Archive for the 'culture' Category

murder ballads

In my background research on folk music, and related to my interest in developing a ‘American Culture’ class that focuses on Massachusetts history and culture, I came across this fascinating article by Peter Drier on the Kingston Trio, and the song, ‘M.T.A.’ In my reading, I’ve been interested in the folk community’ crankiness about the Kingston Trio as too commercial and too apolitical: Their big hit was a murder ballad (‘Tom Dooley‘), a classic trope in folk music, which would be hard to pull off these days, by a ‘popular’ band, I imagine… Less related: I also had the not altogether novel realization of how in touch with American songwriting Kurt Cobain was. Nirvana’s ‘In the Pines,’ is a changeup of ‘Where did you sleep last night?’ which was sung by Leadbelly, and one of their bigger songs was ‘Polly,’ which is an adaptation of a traditional (which is perhaps a redundancy in terms) murder ballad, sung here by Dock Boggs.

the history of the corporation

I love the documentary, The Corporation. Here‘s an interesting economics lesson on the rise of corporations, and the (author’s) projected decline of their power on our culture, particularly, mastery of our attention and the amount of ‘free agents’ who offer attention-grabbing content. Interesting, even if I didn’t get it all.

Rise and Fall of Corporate influence

mapping interactions


Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space? This paper proposes a novel, fine-grained approach to regional delineation, based on analyzing networks of billions of individual human transactions. Given a geographical area and some measure of the strength of links between its inhabitants, we show how to partition the area into smaller, non-overlapping regions while minimizing the disruption to each person’s links. We tested our method on the largest non-Internet human network, inferred from a large telecommunications database in Great Britain. Our partitioning algorithm yields geographically cohesive regions that correspond remarkably well with administrative regions, while unveiling unexpected spatial structures that had previously only been hypothesized in the literature. We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H Strogatz – PLoS ONE, 2010

Download PDF


We investigate the extent to which social ties between people can be inferred from co-occurrence in time and space: Given that two people have been in approximately the same geographic locale at approximately the same time, on multiple occasions, how likely are they to know each other? Furthermore, how does this likelihood depend on the spatial and temporal proximity of the co-occurrences? Such issues arise in data originating in both online and offline domains as well as settings that capture interfaces between online and offline behavior. Here we develop a framework for quantifying the answers to such questions, and we apply this framework to publicly available data from a social media site, finding that even a very small number of co-occurrences can result in a high empirical likelihood of a social tie. Our analysis uses data in which individuals engage in activities at known places and times. There are many potential sources of such data, including transaction records from cell phones, public transit systems, and credit-card providers. We use a source where analogous activities are recorded publicly and online: a large-scale dataset from the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Most photos uploaded to Flickr include the time at which the photo was taken, as reported by a clock in the digital camera, and many photos are also geo-tagged with a latitude–longitude coordinate indicating where on Earth the photograph was taken. These geo-tags either are specified by the photographer by clicking on a map in the Flickr web site, or (increasingly) are produced by a global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the camera or cell phone. Flickr also contains a public social network, in which users specify social ties to other users.


The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my “neighbour” in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2011, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales

brooklyn by cuisine

'What They Eat where,' by Very Small Array

david & anne

David in the Mall

Yesterday was the 300 year anniversary of the Statute of Anne, the foundation of copyright. Last week we talked about Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, and I told my story about how UNLV students believed that the reproduction of David set in the mall of Caesars’ Palace is the real Michelangelo’s David. We talked about Walter Benjamin, and how the mechanical reproduction of the art object destroys its aura and whether the access that is gained through the process also has its shinier aspects (‘Hey, you get to have Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss hanging on your dorm wall.’) But to commemorate the anniversary, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has sharp things to say, that reflect on the object example I often use in class:

If there’s one lie more corrosive to creativity above all others, it is the lie of romantic individual originality. Today, ‘copyright curriculum’ warns schoolchildren not to be ‘copycats’ – to come up with their own original notions.

We are that which copies. Three or four billion years ago, by some process that we don’t understand, molecules began to copy themselves. We are the distant descendants of those early copyists – copying is in our genes. We have a word for things that don’t copy: ‘dead’.

Walk the streets of Florence and you’ll find a ‘David’ on every corner: because for half a millennium, Florentine sculptors have learned their trade by copying (but try to take a picture of ‘David’ on his plinth and you’ll be tossed out by a security guard who wants to end this great tradition in order to encourage you to buy a penny postcard).

how social networking was used to catch saddam

There’s a fascinating five-part series on social networking and Saddam at Slate. There’s a nice Network Visualization tool by Daniel McLaren made for your facebook pages. Quite nice. An amazing set of social network visualization tools is collected here, and another set of five specifically geared to facebook.

Saddam's Network