The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Originally constructed in 784, over a demolished Visigothic church, the Mosque is one of the oldest in the world. Cordoba at the time was part of a Muslim Empire. Spanish Christians re-took Cordoba in 1236. Rather than demolish the place, the Spanish decided to convert it to Christian worship. In some people’s eyes, supposedly including those of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, it’s an unholy mess. To my eyes it’s beautiful.
Throughout history, most people spend most of the time getting on well with each other. In her book A Distant Mirror, historian Barbara Tuchman made an important point:
Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening — on a lucky day — without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena.
We know the history of religion and relations between Christianity and Islam as one of unmitigated disaster, cruelty, horror and intolerance. In fact, these moments are few and far between. Most people spend most of their time muddling along. Unfortunately, all it really takes is one bad moment to rob us of an invaluable monument like the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Think of ISIS for example. In just two years, they have destroyed physical heritage going back millennia across a wide swathe of Mesopotamia. Jokers like that only emerge every couple centuries, but when they do, the potential for destruction is immense. We’re incredibly lucky that Cordoba’s monument has survived as long as it has. Spain has had it’s fair share of religious thugs. We’re lucky. The building has many lessons to teach. The video above lays out one or two.
This week I go ahead and punch a gift horse in the mouth and raise some questions about the outsize performance of my last video. It’s my second fastest video to 1,000 views ever, and I question the reasons behind that. I’ve easily done 20 times as many videos singling out male politicians for ridicule. But my two videos criticizing female politicians do better than all of those videos combined. The channel goes where the channel goes, but I’ll definitely put more thought into why it is that I’m going after someone in the future.
I mentioned one caveat. Victoria Nuland is a figure I’ve been thinking of doing a video about for quite some time. She is the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs. Depending on who you ask, she may have been the main driving force behind the disaster in Ukraine in 2014. I’m pretty sure I don’t buy that, as I think the break with Russia was baked into the whole dumb arc of US policy in Eastern Europe since 1992 or so. More research needs to be done. What I am more confident of is that she occupies a weird space at the neocon nexus of the Republican and Democratic parties in Washington, DC. She worked for Dick Cheney, and now she’s helping to run Obama’s Europe policy. I think a video on her career and connections would do a good job of illustrating the point that individual presidents don’t really have all that much to do with the agenda that Washington, DC pursues. Presidents can nudge, but they don’t really steer.
But the more I think about it, why am I even aware of Victoria Nuland? Is it because she’s a woman in power? She’s definitely not the only politician in DC who is more loyal to the Military Industrial Complex than a particular party (actually that’s all of them). She’s probably not the only one married to a self-parodying Neocon pundit either. The only reason I’m aware of her is the fact that folks have gravitated toward her particular scandals and biography. I wonder why that is. Food for thought. Anyway, if she gets up to further hijinks under Trump, I wanted to give myself a pass to mention her.
Something else worth mentioning is the fact that 80% of my audience is male. That’s always been deeply annoying to me. I’ve tried some more explicitly feminist content in the past, but it hasn’t solved the problem. If you’re wondering whether I’m hoping that this video will help me out with that… Of course I am! Also, if I’m going to make a sweeping comment about the behavior of the YouTube audience, I should probably point out that my audience is currently heavily weighted towards dudes who like talking about politics and history. Which is perhaps not all that surprising.
Russia and China have never made a secret of it. They are more interested in sovereignty than human rights. Considering the way that the US has weaponized human rights concerns recently, it’s hard to blame them. But as we watch the brutalization of East Aleppo, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s cries of “Shame!” make a lot of sense. IF you ignore one of those very important things that nobody talks about. This video takes you back to 2011, and the US decision that made The UN’s impotence in Aleppo inevitable.
A certain UN resolution is pretty central to this video. Here it is if you’d like to review it.
Yeesh. This one is heavy. I was lamenting recently that my videos weren’t using clever editing, and didn’t have much emotional range. Coming across the Ambassador’s speech allowed me to deal with both of those issues. I really like the result, I hope you do to.
Lest you think I’m being unfair to Ambassador Power, a bit of explanation is in order. Power was initially famous for writing a book called The Problem From Hell: America In the Age of Genocide. She’s also famous for only seeing America as the solution to problems, and not making much allowance for the downsides of intervention. So far, so average. If I’d read the book, maybe I’d have a stronger opinion, but on that alone I’d be happy to see her make a speech like this. But she’s also been involved in the decision making on Syria from the get-go. She was an adviser to Obama when he was a Senator, and she was on the National Security Council before starting at the UN in 2013. So she was in on the ground floor with both Libya and Syria, and she’s had a hand on the meat grinder this whole time. She’s used her reputation as an international do-gooder to help destroy both of these countries. She’s not alone in that, but she’s the one using this particularly horrific moment to preach from pretended moral high ground. So no, I don’t think I’m being particularly unfair to her.
The topic of this video has bugged me for a while. It strikes me as one of the central blunders of the Obama administration, but nobody talks about it. I thought diplomacy was about being able to see things from the other guy’s perspective. This is right up there with NATO expansion as failures of understanding go…
Taiwan is something we don’t talk about too much. In fact, that’s pretty much US policy, and one of the rare ones I agree with. It’s possible to see the question from the Chinese position, and from the Taiwanese position as well. In this video I do both. Please watch the video all the way through. It starts out forcefully arguing the Chinese position, then it forcefully argues the Taiwanese position. I happen to believe both things. Which is very confusing. It makes my head hurt a bit. I look forward to the comments section on this one. Maybe it’ll change my mind?
As confusing as Taiwan can be, it’s vital that we all learn more about it. It’s central to one of the more pressing issues of the Trump Presidency and the coming decades…
Also I love that my research for this video involved unearthing my once treasured collection of He-man figures. It provides an interesting window on manufacturing in the early to mid 1980s. I thought that they had all been “Made In Taiwan” but that wasn’t the case. The figures I had were manufactured in Mexico, Taiwan and Malaysia. Interestingly the most recent, and most complex figures, ca. 1985, were manufactured in Malaysia. Perhaps Taiwan was already moving on by that point. The later complexity may be down to the fact that Mattel had more money to dedicate to the line, after it had proved insanely popular. I also found a Thundercat figure, but Mumm-Ra will have to wait for another video.
We keep hearing about how Trump is “Not Normal”. That’s true, but it’s not where we should be focusing our energies. Shouting that repeatedly into the echo chamber is a sort of paralysis. What we need to do now is focus on ways to manage Donald Trump, and handle his not normal presidency. The most direct bit of action I suggest is subscribing to a newspaper, physically or on-line. I subscribed to the Washington Post, but there are hundreds of options across the United States, and even abroad. They all need our support, and we need them. The outlets below are all anti-Trump to some degree, or at least will spend time trying to see beyond Trump’s tweets to what he’s actually doing to our government.
Donald Trump really does change everything. I’ve been making videos full time for almost three years now. As you can probably gather if you’ve read my essay advocating for third parties, I had a plan going to the 2016 election. My bone-deep loathing for Trump changed all that. But it’s changed more than that. Starting out, my attitude towards the world and the US government in particular was pretty antagonistic. Now I’m pretty convinced that the world, and the US government need to be saved from themselves. This has led to some reformatting of the mission of this whole thing. I’ve laid it out in this video, and in some changes to the website you can see here. There’s more to come!
Argh! Occasionally an article comes a long that is dumb enough that it must be addressed immediately and at length. “How Chicago’s Streets Became the Wild West” published today on the WSJ’s opinion page is one such example. It’s another entry in the Wall Street Journal’s crusade to blame homicide in the US on the Black Lives Matter movement (A crusade they share with the FBI, and the New York Times, who are also trying to push the idea of the “Ferguson Effect”). There are a couple massive problems with this article that would keep it from being published in a real newspaper.
A: There is real suffering in Chicago, and there were more murders in 2015 (488) than there were in 2014 (432). But there were less than there were in 2012 (513) and the numbers are consistently around half of what they were in the 1990s. There are real problems that must be addressed in Chicago, but this idea that the city is going to hell in a bucket is media-driven hogwash. The propaganda value of the article would be de-fanged by any honest look at the figures though, so they are not included.
B: On the topic of those real problems: Mostly because she can’t avoid it, the author of this article mentions the fact that a police superintendent had to resign in 2015 over a video tape of the racist murder of an unarmed black man in 2014. (This isn’t one of the ambiguous ones, an officer is on trial for murder). The author concedes the awfulness of this event, but then goes on to assert that it has nothing to do with the broader culture of the Chicago police department. She then spends the rest of the article whining about the Mayor’s attempts to improve the police department’s culture. The Superintendent’s resignation is a one-off, nothing to see here, the Chicago PD is just being victimized by BLM and those nasty ACLU Social Justice Warriors…
There’s a simple data point here, that kind of destroys her entire argument. In 2007, another Chicago Police Superintendent, Philip J. Cline, had to resign over video-taped police brutality. So two of the last three Chicago police superintendents had to resign over police misconduct. Gawrsh. Maybe the culture of the Chicago police is something that we actually should be looking at. Maybe the Black Lives Matter movement should be praised for raising these issues rather than condemned. Maybe if the Wall Street Journal had any interest in adding to the conversation on urban crime they’d have tried to paint a vaguely accurate picture of Chicago.
The year began on a family holiday in Malta. Getting a cheaper flight from Rome to Istanbul meant waiting a couple days after the new year, so I holed up in a hostel by the Termini train station in Rome. This time was spent working, and occasionally leaving to check out a forum or to eat some of the Asian food which is surprisingly hard to find in Istanbul. I was sharing the hostel with my sister, who made a tremendously useful suggestion. As a sort of joint resolution we undertook to write 750 words a day, every day. This has had a fairly revolutionary effect on my productivity this year. Every day I have to write something. Sometimes I really don’t want to do it, but I often get it done. My performance hasn’t been flawless. Five months into the year I’m about a month behind, but I do it more often than not. This has yielded some great videos, a lot of progress on new essays, and the fact that I finally seem to be catching up on these blog posts. It’s a great thing all around.
Finally having an apartment of my own again is fricking fantastic. It made for some healthier living, and allowed me to produce seven videos in January, some of which were quite ambitious. The first video of the year was “The BBC Is Full of It 2 | Chinese Aircraft Carriers“. I like this video. There’s not much to it, but it deals with the format cleverly. I like the acting out of the internal monologue. I also like the turn-around time. I saw the headline, it matched nicely with the previous video complaining about the BBC, and I was able to quickly bang it out. The joys of that speedy Malta internet. “3 Awesome Things Happening in 2016, Cuba, Colombia and Iran” is an attempt at a positive list video that hasn’t gone very far. It reminds me how far behind I am on these contemplated Syria videos. I wanted to do something positive before producing them, but five months later I still haven’t gotten them out yet. Argh!
“Iran V. Saudi Arabia, the One Thing You Need To Know…” was the first video produced in my new bedroom, ahem, I mean studio. I’ve gotten better at these set-ups, but I think this one comes out alright. The mix between animation and on-camera is one that I like, but a mix that I haven’t quite perfected yet. “Watch Me DESTROY Donald Trump’s Campaign Ad” does exactly what it says it does. It is amazing how little this man is offering to the American people, especially his supporters.
The next week featured what is perhaps my favorite one-two punch ever. “Why Do Terrorists Kill People” was my first attempt at filming something on location. The sound is awful, but I really like the way my visit to the scene of an Istanbul suicide bombing works. It was also a nice fraught introduction to a sad fact of journalism: “Oh Look, an atrocity! Let’s find a way to look cool in front of it!” The next day I followed it up with “Why the Cold War Must Be Remembered” one of my favorite videos ever. I’m a huge history dork, and I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished here. In seven or so minutes I tell the story of the Cold War, and argue why it’s so important to study it. The next week I got even more ambitious, attempting to put together a video that told the entire post World War II story of the oil industry. I failed to produce that video in January. That Tuesday I was mucking about with After Effects when the power went out. So I decided to bang out “Why Bloomberg For President Should Make You Happy“, with a speed that should be pretty apparent in the production. I kind of like the Chiaroscuro effect forced by the candle light though.
Looking at these videos, it’s pretty clear that I’ve switched to longer ones over the past couple months. I think this may be a side effect of the 750 word pledge. I traditionally aimed for under 500 words a video, but now I aim for 750 to make my quota. This has upsides and downsides. YouTube now prioritizes watch time over views. They are obviously both still important, but this means YouTube likes longer videos. Does that mean that my content is less likely to be clicked on because of its longer times? Probably. It also make for less disciplined videos. Reviewing videos from this month, and from previous years, I’m sometimes kind of amazed by the amount of stuff I manage to cram into three minute running times. Something to consider.
Views continued their upward trend in January 2016, up to 16,224 from 13,939 in December. None of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in January were produced in January. Two of the seven videos crossed 100 views on their first day. Five months later, all seven have topped 200 views, and of those four have also topped 300. At the end of January 2016 we had 142 videos, all but four of which were viewed in January, 70 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 22 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
In December I finally found a place to live. I am writing this blog post from that apartment, five months later. It’s been great for video production and general sanity to have a solid place to stay. So great, in fact, that I’m diverging from the practice of the past two years and getting a sub-letter for the summer rather than giving it up. The fact that I can do this is a sign of the growing financial viability of this whole thing, largely due to Patreon, and I’m very grateful. But before settling into my new place in January I had one last month of excessive travel to go. In December I produced videos from Italy, Malta, Turkey and the United States.
Despite all the travel, we managed to crank out six videos in December 2015. The subject matter was almost as varied as the places in which it was created and uploaded. “Spotlight, Catholic Priests, and the Ferguson Effect” is an interesting example of the ways this format allows odd connections. The video is partly a review of the excellent Spotlight, and partly a condemnation of the mindset that blames Black Lives Matters protesters for a spike in crime that hasn’t even been conclusively demonstrated yet. “4 Reasons to Stop Paying Attention to Donald Trump” is a throw-away video in almost every sense. That Tuesday morning, while I was putting together the vastly more interesting Saudi Arabia video that came out two weeks later, my computer crashed. So I grabbed the family dog, sat down at the kitchen table, and begged people to stop talking about the politician everybody wanted to talk about. Many thanks to Mom and Wicket for helping me deal with this nightmare situation quickly, if not particularly artfully.
“Ukrainian Parliament Crotch Brawl… Is it Funny?” is my first attempt at a text rather than narration based Facebook-optimized video. I like it, and it’s a fun format to experiment with. Unfortunately I haven’t had much success with the format, either on YouTube or on Facebook. “Trump, the San Bernardino Cover-up and Saudi Arabia” is, I think, one of the more important videos I’ve done. It’s got some actual news analysis in there. Saudi Arabia was the main factor in the San Bernardino shootings, but its involvement was systematically ignored by western governments and media. The vid looks at this problem in detail, and shows how cover-ups like this lead to the success of populist politicians like Trump.
The one thing about viewership I can say with great confidence, after two years of obsessively looking at analytics, is that nobody watches political videos over Christmas week. So I didn’t take that week’s video too seriously. A dog humped my arm and I turned it into “A Frustrated Pug Wishes You A Merry Christmas“. The final video of the year, “The BBC Is Full Of It“, documents my fading love affair with the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news service, and why we should look at all news sources with suspicion.
Views continued their upward trend in December 2015, up to 13,939 from 11,037 in November. One of the top five, and one of the top ten videos in December were produced in December. Two of the six videos crossed 100 views on their first day, and one crossed 250. Five months later, four of six videos have topped 200 views, and those four have also topped 300. At the end of December 2015 we had 135 videos, all but four of which were viewed in December, 74 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 22 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
And so we close another year. It was a good one. Total views were up to 158,049 from 90,079 in 2014. When I started 2015 I was pretty certain that it was time to give up on the whole video thing. By the end of 2015 I was convinced it was worth going all the way to the November 2016 election. Quite a switch. Many thanks to all of you who have watched, liked, shared, commented, and most importantly contributed. Thanks for making this all seem possible.
November was the month I decided I really needed to get a solid place to live. I’d been living on the road from June and it was beginning to wear on me. I spent the last third of the month back in the US for the Thanksgiving holiday. This is always a joy, but my family’s approach to the holiday is not what anybody would call relaxing. Prior to that I had to re-shuffle all of my belongings in Istanbul. My month and a half sublet was just long enough to re-collect everything I owned, throw a bit of it out, and then re-distribute it. This, and a fair amount of freelancing kept me limited to just the required 4 videos this month.
As a side note, it was also a fairly grim month in Istanbul politically speaking. In the June elections the ruling AK party had finally lost its majority in parliament after more than a decade. The AK party has done a lot for Turkey, but in recent years the mask has slipped to reveal a more authoritarian face. We were literally dancing in the streets after the June election. But the opposition parties failed to do anything with this victory. No coalition was established, triggering new elections on November 1st, which the AK party won by a larger margin than ever, restoring its parliamentary majority. The only thing that can challenge the AK now is internal party dissension. It’s been a very sad thing to watch, and that too influenced my mood this month.
November 2015’s first video, “3 Reasons Putin Will Never Touch Estonia“, was the most successful, and is now, six months later, my fourth most successful video ever. It’s also the last truly break-out video I’ve had. So it’s worth looking a little harder at why it was successful, and perhaps developing a lesson or two that I can use for future vids. Videos come to me in a number of ways. Some I work hard to put together. Some are one good idea, that I flesh out with some random thoughts. The best videos, and usually the best performing ones, come to me in a flash, almost fully formed. This was one of those. Inconveniently, these typically come to me after I’ve already turned out the light and am trying to sleep. It’s important to write it down quickly when I get one of these ideas. This week, here in May 2016, I’ve got about three video ideas that came to me days or weeks ago that I’ve still got to write down. They’ll probably get done, but they won’t be as good as they would have been if I had written them when I thought of them. When I write them down immediately, the visual ideas that go with the script flow more naturally as well. Coming up with stuff as I edit, my usual practice, can lead to some fun discoveries, but the videos are better when at least some of the visual structure is planned ahead of time. Looking at the video now, I also notice that it’s fairly data-heavy, incorporating solid animated visuals reflecting that data.
That week in November I was already thinking about list videos after the success of “3 Reasons China Will Never Rule the World“, my fifth most successful video. List videos work, that’s a lesson I’ve already learned. Not all of them break out, but almost all of them break 500 views, which still puts a video in the top half as far performance goes. I need to do more list videos. So was it the subject matter? I think that’s a part of it. There is very little in mass media that looks at the “threat” from Russia rationally. There’s a real appetite for videos that contradict the US push for a new cold war. This video does that quite effectively. One other theory I have is the virtue of covering a small country. People from small countries like Estonia don’t get a lot of media that is aimed directly at them or their concerns. This video does that. Over the past year I’ve gotten 5,688 views from Estonia, and 5,464 of them have been of this video, making up over half of its total views.
So there you have it! All I need is to be inspired to make data-heavy list videos that focus on small countries. Then I am sure to go back to churning out break-out videos! Joking aside, it’s a bit of a concern that few videos from the past six months have out-performed. Only two of them have made it close to the 1,000 view mark (“Trump, The San Bernardino Cover-up, and Saudi Arabia” and “Why Bernie Sanders Is No George McGovern“. I think it’s got something to do with creative back up. I’m still delaying completing the cycle of Military Industrial Complex videos I first envisioned back in July of 2015. I finally got another one of those out a week or so back. In November 2015 I also started thinking seriously about a series of videos on the war in Syria. Six months later, not a single one of those has been produced. If my subconscious is busy mulling over those MIC and Syria vids, it’s got less time to get inspired to throw together truly great vids about other issues. I’ve really got to push these older videos out.
Alright, enough navel-gazing. November’s second video was “The TPP is Super Racist“. I love this video. My brother, a fairly serious artist, kindly provides somewhat scathing critiques of each of my videos. This is the first one he ever gave his full approval to. It also provides a damning critique of the new trade agreements you won’t find anywhere else. Sadly it hasn’t done very well. “Stop Saudi Money, Not Syrian Refugees” is a reaction to the Paris attacks, and includes some kick-ass animation on my part if I do say so myself. “Why Turkey Shooting Down a Russian Plane Is a Big Deal” answers exactly that question. I think that actually qualifies as the worst news of 2015. The possibility of a real war between great powers, no matter how remote, is horrifying, and it’s something we haven’t really had since 1989. Tensions between Russia and Turkey deserve a lot more attention than they get. All told I’m pretty pleased with this month’s videos. There weren’t many of them, but they were all killer no filler. Except for the Sound! I’ve only figured out compression in the past couple months or so, and man do these sound rough to me now.
Views recovered a bit in November 2015, up to 12,452 from 11,037 in October. One of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in November were produced in November. Two of the four videos crossed 100 views on their first day, and one crossed 200. Six months later, all four videos have topped 200 views, and three have topped 600. At the end of November 2015 we had 129 videos, all but eight of which were viewed in November (kind of a shocking jump in non-viewed vids), 67 of which were viewed more than 10 times, 15 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).