Sunday, December 31, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood Redemption

Not a big Jefferson fan (big talker, erratic and neurotic walker, wish he would have just once lived up to the fine words in his memorial) but one thing he said has always stuck with me (besides that Declaration thing). He said that he prayed for this nation when he considered that God was just. He was talking about slavery and its long-term damage to our country, clear and threatening even then. And on this at least, he's turned out right.

Race and the people who continue today to claim superiority based on it (as strongly if less vigorously and overtly as a rule than in the old days) have corrupted our American Legacy, what we literally fought the Civil War over, ever since. They still dominate Southern politics and, through gerrymandering, outright mendacity, and idiot media, our national politics as well, despite our best efforts to deny it. Like Holocaust deniers, our inability to confront the evil in our midst then and now still poisons our democracy, our potential, and our legacy even today.

Some people do get it, and some of those people write books. Two of the better ones out right now are
There Goes the Neighborhood by William Julius Wilson and Richard P. Taub and Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann. The former is an examination by the authors and a cadre of students of the recent history and demographic changes of 4 Chicago neighborhoods. One in a stable white community just experiencing (and resisting) Latino newcomers; another, a white-to-Latino transitional neighborhood; another, a community that has fully undergone that white-to-Latino shift; and the last, a stable African-American community. Through interviews with current and former residents, they track how the development and use (or not) of community institutions and standards impacted the (in)stability of each neighborhood. It's a quick but deep read of the ebb and flow of people, communities, stability and instability that any general reader can gain from. (Plus, it borrows heavily from the conceptual framework of one of my favorite books ever, Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty, to which I have sung hosannas in the past.)

Neighborhood is valuable not only as a study of contemporary impacts and perceptions of race and how we get to our current politics and social (dis)order. It's also a nice reminder of the intricacies of racial perceptions. Residents of the stable African-American community are just as resistant to lower class blacks as their white counterparts in that other neighborhood, not to mention their distrust of Latinos. And Latinos are far more likely to side with whites on most issues than with their "minority" counterparts. The authors do note how education or other issues can unite all groups, or two against the third, but, as Nicolas Vaca pointed out in the terrific The Presumed Alliance, the superficial perceptions of majority v. united minorities is just not accurate. Political strategy based on it will likely fail, although that doesn't stop pundits from talking their usual silliness.

Neighborhood is a short quick read that will leave you a little disquieted but basically feeling informed. Redemption is a short quick read that will leave you very disquieted and feeling very pissed and aware that the Southern style of politics we've suffered through in recent decades is deeply embedded in our national DNA. Lemann is not my favorite writer, too old school and Beltway, too disdainful of blogs and ruffians at the journalistic cotillion, but he does this topic well. Describing the fall of Reconstruction through the success of white militias in LA and MS and the wimpy, ineffective leadership and opposition of a major political party (sound familiar??), his work leaves echoes of today's politics pounding in your ears. (And sends a message about ultimately self-defeating vacillating and equivocating for political expediency that will likely chill your bones.)

I personally wanted to pound heads as he detailed the way the right-wing cancer of that period blustered its way into an overthrow of the Northern Civil War victory. The re-writing of this crucial period's history by "professional" historians in the aftermath in the name of "keeping us all together" and being tired of confrontation of evil is so infuriating and unjust that it rivals all the disingenuous b------t spewed by academics, pundits, and political "leaders" today. And, sure enough, there are plenty of "let's understand and get along" moral weaklings at every step of the betrayal of the War and the people it freed.

It's very easy to play the game of picturing who from then and who from now could have traded places without skipping a beat. (All the idiotic praise of Ford and his binding up and enabling of the infection that Nixon and his people injected into our national veins to bring us to the potentially fatal point we find ourselves today provides plenty of great examples, and if that was too
"annoying" and "defeatist," Atrios, when you mature at least a little, maybe you can learn some of the history your econ teachers taught you to ignore.) We had it in our power to institutionalize the American Legacy for all people of all colors, and we threw it away with vacillation, cowardice, temporizing, weariness, and unwillingness to stand for principle. Everything Dr. King was still condemning from his Birmingham jail cell almost a century later. (And don't get me started on JFK, who at the end of the books shows his true patronizing and ignorant shades.)

The scariest thing about this horribly enlightening book is the realization you get that "leaders" like we have today on all sides can throw away decades and generations simply through expediency and ignorance. For example, the justification for not sending federal troops into MS to ensure an honest election in the face of militant, organized white bigots was that it would hurt Republicans in the coming states like OH. Well, they won in OH. And threw away the South. Which they have now regained by adopting the same aggression of those militant, organized white bigots. And the rest of us get to live with that legacy.

God is just.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

A week late on this one, but...

...I found this while catching up on Okayplayer tonight.

When Mos Def speaks, you listen.

When you listen to Mos Def's lyrics and statements, you start to realize that he's as close to a true folk musician as there is out there today. He speaks for his people, and he does a magnificent job of it. Unfortunately, he's also a great actor, and he spends a lot of his time doing that instead of writing songs. He's got a new album coming out soon, and I can't wait.

I hope to expand on the "folk music -> rap music" idea in a later post. In the meantime, here's his video for "Katrina Klap," one of the more poignant "folk" songs in quite a while.


Friday, December 29, 2006


The kids wore themselves out today...

Stan...I think we need to have a talk...


A Couple More Posts to Peruse

Since we don't list Agonist on our webroll, The Boy didn't get these sad but related posts up and you might miss them. Don't.


Things to Think about . . .

. . . if the football isn't riveting this weekend.

  • NC is trying to get at problem high schools and dropout problems by formally linking high school and college. But what about prom? . . .
  • Tired of being accused of lacking "common sense" by people who frequently walk into walls? Here's how to respond.
  • So much for all the crap about Ford's "binding the nation's wounds" and being so "courageous" to pardon Nixon. Turns out they were BFF and he did it because of that . . . by his own admission. Also tends to put the lie to the "he was the good Republican" nonsense, too, doesn't it? Liars just seem to breed liars, don't they?
  • EXTRA-POINT ESSAY QUESTION: “Children of Men,” the new movie set in the near future when human race has been basically sterilized by virus, has a hero who must protect a female who has nevertheless become pregnant. In a world with only one person able to conceive, does she still have a right to an abortion? What are the implications of your answer?
  • A dollar for anyone who can come up with the right music for this headline--"Head-Banging Snakes May Predict Quakes."
  • Finally, what are we supposed to do without Billmon?


Weather, Water, Energy 12-29-06

You know those times when you can tell an idea is bad news simply by the people who are promoting it? Well, Australia's idiot PM is hyping nuclear power. . . . OTOH, Honda says we'll have fuel-cell cars on a mass scale by 2018 so maybe the nuke won't be as needed, even on the idiot continent. Odd that US automakers aren't getting there first, isn't it? . . . Climate Progress has a good post up on the things you can do to make a positive imprint in these global warming times. . . . Here's an interesting story on the mechanics, problems and politics of ethanol production (believe it or not). . . . Islands disappearing in India, taking tigers with them. Just two(!!) so far but could lose a dozen more. That global warming and rising ocean thing. Nothing to worry about, according to the Australian PM. (Have I mentioned what a tool he is?) . . . . OTOH, an Australian researcher is claiming that the continent's current drought is part of normal Australian patterns. But before the idiot PM starts nodding his head, maybe he should read the whole story, wherein the researcher says global warming is a real thing. . . . In any case, Australia is nailing its water wasters pretty good. One of the inevitable outcomes of global warming will be the growth of government authority over the use of resources, among other things. It's just a question of how (not whether) authoritarian. . . . With that in mind, read of this UN report on growing global desertification and the likelihood of massive populations on the move. On second thought, wait until you're drunk on New Year's Eve. . . . Looks like some people may benefit from global warming, kids with eczema, for instance. . . . And some nations look to do better, too. Russia is planning how to use its oil money to solve all its problems, or at least dent them a little. . . . OTOH, maybe they should just plan on repairing all the damage caused by people using their oil. "This year Russia has registered the highest number of unfavorable and dangerous natural phenomena in the history of meteorological observation, a director of Russia's Hydrometeorology Center said Thursday." Just doesn't get much more impressive that that. . . . Finally, the biggest news of the last couple of days. The big meltdown just keeps on coming. An ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields (not a typo) broke free up in Canada . . . over a year ago. The scientists are scratching their heads. "What surprised us was how quickly it happened," one said. See, the thing is, the naysayers may be right when they say the climate models are wrong. The problem is, the models may have been too optimistic. Humans aren't good with nonlinear futures, and this may be the biggest mama nonlinear of all. Oh, and don't go sailing up north anytime soon, okay?


Last Blogroll of 2006!

As I eagerly await the kickoff of the Sun Bowl (Mizzou vs Oregon State, 1pm CST, CBS), I figured I had more than enough time to crank out my first blogroll post in a while. Hope everybody had a lovely Christmas holiday it’s on to the blogs!

First off, I apparently missed Billmon’s farewell. Left Coaster
caught me up. It’s hard to think of a blogger who was more right about everything for the last few years. Guess I’ll take his name off the blogroll. Eh, screw it. I’ll leave it up for a while. Just in case.

Well, the honeymoon is over. Screw the “bravest politician of our time” crap...Gerald Ford was a traitor!
A slanderous traitor (Alicublog)!! How DARE a former president insult a current one! How uncouth (Atrios)!! Couldn’t he see how hard this president was working (AMERICAblog)??

President Bush worked nearly three hours at his Texas ranch on Thursday to design a new U.S. policy in Iraq, then emerged to say that he and his advisers need more time to craft the plan he'll announce in the new year.
Nearly three whole hours? In a row? How does this great man do it??

(Not surprisingly, Attaturk
has a take on this one as well.)

Then again, how bad could Jerry Ford be? I mean, he was
Tricky Dick’s best friend (CorrenteWire)...that’s gotta count for something right? And he ran with Bob Dole...and we all know how classy that guy was (Digby), right? Yup, he was such a nice man (Susie Madrak).

Meanwhile, Mannion
discusses Ford’s supposed “lack of ambition.” And Upyernoz shares his memories. And Will at Attytood makes berlin niebuhr happy and mentions 38’s actual biggest contribution to the United States: The single-bullet theory.

But on the bright side, Ford’s death gave Erik Loomis 5 down on
his 2006 Death List (Alter Destiny) that’s something, right? (Seriously, 5 out of 10 ain’t bad...would really creep me out if I were on his ’07 listening, Lady Bird Johnson? Honestly, I didn’t even know she was alive.)

25x worse than Lucifer (C&L).

Righties: Wrong about everything. Seriously.
Absolutely everything (Greenwald). It’s awe-inspiring.

Meanwhile, as Dubya moves into Lame Duck territory with full force, Avedon
points me to a Connecting.the.Dots post talking about another Lame Duck presidency. While it’s an interesting (and depressing) thought, I like this one better.

As for the next possile lame duck President, BooMan has a
nice post discussing Hilary vs Obama vs Edwards. I don’t think Edwards has too much of a chance (he can feel free to prove me wrong), but I’m all for his entry into the race. And Christy at Firedoglake explains one of the main reasons why I’m for it. Paul from Gadflyer goes into detail about Edwards as well. Mercury Rising points out that his wife kicks quite a bit of ass too.

Meanwhile, David at Debate Link sucks it up and
says something nice about each likely Republican candidate. Now it’s time for a righty to do the same about Dems. There’s actually a righty response in the comments to that post...any more takers?

(Oh, and I think John McCain will be way too busy keeping us in Iraq to be any sort of “principled character” that would represent anything positive, but that’s just me.)

Great secretaries of state have compelling views of the world and/or are effective negotiators -- Secretary Rice has so far demonstrated neither” (First Draft). Ouch.

discusses Rahm Emanuel and his surprise DCCC replacement. I don’t know if this transfer of power is a good or bad thing, but considering how much I (dis)like Rahm, I’m leaning toward ‘good thing.’

Meanwhile, on the Weather Water Energy front, Dana B. takes on a term I haven’t heard since business school:
Price Floors. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not—I’ll leave that to berlin niebuhr—but he makes an interesting case.

Via the
Le in Lefarkins, I find that Matt Taibbi is taking on Friedman. It’s as gruesome as you would expect.

Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.
Wow, Gay Kansans are feeling it might be safe to come out (Pandagon). I don’t know how to feel about that. Never thought I’d see the day.

And finally, Scientology
takes its show on the road (Fired Up! Missouri)! Oh baby!!


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Random 10!

Hello, blog. It's been a while. Sorry to have neglected you. It'll never happen again, I promise. At least, not until the next time I leave the state for a holiday. And to show you I'm back in business, here's a late night Random 10!

Random 10 from Favorites List

1. To All the Girls I've Loved Before, Willie Nelson
2. The Real Slim Shady, Eminem
3. Theologians, Wilco
4. Rebecca (live), Pat McGee Band
5. Pencil Thin Mustache, Jimmy Buffett
6. Tryin' to Get to Heaven, Bob Dylan
7. More Than This, Charlie Hunter Quartet & Norah Jones
8. Saturday Night, Ozomatli
9. (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love & Understanding, Elvis Costello
10. Four Women, Talib Kweli

Random 10 from All Songs List

1. I Like It, Dixie Chicks
2. Motion the Eleven, Cornershop
3. The Times They Are a-Changin' (live), Tracy Chapman
4. Keep It Going, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
5. Vein of Stars, Flaming Lips
6. Search (live), String Cheese Incident
7. Miss Maybelle, R.L. Burnside
8. Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2
9. Good Music, The Roots
10. You Still Believe in Me, Beach Boys


Weather, Water, Energy 12-28-06

This deserves to be listed solo, RealClimate's year in review of climate classics, good and bad. They've done great work this year so reward them with a hit. You'll get some good (and bad) stuff out of it.


The Power of Myth I

In a recent post I reviewed a book on the defeat of Reconstruction and, collaterally, the way our historians bastardized the past with myths about what happened, giving the battle for our history over to forces that epitomize the evil in our national character. It's horrifying but fascinating to see it in retrospective; it's worse to see the incorrect and warping recitation happening before your eyes. But here's the Christian Science Monitor, one of our best newspapers, this morning with commentaries on recent deaths proclaiming Ford "reconciler in chief" and Milton Friedman "objective scientist first." Please, please, please. Ford continued and enabled Nixon's "divide and conquer" politics, both in Congress and as President, that set the stage for Gingrich, impeachment, and everything Bushnev. He may have been a good guy (what was it that drove his wife to drink, I wonder) and held a few positions that Repubs now barf over, but his legacy will be all the links in the chain he placed to where we are now. And as for Friedman, Chile had to dump his recs before it could recover economically, he is famous for "greed is good," that well-known objective philosophy, and had bankers laughing or cursing over his claims that money supplies could actually be tightly controlled. Entire worlds are built on illusions and inability to deal with reality. They survive for a while (see Union, Soviet), but eventually they fail. Surprised about where ours is right now?


The Power of Myth II

As yet another example of the above, here's another myth about human specialness in the universe falling, the one that we're the only living beings on earth with language, well, first it was just language, but it's evolved into language complexity, once the "language" thing alone bit the dust. Now it turns out that white-handed gibbons not only have clearly differentiated warning songs, but also they can rearrange their sounds to give new and different meanings to the warnings, something previously attributed only to humans. It looks like the gap between the rest of God's creation and us, His special creatures for whom everything in the universe was created and done, keeps getting narrower and narrower. It will probably come down to us being the only species that can write a book proclaiming that we are His special creatures for whom everything in the universe was created and done. But I'm not really even going to bet on that.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Weather, Water, Energy 12-27-06

U of AZ research has studied 450 years of tree rings in the North American West and determined that a link exists between changes in ocean temperatures and extent of wildfires, bringing El Ninos (tilde-challenged) and other fluctuations to these conspicuous results and indicating what will happen as global warming increases. Not news to dwellers running from flames, of course, but nice to have the evidence. . . . As the Bushnevs advocate more use of nuclear power, just consider whether you trust anything that man judges good. And then read about how lightning shut down a plant in Japan. But (all together now. . . ) "no radiation escaped and nearby residents were unharmed." We should all relearn the mantra as soon as we can, especially if Georgi gets his way. . . . Even the Chinese are admitting that global warming is going to nail them, they're responsible in great part already, and they better do something fast. Just like we . . . never mind. . . . Want an idea how financial analysts are looking at our energy future next year and beyond? No, really, you don't. Trust me on this one.



Please forgive me for not joining the parade of folks, including bloggers on our side who surely by now should know better, extolling Gerald Ford, especially for his "courage" in "ending the national nightmare of Watergate." There is a straight line between Nixon and his people getting away with only minimal damage to Iran-Contra to everything having to do with Bushnev's disasters. We needed an exorcism, needed to confront what was being done to our Constitution and our American Legacy, and Ford short-circuited it all with Nixon's pardon. Courage? Please. He almost won in '76 and, frankly, would have if he hadn't made bizarre claims about the Soviets being good neighbors to all the countries around it in his first debate with Carter.

And it's interesting how people have forgotten or never understood that he was J. Edgar Hoover's spy and waterboy on the Warren Commission, preventing it from examining the FBI's investigation or prior knowledge of Oswald or Ruby. The Commission never heard that Ruby was a bagman for the mob from his earliest days. Think that might have made a difference in the course of the investigation? Wonder who was one of the strongest proponents for a limited investigation?

Ford was not Bushnev or Reagan or Nixon. For that, he's getting undeserved plaudits for being the last "good" Republican. He wasn't. He made Cheney and Rumsfeld possible. He made everything we're living through right now possible. Go ahead and praise this devastator of what this country was supposed to be about. I'm sitting on my hands.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

In Case You Thought There Was Hope

The header on a news story today: "Sam Brownback said Thursday that conservative values like opposition to abortion and gay marriage will distinguish him from others vying for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination."

You just can't make stuff like this up.


FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING!! 'Tis (still) the season!!


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty) Mas Bella Update XXV

No, no, no, and no. This "nueva etapa" on "La Fea Mas Bella" is nueva crapa. The joke about telenovelas is that the synposis of 99 out of 100 of them starts "Two [brothers, friends, rivals, cousins] fall in love with the same young woman." One of the saving graces of the original "Betty La Fea" was that it resisted the tired old formulas of telenovelas, including that hoary one. But now, on "La Fea" we're getting full-on, frontal cliche, Lety now pictured literally between Fernando and a new but long-time telenovela fave with a distractingly white overbite. Yes, "Betty" found a young man when she fled after the debacle at her company, but not one that anyone seriously believed she would fall for, and certainly not one with the emotional "turmoil" this one is apparently going to be carrying. This is just crap. People who didn't see the classic may find it okay, but it's not. It's just one more case of taking something that was intelligent and challenging and turning it into something dumbed down and safe. The actors may still be good, but this will just confirm that this show is a pale reflection of what it could have been, what its predecessor was. Too bad, but no, no, no, and no.

As for the other remake of the classic "Betty" on right now, ABC's "Ugly Betty," they're doing good things away from the camera, as this USA Today
article shows. The character is being lauded for her presentation of real beauty and not the superficial ParisBritLindsay, "Girls Gone 'rexic" kind that too many dingdong females (and males unfortunately) buy into. Of course, the star, America Ferrera is helping to take the lead. It's good to see the show have the impact the original did in Colombia. Too bad the Mexican one had to become just another soap.


Weather, Water, Energy 12-21-06

Quick hits after a long, long day:

  • Grist has some good posts up, including this takedown of Rep. John Dingell (D-General Motors) who will do as much to delay and stall progress on carbon emissions as anything Bush could dream of and this note that, if the rest of the world were to work the same long hours as Americans, global warming will get even worse. Not to mention if they consume what we do. We make our moms so proud.
  • Turns out that the tides play a bigger role in the speed of the Antarctic ice melt than scientists had realized, leaving new modeling to be done.
  • Big Media finally covering the warm European winter and its implications, including another "bears won't sleep in the woods" this winter story, this time in Spain (with some other weather weirdness listed as well).
  • Maybe this overview of the problem and the need for solid, reliable research are the reason.
  • Or maybe it's the possibility of growing palm trees where they've rarely grown before. When they get to Canada, will even Inhofe believe? . . . nahhhh.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Weather, Water, Energy 12-20-06

Water Wars--the next Lucas production? Well, right now, they're the three-way "talks" between GA, AL, and FL over use of common water sources that we've talked about here before. The deadline for action has been extended to Jan 31. Not sure if that's good or bad news. Just know that we'll be hearing a lot of stories like this one. Already have, in fact. . . . Wanna know what a real global warming war will look like? Head to Uganda, where herders and pastoralists (with really good weaponry) are actively protecting their cattle and resources as the land dries, even against the government. Yet another story we'll hear more of. . . . Of course, Sen. Inhofe (OK-REPUB) will have his fingers in his ears, even as part of his own state suffers from the worst drought in the country right now. Bring on those prayers, Jimbo. . . . CA and KS are moving to stop coal use by utilities within their borders, including stopping new construction of plants using coal. But read this Grist piece before getting too excited about the likelihood of success. . . . Think a decrease in acid rain in Appalachia would be a good thing, wouldn't you? But not if the resulting new chemistry hikes dissolved CO2 in forest streams. . . . Appears that some European birds are delaying their southern migration so far this winter, and robins are popping up regularly in places there should be snow. . . . And in upper NY, bald eagles are nesting and producing more babies, raising the possibility of having more of the national symbol and at lower longitudes (or is it latitudes?). That may not be a good sign, but, really now, isn't it at least one thing cool to come out of this?


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Weather, Water, Energy 12-19-06

Boston Globe reports that, despite pledges by their governors, New England states and eastern Canada have not lived up to promised CO2 reductions. They're being called on it by an environmental advocacy group that's laid out a 10-point plan to get them there. We'll see. . . . Here's something that may help. MA is retrofitting school buses to get emissions reduced 90% in 3 years. Not that small a step, all things considered. . . . Remember when we expressed a wee bit of skepticism that EU demands that airlines doing business there must cut emissions would face a wee bit of problem? From a wee bit of a nation that will get a ginormous amount of the blame for the crap coming down? We just hate saying "told you so" . . . well, actually, we don't. We're just getting warmed up.


D--k in a Box

EW’s PopWatch suggests (pretty facetiously, I assume...though I can think of worse ideas) that Saturday Night Live should just go to all digital shorts from now on and get rid of the “Live” after by far the funniest skit of the season, the “D--k in a Box” music video. It’s definitely an interesting time for SNL (beyond the whole “NBC’s running two shows about the making of a fake SNL” thing). The new new head writers are still trying to figure out what the mostly-new cast is good at, and the three funniest skits from the past two seasons (“Lazy Sunday”, Natalie Portman’s gangsta rap, and “D--k in a Box”) haven’t been performed live. Granted, SNL has always had pre-recorded fake commercials and things like that, but this is different, and so far these shorts have been more successful than not. And while "D--k in a Box" wasn't the outright homerun that the other two were (if you lived through Color Me Badd, you find it 100x funnier), it was still a strong triple in the corner.

I still DVR SNL every week, and I’m actually starting to get hopeful about the rest of this season. Last season, the writers had a few new parts to work with as well, and they really didn’t hit their stride until the Nov/Dec range. And just like this season, it seemed to catch some momentum after a hilarious episode by a not-guaranteed-to-be-funny host (last year, Dane Cook; this year, Justin Timberlake). In last week’s episode, they didn’t try to cram a square peg into a round hole—they played to Timberlake’s strengths (he sang and/or danced in almost every skit), and the payoff was huge. Beyond “D--k in a Box”, the Chipmunks “Christmas Song” takeoff in the monologue was good, the rapping/dancing Cup O’ Soup was good, Hip Hop Kids was pretty good, the Gibb Brothers Show skit (with a Jimmy Fallon cameo...another non-guaranteed-to-be-funny gamble) was relatively amusing, and even the Target skit was good (it isn’t always).

It does appear that there is a lot of unique talent in this year’s cast, and it’s easy to get your hopes up that the writer’s will find a niche for everybody. Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiits are both fantastic (Witts in particular), and I have a new-found respect for Maya Rudloph after watching A Prairie Home Companion last weekend (she was by far the best thing in the movie, surpassing even Kevin Kline). Andy Samberg has had some fantastic moments in the digital shorts, though that hasn’t translated to success in the live aspect of the show (it definitely seems like the writers don’t always know what to do with him), and Seth Meyers and Will Forte have turned into pretty reliable performers. Even Keenan Thompson is having his most impressive season to date. It's not a great show yet, but if the writing can catch up to the talent, that will bode well for the rest of the season and beyond. That’s quite the “if,” though.

(Kudos also to Justin Timberlake, who has been a big hit both times he hosted. That Mickey Mouse Club experience seems to have paid off. He was funny in every skit.)

I assume NBC will get this yanked from YouTube at some point, but for now...


If Tomorrow All the Things Were Gone...

I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife

I’d thank my lucky stars
To be livin here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away

Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon’s detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.
And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I wont forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me

“Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had,” said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. “While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”
And I gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA.

On the evening of April 15, they met with American officials at the embassy and stayed overnight. But just before dawn, they were awakened, handcuffed with zip ties and made to wear goggles with lenses covered by duct tape. Put into a Humvee, Mr. Vance said he asked for a vest and helmet, and was refused.

They were driven through dangerous Baghdad roads and eventually to Camp Cropper. They were placed in cells at Compound 5, the high-security unit where Saddam Hussein has been held.

Only days later did they receive an explanation: They had become suspects for having associated with the people Mr. Vance tried to expose.

“You have been detained for the following reasons: You work for a business entity that possessed one or more large weapons caches on its premises and may be involved in the possible distribution of these weapons to insurgent/terrorist groups,” Mr. Ertel’s detention notice said.

Mr. Vance said he began seeking help even before his cell door closed for the first time. “They took off my blindfold and earmuffs and told me to stand in a corner, where they cut off the zip ties, and told me to continue looking straight forward and as I’m doing this, I’m asking for an attorney,” he said. “ ‘I want an attorney now,’ I said, and they said, ‘Someone will be here to see you.’ ”

Instead, they were given six-digit ID numbers. The guards shortened Mr. Vance’s into something of a nickname: “343.” And the routine began.
From the lakes of Minnesota
To the hills of Tennessee
Across the plains of Texas
From sea to shining sea

From Detroit down to Houston
And New York to L.A.
Well there's pride in every American heart
And its time we stand and say.

That I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I wont forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me.

Bread and powdered drink for breakfast and sometimes a piece of fruit. Rice and chicken for lunch and dinner. Their cells had no sinks. The showers were irregular. They got 60 minutes in the recreation yard at night, without other detainees.

Five times in the first week, guards shackled the prisoners’ hands and feet, covered their eyes, placed towels over their heads and put them in wheelchairs to be pushed to a room with a carpeted ceiling and walls. There they were questioned by an array of officials who, they said they were told, represented the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“It’s like boom, boom, boom,” Mr. Ertel said. “They are drilling you. ‘We know you did this, you are part of this gun smuggling thing.’ And I’m saying you have it absolutely way off.”

The two men slept in their 9-by-9-foot cells on concrete slabs, with worn three-inch foam mats. With the fluorescent lights on and the temperature in the 50s, Mr. Vance said, “I paced myself to sleep, walking until I couldn’t anymore. I broke the straps on two pair of flip-flops.”

Asked about the lights, the detainee operations spokeswoman said that the camp’s policy was to turn off cell lights at night “to allow detainees to sleep.”
And I gladly stand up
Next to you and defend her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA.



Monday, December 18, 2006

Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty) Mas Bella Update XXIV

Okay, we've hit the peak, the story is now at full elevation and will shortly begin its descent to a landing sometime in 3-4 months by my calculation. A long time to resolve, I realize, but there's still the transformation of both leads, the return of Lety and Tomas to Conceptos, the re-winning of Lety by Fernando (with an intriguing sidelight), and the rescue of the company and the family. Will take some time. In the meantime, yes, Marcia and Ariel will pay for their comments about the lower class Lety, but Marcia still elicits a little sympathy. (Alicia never really will, sorry.) If any of this is shocking and "spoiling" for you, I apologize but how clueless are you?

The story does a couple of things that are unusual, which I've discussed before but which have been made clear by the break between Lety and Fernando. One is the very nice turn on the title that has been done. There are two "La Feas Mas Bellas" here. One, of course, is the ugly most beautiful, Lety. The other is the beautiful most ugly, Fernando. The crossing of their paths has left both of them smashed, what was beautiful about them turned on its head. Lety helped a man cheat on his fiancee, his family, and business. She has to break to recover. Fernando was superficial and amoral but is on a journey to redemption. He has to break to recover. His recovery will be more physically painful but both have to reform, not just him. Both are fea at this moment and will only be mas bella again when they reunite. Nicely done, even if it took a year to get here pretty much.

The other thing the story has done is to reemphasize the class distinction that was such a fundamental part of the superior original "Betty La Fea." "Clase" has come up overtly here unlike you see in the usual US story. I mean, Lety owns the company, owns the families, owns the women who are disparaging her class status, and yet neither they nor she acts as if this is possible. This will change, but it's been a great touch that the romance with Fernando had glossed over. The current best US show on class issues, not surprisingly, is "Ugly Betty," thanks no doubt to Salma (!!!!), but even there, it's the contrast between the two worlds Betty lives in, not so much the outright statements that we've just seen in "Mas Bella." We've covered up the class divisions in this country too long with too much damage to our democracy, our economy, and our future, and that the weaker version in "Ugly" is the best we can do right now says all we need to know. I've gotten to like "Ugly," primarily because of America Ferrara and her chemistry with, well, everyone, but it will never have the impact of "Mas Bella" and certainly not of "Betty La Fea" until it can stand completely for the same things. That would give it impact similar to the Colombian original. Maybe we can hope. In the meantime, enjoy as the class walls eventually come down.

3-4 months from now.


Weather, Water, Energy 12-18-06

Remember when I linked to the story that planting trees might not be the god-send for slowing global warming that people generally believe. (By "people," I mean "me.") Well, a couple more tree stories today that again show that this stuff is far more complicated than anyone superficial might think. (By "anyone superficial," I mean "me.") First, turns out that soil nutrition is important to leaf area, which is key to sucking up CO2. Second, planting them along the equator, in tropical areas in other words, is still good practice even if planting them further and further north, not so much--they not only absorb CO2 but also increase cloudiness, a TWOFER!!! . . . A couple of British offshore wind farms are coming online which should produce enough renewable power for about 1 m. people, also bringing about 800 new jobs in their construction, 100 permanent. Too bad environmentalism is bad for an economy. . . . Finally, a very nice op-ed in Scientific American outlining "The Challenge of Sustainable Water," although here are words that may scare you into drunken stupor--"Securing water for a growing world will require the best of science, ecology, economics, ethics and international cooperation." They shertainly haf wit me . . . .


Sunday, December 17, 2006

More 'Truth'...

Like Digby, I too watched An Inconvenient Truth again last night, this time with The Butterfly, her independent mother and her old-school-rightwinger father (I bribed him with Buffalo Wild Wings to get him to watch). Don’t know if the four of us qualify as an official “watch party” like is organizing, but I tried to do my part.

After I saw the movie at Columbia’s local independent theatre over the summer, I bought the book for them, and while I know they flipped through it a bit, I knew the movie would make a much larger impact. And I think it did. To get them (him) to watch it, I also had to promise that it wasn’t just an Al Gore campaign video (oh, but I wish it were), and that he tries early on to remove politics from the discussion. Yes, he makes a couple of (1000% deserved) jabs at the Bush administration, and yes he talks about the heartbreak of losing in 2000, but I think that was Gore’s biggest accomplishment with the film. Yes, I’m sure that 90-95% of the people who watch Truth were totally in Gore’s corner anyway, but making an impact on that other 5-10% is the most important thing, and judging by the reaction last night, I’d say his efforts to be apolitical were a success.

Honestly, digby manages to perfectly illustrate my feelings for Big Al at the moment, which is great because it means I don’t have to:

Al Gore is really too good for politics. He's more like a prophet than a politician at this point. I almost don't want to see him enter the fray and take the disgusting offal they will throw at him. But I love the guy and if it happened I can't think of anyone who'd make a better president.
I figure the onslaught of Obama/Hilary coverage will prevent him from running in ‘08—it seems to me he’s not going to run unless he can kind of swoop in at the last second and save the day, but the O/H media groundswell is probably going to prevent him and maybe others from running. That’s fine. Just make sure that a Democrat wins, names Gore Secretary of the Interior, then gives him carte blanche. That’ll work too. By 2009, we’ll be quickly nearing the point of no return (if we haven’t already sped right past berlin niebuhr's Weather Water Energy series sometimes leads you to believe...but since Uncle Al says we haven’t (at least he did a year ago when AIT was being made, I’ll choose to believe him...for now...), so it’s just important that whoever wins—Democrat or Republican (HAHAHA!!)—makes climate change the #2 issue on the agenda (I’m not na├»ve enough to believe it’ll pass Iraq...even though it’s one million times more dangerous).

As for the “What can you do?” checklist at the end of the film...well, we’re doing alright. A solid B or B-, I’d think. We just bought an energy-efficient refrigerator, and we have the energy-efficient lightbulbs. We’re getting ready to plant some trees in the backyard. However, our overall gas mileage stinks to high heaven. Mine: 24 (and I drive 35 miles to work everyday). Butterfly’s: 24. The Mother-in-law: 16 (though she only drives about 50 miles a week, tops). The Father-in-law: 18. That stinks, but at the very least the in-laws will both be getting new cars some time in the next couple of years. I got a Rav4 a couple of years ago and fell for the “24-30 miles per gallon!!” sticker. I reached 29 mpg once, driving on cruise control through Illinois (where it’s 65 mph instead of 70), with brand new tires and a newly-cleaned fuel filter, but for the most part it hovers between 22 and 25, which is pretty unacceptable to me. I have to make a much better mpg choice with my next purchase, which unfortunately is still a few years off (I absolutely love the Rav other than the mpg, but that’s pretty damn important).

I do appreciate
this, though (even though it’s at least two years too late):

The Environmental Protection Agency rewrote one of the great fictions of American life on Monday by changing the formula for calculating miles-per-gallon numbers on the window stickers of new cars, to take account of higher speeds, more aggressive driving, more air-conditioning use and other factors not in the old system.


At Consumers Union, the nonprofit group that publishes Consumer Reports, Ann Wright, a senior policy analyst, said the new stickers would move the government estimates closer to reality. Consumer Reports does road tests on vehicles and its mileage results are generally much lower than the EPA's.

At the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group, officials also praised the new standard and said it would cut fuel economy estimates by 8 to 10 percent on average. The alliance had fought to make sure that the formula was used only on the sticker, and not on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, the one that manufacturers must meet or pay a penalty.


When the EPA began estimating mileage in the 1970s, the test covered speeds up to 60 miles an hour, and it expected that when drivers want to go faster, they increased their speeds by 3.3 miles per hour each second. But about 28 percent of driving is above 60 miles per hour, the agency said, and actual acceleration rates are often 10 or 12 miles per hour each second.

Summarizing earlier this year when it proposed the new standard, the EPA said its test "omitted many critical driving modes."
The first step was to make the estimates realistic (if the Rav’s mpg estimate was 22-26 instead of 24-30, I doubt I’d have pulled the trigger). The second step is to actually make the cars more fuel efficient. Remember when we used to do that?


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Roots: A Primer

I seem to be on an all-music, no politics kick lately...while I'm sure that will trend back toward politics when Congress convenes next month, I figure for now I might as well go with it...more music!

Today's challenge: tell you everything you need to know about The Roots in 10 songs.

1. "Pass the Popcorn," Organix (1993). This song and “Essaywhuman?!!!??!” best reflect the song and vibe that The Roots were going for on their debut album.

2. "Proceed," Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995). It's fun watching the progression of time through these 11 years' worth of songs. Back in the early- to mid-'90s, The Roots were still unique with the live act, but they had quite the Digable-Planets-meets-a-less-gimmicky-Das-Efx vibe going on on Do You Want More?!!!??! (they sure loved the demonstrative punctuation, eh?) and Organix. As a whole, Do You was a better all-around effort. Things really took off, however, with their next album.

3. "Concerto of the Desperado," Illadelph Halflife (1996). Looking at my iTunes ratings for this album, not a single song got 5 stars...but damn near every song on the album got 4. Just a consistently good effort...making it pretty difficult to choose just one. “Concerto” is probably my favorite, though you can’t go wrong with “Respond-React,” “Push Up Ya Lighter,” “Clones,” or “What They Do” either.

4. "The Next Movement," Things Fall Apart (1999). Here’s where picking one song from each album gets tricky. There are nothing but solid songs on this album, which was the closest thing they’ve had to a “breakthrough” album with the Grammy success of “You Got Me,” but there are three pantheon-level songs. “You Got Me” deserves the success it found, “Double Trouble” features a fantastic tag team effort between Black Thought and the unknown-at-the-time-but-fantastic-as-always Mos Def, and “Step Into the Realm” is one of the most creative rap songs ever, but it just doesn’t get any better than “The Next Movement” for the combination of beats, lyrics, and just the overall groove. Almost any album that kicks off with this song is going to be successful.

5. "You Got Me," The Roots Come Alive (1999). The other reason I found it okay to pass on “You Got Me” as my Things Fall Apart selection is because the truest nature of the song can be found on the live version. A buddy of mine “borrowed” The Roots Come Alive from me a few years ago, and he kept it so long that I damn near bought another copy of it because I thought I lost it. He gave it back to me, and it looked like it hadn’t left his cd player in two years. It hadn’t. Even without the visual effect, The Roots’ live act is like nothing else...and The Roots Come Alive is one of the better live albums you'll hear. It does a great job of displaying all of the band's influences to that point, from jazz to hip hop to soul and R&B.

Back in 2002, when they were a part of the Smokin’ Grooves Tour with Outkast, Jurassic 5, and Lauryn Hill (one of the best lineups I could have ever imagined), I went to a tourstop with a couple of of whom turned to me halfway through The Roots’ set and said, “I...I had no idea.” There’s just no way to prepare you for The Roots' live experience until you’ve been through the experience.

Also notable about this version of “You Got Me,” of course, is that it features Jill “Jilly from Philly” Scott, the original performer of the song. The record company decided that the female part should be occupied by a bigger name for the Things Fall Apart version, so they brought in Erykah Badu for the singing and Eve for the rap. It worked great, and they have the Grammys to prove it, but let’s just say that Jill Scott, for better or worse, goes places with this song that nobody else would imagine. It takes a really strange turn with her, but it’s exciting even when it’s uncomfortable. The version from the Chappelle’s Block Party soundtrack is just as interesting with both Badu and Scott.

6. “Big Pimpin’”, Jay-Z Unplugged (2001). When it came out that Jay-Z was going to do an MTV Unplugged special with The Roots as his backing band, I must say I was as confused as intrigued. “How in the hell is he going to do ‘Big Pimpin’’ with a live band?” Well, I wish I could have “holy crap!” moments like that on a daily basis. They were treading water through the first four songs (including competent renditions of “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “The Takeover,” but when ?uestlove started the beat and they kicked in with the snakecharmer-like whistle/recorder part, it was quite the revelation. This was pretty much the moment when I realized that The Roots could do pretty much anything they wanted (as did everybody else...they were even asked to perform with Eminem at the Grammys). The rest of the show was cranked up to fifth gear, capped by the phenomenal “I Just Wanna Love You (Give it 2 Me)” finale.

7. "Water," Phrenology (2002). Hardcore Roots fans are like fans of any other band, really...especially fans who get to interact with the band and feel a heavy-duty sense of ownership. The long-time fans reminisce about the good old days and sigh that the band “sold out” or just isn’t as good as it used to be. The “Nothing Will Top the Good Old Days” syndrome. Happens with every band with any semblance of longevity (except maybe Pearl Jam, whose hardcore fans go out of their way to prove that the new music is just as good as the old). Get on at any time, and you’ll see longing for the good old days of Do You Want More?!!!??!. When Phrenology came out, it freaked quite a few Okayplayers out as the band dabbled in rock and other influences and slowly started to stray from the jazz sound.

For me, it gets no better than Phrenology. Just like Dave Matthews Band’s Busted Stuff is, to me, far superior to Under the Table and Dreaming, I like it when a band matures, takes in new influences, and pushes itself to create new sounds. There are nothing but new sounds on Phrenology, and for me The Roots peaked as a band with “Water.”

For most of The Roots’ existence up to this point, the microphone was manned by two guys, Black Thought and Malik B. As Malik B (allegedly) started to struggle more and more with drug addiction, his role in The Roots basically went on hiatus. Starting with Phrenology, Black Thought did almost all of the vocals. He wrote a quite autobiographical tribute to Malik B., “Water.” I can’t just take a small sample of the lyrics...they’re too good.

You need to walk straight, master your high
Son, you’re missin’ out on what’s passin’ you by
I done seen the streets suck a lotta cats dry
But not you and I, my n---a, we got to get
Over...the water...over...the water


We done been through many meals, a couple of deals
Shared clothes and wheels, killed mics and reels
We done rocked shows abroad and slept on floors
Trying to figure what the f—k we gettin’ slept on for
Or what we’re walkin’ with the weapon for
Weighted by the gravity law, you know it if you came up poor
Picture the bus up north
You know we’re made of everything outlaws are made of
I’m far from a hater
And I don’t say I love you ‘cause the way I feel is greater
You’re a poet, son, you’re a born creator
And this’ll probably dawn on you later
It’s in your nature
Lyrics all up on your walls like they’re made of paper
You gotta follow where the talent take ya
You might f—k around and finally make it


I want you all to understand I come from South Philly
And when I walk the streets it’s like a pharmacy
They got all type of sh-t anybody can get
From H to X to Lucy cigarettes
For my ghetto legend, known for little shyst runnin’
Cop codine by the quarters and keep comin’ and dumbin’
Just embracing the dope like it’s a woman
You’re burning both sides of the rope and just pullin’ and tuggin’
In between Islam and straight thuggin’
Layin’ everyday around the way and doin’ nothin’
See ‘em all shakin’ their heads and start shruggin’
If they don’t got a man like mine, they gotta cousin
And yo, you better be a true friend to him
Before the sh-t put an end to him
Or give a pen to him
Or lock him in the studio with a mic
‘Cause on the real it might save his life
Not only does “Water” have some of the most poignant lyrics in the Roots catalog, it also has one of the best, most Roots-esque grooves. I could listen to this song all day...even the 7 minutes of strange, experimental instrumentation at the end.

8. "Star," The Tipping Point (2004). I was really tempted to use “Stay Cool” as the Tipping Point representative, but while that’s another 5-star song, they almost make it sound too easy. The Roots are too good at establishing this kind of “stay cool” funk groove at this point, so even though that song is fantastic, it’s like it doesn’t even count. Instead, I’ll go with the album opener, “Star.” It heavily samples a classic Sly Stone (“Everybody is a Star”) and proves once and for all that I’m a sucker for a ‘70s soul sample (see my
Best of 2006 list, where J5’s “Gotta Understand” made my #2 slot with their phenonemal sampling).

Lyrically, this kicks off an album that’s almost one long stream-of-consciousness from Black Thought. The theme of most of the lyrics is just life in general, and there aren’t that many topical songs. It works for me (I’m easy to please, I guess), but I guess it got a bit monotonous for some. The Tipping Point has fewer classic songs, but there are still a couple other great ones in addition to the two mentioned above—“BOOM!”, “Why (What’s Goin’ On?)” (which was the most topical song on the album), “Duck Down!”, and, of course, the classic hidden track jam session, “Din Da Da.”

9. "The Seed / Melting Pot / Web" (live), Home Grown! The Beginner's Guide to Understanding The Roots (2005). Man oh man. This 16-minute live jam (yes, a 16-minute live hip hop jam...there’s a reason these guys are so amazing live) was featured toward the end of the really interesting and entertaining 2-disc Home Grown! album, which was basically drummer ?uestlove’s version of The Roots’ greatest hits. It was a combination of hits and the band’s favorite songs, with enough new material and remixes to make the album worth purchasing. But I’ll be honest, this song alone made it worth purchasing. This is a jam that cycles through three great Roots songs, never loses intensity, and actually disappoints you when it fades out after 16 minutes and two seconds. I said I could listen to “Water” all day...well alternate between these two songs, and I’ll damn near be in heaven. The perfect example of absolutely everything The Roots have to offer. And having R&B singer/guitarist/crazy dude Cody ChesnuTT in the mix sure doesn’t hurt.

Home Grown is also worth buying because of the lengthy liner notes in which ?uestlove goes track by track, talking about each song and telling stories, including a great one about “You Got Me” in which he talks about still feeling bad that he forgot to mention Eve in his Grammy acceptance speech.

I’m not sure any band (or in the case of ?uestlove, any one band member) does more to communicate with their fans, but I’ll get more into that later. I can tell you’re excited.

10. "Here I Come," Game Theory (2006). In a recent
Myspace blog entry from Europe, ?uestlove laments the fact that they didn’t show up in a respected magazine’s “Top 50 Albums of the Year” list for basically the first time ever (granted, they did end up in the top 20 of Rolling Stone’s list). This is one of the things that has been interesting about The Roots’ career. Their sales have had peaks and valleys (“You Got Me” got them a lot of notoriety, and their albums sold pretty well until the power of no greatly successful single bumped them back a level or two (though apparently, as you’ll watch below, “The Seed” from Phrenology was hugely successful in Europe, only they didn’t find out about this from the label...they found out when they toured Europe and were experiencing damn-near Beatlemania wherever they went), but the critical success has always been there, especially with the British music magazines like Mojo and Uncut. Well at this point it almost seems like the critics are bored with talking about how great they are. They still like the albums, but they forget to mention them from time to time. A relatively interesting phenomenon. Luckily they always have their live act to fall back on, so they don’t really have to worry as much about sales and critics. Plus, Jay-Z’s in their corner now at Def Jam, so they’re in good hands.

Anyway, Game Theory is their latest release, and predictably it’s quite good. It’s not Phrenology, but it leans on a larger variety of influences than The Tipping Point did (including a Radiohead sample in one song). It’s most notable, though, for the exciting return of Malik B. to the microphone (four years after “Water”). “Here I Come” has a pretty nondescript chorus, and it’s not about anything in particular, but the beat is fantastic, and it shows the teamwork of Black Thought and Malik B. (and frequent Roots vocal contributer Dice Raw) at its very best. Songs like this are why The Roots can always afford to experiment with different sounds and influences—no matter where they go with their music, they always put out a couple of badass, pure hip hop songs on every album to tie everything together.

Game Theory is also notable for its finale, “Can’t Stop This,” an 8-minute tribute to legendary DJ
J-Dilla, who died of lupus early last year.

By the way, no relatively mainstream band has done more to adopt Myspace than this band, by the the moment, it is their official band homepage, and ?uestlove made a video blog entry almost every day of their recent European tour...including
this fantastic one about how fanbases ebb and flow.

So that’s it. As usual, this ended up longer than I intended it to, but I figure this “Primer” format is a pretty good way to discuss a lot of bands I like and think you should like too (at least the bands who have been around long enough to put out 10 songs’ worth of varied material). Now you don’t have to go buy every single Roots album—you can just start with these 10 songs...and THEN buy every single Roots album. Honestly, while I almost always frown on Greatest Hits compilations, the best place to start for a Roots virgin really probably is the 2-disc Home Grown set. It has most of the songs mentioned above (though some of them are the remix versions), and as I said above, it contains the best 16-minute hip hop jam session you’ll ever hear.


Friday, December 15, 2006

The Evolution of Cooperation

If I asked you to list the book that made the most impact on the way you looked at the world, you’d probably have as much trouble as I would. But if I asked to name one in the top 5, without the singling out, maybe it’d be easier. It would for me. And this is one I’d say it about—Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation. And now it’s back out in a revised edition so you can likely find it at your local bookstore if you don’t want to go online.

Axelrod had already established himself as an international relations specialist, especially with this applications of cognitive schema and mapping. But he’s made his most lasting mark with E of C, one of the first and still most important computer simulations, back in the day when desktop PCs were still pretty much sci-fi and being written off as unworkable by IBM.

What Axelrod did was perversely simple by today’s standards. He sent out a request to a range of scholars across many disciplines to have them submit what they thought would be the strategy that would pile up the most points in a long-term game of “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” Then he ran them against each other to determine what the most successful strategy was.

Don’t know “Prisoner’s Dilemma”? I could just tell you it’s a game played with weird enthusiasm by a bunch of academic nerds seeking esoterica for publication. But, less snidely, the game basically posits that you and your buddy have been caught dead to rights on a lesser offense, but the cops believe (but can’t prove) you’ve done worse together. To prove the latter, they have to get confessions. Now, being smart interrogators, they separate you two and offer you a deal. You finger your partner for the crime—he does the full time for the worser offense, you walk. Of course, he’s being offered the same deal, so, if you both rat each other out, you’re both doing harder time. On the other hand, if you both keep quiet, you’ll get a lesser sentence than if you both snitch. What do you do?

Axelrod assigned values to the four options—you “defect” and your partner “cooperates,” vice versa, you both snitch, or you both keep quiet—and played out the strategies. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, short-term, defection will be more popular, having the biggest payout and all if your partner is stupid enough to trust you. But, over the long-term, especially when you don’t know when the game will end, is it still smarter to be a jerk all the time?

No. Turns out that defectors bring on defectors, and the harsher penalties. But then, cooperators don’t do well either because, known for their predictable and certain cooperation, the defectors can dump on them at will and still pile up the big gains. Which leads us to the simple strategy for winning long-term—that is, reciprocity or TIT FOR TAT. Which is exactly what it sounds like—whatever is done to you, do it back. Defect, defect, defect until the idiot figures it out. Once you’re both on “cooperate,” you’ll get consistent points even if they aren’t the highest possible per turn. And groups of interacting cooperators, having demonstrated their willingness to defect when defected upon, pile up the points.

Now, Axelrod later found that a little mercy sometimes worked a little better (if the partner mistakenly defected or only did it once in a very great while, like your sad, sad lovelife), but overall TIT FOR TAT was an amazingly successful strategy. Change the rewards for defecting or cooperating, or course, and the game can change dramatically. But the message was essentially this: Do unto others as you would . . . well, you get it. And it was scientifically proven.

Having read Axelrod and seen the account of “cooperators” getting walloped by defectors, I have just shaken my head as Dems faced the Gingrichs, Delays, and other rabid Repubs in the 26 years since the book first came out. As they dealt with Willie Horton and Swift Boats and semen-stained dresses. You just can’t let demonstrable defectors get away with it. It’s a proven loser strategy.

Axelrod’s book, and subsequent sequels, The Complexity of Cooperation and Harnessing Complexity: Organizational Implications of a Scientific Frontier, have far more depth and nuance than I can relate here, including the answers to the objections you undoubtedly came up with as you read my summary. And his major concern was international relations, not interpersonal ones. But the lessons apply to any interactions in which gains and losses are distributed based on practicing reciprocity or on asserting superiority—parents/children, bullies/bullied, sweetie/sweetie, crook/cop, boss/employee, political party/political party. A lot of great analysis has connected Axelrod’s dots in the last 26 years. There’s a lot more to be learned and applied. It’s good to see the book still has an audience. I hope you’ll be in it.


Weather, Water, Energy 12-15-06

Lots of good stuff at Scientific American online, including this piece on drilling ice cores in Antarctica to track climate change in ancient times, this one on 2006 being the sixth warmest year on record, and this really important one on oceans rising 4 and a half feet by 2010, faster than previously protected. But we'll be dead by 2100 so no big deal. . . . At least Russia will be tropical by then. Too bad for traditional businesses, but they've always been known for being flexible . . . wait. . . . Uh-oh.


FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING!! 'Tis the season!!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

How the iPod Has Changed My Musical Tastes

It’s been over three months since I got a 60GB iPod for my birthday. I’m still plugging away at putting my back catalog of cd’s onto the thing, and I haven’t even started on my way-too-big catalog of downloaded live cd’s (mostly Dave Matthews Band, Pat McGee Band, and Pearl Jam), but the important stuff is on there, and I figured it was about time that I look at how my tastes and habits have changed in that time.

First of all, let me describe the three main ways in which I use the iPod.

1) Slowly but surely, I’ve been rating the songs I listen to (1 star to 5 stars). I have a “smart playlist” that captures all the 4- and 5-star songs. As I’m driving, I tend to use that playlist as my own radio station, cycling through the 2,500 or so “top rated” songs. It’s lovely. Granted, about 300 of those songs are Dylan songs, and it pisses The Butterfly off because when she’s in the car it tends to play at least 3-4 Dylan songs in a row (she's not a fan). But that’s added entertainment for me, so I’m okay with it.

2) The other playlist I tend to listen to in my car is the “Covers/Vocals” playlist, a list of about 50 songs (including my own) that I like to sing along to as I prepare to record vocals for other songs of mine. Not sure why I’m sharing this, but whatever.

3) When I can (which is often), I listen to the iPod on low volume at work. This is when I tend to cycle through my unrated songs and give them a rating. The 4- and 5-star songs end up on my in-car “radio station”, and there’s a chance the lower-rated songs will never be heard from again.

So how has this changed what I tend to listen to the most? Well, first...not surprisingly, the songs on the “Covers/Vocals” list tend to take up quite a few slots on my “Most Played” list (for example: “Say Goodbye (live)” by Dave Matthews Band, “Home” by John Popper, “The Drugs Don’t Work (live)” performed by Ben Harper, “In Hiding” by Pearl Jam). That’s obvious. But I’ve noticed some other effects. For one thing, listening to the “radio station” mentioned above means I don’t listen to full albums very often. There are plenty of exceptions to that, but as a whole I listen to individual songs from albums instead of albums as a whole.

Also, the already-minimal time in which I actually listened to real radio has been cut by almost 100%. I never do it. I didn't do it much to begin with, but I'd listen to the local Adult Alternative station or something, and occasionally I'd hear a new band that I'd want to check out. No more. And since I quit Barnes & Noble a while back (I would usually end up reading about and talking about music for a good % of my shifts), that source for new music has been eliminated too. Any new music I discover nowadays tends to come from Rolling Stone, other random magazines I happen upon from time to time (mostly Uncut and Mojo) and eMusic.

I’m going to use an example to describe the most substantial effect.

Lots of my favorite albums end up not having a lot of songs I’d give 4 and 5 stars to, and other albums I didn’t really think I liked all that much end up with a large number of songs on the “radio station.” To illustrate this, let’s look at the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street versus Counting Crows’ Hard Candy. If you asked me to list my favorite albums of all-time, Exile would definitely make my Top 20, while Hard Candy wouldn’t even get a thought in my mind. Exile creates a really unique atmosphere with its lo-fi recording and large mix of old blues numbers like “Shake Your Hips.” Overall it’s an enjoyable (and long, 67 minutes) listen, and it was a pretty rewarding purchase. On the other hand, I liked Hard Candy when it came out in 2002, but it felt like a lesser Counting Crows album than previous efforts. Lots of enjoyable songs, but only a few I’d consider elite.

However, let’s look at the 4- and 5-star songs from each album:

Exile: “Rocks Off,” “Rip This Joint,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Sweet Virginia,” “Happy,” “Loving Cup,” “Shine a Light” (one of the most underrated songs of all-time...LOVE it...). I’m on the fence about “Sweet Black Angel,” but at the moment it has 3 stars. songs. Not bad, but if there were some formula to determine Best Album ever from my song ratings, this probably wouldn’t make the Top 50 or even Top 100 with just 7 highly-rated songs.

(Another good example would be Television’s Marquee Moon. That would definitely be in my Top 10, but I only gave 4-5 songs 4-5 stars.)

Hard Candy: “Hard Candy” (fantastically underrated song as well), “Good Time,” “If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead),” “Goodnight L.A.,” “Butterfly in Reverse,” “Miami” (love it), “New Frontier,” “Why Should You Come When I Call?”, “Up All Night (Frankie Miller Goes to Hollywood),” “Holiday in Spain,” “Big Yellow Taxi” (though, looking back, I’m quite on-the-fence about this one too). So basically, every song but “American Girls,” the main single from the album (I loved this song live, but the studio recording just doesn’t do it for me), 11 overall. With the “formula” I mentioned above, this would almost certainly put it in the Top 50.

Before I joined the world of iPod owners, I complained about the effect of mp3 players on musical tastes overall because of this exact effect. I love albums as a whole. The atmosphere they create, the track order, the flow of emotion or energy throughout the album...all these things matter to me a lot as a Certified Music Nerd (or Certified Music Snob, your choice). And yet, I’ve wittingly allowed myself to join the dark side.

How did I allow this to happen? And why? Because it’s just so damn convenient. Let’s face it—no matter how much we protest about short attention spans and laziness, convenience still matters in daily life, and the fact that I can switch from one album to another if I so choose without having to fiddle with a cd book while driving is quite lovely.

There has been quite a large positive effect other than that, though. I’ve rediscovered so many great songs and artists this way, and that has been extremely rewarding. Let’s face it...I can complain about how albums as a whole have lost some of their effect on me, but at any given time there were only 10-20 albums in my listening rotation. I hadn’t listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland for years, for example. Or The Very Best of Otis Redding, or Green Day’s Dookie, or Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life, or my Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000 bootleg, or Atmosphere’s Seven’s Travels. All of these are in the rotation now, and I love it.

So I guess the bottom line is, I think about what I want to listen to less, and I enjoy what I’m listening to more. I guess it’s acceptable to sacrifice part of my Music Nerddom for that, right?