cops, Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III, both 30, then left the courtroom and were congratulated by their former colleagues. The two declined comment. Fortunato “Fred” Perri Jr., who represented the men with his partner Brian McMonagle, said: “We’re thrilled.” Perri said Hill and Fitzgerald had been fired from the force and are seeking to get their jobs back.

The preliminary hearing against the two on aggravated assault and related charges was first heard in November before Municipal Court Senior Judge Francis P. Cosgrove, who had similarly dismissed all charges. The District Attorney’s Office then refiled the charges against Hill and Fitzgerald, who were accused of beating graffiti vandal David Vernitsky and fracturing his jaw about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 26, 2007, near 4th Street and Wyoming Avenue, after they observed him spray-painting a wall of a business. MORE

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