Friday, May 25, 2007

Alec takes a stab at an important question

Why blog when you could be doing porn?

Tracking Treasure Down

Today's music video is Tracking Treasure Down by Gabriel & Dresden.

The End of the Poem

[. . .]
something seems to be lost,
   but in time,
like the memory of a lover,
it returns. . .
                in an unexpected way.

Do not ask the big questions—
                and why
                and why now—
   with the expectation of an answer.
  the lack of an answer
is the reason
        for being:
it is what the sailor hears
            when he is seduced
by the sound
        of the sea.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I was at this show (Starscape in 2000).

This year's Starscape looks to be pretty good.

I stumbled on all of this because every now and then I wonder about this band that blew me away... Big in Japan. They're playing again at Starscape this year. But its not the kind of name that leads to a distinctive search on the interwebs... (Also... doesn't look like they have much of an internet presence.)

Jon Carroll reminisces

I had a ticket to "The Last Waltz" concert, but I gave it away. I knew it would start late and end later, and I hated staying up late. I was a very bad hippie. (via Nancy Nall)

trends in crime

Virtual Kidnapping, a new phenomenon in Latin America, made possible because real kidnappings are common.
Reliable statistics don't exist because most police forces register virtual kidnappings as robberies or assaults. Many victims also don't come forward at all because police are often unresponsive, inept or corrupt. Some people fear revenge for going public, while others are embarrassed about falling for the hoax.

But anecdotal evidence suggests virtual kidnappings are big business. In the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, police reported at least 3,000 virtual kidnapping complaints between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14. A Mexican citizen's group used polling to estimate that in 2004, 36,295 kidnappings took place in the country. They haven't reported newer data.

The criminals often get household details by hacking into databases or posing as service workers. Then they monitor the family's habits and choose a moment when the family is separated to make the call demanding money.

Others simply steal a cell phone, dial the preprogrammed number for "home," "mom" or "dad," and tell whoever answers that a kidnapping is in progress.

Virtual kidnappings have surged partly because criminals are increasingly adept at using new technology such as cell phones and computer databases, said Alejandro Zunca, a consultant who advises Brazilian and Argentine police. Criminals of all stripes also have embraced the scheme because it can be carried out from behind bars.

Another reason is that real kidnappings are so frequent. While an estimated 90 percent of victims don't report the crime, most experts agree that Mexico, along with Haiti and Colombia, is a world leader in kidnappings, and victims' relatives have so little faith in authorities that they usually try to resolve abductions on their own.

Mitt Romney positioning himself as The Great White Hope

Carpetbagger looks at two over-the-top news stories from NewsMax.
Look, I know NewsMax is a conservative political magazine. I don’t expect hard-hitting investigative journalism, and I don’t expect anything but flattering coverage of Republican candidates and officials.

But Ben Smith noted yesterday that NewsMax wrote a profile about Ann Romney, Mitt’s wife, that is so remarkably over-the-top, one almost wonders if it’s a joke. Alas, it isn’t.
“Ann is warm and very natural. She has the look of an outdoors woman bred to be an equestrian, which she is — good carriage, rosy complexion, square jaw, and blond mane.

“When she is not flashing her truly unbelievable smile, she may lower her eyes demurely. But Ann Romney is not demure — she may be modest, but she isn’t meek. She is unpretentious, but she isn’t shy. She lowers her eyes, thinking, and then looks up directly at her interviewer and dazzles him with that smile.”
The article Carpetbagger notes is one of several fluff pieces from NewsMax positioning Romney and his family as the beautiful family we should all envy and admire.

It seem outlandish and over-the-top, but bear in mind that propaganda usually is outlandish and over-the-top.

If you pay attention to the Romney campaign, you'll notice that it is a campaign that pays a great deal of attention to style while doing the bare minimum for substance. You are supposed to envy and admire Romney for his wealth and his good looks and his beautiful wife and their beautiful children. In his campaign videos he is always shown speaking to a sea of white people.

He is running as The Great White Hope, and I fully expect him to win the Republican nomination--following the theory that in a field where all of the candidates are damaged goods the candidate with the winningest smile and the most presidential appearance will carry the field.

The Great White Hope is a 1970 drama starring James Earl Jones that more people should see. It is loosely based on the true story of Jack Johnson the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion. The title refers to the furtive attempts of the white boxing world to find a white boxer who could beat him.

You can bet that racism and misogyny will be prominent undercurrents in the 2008 campaign. You can also bet that anyone who points out those undercurrents will be openly derided in the main stream media.

Romney's tighty-whitey campaign is calculated. The Democratic field is heavily dominated by a woman and an African-American. And Governor Richardson has decided to run as a the Latino candidate. On the Republican side, McCain regularly shows African-Americans in his advertising. And Giuliani's campaign, as befitting a former mayor of New York, also embraces diversity.

The only opponent that Romney could potentially face that could throw his 'white-man-deluxe' campaign out of kilter would be John Edwards--the other handsome white man. In fact the comparisons between them are stark. Romney grew up rich and privileged. Edwards was the son of a mill-worker. Romney has always used connections (prime example: his appointment to head the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee). Edwards is a former trial lawyer. They both have essentially the same amount of national experience: Romney, 1 term as Governor of a liberal state; Edwards, 1 term as Senator of a conservative state. And their messages are strikingly different. Romney is for social stagnation, and Edwards is for social mobility.

Thus the contrast between the Romney is handsome and well-groomed stories, and the Edwards is a Bret-girl stories. These contrasts are deliberate. They are planted. They are propaganda.

There are many Democratic partisans who think that there is no way that Romney can win the nomination, with his record of flip-flops (was for abortion before he was against it; was for gay rights before he was against it). But these partisans haven't learned the lesson of IOKIYAR: it doesn't matter. What matters is looking good while saying the right things.

p.s.: Go read this excerpt from Al Gore's new book on media manipulation and political discourse.

still life, with memoranda (1)

wooden chair
   fabric of a fine dress
   on its arm, its shoulder, its back

  after the evening rain
                two nights ago,
I looked out of the window—
a few cars
        every once in a while—
and even after we made love
     I was tired
             and tragic.
I told you
     I was trying not to be depressed,
but there are times
   when this anguish
          overtakes me—
that night,
  even the streetlights
were crying.

The Daily Music Video

Diana Krall, live in Paris, performing an extended improvised All or Nothing at All.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A naked American tourist raised eyebrows when he went for a walk through a German city and told police he thought this was acceptable behavior in Germany.
"We have been having unusually hot weather here lately but, all the same, we can't have this," a spokesman for police in the southern city of Nuremberg said Tuesday. "The man said he thought walking around naked was tolerated in Germany."
Some people really are that clueless.

a field guide to geek humor

Read the post and then read all of the comments...

An important day

Today is the day that, for the first time in human history, more people will live in urban areas than in rural areas. Another inevitability? Or perhaps a chance to stop and think about how societies are changing?

I mention this because of a light-hearted post at Pharyngula whose discussion thread is a mess of ambivalent observations and questions: i.e., where do suburbs and exurbs fit into the urban-rural divide? But lets start with a global perspective.

In large part the world population shift is due to large-scale changes in India and China--the two most populous countries in the world. People from rural areas move to urban areas to find employment. Its an age old story (think Les Miserables), but when these changes take place on a large scale social movements are not far behind. Pockets of urban poverty, historically, make great incubators for social unrest and often this unrest is violent. Couple this potential social unrest with nuclear weapons, and headaches for everyone...

In the United States the picture is different. You don't have to leave your rural environment at all... the exurbs will come to you. When they sold it a few years ago, my parents' farm was surrounded by exurban houses. It was depressing to drive out there yearly and see the steady transformation of farm after farm into tracts and houses. Everyone, it seems, wanted a chance to have the 'good life'.

The creation of exurbs has been particularly disconcerting. Instead of neighborhoods with neighborhood bars, neighborhood restaurants, a neighborhood post office, and a neighborhood school... millions of Americans have traded that in for gated communities, large weed-free yards, and soulless copycat bars, restaurants and box stores that you have to drive to. We are a nation that, by becoming more attached to our homes, has become less attached to each other*.

Economically, suburbs and exurbs are not sustainable, as their very existence requires both a thriving metropolitan area and cheap fuel. Well gasoline is not going to become cheaper--although we might save on our long term costs by switching to hybrid cars. But... well I don't want to derail this entry too much by going into the state of our cities. Let's just say that my city, Rochester, gets by... but barely. Also, it is used to wearing a lot of hand-me-downs.

This rural-exurban exchange is troublesome on many levels--cities need rural areas to provide food and farm products (cotton, flowers, and dope)--but few people actually think about the realities of farming--the increased incidences of cancer and accidents involving machinery. Sure, people may have a vision of farmers as living the good life. But it is a life of long hours, hard work, and high occupational risks. Also, hay fever sucks and animals stink (this may be obvious, but it is never mentioned in the brochures).

Yet in the end, exurbs suck at the life of our country. They take land out of production. They landscape land that could have been a wildlife area. They transform landscapes with black asphalt and cars. And yet at a time when household debt continues to rise and household savings are at an all-time low, the exurbs continue to expand. In part this is because people are willing to borrow what they cannot afford--it is no longer a question of being able to pay it all back, now it is a question of making the minimum monthly payment. And in part it is because developers cut deals with county commissioners (look: jobs!) and because 5 houses will always bring more tax revenue than 1 farm... never mind the fact that 1 farm will use less of a county's resources.

I've always thought that exurbs were an example of all of the shortcomings of classic economic thought--anyone who assumes that people make decisions about money in a rational manner is out to lunch. But that could just be me.

*This is actually a Fascist's wet dream. The Vichy slogan--work, family, and patriotism--is embodied in the exurban dream.


More at The Challenge of the Super-Duper Friends. (via The Flying Facist)

Clothing for emperors...

I guess Asians have an outsider’s perspective on that western religious book and they can see it for what it really is.


Meteor Blades says:
It would be hard to find a progressive who had a good Tuesday as far as Iraq is concerned. The Senate-House conference committee put together an ugly compromise that would give Mister Bush tens of billions of dollars to continue the catastrophe in Iraq. Call it what you will - a blank check, a sell-out, a surrender - it ultimately amounts to failure, unless victory is defined as getting a signable bill on the President's desk regardless of its contents.
I don't understand the deluded political calculus that our politicians are laboring under.

72% of Americans don't like the President. Virtually the same number think we're losing in Iraq. Certainly it doesn't take genius to figure out that, if you take the moral stance this once, not only will you remain popular with the voters, you might even begin to reclaim a part of your soul... you know... that thing you sold a long time ago in order to get sex, fame, money, and power. Maybe, you should have kept a receipt...

the moment

History is a subtle music,
developing in long complicated movements
with touches of brash
          which seem significant
          but amount to nothing.
The melody we hear
     is harsher
     than the melody
          we remember hearing.
At the end of the moment
we will not notice its passing
     it is long gone.

Give us our daily video

Open Up, by Leftfield with John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) on vocals, is exhibit A in the case that punk evolved into techno. Exhibit B is the wild and funny movie 24 Hour Party People.

Carry on, revolution.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

He can bend spoons...

(via First Draft)

The dream is dead

Bill Maxwell, who was friends with my father when they both taught at Santa Fe Community College, goes back to teaching, this time at a historically black college, with depressing results. (via Nancy Nall)

By the end of the spring semester, I knew that I could not remain at Stillman another year. I had a few good students, but a few were not enough. One morning as I dressed for work, I accepted the reality that too much of my time was being wasted on students who did not care. I felt guilty about wanting to leave. But enough was enough.

A week before I left Stillman as a professor, I drove through the main gate en route to a final exam. As always, I saw a group of male students hanging out in front of King Hall.

The same four I had seen when I drove onto campus nearly two years earlier were milling about on the lawn. I parked my car and walked over to the group.

"Why don't you all hang out somewhere else?" I asked.

"Who you talking to, old nigger?" one said.

"You give the school a bad image out here, " I said.

They laughed.

"Hang out somewhere else or at least go to the library and read a book, " I said.

They laughed and dismissed me with stylized waves of the arm.

I walked back to my old Chevy Blazer, sad but relieved that I would be leaving.

In my office, I sat at my desk staring at a stack of papers to be graded. I'm wasting my time, I thought. I've wasted two years of my professional life. I don't belong here.

Aside: this thread at Nancy Nall's is fascinating.

Culture and Ownership

John Scalzi hits on some important points.
In Helprin's formulation, the value of a copyright resides in monetizing the content the copyright represents. In the real world, however, there's also value for the copyright holder in manipulating copyrights in ways that have nothing to do with the content itself.

Stronger than me

Stronger Than Me by Amy Winehouse. This was her breakthrough single in the UK and is a great example of British Soul.

Who owns culture?

In Search of Lost Copyright: Disney & Proust, Viacom vs. YouTube, CSI: Miami, 2 Live Crew, & the Carpenters
Save for stylish mustaches, Walt Disney and Marcel Proust probably had very little in common. That is, until the enactment of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, a.k.a. the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act."


The big deal arises from the prohibitive environment the Copyright Extension Act and the DMCA promote. For fear of being slapped with lawsuits and injunctions, the ordinary citizen's ability to engage in cultural and political criticism is severely limited. In a cultural lexicon increasingly dominated by corporate-generated images, the inability to comment and critique these images for fear of retribution cuts at the very heart of what it means to engage in "speech." This prohibitive environment especially curtails the speech of "emerging" artists and political actors, whose lack of financial resources and public regard afford them little help in taking on an allegedly infringed-upon wealthy and/or corporate adversary. The most important kind of speech, that which critiques the images and concepts of our media culture, becomes "chilled."

When the day buttons up her petticoat

When the day buttons up her petticoat
and prepares to go home, we want to walk
through the park and see the softball players
sweating it up for the church league, or the
pick-up basketball game on the concrete
courts, or walk across that unplowed pasture
down at the end of the block and spread the
blanket over the soft, uncut grasses
and huddle there, cuddle there, watching the
sky, the sky which holds the mysteries of
night, and is known for her scarcity of kisses.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Future trends in music

The Inevitable Guitar Hero Controller Band Finally Surfaces
A band called The Guitar Zeros deciphered the Guitar Hero controller's data commands and connected them to the limitless Max/MSP software to create music more complex than what would seem to be possible with a five-button fretboard.
Both videos are worth watching. I expect that some version of this will become commercially available for 'musicians' in the next few years.

The next crime wave?

Crime rises as police fight other threats

"We're at a tipping point in violent crime in many cities," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based law enforcement think tank that released data in March showing the murder rate rising by more than 10 percent in dozens of big U.S. cities since 2004.

"What we're seeing over the past 24 months is a new volatility. In some big cities violent crime and murder are up. Some are seeing a reduction. It's a dramatic shift from the past 10 years when it was mostly all decreases," he said.

Criminologists are worried. Federal Bureau of Investigation data shows murders and shootings hitting smaller cities and states with little experience of serious urban violence. The last similar period of volatility was right before the big crime wave of the 1980s and 1990s.

Explanations vary -- from softer gun laws to budget cuts, fewer police on the beat, more people in poverty, expanding gang violence and simple complacency. But many blame a national preoccupation with potential threats from overseas since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

"Since 9/11, police obligations have increased substantially above and beyond decreasing street crime," Jens Ludwig, a criminal justice expert at Georgetown University.

"So even if police resources were held constant, there is this growing obligation on their part, so the resources available to fight street crime have gone down."

I normally don't link to these types of stories--panic, panic, panic now!--but I found the notion that Homeland Security is making us less secure to be... well, a dose of common sense.

religion gets postmodern

Theological atheism: The belief that God exists, but he does not want us to believe in him.

God created evidence to prove that the universe, earth, and life came into existence and developed slowly by natural processes, without any apparent divine intervention. He left this evidence everywhere for us to discover — in the rocks, in fossils, in the DNA of all living things, and in outer space. Since God chose to hide his divine creative powers by using only natural processes that make him redundant, we can conclude he wants to remain invisible and not be acknowledged or worshipped.

The diarist is an atheist writing tongue-in-cheek – however, she believes the world would be better off if religious people actually followed this advice.

Love Letters

In love letters there are two themes.
There is the theme of longing—
the writer wishes to be
the letters words pages envelope
delivered by the force of wild desire
into the hands eyes and heart
of the person being written to—
no matter what the circumstance—
and we are not naïve,
we know that circumstances
defy, even drown,
It is circumstance that makes longing
a wild howl of life
in a dark night of sadness—
sometimes the howling is beautiful.

There is the theme of belonging
which completes the circle
and transforms this bestial hunger
into love—
the writer delineates a transformation
from a solitude
into a nation of two
and hopes that this documentation of identification—
a visa for a faraway heart—
will suffice, if just for a moment,
for the writer’s voice, laugh, touch, smile
as the words dance under the eyes.

I became a different person
when I learned to belong—
just being in the same room with you
brought a certain joy
and thus I have been lonely
since this divorce of sorts.
We were not naïve, we knew the circumstances
some pain here, some pain there
was worth it.
We created a shared life.

Perhaps there is a third theme—
I have not decided—
that of gratitude.
Thank you for your heart your love your kisses.
Thank you for holding my hand in yours
for howling with me
with life.