Friday, February 29, 2008

Food Fight: The History of War Told Through Food

This is pretty cool:

Which foods represent what countries can be found here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This Runs On Blood

A friend of mine introduced me to This Runs on Blood today. Very noisy punk -- check it out:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

John Wiese: Soft Punk

I bought John Wiese's Soft Punk -- released on Troubleman Unlimited -- many months ago, though I hadn't a chance to sit down and really listen to it until a few days ago. This would be my first exposure to John Wiese himself; I am familiar with some of the other bands he as worked with, though, I am not familiar with the music he has done with those bands. I bought the record on a whim too, at the recommendation of a friend. I didn't have any expectations.

Listening to the album from start to finish in one sitting was an intense experience. This is the kind of record that requires a lot of endurance from the listener -- you will experience listener fatigue. It's loud, harsh noise for a lot of the album, and it's relentless. There are some breaks in the noisy harshness, though, these breaks are rare. Some of the breaks that I did enjoy most were the when I could make out punk-influenced drum beats and vocals that had been heavily distorted and looped over themselves again and again to create a distinctly new pattern from the original sample. It brought to mind an old punk motto from UK band Discharge -- Noise Not Music. The album is a lot of mood and atmosphere, almost no melody at all, and lots of chaos. I like all these things about the album -- its what I feel to be the best reflection of reality, and it's what generally drew me to noise in the first place.

I like the idea of enduring a record -- I'm not sure why, but I find it appealing. I suppose it's because the necessary endurance makes me focus more closely on what I'm subjecting my ears to. I also really like the chaotic nature of the record, as it's completely unpredictable and without conclusion. Even though it may all blend together into a cacophony of white noise at parts, my endurance-induced close focus will find further patterns of noise within the noise. So, depending on my own focus while listening, the noise can have a different sound upon another listening.

I'd definitely recommend listening with headphones -- you won't be able to get the full experience though speakers. Wiese uses stereo headphones to his advantage by switching different sounds through left/right earphones commonly throughout the entire album. The effect created from this cacophony was physically noticeable -- kind of like how a heavy bass sound feels at a live concert, though, this is forced back and forth between your ears.

Overall, I liked it. I don't think most other people would. It's not the kind of record that you can jump into noise with -- this is more of an end result than a starting point. Those unfamiliar with the genre, I recommend listening to it once at first (and not necessarily the whole thing). I think it's likely that you won't think much of the record, so put it away for awhile. Come back to it months or even years later and I think you'll have a new appreciation for it.

Intellectual Laziness: The Appeal of Over-Skepticism

I had a strange conversation recently. I got into an argument of sorts with an acquaintance that I see rarely on my daily commute. Initially, we were discussing the differences between HMO and PPO health care plans, but then that shifted to other topics: first, the balance between work incentives and promised benefits and then to the solvency of Social Security and Medicare.

Where the conversation grew worse was when this person made a claim that undocumented workers, or "illegal aliens" as he called them, were putting a strain on the system by receiving benefits. I quickly called bullshit and cited a collection of studies compiled by The Urban Institute that debunks many immigration myths; one being the myth that undocumented workers come to the United States to receive welfare benefits. But we didn't even get to debate this topic at all, because this person had already categorically denied that any truth can come from any individual or group.

A true nihilist (only in the sense that he rejects the idea of an objective truth), he went on to argue that I cannot know that what I am reading from organizations like The Urban Institute is truth. I pointed out that, using his logic, that I should not believe a word he says. He agreed with me. At least he was consistent.

His main arguments against my own were that his personally biased, anecdotally collected, and geographically limited observations that led him to broad generalizations about the world are enough to call into question the scientifically verifiable methodology, transparent and accessible data, and repeatable observations of organizations that make claims counter to his own ideas about the world.

I attempted to explain the idea of criteria analysis; the idea that since some sources are better than other sources, people should critically analyze each source based upon criteria laid out in Enlightenment philosophy. For example, a source that provides the raw data that its analysis is based upon would be a better source than one that does not. A source that provides a transparent and accessible methodology is also superior to a source that does not. These factors allow any disinterested individual to repeat the analysis, examine the data, and criticize the methodology. After much conversation back and forth, the end result is a much more robust analysis of the available data -- one that we can be reasonably assured to be truth because many disinterested parties have had the opportunity to criticize and alter the original analysis. This process is the basis of much of academia and is an example of how the scientific method of inquiry is put to practical use.

He unequivocally denied that this is possible, and again he used his own anecdotal evidence from past experiences about how data can be compromised in the lab, outside of the peering eyes of the public. He may very well be right that such things have occurred, and I do not doubt that such things still occur. But over time, these errors can be found out when the data is transparent and accessible. Academia is very transparent and accessible, and academics who conduct analysis that are not transparent and accessible are generally criticized and not taken as seriously as those who are. Organizations that use the same processes of academia can be held accountable, and that is the key to discovering truth.

Getting back to the point of argument that sparked this, I believe that I can be reasonably assured that the analysis from The Urban Institute is accurate because of the use of such open processes. Furthermore, to my knowledge no other academic has provided a damning criticism based on empirical evidence of the debunked immigration myths. I have not seen any scientifically vetted sources make claims to the contrary. Therefore, I have every reason to believe that what I have read is much closer to the truth than the anecdotal evidence of my debate partner.

Although I tried, there was simply no way for me to convey these ideas to him. He appealed to the value of skepticism. While I agree that skepticism has great value in a functioning democracy, his skepticism seemed unwarranted by the available evidence. Skepticism is healthy when it is used to show flaws or holes in existing analysis and data by using new, empirically derived evidence; however, this was not the kind of skepticism that he employed. His was based upon loosely connected anecdotal evidence, false analogies, and logical fallacies that led him to broad generalizations. That kind of skepticism would fall into the realm of conspiracy. The only conclusion that I could come to, as I said then, is that he appears to have rejected objective reality.

Why does this bother me? I have to wonder how many other people out there think the same way. In an email list that I sometimes participate in, I've run into this kind of intellectual laziness before. It seems that many people have given up on the idea of an objective reality. Many of these people subscribe to a conservative political ideology -- I wonder what kind of reaction I would get if I described how their points of view are very post-modern. On second thought, I'd probably be told that's bullshit without a second thought from them.

How can we reach people who think this way? How can there be a debate on things like public policy when the opposing point of view has already rejected the most robust method of intellectual inquiry ever thought by humans?

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Via Sivacracy -- an Alabama television station censors a CBS broadcast implicating former Deputy Chief of Staff and current White House strategist Karl Rove in the controversial conviction of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman in federal court. Here's the censored segment:

Sorry for the poor quality, but I refuse to embed the CBS linked video because CBS forces commercials into the video. If you've like to view the CBS linked video, go here.

What does this mean for our democracy if local television stations are allowed to censor public news broadcasts in this manner?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mario Bros.?

Try this out:

Mario Bros. turned on its head.


Islamic Creationism

It's not just Christian fundamentalist crazies and pseudo-scientific intelligent design proponents we have to worry about, but also Islamic resistance to Darwin's theory about evolution that is a foundation of modern biology.

Of course, this hints towards the larger problem of religious resistance to science in general, though it is interesting to see the perspective of Islamic resistance since most of the creationist and intelligent design material comes from Christians.

The most recent "Jesus and Mo" comic is slightly relevant, too:

It seems to me that the only way for religions to hold onto their influence and power is to create their own definitions of truth, which is exactly what we see in these creationist movements.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Hate Driving

This morning I had an epiphany. Driving is a game of chicken between those who want to follow the law and those who don't.

This morning as I was driving to work, another car nearly ran into me. Here's how it happened:

I was on I-195 going to the train station. At the end of 195 is my exit. I turn on my blinker to signal that I need to get over into the exit lane. In the exit lane, there's one car in front of me, an empty space next to me, and one car behind me. The car in front of me needed to get into my lane, so I slowed down a bit to let the car into the lane. As I began to move into the exit lane, the car that was behind me races right up next to me and starts to move into my lane! Needless to say, I immediately hit the brakes so that this car would not hit me. He moved into my lane in front of me, and I was then able to get into the exit lane. Of course, as I drove by that car I gave it the bird.

This highlights what I have noticed on numerous occasions on the road -- the game of chicken is between me, the car following the law, and the other car, the one driving like an asshole. It's a game of chicken to see who will give up first to prevent a car accident. I could rattle off probably another two dozen stories with similar circumstances -- like the time when I was driving straight through a one-lane intersection and the car behind me decided to make its own lane in the intersection to try to pass me, or the time when I was merging onto I-195 and the car coming off of 195 decided to skip the yield sign, block me from getting onto the on-ramp, and then swerve towards me after I let the car pass me.

Seriously, I cannot take this shit much longer. Please build a useful, functioning public transit system already.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alert the Obama Campaign!

A very good friend of mine, Monty Pebenito, asked of me a seemingly standard request for our daily routine of political conversation:

I know who I want to be Obama's running mate. I would like you to guess.
My first instinct was Russ Feingold, of whom both Monty and I were quite disappointed with when he declined to run for president in the '08 cycle. And my instinct was right.

Can you imagine OBAMA/FEINGOLD 2008?

Monty's reasoning was quite simple too -- the McCain-Feingold legislation. While the idea of Feingold as a potential vice presidential nominee has been discussed sporadically throughout the internet after his announcement not to run for president in 2008, this specific reason only seems to have been previously mentioned on DailyKos. But the DailyKos post doesn't really make a strong case for Feingold as vice president; the post only signals to the potential problems that Feingold could cause for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain.

With Feingold as a running mate, Republican voters will be reminded daily in the general election of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation that they so loathe. Many conservatives already have significant problems with their presumptive nominee; just google "Top 10 Reasons Conservatives Dislike McCain" (and campaign finance reform is the number one reason why conservatives dislike McCain.) With this constant, visible reminder of the McCain-Feingold legislation, it's likely that many more conservatives will not go out to vote at all in November.

Additionally, McCain-Feingold will also shield the Democratic ticket from any kind of attack on integrity by McCain. Assuming that the nominee is Barack Obama, there's virtually no conceivable way that McCain could launch an attack on the Democratic ticket from an integrity angle -- Feingold's work with McCain on campaign finance reform, as well as Obama's previous inqury about the use of public financing in the general election, would prevent McCain from being able to 1) launch any attack on Obama or Feingold and, more importantly, 2) discuss his own "integrity" without also immediately bringing to mind the integrity of his opponents. It's a lose/lose situation for McCain.

Finally, Feingold can bring many other things, like his role in the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Intelligence, and Judiciary Senate Committees. Feingold was one of 23 Senators to vote against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the only Senator to vote against the PATRIOT ACT. In 2006, he moved to censure President Bush as a result of the Bush administration's flagrant abuse of the FISA court's ability to grant the Federal government domestic surveillance powers.

Feingold would be a strong pick for vice president in 2008. If Obama is able to win the Democratic nomination, this could quite possibly be the strongest Democratic ticket in a long time and I don't think that McCain would have a chance.

Someone get the Obama campaign on the horn!

[UPDATE]: Obama has more to say about his call for public financing in today's USA Today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Digital Imprimatur

Continuing with the topic from my previous post on DRM:

Over the last two years I have become deeply and increasingly pessimistic about the future of liberty and freedom of speech, particularly in regard to the Internet. This is a complete reversal of the almost unbounded optimism I felt during the 1994–1999 period when public access to the Internet burgeoned and innovative new forms of communication appeared in rapid succession. In that epoch I was firmly convinced that universal access to the Internet would provide a countervailing force against the centralisation and concentration in government and the mass media which act to constrain freedom of expression and unrestricted access to information. Further, the Internet, properly used, could actually roll back government and corporate encroachment on individual freedom by allowing information to flow past the barriers erected by totalitarian or authoritarian governments and around the gatekeepers of the mainstream media.


This is how I saw things at the euphoric peak of my recent optimism. Like the transition between expansion and contraction in a universe with Ω greater than 1, evidence that the Big Bang was turning the corner toward a Big Crunch was slow to develop, but increasingly compelling as events played out. Earlier I believed there was no way to put the Internet genie back into the bottle. In this document I will provide a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past.
Read the whole thing here.

Fuck Religious Extremism

P.Z. Myers has a point:

The aggrieved Muslims are saying, "Mock our god and we will kill you." They have the goal of suppressing images they consider blasphemous.

The cartoonists are saying, "Threaten to kill us and we will mock your god." Obviously, they'd like to stay alive, but their goal in this context is to see their work disseminated widely.


It looks to me like a few relatively obscure cartoonists are crushing the fundamentalist Muslim world.

Mock away!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Copyright Protected Music Files

Today I had my first experience with a copyright protected digital music file. A little background; I've stayed out of Apple's iPod world -- the idea of my entire music collection on a portable hard drive hasn't seemed very appealing to me (though, I will add that I'd be interested in one for my car, which has an iPod connector built into it, simply because burning CDs gets tiresome.) One, the quality would not be anywhere near my vinyl (128 Kbps? Psh. If I have to go digital, FLAC or bust); two, I rather enjoy the act of sitting down and really listening to music -- there's something about music predominately being the soundtrack to my life that detracts from the music itself; and three, I've always felt that the digital/CD format allows too many shitty artists to put out an album. Let me explain that a bit. I'm not so much worried about the fact that digital music can democratize the production and distribution of music; in fact, I think that that's great. My problem lies with the mainstream music industry -- the one that peddles us one-hit-wonders with shitty filler albums for $20 a pop. It seems that people are more willing to buy a CD than an LP with one good song on it for the simple logistics that it's easier to skip ahead and listen to your favorite song on a CD.

A little more background; I'm currently a part of a music email list that calls itself "The Last Record Store." It's a lot of fun and a great concept -- randomly selected music lovers on the list submit songs to compete against each other once a week. The person who submitted the song with the most votes at the end of the week gets to submit a second song for the next week's competition. So far I've heard some interesting stuff, and I like the exposure to new music.

My first experience with a copyright protected digital file (.m4p and .aac) comes from this week's competition, which also happens to be the same week that I was randomly selected to challenge the current champion (my submission was Wolf Eye's "Stabbed in the Face," from their Burned Mind LP on American Tapes. The champion has pitted me against Delta 5's "Mind Your Own Business." Noise v. Funky Post-Punk. Wooo!)

The champion's song was originally submitted with an .m4p file extension. I had never seen this before, but I assumed that my trusty Winamp would be able to play the file -- no dice. I checked out what program Windows assumed files with that extension were associated with, and I discovered it was iTunes. I installed iTunes and loaded up the file. I was ready to hear some Delta 5 when iTunes informed me that my computer did not have authorization to play the file. What? That seemed rather strange to me, and after some more research I discovered that .m4p and .aac files are digital music files loaded with DRM (Digital Rights Management) software.

My problem with this is that .m4p and .aac files (and by extension, DRM) is problematic for a dying music industry. Throughout my life, most of the music I listen to was first recommended by someone I know, then after hearing some songs I purchased the record. After listening to that, I discovered what music influenced the record I just bought and curiosity spread like a virus. My point here is that someone shared some music with me, and that caused me to go out and discover new music and purchase new records. Many of my friends are the same way, and I suspect that many other people are too. Both .m4p and .aac files put a wrench in that whole process.

With more and more music listeners going digital, and more and more artists allowing their material on DRM files, how can people continue to share the music they love with others? And the efforts of DRM seem fruitless, since it appears to be rather easy to side-step the .m4p file by converting it to a .mp3 file (as the champion was able to do.) The tech savvy among us will be able to get around this, but many others may not. Why shouldn't they be able to easily share the music they love?

Last I checked, making cassette tapes of LPs in the '80s didn't bankrupt the music industry. If anything, that type of sharing increased the size of the listening audience. We wonder why the music industry is tanking -- it seems to me that they are doing it to themselves.

[UPDATE]: Is this the future of media?

[UPDATE 2]: For further reading, this DRM talk is very informative.