Friday, March 31, 2017

The Menace of Unreality

Starbird is in the field of "crisis informatics," or how information flows after a disaster. She got into it to see how social media might be used for the public good, such as to aid emergency responders.

Instead she's gone down a dark rabbit hole, one that wends through the back warrens of the web and all the way up to the White House.

Starbird argues in a new paper, set to be presented at a computational social-science conference in May, that these "strange clusters" of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach.

- Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, Mar 29, 2017

UW professor: The information war is real, and we're losing it


A University of Washington professor started studying social networks to help people respond to disasters. But she got dragged down a rabbit hole of twitter-boosted conspiracy theories, and ended up mapping our political moment.

It started with the Boston marathon bombing, four years ago. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird was sifting through thousands of tweets sent in the aftermath and noticed something strange.

Too strange for a university professor to take seriously.

"There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the bombing," Starbird told me the other day in her office. "It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it."

Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by "crisis actors" for political purposes.

"After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity," Starbird says. "It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it.

"That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it."

Starbird is in the field of "crisis informatics," or how information flows after a disaster. She got into it to see how social media might be used for the public good, such as to aid emergency responders.

Instead she's gone down a dark rabbit hole, one that wends through the back warrens of the web and all the way up to the White House.

Starbird argues in a new paper, set to be presented at a computational social-science conference in May, that these "strange clusters" of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach.

It features sites such as, hosted by informal President Donald Trump adviser Alex Jones, which has pushed a range of conspiracies, including that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a staged fake.

There are dozens of other conspiracy-propagating websites such as, and Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. alone is roughly equivalent in visitors and page views to the Chicago Tribune, according to, the web-traffic analysis firm.

"More people are dipping into this stuff than I ever imagined," Starbird says.

Starbird is in the UW's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering — the study of the ways people and technology interact. Her team analyzed 58 million tweets sent after mass shootings during a 10-month period. They searched for terms such as "false flag" and "crisis actor," web slang meaning a shooting is not what the government or the traditional media is reporting it to be.

It happens after every mass shooting or attack. If you search for "false flag" and "Westminster," you'll find thousands of results theorizing that last week's attack outside British Parliament was staged (presumably to bring down Brexit, which makes no sense, but making sense is not a prerequisite).

Starbird's insight was to map the digital connections between all this buzzing on Twitter with a conglomeration of websites. Then she analyzed the content of each site to try to answer the question: Just what is this alternative media ecosystem saying?

It isn't a traditional left-right political axis, she found. There are right-wing sites like Danger & Play and left-wing sensationalizers such as The Free Thought Project. Some appear to be just trying to make money, while others are aggressively pushing political agendas.

The true common denominator, she found, is anti-globalism — deep suspicion of free trade, multinational business and global institutions.

"To be antiglobalist often included being anti-mainstream media, anti-immigration, anti-science, anti-U.S. government, and anti-European Union," Starbird says.

So it was like the mind of Stephen Bannon, chief adviser to Trump, spilled across the back channels of the web.

Much of it was strangely pro-Russian, too — perhaps due to Russian twitter bots that bombarded social channels during the presidential campaign (a phenomenon that's now part of the FBI investigation into the election, McClatchy reported last week).

The mainstream press periodically waded into this swamp, but it only backfired. Its occasional fact checks got circulated as further evidence: If the media is trying to debunk it, then the conspiracy must be true.

Starbird is publishing her paper as a sort of warning. The information networks we've built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor.

"Your brain tells you 'Hey, I got this from three different sources,' " she says. "But you don't realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn't know how to vaccinate for it."

Starbird says she's concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward "the menace of unreality — which is that nobody believes anything anymore." Alex Jones, she says, is "a kind of prophet. There really is an information war for your mind. And we're losing it."

I sat dumbfounded for a time as she spooled through tweets in her database: an archive of endless, baseless speculation that nevertheless is evidence of a political revolution. It should be unnecessary to say, but real humans died in these shootings. How disgustingly cruel it is to the survivors to have the stories of those deaths altered and twisted for commercial or ideological ends.

Starbird sighed. "I used to be a techno-utopian. Now I can't believe that I'm sitting here talking to you about all this."

Link to her paper:

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tibetan Mantras for Abigail

RIP Abigail 03/16/2017

My mom's cat Abigail died peacefully in her sleep last night. She was 21, or 19. We're not quite sure.

She was a sweet cat, if strange at times. I was the only human she seemed to care for. These last months she would run over when I came to visit mom, and get in my lap and start purring.

I'll bury her above the creek below our house, and say a few words.

Rest in peace, tiny soul.

Sad, really. They are our children. And the love is real.

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Story Behind Orquesta Típica Victor aka OTV

Orquesta Tipica Victor


When the officials of that record company had the idea of putting together an orchestra that would represent the corporation, they turned to a pianist classically trained, who had not yet played tango: Adolfo Carabelli.

This great artist studied with the best teachers of his time and when he was fifteen he was already playing concerts in the theaters of the city of Buenos Aires. When he was very young he went to Bologna, where he stayed until 1914. There he went to school and continued his musical studies. When the war broke up he returned to his country where he put together a small group of classical music: Trío Argentina.

Around that time he became acquainted with the pianist Lipoff, who accompanied the well-known dancer Anna Pavlova, and through him he was introduced to jazz, a genre that was beginning to get a wide acclaim.

His first orchestra was named River Jazz Band, later, when switching to the radio, the group bore his name, and the orchestra achieved an overwhelming success and was requested by all the nightclubs of the period. Eduardo Armani and Antonio Pugliese, among others, passed through its ranks.

He recorded his early records for the Electra label and later he is hired by the Victor company as musical advisor and responsible for the creation of a tango orchestra.

It was a seminal orchestra in tango, that never performed in public, but which left for us, during its long career, the indelible memory of its perfection and quality.

The first setting chosen by Carabelli, and that made its debut recording two tangos on November 9, 1925: “Olvido [b]”, by Ángel D'Agostino, and “Sarandí” by Juan Baüer, was the following: Luis Petrucelli, Nicolás Primiani and Ciriaco Ortiz (bandoneons); Manlio Francia, Agesilao Ferrazzano and Eugenio Romano (violins); Vicente Gorrese (piano) and Humberto Costanzo (double bass).

The composition of the orchestra changed very often, the musicians were continuously replaced, but they all were of an excellent level. So that so that some experts recognize, on certain recordings, the violin of Elvino Vardaro, for example.

Other important names that passed through the ranks of the orchestra were: Federico Scorticati, Carlos Marcucci and Pedro Laurenz (bandoneon players); Orlando Carabelli, brother of the leader, and Nerón Ferrazzano (double bass); Nicolás Di Masi, Antonio Buglione, Eduardo Armani and Eugenio Nobile (violins). Cayetano Puglisi, Alfredo De Franco and Aníbal Troilo were also included in the orchestra on some occasions.

Years later, and due to commercial reasons, the label thought that only one orchestra was not enough. For that reason a number of orchestras began to appear: Orquesta Victor Popular, the Orquesta Típica Los Provincianos led by Ciriaco Ortiz, the Orquesta Radio Victor Argentina led by Mario Maurano, the Orquesta Argentina Victor, the Orquesta Victor Internacional, the Cuarteto Victor lined up by Cayetano Puglisi, Antonio Rossi (violins), Ciriaco Ortiz and Francisco Pracánico (bandoneons) and the excellent Trío Victor, with the violinist Elvino Vardaro and the guitarists Oscar Alemán and Gastón Bueno Lobo.

The already mentioned quality of the musicians made the Orquesta Típica Victor one of the highest musical expressions of its period, and it would remain at the same level until the late thirties. And this is important to highlight, because other important orchestras, such as Julio De Caro, had lost their north.

Unfortunately later, because of a repertory that tried to fit into the commercial needs of the period, the quality of it declined, but neither its sound nor the capability of its members were of a poor level. Its vocalists, likewise, kept on being of a first rate level.

In 1936 the leadership of the orchestra is transferred to the bandoneonist Federico Scorticati, and its early recordings were the tangos “Cansancio” (by Federico Scorticati and Manuel Meaños) and “Amargura” (by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera), sung by Héctor Palacios.

In 1943 the orchestra was led by the pianist Mario Maurano, and recorded the tangos “Nene caprichoso” and “Tranquilo viejo tranquilo” (both by Francisco Canaro and Ivo Pelay), with Ortega Del Cerro on vocals, on September 2.

The last recordings under the name Orquesta Típica Victor were made on May 9, 1944, and they were the waltzes “Uno que ha sido marino” (by Ulloa Díaz) and the popular “Sobre las olas” (by Juventino Rosas), both sung by the Jaime Moreno and Lito Bayardo duo.

According to Nicolás Lefcovich's discography, the recordings were 444, but to this number we would have to add many recordings coupled on discs that on the opposite face had renditions of varied interpreters.

Even though it was an orchestra that mainly played tango, it also recorded other beats, more than forty rancheras and a similar number of waltzes, around fifteen foxtrots and very few milongas. Also polkas, corridos, pasodobles, etc.

As for vocalists, they appeared only three years after its creation, after over a hundred instrumental numbers were recorded. And the first one was a violinist, Antonio Buglione (a total of four recordings), with the tango "Piba", on October 8, 1928.

He was followed by Roberto Díaz (27 recordings), Carlos Lafuente (37, the one who recorded most), Alberto Gómez (25), Ernesto Famá (17), Luis Díaz (14), Teófilo Ibáñez (9), Ortega Del Cerro (7), Juan Carlos Delson (7), Mario Corrales —later Mario Pomar — (6) and Charlo (4).

Through the ranks of the orchestra the following vocalists passed: Alberto Carol, Jaime Moreno, Lito Bayardo, Lita Morales, Eugenio Viñas, Ángel Vargas, José Bohr, Osvaldo Moreno, Vicente Crisera, Dorita Davis, Oscar Ugarte, Fernando Díaz, Héctor Palacios, Mariano Balcarce, El Príncipe Azul, Francisco Fiorentino, Armando Barbé (also with the name Armando Sentous), Samuel Aguayo, Hugo Gutiérrez, Jimmy People, Deo Costa, Alberto Barros, Raúl Lavalle, Augusto "Tito" Vila and Gino Forsini.

When in 1944 the label decided to put an end to its career, tango was so successful that it would not be an exaggeration to say that everyday a new orchestra was put together. Somehow, with the great orchestras of the forties: Troilo, D'Arienzo, Di Sarli, D'Agostino, Tanturi, Fresedo, Laurenz, among others, the need of having one's own orchestra has come to an end.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Pseudo-cabaceos by Daniel Boardman and Michelle McRuiz


Taken and condensed from Daniel Boardman's and Michelle McRuiz' "From Bench Warming To Dancing In Thirty Seconds or Less: How to use cabeceo effectively"