Mutually Assured Content

In 2015, the illusion of audience ownership is becoming harder to sustain.

New York City, July 29, 2015

weather review sky 072915★ “What am I smelling?” the three-year-old said, out in the noisome morning. “I think I’m smelling W—’s dirty feet.” The heat was not so bad, for a minute, on the walk toward the river, but on the way back, facing into a sun a few minutes higher, it was. Lane markings and crosswalks and crushed garbage had been added to the blank fresh new blacktop of Amsterdam Avenue. The day would stay as it had been: brutal but weak-willed. In the afternoon, a shady avenue seemed bearable; rounding the corner onto a cross street in full sun and grill-cart smoke was like stepping off an elevator into Hell. The evening was not too hot for trailing a scooter back and forth, but it was too humid for it. A stranger on the plaza held forth on how miserable his own day had been, bicycling around and stopping off to change.

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The Ungentrifiers

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 2.33.54 PMIn 1959, the Cooper Square Committee formed to organize against Robert Moses’ plan to tear down the twelve blocks in the East Village, which was at the time a low-income neighborhood, from Delancey Street to 9th Street, from Second Avenue to the Bowery, thereby displacing some twenty-four hundred tenants, four hundred and fifty furnished room occupants, four thousand homeless people, and five hundred businesses. The buildings would have been replaced with nearly three thousand units of cooperative housing, which have been affordable to just seven percent of the people living in the neighborhood at the time. In 1961, activists like Walter Thabit and Frances Goldin formulated the Alternate Plan for Cooper Square. “A renewal effort has to be conceived as a process of building on the inherent social and economic values of a local community. Neglecting these values through programs of massive clearance and redevelopment can disrupt an entire community,” the plan begins. “The physical improvements which will attract a higher income group must—first of all—benefit those affected by the program, not cause them to suffer from it.”

Thirty-five years later, after many legal and legislative battles, the Cooper Square Committee incorporated as a community land trust and mutual housing association. Basically, what this does is remove a given parcel of land (and the housing built upon that land) from the wider real estate market, thereby preserving its affordability. The land trust and the housing association are two separate, legal entities comprising building residents and neighborhood stakeholders. A community land trust is a non-profit organization that treats land as a public good; a mutual housing association is a non-profit organization that manages the housing that is built on that land. John Davis of the National Housing institute explains the dual-ownership model thus:

One party holds the deed to a parcel of land; another party holds the deed to a residential building located upon that land… Although CLTs do not resell their land, they provide for the exclusive use of their land by the owners of the buildings located thereon. Parcels of land are conveyed to individual homeowners (or to the owners of other types of residential or commercial structures) through a ground lease. This lease typically runs for ninety-nine years, unless a shorter term is required by state law. The lease is renewable and inheritable, giving homeowners (and their heirs) an exclusive right to occupy the land on which their homes are located.

A Poem by Michael Loughran

One Two Three

The future is treebound in its iron feathers,
lazy, possibly indigenous, mute as a roach
and as scampery, so I pick up your sunglasses
and put them down, I’m enthusiastic about sunglasses
and saying your name in full—
the high river in me
would take a chainsaw to every tree
and that’s the part that belongs to you.
History doesn’t care about itself.
“Yes,” it says, “this is what I’ve done
and I don’t know why and won’t stop.”
I play it songs and approach it sideways
and of me it makes a glove.
Desire rides quiet through the fist
of the dark heat, July and future Julys,
last July, a set of Julys only a fool would name,
a feeling like excitement passing through
me without permission, the early beardedness
of the irregular treeline in a yard not mine
and not yours. To borrow a yard
and face it squarely and address you
and its things is, roughly, peace. Is what I have.
Fortunately unfortunately my head is all heat.
I’ve taken a pill and it is called
When the Hawk Landed on the Roof
with Its Suitcase of Rubies
and Spit the Rubies Down the Chimney
and I Gathered Them into This Pouch.
It took the whole elbow of an afternoon
but I know now that many untrue things
are also extraordinary. Thusly I bide my time,
an idiot on idiot earth among trees,
a machine of notions unfurling all night
and all morning, too. There’s a turtle
to which I owe an apology and I must now
rush down the black path towards it.
But even the famous argument about enthusiasms
is in the end only a cool drink
meant to occupy the hands of others.
For you it will always be a red sixteenth note hammering.
So you must retire from previousness.
You must sweep the patio
because it may please the birds
roosting anxiously in the low chamomile.
When the birds are just bugs and when the bugs
are petals and the petals ash,
sweep nevertheless, or read the old notes
out loud to a chair.
The blue chair of necessity will do.
If it doesn’t, don’t attempt to pet the sky,
just gather something up and present it.
It will be like tilting your flashlight by accident
onto whoever you miss and did not know
had arrived at the picnic.
By then I’ll know every word is also a germ.
By then I’ll have never said anything inane about nature,
or have noticed all this metaphor-resistant
three-foot grass, or this surprising
pathway, itself surprised, out to the pier’s remainder.
No planner will have embarrassed it with a boardwalk
of reclaimed wood, dedicated benches, and red gravel,
where once I saw a man shitting
among unsocialized geese.
Perhaps the trees are oaks
and sycamores, perhaps the index
of broadleaf weeds is Lambsquarter
and Mallow and Shepard’s Purse and Spurge
and Yellow Rocket. Perhaps what blooms
is Indian Paintbrush or Morning Glory.
What a pleasure it is to step on a flower.
I want the old July, but old July was awful,
green bugs and strangers. I want the new July,
the sidewalk of it, the noise of dispute or affection
on loan. I hate an unclear thought.
I hope one puts me to sleep
and I wake up dumb on the old lawn again.

Mutually Assured Content

Is the media, as it gets ready to supply its product directly to social networks, becoming a “wire service?” Ezra Klein, on/on Vox:

[M]y guess is that within three years, it will be normal for news organizations of even modest scale to be publishing to some combination of their own websites, a separate mobile app, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Snapchat, RSS, Facebook Video, Twitter Video, YouTube, Flipboard, and at least one or two major players yet to be named. The biggest publishers will be publishing to all of these simultaneously.

This sounds stranger than it will feel: Publishing to these other platforms will be automated. Reporters will write their articles, and their content management system will smoothly hand them to Facebook, Snapchat, or Apple News. There’s nothing new here, really — this is already how RSS feeds work.

But there will be more of them, and they will matter much more. The RSS audience is small. The off-platform audience will be huge. The publishers of tomorrow will become like the wire services of today, pushing their content across a large number of platforms they don’t control and didn’t design.

This part of the prediction is reasonable and probably conservative—most large media organizations do this already, to some extent, albeit in ways that aren’t producing revenue. What is a tweet posted by a news organization containing an image, a screenshot of text, an embedded synopsis, and a caption if not some sort of ad hoc Twitter article? How many tweets do you see a day in which the link is the least important component? (Most of them!) Facebook, even before it introduced Instant Articles, recommended to partners that they post a mixture of links, photos, native “notes,” and videos, and its partners enthusiastically cooperated. Show me a large media company working online, and I’ll show you a large media company that is already trying as hard as it can to publish to “some combination” of channels, either intentionally, as a plan, or just because, in each instance, the post that contains more—or all—of the story it refers to seems like it will share better.

Anyway: Klein finds an upside to this wire service scenario in the enormous audiences afforded by platforms. “A longtime problem for the news business is that the people who use our product most often need it least,” he says. “The people who regularly come to Vox, or to the New York Times, are already into reading the news. Some of the people who see our content on Facebook are not. I love that.”

This is also true, and has been clarified in recent months: Websites, Vox included, have been able to accumulate enormous audiences with incredible speed by harvesting referrals from social networks. These rapidly convened audiences felt contiguous because they ended up, eventually, on publishers’ websites; they felt contiguous and useful and real because advertising teams could sell web ads against them. Websites plausibly marketed these people as members of their audiences, rather than temporarily diverted members of a platform’s audience. Wherever they came from, they were counted in the Chartbeat. They saw at least 50 percent of at least one ad for at least one second, and so they existed.

What is your greatest weakness? Mine is probably impatience. I mean also arrogance, and quickness to anger, surely selfishness, maybe an inability to understand things from the other person’s point of view, probably an unwillingness to commit to anything that requires making difficult decisions, plus a tendency to sorrow and self-pity and an even greater tendency to indulge that sorrow and self-pity in ways that make it difficult to be around me for the people who are unfortunate enough to have to be in such a position. I’m pretty pessimistic too. I don’t take enough time to listen. I’m dismissive of anyone who I don’t feel operates at the same pace that I do. I rarely reach out to people I know are hurting or need help. I’m unduly harsh. I get irritated quickly and I would rather not participate in something altogether than be forced to take part in a situation where I am not in control. I am the last person anyone else should count on for help in an emergency and yet I am deeply offended if friends turn to someone else first in a difficult situation. My desire for approval is only surpassed by my disgust with approval-seeking behavior in others. I have a hard time pretending to be interested in conversations that do not pertain to me or topics I find engaging. I sweat fairly profusely even in the colder months. I don’t offer to get anyone something when I am running out to get something for myself. I leave places without saying goodbye and I don’t send thank you notes to my hosts after events to which they have invited me. I do not in general say thank you. I am ungrateful even in situations where I am being awarded things I have asked for. My high opinion of myself has not been borne out by any actual achievement or praise, even the insincere sort, yet it only inflates with each passing year. I feel debilitated by the misfortunes of others but never to the extent that I will do anything to help alleviate them. I give nothing of myself to anyone else. I snore. But mostly I think the impatience thing is the worst weakness I have. In that way I am a lot like presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Which sounds about right given our similar levels of accomplishment. What’s your greatest weakness? Tell us in the comments or on social media! I mean, I won’t be listening because what do I care about you? But go ahead anyway, I’m sure someone wants to know.#

Miguel, "…goingtohell"


I was slow to come around on the new Miguel record, probably because I couldn’t get past the way the chorus of “Coffee” sounds like Spandau Ballet, but whatever, I was wrong, it’s great, here’s this, enjoy. [Via]

“Spaghetti is a surprisingly satisfying food to eat while walking around city streets, especially coated with Attala’s delicious sauces. There are eight ‘cone’ varieties, ranging in price from $8 to $12 and I have tried six of them. Two were outstanding: the puttanesca and the trevigiana. The trevigiana is pancetta, pine nuts and radicchio in a cream sauce and the bitterness of the radicchio balances so nicely with the salty pancetta and the cream sauce and, yes, yes, very much yes: I want to eat spaghetti out of a cone again very soon.
—Awl pal Dave Bry, of Dave Bry’s Mid-Day Repasts fame, has spaghetti in a cone. #

2 8 1 4, "Huīfù"


2 8 1 4’s 新しい日の誕生 was one of the great walking around records of the winter; the word “soundscape” is itch-inducing to me so I won’t use it here but you know what I’m talking about. (I will also refrain from tossing out phrases like “auditory urban blueprint” because [makes gagging gesture].) It is just too gross out today to stroll about listening to music—no one who cares about you would ask you to do so and anything short of a lifesaving organ transplant that requires it is truly unnecessary—but you can still press play huddled under whatever air conditioner you are currently riding out the humidity with and imagine for a second that you are wandering through a “darkly beautiful and dystopian ambient cinescape,” but one where each step doesn’t deplete you of life-preserving moisture. Enjoy.

New York City, July 28, 2015

weather review sky 072715★ Across the flat waters of the river, New Jersey’s windows stared dully through the haze. Sitting down on a bench and staring back for a while seemed as good a use of the day as any. A contrail snake-bellied its way overhead. Down in the upper teens, the walk between avenues was more desolate and defeating than before. Noses wrinkled against the glare. An unassuming pile of trash bags gave off a ferociously sour reek. A very light breeze pushed against the walk back toward the river, making less of an impediment than the hanging humidity was. Even in the shadows of late day, a creeping sweat came on.