• Taco Bell is now selling "Jalapeño Noir" wine in select locations

    Taco Bell in Canada has announced that it will now be offering a special Taco Bell-brand house wine at some locations, with the wonderfully puntastic name of Jalapeño Noir.

    The grapes comes from "a vineyard in Ontario," though it's not clear what kind of grapes they are — whether it's actually a Pinot Noir, or something else entirely. According to CNN, the $19 bottle of wine is ripe with "notes of wild strawberry, cherry and beetroot." Whatever it is, it's apparently designed to pair well with a Toasted Cheesy Chalupa.

    The Takeout notes that the bottle in the picture is a 2018 vintage from St. David's Bench, which is based in a wine-producing sub-region of Ontario known for an "early warming in spring, gently sloping bench [a strip of land that runs along the top of a slope], generous precipitation."

    There's something kind of nice about Taco Bell Canada supporting local vineyards though.

    Taco Bell unveils new house wine, Jalapeño Noir [Jacob Bean / The Takeout]

    Taco Bell is now selling its own custom wine [Jordan Valinsky / CNN]

  • Check out this DIY teeth-chattering synthesizer

    The latest bizarre invention from Simone Giertz, the woman once known as "The Queen of Shitty Robots," involves a basic MIDI keyboard and a bunch of those creepy plastic wind-up teeth. The goal was to kind-of try to make each tooth-chatter correspond to a different pitch, so as to actually produce something that sounds sort of musical. That's not exactly how it worked out in the end, but the journey is itself a kind of delightful joke shop gag for analog synthesizers.

    Also, this Wired feature on Giertz is absolutely worth the read, even if you haven't been following her strange shitty robots for years.

    Why the 'Queen of Shitty Robots' Renounced Her Crown [Lauren Goode / Wired]

  • This cool new wine club walks you through terroir, taste, and history with a sommelier's hand-painted maps

    My friend James Sligh is a brilliant sommelier (and writer) with an uncanny ability to talk about wine and figure out exactly what you want to drink. I don't even care for wine (I like malted barley more than grapes), and I've always been impressed at his ability to find precisely the right drink for every occasion—and serve it with a fascinating story that dives deep into regional history. "I fell in love with wine because you can see the entire world through it," he likes to say. "What do you want to think about? Geology? History? Culture, money, chemistry, ethical philosophy? It's all in the glass."

    Unfortunately, COVID-19 means that Sligh won't really be able to show his stuff at any more famous NYC wine restaurants any time soon. So he's found a new way to connect people, wine, and history with the Children's Atlas of Wine. Here's how this unique wine club works:

    Over a weekly slate of unique and changing class topics, we'll explore regions whose connection is obscured by national borders, grape varieties overlooked or forgotten, and emerging producers who picked their first vintage during the Obama administration. We'll learn how to talk about what we like, how to serve and store wine, and what might be fun to cook for dinner after the tasting ends.

    Class kits start at $108 plus shipping, and include food pairing suggestions, a weekly playlist, materials, a link to an hour and twenty minute Zoom tasting with sommelier James Sligh, and three bottles of wine to enjoy during class, afterwards with dinner, or over a few days.

    Here are a few samples of the kind of classes you can get:

    Not Red, Not White. Wine color is a myth. The idea of a couple of boxes that all wine can be sorted into? We made it all up.

    What if we thought of wine styles as sitting on a spectrum, one shading into the next? You don't even have to that far back in time to find a world where this would have been the rule, not the exception.

    But it's not just history. Today, in our present moment of rediscovery and experimentation, wine styles that are somewhere in between can be the perfect balm for the moment, and answer to a changing season.

    Age-worthy pink wines? Wines that are amber, or salmon, or rose gold, or brick-colored?

    We'll taste a few of my absolute favorites, learn how they got that way, and explore how they can help us deal with our own indefinite present.

    and

    + Catalunya + Roussillon + Corbières. National borders can get in the way of us seeing what wine regions have to say to one another.

    We'll drink our way up the Mediterranean coast to find out why Roussillon and Catalunya speak the same language, why Corbières is the freshest part of the Languedoc, and just how many colors of grenache there are.

    It's a zone where we'll find an awful lot of value, a young generation making moves, and brighter, more vibrant wines than you might expect given the climate.

    So these aren't just Yellowtail bottles — Sligh is curating these sessions with bottles that tend to retail between $20 and $35, themed around political and social engagement. Along with each of these classes, Sligh is also selling these gorgeous hand-painted maps of wine regions he's been making in his spare time which look like something out of Lord of the Rings.

    Sligh has been hosting impromptu versions of these classes on Instagram over the past few months, and they're utterly fascinating (even if you don't have the wine to drink along with him). If you're a fan of wine, history, or geography, and looking for a cool new way to learn and drink, I can't recommend it highly enough. They're truly a great way to connect in the pandemic age, and actually learn something while you drink.

    The Children's Atlas of Wine

  • A trans/non-binary Satanist Anarchist just won a GOP sheriff nomination

    Aria DiMezzo joined the Cheshire County, New Hampshire Republican Party two days before the candidate deadline, after learning that their previous nominee, Earl Nelson, was no longer going to run. DiMezzo had previously run against Nelson — and the five-term incumbent Democratic sheriff, Eli Rivera — on the Libertarian ticket in 2018.

    And now, DiMezzo, a self-described Satanist Anarchist who uses they/them pronouns and used "Fuck the Police" as their official campaign slogan, has officially secured the Republican Party nomination for county sheriff.

    "More than 4,000 people went into the voting booth on September 8 this week, and they all filled in the circle by my name despite knowing absolutely nothing about the person they were nominating to the most powerful law enforcement position in the county," they wrote in a blogpost celebrating (read: explaining) their victory. "That's a level of recklessness of which any decent human being should be ashamed."

    They continued:

    I went into it expecting that I would lose the primary to a write-in candidate, because I didn't think that so many voters were just… completely and totally oblivious about who they are voting for.

    Because the fact is that you didn't bother. You trusted the system. You trusted the establishment. You trusted the party. You felt safe. You were sure that there must be some mechanisms in place to prevent from occurring exactly what just occurred. Your anger is misplaced if you direct it at me. Please listen. Your anger is with the system that has lied to you. Your anger is with the system that convinced you to believe in it, trust in it, and have faith in it, when it is completely and utterly broken.

    […]

    I'm running for sheriff because I oppose that very system, and the sheriff has the most hands-on ability in Cheshire County to oppose that system. The system that let you down by allowing me–the freaking transsexual Satanist anarchist–be your sheriff candidate is the same system I'm attacking. I'm sorry, and I know it hurts to hear, but that system is a lie. The entire thing is a lie. It's broken from beginning to end, and my existence as your sheriff candidate is merely how this reality was thrown into your face.

    A few voters who were aware of DiMezzo's gender, religion, and political beliefs tried to rally together a write-in campaign for the local GOP's former candidate, Earl Nelson. But they only secured about 200 votes, compared to the more than 4,000 people who voted for DiMezzo — most of whom, DiMezzo believes, only voted for them because their name was on the ballot.

    After the election victory was announced, someone vandalized DiMezzo's car. "However, claiming vandalism with my insurance company requires me to go to the police," DiMezzo wrote in a follow-up blogpost. "I imagine the police are not very much disposed to assist me on anything right now, and that's just a glaring flaw in the entire system. I'm also running a campaign about exactly how the police shouldn't be contacted for minor things like this, so…"

    DiMezzo goes on to claim that their bank accounts have coincidentally been frozen, further complicating the situation. They did express their gratitude, however, that the bank didn't make them wear a mask.

    According to Free Keene:

    When not running for Sheriff, DiMezzo is a nationally syndicated talk show host on "Free Talk Live", which is heard on over 190 radio stations across the United States. She (sic) also teaches people how to sell Bitcoin and has extensive experience in helping connect people with cryptocurrency.

    'Transsexual Satanist anarchist' wins GOP nomination for NH county sheriff [J. Edward Moreno / The Hill]

    Trans sheriff candidate says car vandalized after story goes viral [Damien Fisher / New Hampshire Union Leader]

    "She-Male" Defeats Longtime Republican Candidate to Face Incumbent Democrat for Sheriff in General Election [Free Keene]

  • A 1969 interview with Frank Herbert breaks down DUNE's white savior complex

    My first exposure to Dune was the David Lynch movie, and then I read the first 4 books in middle school. Being the precocious kid I was, I definitely understood all of the nuances that were going on there, like how the Fremen were obviously an allegory for Native Americans and the coveted spice melange was just a general metaphor for the environment and natural resources and stuff. And obviously the Mahdi Paul "Maud'Dib" Atreides was a good and righteous savior — a hero. I was very smart.

    But e-reading the books in my 20s, it became pretty fucking obvious that I missed a few things in my middle school reading. Like the fact that Paul being a prophesied savior is actually fucking terrible and that the imperialist theft of land, cultural, and resources makes everyone complicit in our own collective downfall. Also the Fremen definitely weren't Native American allegories (oops).

    There's a reason DUNE still holds up. At the same time, it's not without its problematic elements; Herbert had some Freudian issues with women, for example, and the coding of fatness and queerness as evil traits manifesting in Baron Harkonnen was pretty gross. But of all the complaints one can make about the story, the accusations of a "white savior" narrative quickly fall apart.

    Haris Durrani, an author and JD/PhD candidate at Columbia Law School and Princeton University, recently wrote a very in-depth Medium post deconstructing the white savior elements of the Dune-iverse. He covers a lot of ground, and there's a lot to dwell on, especially if you're a Dune fan like me. But his article also pointed me to this 1969 conversation between Willis E. McNelly and Frank Herbert, where Herbert makes clear his distaste of Western Imperialism, and his desire to tear down the Lawrence of Arabia archetype:

    We've ["western man"] set out our missionaries to do our dirty work for us, and then come along behind them with the certain belief that we are right in anything that we do, because God has told us so — God and the person of the avatar.

    It's long, and there's a lot to unpack, but it's pretty fascinating. If you want the gist of it, check out Durrani's full article (which is also not short, though it is shorter). If you're into DUNE, though, it's kind of neat hearing Frank Herbert discuss the book shortly after its release, before it became a phenomenon. This isn't Herbert responding to criticism; this is just him laying out his ideas at the time. And that's pretty cool.

    Dune's Not a White Savior Narrative. But It's Complicated. [Haris Durrani / Medium]

    Image: Shruti Muralidhar / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • A major QAnon hub has shut down after its founder was outed

    On September 10, 2020, the fact-checking site Logically.ai posted a lengthy and fascinating article into how they tracked down the identity of the man behind the so-called "QMap":

    In the world of QAnon, the site qmap.pub is something of a sacred text. It's a site designed to collect Q's posts on other message boards and collate them in a searchable database; over the years, it has grown to include glossaries on themes, profiles on people named across the drops (handily sorted into 'Evil', 'Traitor/Pawn', and 'Patriot'), and even a prayer wall

    Most followers of QAnon tend not to visit Q's posts on 8kun and the 'chan' boards where they are initially posted (the vernacular used on those sites is deliberately exclusionary and newcomers are often put off). This makes qmap.pub a crucial port of call for all QAnon information and a major node in how the movement disseminates its lore. The site has been hitting over 10 million monthly users since April of this year.

    The man behind the QMap is not the fabled "Q" himself ("Q" is actually rumored to just be 8kun owner Jim Watkins, which would depressingly make a lot of sense). The QMap mastermind is allegedly a New Jersey-based IT specialist in his 40s who has worked for CitiGroup and others; confronted by Bloomberg News, the man insisted he had nothing to say about what he believed was a "patriotic movement to save the country."

    As of Saturday, the QMap website was taken down. Hopefully, the same will soon be true of the entire false bullshit QAnon cult movement.

    QAnon Key Figure Revealed as Financial Information Security Analyst from New Jersey [Logically.ai]

    Who Is Jason Gelinas? QAnon Website Goes Offline After New Jersey Operator Identified [Christina Zhao / Newsweek]

    Image: Marc Nozell / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Election workers said she couldn't wear an anti-Trump shirt. So she voted topless.

    The The Boston Globe reports that a woman showed up for the state primary election wearing a "McCain Hero, Trump Zero" t-shirt. Poll workers informed her that this attire was not allowed inside the polling station, as it could be construed as "electioneering." And then:

    [Town Moderator Paul] Scafidi told her that a shirt supporting the American flag was fine, but one featuring a political candidate was not, and she would have to remove the shirt, cover it up, or turn it inside out before she proceeded to the voting booth. Scafidi said he assumed she would go to the ladies' room and come back.

    "She chose a different way," Scafidi said in a telephone interview with the Globe.

    The woman removed her hat and took her shirt off right there in the gym. She wasn't wearing a bra, either.

    "It didn't take her more than three seconds," he said. "I didn't know she had nothing on underneath it."

    Poll workers and voters were shocked, he said.

    "They all went 'Whoa!' " he said. "I was like whatever, just let her go vote."

    What a wonderful way to celebrate the centennial of women's suffrage. As New Hampshire's state slogan says: live free or die.

    N.H. woman votes topless after she was told she couldn't wear an anti-Trump shirt at the polls [Emily Sweeney / The Boston Globe]

    Image: aprilzosia / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Watch this jaw-droppingly wild local news coverage of anti-mask protest in Utah

    It starts with a child parroting false comparisons to the flu. And then it keeps getting worse.

    This meme doesn't even really sum it up:

    A Significant Portion Of The American Public Has Gone Absolutely Bugf*ck [Evan Hurst / Wonkette]

  • New whistleblower complaint alleges that ICE is forcing hysterectomies on detainees

    Dawn Wooten is a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, a private prison owned by LaSalle Corrections that contracts with ICE. Wooten has filed a whistleblower complaint through the legal advocacy group Project South, alleging a variety of medical abuses, neglectful mismanagement, and other horrors. According to the complaint, LaSalle Corrections has been underreporting COVID-19 cases in the detention center; when Wooten questioned this, she was punished with a demotion.

    And then there's this, from Law & Crime:

    Multiple women came forward to tell Project South about what they perceived to be the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies – a surgical operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. Additionally, many of the immigrant women who underwent the procedure were reportedly "confused" when asked to explain why they had the surgery, with one detainee likening their treatment to prisoners in concentration camps.

    […]

    The complaint details several accounts from detainees, including one woman who was not properly anesthetized during the procedure and heard the aforementioned doctor tell the nurse he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her losing all reproductive ability. Another said she was scheduled for the procedure but when she questioned why it was necessary, she was given at least three completely different answers.

    To be clear: this is forced sterilization, and if true, it is actually straight-up Nazi shit. It's also an incredibly dangerous procedure; my mom had a medically necessary hysterectomy 15 years ago, and it nearly killed her. Twice. She still hasn't fully recovered. Forcing someone to undergo a hysterectomy — even if you explained "why" to them, which allegedly has not happened in these cases! — is truly, utterly, nauseatingly inhumane.

    ICE has, of course, denied all of Wooten's claims, saying:

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.

    But it is worth noting that LaSalle Corrections has faced numerous complaints in recent months about similar abuses at different facilities. As The Intercept reported:

    In July, medical staff at the LaSalle-owned Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana submitted a letter to Congress detailing troubling allegations, including that LaSalle management withheld personal protective equipment from both staff and detainees, dismissed positive Covid-19 test results, and ignored symptoms. In the same month, medically vulnerable asylum-seekers detained at Richwood told The Intercept they were handcuffed, pepper-sprayed in the face, and thrown into solitary confinement after protesting the dangerous conditions. One of the men was transferred to River Correctional, another LaSalle-run detention center, where he told The Intercept that management there also neglected to take proper medical precautions to stop Covid-19's spread. Asylum-seekers have described similar abuses at LaSalle-run Winn Correctional Center.

    Of course, even if all of Wooten's claims are substantiated, ICE's denial may still arguably be valid, in a legal sense—if they outsourced the work to a private contractors, then hey, it's not their fault all these horrible things happened, right? They had nothing to do with it, they'll say. They're the good guys! Maybe they'll terminate the contract with LaSalle; maybe the contract doesn't even allow for that. I guess we'll see.

    "A Silent Pandemic:" Nurse at ICE facility blows the whistle on coronavirus dangers [José Olivares and John Washington / The Intercept]

    Ice detainees faced medical neglect and hysterectomies, whistleblower alleges [Kari Paul / The Guardian US]

    'Like an Experimental Concentration Camp': Whistleblower Complaint Alleges Mass Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Center [Jerry Lambe / Law & Crime]

    Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Steve Bauer (Public Domain)

  • From 'Locke & Key' to 'Sandman' — What's the point of an audio graphic novel?

    I recently finished listening to the Audible adaptation of Sandman, the acclaimed comic book series that put Neil Gaiman on the map (thanks in no small part to contributions from artists such as Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Dave McKean). This new full cast audiobook collected the first 20 issues of the 75-issue story (not counting the various spinoffs). I'd read the entire original series before — which is genuinely deserving of its renown — but I was intrigued about how such a stunningly abstract story could be rendered through audio. The all-star cast made it sound all the more worth it. (That, and, well, it'd been about a decade since my last re-read, and as long as the entire universe is utter fucking shambles, it felt nice to revisit something familiar that was still challenging in its own way.)

    But ultimately, I was a disappointed with my listening experience. Not because of the story itself, which still holds up, and offered plenty of new details for me to discover; in all honesty, if you've not read Sandman, and are intrigued by the idea but don't want to read a bunch of graphic novels, I would still recommend this audiobook. As someone who had been previously exposed to these stories, however, I couldn't help feeling let down — not by the writing or the story or the acting, but by the act of adaptation itself.

    While the dialogue and narration from the comic remained intact, this Audible adaptation addressed the change from a visual medium by having Neil Gaiman write and narrate some new descriptions the visuals that would otherwise be rendered in the comic. In other words: I just got to listen to Neil Gaiman tell me (in exquisitely detailed prose, as he is wont to do) what the comic book looked like. As a result, the Sandman Audible adaptation felt less like an adaptation and more of an accessible version of the story with audio descriptions for people with low vision.

    To be clear: I applaud any such effort to be inclusive of people with different disabilities so that we all might enjoy the same stories. But I'm fairly certain that was the original intention of this adaptation. Which made me question: what was the point, exactly? Certainly it helped the story reach a new audience; it is a best seller, and I can't fault anyone for trying to get their story out there. But as far as "adaptation" is concerned, there didn't seem much consideration into how the story might change across mediums. Which is particularly disappointing, seeing as it's literally a story about the Lord of Dreams; if anything, an audio version of Morpheus's tale has even more of an opportunity to manipulate the reader's imagination.

    Don't get me wrong — comic books are capable of some uniquely wonderful narrative tricks that simply cannot be rendered in other mediums. But the opportunity to have Morpheus's story delivered directly through your ears and into your mind feels like such a perfect opportunity to breathe new life into Sandman. Instead, it was just … a description of the comic book. (Which, again: is fantastic, and worth reading, if you haven't.) That, to me, is a squandered opportunity.

    All that being said: I worry that my disappointment in Sandman was the result of skewed expectations set up by another full-cast audio adaptation of a dark fantasy comic book series. I loved Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key when I read it* as a comic, for example. And when I heard there was an Audible adaptation of that book, I was similarly intrigued, and decided to check it out.

    Five years later, whenever anyone asks me for an audiobook recommendation, Locke & Key is still the first thing that comes to my mind.

    Like the Sandman audio graphic novel, the Audible adaptation of Locke & Key features a full cast. But what sets it apart is the sound design. I wish Amazon was better at crediting the directors and audio engineers for these things, because they are especially deserving of accolades in this case. The Locke & Key Audible adaptation goes out of its way to transform the comic book's fantastic visuals into truly immersive soundscapes. Conversations are given a physical place in the Keyhouse, to help the listener understood who is where at any given time. Monsters and demons and magical powers are given their own associated audio cues — effectively rendering Gabriel Rodriguez's art as sound. Some of the dialogue is changed; characters have to be a little more explicit about some things, by necessity. But the Locke & Key audiobook embraces the art of adaptation, and lets this new medium transform the story. It's a different experience than the comic — as it should be! But it's still personal and immersive, just in a different way.

    There's also the fact that: comic books are a visual medium, where artists contribute as much or more to the story than the writers. With Locke & Key, I could feel the presence of Gabriel Rodriguez, as much as I could hear Joe Hill's words. Sure, it wasn't quite the same as his drawn artwork, but at least his contributions were considered, explored, and presented to the listener, even in a different form. By comparison, hearing Neil Gaiman in his own voice describe the visual artwork of Sandman in such exquisite detail made the artists feel extraneous. Their moody contributions are crucial to the original comic — but you wouldn't know it from the Audible adaptation.

    And that all makes me wonder: what's the point of adapting a graphic novel into audio after all? Is it disability access in the form of audio descriptions** — or is it meant to be something more transformative?

    (Coincidentally yet totally unrelated, the Sandman and Locke & Key comics will soon be having their first ever story crossover soon, too.)

    | Sandman on Audible

    | Locke & Key on Audible

    *I fondly remember binging the entire series in 2 days over Christmas at my in-laws' house, and absolutely bawling my eyes out by the end; my mother-in-law looked at me, then looked at my wife, and said, "Your husband's been reading comic books on an iPad for 2 days straight and now he's crying. Is this normal?" The answer, dear reader, was and remains, "Yes."

    **Disability access is important, too. But I feel like it's a different category than simply an "audiobook adaptation." I may be wrong, and I'm happy to be corrected on this point.

  • Facebook announces plans to make a new Facebook that's basically the same as what Facebook was originally

    From Forbes:

    Facebook launched a new 'Facebook Campus' feature Thursday that aims to connect college students with their campus communities, returning the social network to its initial college-only roots as students across the country contend with virtual learning and decreased opportunities for face-to-face socializing amid the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

    Minus the COVID-19 specifics, this is … exactly what Facebook was when it first launched. Zuckerberg made a website to rate hot girls, opened it up to other colleges (but only colleges) as MySpace Lite But Only For The Cool Kids With The Right Collegiate Email Addresses, then it went public and gradually destroyed Western civilization over the course of a decade, and now he's bringing it right back to its roots.

    What a stupid time to be alive.

    Facebook Announces New Campus Pages To Connect College Students Amid Coronavirus [Alison Durkee / Forbes]

    Image: Public Domain via Needpix

  • Facebook is cracking down on livestreamed music performances, and hurting musicians in the process

    My rock band recently released a new EP. And since we can't play any concerts because we're in the middle of a global pandemic that's been horribly mismanaged by authorities and killed hundreds of thousands of people, we decided to celebrate the album's release by hosting a Live Listening Party on Instagram, where we'd play the songs, and then talk about the writing/recording process.

    I included a link there, but I'm not actually sure if it's going to work for you. Because after the event, I heard from a few friends who weren't able to join, and I got a copyright violation notice from Instagram:

    Some people can't view your video because it may contain content owned by [FB Test Page] Rights Manager Music Restrictions.

    This was frustrating, not only because I own all the fucking copyright to my own fucking music, but also because of the weird language used in the notice. Maybe they weren't mad that I was playing my own music, and shut me down for some other reason — I don't know, because I have no idea who "[FB Test Page]" is. (Others have had a similar problem.)

    Whatever the truth is, that vagary is a central part of the problem. Because days later, Facebook announced new formal plans to crack down on "music listening experiences," beginning October 1. The new regulations include these details:

    Use of music for commercial or non-personal purposes in particular is prohibited unless you have obtained appropriate licenses.

    You may not use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience

    We want you to be able to enjoy videos posted by family and friends. However, if you use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience for yourself or for others, your videos will be blocked and your page, profile or group may be deleted. This includes Live.

    Unauthorized content may be removed

    If you post content that contains music owned by someone else, your content may be blocked, or may be reviewed by the applicable rights owner and removed if your use of that music is not properly authorized.

    You may not be able to post or access videos containing music in every country of the world

    We want you to be able to share videos with your family and friends wherever they are, but any music in your video, if it is allowed at all, may not be available in all countries of the world.

    While these guidelines aren't necessarily related to my band's Live Listening Party SNAFU, they're still frighteningly Draconian — essentially banning musicians from doing something as innocuous as uploading their own music videos, lest all of the proper licensing channels be cleared first. This might sound like a practical endeavor for someone like, say, Taylor Swift, who has a massive promotional apparatus at her back; for someone like me, who basically breaks even on distribution costs, it adds a huge layer of administrative difficulty. For example: being denied the ability to use a Facebook-owned social media platform to promote your music to listeners without investing hours and hours ensuring that all the legal Ts are dotted.

    This is particularly — dare I say, egregiously — insulting and frustrating in this era of social distancing due to a global pandemic, when it's already damn near impossible to make any money from live musical performances. Maybe the Dropkick Murphys can monetize a livestream enough to bring in nearly a million dollars (mostly for charity, but still), I consider myself successful if I can cover one month of mortgage payments each year with income from my music. And Facebook just made that goal even more difficult to obtain for me.

    After the initial backlash, Facebook did offer some music video clarity:

    We want to encourage musical expression on our platforms while also ensuring that we uphold our agreements with rights holders. These agreements help protect the artists, songwriters, and partners who are the cornerstone of the music community — and we're grateful for how they've enabled the amazing creativity we've seen in this time.

    Our partnerships with rights holders have brought people together around music on our platforms. As part of our licensing agreements, there are limitations around the amount of recorded music that can be included in Live broadcasts or videos. While the specifics of our licensing agreements are confidential, today we're sharing some general guidelines to help you plan your videos better:

    • Music in stories and traditional live music performances (e.g., filming an artist or band performing live) are permitted.
    • The greater the number of full-length recorded tracks in a video, the more likely it may be limited (more below on what we mean by "limited").
    • Shorter clips of music are recommended.
    • There should always be a visual component to your video; recorded audio should not be the primary purpose of the video.

    These guidelines are consistent across live and recorded video on both Facebook and Instagram, and for all types of accounts — i.e. pages, profiles, verified and unverified accounts. And although music is launched on our platforms in more than 90 countries, there are places where it is not yet available. So if your video includes recorded music, it may not be available for use in those locations.

    But this still doesn't make me feel much better about it.

  • Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and others are trying to censor a Netflix film they haven't seen

    The Netflix blurb for Cuties describes the plot as:

    Eleven-year-old Amy starts to rebel against her conservative family's traditions when she becomes fascinated with a free-spirited dance crew.

    Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, a French Senegalese woman (not unlike the film's young protagonist), the film won the Directing Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival before getting picked up by Netflix — a truly prestigious accomplishment! Ahead of its streaming release, Doucouré told TIME that the movie, "tries to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible."

    This intention was clear to people like Monica Castillo, who reviewed the film for RogerEbert.com, saying:

    Doucouré uses these uncomfortable images to provoke a serious conversation about the sexualization of girls—especially regarding girls of color, the policing of a girl's sexuality, double standards, the effect of social media on kids, and how children learn these behaviors. To do this, the director shows what it looks like for young girls to emulate what they see in music videos and grown-up dance routines. A few times in the film, we see the confused or even disgusted faces of adults watching the younger generation gyrate and twerk, biting their lips or their nail in a suggestive way. It's likely that these girls don't fully understand what those gestures mean, but they see it in pop culture and they imitate it, like several other generations of girls before them. Doucouré also explores some of the emotional tangles that come with wanting to fit in and to be taken seriously, as well as the repercussions that come with acting youthfully impulsive.

    Sounds provocative, sure, and challenging — but certainly topical and relevant. Sounds like Doucouré deliberately tried to make a film that tackled a difficult subject, and may have even done so successfully.

    But you wouldn't know it from the right-wing media machine, which picked up on the film's provocative artwork and immediately declaring it to be a dangerous work of snuff that promotes the exact agenda the director was deliberately rejecting— which people who actually watched the film seemed to understand.

    Ted Cruz, for instance, now wants to weaponize the apparatus of the State and send the DOJ after Netflix for producing and distributing "child pornography."

    Ted Cruz certainly knows about porn, having previously tweeted about his porn-watching habits. He also certainly knows about the legal precedent for defining pornography as established by the Supreme Court in 1964—the impossibly vague qualifications of "I know it when I see it."

    Er go, if the Republicans who claim to believe in small government decide that a film in which there is no sexual intercourse between children is, indeed, "pornography," they can make a legal argument in defense of that.

    Here's Josh Hawley, ostensibly concerned about the very same topic as the film's director:

    Tom Cotton, who just a few months ago spoke out in favor of a heavily armed military invasion of Democrat-leaning American cities, similarly told conservative rag The Daily Caller: "I urge the Department of Justice to take action against Netflix for their role in pushing explicit depictions of children into American homes."

    Critic Emily Nussbaum summed up this non-troversy well:

    The summer of "Cancel Culture" and boy-who-cried-wolf claims of "liberal censorship" has finally come full circle. And I, for one, am relieved that Republicans are once again nakedly revealing themselves as the censorious authoritarians they have always been.

    'This Film Is Sounding an Alarm.' What Cuties Director Maïmouna Doucouré Wants Critics to Know About Her New Film [Suyin Haynes / Time]

    Why 'Cancel Netflix' is trending [Julia Alexander / The Verge]

    "Cuties" Review [Monica Castillo / RogerEbert.com]

  • Disney's live-action "Mulan" remake pissed off human rights activists, which pissed off the Chinese government

    As we mentioned yesterday, China has banned media coverage of Disney's new live-action remake of Mulan. The most expensive movie ever directed by a woman (Niki Caro), with a cast full of famous Chinese and Chinese-American actors should have been a huge win for, well, everyone, right? So what the hell happened?

    After some stumbles through Development Hell and pandemic-related movie theatre closings, Mulan was released last weekend as a premium VOD rental on the Disney+ streaming channel. Astute observers noticed that Disney gave a shout-out to the Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee in the credits of the film. While the film was mostly shot in New Zealand, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy explained that a few, mostly exterior scenes were shot in China, in "an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country for this historical period piece."

    On the surface, this may sound good and well. It certainly makes sense that Disney had to get permission from the PRC government to film there; and it's normal to thank a government film department in the credits of a movie if they helped facilitate something to make that movie happen.

    The problem is that the Chinese government let Disney film adjacent to an ongoing genocide against the largely-Muslim Uighurs.

    The Associated Press sums the situation up a very calmly journalistic way:

    Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the remote Xinjiang region have been locked up in camps as part of a government assimilation campaign launched in response to decades of sometimes violent struggle against Chinese rule. Some have been subjected to forced sterilization and abortion, and in recent months, ordered to drink traditional Chinese medicines to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

    Chinese authorities defend the camps as job training centers, though former detainees describe them as prison-like facilities where they were humiliated, beaten and deprived of food.

    In other words: it's genocide.

    This, understandably, pissed a lot of people off — people who otherwise probably would have been very excited about Mulan, no less!

    And now, in turn, the Chinese government's pissed, too. After all, they did a favor for Disney, right? But all these American media outlets are focusing on this whole ongoing fucking genocide thing, instead of lavishing praise on the Chinese government's generosity. Generosity towards a multinational entertainment conglomerate, I mean; not towards the Uighurs, who, it's worth repeating, are still suffering from an ongoing genocide at the hans of the Chinese government. So now the government of the People's Republic of China is banning media coverage of the movie in an act of petty vengeance against everyone who said, "Hey man, ethnic cleansing is kinda shitty."

    China is a huge market for American films (which is also part of why China's trying to build their own movie industry). Some US movie production companies have reportedly gone out of their way to pander or self-censor their films in order to make sure they get released in China, so they can make those big bucks. But right now, it's looking like that might not be going so well for Disney and Mulan, something I'm sure they were counting on. Oops.

    Disney criticized for filming 'Mulan' in China's Xinjiang [Juwon Park / AP News]

    Why Calls to Boycott 'Mulan' Over Concerns About China Are Growing [Amy Qin and Edward Wong / The New York Times]

    Exclusive: China bars media coverage of Disney's 'Mulan' after Xinjiang backlash – sources [Reuters]

    Disney CFO Admits Filming 'Mulan' in Xinjiang Has 'Generated A Lot of Issues' [Variety]

    Disney's 'Mulan' Disaster Highlights Dangers of China Deals [James Palmer / Foreign Policy]

    What is happening in China? [Bryan Wood / PBS News Hour]

    The Uighurs and the Chinese state: A long history of discord [BBC] 

    Image: SFT HQ / Flickr (CC 2.0)

  • Phoebe Bridgers' NPR Tiny Desk Concert is a glorious presidential apocalypse

    The latest edition of NPR's Tiny Desk Home Concerts features singer/songwriter/National Treasure Phoebe Bridgers, who found a pretty incredible way to elevate the artform — first with the delightfully tacky Green Screen rendition of the Oval Office, and then, at the end, when it all falls apart in a cathartic collapse. (Seriously, it's worth watching all the way to the end of her performance of the aptly-titled closing song, "I Know The End.") The only thing missing is Bridgers' now-iconic skeleton costume.

  • A Black student with a disability was suspended for "bringing a gun to school" for holding an airsoft pistol during remote learning

    A teacher at Grand Mountain School in Colorado Springs called the police on a 12-year-old Black student after noticing—over a video call—that he was "waving" a toy gun—specifically, a Zombie Hunter Airsoft Pistol, according to The Washington Post.

    That student, Isaiah Elliott, received a five-day suspension, according to local news outlet KDVR. As noted in the police report filed by the county Sheriff's department, this was better than the alternative—the police informed Elliott's father, who was home at the time, that they could have filed criminal charges against his son.

    The implication that they may have shot and killed his child like another 12-year-old Black boy playing with a toy gun remained unspoken.

    Here are some more frustrating details from the Washington Post:

    When Isaiah's father viewed body camera footage of the tape from his son's class, he said it only showed Isaiah sitting on the couch, moving the green toy gun from one side to the other — not waving it as the teacher alleged.

    Over the following few days, Elliott and her husband spoke with the school's principal and vice principal, as well as a district superintendent. They would not budge on Isaiah's suspension and disciplinary record.

    […]

    Elliott also criticized the school for recording the students in class. She said the school didn't get permission from parents.

    According to the Post, Isaiah also has ADHD, which is a legally recognized disability that some people cope with by fidgeting or "stimming" with things (like, say, a toy gun). While much attention is paid (and rightly so) to the fact that Black Americans are disproportionately killed by police, it's worth noting that the largest demographic of people killed by police are those with disabilities. Which means this teacher placed young Isaiah Elliott in double jeopardy by calling the police despite the fact that she admittedly recognized his toy gun as a toy.

    And now, Isaiah's disciplinary record is tarnished, which will likely set him back even further.

    A Black seventh-grader played with a toy gun during a virtual class. His school called the police. [Jaclyn Peiser / Washington Post]

    Student suspended for waving toy gun during virtual class [Andy Koen / KOAA News 5 Southern Colorado]

    Image via YouTube