Michelle Alexander on the black vote, the Clinton brand—and of course, mass incarceration

Michelle Alexander on the black vote, the Clinton brand—and of course, mass incarceration.

Alexander is one of the leading voices on the rise of a level of mass incarceration in this country in the last 25 years. It’s hard to overstate just how devastating our prison-industrial complex has become. The huge numbers of African American men in jails for nonviolent crimes begs comparison to the darkest days of slavery. Bill Clinton escalated mass incarceration and the “War on Drugs” as a way to prove his political toughness.

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

We tend to remember the Clinton Administration through rose-colored glasses but there were a lot of WTF moments we’ve forgotten–three strikes, the sanctions against Iraqi civilians, the way cruise missile strikes seemed to magically coincide with administration scandals, Bill’s serial philandering and Hillary’s slut-shaming responses. On paper, HRC is the most qualified candidate to ever run for the presidency. But if she’s running on the Clinton brand, she needs to explain how her political choices differ from her husband’s 20 years ago.

An Open Letter To David Byrne from Radio Paradise

Radio Paradise is one of my go-to online radio stations. Much of my music discovery in the last five years has come from its thoughtful and eclectic feed. The music scene in this country would be truly impoverished if these small niche stations were shut down because of unsustainable licensing charges. Apparently David Bryne is one of the people who decides these things. Let’s hope he supports musical diversity and quirkiness.

An Open Letter To David Byrne – RAIN News

Distant signals from the future

radioI was in early high school when I got my first alarm clock radio. My parents were a bit older when I was born, so the LPs in the back of our hall closet were a generation-and-a-half out-of date: I remember mostly musical soundtracks like South Pacific and West Side Story. My older brother had brought the Beatles into our house but he had moved away for college and adulthood years before and the only trace of his musical influence was a Simon & Garfunkel greatest hits 8-track tape my mom had bought for a penny from the Time-Life record club.

In my bedroom late at night in the early 80s, I explored the sounds inside my new radio. I would bury myself underneath my Star Trek sheets, pull the radio inside, and listen with volume barely perceptible. Three was no real reason for the secrecy. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have particularly cared. But I was a private kid. I didn’t want to let on that I was curious about the adult world. Pop radio and MASH reruns were my secret.

I had had a shortwave radio in middle school and brought the thrill of long-distance discovery to my radio explorations. Geography and sound had more mystery in those days before the internet. On a cold, clear night, I could tune in AM powerhouses half a continent away.

One particularly cold night, one of these distant signals played a song I had never heard or even imagined. It was half-drowned out by static. The signal drifted in and out in waves but I listened mesmerized. To a introverted kid in a sleep Philly suburb, this song was a key to a yearned-for future. I was instantly certain that that no one around me had ever heard this song. If only I could make out some words, maybe I could spend the next year scanning the distant radio bands to hear it again. As I got older, I could go into the city to scour bins in the seediest of indie record stores. This song no one knew would be a touchstones to a new adulthood I was constructing in the secret of my bedroom.

As the fade came, I barely caught the DJ’s words through the static. “Hotel California.” I vowed to myself that someday, somehow, I would find this song and hear it again.

RIP Glenn Frey.

Some thoughts on the Twitter expansion

Twitter has always been a company that succeeds despite its leadership. Many of its landmark featured started as hacks by users. Its first apps were all created by third-party designers, whose good will to the curb when it about-faced and killed most of them by restricted its API. Top-down features like Twitter Music have come and gone. The only interesting grassroots innovation of recent years has been users using image attachments as a way of going past the 140 character limit.

I’ve been getting less patient with Twitter in recent months. Then-CEO Dick Costello acknowledged their failure handling abusive situations early in 2015 but nothing much seems to have changed. Having co-founder Jack Dorsey come back this in Jobsian fashion has been encouraging but only to a point—there’s a lot of weird ego involved in it all. Twitter’s inability to promote diversity and the tone-deafness of hiring a white man as diversity chief last month makes me wonder if it’s just finally going to do a full Yahoo and implode in slow motion.

But today something new: we’re looking at doing away with the 140 character limit. My initial reaction was horror but if done well it could be interesting. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t partner with blogging platform Medium (founded by another co-founder, featuring similar core principles). The key will be keeping the feed at 2-3 lines so we can scan it quickly, with some sort of button or link to expand past 140 or so characters.

One could argue that these “fatter tweets” is Twitter’s way of building the popular long-text picture hack into the system. Could Twitter management be ready to look at users as co-creators of the wider Twitter culture?

Toynbee Tile “Stickman”

As a Philly native the so-called Toynbee Tiles crept up so slowly in the built space that they blended in with the natural city streetscape and I missed Resurrect Dead, the 2011 documentary of the mystery. It’s in my watching queue. In the meantime I’m going to start photographing any I see. Here’s the figure the Internet has dubbed Stickman in the intersection of 13th and Arch in Philadelphia.