Friday, August 31, 2007

Weather, Water, Energy 8-31-07

  • It’s popular among some bloggers to diminish the role of protest in political affairs, claiming that it does more harm than good. Unfortunately for those folks, historically protest, and even violent protest, has been more associated with political change than any other activity. Grist has a post on a report showing exactly that regarding global warming. Change has accompanied protest more than shifts in public opinion, and institutional advocacy comes in a weak third. Even Big Al is calling for civil disobedience. Time to paint some signs, people, and don’t make plans for the weekend because you might be locked up, right? Right? (And while you’re at Grist, check out the brilliant post comparing the idiotic and mendacious editorializing of the Wall Street Journal taking the wrong side of an issue that its own news side had thoroughly debunked two weeks before. Talk about tools. Of course, things will improve now that Murdoch’s in charge.)
  • Speaking of tools, that moron Lomborg (the “skeptical environmentalist”), who’s been fried for his earlier work, has a new book out comparing Gore to the Inquisition and then admits, well, that’s probably over the top. And he’s finding out about lying down with dogs as Sen. Inhofe and other deniers and obstructionists are declaring him their BFF and the slime is getting to him. Tough sh-t, moron.
  • One of my big complaints with the “China and underdeveloped countries shouldn’t have to pay for our mess” argument is that, if the boat is on fire, it doesn’t matter if the folks playing with the fire to start with got to have the fun and you don’t. You put out the damn fire and then worry about how to deal with the injustice. You certainly don’t let others light fires just because you got to and they haven’t had a turn yet. Moreover, you don’t give the obstructionists among the original firestarters any justification to say, “Well, there are going to be fires anyway.” The German Chancellor is trying to get this message across to those nations right now, but our side isn’t helping any with displays of “let’s let them have some fun before they have to sacrifice.” Yes, it’s unfair. It’s also reality and ignoring reality is how we got here to start with. It’s time to stop.
  • This isn’t good news for those deniers and obstructionists who claim we’ll get oh-so-many more crops because of CO2, or for those who use pasture land. An experiment indicates that nasty kinds of shrubs will take over from grassland in increased CO2 conditions, making it harder to feed stock. Jeez, the hits just seem to keep on coming, don’t they?
  • The Christian Science Monitor outlines the pro-con economic arguments for dealing with global warming here and indirectly describes why we’ll dither and let the worst happen (proof of which you will find here and here as the latest UN meeting breaks up with no firm pledges to do anything but dither).
  • Over at Terra Daily, talk of a wheat OPEC may be cooling, Nigeria is losing $14b. (that’s billion) a year in theft of its oil, desertification is growing globally, and, oh, yeah, global warming will make our tornadoes, lightning, and hail storms worse. Get the rubber helmets ready.

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NBC to cut ties with iTunes

So apparently NBC is pulling it’s iTunes contract after it runs out this December. You can get the details here. But this could come as a pretty big blow to Apple. NBC Universal is their top digital video supplier accounting for about 40% of downloads. As a huge Apple and iTunes fan myself, I’m not too happy about the situation. Guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed and hope these two will kiss and make up.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brain vs iPod: 2002 edition

With all this talk I’ve made recently about how great hip hop was in late-2002, I figured it would be interesting to go back and look at 2002’s albums. I figured I’d throw out the Top 10 albums of the year according to my memories and perceptions and compare them to what my iPod ratings of each song actually tells me.

Hip hop did indeed make four outstanding late-year contributions to 2002’s quality output, but 2002 was really a great year all around. The Flaming Lips put out Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Dave Matthews Band released their best studio album (Busted Stuff), Counting Crows (remember them?) had a decent one in Hard Candy, and of course Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot finally saw an official release after a long ordeal (Jim DeRogatis actually counted Yankee as a 2001 release since that’s when Wilco intended for it to come out…and since that’s when the bootlegs hit the internet). I’m sure I’ll end up doing something similar to this for 2003-2006, and I may be proven wrong, but right now I think 2002 was the deepest musical year of this decade so far. Just a ton of great stuff.

So based purely on opinion, here’s my 2002 Top 5.

1. Common, Electric Circus. I said quite a bit about this one recently, but I just can’t say enough about how interesting and weird this album was.

2. Jurassic 5, Power in Numbers. I was so excited about this one when it came out—I had religiously memorized just about every second of their 2000 release, Quality Control, and I just could not wait to see what they did next. This was a deep album, and it actually threw me off a bit. The group that made the most fun album in a long time in Quality Control actually got a bit serious on PiN, and the result was an album that got a little better to me each time I listened to it. Plus, it has the added benefit of being one of the only hip hop albums (possibly the only one) that my wife loves.

3. Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Possibly not quite as great, top-to-bottom, as The Soft Bulletin, but songs like “Fight Test” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Pt. 1)” are outstanding, and “Do You Realize???” really might be the greatest song of all-time. It doesn’t make me cry or anything, but I think it’s safe to say my eyes glisten every time I listen to it. Every single time. And I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that.

4. Dave Matthews Band, Busted Stuff. The best capitulation-to-the-fanbase album of all-time. After taking a large step in a different direction with 2001’s Everyday, they went back and finalized the demo’s leaked on The Lillywhite Sessions that the DMB fanbase loved so much, and the result was a moody, bluesy, wonderful album. “You Never Know” and “Bartender” might have been my favorite two songs of the year if not for the aforementioned “Do You Realize???” and Talib Kweli’s “Get By.” Have I mentioned how great a year 2002 was?

5. The Roots, Phrenology. Like Electric Circus, we see lots of strangeness and experimentation here. “Water” and “The Seed 2.0” are also strong candidates for Song of the Year in any other year but 2002. Seriously—any of the six songs I’ve mentioned here (“Do You Realize???”, “Get By,” “Water”, “The Seed 2.0”, “Bartender”, “You Never Know”) would be the #1 song of 2007. But one of those won’t even make the Top 5.

So what does my iPod tell me about 2002 albums? Here are the Top 15 based on my star ratings...

1. Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Apparently I like the Lips even more than I thought I did!

2. Common, Electric Circus. One of my thoughts when I was starting to use iPod ratings to judge albums was than an album’s overall groove would be neglected by simply looking at star-ratings. A song that furthered the overall mood of the album might by itself not merit a strong rating. In other words, I was suspicious that albums like Electric Circus would not grade out as well as they should. Apparently that’s not a problem, as when I randomly hear a given EC song, I’m reminded of the groove as a whole. If that makes any sense at all.

3. Jurassic 5, Power in Numbers. Damn shame that this was the last fantastic album we got from them.

4. Dave Matthews Band, Busted Stuff. My brain’s mostly agreeing with my iPod here.

5. Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things. I actually had no idea this came out this year. I got into RK a few years later, so I wasn’t connecting it with a date. What a neat listen this is. The more I think about it, the more I think this one’s better than its follow-up, More Adventurous. Both are quite strong, but only Execution has “With My Arms Outstretched” and “A Better Son-Daughter.”

6. Talib Kweli, Quality. Going by star ratings, I guess this is the best overall Kweli album…though we’ll see what happens when Eardrum starts growing on me. A lot of really strong songs, but only one truly great one—“Get By.” Might have been the best album of 2003 if he’d just waited another two months to release it.

7. Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Live at the Wetlands. This one surprised me. I don’t usually list live albums in the “Best Albums” category because they’re usually supplemental to the studio albums. For RR&FB, this was their debut album, so I’m counting it. And oh, how fantastic it is. Six songs, 60+ minutes of pure blues, soul, and joy.

8. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. More interesting than great (the greatness would come with the next album, A Ghost is Born), this is still a lovely album all the way, from “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” to “The Late Greats.”

9. Pearl Jam, Riot Act. An highly underrated album. “Thumbing My Way” is possibly the saddest, prettiest song in the PJ catalog, while “Love Boat Captain” and “I Am Mine” are as emotional as Eddie Vedder’s vocals has ever been. Really, 2-3 weak songs were enough to knock this all the way down to #9.

10. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising. Oh yeah. Damn near forgot about this one.

11. David Gray, A New Day at Midnight. And this one. To me, David Gray’s one of the more underrated artists in a long time…underrated even by me. I listened to this album for the first time in a while last week, and I was surprised by how emotionally effective it is. Not as emotional as A Century Ends and not as catchy as White Ladder, but strong. And he’s the only person I know of who can get away with a lyric like “Jumpin’ Jesus, holy cow/What's the difference anyhow” (from “Be Mine”) and maintain respect.

12. The Roots, Phrenology. This one shocked me. I guess the high points (“Water”, “The Seed 2.0”) distracted me from the fact that there are a few low points and dull moments. And as I mentioned with Pearl Jam above, a couple weak moments are enough to knock you a long way down in this list.

13. Cody ChesnuTT, The Headphone Masterpiece. It’s a bit of an understatement to call the sound quality of this album “lo-fi”. Well, not only is it monstrously lo-fi, it’s also immature, slightly perverted…and just so much fun to listen to. I imagine this one of those “you either love this album, or you absolutely loathe it” albums, but with songs like “Up in the Treehouse” and “Serve This Royalty,” count me in the “love it” group. Plus, ChesnuTT provided “The Seed” for use (and upgrade) by The Roots.

14. Norah Jones, Come Away with Me. A perfect mood piece. My buddy Walsh (immortalized, ahem, in the Lollapalooza posts) made a copy of this album for me some time in the late-summer/early-fall of that year and said “Just listen to it. You probably don’t think you’ll like it, but you’ll love it. Her voice is unbelievable. And while she’s pretty attractive, once you hear her sing, you’ll think she’s the hottest person in the world.” He was just about right on all counts. And I could very easily write 1,000 words on just how amazingly gorgeous “Nightingale” is. Sheesh…another song that needs to be at the top of the “Best Songs of 2002” list…they’re everywhere…

15. Counting Crows, Hard Candy. Another underrated album. In the Crows’ three previous albums, the great songs were unbelievable, and the not-great songs were darn near unlistenable. In Hard Candy, a certain consistency is reached. The best songs (“Richard Manuel is Dead”, “Miami”) are strong and emotional, but they’re not classics like “Round Here” or “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby.” However, every song is solid.

Honorable Mention:

Beck, Sea Change. I was going through a pretty tough breakup when this was released, and my roommate at the time wouldn’t let me listen to this ablum more than once a week or so. Every song’s the same tempo and the same emotion, and while that wears you down, there are some unbelievably good songs here, like “Golden Age” and especially “Lost Cause.”

Atmosphere, God Loves Ugly & Lucy Ford. These two albums established MC Slug’s credentials as more than just an ‘asshole with a heart of gold’ persona. Dude’s got talent, and he’s managed to craft himself into a sympathetic, simple figure even though half the songs are about getting drunk or being pissed at a girl for dumping him. At the time of Lucy Ford’s release, Walsh—who LOVED that album—surmised that it was likely a “lightning in a bottle” type of situation, where no other album would be nearly as good as that one. Instead, every album since then has been better than its predecessor, right up to 2005’s You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having.

Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf. I’m the only person in the world who enjoys Lullabies to Paralyze far more than this one. It’s still good, though.

Matchbox 20, More Than You Think You Are. Not amazing, but better than you think it is. No, really.

Audioslave, Audioslave. Nothing amazing, but strong hard rock is still enjoyable from time to time.

Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow. Blackalicious is solid, never spectacular, and this is an enjoyable listen.

And just for the hell of it...

Top 34 Songs of 2002

1. “Do You Realize???”, Flaming Lips
2. “Get By,” Talib Kweli
3. “Nightingale,” Norah Jones
4. “Water,” The Roots
5. “Thumbing My Way,” Pearl Jam
6. “You Never Know,” Dave Matthews Band
7. “The Seed 2.0,” The Roots
8. “Bartender,” Dave Matthews Band
9. “With Arms Outstretched,” Rilo Kiley
10. “Love Boat Captain,” Pearl Jam
11. “Lose Yourself,” Eminem
12. “Lost Cause,” Beck
13. “I Got a Right Ta,” Common
14. “Bright Lights,” Matchbox 20
15. “A Better Son-Daughter,” Rilo Kiley
16. “Fight Test,” Flaming Lips
17. “Freedom,” Jurassic 5
18. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1,” Flaming Lips
19. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Wilco
20. “Come Close,” Common
21. “My City of Ruins,” Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band
22. “If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel Is Dead),” Counting Crows
23. “Up in the Treehouse,” Cody ChesnuTT
24. “Hard Candy,” Counting Crows
25. “What’s Golden,” Jurassic 5
26. “Save You,” Pearl Jam
27. “Ted’s Jam,” Robert Randdolph & the Family Band
28. “If I Was Santa Claus,” Atmosphere
29. “Be Mine,” David Gray
30. “Caroline,” David Gray
31. “Waitin’ for a Sunny Day,” Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band
32. “Miami,” Counting Crows
33. “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” Wilco
34. “Cochise,” Audioslave
35. “High Fidelity,” Jurassic 5
36. “Come Away With Me,” Norah Jones
37. “God Is In the Radio,” Queens of the Stone Age
38. “Brown Sugar,” Mos Def & Faith Evans
39. “Freedom,” David Gray
40. “Don’t Know Why,” Norah Jones

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It’s the year 2000, where’s my flying car?

Ok, it’s a few years late but who’s counting? A company in California is developing a hovercraft type helicopter that they hope will go into commercial sales within the next six years. Costing upwards of $90,000, I’m totally starting a saving fund for it tomorrow. Full story here.

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Don't Let This Happen to You

Man loses top of his head in brain operation

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"Expert" Opinion

Remember the book review essay we did way back on Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment which called into question the entire concept? Here’s more recent research that basically does the same thing.

A study about predicting the outcome of actual conflicts found that the forecasts of experts who use their unaided judgment are little better than those of novices, according to a new study in a publication of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

When presented with actual crises, such as a disguised version of a 1970s border dispute between Iraq and Syria and an unfolding dispute between football players and management, experts were able to forecast the decisions the parties made in only 32% of the cases, little better than the 29% scored by undergraduate students. Chance guesses at the outcomes would be right 28% of the time.
“Accurate prediction is difficult because conflicts tend to be too complex for people to think through in ways that realistically represent their actual progress,” the authors write. “Parties in conflict often act and react many times, and change because of their interactions.”
Analysis of additional data produced similar results. In one instance, the authors attempted to determine if veteran experts would be more likely to make accurate forecasts than less experienced experts. “Common sense expectations did not prove to be correct,” they write. “The 57 forecasts of experts with less than five years experience were more accurate (36%) than the 48 forecasts of experts with more experience (29%).”

The authors also asked experts about their previous experience with similar conflicts and looked at the relationship with the accuracy of their forecasts. Again, the expected conclusion did not prevail: those who considered themselves as having little experience with similar conflicts produced forecasts that were equally as accurate as those who were long-time veterans in the field.

The authors examined the confidence that the experts had in their forecasts by asking them how likely it was that they would have changed their forecasts had they spent more time on the task. Another surprise: 68 high-confidence forecasts were less accurate (28%) than the 35 low-confidence forecasts (41%).

Based on this study and earlier research, the authors conclude that there are no good grounds for decision makers to rely on experts’ unaided judgments for forecasting decisions in conflicts. Such reliance discourages experts and decision makers from investigating alternative approaches.
Instead, they recommend that experts use reliable decision-support tools. They cite two examples of decision aids that can improve forecasts. In an earlier study, Green reported that simulated interaction, a type of role playing for forecasting behavior in conflicts, reduced error by 47%.

Using another technique, structured analogies, the authors found favorable results. In that study, they asked experts to recall and analyze information on similar situations. When experts were able to think of at least two analogies, forecast error was reduced by 39%. This structured technique requires experts, and those with more expertise were able to contribute much more to making accurate forecasts.

The latest authors didn’t apparently try to replicate Tetlock’s distinction between “fox” and “hedgehog” experts who differed on their openness to new info and their own liabilities as experts. That research showed the “foxes” who were more open and more aware of their limitations did better than the hedgehogs in most cases. Still, this should alert us all that we need multiple sources of info and triangulated “proofs” before we launch our normal human hubris into the unknown. Not that that’s a big problem anywhere right now.

[Coincidentally, here’s another article, on the ordinary Joe’s ability to discern good from bad movies compared to “expert” critics, that shows that the gap isn’t all that great if you look pretty closely. Here’s the key conclusion:

"When using sequential and independent measures and when controlling for marketing-related aspects of a film's commercial impact -- our findings support the conclusion that ordinary consumers show "good taste" to a degree not hitherto recognized," the authors write. With proper controls for the contaminating influences of market success they find that "Films of the sort that win favorable evaluations of excellence from expert reviewers also tend to win approval from ordinary consumers and that films of the kind that ordinary consumers consider excellent tend to elicit liking and word-of-mouth or click-of-mouse recommendations."]

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Weather, Water, Energy 8-30-07

Warming = Drought + Flooding = Less Wheat, according to reports reported by TIME. Here’s what you’ll love hearing: "Lobell says global warming has already begun to take food off the world's table. According to a recent study he and his colleagues conducted, the temperature increase that occurred between 1981 and 2002 reduced major cereal crop yields by an annual average of 40 million metric tons — losses worth $5 billion a year. Those losses are sobering, but nothing compared to what might be in store: A recent study sponsored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research forecast a 51% decline in India's wheat-growing land, potentially leaving hundreds of millions hungry. And, last week, China's top meteorological official warned that global warming could cut the nation's grain harvest by 5 to 10% by 2030. And all this will be happening while both countries add more mouths to feed." . . . Over at Skeptical Science, there’s a nice post on how even the scientific articles the deniers and obstructionists use to “debunk” global warming don’t prove their points, like the one that is used to prove the sun has been warming the planet more, although the article itself indicates that the effect stopped in 1975 and everything since then is probably man-made. They also show the latest one, from Senator Inhofe’s site of course, whose authors actually conclude, again, that the IPCC estimate of a 3 degree increase due to human activity is very likely. Always keep in mind that these losers cut their teeth on pulling isolated quotes out of the Bible to justify slavery, husband sovereignty, and killing gays. It’s not surprising they pull the same fraud on the climate research. . . . Impressive performance from a specially outfitted hybrid (Toyota, of course) in an endurance race. Proof that the tech is getting there even if US auto companies aren’t. . . . Why we can’t count on WY to be a constructive player in dealing with our warming and energy needs—not only Big Coal, but Big Nuke. . . . It’s Getting Hot in Here has a post on the close ties between the Labor gov in Britain and its airline industry, despite the former’s claim to want to deal with the emissions that the latter are rapidly becoming the major problem about. . . . The Evangelicals stepping out from the shadow of their evil colleagues and actually assuming real stewardship of God’s creation, rather than the abuse and exploitation of it for a single generation, are moving forward, joining scientists to examine first-hand the impact of warming on Alaska to this point and discuss what can and should be done. People claiming to be religious actually doing truly religious things. Imagine. Hopefully it’s a fad that will catch on. . . . David Roberts at Grist catches a new survey that does debunk the claim that greenies buying offsets are just doing it to avoid taking harder action on warming. Turns out those folks are among the most likely to be doing other things, too. . . . Drought news. The one in AL (Alabama, not Alaska) may go into 2008, according to forecasts, while DE’s crab catch has been hit hard by that state’s drought. . . . This could be good news for OH and all of us. “Ohio utilities must find at least 25 percent of their power from renewable and advanced technology sources by 2025 under a much-anticipated proposal outlined yesterday by Gov. Ted Strickland.” . . . Joseph Romm makes his typical good point in this post on the value still blooming in solar thermal (using mirrors to heat liquids to churn pistons and such) even though we always tend to focus on photovoltaic. . . .You reap, you sow. “Over 1,100 square kilometres (440 square miles) of land in economically booming southern China will be inundated by rising sea-levels by 2050 due to global warming, state press said Thursday.” But by all means, keep insisting that your economic course is preeminent and that other nations have to do something first before you’ll pitch in, you guys. (Although they do have a good point on the savings to the planet of their one-child policy.)

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Can We Stop Saying It's Racial Now?

For all those truly disappointing posts, mainly from black writers, claiming that, if Michael Vick were white, nothing would be said:

Dogfighting raids climb after Vick

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Ad of the Week

Whether the dated look is intentional or if it is dated, I don’t know. What I do know is that the picture says it all. And it gave me a good chuckle.

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Maps for the Kids

While watching Miss Teen South Carolina give such a horrendous answer during the national competition when asked why so many people can't find the USA on a map was both mind blowing and sad. At least now someone is stepping up to address the lack of maps in the US. Over at MapsForUs, users can submit maps of all sorts to help America’s youth locate just about anything. Please help the cause and donate a map today.

P.S. I’m submitting a great map of my trip to Maui from earlier this year.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Talib Kweli, Eardrum

Of all the pseudo-underground, ‘conscious’ rappers and that I discovered in the late ‘90s (Talib Kweli, Mos Def, The Roots, Common, Jurassic 5, etc.), I’ve always been the most fond of Kweli. Mos Def has more charisma, and though he only chooses to show it so often, seems to have the most overall talent. Common is the most suave. The Roots have the best live presence. Jurassic 5 were the most positive force in music at their peak. But Kweli’s the workhorse, the most blue-collar of the group, and beyond that, he seems to be the most honest, the most unflinching about his view of the world.

Flaws and honesty are huge with me, and Kweli has both. For one thing, unlike the others I listed, he doesn’t have that single perfect, definitive album. Mos has Black on Both Sides. The Roots have Things Fall Apart and/or Phrenology. Common has Electric Circus and/or Like Water for Chocolate. Kweli has created possibly the best songs of the group (“Four Women,” “Get By,” and “Broken Glass” stand out the strongest for me), but he hasn’t made the perfect album yet. After listening to, digesting, and admiring his latest—Eardrum—I can say that he’s only beginning in that pursuit.

Talib Kweli is no longer just a Brooklyn rapper—he’s an entrepreneur. He created his own vanity label, Blacksmith, and he created Eardrum as an introduction to the label. He’s not looking to become a new Jay-Z (he won’t pull off an “I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man” lyric any time soon), but he obviously wants more a) money and b) say in the world of hip hop. He’s signed on acts like Jean Gray and Strong Arm Steady, and I’m sure they’ll be putting out albums soon. However, Kweli is obviously the biggest talent and the brightest light of Blacksmith, and for the label to be a success, he had to bring his A-game on Eardrum.

Did he? Well, it opened at #2 on the Billboard charts, so he did something right.

Eardrum is at once all that’s right with hip hop and a lot of what’s wrong with it.

Now, before I get too far into Eardrum analysis, I have to say...this is an impossible album to review and compare to other albums. There’s so much going on here, with 20 tracks (not unusual for a hip hop album, though about half of those tracks are usually skits or intros or outros), and roughly 15 guests ranging from the predictable (Blacksmith artists Jean Gray, Strong Arm Steady), to the relatively predictable (Kanye West, Musiq Soulchild), to the slightly unexpected (KRS-One, UGK), to the totally-out-of-left-field (Justin Timberlake, Norah Jones). A lot of songs work, some don’t, and over the course of so many songs and 70+ minutes there are numerous ups and downs.

In other words, if you were to trim about 5-6 tracks (chosen by me) from this album, you’d be left with probably the best album of the year. But how do you judge an album with lots of greatness but a little too much filler? Are the hits more important than the misses? (With an iPod that can quite easily just skip over the mediocre tracks, I’d say yes, but that misses the point of judging the album as a whole, now doesn’t it?)

Being that I’m not sure how to review such a heavy book, so to speak, let’s make this an itemized review.


Lyrics. If Kweli has one skill that puts him far above other MC’s, it’s his lyrical skill. As I referenced in another post, Jay-Z said as much with his “If skill sold/Then truth be told/I’d probably be/Lyrically Talib Kweli.” (Kweli apparently agrees, with his “If lyrics sold/Then truth be told/I’d probably be/Just as rich and famous as Jay-Z” response). On Eardrum, as with everything else he’s ever released, Kweli brings his A-game. No subject is unprotected—religion, hot girls, his children. He raps about everything, and he does it well.

He nails down culture as a whole with a simple lyrical technique on “More or Less”...”More uprising, less sanitizing...More building, less destroying...More jobs, less unemployment...more marijuana, less coke...more schools, less prison...more freestyle, less written...more serious s---, less kiddin’...more history, less mystery...more beyonce, less britney...more happiness, less misery...”

He has fun with a woman on “Hot Thing”...”I watched you dance across the floor to the title track/You ‘bout to get me “Off the Wall” like you’re Michael Jack’/I make a scribe in your beauty my sacred duty/I will write a song, write a book, write a play, make a movie.”

He speaks deeply about growing up poor on “Eat to Live”...

My little man go to bed so hungry
Get up, go to school with his nose runny, come home with his nose bloody
His sister laughin, he like "What's so funny~?"
'Til she drowned out by the sounds of hunger pains in his tummy
Nuttin in the freezer, nuttin in the fridge
Couple of 40 ounces but nuttin for the kids
Little man know to eat to live but he don't wanna leave the crib
The kid who punched him in his face house right down the street from his
He went anyway, more scared to face his moms
She'll beat him soon as she flip out, seein his face scarred
Walkin past the dopefiends with they smoke to the place of God
Hopes and dreams pourin out the holes in they face and arms
Little man in the face of harm if he don't eat
He need energy so when he go to school he can compete
And keep up, all he got is bodegas
But hey he only got enough a for quarter water and a Now or Later
Anyway, grandma say Jesus'll be here any day
Good - cause with nuttin to eat it's gettin hard to pray
He attacks every subject with brains and wit, and lyrically Eardrum is as good as just about anything he’s done.

Spirit and Delivery. Kweli gets his point across with more than just the words. The delivery has to count for something, and kweli’s reserved-but-intense tone (and his variety of cadences) serve the spirit of the words well. Some have been critical about these things, but I’ve always seen it as a strength.

I was about say that Kweli has a lot of activism in him, but that would be an over-simplification. He’s not trying to get people to rise up against the system, and he’s not telling people “Vote or Die!” He’s actually said that “I don’t be f---in’ with politics” because there’s just no point. If nothing else, Kweli is trying to get people to take control of their own thoughts and wishes (while shaking their butts, of course), and this comes across in his voice. Even in a laid-back song, there’s intensity there, and it always keeps my attention. Which is good because...well...the beats on Eardrum are iffy at best.


Production. Halfway through my first listen of Eardrum, I was ready to unleash a rant about the production tendencies of your average hip hop producer in 2007. Let’s put it this way: when the best hip hop of 2007 just makes me reminisce for the good old days of 2002, I think it’s safe to say hip hop is still in bad shape. In 2002, guys like Kweli and Common were experimenting with beats and sounds, and they created albums that covered a lot larger scope. Now half the songs on every hip hop album I buy sample generic R&B tracks. And it’s Kanye West’s fault. If Nelly helped to kill half of hip hop with stupid anthems about teeth and rims and his overwhelming catering to the lowest common denominator, then it’s my theory that Kanye is strangling the other half. He re-introduced the ‘70s R&B sample into the world of hip hop, and he did it so well that everybody does it now. And well...the depth of quality in ‘70s R&B was so shallow that it allowed disco to emerge. Most of these R&B samples sound exactly alike, and there are way too many of them in the first half of Eardrum...despite the fact that Kweli enlisted a different producer on almost every song.

Blown opportunities. When I saw the ‘guestlist’ for this album, I was quite thrown. Norah Jones? Trying to woo the AAA market? Timberlake? Aiming for mainstream? UGK? Trying to shore up the Houston base? Despite the questions, there were opportunities for greatness, and while some of these collaborations were strong...wel, they could have been stronger.

I’ve ranted before about when rappers bring in a great, unique singer and give her a simple line to repeat ad nauseum (a la Mary J. Blige on Kweli’s “I Try” or Lily Allen on Common’s “Drivin’ Me Wild”). If your’e going to bring in a great singer, let her sing great! Norah isn’t given a ton to work with on “Soon the New Day”, but she makes the most of it. She gets a little room for expansion and she uses it all. Kudos to her.

As for the others...Kweli and JT’s collaboration, “The Nature”, is alright. Nothing amazing, pretty generic chorus...honestly, it’s about what I expected it to be. What I didn’t expect was to be bored by the Kweli/KRS-One collaboration. That was a match made in conscious-rapper heaven, but “The Perfect Beat” just never takes off. Nor does “Country Cousins”, featuring UGK (just as Abe Froman was the sausage king of Chicago, UGK are the hip hop kings of Houston). It was an interesting idea to pair up Houston’s finest with Brooklyn’s, and with sturdy production—I imagined a really deep, southern beat—this could have worked. The ‘70s soul sample just doesn’t cut it, though.

Then there’s Kanye. In “In the Mood”, he adds a somewhat humorous (in a juvenile way) verse that seems totally out of place with the rest of the song. I guess it’s too much to ask for him to match the tone of the song with the tone of his guest verse.

(I’m hard on Kanye here, and while it’s relatively well-deserved—he really hasn’t done as much to further hip hop as I think he could—he’s still in a position to do great things for the future of hip hop. He is to hip hop what George Bush thinks he is to Iraq—he broke it, and he may be the only one who can save it.)

I should mention, though, that Blacksmith signees Strong Arm Steady do a very nice job on "Go With Us"...a good enough job to clinch that I'll buy the next album they put out.

Length. When Outkast put out Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, I loved the attention they were getting for it. Hell, they won the Best Album Grammy. It was fantastic. was also an exhausting listen. Lots of experimentation, lots of highlights...and lots of wasted space. Combining the two efforts might have ruined the point of the ‘Andre 3000’s brain versus Big Boi’s brain’ concept, but it would have also made for one helluva listen. As it was, it’s a great iPod album (skip the crappy parts), but it’s almost impossible to listen to all the way through. It takes two hours, and there is plenty of filler.

That’s a problem with Eardrum, and not only is there some excess, but it all seems to be located in the first half of the album. Certain songs are just unnecessary, and others are decent but repetitive of themes better enunciated in other places on the album.

So there you have it. Lots of greatness, many flaws. Don’t think for a second, though, that this isn’t worth getting. Right now I’d give it the edge over Common’s Finding Forever for Best Hip Hop Album of 2007, and we’ll see if Kanye has anything to say about that.

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How New Orleans Anger Helps the Busheviks

Just watched Oprah's actually very well done review of the horrendous failure to rebuild New Orleans, an hour-long commercial for how government can't do anything right so don't vote for those who tell you it can.

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Weather, Water, Energy 8-29-07

2006 the second warmest year since we started formal records over a century ago, greenhouse gases accounted for the most of it, real scientists say it so start the denying. (See a pretty, and pretty scary, map of the heating last year in the US here at Climate Progress.) Also from Terra Daily, stories on the US crapping on the carbon markets Europeans, Canadians, and Aussies are trying to develop, on the inability of plants to push out moisture in conditions to too much CO2 and thus keeping the ground wetter (do the words “worse flooding” come to mind?), on the report that the next cycle of Ice Ages might be put off 500m. years because of warming, and on global warming likely making Ireland even wetter (how could that even be possible???) . . . . . More rain in the tropics, basically what the climate models predict, so start the denying now if you didn’t before. . . . At Grist, Brits admit to lying about their concern about the warming and a lot of them don’t even know how to be green if they did want to and Dave's Second Law of Sustainability Politics which says that “Coal can be clean and cheap, but it can't be both at once” with proof from the toxic ash that remains unstorable if you do manage to create cleaner emissions from coal. While you’re catching David Roberts’ posts, check out the ones on Honda trying to catch up after giving away the hybrid game to Toyota, on the absolutely immoral Bushevik water giveaway to Big Ag in CA, and on how on earth do we continue to let those proven so wrong in the past still have a voice in the debate? Let me know when you answer that last one. . . . Great graph on the emissions changes from different alternative fuels being considered. Cellulosic ethanol comes out best, actually really impressive. Guess which is worst. That’s right—liquefied coal, actually increasing emissions 119% if no sequestration occurs. So we do sequestration, right? Good, that way emissions only GO UP 4%. Good plan. . . . Actual good news on water. VA Tech researchers are developing new techniques to manage stormwater runoff and to minimize the major pollution it carries. . . . The more beer and whisky we drink, the more emission-reduced fuel we could have from their production byproducts? There IS a God.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

America's Future

Won’t be able to find the US on a map, or their butts with both hands.

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Weather, Water, Energy 8-28-07

  • From Terra Daily, heavy duty research being done linking greenhouse gas emissions to the changes in the ecology of global rangelands, demonstrating global warming and its impact on corals, finding that fuel subsidies in the Middle East have actually been suppressing econ development there, declaring that natural disasters are doing 7 times more harm to personal livelihoods than wars globally right now and will get worse, and reporting that it will take $200 b. annually in investment to keep greenhouse gas levels just where they are right now by 2030 (which isn’t really that much for a global effort, if you think about it, so why don’t we get started?). Whew. Think how much there’d be if this weren’t a slow news day.
  • The darker side of ethanol. The problems that will be caused the neighbors of the multitude of producing plants springing up. (Sounds like the financing problems around the country may be catching up with the plant owners and wannabes, though.)
  • David Roberts at Grist has a bunch of good stuff as well. Here’s a post on the horror that is Big Coal’s Congresswhores lining up to commit us to the worst possible fuel course (yes, even worse than nukes), one speculating on why the weather, water, energy agenda gets such broad but shallow support from the public and politicians (talk, little walk, IOW), one calculating the solar and wind advancements we could have gotten from the same dollars we’ve put into Iraq (very sad), one pondering the value of rich people going green in their luxury purchases, and one demonstrating how very, very badly the real estate and construction folks overestimate the costs of going green in their building and underestimate the impact of what they actually do on emissions (ain’t pretty).
  • Liberal Democrats in Britain proposing ban on gasoline-fueled cars in the country by 2040. Say someone needs to lead in the warming world. How do we get them to start a branch over here?
  • One legit complaint about wind power is the danger posed to migrating birds by the turbines needed. So this new format of turbine may solve that problem and help to negate the criticism and opposition. Pretty cool.
  • What sounds like a really good report, which could provide a framework for other states, coming out of UT to deal with emissions and global warming:

    A state blue ribbon task force on climate change stated emphatically Monday that humans are to blame for global warming and offered a slate of recommendations on ways Utah can fight the changes.
    But one much-discussed option, developing nuclear power, was only on the B list of recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change.

Let’s see if the Governor will accept it now.

  • Climate Progress has good posts up on the relationship between warming and hurricanes, a takedown of the latest nonsense (not the good kind) from the denier/obstructionist world that actually tries to claim Hummers are better for the environment than Priuses (it is to laugh), and a call for Buffy to come along and put some stakes in some very ignorant people. Wouldn't that take a whole lot of episodes?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Weather, Water, Energy 8-27-07

Quick water stories today. This may be the first of many similar stories. As states get together to forge agreements on water use, like the Western states taking from the Colorado River, they seem to be forgetting that others may have claims. Like the Navaho. Who are balling up the recent agreement and negotiating with individual states. NM came on line, meaning other states now have to consider their own arrangements. With all the treaties out there, and all the tribes, it's hard to believe this won't come up again. Meanwhile, CA experiments with several desalinization plants and AL (Alabama, not Alaska) recognizes there may be other ways of watering grass without using drinking water. On the good side, CO had a good water year, if that's what you call getting almost back to average capacity in lakes. . . . New bugs coming to CT as the state warms. That's not as cool as they sounds. . . . David Roberts at Grist explains how resource scarcity historically leads to authoritarianism and why that means progressives should frame their messages with more hope than fear. I agree, as we've made clear here, but the fear message also gets people power easier (as Rove and the other Busheviks well know). That has to be addressed as well. (While you're at Grist, find out how yet another Dem has sold out science that might make a difference in the efforts against warming. I can hardly wait to see how Coburn advises Obama on this.)

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