When the gods dance...

Friday, May 31, 2013


A newly released, captivating film clip brings to colorful life the streets of New York City—in the summer of 1939. You read that right: The color footage, which comes from Romano-Archives and was recently released on the Web, is 74 years old.
The description on YouTube states: “New York City, summer 1939. Rarely seen recently surfaced amateur movie, filmed by a French tourist, Jean Vivier, in 16mm Kodachrome. Great conservation state and incredible quality!”
That's for sure. The tourist video shows the hubbub of city life from downtown Chinatown to midtown to uptown in Harlem, and points in between. The men wear straw hats. Women wear full-skirted dresses. Pina coladas, advertised for 5 cents a drink, are being quaffed.
The elevated subway train, which no longer exists in Manhattan—part of the line on the city's west side has become the High Line park—lumbers overhead. Children splash about in the Washington Square fountain in the East Village. Double-decker buses pass by. The 30 Rock building looks unchanged.
Kodak amateur movie cameras had been available since 1935. According to the company’s website, “KODACHROME Film was introduced and became the first commercially successful amateur color film. It was initially offered in 16 mm format for motion pictures; 35 mm slides and 8 mm home movies followed in 1936.”
Although Kodak had introduced sound on film in 1937, the clip from the French tourist doesn’t have sound; a score was later added.
At the time this film was taken, Technicolor was being used on two classic and popular movies from 1939: “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”


Soaring Tablet Shipments Great News For Digital Music Companies

iPad Music Technology market research firm IDC this week upgraded its tablet forecast for 2013 to 229 million units, a 59% increase over 2012, while total tablet shipments are projected to exceed those of portable PCs this year and the entire PC market by 2015. As reported by Billboard, this is good news for some of the biggest players in digital music, especially Apple, which had a 40% "device" share in the first quarter of this year, while Google's Android operating system powered the most tablets overall. As more and more consumers purchase these portable devices, they increasingly are being used both to download and listen to music. "Tablets surpassing portables in 2013, and total PCs in 2015, marks a significant change in consumer attitudes about computer devices and the applications and ecosystems that power them," Ryan Reith, Program Manager for IDC's Mobility Trackers, said in a statement. "IDC continues to believe  PCs will have an important role in this new era of computing, especially among business users. But for many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC." [Full story: Billboard]
Digital Music: The Audience Is Listening, But Firms Still Lose Money

Internet Radio The number of users and the amount of revenue in the industry are on the rise, and the competition among companies to capitalize on the digital music streaming industry is far from over. That's the assessment of the New York Post, which this week reported that music-industry source IFPI announced that global revenue from digital music for record labels totaled $5.6 billion in 2012, up from $5.1 billion a year earlier. The challenge for streaming companies, the Post says, is monetizing this audience, since consumers are accustomed to listening to music for free, thanks to so-called "freemium" models offered by such companies as Pandora. These models might just be working, however, as Pandora last week reported its  year-over-year first-quarter 2013 revenue rose 58%, to $128 million, thanks to largely to mobile advertising. The company's closest competitor, Spotify, counts 20 million active users and has a healthy advantage in the marketplace, thanks to its relationship with Facebook. "Spotify is clearly gaining market share from Pandora and others," says Sam Hamadeh, founder and CEO of financial research firm PrivCo. "Although Spotify continues to lose vast sums of money annually, its investments in growing both free and paying users are clearly paying off. And since Spotify has raised $286 million in venture capital funding, the company can continue to lose money to gain market share - at least until the supply of new capital dries up." However things shake out for individual companies, one thing is certain: the audience is listening. As consumer research firm Ipsos Media says, 62% of internet users have used a licensed digital music service in the past six months, a figure that rises to 81% among consumers ages 16-to-24. [Full story: New York Post]
Human Or Algorithm: Who's The Programmer In The Digital Age?

Cloud Computing Virtually every digital music company today touts a massive library filled with millions of tracks, but size of the collection actually may not matter when listeners try to sort through it to find what they actually want to hear. According to a study conducted by Latitude Research and OpenMind Strategy, 80% of music fans still discover new songs through terrestrial radio, which traditionally maintains very tight playlists, and 94% of 13- to 17-year-olds say they tune in weekly. Of course, many radio companies have largely turned this process over to computers that generate a playlist, but in most cases a music director, programmer, and/or consultant is involved.

This is a challenge for such services as Pandora and Spotify, whose playlists largely are determined by mathematics and algorithms that eliminate human touch and emotion. Jimmy Iovine - chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records and co-founder of Beats Electronics - says he hopes to address this issue by blending "math with emotion" in his new streaming service code-named Daisy. "There's an ocean of music out there, and there's absolutely no curation for it," he said at a recent music conference, explaining that Daisy will employ a team of "experts" who he believes can program a music service more effectively than a computer.

"What fans want is actually not every song in the world in their pocket; what they want is something awesome to listen to," adds Daisy CEO Ian Rogers, who emphasizes what radio programmers have been saying for years: it takes a human ear and human emotions to choose what songs to play.

Another variable in the "human vs. algorithm" equation also may be found in the accessibility of the music itself. In other words, terrestrial radio has served as the curator of the music most listeners have grown up with, and this human "filter" may ultimately determine the success or failure of a digital music company. [Full story: Hollywood Reporter]

Shift To Digital Music Lessens Importance Of Album Artwork

Sgt. Pepper Most music fans over 40 have no difficulty naming their five favorite album covers, but many Millennials and Gen Xers who came of age during the digital era might be hard-pressed to even know what album art is. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but when music increasingly is purchased via the iTunes Store or listened to on Pandora, record artwork - and its importance in contemporary culture - is at risk of being left behind. As Tone Deaf's Adeshola Ore writes, "Compare the iconic sleeve to The Beatles' 'Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,' with its numerous famous faces - designed to be viewed on the large scale canvas of a vinyl sleeve - to a tiny square on your mp3 player's screen. The loss of detail is not insignificant." She points out that there has been a tendency for such contemporary artists as Justin Timberlake or Daft Punk to focus on a portrait for their cover image, designed to better suit the standard CD-sized but which still translates reasonably well to a smaller, digital size." Additionally, "with the migration to online streaming services like Spotify and Deezer, which are becoming more and more popular by the day, we're seeing a shift towards people accessing music as opposed to owning it, creating a further detachment to the music's artistic presentation," Ore continues. "Spotify's 20 million worldwide users generally see the album art as just another image on the Spotify app page, squished into the corner amongst advertising, text, and search bars. With these changes to presentation naturally comes the loss of the importance of album artwork. Cover art provides a way for the artist to visually represent their message or theme in the music. They add that extra dimension, making it richer and the message stronger." [Full story: Tone Deaf]
Mixcloud Relaunches iPhone Mix Tape App To Compete With Spotify

Mixcloud Online streaming company Mixcloud this week announced the launch of Mixcloud for iOS 2.0 as it looks to further expand into the mobile streaming market. The redesigned app, which replaces (naturally) the 1.0 version, is designed to compete directly with Spotify and Rdio (also naturally) with a focus on creating mix tapes. The service has signed up some of the U.K.'s most popular DJs, including Paul Oakenfold and Fatboy Slim, who use the service as a platform for sharing their mixes. Mixcloud users, who the company says now totals 10 million, can use the app to follow their favorite DJs, be alerted when new music is uploaded, browse by genre, find new music via a "discovery" tab, and share mix tapes via Facebook and Twitter. "We've built a dedicated platform for DJs and radio presenters, and we're really excited about launching the ability for people to listen in the gym, on the bus, or anywhere on the go." said Mixcloud co-founder Mat Clayton. Mixcloud for iOS 2.0 is available to download now, and the firm is working on a new Android app and potentially will develop a version for Blackberry 10, as well. No app for Windows Phone is in the works. [Full story: The Inquirer]

Al Bell Set To Make Major Recording Industry Announcement
Al Bell
Almost all the "i"s have been dotted and the "t"s are all but crossed on Al Bell's new industry-shaking venture mentioned here last week, but the attorneys say he can't reveal anything until all the signatures are in place. In fact, he's already heard from many artists, producers, and executives who are waiting to get going in this newly re-charged recorded music industry, and as soon as the lawyers give him the "thumbs-up" to discuss what he's doing, he can reveal everything. Meanwhile, Mr. Bell is moving forward rapidly with the details of his new venture, and he asks everyone who has contacted him to be patient. Please check back here next week for the full announcement....if the lawyers are willing, that is!

Problem Witness: A Case to Make Prosecutors Personally Accountable

The New York Criminal Court (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

It wasn't much of a case: Queens prosecutors wanted to prosecute a woman for having falsely reported her car stolen in a bid to collect on theft insurance. A non-violent crime. Small-time really.

But the prosecutors went to unusual lengths in 2008 to try and make the case. They tracked down a person they thought had information about the alleged fraud, told her she was under arrest, and over the course of two days interrogated her in a room in the Queens District Attorney's office. The woman, Alexina Simon, was not a suspect. She was, in truth, nothing more than a potential witness.

Today, Simon is the named plaintiff in a federal case that has reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case is noteworthy for two reasons:

It shines a light on the issue of what are known as material witness orders, a poorly understood aspect of New York's criminal justice system in which people who are potential witnesses to crimes can be detained, evaluated and perhaps compelled to disclose what they know.

The case is also seeking a remedy that those concerned about misconduct by the country's district attorneys have long sought, namely that individual prosecutors be held personally liable for their misdeeds.
Lawyers for Simon have argued that the prosecutors in the case failed to do what is required when such material witness orders are granted by a judge — bring the witness before that judge and make sure that witness has a lawyer. Simon, they say, had no meaningful information about the alleged fraud. That might have been sorted out had proper procedures been followed, they say. In all likelihood, they suggest, prosecutors not only would have figured out that she had no information, but also that she, owing to a mix up in names, was not the person they were actually looking for.

Instead, Simon says she was detained twice — arrested first at work and then at home the following day — and questioned for hours without a lawyer.

Lawyers for the Queens prosecutors have insisted Simon willingly cooperated and thus the warrant they had obtained, and the requirements that came with it, didn't apply. They argue further that, even had the prosecutors erred, they were, under the law, immune from being held personally liable for their misconduct.

A district court judge ruled for the prosecutors, holding that the broad protections given to law enforcement officials as they pursue cases applied in this instance. But the case was appealed, and since then, a brief has been filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in support of the district court's ruling and another has been submitted by defense lawyers in opposition. A decision is expected soon.

The issue of the use and misuse of material witness orders came under scrutiny after 9/11. Federal authorities used the warrants to lock up any number of people they suspected might have information about terror investigations. A subsequent lawsuit that sought to hold former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally liable for the abuse of material witness orders made it to the Supreme Court, which held that Ashcroft was immune.

The use of material witness warrants in state cases has garnered far less attention and the Simon case has to date been a relatively obscure one. But a lawsuit brought by a man who says he was wrongly prosecuted for murder could give the use of material witness warrants in state prosecutions an explosive airing.

Lawyers for Jabbar Collins, who spent 16 years in prison before prevailing in a rare federal petition for his freedom, have accused Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes of running what amounts to his own civil jail system. Collins's lawyer, Joel Rudin, has charged in court papers that he has evidence Hynes's office routinely and illegally detained witnesses to compel and sometimes coerce testimony.
Hynes's office has denied the assertion.

For Rudin and other defense lawyers, the misuse of such warrants — locking people up until they tell a story the prosecutors need told to make a case — could be a central cause of the kinds of wrongful convictions that, again and again, have been uncovered across the country in the last decade or so. And they argue that the problem is not likely to be corrected unless prosecutors can be held personally responsible.
The abuse of such warrants, Rudin wrote in a brief that is part of the Simon case before the appeals court, "threatens the rights of individuals held as material witnesses to prompt arraignment, representation by counsel, and an independent determination of their status." Granting prosecutors immunity when they abuse the warrants, he wrote, "would deny aggrieved individuals any compensation or other remedy for their constitutional injuries and would encourage law enforcement authorities to continue such practices."
Dubstep Dispute from Fluxel Media on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Team picks apart structure of HIV’s shell

"The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection," says senior author Peijun Zhang. (Credit: Wellcome Images/Flickr)

U. PITTSBURGH (US) — The first description of the 4-million-atom structure of the HIV’s capsid, or protein shell, could lead to new ways to fight the virus.

The findings are highlighted on the cover of the May 30 issue of Nature.
“The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection,” says senior author Peijun Zhang, associate professor of structural biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “This approach has the potential to be a powerful alternative to our current HIV therapies, which work by targeting certain enzymes, but drug resistance is an enormous challenge due to the virus’ high mutation rate.”

Three neighboring hexameric assembly units in the HIV capsid. (Credit: University of Pittsburgh)

Previous research has shown that the cone-shaped shell is composed of identical capsid proteins linked together in a complex lattice of about 200 hexamers and 12 pentamers, Zhang says.

But the shell is non-uniform and asymmetrical; uncertainty remained about the exact number of proteins involved and how the hexagons of six protein subunits and pentagons of five subunits are joined.
Standard structural biology methods to decipher the molecular architecture were insufficient because they rely on averaged data, collected on samples of pieces of the highly variable capsid to identify how these pieces tend to go together.

Instead, the team used a hybrid approach. They took data from cryo-electron microscopy at an 8-angstrom resolution (a hydrogen atom measures 0.25 angstrom) to uncover how the hexamers are connected, and cryo-electron tomography of native HIV-1 cores, isolated from virions, to join the pieces of the puzzle.

Collaborators at the University of Illinois then used their new Blue Waters supercomputer to run simulations at the petascale, involving 1 quadrillion operations per second, that positioned 1,300 proteins into a whole that reflected the capsid’s known physical and structural characteristics.

Three-helix bundle

The process revealed a three-helix bundle with critical molecular interactions at the seams of the capsid, areas that are necessary for the shell’s assembly and stability, which represent vulnerabilities in the protective coat of the viral genome.

“The capsid is very sensitive to mutation, so if we can disrupt those interfaces, we could interfere with capsid function,” Zhang says. “The capsid has to remain intact to protect the HIV genome and get it into the human cell, but once inside it has to come apart to release its content so that the virus can replicate.

“Developing drugs that cause capsid dysfunction by preventing its assembly or disassembly might stop the virus from reproducing.”
The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation funded the work. Researchers from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the University of Central Florida, in Orlando, collaborated on the project.

Source: University of Pittsburgh 

Straight from the Source

DOI: 10.1038/nature12162

Half of Americans below or near poverty line

The Census Bureau says 15 percent of the country is living in poverty, but the reality is much worse

Half of Americans below or near poverty line (Credit: AP/Robert F. Bukaty)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet
AlterNet The Census Bureau has reported that 15% of Americans live in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009 
Analysis of  Economic Policy Institute data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous  47 percent, the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later 
Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An  OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year  decline in wages has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty. 
The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to  130% of the federal  poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.
Even the Census Bureau recognizes that its own  figures under-represent the number of people in poverty. Its  Supplemental Poverty Measure increases, by 50%, the number of Americans who earn between one-half and two times the poverty threshold.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America. 
A family in the top half, making $60,000 per year, will have their income reduced by a total tax bill of about $15,000 ($3,000 for  federal income tax and $12,000 for  payroll, state, and local taxes. The  Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau agree that food, housing, and transportation expenses will deduct another $30,000, and that total household expenditures will be about $50,000. That leaves nothing.
Nothing, that is, except debt. The median  debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family  net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.

5. Putting it in Perspective 
Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for  cuts, just  20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the  Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the  foodhousing, and education budgets combined.

Arguments about poverty won’t end. Neither should our efforts to uncover the awful truth.

Is Success Killing the Porn Industry?

By David Rosen

It's harder to make profits in porn in the digital world, the 21st-century medium of porn distribution.
When was the last time you watched a porn flick? It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman, straight or gay, or whether it was a "romantic" or a “gonzo” video. Chances are you watched it on a digital TV, computer or mobile device like a smartphone or tablet, and that you accessed it via an Internet connection.

According to one estimate, there are nearly 25 million porn sites worldwide and they make up 12 percent of all websites. Sebastian Anthony, writing for ExtremeTech, reports that Xvideos is the biggest porn site on the web, receiving 4.4 billion page views and 350 million unique visits per month. He claims porn accounts for 30 percent of all web traffic. Based on Google data, the other four of the top five porn sites, and their monthly page views (pvs) are: PornHub, 2.5 billion pvs; YouPorn, 2.1 billion pvs; Tube8, 970 million pvs; and LiveJasmin, 710 million pvs. In comparison, Wikipedia gets about 8 billion pvs.
Anthony also reports that men make up more than four-fifths (82%) of porn viewers while women consist of less the one-fifth (18%). He estimates the average length of time spent on Xvideo at 15 minutes. From an aesthetic perspective, he notes that most people receive their digital video feeds using low-resolution streaming.  

Sometimes the porn industry recalls Mark Twain’s famous line, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” In June 2012, Guardian columist Louis Theroux analyzed “the declining economics of the pornography industry.” Reporting on the January 2013 Adult Entertainment Expo, David Moye, writing at the Huffington Post, picked up the chant and warned, “porn industry in decline.” But is the porn industry in decline or yet again restructuring due to technological innovation and marketplace changes?

The porn business is like an old Sally Rand fan dance performance, with performers suggesting a lot while showing very little. It is nearly impossible to get real numbers from porn companies, as few are publicly traded. Estimates as to the size of the business range across the board. The website TopTenReviews claims that, in 2006, the worldwide porn market topped $97 billion, with the U.S. making up $13.3 billion. It argues, “the internet is not the most popular form of pornography in the United States. Video sales and rentals accounted for $3.62 billion in revenue in 2006 while internet pornography raked in $2.84 billion. Magazines were the least popular.” The world has changed since ’06.

The Guardian’s Theroux does not offer an estimate as to the size of the porn industry, but warns, "some time around 2007, the ‘business of X’ started going into a commercial tailspin.” Huffington’s Moye cites estimates from Theo Sapoutzis, the head of the Adult Video News (AVN), who claims that the porn business made $10 billion in 2012. Last year, CNBC claimed that porn businesses, led by Vivid Entertainment, Digital Playground and Manwin, “generate roughly $14 billion in revenue per year that in 2012.”  

The porn industry is facing a period of significant restructuring. Porn theatres and XXX shops catering to the “raincoat crowd” and the risquĂ© have all but vanished; the DVD, the old cash-cow release platform, is in rapid decline for both porn and conventional movies. Digital video streaming is the 21st-century medium of porn distribution.
Most commentators identify five factors contributing to the predicament now facing the commerical porn industry: (i) the widescale pirating of copyrighted porn and its illegal resale and posting by opportunistic websites; (ii) the ease of producing do-it-yourself (DIY) amateur porn videos; (iii) the enormous increase of “free” porn sites; (iv) the resulting change in business economics; and (v) the ongoing recession with cuts discretionary spending, especially among a certain sector of the male audience.  

This restructuring has led to the closing of many commerical porn companies and cuts in jobs and fees to porn workers. Not unlike other once-analog media industries – e.g., newpaper, magazine and book publishing – porn is struggling to make the transition to digital online publishing.

“The current economic crisis besetting the porn industry began to emerge around 2005,” says Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist at the University of Southern California who has spent over 10 years studying the industry. “2005 was one of the last years that things looked good for the industry, at least from the outside,” she adds.“Things started to visibly change after that.”  

She identifies piracy as the key factor fueling the crisis. She points out that the proliferation of “free” stolen content cut into cash flow, but the industry’s inability – or unwillingness – to effectively deal with the problem turned a serious cold into a cancer. Only a handful of companies took early action. “Digital Playground is an example of a company less impacted by piracy,” Tibbals reflects. “They engaged a variety of strategies early on to protect their content.”  

The 2008-2009 recession, the sluggish recovery and the rise of the Internet compounded the problem of piracy. This was mirrored in the decline in DVD sales and the drop in DVD price points. Tibbals notes that in the good old days, a high end three-disc box set could go for upwards of $69.95, while more “ordinary” titles would sell for $29.95. “Today, only an elaborately produced title with great source material and huge star power will go for $30 or $40 – something like the Avengers XXX or The Dark Knight XXX,” she points out. “Price points drop off steadily after that. Today, you’re lucky to get $14.95.”  

Piracy and the economic crisis led to dozens of porn companies in the Los Angeles area, the nation’s porn production capital, either closing or being absorbed by bigger players. (California and New Hampshire are currently the only two states in which commercial porn production is legal; it is technically illegal to shoot content in Arizona, Florida and other states.)

Since the first porn photographs were introduced in the 1840s, each new technology destablized – and revolutionized – what is considered “pornography.” This is evident in the great analog revolution of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The sexual imagery conjured by newpapers, magazines, books, radio, records, movies, television, self-printing cameras, photocopyers and homevideo fashioned the modern erotic sensibility. Now, yet again, with the digital revolutions of the late 20th- and early 21st-century, pornography is being recast.

The analog and digital revolutions share two attributes. First, each makes availability to an unprecedently-wider audience what was once considered “obscene” works, originally reserved for the few, often grandees. Second, each technology expanded porn “aesthetics,” the depiction of a greater range of previously unacceptable sex practices.  
A century-plus ago, in 1896, the first “porn” film was shown in New York City at the Koster & Bials Music Hall. It was William Heise’s classic, The Kiss, which runs 16 to 51 seconds (depending on version). It depicts a closeup of John Rice and May Irwin passionately kissing. Exploiting the latest moving-image technology of the day, “vitascope,” this truly new pornographic imagery was projected onto a large screen in a dark, dank movie theater.  

The display of larger-than-life sex must have been thrilling, even overwhelming. Early movies must have felt like a cascade of images reinforcing the complexity, confusion and rawness of daily life. A newspaper critic of the day exclaimed, "Magnified to gargantuan proportions, it is absolutely disgusting. ... Such things call for police intervention.”

A half-century later, in post-Depression and post-WWII America, the iconic images of female sexual fantasy were represented by Marilyn Monroe’s provocative innocence in a swimsuit and Bettie Page threatening in a S&M outfit; they were decried by sexual puritans as immoral. Measured against today’s erotic standards, they seem so tame, so innocent, so all-American.

Walter Benjamin recognized that the photography engendered the aesthetic sensibility of the modern age. A photo extended image reproduction from the natural to the “manmade” or manufactured substances, specifically chemical-based processes. Photography introduced a new way of capturing and rendering an image as well as a new way of seeing, and thus a new category of art ... and artist, the photographer. It fashioned the modern Western aesthetic sensibility of the last two centuries. (The early porn postcard has essentially the same dimensions or aspect ratio, 4.5" by 2.3”, as today’s smartphone.)
The technologies of modern pornography have followed two twin paths. One path involves “obscene” content created to feed the technologies of centralized creativity, the one-to-many media of radio, television/cable and movies. Much of it is regulated by the government, whether by the FCC or the courts when distribution involves “public” or over-the-air broadcast media, media sent through the U.S. mail or retail operations barred by local ordinances. Broadly speaking, this is commercial porn.
The other path involves decentralized creativity, from the earliest photography to today’s DIY or user-generated-content (UGC) digital online porn. This second path is expressed in the adoption of a number of groundbreaking analog techologies that empowered the user’s ability to produce and distribute porn. The Polaroid camera, introduced in 1948, enabled the first-generation DIY still-image pornogapher; the Xerox copier of the ‘60s enabled the unlimited reproduction of black-and-white pornographic images; and by 1986, some 30 percent of the homevideo market consisted of DIY porn content.

These second path techologies seek to empower the autonomous media maker. These makers have grown in number and production capability with the introduction of low-cost digital production tools, most notably (relatively) inexpensive cameras and Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing program. This second path was further empowered with the widescale adoption of an easily  and cheaply accessed Internet. The Internet has turned out to be the next-generation “public” media, an open -- mostly unpoliced -- distribution medium. Porn is produced and accessable at an historically unprecdented scale.   

In her telling 1967 article, “The Pornographic Imagination,” Susan Sontag identified the underlying force of sexual desire. She observed, “tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness.” Its force is truly superhuman, “pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one’s consciousness, for death itself.” Sontag grasped the negative dialectic of erotic desire.

Since its Puritan founding, the U.S. has never known how to deal with sexual passion, especially expressed in the changing forms of media representation. Today, many embrace Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s quaint phrase defining pornography, “I know it when I see it." Stewart was seeking to distinguish between soft-core and hard-core porn and refused, apparently for moral reasons, to specify the differences. Ruling on an allegedly obscene movie, Stewart concluded the sentence, “… and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” The 1964 case, Jacobellis v. Ohio (378 U.S. 184), involved a French import, The Lovers (Les Amants).  

Sontag published her article three years after Stewart’s opinion. Reading them with a half-century’s hindsight, they seem like voices coming from different planets. They had very different understandings of pornography, let alone sexuality. In the intervening half-century, Stewart’s pre-consumer revolution Protestant innocence was superceded. (We even have a Supreme Court justice made famous for his porn viewing practices.) Today’s sexual culture, what Sontag would have called its pornographic imagination, has lost its innocence.   

The film historian Linda Williams observes, "pornography is not one thing, but sexual fantasy, genre, culture, and erotic visibility all operating together.”  Modern visual culture is in the latest stage in the transition from analog to digital media. Porn produced during the 19th and 20th centuries took a variety of analog forms, including photography, magazines, records, film, televison and homevideo. An expanding market cultivated a widening erotic appetite. This created businesses, even industries, as well as new ways of seeing, the modern erotic imagination. Each format expresses its own form of sexual representation, a particular pornographic vocabulary. Often unappreciated, each medium created a vital community of amateur makers who helped remake America’s erotic sensibility. Over the last half-century, porn pros and DIY amateurs have refashioned the pornographic imagination.

The commercial porn industry is restructuring, adapting to new technologies of distribution. Porn – along with illegal “recreational” drugs and commercial sex -- is a “sin” industry. For the 13 years of Prohibition, alcohol consumption was not only illegal but a “sin”; it is the only Amendment to the Constitution to have been replealed. A dozen or so states have adopted one form of another of medical marijuana and two states have decriminalized recreational drugs.

The issue of obscene content over the public airways may come up in the soon-to-be-held Senate confirmation hearing (chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. VA) of Tom Wheeler as the new head of the FCC. Wheeler will be grilled over net neutrality, industry consolidation and other issues. More illuminating will be his answers to questions about the “f” word, “fleeting expletives” and limited nudity on ever-shrinking broadcast television. If he’s asked.

David Rosen writes the Media Current column for Filmmaker and contributes to CounterPunch, Huffington Post and the Brooklyn Rail. His website is DavidRosenWrites.com; he can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net.

Journey into a Magical World

By -
House at source

Low cost airlines

Little House on the Prairie

Polish bonsai


Chess on island

Dragon’s pleasure


Hesia 2


The road

The spring labyrinth

The winter wave

Painter’s Kitchen

Wegener’s theory


Four seasons

The summer

Brontosaurus civitas

Carnival fights fasten


The city is landing


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why the Shareholder Rescue Never Comes

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Shareholders can't be counted on.
That's the message from the dispiriting shareholder vote on whether to leave Jamie Dimon as both the chief executive and the chairman of JPMorgan Chase, or to split the roles. Even more shareholders backed him in his dual role this year than did last year.
For some time, reformers have hoped that shareholders might ride to the rescue to solve the problem of Bank Gigantism, otherwise known as Too Big to Fail.
Big-bank critics, like the freethinking analyst Mike Mayo, analysts at Wells Fargo, and Sheila Bair, the former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — and others, including me — have raised the possibility that shareholders might revolt over banks' depressed stock valuations and seek breakups. Broken-up banks would be smaller and safer.
No, it's not going to happen. Shareholders are part of the problem, not the solution.
No group has skated free of severe (and deserved) criticism in the wake of the financial crisis: financial firms, regulators, credit rating agencies, borrowers and the news media. That is, except one, which happens to be among the most culpable: institutional investors. Yet today, the structure of institutional investing is the same. And so is shareholders' view of their responsibilities.
When applied to banks, corporate governance campaigns are wasted efforts.
"We need to recognize that corporate governance is not going to fix the financial sector," said Lynn A. Stout, a Cornell law professor, who is a critic of the notion that companies should be run primarily to maximize shareholder value. "We have to have effective government regulation."
By keeping Dimon in his two roles, shareholders indicated their belief that only a supposed superhuman executive could run such a banking monstrosity.
But he either failed to rein in his bank's reckless trading, or he failed to understand it. And he has failed in the most basic responsibility of any steward, to plan for his succession.
These transgressions may not have been worth ousting Dimon. But hardly anyone called for that. Instead, shareholders had an opportunity to reorganize the company to diffuse a little power and increase oversight.
They punted. So what explains this shareholder fecklessness?
In some sense this was an act of reflexive class fealty. In rejecting a split of the chief executive and chairman roles, institutional shareholders seemed to prefer spiting pension funds (for their perceived union bias) to rebuking a CEO whose actions last year actually put them at risk.
That's not the only reason shareholders are immobilized. Giant bank financial disclosures are too incomprehensible for even the most sophisticated and dedicated professional investors.
Shareholders suspect that management wouldn't break up the banks in a risk-reducing way. They would be separating whole businesses, not shrinking the size of any one division. Therefore spinoffs would mean that the unknowable supernova risks, like that of derivatives businesses, would be concentrated in smaller entities.
But the most important reason is that shareholders benefit from the big banks' structures. Stout points out that shareholders want companies to take high-risk, high-return bets. They capture the unlimited upside and their losses are capped.
This is true across sectors, which is what helps drive so much short-term corporate thinking. But with banks, things are even worse. Big banks benefit from government subsidies, both implicit and explicit. As the Federal Reserve moves interest rates down and engages in huge asset purchases, the holdings on bank balance sheets rise in value. Shareholders are the chief beneficiaries.
The economy? Not so much. Not when unemployment is at 7.5 percent and so many Americans have "jobs" that can't support anything close to a middle-class life.
Shareholders, a group that includes executives who were larded up with options, helped push banks into the financial crisis. And then, in one of the most damaging and least remembered episodes of the debacle, learned some valuable lessons about what a protected class they were.
When JPMorgan saved Bear Stearns in early 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. initially pushed for a symbolically low price for the stock — $2 a share. Such a low price would have sent a punitive message. Bear Stearns was going down; shareholders would have gotten absolutely nothing if JPMorgan hadn't saved them.
Yet instead of being grateful, they revolted. They threw tantrums and bluffed. And it worked. JPMorgan raised its offer to $10 a share.
Of course, shareholders did get wiped out in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
But what was the lesson the government drew from that? To rush in to save every institution it can.
Today, the government says that it has ended Too Big to Fail. By the provisions in Dodd-Frank, the government plans to seize holding companies of failing financial companies, wiping out shareholders and even some debtholders. The government might be able to carry this through if just one giant bank fails on its own for an isolated reason, like the storied British bank Barings did in 1995.
But most of the time, if one giant bank is going down, they will all go down together. Inevitably, the Federal Reserve spigot will open and the Treasury and Congress will find a way to intervene, as the economist Simon Johnson recently pointed out.
If shareholders really believed that bailouts were a thing of the past, they would be acting responsibly. From the JPMorgan vote, we can see that they aren't.

Sex in a hospital bed

After my husband's traumatic brain injury, we were forced to find an intimacy we'd never known

Sex in a hospital bed
(Credit: Shutterstock/Salon)
Sex was the furthest thing from my mind when a tree branch struck my husband’s face, and he was hooked into life support immediately.
When it was clear he would live, he underwent surgery for his fractured skull, eye sockets and nose, after which he was weaned from a medical coma. For months, all I did was hope and pray. It wasn’t until he was in rehabilitation that I allowed myself to think about how intimacy would work. But now, I felt like a virgin at 33.
Once, when his eyes were still glued shut and he had yet to speak, I slid into the hospital bed with him. He shared a room with a man flown in from Alaska who had hit his head on a cast iron wood-burning stove. The guy was doing surprisingly well, which made me feel depressed. Miles moaned and thrashed underneath wrist restraints; meanwhile Alaska flipped through channels and barked at the nurse for Oxycotin.
There was a vinyl green curtain separating their beds. When Miles had been in intensive care, I had laid my chest across his, pleading for him to come back to me whole. But here I could lie horizontally along him. On an afternoon when he was calm, I asked him to “scoot over.” He didn’t respond. I knew he wasn’t sleeping, but he wasn’t awake.
Feeling stubborn, I warned him, “I’m crawling in,” and balanced myself along the edge, attempting to spoon him. He is not a small man, so when he rolled over, unaware of my presence, I nearly suffocated. I had wanted to arouse him, to see if his parts worked, but had to accept he wasn’t ready yet.
It’s strange what you notice when you’re surviving trauma. You’d think it would be 100 percent bad, a full-on nightmare, but really there’s some funny stuff. Like when the night nurse came in for rounds, saw me in bed with Miles, and clucked that I “wasn’t supposed to disturb the patient.” How Miles’ roomie, Alaska, had piped up after sucking down a cigarette outside, and said, “Aw, let ‘em be. She’s trying to get it on with her man.”
I warmed to Alaska after that. I brought him cupcakes and watched football with him, while Miles moaned, thrashed and slept. You find your pals where you can, when you can. Everybody needs a comrade in times of duress.
A week later, Miles felt a little better, so I tested his vitality again. Alaska had moved on, so for an hour we were roommate-free. His swollen eyes were healing, and with the crack of light from their tiny slit opening, he’d peer sidelong around the room. The way he cocked his head and let his chin guide his sight reminded me of a child playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, peeking beneath a blindfold.
Alone at last, I closed the door and unhooked my bra. I remember it was a rare sunny day in November, and my back was against the window that overlooked the noisy freeway. I stood where I could tell he could see me, lifted up my shirt, and shimmied. He was sitting up in bed in his hospital gown, his lower half exposed. With feeding tubes and a catheter, I accepted that, despite my flashing, he might remain flaccid.
But when he grinned goofily and said, “Do that again,” I was encouraged. I breathed relief that my red-blooded American boy was still inside somewhere. I felt giddy, and continued my teenager flashing antics, noting how it didn’t have any effect on his genitals. “He almost died,” I reminded myself. I decided I needed to give it more time.
We had enjoyed a stable routine of intimacy before the big leaf maple tree front-face crashed into his skull. When I think back on it, I’m positive his tight build from all the tree climbing inspired the of-late frequency of our lovemaking. That and our children were both finally sleeping through the night.
I remember he had been so strong he could hold himself in plank while I clambered during our congress. He was my jungle gym, and I was a playful woman-child. Our libidos were dangerously healthy. I felt ripe for a third baby.
But then he got knocked down and everything changed. A spicy non-mom friend had a theory about married sex that sounded to me more like a Nike commercial than feminist theory. “Why not just do it when they want to?” she’d say about having sex with your husband. “Once you get things started, you rarely regret it, and everyone’s always happier afterward.”
I remember resenting her easy attitude when I was pregnant and nursing, but recalling it now, it seemed brilliant. I desperately wanted to see him satisfied, or just turned on. Selfishly, I needed to know what my chances were at experiencing sexual pleasure with my husband. I can’t bear to think I’m the only woman to ever be troubled over the possibility of a lifetime of platonic love.
I had two stock answers for when people asked what it was like when we got him home. One was that Miles “woke up” talking as if he were a surf-bro. His voice was nasally because of the stints in his nose, and words emerged singular and deliberate. His affect was as if he had taken a night’s worth of six-foot bong rips.
The other explanation I reserved for a few non-judgmental friends. I told them I felt the doctors had released unto me a zombie. With one eye permanently dilated, and 60 staples stitched across his forehead, he looked and spoke like Frankenstein’s monster. I used to shudder at his response when people asked him how he felt.
He would say how he’d been “whacked” in the head and that he was “permanently brain damaged.” In my care was a lumbering man whose thinking was on furlough. What was I supposed to do? Wasn’t nurturing a marriage and small children hard enough?
Women get curious. One friend at dinner asked if we had “had sex yet.” I demurred on the subject, because, of course, the truth was no, we hadn’t. I had trouble articulating with dignity how much I wanted to know if his downstairs department operated. I wanted to be respectful of his injuries, but true to my own needs.
That’s another not-funny ha-ha thing about trauma. In theory, you ought to be able to share your fears with friends at dinner. They care, they really do. But to share your fears means admitting the horror is real, and to survive, sometimes you have to pretend things are fine.
At home, Miles liked to nap in our spare room downstairs. It was cold down there, and quiet. One day when the kids were gone, I interrupted my job search to rest by his side on the double bed. To our right was a rocking horse. To our left was a talking Elmo chair.
Miles wore a drawstring sweatpants suit, the only item that fit after losing 40 pounds in six weeks. He was face down with his long legs draped off the end. I remember I rested, face up, staring at the cracks in the ceiling.
He acknowledged me by resting his hand on mine. “Come closer,” he urged in his flat monster tone. He turned over and I peered at his groin. If my eyes could be trusted, I noticed a slight bulge. Then, for all my aggressive behavior at the hospital, I became shy.
I closed the drapes and switched off the bedside table light. Was this really happening? I was more curious than stirred. I ached for him to be virile, and yet, I knew there was process in healing. He waited for me to initiate. I peeled off his shirt, and untied his draw-string sweats. I removed my pants.
His body felt different, like a stranger. A flash of his wearing incontinence pads at the hospital struck me as I noted how his muscles had become flabby. It had been almost two months since we had been physical. Not unheard of for couples, but for us, a lifetime had transpired.
Offering myself up was something I knew I had to do. My husband didn’t murmur my name, not did I dirty into his ear. Under the covers our socks stayed on. It was hurried and unromantic, but it was a start.
I knew I had done the right thing when afterward he became vulnerable. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “For everything.” Years later he wouldn’t remember the occasion, but I would. It was a better first time than any I could ever remember.
S.E. Cannon is the pen name of a writer and mother living in the Seattle area.