Latest Blog Posts

by Jason Gross

5 Aug 2008

It’s sure to be one of the most blogged-about stories this season but it’s worth repeating. Finally, what everyone (except the major labels and their RIAA lawyers) have known and admitted is now in a study stating the obvious: Illegal Downloading is Here to Stay. That’s according to MCPS-PRS Alliance and Big Champagne, the later of which measures traffic for illegal downloads, many times used by the majors to get stats about their artists. Granted that Big Champagne has a vested interest here but they’d also know best. Plus, let’s face it… we all knew this already. Artists are already hip to the study’s other conclusion, which is that they are gonna have to find other ways to make money.

Even with the RIAA starting to get pushed back by the courts, the stats have also revealed that far from tapping off, illegal downloads are actually increasing. The labels have to keep a brave face by sicking the RIAA dogs on some users but they’re also hepping to the fact that they better find other sources of income too (i.e. ringtones, licensing to movies and video games, commercial tie-in’s, etc..). Of course, they can’t publicly throw in the towel and admit defeat but behind closed doors, they know they’re in trouble and that they blew it by not trying to turn the original Napster users into customers quick enough.

by Lara Killian

5 Aug 2008

A few (million) of you have been holding your breath, waiting for the midnight release last Friday of Stephenie Meyer’s last installment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. Will Bella end up with Edward or Jacob? And what’s this about a wedding scene? (Don’t draw any conclusions!)


Yesterday, Meyer’s publisher released sales figures for the first day of Breaking Dawn‘s release, and the numbers are big. Really big. reports:

Hachette Book Group announced today that the fourth and final novel in Stephenie Meyer’s #1 internationally bestselling Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn, shattered first day sales records for the company. HBG estimates that sales on the August 2 on-sale date were over 1.3 million copies.

Julie Bosman of the New York Times writes:

Barnes & Noble planned to hold vampire-theme parties in more than 600 of its stores on Friday night, and invited readers to arrive in costume, socialize and play Twilight trivia. Borders Group was expecting more than 100,000 fans at 900 Twilight-theme parties at its Waldenbooks and Borders stores.

Carol Memmott at USA Today counters: “Still, nothing competes with Harry Potter. Last July, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 8.3 million books in its first 24 hours on sale.”

Fans who needs more Twilight in their lives can recreate the author’s personal soundtrack, created while penning the final volume on her website. Crafty souls out there might be tempted by a free knitting pattern for Eclipse socks, embellished with the ribbon motif from the cover of the third book in the series.

I’d love to say I managed to attend a midnight party last weekend, but I have to admit, I’m waiting for a four volume Twilight set to be released – perhaps in time for the holidays?

by Nikki Tranter

5 Aug 2008

NPR has a short interview with Loriene Roy, who has recently completed her term as president of the American Library Association. Roy discusses her position as the ALA’s first Native American president and how her heritage has impacted her position. She discusses issues involving young readers in contemporary America, with a more positive outlook that we normally hear on that subject. Roy reminds us that books have survived the evolutions of television, film, and radio, and states that gaming and the Internet simply provide greater options for young readers.

Roy’s thoughts on books and reading can be found all over the NPR site, and I recommend checking back through her past documents. I don’t know if there’s ever been an ALA president so passionate and informed about such a large range of authors, genres, and issues.

Roy signs off, too, with a final reading list that includes the books she is in the middle of finishing, including Louise Erdrich’s Plague of Doves, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and Paula Poundstone’s There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant To Say.

by Rob Horning

5 Aug 2008

Tyler Cowen links to this article from an Australian newspaper that looks at research into what teenagers’ musical tastes reveal about their personalities. The article includes a quote from a psychiatrist urging that “The key to understanding any teenager is to treat them with respect by listening to what they have to say, rather than typecasting them according to the type of music they listen to”, but this doesn’t stop the paper from providing this handy chart:


POP: Conformists, overly responsible, role-conscious, struggling with sexuality or peer acceptance.

HEAVY METAL: Higher levels of suicidal ideation, depression, drug use, self-harm, shoplifting, vandalism, unprotected sex.

DANCE: Higher levels of drug use regardless of socio-economic background.

JAZZ/RHYTHM & BLUES: Introverted misfits, loners.

RAP: Higher levels of theft, violence, anger, street gang membership, drug use and misogyny.

How very insightful. We can only hope that psychologists are working on a iTunes plug-in that will spit out a complete personality profile based on the contents of one’s library. Some parents might find that quite useful.

by Rob Horning

5 Aug 2008

This forthcoming paper on inequality by economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson (summarized in the NYT by Eduardo Porter) is attracting much econoblogosphere attention because it argues, as Wolfers explains at Freakonomics, that happiness is becoming more equally distributed even as income is becoming less so. An excited Tyler Cowen suggests that these findings indicate why “moral arguments from the Left fall on deaf ears when it comes to most Americans.  Of course happiness inequality is more fundamental than either income or wealth inequality because we care about outputs, not inputs.” From this point of view, the Democrats should not futilely practice what the right likes to dub the “politics of envy” when it comes to the wealthiest 1% becoming much wealthier while income has stagnated in lower brackets. Regular Americans don’t begrudge the rich get richer, because they are just so happy themselves with what they have, in both material possessions and opportunities.

Likewise, Stevenson and Wolfers’s findings might give rhetorical ammunition to those who want to argue that income and happiness aren’t linked, and therefore growth policies shouldn’t be pursued aggressively at the expense of policies that prioritize other goals—namely, environmental protection, though any number of moral values may be cited as preferable to economic expansion, which is arguably a centrifugal force atomizing members of communities and leading to social disintegration.

But before one can give full credence to arguments developed from the paper’s findings, one has to sort of the methodological concerns about how happiness is measured—can it be defined in such a way that it measures the same thing for all people? What makes me happy certainly doesn’t make my neighbors happy; it doesn’t even make my parents or siblings happy. So what’s really being compared when the happiness of different social groups are set against one another? Also, are subjective reports about happiness relevant, policymaking-wise, given how adaptable people are and how volatile moods tend to be? And since happiness can often tend to be relative, a matter of looking at yourself in relation to acquaintances, it can vary depending on context.

In his post (and paper), Wolfers talks about the statistical distribution of those responding to this General Social Survey question: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days? Would you say that you are: very happy; pretty happy; or not too happy?” But there’s a temptation to see in his charts a distribution of happiness, as though it were a resource in limited supply. Income, if you think of it as GDP, is a limited sum whose distribution is determined economically. Happiness is an emotion that can’t really be quantified, except as a span of time—it is really a ratio of hours spent in a positive mood over all waking hours. So I find it hard to understand what Wolfers means when he writes, “These changes yield some pretty striking changes in the distribution of happiness.” Isn’t this a matter of more people claiming to be happy in general? There hasn’t been any sort of redistribution, which the wording might imply to non-economists like me. And “happiness inequality” seems like a weird way to describe all this; it seems a coinage meant specifically to supplant or trivialize income inequality. “Equality” makes no sense as a description of the comparison of different people’s subjective, emotional states. It’s only being evoked here to distract us from or negate the impact of the unequal distribution of things that can actually be counted—money, well-paying jobs, vacation homes, etc.

It seems to me that measuring happiness through surveys tells us very little while putting a cudgel in the hands who want to be back a more substantive egalitarianism.

//Mixed media

Supernatural: Season 11, Episode 12 - "Don't You Forget About Me"

// Channel Surfing

"In another stand-alone episode, there's a lot of teen drama and some surprises, but not much potential.

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