A highly scientific fictional approach to ranking musical artists using math

The Internet is always finding arbitrary new ways to compile ranked lists of musicians and their songs. Sure, the content mill demands it, as seen on Pitchfork, AV Club, Ranker, and so many other sites that have built their reputations on such systems. But it's our fault, too— we, the music-loving audience that we are, so eager to compare our preferences to others. No list is ever quite right; even our own personal Definitive Musical Rankings may change over time. Perhaps that's why we consuming new music lists every year, in hopes of finding that one true objective arbiter of our sonic truth.

That search ends today. Because David Steffen has finally found the answer, in his delightful new piece of epistemological fiction about the Horowitz Method, a metrics-based approach to ranking musical groups:

But what mathematical measure? If we were talking about comparing one song with another, it might be easier, for the music itself is inherently mathematical–meter, tempo, time, number of notes, pitches. But a single musical group could have any number of songs, and the number could grow every day—what particular songs would one use to judge a group? Their newest? The whole body of their work? And some bands release songs so regularly that any conclusion drawn would have to be re-examined very frequently. And that’s not even to speak about what particular measure to use which, we know from personal experience, becomes a dispute of its own.

No, if we are going to compare musical groups and expect a somewhat stable outcome, we must not compare their songs, we must compare traits of the group themselves.

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Georgia college students started burning books because someone called them white

Latina author Jennine Capó Crucet recently spoke to students at Georgia Southern University about her novel Make Your Home Among Strangers, about an Hispanic girl who feels out of place at a predominantly white college. According to the student newspaper The George-anne, the conversation was quickly derailed by angry college students who think it's racist to point out when things are racist:

"I noticed that you made a lot of generalizations about the majority of white people being privileged," one respondent said into the microphone. "What makes you believe that it’s okay to come to a college campus, like this, when we are supposed to be promoting diversity on this campus, which is what we’re taught. I don’t understand what the purpose of this was."

For the record, Georgia Southern University has about a 6 percent Hispanic population.

After the event, several students called the author out even more explicitly on Twitter (although those tweets have been deleted, The George-Anne still has the screenshots). Then they gathered together outside of a dormitory and did what awful mobs throughout history have always done: they burned books.

College kids do dumb stuff sometimes. Read the rest

Washington is finally starting to do something about gun violence, just not about mass shootings

The House Judiciary Committee actually held a hearing about gun violence in late September. But you probably didn't hear about it—either because the rest of US politics are so overwhelmingly terrible right now, or because it lacked the dramatic oomph of mass shootings or the inevitable gun ban proposals that always seem to follow.

Mass shootings only comprise about one percent of all gun deaths; we just hear about them more, because they're so damn horrific (though whether they're more frequent now is up for debate). Far more lives lost to suicides and gang-related violence every year. Overall, firearm injuries are the second leading cause of death for people under the age of 18. In other words, gun violence isn't a problem—it's (at least) 5 different problems, with different solutions.

What makes this House Judiciary Committee hearing even more remarkable is that for once they actually spoke with people from communities that are directly affected by these problems. Community-based solutions like this have the potential to save even more lives if you include the right people in the conversations (which unfortunately doesn't happen very often). They also have greater potential to gain bipartisan support. No one's talking about taking guns away, and no one's talking about empowering a disciplinarian police state using fear to keep the local systems in line. They just need funding and support for resources like social work. And that might actually make a difference.

(Thumbnail image via Flickr) Read the rest

Someone at the NRA has been quietly editing Holocaust Denial articles on Wikipedia

Molly Osberg and Dhruv Mehrotra at Splinter have done some great work tracing at least 150 Wikipedia edits back to IP addresses at the NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Like the @CongressEdits Twitter account, which tracked edits from IP addresses on Capitol Hill, it's difficult to say for certain whether these were intentionally duplicitous acts under order from above, or just some bored administrative office worker with a comprehensive knowledge of crystal skulls and stinkbugs.

Given the NRA's long history with the savvy PR firm Ackerman McQueen, however, it's hard to chalk up the selectively-edited articles on Holocaust Denialism, George Zimmerman, or the history of "stand your ground" laws as mere coincidence.

In 2013, a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges after shooting the unarmed Trayvon Martin, and as “stand your ground” laws made national news, a Wikipedia user named SkippG created the first Wikipedia page for Brown v. United States, the 1921 case that set a precedent for Americans with no “duty to retreat” to legally kill someone in “self-defense.” SkippG also attempted some revisions to Marion Hammer’s page, insisting so thoroughly on their edits despite the protests of other editors that their account was later frozen. Coincidentally, a man named Skipp Galythly has been an assistant general counsel at the NRA for 20 years.

It's too bad Splinter will be shutting down soon, the latest casualty of the various clueless finance bros who scooped up the former Gawker Media sites after the company's evisceration by Peter Thiel. Read the rest

Just in time for Halloween, a new Hellmouth opens near Salem

Tewksbury, Massachusetts is about 15 miles south of Salem, New Hampshire and 25 miles west of Salem, Massachusetts. It's also 25 miles north of Watertown, Massachusetts, where Eliza Dushku was born and raised, and 25 miles northwest of South Boston, where famed vampire slayer Faith Lehane (Dushku's character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was born and raised.

Given that proximity, it's the logical place for a Hellmouth to open.

Authorities have officially blamed the problem on a "water main break." But anyone who's seen the third season of Buffy knows this is just a convenient excuse orchestrated by the ascendant demons who work at town hall. While there have not been any reported vampire sightings as of this time, Tewksbury is right next to Wilmington, where Massachusetts' sneakily-privatized and FOIA-immune NEMLEC SWAT Units are headquartered, which is kind of the same thing. Read the rest

Federal judge dangles jail time in front of Betsy DeVos

Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was yet another for-profit university that screwed over hundreds of thousands of people with pyramid schemes that promised a higher education at the end of some labyrinthine maze. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and the U.S. government ruled that any students with outstanding debts should have those debts cancelled.

That was before Betsy DeVos became the U.S. Secretary of Education.

DeVos, the wife of pyramid scheme pioneer Dick DeVos and brother of famed mercenary Blackwater founder Erik Prince, was unsurprisingly unforgiving of the students who were conned by Corinthian. She stonewalled more than 100,000 loan forgiveness applications and continued pursuing debt payments from screwed-over students who couldn't pay them back. In 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim finally told her to knock it off (legally).

Spoiler alert: she didn't listen.

So they landed back in court earlier this week on Monday, October 7, 2019. Judge Kim was (understandably) quite irate at having her court order violated sixteen thousand times by Devos's department. While the issue is still not completely resolved, the judge did threaten the possibility of tossing someone behind bars. From Bloomberg:

"I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions," U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim told lawyers for the Education Department at a hearing Monday in San Francisco. "I'm not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability."

[…]

"At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order."

I'm not holding my breath for DeVos to actually spend any time in jail or prison, of course. Read the rest

Flying T-Rex fossils found in Australia, because of course they were

Scientists in Queensland, Australia have pieced together the most complete pterosaur fossil collection yet—a big-headed reptile  with a 12-foot wingspan they've named Ferrodraco lentoni, or "Butch's Iron Dragon."

"It’s kind of scary when you think their heads are disproportionately large, it would have had a skull maybe 60cm," Adele Pentland from Swinburne University, the lead author on the study, told The Guardian. "To see it walking around on the ground it would have walked on four legs and looked really different to any kind of animal we have today." You can check out an artist's rendering of the derpy-looking lizard-bird here.

The field of dinosaur research is in a bit of a renaissance period, with some three dozen new species discovered this year alone. More importantly: of course a flying mini-T-Rex was found in Australia of all places. After all, this is the land of such natural wonders as mutant eel-sharks, birds that weaponize fire, projectile bull semen, human-sized jellyfish, and more strange spiders than anyone ever wants to hear about, except for that guy who was bit on the penis not once but twice (and still hasn't gained any spider-penis super powers).

In that context, it's frankly surprising that a flying T-Rex hadn't been discovered there until now.

(Image via Luis Rey/Wikimedia Commons) Read the rest

Disastrous gender reveal turns into dark ascension

I don't know who thought that "beating a black balloon with a bat" was the best way to decide and announce a baby's gender for them. But the balloon baby clearly looked at the available options and chose "ascension" instead.

I hope the parents are happy with that, because I'm pretty sure this guy's not having any more kids after this.

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/GloriousFineBergerpicard-mobile.mp4 Read the rest

This new fiction anthology is punk as f*ck

A Punk Rock Future is a brand new fiction anthology featuring 25 speculative sci-fi and fantasy writers smashing the State in whatever fantastical futuristic form that it might take. Editor Steve Zisson (not to be confused with Steve Zissou) was smart enough to realize that a good short story is already like a punk song—fast, effective, and brutally DIY, with a fistful of meaning that explodes in your face with pure undistilled emotion. It only made sense to slam the two together.

The anthology features a setlist of writers with all the scene cred you need, including Nebula Award-winner Sarah Pinkser, who just released her debut novel about an illegal underground music scene; Margaret Killjoy, whose book The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion was nominated for a Shirley Jackson award; and Marie Vibbert, who has published some forty-plus short stories and also attended the Clarion Writer's Workshop with me (where BoingBoing's own Cory Doctorow was our instructor).

We might be trapped in the dystopian cyberpunk hellhole of a future we were promised is children, but another world is possible. So check out A Punk Rock Future, or there's no future for you.

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Ant-facial recognition tech at the Hong Kong protests was an art project

There have been some tweets going around about a "wearable face projector" being employed at the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

It's essentially the same as the scramble suits from Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly—instead of disguising yourself as someone else, it disguises you as everyone else, projecting a constantly shifting visage that drives the facial recognition AI crazy. It certainly makes sense that someone would try to use something like this in Hong Kong, where the mere act of protecting one's identity in public is now punishable by a USD3,200 fine.

Except… it's not from the Hong Kong protests. It's actually an art project by Jing-Cai Liu, an industrial design student at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Liu had come up with the concept of a wearable face projector as an undergrad at the University of the Arts in Utrecht. "In the future, the advertisement could call your name when you walk along the streets," she writes on her website:

Mega databanks and high-resolution cameras in the streets stock hundreds of exabytes a year. But who has access to this data? It is possible that it could have commercial use, hence not only retail companies but also the advertisement industry could be very interested in this data in the coming future. They would hope to gain these personal data and information as much as they can.

[…]

The companies would know your personal interests and may set different retail strategies for you.

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The colonialism behind fantasy's vaguely Irish Elves

Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.

Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.

Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).

The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest

After a police raid, a Nicaraguan cartoonist has found sanctuary in the United States

Positive stories about Latin American immigrants and the United States are difficult to come by right now. But at least Pedro X. Molina and his family have found a happy ending.

Molina is an award-winning political cartoonist, whose scathing satire has been syndicated all across the world. Originally from Nicaragua, Molina was on staff at the Confidencial when their offices were raided and ransacked by police in December 2018. Like most dictatorial leaders, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was none-too-pleased with the Confidencial for doing such terrible things as, well, reporting the truth about his brutal and inhumane actions—you know, like ordering a violent police raid on journalists who dared to criticize him. Read the rest