February 29, 2008

Prison Proportion

From today's New York Times and the Pew Center on the States,

Size of US prison population - 1.6 million
Size of Chinese prison population - 1.5 million

Michigan, the lovely state in which I live, is one of only 4 states that spends more on incarceration than on higher education.

February 28, 2008

A Simple Misunderstanding

I really don't know where to begin with this one so let's just start with some facts. About a month ago, the celebrity media service WENN published an article that claimed that Will Smith had described Hitler as "a good person." The quote wasn't buried in page three either; The the headline for the piece was: "Smith: Hitler was a good person." Will Smith later denied having said or even implied anything to that effect and sued the news service.

I've laughed out loud several times reading about this whole affair. Are Smith's views on Hitler an issue that anyone has been asking themselves? The tabloids inform us of the smallest details of major celebrities lives but rarely do they ask if the Brad Pitts and Scarlett Johanssons of the world think that Hitler is a good person. Maybe, WENN was just trying to correct this omission. I can't wait to see the headlines coming down the pike now that relevance is no longer a factor. Maybe, "Jennifer Anitson indifferent to the music of John Cage" or "Gilbert Gottfried upset over Pakistani election fraud."

Well, if you're one of those people trying to create the definitive list of the celebrities who think that Hitler is a good person, let me help you sort through this topsy turvy thing called reality. NOBODY thinks that Hitler was a "good" person. You see, Hitler is just one of those guys that you either love and will fanatically obey or hate with a passion normally reserved for Wilford Brimley. There are no riding-the-fence, the-jury-is-still-out-on-Hitler people and there certainly aren't any that would describe him as a good person or a stand up guy or any variation thereof.

But getting back to my original point, do inquiring minds even give a fuck? Even if Smith thought that Hitler was wonderful, what does it matter? The guy's a movie star not a historian or the ambassador to Israel. When he stars in a documentary about WWII or the Holocaust or something, then those questions become interesting but "Men in Black" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance" don't exactly have the most political of tones.

Regardless, it should be clear to anyone who actually reads the interview that the headline was nothing but the most rarefied sensationalism. Here's the quote that was misinterpreted to mean that Smith thought Hitler was a good person:

“Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’."

He really could hardly have been more clear about what he meant. The "journalists" writing the piece should have read that quote and come to the obvious conclusion that Smith approves not also of Hitler but also of "twisted backwards logic" (which as everyone knows is right up there with modal logic as one of the most respected logical forms).

Will Smith later tried to clear the whole mess up by releasing a statement that included this line: "Adolf Hitler was a vile, heinous vicious killer responsible for one of the greatest acts of evil committed on this planet." Now, we're back on familiar absolute love or hate terrain.

Load Off My Mind

So, President Bush said today that our economy is not headed into a rescession. Wow, thank god. No need to worry anymore. That was scary.

February 26, 2008

Music and Video

In this post, I want to collect three great music videos together in one place, a kind of variation on a theme in three parts. These videos each make creative attempts to translate the musical structure of particular songs into a visual objects.

The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist Directed by Tom Kuntz Mike Maguire

If you need hard evidence of how awesome post modernism and the concept of collage can be I suggest this video. It's a basic visual realization of the extensive sampling found in the song with a virtual big band of actors taking on the style particular samples. The work overlays the contexts of big band music, stage musicals and plays, music videos and electronic music.

Daft Punk - Around the World Directed by Michel Gondry

More nuanced than Frontier Psychiatrist, we have Around the World, a brilliant song and video that was one of the first chances the world had to experience the genius of Michel Gondry. The thing to note about this video (and this is difficult to see if you don't have a background in music) is that the visual elements are an almost allegorical representations of the song's musical structure. For example, the base line is manifested on the stage as the four small headed track suit guys. These guys step to the rhythm of the base and go up the stairs as the notes ascend and down as they descend. Every actor in the video can be related to musical elements in this way.

Yet, the characters are not rigidly bound to their corresponding musical elements. There are moments in which the cast breaks from the algorithm and dances to the song as a whole in the manner of a more traditional music video.

Chemical Brothers - Star Guitar Directed by Michel Gondry

The video takes Gondry's previous work in Around the World to the next level. A comparison brings out some of the more subtle aspects of the videos. Around the World exists in an abstract circular space (circular like a record or turntable). Star Guitar is a concrete and linear space (linear like a bar of music). Star Guitar is much more fluid about how it's visuals connect with the music. The visual elements almost become extra instrumentation. This is one of my favorite videos of all time.

Here's a better quality clip of Star Guitar

February 25, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Trying to keep my mind off of presidential politics for the last year has been like trying to keep some awful catchy song out of my head. The media aren't making things any easier by milking each stage of the process for ratings. The whole process has acquired a sideshow feel to it. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here are three people expressing similar sentiments (preceded by a brief summary).

1. Noam Chomsky - Without open discussion and accurate information about the issues the public cares about, elections in the United States can be considered free and fair in only a limited manner. Elections are public relations campaigns instead of information campaigns. Public opinion on most issues is eschewed in favor of public opinion about the candidates.

2. Chris Floyd - The candidates are like geeks at a carnival, grotesque and fascinating. The issue of military dominance of the world and a bloated military budget are not being put on the table by any of the major candidates.

3. Howard Zinn - The "sense of proportion" is what's really missing from media coverage of the candidates. People should keep in mind that voting is only one among many ways to get their voices heard.

February 23, 2008

Stay on Target

Move over Heriburt Illig, because papa's got a brand new favorite conspiracy theory. Drum roll please...

The destruction of the Death Star at the hands of the rebel fleet during the battle of Yavin was in fact an inside job! I know how implausible it sounds at first but the folks over at websurdity have raised some new and troubling questions about the official story as portrayed in Star Wars. Among my favorites:
Why has there not been an investigation into allegations that Darth Vader, the second-ranking member of the Imperial Government, is in fact the father of the pilot who allegedly destroyed the Death Star?

How could any pilot shoot a missile into a 2 meter-wide exhaust port, let alone a pilot with no formal training, whose only claim to fame was his ability to “bullseye womprats” on Tatooine? This shot, according to one pilot, would be “impossible, even for a computer.”

Grand kudos to you who invented this theory.

February 22, 2008

Mr. 10 Percent

Via tribuneindia.com

So, the opposition parties won the latest parliamentary elections in Pakistan. With eyes toward restructuring the government into a fresh "democracy", the official/unofficial/something leader of the Pakistani Peoples Party is none other than Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, known to most Pakistanis (or at least my friends here in London) as "Mr. Ten Percent."

Now that sure is a bad ass nickname. And I congratulate him on obtaining such pimp status. But surely the PPP could have designated somebody else without such a colorful background. I know that the child prodigy Bilawal is set to take over, but the kid is 18 years old and plans to finish his studies at Oxford (I wonder how his education is financed).

So in the end, I guess after Bhutto's death and the recent win over the Musharraf regime, one should get the feeling of change in Pakistan. Change toward a transparent responsible government. A government not riddled with corruption. But with people the likes of Mr. 10% running the show, please do not hold your breath. Sorry Pakistan.

February 20, 2008

One Day my Prince Will Come

If I get stressed out I say a serenity prayer. I meditate too. I was going out with someone and they said I should read Machiavelli and I was like, 'nah', and then I was, 'OK, I'll read it' and now it is always with me.
-Lindsay Lohan (in Tatler magazine)

So, the princess finally meets her prince in rehab.* It cannot be emphasized enough how important a thorough understanding of 15th century pragmatic Italian political philosophy is on the road to overcoming addiction. I think it's step 7 or 8 of the 12. Here's a line that must inspire Lindsay daily:

"fortune is a woman and in order to be mastered she must be jogged and beaten."
-Nicolo Machiavelli

*because I'm sure that Lohan's idea of Machiavelli is much more "The Prince" than it is "Discourses on Livy." PWNED!

February 19, 2008

Everything Seems to be in Order Here

Well, I'll be darned. The bikini inspector is more than just the dream job of horny adolescents. It's a reality from a simpler time. This picture from 1922 shows a policeman literally measuring the amount of exposed thigh on a female bather. A small crowd seems to have gathered.

(via Shorpy the 100-year-old photo blog)

Snow Everyday

The weather is back below the freezing mark after a few days respite. As a whole, this winter has been brutal - lots of snow, freezing winds, and gray skies. The recent warmth melted the snow just enough to leave thick layers of ice that will last awhile.

On the up side, I did get to go snow shoeing on a foot of fresh snow a few weeks ago.

(Cover of "Winter" sheet music via American Memory)

Meet the Mets

VIA NY Daily News
So, baseball season is around the corner. I decided to post in light of my past history as a Mets fan. Typically, as a Met fan, you are bogged down in misery, always expecting the worst, and dreaming up new ways for the Mets to completely mess up everything. Well, I have a completely new attitude this year, and most of it has to do with our new GM. The Mets decided to end their strategy of overpaying players well past their prime, and decided to bring in talent that isn't running on fumes. Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez(see above), Carlos Delgado et al. Now with our latest edition, Johan Santana, the Mets are geared for an awesome season.

Following my tradition of making ridiculous predictions, here are a few UPDATED "You heard it here first folks!"
1. John Maine wins 21 games this year!
2. Oliver Perez will win at least 15 games
2. Ryan Church hits 25hr with 85+rbi (you def heard that here first - OH YEAH (I even hit my leg while typing that one in the library.))
3. Pedro Martinez will win 11 games
4. Carlos Beltran takes home the MVP
5. The Mets win the division, NLDS, NLCS, and the WORLD SERIES

February 13, 2008

Divine Crushing Foot

The featured guest of this weeks installment of The Beauty of Football is one of my favorite players in the world, David Trezeguet. The clip also features some sparkling play from fellow Juventus teammates Alessandro Del Piero and Raffaele Palladino.

The play starts with some nice running down the right by Palladino who spots Trezeguet in the center but waits to draw in two defenders before passing. Pulling his own defender with him, Trezeguet makes a quick move toward the ball but then suddenly reverses direction, runs toward goal, and leaves the ball for Del Piero. The defender on Trez is completely fooled by this ploy. Del Piero, anticipating Trezeguet's run, lofts the ball with a single touch right in front of the sprinting striker. Trezeguet smashes home the volley with an impressive amount of force. That, my friends, is a well worked goal.

Livorno V. Juventus 1/27/08

February 11, 2008

We Three Dreams

The other night was a red-letter day (or night) for dreams. I had three good ones in quick succession

Dream 1: It starts out with me working as a tech in a TV studio. The show is the Larry King show and Al Gore is the guest. So, I'm just standing around watching the monitors and the checking the audio. Gore is talking about his movie or something when he gets a weird confused look on his face. He's having trouble with some words and his movements are no longer very natural.

I suspect pretty quickly that Gore's having a stroke. I bring up this possibility to the producer and everyone else in the room but no one does anything more than shrugging. Larry King doesn't seem to notice that anything might be wrong either. A few seconds later, Gore collapses on the floor. Finally, some people rush into the room to care for him.

Then, as I'm leaving the studio after work, I'm completely surprised to Gore wandering around in the hall wearing an overcoat but no shirt. I ask him if he's ok and if anyone's taking care of him. He really should have been sent to a hospital. Gore says not to worry and that he’s fine he's clearly confused. In the elevator on the way out of the building, he has another stroke. I call 911 and try to keep him from dying until some paramedics show up.

Dream 2: I'm twelve years old and studying street crime and underground economies (a la one of my real life heroes, Sudhir Venkatesh). For some reason, the study entails me walking around taking notes and pictures of various criminal activities in a very sketchy neighborhood.

For some other reason, a riot breaks out. One of the local crime lords decides that he doesn't like me recording everything so he attempts to assassinate me by dumping buckets of baby snapping turtles into my apartment. The turtles come at me like little green bullets. In desperation, I abandon the house and run like a maniac down the middle of the road. The little biters merge into a dog-sized turtle that bounds after me.

In the end, a bit of quick thinking saves me. I realized that small animals can only combine like Voltron in dreams and since I'm dreaming I might as well stand and fight.

Dream 3: I can't remember the third dream. Interpolating from the first two, I would deduce that it involved marshmallows, dancing and a sonic boom.

February 10, 2008

The Police

Now, this band hasn't lost anything for me in 20 years. I listen to their stuff today and it feels just as dynamic, inventive, upbeat and thoughtfully constructed. They had a whole pile of songs that hit the charts and those songs were decent but buried under that pile are some solid gold tunes. I just thought I'd share one:

circa 1978.

February 6, 2008

Few Weeks Off

For those of you wondering where I've been, the answer is I've been sick. Nothing too bad mind you but just bad enough to make me not want to do any extracurriculars.

February 1, 2008

RIP Rudy

via - dunkfu.com

Rest in peace Rudy. You ran the dumbest campaign of all time. You thought you couldnt compete against Romney in Iowa, Huckabee won. You thought Romney had New Hampshire for sure, McCain won. And no way could anyone come close to Romney in Michigan, McCain competed.
So you dumped all of your assets into Florida, and had the State to yourself for months. And with all that money you finished in a distant third. Better luck on your Christmas commercial next time.