Cooper Union Alumni Association Unanimously Endorses Working Group Plan to SAVE FREE Tuition

There is still hope yet for a FREE Cooper Union. I had the pleasure of voting with a unanimous Cooper Union Alumni Council in endorsing the wonderful Working Group plan to save my alma mater. It rests with the trustees now.

The Intended Banality of American Surveillance

I wrote this a few days before I read the very revealing article on Laura Poitras in the NYT. Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Michael Miranda, being detained for 9 hours at London’s Heathrow airport a few days ago is even more shocking. While this post is not a direct response to these recent articles and events, it does confirm the suspicions I’ve raised here.

The bargain was struck. Keep us safe at any cost. For the most part we can believe they have kept us safe. We hadn’t processed the cost. We were never asked to sacrifice for the country like generations passed. We were encouraged to live our free American lives with even more gusto. Only now has the cost become evident. We certainly had an inkling as to what the cost would be. Yet, we weren’t explicitly asked. No amendments to The Constitution were made. Yet they’ve gone ahead and taken our right to privacy as payment for security.

Aside from activist voices, the mainstream, while mildly worried, is not livid. Consider how unacceptable we consider authoritarian governments spying on their citizens to be. Think about stories from history involving the KGB, Gestapo and secret police. Why were they so bad? It’s still, hopefully, early stages, but NSA has the potential to be the next ignominiously evil acronym.

The US government has the most sophisticated propaganda machine in the world. Where contemporary authoritarian regimes like Turkey, China and Russia clumsily provoke their citizens to achieve their ends, America cleverly seeks to placate its “model” citizens—at any cost. The net affect of this citizen-first strategy is a widespread consensus of trust. The US government exploits this trust collateral to justify wars, drone strikes, torture and to obfuscate severe capitalist corruption.

The Snowden Crisis has come at a time when the US propaganda information strategy was not fully complete. While many have become comfortable with living publicly and sharing online it is still a new phenomenon. We were being groomed by both market and governmental forces to live without regard for our privacy. Snowden revealed a true conspiracy of corporations and the government colluding together in engineering citizen behaviour to feed their respective needs. The government hungers for information, corporations for brand engagement. The prospect of joint benefits to be reaped from cooperation between these two forces must have been irresistible. The free market, in cooperation with the government, creates the potential for extremely rapid, large scale innovation. Looking at the meteoric rise of big tech in such a short time, it’s no stretch to conclude this conspiracy has happened and continues.

The secret is out that NSA has been watching all along (or has the capability to watch). We citizens haven’t yet been sufficiently primed to live knowingly without privacy. Yet we must be pretty close as the general feeling towards NSA seems a lot closer to apathy than outrage.

It all comes back to the mainstream belief in the benevolence of our government. Many minority groups in America know the sting of government betrayal all to well. Yet America’s blank check still rests with its rank and file whom it encourages to be selfish, myopic and comfortable. I’m not too hopeful NSA will cease its operations in compromising our privacy. The outrage doesn’t seem to be there. Another brilliant American propaganda strategy is the trivialization of free speech in itself. We can talk of these things openly and casually. With so much opinion the truth becomes diffused, diluted and sanitized. We become confused. Only if NSA missteps by compromising the comfort of the mainstream will there be the will to dismantle this program.

I’m reminded of Martin Niemöller’s famous statement on the dangers of political apathy. He was referring to the inaction of German intellectuals after the Nazi’s rise to power. Nazi Germany is often the most extreme example to cite, but there are crucial lessons to be learned from history.

“First they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Trasa Bootstrap Responsive Starter Theme, Based on Twitter Bootstrap 3 and WordPress Twenty Ten

I’m fond of Twitter Bootstrap. I like where Bootstrap 3 is going. I’ve used Twenty Ten as a starter theme for innumerable WordPress websites. Instead of learning the logic of other starter theme developers I’ve decided to go ahead and use my own logic by retrofitting WordPress Twenty Ten with the latest and greatest Twitter Bootstrap 3. My work focuses solely on custom designed/branded themes so I’ve removed all theme options and most of the style rules. I have kept most of the Twenty Ten markup so if you’re like me and very familiar with Twenty Ten HTML you can simply add in your styles and experience deja vu. I made this for myself to streamline my own work, but I imagine there are other designers like myself looking for a blank canvas WordPress starter theme that can tap directly into Twitter Bootstrap 3. You could spend a day making something like this like I did. Or you can download this and let me know how I did.

Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 2.1
Updated 8/6/14: Just swapped in Bootstrap 3.2.0, no other changes.

Old Versions (Don’t use these)
Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 2
Updated 6/20/14: Just swapped in Bootstrap 3.1.1, no other changes.

Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 1.9
Updated 3/13/14: Not exactly sure why I didn’t post 1.7–1.8. Oh well. Made some upgrades. I found a BS3 starter theme that may be better than this one called BST. I borrowed a little CSS from BST for the hover nav. I’m sticking with my own theme because I know it so well and it’s very vanilla/straightforward. A few things about how BST is setup are things I’d never do, not because they’re bad, just because I don’t think that way. I added a few other patches to this version and its running the latest Bootstrap, also calling the newest version of jQuery. I removed some javascript that I have no idea what it was in there for. If you see any bug let me know.

Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 1.6
Updated 12/4/13: Upgraded to Twitter Bootstrap 3.0.2. Implemented Respond.js script (so this will look decent on IE8). A few minor touch ups. Updated the latest Nav Walker file too, but kept my mod to keep hover navigation dropdown menus.

Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 1.5
Updated 9/12/13: Implemented new Walker Dropdown Menu but changed it so it allows clickable Parent Dropdown on hover (this is always a must in sites I make, Bootstrap doesn’t do it this way. If you disagree and think the parent nav of dropdowns should remain unclickable let me know).

Download Trasa Bootstrap Version 1.4
Updated 9/4/13: Finessing of WordPress specific functions (post/archive navigation)

Version 1.3
Updated 9/4/13: Made fully compatible with official Twitter Bootstrap 3 release.

Version 1.2
(upgraded to include additions from latest Twenty Ten 1.6 Upgrade)

Version 1.1

Version 1.0

Repression rebranded

There are two op-eds in this weeks New York Times that seem to compliment each other by two authors of complete opposite spectrum and intent.

The Romantic Advantage by David Brooks

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Julian Assange

Brooks writes about how American companies excel at branding to create the impressions of trust and value among customers. He writes China companies have only focused on the bottom-line and thus won’t be a true market threat until they learn how to brand.

Assange writes a response to the book “The New Digital Age” by Google’s Eric Schmidt and former Condoleeza Rice/Hilary Clinton advisor Jared Cohen. He accuses Schmidt and Cohen of heralding the age of compromised privacy via the symbiotic relationship of the government and Silicon Valley and exporting American interests globally using passive means with technology. “Without even understanding how, they have updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy.”

I can’t help but draw the conclusion that America has used its branding sophistication to remove the discomfort autocratic governments cause their citizens while still overreaching out of the bounds of true liberal democracy the way those governments do. We’ve got drones, Guantanamo, the government assassinating its own citizens, erosion of privacy…all of this has been branded as safety. The majority doesn’t complain (too hard) because the majority is perfectly comfortable. But in a world with Google and the government in bed together perhaps we need to take a sober look at what could happen. Although Facebook gets a lot of flack for its ambivalence for our privacy our real secrets are more likely contained in email. And which email client do you use? Yes, I thought so.

Cooper Union: 1859 – 2013

Cooper Union was a free college. The trustees’ duty was to preserve the school. Mark Epstein defiantly announced on April 23rd that Cooper Union would begin charging tuition in 2014. No remorse. No apology. No admission of grievous, unthinkable and shameful failure. No shame at all actually. Just more contempt and condescension for alumni. To dig the dagger even deeper he once again laid the responsibility at the foot of the alumni. No, Mark Epstein.  This was your failure. You were entrusted to preserve the legacy of Cooper Union, free tuition and the school’s financial health. It is you who failed, not us. We certainly feel defeated and heartbroken. But worse, we feel betrayed—by you.

Scores of people TOOK from Cooper Union since its inception. Cooper Union’s mission was to GIVE education. We students and alumni are only guilty of taking what we was given. If we had known earlier that the school was insolvent surely we would have given back more than we did. Yet I think about other takers from Cooper Union. It seems that Cooper Union was pillaged by shadowy individuals. Powerful decision makers with their own agendas. The language of board and administration has eradicated any talk of a Free Education in their speeches and literature.

I studied at Cooper Union. It changed my life. It changed my mind. I confess that I may have even took for granted at times that there was a place where a few hundred artists, architects and engineers were selected out of thousands to study and do their very best, every single one them granted a full tuition scholarship. That place is no more.

We won’t give up on Peter Cooper’s dream. We lived it and were changed by it. Other’s should have that opportunity as well.

Let’s Save Music: Local

There is a familiar malaise amongst music makers. Most of us hold very little hope for a career in music. Maybe it was always too much to hope/dream for. Myself, I can’t help but write songs. It’s an artform I’m intrigued by and I keep working at it to get better and better. It seems a futile pursuit as even minor recognition would most likely not yield dividends. But I suppose my small goal is just a little a nugget of recognition. You work at a thing, you make it and you want to share it and then you want some acknowledgement from the community of its signficance. I watched an interesting NYPL talk with David Byrne and Chris Ruen. There seems to be agreement that something is wrong with the state of music today. Artists aren’t getting paid much despite massive music consumption.

I’ve only just had an idea. Perhaps to save music we must make it smaller. The ‘We’ collective is key. I’m in New York. There’s a lot of bands here. I’ve played/play in a few of them. I know a handful of people in numerous bands. No one is complaining about not being rich and famous. Everyone knows there’s too much music. We keep making it. We won’t stop. We now have at our disposal amazing streaming apps that put the entire history of recorded music at our finger tips. A new artist has all of that to contend with, never mind the crowded field of contemporaries.

The idea. Let’s we, the listeners, focus our listening attentions. I’m into discovery. I go through A LOT of music every month. (I tend to gravitate to music with interesting cover art). What if we were to think more about our smaller local community and focus our discovery listening solely on neighborhood music? What if the social norm was an expectation to be well informed of as much local music as possible? This could only be good for artists. I think the Boss sang something recently about ‘taking care of our own’. What if we did that. Instead of trying to keep up with the latest big label albums what if our local music conversations revolved around local bands. Our bands.

How do we do this? It’s not hard, but it does require only a slight bit of homework.

  1. Go to The Deli Magazine, find your region and start scrolling through and looking for artists you’ve never heard of. Of course you can listen to the snippets the Deli provides. But you should go one step further.

  2. Go into your Rdio or Spotify and add those bands latest releases to your listening queue. When you find artists you like make a note.

  3. Go to Oh My Rockness to see if they’re playing anytime soon.

  4. Also, follow those bands on Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook and all that stuff. Make sure to go see them. Local shows are less expensive and probably more convenient than big shows anyway.

Do this often. Many already do. I suppose I don’t do this enough but I do end up going to friends shows. But this just isn’t enough. We need to do more. I’m advocating social norm. It’s too easy to only see the big shows as the special events we give our time to. My generation and younger is at a pretty big disadvantage in that department. There are too many mammouth acts to contend with and they don’t appear to be going anywhere. Fifty years of the Rolling Stones anyone? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

A lot of what I’ve just written seems obvious. But if it is so obvious then why aren’t you doing it? Do it. I think the more people who get down with their local music will be part of a change in listening culture. Why are we, the fans, always accused of stealing music? Because we don’t know the artists. They’re these mythical beings who must be doing fine. We’re also trusting the hype on faith that this is the best the world has to offer. Well I don’t know about that. I think we’re all going to be surprised if we go local with our listening. There’s the added benefit of having a strong connection to the music. When you’ve got a friend or acquaintance whose music you hear and you like it there’s definitely a more special connection to that music because you know them. I’m admittedly not versed in the torrenting world, but if you go local there’s a good chance you won’t be finding local music there anyway. You may even be moved to buy music from these local artists. I know I haven’t been one to champion music download purchases as a viable market. But there’s something different about it when you buy local. The feeling that maybe you’re not throwing your money into the pointless abyss.

Ever since the Napster days I’ve been thinking there must be a way to save music. A decade on there still seem to be no great answers. It all comes back to the fans. The fans are the problem or the solution. Us. As fans, do we care enough to be the solution? I’m going to keep writing about this. I don’t want to add to the malaise. I want to help point the way to a new and vibrant music economy.