Mixed Media

Mastodon's "Once More ‘Round the Sun" is as Exciting as Hard Rock Gets

| Mon Jun. 30, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mastodon
Once More ‘Round the Sun
Reprise

Mastodon Once More 'Rounds the SunHeavy metal is so prone to self-parody and general silliness that it's shocking to remember how powerful the music can be when done correctly. Current Exhibit A: the Atlanta quartet Mastodon, whose ear-shredding Once More ‘Round the Sun is as exciting as hard rock gets. Of course, they've never been a stereotypical knuckle-dragging crew, with earlier credits including a concept album inspired by Moby Dick (Leviathan) and a split seven-inch collaboration with folk-pop siren Feist, on which both parties covered one of the other’s tunes. Here, songs like "The Motherload" and "Aunt Lisa" are taut, soaring epics marked by piercing guitars, clattering drums and heroic vocals. There's plenty of spots on the album where Mastodon could be mistaken for a punk band, so don’t be afraid to shed those preconceptions and dive in for a righteously noisy experience.

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Facebook Just Admitted It Tinkered With People's News Feeds to Manipulate Their Emotions

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:43 PM EDT

Emotional contagion is when people subconsciously take on the emotions of those around them. It's when happy people are around sad people and then feel rather down themselves. Or when sad people are in happy crowds and suddenly just want to dance.  Like so many things in real life, this happens on the internet as well. Your emotional state converges with the general feeling of your Twitter feed or your Facebook friends. This is how humans work, it's how we're wired, and it's nothing to lose sleep over.

What may in fact be worth losing sleep over is that Facebook just admitted to intentionally manipulating people's emotions by selectively choosing which type of their friends' posts—positive or negative—appeared in their News Feed.

Take it away, Next Web:

The company has revealed in a research paper that it carried out a week-long experiment that affected nearly 700,000 users to test the effects of transferring emotion online.

The News Feeds belonging to 689,003 users of the English language version were altered to see “whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors,” Facebook says. There was one track for those receiving more positive posts, and another for those who were exposed to more emotionally negative content from their friends. Posts themselves were not affected and could still be viewed from friends’ profiles, the trial instead edited what the guinea pig users saw in their News Feed, which itself is governed by a selective algorithm, as brands frustrated by the system can attest to.

Facebook found that the emotion in posts is contagious. Those who saw positive content were, on average, more positive and less negative with their Facebook activity in the days that followed. The reverse was true for those who were tested with more negative postings in their News Feed.

Ok, let's break some stuff down:

Can they do this?

Yes. You agree to let the company use its information about you for "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when you agree to without reading the terms of service. It's the "research" bit that's relevant.

Should they?

I don't know! There are clearly some ethical questions about it. A lot of people are pretty outraged. Even the editor of the study thought it was a bit creepy.

Should I quit Facebook?

You're not going to quit Facebook.

No, really. I might.

You're not going to quit Facebook.

You don't even know me. I really might quit. No joke. I have my finger on the button. I saw an ad for a little house out in the country. No internet. No cell service. I could sell everything and go there and live a quite, deliberate life by a pond. I could be happy there in that stillness.

Cool, so, I personally am not going to quit Facebook. That seems to me to be an overreaction. But I do not presume to know you well enough to advise you on this matter.

(You're not going to quit Facebook.)

Anything else?

Yes, actually!

Earlier this year there was a minor brouhaha over the news that USAID had introduced a fake Twitter into Cuba in an attempt to foment democracy. It didn't work and they pulled the plug. Let's dress up and play the game pretend: If Facebook has the power to make people arbitrarily happy or sad, it could be quite the force politically in countries where it has a high penetration rate. (Cuba isn't actually one of those countries. According to Freedom House, only 5% of the population has access to the World Wide Web.)

Economic confidence is one of the biggest factors people consider when going to vote. What if for the week before the election your News Feed became filled with posts from your unemployed friends looking for work? Not that Mark Zuckerburg and co. would ever do that, but they could!

Have fun, conspiracy theorists!

Travels Through India's Sexual Revolution

| Sat Jun. 28, 2014 6:01 AM EDT
Anti-molestation street art by Yelahanka Action Heroes

In late 2012, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, boarded a bus in Delhi headed towards home. She never made it to her destination. While on the bus, she was gang-raped by six men who left her with fatal injuries. 

But unlike in the past, when Singh's story might have remained hushed, tens of thousands of men and women poured into the streets to protest the rape. This public pressure led to the passage of a bill that criminalized stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment (though it falls short of criminalizing marital rape). The January 2013 anti-rape uprisings are part of a socio-sexual revolution unfolding in India, argues journalist Sally Howard in her book The Kama Sutra Diaries: Intimate Journeys Through Modern India, which hit American shelves in May. 

Anti-rape protests in India Courtesy Sally Howard
 

Originally from the UK, Howard has been traveling to India for the past 15 years, writing for Indian and British publications like the Telegraph, the

Guardian, and the Sunday Times. India is a land steeped in contradiction, observes Howard; a place which gave the world the revolutionary Kama Sutra, but remains hooked on the idea of arranged marriages; "where families bow down to a graphic depiction of a conjoined phallus and vagina, the Shivaling, but where couples are routinely attacked by the police for the indiscretion of holding hands in public," she writes in The Kama Sutra Diaries.

But over the last decade, Howard argues that a sexual revolution has begun in India, one with very different characteristics than the West's transformation during the 1960s. "While the Western sexual revolution was propelled by contraception and feminism," she tells me, "India's revolution has more to do with a young generation rediscovering sex, and pushing up against parental expectations." Today, more than half of India's population is under the age of 25, with 65 percent of the population under 35. "And these young are saying we've had enough, we want to have sex. They're telling their parents 'I don't want the life you have ascribed to me,'" says Howard. 

Kama Sutra temples in Madhya Pradesh Kirat Sodhi
 

Howard's travel partner Dimple, a 32-year-old Delhiite who left a loveless arranged marriage, exemplifies this social shift. "I was married at 21 by arrangement to a man I didn't know," Dimple told Howard. "The consummation of my marriage was like being hit with a cricket bat. Now I'm 32 and I'm a divorcée. My mother, who was herself very unhappy, and my grandmother, couldn't think of getting divorced. So this is a big change for my generation."

Over the course of two years, Howard and Dimple journey to the Kama Sutra temples of Madhya Pradesh, the hillside station at Shimla where Indians had a history of sexual escapades with the colonial British, and to Delhi, rocked by the recent rape uprisings. In Gujarat, Howard interviews a gay prince who is setting up a retirement home for gay and hijra (third gender) Indians, many of whom don't have families to rely on for support as they age.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay prince who established a retirement home for eunuchs Hemant Bhavsar
 

Howard's journey voyage helps her uncover some shifts in sexual attitudes across the country. "Middle class Indians are getting more flexibility in choosing their own mate, and finding the space to be together and experimenting," she tells me. And aided by new digital tools, Indians seem more piqued by sex. Over the past decade, Google searches for the word "porn" in India have increased fivefold. In 2012, people in New Delhi searched for the word "porn" at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world. A survey by India Today showed that 35 percent of Indian women consume porn as opposed to 13 percent a decade ago. Fifty percent of women disapprove of pre-marital sex, as opposed to 64 percent in 2003.  But remnants of a misogynist past still linger. The same India Today survey revealed that 36 percent of men blamed women's revealing clothes for India's rape crisis.

Not surprisingly, Howard notes, the shift in thinking about sex is happening mostly with younger generations. But that doesn't mean the past is trivial. In fact, India's ancient texts may better inform contemporary lust than America's Puritanical roots. "I hope that the new sexual story the land of the Kama Sutra tells itself will feature some of the depths of romantic feeling of the old courtly poets—that it might rediscover the deep sentiments that gave the world its finest physical embodiment of romantic love: the Taj Mahal."

The Kama Sutra Diaries is equal parts travelogue and cultural analysis, blending vivid characters with upbeat prose and humor. With this entertaining read, Howard pushes past taboo to give us a more exposed India.

What Does "Transformers" Say About America's Failure to Combat Climate Change?

| Fri Jun. 27, 2014 3:46 PM EDT

Nothing. It says nothing. It's a stupid movie about trucks fighting each other and stupid humans running around doing meaningless bullshit. As far as movies about trucks from space fighting each other go, it's fine, I guess. The trucks fight quite well and the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit impressively. The humans are all very attractive, too, which is nice. None of it makes any sense, of course. The movie is awful. This is an objective truth. You're probably going to see it eventually because that's the way life works, but make no mistake, it's deeply stupid.

This is the fourth film about robot trucks from space fighting each other and maybe the thrill has just died a bit? I think for the fifth one they should switch it up and have the robot trucks from space kiss each other while the humans run around doing meaningless bullshit. The humans and their meaningless bullshit are a key factor to the success of this franchise. They shouldn't abandon that. But I personally would like to see something new. Something fresh. The trucks in the sweet embrace of love. Kissing, holding, touching, rubbing.

Anyway, have a great weekend.

Watch "The Daily Show" Explain the Insanity of America's Campus Rape Epidemic

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 5:17 PM EDT

Campus rape is an epidemic in America. According to a 2007 study commissioned by the Justice Department, 19 percent of women report being sexually assaulted by the time they leave college. For reasons that make decent people pull their hair out, many colleges do absolutely nothing to punish the asshole student perpetrators and in fact seem to go out of their way to see that allegations of assault go unreported. Not because they want their students raping other students, of course. But because "boys will be boys" or some bullshit.

This is the deeply insane reality of many campuses in America. Here is a video of Jon Stewart and friends explaining this perfectly.

Watch: The Neocon Reunion Tour Starring Cheney, Wolfowitz and Bolton [Fiore Cartoon]

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 4:04 PM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

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The Coach of the US Soccer Team Wrote You a Note To Get Out of Work

| Thu Jun. 26, 2014 11:05 AM EDT

This should come in handy today.

Jürgen Klinsmann, the US men's national soccer team coach, signed the following tongue-in-cheek letter excusing American employees from work on Thursday. The US is playing Germany in a highly anticipated World Cup match.

Here's the get-out-of-work letter, via the US Soccer Twitter feed:

US Soccer excuse note world cup
@ussoccer/Twitter

If you tried to use this on your boss, please do tell us how it went in the comments below. Go USA!

Arab Spring-Inspired Show "Tyrant" Had Plenty of Muslim, Arab Input

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 5:42 PM EDT

Tyrant—a bloody, tense family drama that just so happens to be set in an Arab dictatorship—is a TV show that feels destined for controversy. And that's familiar territory for  showrunner Howard Gordon, best known for his work on the hyper-controversial, torture-heavy 24.

The new series, created by Gideon Raff, tells the story of Bassam "Barry" Al-Fayeed (played by Adam Rayner), the son of a brutal dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern country, as he reluctantly returns to the family business from a happy life in the United States after two decade living in self-exile. (Think The Godfather meets the Assads.) Tyrant premieres Tuesday night on FX—and Gordon has been gearing up for any potential backlash it might bring his way:

"Bring it on!" Gordon told reporters in January.

"Come on, Roger [Ailes]!" he joked. "I've been called an Islamophobe and a torture monger, so what else can they call me?"

I've only seen the first episode (which is visually gorgeous and rather compelling), so I have no idea why the series might possibly piss off the Fox News president or his platoon of commentators. However, it certainly isn't hard to imagine that a TV show focused on trigger-happy, iron-fisted Arab Muslims might irk certain groups and people concerned about negative stereotypes and hackneyed cultural depictions in American entertainment. But Gordon has taken steps to assure potential viewers that he was more than aware of such concerns, and acted accordingly. More on that from the Daily Beast, which interviewed him: 

Howard Gordon has done something different with Tyrant: He has included Arab-Americans and Muslims in the creative process. As Gordon explained to [the Daily Beast], his motivation in doing this arose from being "concerned that there might be potential sensitivities that I may not be aware of."

Gordon did a few things to include Arabs and Muslim voices in Tyrant…For one, he hired an Arab-American for the writing staff. Plus he reached out to a well-known Muslim-American group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), over a year ago for their input on early drafts of the pilot script.

As Gordon explained: "MPAC has had a significant impact on the development of this project from its inception." Gordon added: "I tried to address their concerns regarding cultural inaccuracies and potentially incendiary characterizations. I may not always have been entirely successful, but the dialogue has always been open and fluid."

Suhad Obeidi, the head of the Hollywood bureau of MPAC, spoke positively about the experience of working with Gordon. Obeidi explained that Gordon truly did revise the script in many—not all—places flagged by MPAC.

It wouldn't be the first time that Gordon consulted a Muslim-American group regarding controversial content. When the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reached out to Fox and 24's producers to express concerns over the fourth season of 24 (which features a Muslim-American Los Angeles family that leads an Islamist sleeper cell), they responded by inviting CAIR representatives out for a meeting in LA to share their thoughts and criticism. In the months and years that followed, CAIR and the 24 crew maintained an open dialogue.

"They were very, very receptive," Rabiah Ahmed, a former CAIR employee who attended the meeting, told me. "Howard Gordon was such a gentleman. He pulled me aside after the meeting and said their intentions were never to harm the community, and that they are very sensitive about how we feel, and how their work impacts the larger society…I was very touched by his sincerity."

Still, Gordon's latest offering has attracted some harsh words from a familiar organization: "[CAIR has] asked reviewers to address stereotyping of Arab and Muslim culture inherent in the new FX Networks series Tyrant," the group wrote in a press release last week.

Now, here's an FX "first look" at Tyrant:

Neo-Nazi Banners, Blackface, and Homophobic Chants: World Cup Fans Behaving Badly

| Tue Jun. 24, 2014 3:45 PM EDT
German fans in blackface

Hooligan culture has long brought out the ugliest elements of soccer fan bases. But recently the consensus is that hate speech—and even violence—have gotten worse in soccer stadiums around the world, from Europe to South America.

That's why FIFA, international soccer's governing body, has gone on the offensive during this year's World Cup, slapping "Say No to Racism" patches on players' jerseys and on signs around the pitch during matches. FIFA also has a number of tools in its arsenal to punish offending parties, from banning individual fans and fining countries to even deducting teams' points or suspending them altogether.

Despite these efforts, racism and homophobia have emerged in the stands and on the field at this year's World Cup in Brazil. Here's the worst of the worst so far, and how they stack up to past misbehavior:

1. Neo-Nazis on the loose. During Saturday's match between Germany and Ghana, a shirtless man ran on the field during the 53rd minute. On his body he'd written the symbol of the Nazi SS, as well as the letters "HH"—short for "Heil Hitler." Shockingly, he paraded around midfield for a few moments—with no security personnel in sight—until a Ghanaian player took it upon himself to escort him away.

guy on field
A man with Nazi-associated markings runs on the field. Marcus Brandt/DPA

It was hardly the first time neo-Nazis have used the World Cup as a platform for their views. Last week, for example, Russian and Croatian fans were spotted in the stands with banners with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi symbols. One Croatian player, Joe Simunic, was banned from this year's Cup after shouting slogans from Nazi-era Croatia following his side's qualifying victory. And in 2006, English fans were arrested in Germany for displaying Nazi symbols on their bodies.

Despite FIFA's promise to punish hate speech—and even deduct teams' points for offenses—there's reason to believe this isn't the last incident of this kind. Anti-Semitism and racism are on the rise in many parts of Europe and in its soccer stadiums; in particular, the 2018 World Cup host, Russia, has a disturbing trend of violent neo-Nazism and racism (and, as Mother Jones has reported, homophobia). Some players have already called for a boycott.

2. Blackface and yelling "monkey." Also at Saturday's Germany-Ghana match, German fans were seen wearing blackface and Afro wigs, happily taking pictures with other fans. While it's unclear how many there were, an Instagram user posted a picture of two and said he'd counted eight Germans in blackface at the stadium.

FIFA is currently investigating, and despite its tough talk on racism, it's unclear how the issue will be handled. Like the United States, Germany has a history of whites putting on black makeup—particularly in theater—and some Germans still consider the practice acceptable.

At the 2012 Euro Cup, Dutch players were harassed by fans and Italian player Mario Balotelli was verbally abused; at the 2006 World Cup, Spanish fans allegedly taunted black French players during an elimination match.

Even the World Cup's tremendously diverse host country has been waging a high-profile battle with its own racial tensions, which sometimes manifest themselves at soccer games. Arouca, a former Brazilian national player, was taunted several months ago in Rio de Janeiro by fans repeatedly chanting "monkey" at him, along with other nasty slurs. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tweeted her disapproval after the incident, writing, "It is unacceptable that Brazil, the country with the largest black population after Nigeria, has racism issues."

Rousseff also pledged a "World Cup without racism," which would certainly be an accomplishment for an international soccer competition. At the 2012 Euro Cup, Dutch players were harassed by fans and Italian player Mario Balotelli was verbally abused; at the 2006 World Cup, Spanish fans allegedly taunted French players during an elimination match; and in the 1970s and 1980s, racist taunting was so common in soccer stadiums in Europe that it was hardly newsworthy at all.

3. Mexico's popular homophobic chant. Mexican fans have brought the infamous "¡EHHH…PUTO!" chant, reliably shouted during goal and corner kicks, to the World Cup. "Puto" is historically an offensive slur for gay men, and when Mexican fans shouted it during their side's match against Cameroon, FIFA promised an investigation, which could've resulted in a fine for the Mexican soccer federation.

On Monday, FIFA concluded that the chant "is not considered insulting in this specific context" and refrained from issuing any kind of punishment. Anti-racism activist group Football Against Racism in Europe condemned FIFA's lack of action, stating, "If the decision is that the use of the word 'puto' is not homophobic then this [is] disappointing and contradicts the expert advice of the Mexican government's own anti-discrimination body, CONAPRED, and numerous other experts." (Last week, CONAPRED denounced the chant, saying that it "reflects the homophobia, machismo, and misogyny that still exists in our culture.") Mexican soccer officials have been mostly silent, but coach Miguel Herrera defended the chant's use, calling it "not that bad."

Worse still, when Mexico took on Brazil last week, Brazilian fans adopted the chant—not exactly the kind of cross-cultural sharing FIFA hopes for during soccer's biggest event.

Black Bananas' Latest Will Upset the Geezers

| Mon Jun. 23, 2014 6:00 AM EDT


Black Bananas
Electric Brick Wall
Drag City

Jennifer Herrema, a graduate of the renegade art-noise band Royal Trux, seems to be getting younger as time goes by. Echoing Sky Ferreira's 2013 album Night Time, My Time, Herrema's latest outing as leader of Black Bananas unleashes an invigorating wave of damaged synth pop, swathed in distortion and smothered by electro-fuzz, suggesting a ramshackle punk band trying to provoke an uproar with new toys. Electric Brick Wall draws heavily on glam-rock and '70s funk, transcending any pretentious conceptual undertones through sheer anarchic vigor. It's noisy fun with more than enough chaos to upset your old-fogey friends.