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A Golden Age of Oral Histories

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Golden Girls is one of my ten favorite TV shows ever. Recently, the entire series came to Hulu. I went to find the terrific oral history of the show, published just last year… and it was gone. The entire publication and its website had folded.

Luckily, the writer (Drew Mackie) had saved a copy, and published it on his own site after the magazine went under. So we still have gems like this anecdote from writer Winifred Hervey:

Bea was always my favorite. I left after the third season, and that’s the year she won her Emmy for Best Actress. I was at the ceremony, and after she gave her speech she came over and said, “Winifred, did you hear I mentioned your name, you little twat?” She was mad because I left.

That Golden Girls oral history is part of why I’ve been thinking about how we might save and recirculate the best parts of the web. So many good things have already vanished. The web is resilient, but fragile, too.

Big, splashy, gossipy pop culture oral histories used to be pretty rare, online or off. Vanity Fair would publish one every once in a while; in 2009, the magazine collected nine of them from the previous decade, including great features on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, Motown Records, and a galloping 50-year history of the entire internet, from ARPA to YouTube. Other magazines would do oral histories from time to time — GQ has had some terrific ones — but the real explosion begins in this decade, and it begins and ends on the web.

One of the first pieces Grantland published in 2011 was an oral history of The National, a writerly sports publication stacked with talent that could never make enough money and ended far too soon. (Message!) Right around then, a few really successful features helped kick off the boom.

Since then, my god — we have so many oral histories! Two years ago, Thrillist put together a list of 260 oral histories on music, movies, TV, and related pop culture alone. There are fake oral histories, “oral histories” that only interview two people, oral histories of things the writers profess to hate (trigger warning: autoplay), and oral histories of cult TV shows even more cultish side characters. (“In the end, I really liked Magnitude because I realized that the reason he calls himself Magnitude is because it stands for Magnetic Attitude.”)

But what are the histories you actually need to read? The Kottke Archives have links to and capsule summaries of no fewer than twenty-five oral histories, going back to 2008. These include histories of SXSW Interactive, the Challenger disaster, Freaks and Geeks, Cheers, Die Hard, and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

With these alone, you already have enough reading material to get you through this week and beyond. But since we’re saving these for aliens, our grandchildren, and our alien grandchildren, I’m going to add a few more. These are just some of my favorite oral histories that (as far as I can tell) have never appeared on Kottke.org.

That last oral history in particular shows you how much the web has changed over the last twelve years — i.e., about half its life. In 2005, Yacht Rock was a show that me and a few thousand other people were really excited about, and that was enough to make it a web sensation. You couldn’t even get it on YouTube, because YouTube barely existed. Web video series were not getting loving write-ups in prestigious magazines. Yet here we are.

Tags: best of the web   Golden Girls   oral history   paleoblogging   yacht rock
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ashaw
6 days ago
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deezil
6 days ago
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There's also this: http://andyhky.com/overthinking.htm?referred=true
Louisville, Kentucky

The Coffee Shaman

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Meet the man responsible for third-wave coffee—and the Frappuccino.



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ashaw
24 days ago
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asking the wrong questions about protest

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Originally published in Race, Politics, Justice About protest as a complex multi-actor field.

We social movement scholars are in the news a lot these days. There have been massive protests since the election of Donald Trump. Reporters want to know: will the protests be effective? Do protests work or are they just ego-trips of protesters? How can protesters be sure they can win? These are the wrong questions because they presuppose that people can just make the right choices and gain victory. 

To be sure, there are things that are correlated with the effects of protest, and many of my respected colleagues have obliged reporters by giving them some of the answers. The most important one is size: absolutely, yes, bigger and more sustained protests are more likely to get at least some of what they want than smaller more ephemeral protests. Non-violent protest is more likely to win than violent protest. Successful movements combine street protests with other strategies. Proactive protests (where the protesters have the initiative) are more likely to win than reactive protests (where the opposition has the initiative and the protesters are scrambling to keep up). Left out of the recent news coverage is another generalization I think is often important: moderate groups in a field where there are more radical groups are more likely to gain victories than comparably moderate groups where nobody is more radical than they are (what we call “radical flank effects”).

But even these broad patterns are not always true: some very large and sustained protest movements that stay nonviolent, employ other strategies along with protest, and have radical flanks are still utterly defeated. Violence is sometimes effective, especially if your group is already strong or the violence works as a radical flank effect. Radical flanks help moderates win but not always: sometimes opponents successfully equate the whole movement with the radical flank. Small reactive protests sometimes achieve big victories. Even less consistent are other factors some scholars cite, like whether narrow or broad agendas or coalitions are more effective or whether and how to craft a message to it speaks to bystanders.

Bystanders are the people in the middle who are neither protesters nor their targets. The reactions of bystanders are often crucial. Will the protest win their sympathy or motivate them to join the movement? Or will it alienate them? Protest is often polarizing, challenging people to choose which side they are on. If the protest leads bystanders to choose the opponent’s side, it can backfire. And even when they don’t side with opponents, if bystanders dislike the protesters they may tolerate repression against them.

Although the disruptive anti-war protests of the late 1960s were important for pressuring the regime to scale back the Viet Nam War, they also alienated sizeable fractions of the US public. There was a significant fraction of the US population who opposed the war because US personnel were dying in it to no apparent purpose but who also opposed the anti-War protesters and their larger political and cultural ideologies. The wave of Black urban riots had the direct effect of increasing social welfare policies to calm things down and opening some doors for advancement via affirmative action and passage of anti-segregation laws, but also led to escalation police repression of Black communities and fed into the mass incarceration boom. The massive Wisconsin Uprising protests of 2011 ultimately failed to change policies enacted by the Republican Governor and Legislature and had the effect of increasing polarization and strengthening support for the Governor among those who were not opposed to him (i.e. hollowing out the middle).

All of these discussions also ignore structural power imbalances. This week’s anti-Trump protests basically pit two large majority groups against each other: White liberal Democrats and White conservative Republicans. The Republicans have gained control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress, but the Democrats also have substantial bases of power and are only recently out of power in the national government. The bases of other movements like Black Lives Matter or immigrant rights or transgender rights are smaller disadvantaged minorities. Smaller, weaker groups are much more likely to experience police repression if they protest disruptively, lack the raw numbers to have the same level of power as majority groups, need allies to win, and are more likely to suffer defeat no matter what they do.

Media cycles and protester fatigue matter, too. It has long been recognized that there are “media attention cycles.” Something is big news for a while, then news attention wears out on that issue and moves on to something else. Research shows that protests are less likely to make it into the news both before and after the spike in news coverage. The way news media portray the protest issue and the protesters is crucial to how it will affect bystanders. Businesses and civic actors that support or tolerate protest in the short run become weary of ongoing disruption and become more supportive of repressing protest the longer it lasts. One common finding is that police become more repressive toward protesters after the media attention cycle has turned away.

And the protesters themselves have to go home at some point. Unless the entire society has fallen apart and people have no homes or jobs, they will have to return to life maintenance activities. It is just not possible to be in the streets day after day, unless you have someone else taking care of your home front. Leaders of a white hot mobilization at some point look for a way to end the protest and claim at least a short term victory, before the protest collapses from exhaustion. Movements that want to sustain themselves for the long haul look for ways to take breaks and put rhythms into their protest. Teacher protesters in the 2011 Wisconsin uprising worked out a schedule of rotation for protest days because they knew people simply could not protest day after day. Protesters now are conveying messages to each other about how to maintain protest pressure while getting back to work and maintaining life and doing self-care.

Protest is always at least two-sided and typically multi-sided in its effects. Protest is a tool for the disempowered and those out of power to express dissent, to call attention to a grievance, to create pressure for policy change through disrupting institutions or systems, or to topple a regime through disruption or violence. Protest has produced large-scale social change. But the protesters are not the only actors in the system. That a group is protesting at all is usually a sign that it is in a weak or at least defensive position. People who already have power and privilege usually don’t protest because they don’t need to protest to get what they want. They just get it through the normal workings of the system, or through political control or back-stage lobbying. These powerful people do not just give up when they are the targets of protest, they look for ways to counter the protest. They try to ignore it, or trivialize it, or outlast it, or repress it. If the protest keeps going and seems to be winning, they will engage in ideological campaigns or promote counter-protests, or escalate the repression.

In a ball game, you know what things it takes to win, but it is still the case that every ball game has a loser. The outcome is a result of the relative strength of each side, but also luck and the ability to out-smart the other side and do something unexpected. A protest field is like a ball game in that the outcome depends on the interactions between the sides and elements of luck. Except that the protest field has 12 teams, each trying to win with a somewhat different vision of what winning would mean, employing a wide variety of different kinds of tactics, forming temporary coalitions with other teams, trying to out-guess and out-think those opposed to their interests, and having somewhat different ideas of what the legitimate rules of the game are. Protest is a complex chaotic system in which intentional human actors can and do change tactics in light of their predictions about what others will do. Even systems that follow the strict laws of physics, like the weather, are unpredictable when they involve a large number of independent probabilistic factors in complex nonlinear interactions. When you add human intentionality to the mix, you really cannot generate consistent precitions about outcomes.

Strategy always matters in this complex field, but it has to be a strategy that is constantly adapting to the actions of opponents and bystanders, seeking ways to gain allies and an advantage over opponents. It is easier to develop strategy in a proactive protest where you can take your time, quietly build support and alliances before going public, and work out clear demands. In a reactive protest where the opponent has the initiative, coalitions are cobbled together quickly among people with divergent goals and tactical repertories, communication and coordination are often poor, and everyone is arguing about what the best response is in the face of time pressures and uncertainty. They disagree about whether a particular response is appropriate or an overreaction. They are not sure where the mass of public opinion is or how to deploy their resources. In the current period, protesters are not sure whether they are facing an authoritarian coup or “merely” a weak and losing position in the normal game of democratic politics. This is not because they are stupid and have failed to study the playbook. It is because there are too many uncertainties in the game.




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ashaw
78 days ago
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announcing socarxiv: the open-access repository for social science

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If you are a social scientist who supports open access, please take five minutes to read this post, follow the instructions below, and help us launch SocArXiv, the new open repository for social science now being rolled out.

Almost all academics are frustrated by the fact that so much research is behind a paywall. Even other researchers are often stymied by paywalls when working at home, or simply because their libraries don’t subscribe to all the journals. That problems in only amplified for journalists and the public.

One workaround to this problem is posting preprints — prepublication versions of papers, whether early drafts or final but uncopyedited versions of accepted articles. While policies vary by journal, the vast majority allow this in some form. This allows you to get your own research out to as wide an audience as possible, often long before the published version is available.

But where do you put preprints? Some people post them to a personal website or a university open repository. But increasingly people are using commercial sites — particularly, though certainly not exclusively, Academia.edu. (See, for example, this orgtheory comment thread from earlier in the week.)

Sites like Academia have real problems, though, when it comes to open access. Other disciplines have open access preprint servers. Most notably, math, physics, computer science and related fields use arXiv, an online repository that’s been in existence for 25 years and includes over a million papers.

The social sciences have seemed, if anything, to be moving in the opposite direction. SSRN, for example, was recently purchased by Elsevier, to the dismay of many observers.

We need an alternative. (Here’s my spiel on why.) why.) And now we have one. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Philip Cohen, who has forged an alliance with the Open Science Framework, and a terrific steering committee(if I do say so myself), SocArXiv is on its way. It will be a simple method for getting your work out there without putting it behind either a paywall or placing it in the hands of a company that wants to make money off of it, not increase access to it.

The full rollout will be happening very soon. But in the meanwhile, you can already start depositing papers. Yesterday a temporary deposit site went up. It’s incredibly simple to use. You create a free account. You send an email to socarxiv-Preprint@osf.io from your primary email. The title of the email is your paper title. The text of the email is your abstract. You attach your preprint (as a pdf, Word file, whatever). You hit send.

That’s it. Rinse and repeat. If you want, add some tags to your paper to make it easier to find. When the full site is running, all the deposited papers will roll directly into SocArXiv.

The framework is very robust, and there are a lot of other possibilities. You can also post code, data, and other kinds of files, and commenting options and much more will be coming in the near future. There will be support for posting code, data, and other kinds of files as well, in addition to commenting options and much more.

What we need right now, though, is for people to start adding papers.

If you are a social scientist who supports open access, this is what you can do.

  1. Take five minutes. Go to this link. Email Create an account, and email a paper to the deposit site. It really is that easy.
  2. Spread the word about SocArXiv to your social networks. Ask them to upload a paper.

The institutional support is there, the personal commitment is there, but what will make this take off is a critical mass of participants.

Lots of us want to see something like this work. The moment is right — help make open access a reality in social science.


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ashaw
278 days ago
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“The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper,” declared Mao, who liked his meals spicy. Turns out, he may have been on to something

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“The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper,” declared Mao, who liked his meals spicy. Turns out, he may have been on to something
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ashaw
346 days ago
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Introducing the Pedestrian Pain Index

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America’s pedestrians are in pain.

Every day, tens of millions of Americans waste tens of thousands of hours stuck waiting on the side of streets for car traffic to get out of their way. We estimate that the annual value of time lost waiting to walk totals $25 billion annually.

Today, City Observatory announces the launch of our latest data product: the Pedestrian Pain Index (PPI). Following the techniques developed over the past thirty years by the highway-oriented Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), PPI uses similar methods and assumptions —to calculate the amount of time pedestrians lose each year having to wait their turn to cross streets to allow cars to proceed.

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Credit: Billie Grace Ward, Flickr

We attribute 100 percent of pedestrian wait time as “delay” due to automobiles for two reasons. First, our methodology mirrors exactly that used by the TTI, which counts traffic delay as any slowdown in traffic below the level that motorists enjoy at so-called “free flow speeds,” even if the free flow speed is higher than the posted speed limit. Second—and perhaps more importantly—pedestrians are only forced to wait at intersections because of vehicle traffic. In pedestrian-only environments, there is no need for “Don’t Walk” signs. In that sense, traffic lights and crosswalks are not walking infrastructure—in places without cars like inside shopping malls or in Venice, Italy, there is no need to have signals to tell people when they can walk or paint lines to show people where they can walk.

There’s little question that walking has been made a second-class form of transportation—and that pedestrians regularly feel the pain of being subordinated to automobiles. One of the best examples is “beg buttons” can delay law-abiding pedestrians up to a minute and a half in order to cross a city street—a point illustrated by Gizmodo.

Here’s how we came up with our PPI estimate. According to data tabulated by John Pucher and his colleagues from the the most recent National Household Transportation Survey, the typical American spends about 112 hours walking about 37.7 miles per year. We estimate that out of a typical walk, a pedestrian spends about five percent of their time waiting for traffic, either as they cross the street an un-signaled location, or waiting for a traffic signal. Our five percent estimate corresponds to waiting about 55 seconds during the average 18.5 minutes that each American walks on a daily basis. For those in low-traffic, low-density areas, these 55 seconds will likely be an overestimate; in urban settings with traffic lights on most corners—where a disproportionate share of walking occurs—55 seconds will be an underestimate.

We multiply our daily delay estimate of 55 seconds per person by 365 days and by the roughly 300 million Americans five years of age or older to come up with an estimate of about 1.6 billion hours of pedestrian delay experienced by Americans annually. Valuing that delay at $15 per hour—a figure somewhat lower than that used in studies of automobile congestion delay—produces a total estimate of $25.2 billion in time lost in pedestrian pain waiting for automobiles.

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Credit: michael brooking, Flickr

The Pedestrian Pain Index is a first, rough approximation of the time lost by pedestrians due to automobile traffic. Constructing this index is complicated by the fact that, unlike the case for automobile travel, we have very limited data on walking travel. As Tom Vanderbilt put it in Slate, “Walking in America is a bit like sex: Everybody’s doing it, but nobody knows how much.” It’s a classic instance of the old adage “if you don’t count it, it doesn’t count.” Lacking any data about pedestrians in most settings, the costs and consequences of land use and engineering decisions on walking are simply invisible——and therefore ignored.

Traffic engineers have begun to recognize that the waits imposed on by signals on pedestrians impose major costs and discourage people from walking. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) writes in the Urban Street Design Guide:

Long signal cycles, compounded over multiple intersections, can make crossing a street or walking even a short distance prohibitive and frustrating. This discourages walking altogether, and makes streets into barriers that separate destinations, rather than arteries that stitch them together.

According to the 2012 National Traffic Signal Report Card (yes, there really is such a thing: it gives us a D+), the United States has about 311,000 traffic signals (about 1 for every 1,000 Americans), with an estimated replacement cost of about $83 billion. Most of these signals control pedestrian travel, as well as vehicles. Pedestrians face delays not just at traffic signals, but when crossing roads at un-signalized intersections, and when crossing mid-block (as is frequently necessitated by the serpentine, uninterrupted roadways found in most US suburbs).

Those of you who regard this as a bit of early April data-whimsy, think again. If anything, the estimates presented here profoundly understate the costs travel time costs that our auto-centric transportation system imposes on those who would like to walk. Recent national survey data collected by Jennifer Dill and her colleagues at Portland State University show that walking is a highly valued form of transportation. Two-thirds of Americans of all ages agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I like walking.” Younger Americans preferred walking to driving, with the share of Millennials saying they like to walk outpacing those who agreed they liked driving by 12 percentage points.

Significantly, the most commonly cited barrier to walking (identified by two-thirds of the entire sample) was the relative remoteness of destinations——and destinations are more remote because they are scaled to the size of automobile market-sheds, and because parking requirements (coupled with bans on mixed use zoning) mean that it is uneconomical or illegal to build communities that are convenient for walking. The growing demand for walkable communities, coupled with their relatively short supply is one of the key reasons that values for walkable residential and commercial areas have been rising faster than for auto-dependent locations.

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Credit: annshi, Flickr

Like last year’s Cappuccino Congestion Index, the Pedestrian Pain Index illustrated that armed with a modicum of data and a few assumptions, one can easily craft an impressive (or at least impressive sounding) estimate of the dollar cost of some delay that we face in our lives. But being able to monetize delay is not the same thing as saying it’s worth spending scarce public resources to remedy.

In a complex, crowded, and interconnected world, no system can be designed so that no user ever experiences a moment of delay. While it is possible to tally and monetize the value of time spent waiting, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is a serious one, it would be—dare we say it “foolish”—to insist we ought to spend scarce public resources to lessen what are in many cases mostly private costs. That’s something to remember the next time you hear anyone quoting impressive sounding numbers from the Texas Transportation Institute—or anyone else—about the billions and billions lost to traffic congestion.


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ashaw
364 days ago
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I'd like a similar set of estimates for bicyclists. it could also include estimates for stopping to give cars the right of way at stop signs etc.
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