I initially planned on reporting Ohio’s primary election results through Tweets, Facebook posts, etc. Then, I did a little soul-searching tonight and realized that politics was the last thing I wanted to talk about, let alone report on. Instead, in a last-ditch effort, I decided to dig through Instagram and Facebook to report on the New York Philharmonic’s performance of Messian’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. I also wanted to try my hand at audio, which seemed like a particularly well-suited medium for a piece about classical music.

Lessons learned: finding actualities is hard for events like classical music concerts. There isn’t a lot to go on, maybe because of the nature of classical music concerts (recording is prohibited) and the demographic of classical music concert-goers. In this particular case, it was also difficult to find dissenting opinions (everyone really loved the concert). In any case, here’s my audio recording:


To accompany, here are a few Instagram images, a few tweets, and a video of the performance mentioned at the end of the piece:


Here’s the ondes Martenot, the electronic instrument in the piece:

#latergram #nyphil #messiaen #turangalila #ondes #martenot

A photo posted by Taylor White (@tdwmdmfa) on


These next two URLs are from the New York Philharmonic: the first is an instagram from one of the librarians who compiles sheet music for the musicians (and in this case got to sit in on a rehearsal) and the next is the video from Quartet for the End of Time — I incorporated the audio into my soundcloud piece.


Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” at the Temple of DendurWe’re live at The Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. You’re watching Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with Music Director Alan Gilbert on violin, Principal Cello Carter Brey, Principal Clarinet Anthony McGill, and Artist-in-Association Inon Barnatan on piano. NOTE: If you don’t hear sound, try going to around 1 min. 40 secs. in. #messiaenweek

Posted by New York Philharmonic on Sunday, March 13, 2016

I remember why I stopped reading the news.

[disclaimer, this belongs in some kind of op-ed column/tirade in something like DigBoston]

I remember why I stopped reading the news.

And I also remember why I stopped writing about difficult subjects.

It is impossible (for me) to objectively state the absolute horrific crap that people do to other people.

And if/when I do read the paper or the news, I usually intentionally avoid the metro section. It’s… depressing. However, the recent article about ISIS and the enslaved Yazidi women was on the 5th page of section A in the New York Times on Saturday and so there it was. Another nightmare happening in another part of the world.

Not only has yet another band of losers used religion to rape and pillage their way across a country, and justify those actions by some kind of opprobrious ‘fatwa,’ (oh yeah I’ll give YOU a fatwa, buddy!) or religious edict, but they are now forcing birth control on the enslaved women so that they can keep, well, raping them. Because in their religious code, the sacred text of some ancient and evidently morally corrupt persons, it says yes, you as a man can force sex on a non-believing female – until she becomes pregnant. Ah, but those sneaky ISIS terrorists! They’ve figured out not only how to torture but to Keep torturing one luckless half of a population in the name of God.

So, today’s question is, would it be worse to become pregnant by a twisted, feckless, brain-washed male and then be left semi-alone for 9 months locked in a room somewhere or is it better to have to be forced into a repulsive act several times a day? Hmmm. Maybe I’d fling myself over a fence too (like one woman did according to the NYT article –she survived). Although I have to tell you I may find some kind of stabbing implement and go after eyeballs when next shut.

I also remember why I stopped going to sunday school in my teenage years.  My upbringing was Episcopalian in the southern metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia. People went to church for social reasons, as well as spiritual. However, in the late 80s and early 90s, a ‘progressive’ strain of Episcopalian had started to outgrow its origins. Proponents were more like Baptists, those approached Biblical text more fundamentally than the ‘old school’ Episcopalians. I left soon after one of my mentors insisted all non-believers would sadly, but truly, end up in hell. Oh, and that women weren’t to speak in the church. See ya!

Yeah, so now I’ve done all this reading on social media and online about damaging and damning religion, and have given myself a rash. I’m enraged as usual. Again. But not like when I was 15 and angry at what Paul said to the Ephesians or when I was 25 and made myself literally ill by reading all the news on the Serbain war crimes. I am far more jaded now. And cynical. Hm, and maybe kinda hungry-

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Is this why blueberries v chihuahuas makes the news? Because we.just.can’t.take.this.sh*t.

But seriously, the numbers of reporting kidnapping of women from the Yazidi region in Syria range from 4000 to 7000.  At least 1500 have been rescued by ransoms and a few amazing undercover individuals.

So, while Trump blows hot air and American Democrats fight over who is a better liberal candidate, some people have an every day hell that we cannot imagine. Or, if we do, sends us running to the nearest bar or therapist’s office.

Imagine this conversation by the water cooler tomorrow:

“No one deserves to get pregnant at the age of nine or 12, or be put into sexual slavery or sold. No one deserves that. It’s against humanity.” — Rozin Khalil Hanjool

Like, uh, yeah…wow

“Quran says the people who lose the capacity to use their brain, to see and hear the truth are worse than animals. All that the ISIS soldiers are doing is ‘haram’ (forbidden) and anti-Islamic”  World News By Day

Yeah, we think that too.

So, there Are women escaping,  (cue Charlize Theron, Jennifer Gardner and Xena), while far too few for my liking, the ones that have are powerfully demonstrating and lobbying to get their sisters, daughters and all Yazidis out of that giant mess of a hellhole. Here are a few heroines:

Nihad Bakarat Alawsi

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and a very active Nadia Murad

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there’s this awesome woman ( there wasn’t much to the source, but she gave me hope)

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and most horrifyingly but defiantly, an 8-year-old girl who reportedly set herself on fire to stop the torture.

So, yeah, I hate reading the news. It’s horrifying.

But, these women that are ‘surviving’ after some of the worst, most horrific experiences on earth. They are brave, they are inspiring.

Maybe I will think of them for a second before the next time I comment on social media how much I like blueberry muffins. Maybe you will think of them before you comment on how offensive it is that your pupkins was compared to an inert pastry. Remember that some nightmares are very real. And some haven’t yet ended.



Posted in All

Curating Breaking News: Explosion in Berlin

Even as the BBC and AP news alerts came in over the weekend, I found myself constantly behind the times — at least in terms of catching the initial reactions and isolating the on-the-ground perspectives among the innumerable retweets, news posts, and distant reflections.

Monday morning, I happened to catch a relatively smaller-scale story of a car explosion in Berlin only a few minutes after it was posted. Although it was still some hours after the occurrence, it was the best chance yet that I had to parse the social media ‘verse before it ballooned beyond all recognition. This Storify was the result.

Of course, the exercise was not without its challenges. A few reflections:

  • I purposefully chose an international news story because I wanted to experience the language translation issue. As I don’t speak German, I certainly was limited. Jumping back and forth between Storify’s more flexible search tools and the native Twitter site where rough translation is available was less than convenient.
  • I thought images would be a helpful shorthand given the language barrier, but this was less useful in this context since many were sharing the same 10 or so images that appeared to be originally distributed or picked up early by news agencies.
  • To that end, looking at Getty’s image feed on Storify was a helpful comparison tool. So was seeing the patterns of retweets and duplicated images in Storify’s chronological format.
  • In this case, at least, early reports — especially video — were heavy on the news reports. Perhaps the story was too small, in the scheme of things, or perhaps I was still too late to the API.
  • At least on Storify, Twitter was by far the most prolific source of content — by 100-fold, at least. It would be interesting to see what types of stories get more content generation more quickly on other platforms (and how that content might be leveraged).
  • Figuring out the right search terms and parameters to cut through the chatter on Twitter was a start — though never completely helped to avoid some of the more confusing hashtags (where did #russia come in??). Likewise, it does become increasingly apparent how little you know who the users on social media are, or where the line forms between actualities that are accounts vs. reactions.

Media crackdown in Turkey continues following Ankara attack

A car bomb ripped through the Turkish capital of Ankara on Sunday, killing at least 37 people in a massive explosion not far from parliament. The attack, which comes less than a month after another car bomb in the city left 29 dead, is the latest escalation in violence since a cease-fire between Turkish forces and Kurdish militants broke down in July of last year.


Fighting had been mostly constrained to the southeast, but citizens and outside observers alike fear this is only the beginning on widespread attacks on Turkey’s urban centers. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, however, they found information hard to come by:


Reporters on the ground also had challenges getting information out:

A court order was allegedly given to restrict social media access after images of the bombing were shared online.

While Turkey’s media conditions have been in decline for years, some observers found the lack of information during a crisis particularly galling:

Still, some observers did sound a note of caution against the use of social media during a crisis.

That’s not fair. Social media can whip up a terrible panic unnecessarily. Having been involved in the Great Japan Earthquake I know first hand how unhelpful misinformation is.


Experts say that the question of the next terror attack in Turkey is not if, but when. As the long shadow of violence from Syria and Iraq continues its spread inward, access to independent, verified information will remain critical — even as it continues to deteriorate.

The Indispensable Value Of Fox News in an Uninformed Media Landscape >.<

(Submitted as an exercise in Motivated Reasoning and an example of how news claims need to be debunked and includes cherry-picked data.)

In news, we value truth, rigor, and awareness. These are unquestionable universals in modern society. In an information saturated environment, we are awash with perspectives, many of which are from under- or uninformed sources. The rise of the blogosphere has led to a proliferation of citizen journalism based on nothing but a singular perspective informed by nothing but confirmation bias and many times, radical views that no serious American would take seriously. And thanks to the “international” perspectives on life in the United States, the waters are further muddied with perspectives that aren’t even informed by an everyday experience in this proud country. Even worse, this has become fodder for the main stream media to feed off of. And so we’re left to the mercy of a media that stabs in the dark and makes claims largely based on indefensible sources.

The solution to this truly doesn’t lay in a messy conglomeration of independent voices vying for attention. What is needed is a combination of two things: a large, well-funded organization dedicated to producing relevant, up-to-the-minute news, and a voice that isn’t just an echo of every other media outlet; a voice that is controversial, as all truth tends to be in a world of media distortion.

We investigated the language that Fox News uses the most frequently in the context of truth. Do these issues matter to you?

A focus on what really matters: the Fox News Truth Language

A focus on what really matters: the Fox News Truth Language

Do you value a focus on family? What about a focus on the victims of crimes? How about God and love? As evidenced by this data, these are some of the core topics that Fox News cares about.

In the top list of words from the New York Times, instead you’ll find “democratic”, “headline”, “twitter”, and “celebrity”. Not quite a balanced and valuable view of the universe.

Now let’s look at the blogs that one might be tempted to retreat to given the lame stream media’s pathetic attempts to mislead and beguile you. The first thing you will notice is that the word “internet” is front and center. (The word “Google” isn’t far behind. Talk about a misleading liberal media super-power.) This is a community mainly interested in talking about themselves. For those of us who live in the real world, this should be a red flag. We need attention on real issues that affect real people.

You’ll find the word “opinions” high up on this list as well. That’s great if you’re not interested in objective reality and facts, but who has time to dawdle around in a sea of opinions when we have jobs to work, families to shop for, and taxes to pay??? You’ll also find “emotions”. This is now how one defines a valuable source of news.

So as it turns out, despite all of the attacks on the Fox News, they really do represent a valuable source of news, and an alternative to a media landscape gone awry. The data doesn’t lie. The liberal media does.


Posted in All

Is it cancer?

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Cyberchondria refers to unfounded health concerns perpetuated by medical information found online. WebMD is a popular website and often a top search result for people seeking to self diagnose conditions and symptoms. Its tendency to increase concern for potential conditions and exaggerate the seriousness of symptoms is found at the center of jokes. Specifically, articles online have referred to how easy it is to arrive at a cancer diagnosis on the website.

We cannot determine the validity of the entire WebMD site by fact-checking the answers given by each page, but we can perhaps answer this question – given a symptom, how far away is a person from a diagnosis of cancer on WebMD?

So here is an experiment that attempts to use the physical properties(text and links) of a website to determine it’s message. The goal is to investigate the structure and content of webmd.com in order to determine if and how much it perpetuates the diagnosis of cancer.

The site is a big nest of links so the scope is limited to be the A-Z common topics page. This section lists 482 health related topic pages from Acid Reflux to Zoster (Herpes) Virus. The content examined is further limited to the main article of each of the conditions.

The experiment looks at each page’s center content section for 2 things – cancer related words(a limited list I found on the internet), and all the out links from that section of the page. It continues to search through the pages until it arrives at either a page with cancer, a page with no links, or a page that is outside of WebMD.

Using this method, the simple web scraper picked up 9714 web pages. Of these,

  • 7976 pages do not have cancer related keywords on them.
  • 726 pages are cancer related conditions because keywords were found in the main content.
  • 1012 information pages had either no outlinks such as liver, or out-links that redirected to a sponsored page like this.

A rat’s nest of a directed network graph was made with a force directed layout from the resulting pages where each page is a node, and each edge a link between pages. The cancer related pages here are colored in red. It is not immediately noticeable which categories of pages have more prominence. However it is clear that there are central nodes in the network where almost every page eventually leads.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.14.56 AM I calculated pageRank for each page(node) to determine its prominence.

PageRank, the more famous part of the google search algorithm measures the relative importance of the page given its links based on one of the algorithms that determines the order of search results. Below are the top 1000 pageranked pages in descending order. We can see that pages with cancer do not have the highest scores, and are distributed throughout the ranking.

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Unfortunately, this is a much more complicated project than I expected, so I can only tell you that given what I have seen of the network, cancer related pages do not act differently or hold prominence over other topic pages. However, it is not clear that the scope of the website’s conditions covers cancer related topics proportionally more than it should. Nor is it clear that if a cancer diagnosis occurs, how much of it is driven by the behavior of the medical advice seeker who may tend to travel the path toward the worst scenarios.

If webMD is not about diagnosing cancer, then where are the most likely places that any given webMD query will lead? A few pages with significantly higher centrality and pageRank stood out far from the rest. And these pages focus on 2 things – policy and medicine.

The page which every page eventually leads to is as expected – the disclaimer that states webMD information “are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment…”

A equally prominent page is a tool to identify medication. The drug index comes in 3rd, but has the most user input on the website with its thousands of reviews of specific drugs..

And subsequent prominent pages serve similar purposes: privacy policy, and conditions of use.

… to be continued