Category Archives: Lumber

Toni Basil - still from "Mickey" video. Source: YouTube | Toni Basil - Mickey (Director's Cut) - ToniBasilVEVO - (c) Razor & Tie Recordings

From Tapeheads to Toni Basil: an education

Many years after first hearing the line “Let’s get into trouble, baby” in a Spring-Heeled Jack song, and years more after becoming aware of the movie the band sampled for their track, I watched Tapeheads.

The movie is good, in its way. A total mess at times, but with heart. Some good gags, some that fall flat. It’s an odd dance in and out of the lines. Hey, it was the 80s, which brought us oddities like One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead (to stay on a John Cusack theme).

It also brought us gentle, enveloping oddities like the music video for Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”.

I am old enough to remember the 80s as a time that belonged to me and young enough that I needed my older siblings to fully expose me to a treasure trove of popular culture — all which finds me grateful.

The 80s did not have the World Wide Web, however, a boon we got probably before we could fully learn to appreciate it. Once upon a time, if there were a poem I thought I remembered, I would have to get my hands on a book that would index popular poems by first line, by keyword, by subject. Finding a match for something pulled from the dim resources of memory could take real effort. You might ask your family, your friends, your teachers, a librarian, and come up empty…until some glorious, lucky moment when the thing you had sought off and on for weeks, months, years is staring right back at you from the pages of a magazine.

It is difficult to know how much of the wonder of that time was childhood, and how much of it was the fugue accompanying our last, grinning, drunken stumblings before we fell headlong into the Information Age.

Years into the Web, now, I visit only a handful of sites with any real regularity and most of what I happen across get saved to my “read later never” list. Thus it was surprising to find myself, during and after the viewing of Tapeheads surfing the Web just like the old days, teasing out connections and, ultimately, learning loads more about one bright, single-dimensional icon from my childhood: Toni Basil.

For one thing, I’ve been saying her name wrong, with a long rather than a short ‘a’. I had also known her purely for one stand-out music video that played over and over on early MTV. Decades of subscribing to common knowledge had fully convinced me that Ms. Basil and her music video for “Mickey” were the definition of the “one-hit wonder”.

Had I been a bit older, I would have known better. Had I been a bit younger, I would have known nothing.

I wish I could really delineate the steps that brought me from Tapeheads to a new appreciation of Toni Basil. It would be a long story, needlessly complicated, probably boring, and almost certainly inaccurate — how does one recreate a thousand thoughts with any kind of fidelity? For posterity’s sake, though, I can at least note down my browser history, more or less. Not every page is included in the list below (I would browse around an IMDb entry or listen to a few different track on YouTube, for instance), and none of my reasoning for moving from one page to the next is given, nor could I hope to reconstruct it all. This list and its omissions span just over three hours…

Tapeheads (IMDb)
Bill Fishman (IMDb)
Jessica Walter (IMDb)
Mary Crosby (IMDb)
Car 54, Where Are You? (1994) (IMDb)
David Johansen (IMDb)
New York Dolls (Wikipedia)
New York Dolls (YouTube) – various tracks
Dead Kennedys (YouTube)
Bad Brains (YouTube)
Buster Poindexter (YouTube)
Katy Boyer (IMDb)
King Cotton (IMDb)
Don Cornelius (IMDb)
Rocky Giordani (IMDb)
John Marshall Jones (IMDb)
John Durbin (IMDb)
Coati Mundi (IMDb)
David Anthony Higgins (IMDb)
Jim Ward (IMDb)
Angelo Moore (IMDb)
Chris Down (IMDb)
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (IMDb)
Same Moore (IMDb)
Junior Walker (IMDb)
Ebbe Roe SMith (IMDb)
Keith Joe Dick (IMDb)
Clu Gulager (DuckDuckGo)
Mike Nesmith (DuckDuckGo)
Michael Nesmith (Wikipedia)
More of the Monkees (Wikipedia)
Head (film) (Wikipedia)
Elephant Parts (Wikipedia)
The Monkees (TV series) (Wikipedia)
Neil Diamond The Monkees (DuckDuckGo)
I’m a Believer (Wikipedia)
Bob Roberts (IMDb)
Solarisation (Wikipedia)
John Brockman (literary agent) (Wikipedia)
Victor Mature (Wikipedia)
Toni Basil (Wikipedia)
Jack Nicholson (Wikipedia)
Mary, Mary (song) (Wikipedia)
Rockula (Wikipedia)
Toni Basil Mickey (YouTube)
Toni Basil Mickey (Director’s Cut) (YouTube)
Five Easy Pieces (YouTube)
Five Easy Pieces (IMDb)
Toni Basil (IMDb)
Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime (YouTube)
Rockula (IMDb)
Dean Cameron (IMDb)
Bo Diddley (IMDb)
Pajama Party (film) (Wikipedia)
Fishbone (YouTube)

Here is what I now know: Toni Basil’s career now spans more than fifty years of choreography, singing, dancing, performing, managing, you name it. She directed a couple Talking Heads music videos; she was an assistant choreographer for a seminal early James Brown televised performance; she choreographed, danced, and acted in a classic Annette Funicello beach film; she choreographed on The Monkees’ movie Head; she helped bring street dance to a popular audience as a founding member and manager of The Lockers; she acted opposite Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda in two classic American films; she has done choreography for well-known films, two of David Bowie’s tours, and has worked extensively with Bette Midler and Tina Turner besides. She’s even an active YouTuber.

For more than thirty years, I have been able to recall her name, her song, her music video in less than a moment. For more than thirty years, I believed that was more or less all there was to know, at least regarding the public person (I try not to deny celebrities the presumption of their having rich personal lives). For all this time, I have known next to nothing.

“Mickey” is a great pop song to this day. The video is a classic of its genre and era, which, thanks both to its own values and to its replay ad nauseam on MTV, informed the style of countless others. Those things alone were enough to be entrenched in my memory. But Toni Basil is an interesting, smart, versatile, talented, career artist who has been involved, without my knowing, in all kinds of other things that live in my memory.

Secondarily, and less well-explored at this moment, I discovered the band Fishbone, who appeared in Tapeheads and played the best music, of several acts, in the movie. Fishbone was/is a band that, according to Wikipedia, plays “a fusion of ska, punk rock, funk, hard rock and soul.” My older siblings really let me down on this one! To bring it part-way back to Toni Basil, Fishbone also appeared in the 1987 movie Back to the Beach with Frankie Avalon and…Annette Funicello.

So that is what I get for watching a goofball, punk-flavored cult comedy of the 80s: meeting Toni Basil again for the first time and having a whole new ska/funk/soul band to discover.

This age is prone to most of the same ills that plague every other, plus a few all its own, but there is some amazing stuff, too. The Web offers so many avenues for discovery that a problem of our time is knowing when and how to turn the information off. I do a pretty good job of filtering for myself, but sometimes opening up the spigot and letting the Web run is the right thing to do, and not a bad way to feed and fortify one’s mind.

Photo: Toni Basil, still from “Toni Basil – Mickey (Director’s Cut)” via ToniBasilVEVO (YouTube). © Razor & Tie Recordings. Used under principles of Fair Use.

Media’s media literacy could use some work

When I saw the headline in my Facebook feed, I was intrigued:

Mark Ruffalo on the ‘I am not a feminist internet phenomenon’

The unattributed article, on the website, reprints the contents,  with additional commentary, of a post on Mark Ruffalo’s Tumblr page that takes to task people (implicitly, women) who reject feminism and the “feminist” label. Here are two relevant excerpts (emphases mine):

Dubbing the ‘I am not a feminist’ school of thought “degrading” and “insulting”, Ruffalo does not hold back on the impact he thinks this has on everything women have fought for “the past 200 years.”

The post, which written in March, has started to gain a bit of traction online thanks in part to the Reddit AMA Ruffalo hosted earlier this month.

Here’s the problem: Mark Ruffalo did not create this post. Nevertheless, the article giving him credit has been shared on Facebook over 100,000 times and tweeted over 500 times since June 1st.

As a former classroom educator, I know that media literacy is a huge problem for students. It is a huge problem for their teachers. It is a huge problem for citizens and for politicians. The one place where I would hope that media literacy would be at least above average would be in the media.

I could argue that attributing this content to Ruffalo works to obscure the woman who actually composed it, but I will let that one slide.

And I take nothing away from Ruffalo. It is great that he shared these sentiments on Tumblr and is willing to align himself with them. It is great that his celebrity status not only helps these words find a large audience but helps to “legitimize” them for skeptical readers.

Nor do I take anything away from those who see an article extolling a celebrity for taking a distinct stance on a social justice issue and share that article with others (although I counsel plenty of caution).

My argument is with a media outlet that is willing to post this story with additional commentary and context — I mean, they put at least a bit of work into it — while completely failing to (a) understand how Tumblr works, and (b) follow these words to their source.

Heck, I barely understand how Tumblr works and have never published anything on the site, but I can be of some assistance. Maybe it is just my undergraduate history training, but I like to interrogate my evidence:

(1) See how the entire post on Ruffalo’s Tumblr page is enclosed by quotes, as though to suggest these are the words of someone else? Hmm. Maybe Ruffalo likes non-standard punctuation, but still…

(2) Use the “via” and “source” links just below the post to walk it back along the chain of custody…pretty quickly, attributions to one “Libby Anne” start showing up.

(3) Or, hey, use a search engine to walk it back by publication date. I grabbed a chunk of text, entered it into Google enclosed in quotation marks, then used the search tools to limit results to only those before March 2015. Although this tool is wildly imperfect (not Google’s fault; the Web is a hot mess and Tumblr posts seem to be dated to the creation date of the blog), it can help to clear out some of the noise. On the first page of results, I found additional confirmation: a Bust article that correctly attributes the post to Libby Anne Bruce and that suggests that Ruffalo has tried to correct the record (although the March post does not seem to have been updated).

Three cheers to Bust, then, for getting the story straight (which is to say doing their jobs); no cheers for

The Bust article, attributed but undated (the Web giveth, and the Web taketh away — comments are fresh, though), has been shared on Facebook just 1.3 thousand times and on Twitter just 19 (according to the AddThis bar stats).

All politics aside, my takeaways for readers are these: media literacy is hugely important and hugely undervalued; the truth is regularly abused in small ways by smart, well-meaning people who help things go viral (microaggressions, anyone?); try to support media outlets and journalists and friends in your network who try to get the story correct; call out those who fail to perform due diligence before broadcasting a half-lie to a too-trusting audience — on the Web, the genie never can be put back in the bottle and lies live alongside truth substantially forever.

Addendum: It looks like Daily Kos initially got the story wrong but the author has thoroughly corrected the title and story, as well as issued a mea culpa in the comments.

More at:

4 or 5 mistakes cheapo marketers make while trying to game the Web

In my paid work, I occasionally receive pitches from people who want to place links and/or articles on our website. The pitches — usually in the form of emails — typically run like this:

“Hi team! I was just browsing the Web and came across your great page of [math/science/history/etc.] resources. I think the resources at would be a really useful addition for your audience. Anyways, keep up the great work!”

Several mistakes have already been made. Namely, the author has not bothered to personalize the message in any way; the page described is not a list of resources and could not be mistaken for one by anyone who spent more then a moment looking at the page; the author has more or less told a lie by pretending to have casually encountered our site, and is also falsely implying that the suggested link is not content being actively peddled.

Occasionally, the messages are more honest, more personalized, and more detailed; even then, they tend to miss the mark:

“Hey [my employer] team, I am a big fan of your site. I see you have a page of math resources at [link]. We have put together a list of math tools that could be a great addition. Let me know and I can send you the link!”

So…more honest, in that this is clearly a pitch. Do I believe you are a “big fan”? No. Am I going to take the bait of engaging in conversation [“Let me know…”]. No. Do I appreciate that you at least managed to personalize the message? Actually…yeah, kind of (hey, low standards).

Nevertheless, these people are doing it wrong. What truly boggles my mind is that these utterly artless pitches even arrive from pretty legitimate websites and people with publicly-discoverable, substantive professional pedigrees. To these folks I say, in the words of the great George Bailey, I beg of you not to do this thing. It is cheap. It is shoddy. It demeans your business and it demeans that delightful young person you are forcing to send out this garbage.

To the rest of the folks, it really should not need to be said, but here are some pointers for crafting a content pitch, composed by someone on the receiving end who is only too ready to delete your email:

  • Do not lie, do not dissemble
  • Personalize the message, at least at the organization level if not at the individual level
  • Provide all the information needed to make a decision, including a link to your resources (preferably without click-tracking)
  • Understand your target organization’s work and audience. If your content does not fit, maybe consider moving along

Here’s my royalty-free rewrite that should be the backbone of what ends up in my inbox if you absolutely must send a message:

“Hi [My Name / Organization Team], I am with [your organization]. We have put together an article about [topic] at [link], and I am trying to spread it to a wider audience. Because you have resources on the same topic, such as at [link], your audience might find this interesting or useful. It would be great if you could add our link to your page or mention us in a Tweet, post, etc. If not, no worries!”

Honestly, my answer is still probably “no”, but by telling me the truth and asking for what you want, you have at least earned my attention. I will probably look at your linked content and website rather than base my decision purely on the content of your message. In the long run, I think that earning even a modicum of respect from even a sizable minority of your recipients is probably more effective marketing than successfully placing a single cheap link to probably disposable content on one site out of fifty that you pitch.

But why are people still trying to pitch websites for link placement? In terms of expenditure of money and labor, there are much better ways to boost SEO and distribute content. Why pay staff to embarrass themselves and your organization to a few dozen or few hundred recipients? Of course, in a world in which horribly-written comment spam still seems to be a going concern, perhaps these questions are naive and foolish.

In the interest of having the Web be a nice place to live, work, and play, I really hope not.

America, Public Domain Killjoy

It is time once again for Public Domain Day, that wonderful happening in which creative works both celebrated and forgotten join — or return to — the public domain.

Once again, the United States will sit this one out. The Public Domain Review coyly asks:

Wondering what will enter the public domain through copyright expiration in the U.S.? Like last year, and the year before…Nothing.

I am reminded of the baseball poem “Casey at the Bat” (Ernest Thayer, 1888), in which the titular hero confidently lets the first two pitches sail right over the plate without taking a swing — two strikes. He swings mightily at the third; “the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow”, and then:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

At least Casey swung once. The United States elects to throw the game entirely, year after year. That poem, aged 126, is in the public domain in the U.S. (or, anyway, we should very well hope so). Like many, I first learned the poem from the wonderful Disney adaptation and animation of 1946. With Disney one of the top-billed villains of efforts by public domain supporters to limit duration of copyright (or, more accurately, to limit iterations of expansions of duration of copyright), one may have precious little confidence that the ’46 version will join the public domain any time soon.

Much as with global warming, in which we can hope to prevent further damage but not to reverse damage that is done, the outlook for limitation of copyright term extensions is dim and we will continue to see problems play out for many years. We might hope for creators and their heirs to voluntarily release works from copyright restrictions after a reasonable term. A large problem, though, will be so-called orphan works, those that are clearly under copyright protections but that cannot be licensed or released to the public domain because the rights holders are unknown or cannot be found. These already are a problem, of course, but with the Web as a fantastic platform for producing and fixing (and remixing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) creative works, we see a proliferation of content that is subsequently abandoned, or (worse) disappears without a trace or a copy, or (perhaps worst) remains in the hands of hosts with perpetual rights over the content.

Content hosting is tremendously convenient and often free of cost — or at least free of visible costs. Our conversations, pictures, and essays are held and hosted by others who maintain rights to keep and display them. These entities likely do not own your content and are limited in what they can do with it. What happens when you walk away from some blog site or social network, when you adopt a new email address and let the old one fall into disuse and eventual suspension, when things you have made that are worthless to you but valuable to another languish on someone else’s servers? The hosts can probably delete your content, of course. They can hold onto it forever. They cannot sublicense it or grant others new permissions, but if they have rights to monetize the content in some fashion, they may be reluctant, as a matter of principle, to support limitation on copyright term. These entities in charge of vast quantities of information may see little incentive to ever let go.

What can we do? Among other things, we can each choose to:

  • own our own data and do business with those who both support customers’ ownership of data and are transparent with how they use customers’ data
  • release our copyrighted works under some kind of open license — or even release them to the public domain
  • support copyright policy that truly promotes innovation and advances the common weal
  • help to inform and educate others

The Internet Age has changed the way that we produce, consume, and share content. The culture of the Web is largely one of sharing, re-mixing, and re-use, but it is dangerous to misunderstand what allows this re-use. People often misunderstand copyright and the public domain. “I got this picture from Google Images, so it is public domain.” Even academics of my acquaintance, who assiduously seek out and punish plagiarism, believe that “freely available on the Web” is equal to “public domain” or, at least, “free to reuse”. Part of what powers the Web is fair use, and that is wonderful, but much of what powers the Web is licensing agreements with impersonal, profit-driven (which is not to say wicked or malicious) entities. The danger is that we will continually surrender rights in exchange for mere privileges; that convenience will encourage us to let others host, license, control, and perhaps simply own our creative expression; that we will then think ourselves happier than ever before.

Where was I? Right, Public Domain Day. The United States. The point is simply this. Let’s please, please please, please, please try to be less absurd in our copyright legislation. Let’s protect innovation, let’s reward creators, and let’s support culture by letting people actually get to use it, meaningfully, in their own lifetimes.

[Not] Understanding copyright, fair use, and public domain

I am frequently surprised by how many people do not understand copyright, fair use, and public domain. This lack of understanding is not good; among other things, it means that those who do understand copyright (i.e., those who can afford to pay scads of lawyers to understand it for them) can drive legislation, policies, and court decisions favorable to their interests. By and large, regular consumers and independent/small producers are at a disadvantage.

In terms of copyright, the Web is a very curious place. It is at once awash in copyright violations and over-stringent in knocking down content pretty clearly protected by fair use. In the first instance, a lot of people just do not especially care — I take a nice photo or jot down a great joke or epigram; my friend posts it to social media; it gets copied and re-copied. I may not care because I never intended to monetize it or assert my intellectual property rights; I am just happy to see my work proliferate. Had I thought about it, I might have used a Creative Commons license or similar. In the second instance, big content creators, owners of lots and lots of valuable IP, see the Web and the Internet more generally as a battlefield. Their interests lie in licensing, in click-wrap, in DRM, and in eroding or obscuring fair use rights. Read Terms of Use and licensing agreements. Often they explicitly prohibit uses that would almost certainly be protected under law. Challenges to this kind of behavior could end up in a court, which inherently favors those who can spend time and money on lawyers — and without even risking emotional/health consequences.

Frankly, if my job did not involve licensing and IP, I might not know or care much about copyright…so I do sympathize with those in the dark. Still, how frequent is my surprise! In a recent Ars Technica article, What Would Twitter Do? Musician’s tweets of Sony e-mails lead to threats, which involves a musician in some hot water for tweeting images of stolen/leaked Sony property, the following jumped right out at me:

“To me, it’s public domain,” said Broeksmit. “I don’t see it as stolen property. I mean, maybe at one point it was. I don’t know what the line is. I figure, other people are doing it — I didn’t see the harm in it.”

One comment on the article replies, “People really need to learn what public domain is.”

Note that the person quoted in the article is a musician, whose livelihood probably depends heavily on the creation, monetization, and protection of intellectual property. When he says “public domain”, he probably truly means “fair use”; when he means “fair use”, he probably truly means “fair play” — that is, while legally shady, releasing these documents is morally square. We have to stick it to big corporations, right? Right? At least, that is what I read into a statement that is otherwise fairly nonsensical.

What bothers me particularly, over and above the very careless use of a concept (public domain) that is very important to me, is the statement “I don’t know what the line is.” With this wonderful, beautiful, fragile Web we have built, information on where the line is can be found within minutes. Fully understanding all this stuff is quite difficult, but getting the basics right before thoughtlessly firing off tweet after tweet is not. A web search for “define public domain”, “define fair use”, or “define copyright” is a great place to begin. Of course, anyone with the stomach to trawl through 1,288 pages of “copyright practices” — all in PDF format only, woohoo! — can just go here:
Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.

There is a lot that Sony and I would probably disagree about in any copyright/fair-use conversation, but I think we are on the same page here — stolen correspondence that has been dumped on the Web is about as far from public domain as it gets. When people do not understand this and abuse terminology in defense of arguably immoral and probably illegal behavior, limitations on copyright terms, protections for fair use, and expansion of the public domain potentially suffer.