Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Next Economic Bubble

We've all heard about the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, but any time there is a speculative frenzy, a destructive bubble can develop. The next bubble, I postulate, is zombie movies. The chart below shows the number of zombie movies released per year since the genre was started in 1932. Below that is a detail of the same chart, only showing years since 1990. (Raw data from this page.)

(click for larger)

The zombie movie genre was birthed in 1932 with Victor Halperin's White Zombie. It remained a fringe artistic movement, with such titles as King of the Zombies (1941), Ed Wood's inspired, but budget-constrained Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and Ray Steckler's The Increidbly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964). The genre's first breakthrough came in 1968 with George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which grossed (get it?) $42 million with a budget of $144,000. (Adjusted for inflation, it grossed nearly $700 million.)

From the beginning of the zombie movie in 1932 through 2002, there were an average of 3.23 zombie movies per year. From 2003 through 2010, there were an average of 103.88 zombie movies per year. I think much of this growth was driven by the success of 2002's 28 Days Later, which grossed over $82 million, with a budget of only £5 million. Next, 2004 brought us a re-make of Dawn of the Dead, which grossed $102 million with a budget of $28 million. After that, the market was flush with zombie-dollars ready to fund the next 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. Unfortunately, for every 28 Days Later, there were dozens more like Diary of the Dead (2008), which had a budget of $2 million and grossed $5 million, despite being directed by George Romero, who had 39 years of zombie movie experience.

Like all bubbles, this is doomed to crash. I think we see signs of it already, with studios pumping out dozens of zombie movies a year, like desperate gamblers, trying to make up losses. It isn't a perpetual motion machine, though. Eventually, the public's taste for zombie movies is going to fade, and somebody is going to be left holding the bag. My guess is it's going to be the US taxpayers.

Ryan asks: "Is your graph adjusted for total movie market output? It's only a meaningful statistic if viewed as a percentage of all releases." Good question, Ryan.

Ask, and you shall receive, that's what we say down here at the Prestigious Internet.

First, I had to find the total number of movies released each year. I went to IMDB and did a year by year search for movies. (It isn't a perfect data set, but it should show whether or not zombie movies are constituting a higher percentage of movie output.) That resulted in the following graph, which illustrates my point even better than I thought it would. In 2009, zombie movies constituted over 0.5% of all movies, up from 0.06% ten years earlier. Of the movies slated for 2010, over 2% are zombie movies.

Fig. 1.3: Zombie movies as a percentage of total movies, 1932-2010.

In the period 2003-present, which I call the Zombie Bubble, zombie movies averaged 0.62% of total movies, as opposed to 0.05% in the period 1932-2002. All years taken together, zombie movies averaged 0.11% of movies.

Also, here is a bonus graph of movie output over time.

Fig. 1.4: Movies per year, 1932-2009. Source:

Newsweek irresponsibly pumps the bubble a little bit more. Haven't they seen Jon Stewart eviscerate Jim Cramer?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cap and/or Trade

Did anyone else notice how we went from "any climate change legislation is off the table" to "cap and trade or nothing else" without any public discussion? Rep. Boehner (R-Crazytown) says this to cap and trade legislation: "Hell, no!" For once, though, I think he may have a point. Annie Leonard, of Story of Stuff, has this to say about cap and scam:

She's so casual and well-spoken.
She must be right. (Transcript with references.)

Some environmental groups are behind this, though. Should we let perfect be the enemy of good? I think in this case this is another system that gives control of our world to corporate interests. Like allowing them to patent naturally occurring genes. Further, it hasn't been shown to decrease the bad stuff. Carbon emissions actually have gone up (or gone down) in Europe since they instituted cap and trade. (Remember when PGE left the Chamber of Commerce over the latter's opposition to cap and trade? What they didn't tell you is that under the current bill, utilities like PGE get free permits! This is true in Europe as well.)

Whenever I find myself agreeing with Sarah Palin on something, I pause to reconsider. Which is another part of how clever this plan is. No environmentalist wants to find themselves in the same camp as the pro-pollution crowd. Thankfully, some have seen through the (deliberate?) obfusation and are doing something. Common Dreams has a good article about it here.

Cap and trade worked for sulfur dioxide, though, which is the reason you haven't heard about acid rain in a while. (Acid rain levels are down 65% since 1976.) In addition to the government auctioning off fewer pollution permits, environmental groups have purchased more than 14,000 tons of sulfur dioxide permits, which is clever. (It's like a temperance advocate buying booze to keep it out of the hands of would-be imbibers. Except it makes sense.)

There are a couple differences between sulfur dioxide in the groovy 1990's and greenhouse gases today. In the 1990's, if you ran a coal plant, you could listen to Nirvana's latest album and install scrubbers (a technology that already existed), or switch to low-sulfur coal. Further, the sulfur market only a applied to a few hundred plants, not the entire economy. I stole those points from this article, by the pro-business Institute for Energy Research, so they are probably wrong.

Lastly, balance your view with this article from the generally respectable Grist in favor of cap and trade. As a bonus, they have not one, but two articles replying to "The Story of Cap and Trade." One of them compares it to a "circular firing squad." Now I'm really confused. A lot of this falls into a familiar scenario: Leonard argues against what cap and trade will likely be, while Grist defends what it could be, in its best incarnation. Both important sides to consider while you plant trees, make biochar, bicycle to work, and blockade coal plants.

(As a post-script, I've heard it alleged anti-environment lobbyists pay people to search the Internet for any article about global warming and post lies. I don't get many comments here, so any pro-pollution comments will be suspect. That seems reasonable.)

Bonus articles: Cap and trade will work, won't work, it depends, and won't work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Armistice Day

Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?
Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jaws that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?
Stroke on stroke of pain,—but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hand palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

—These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,
Multitudinous murders they once witnessed.
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.
Always they must see these things and hear them,
Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles,
Carnage incomparable and human squander
Rucked too thick for these men's extrication.

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh.
—Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
—Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.

Lt. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
suggested soundtrack: Tom Waits - The Day After Tomorrow

Peak Everything

The following image, from New Scientist, shows how long various resources will be depleted at their current rate. Uranium, for instance, will be gone in 59 years. You have 46 years to take advantage of zinc. If you want indium, you have only 13 years. 45 years for gold, 61 years for copper. Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Little Red Henski and Dr. Ism


On the Georgia Guidestones

I read in Wired Magazine about a mysterious monument in Elberton, Georgia called the Georgia Guidestones. Read the article, but the story is that a mysterious man, using a pseudonym, came to Elberton in 1979 claiming to represent a mysterious group of secretive people, who wanted to build a Stonehenge-esque monument. The necessary 240,000 pounds of granite would be quarried in Elberton.

The monument was to be built to highlight certain astronomic features. A hole was to be drilled through which Polaris would always be visible, for instance. More interestingly, perhaps, was that on its eight sides, a message was to be carved in eight languages. The languages are English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. A further message was written on the capstone in Babylonian, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The primary message, the one written in eight languages, was a list of ten principles, assumed to be a message to current and/or future people. They are

1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

2. Guide reproduction wisely - improving fitness and diversity.

3. Unite humanity with a living new language.

4. Rule passion - faith - tradition - and all things with tempered reason.

5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

8. Balance personal rights with social duties.

9. Prize truth - beauty - love - seeking harmony with the infinite.

10. Be not a cancer on the earth - Leave room for nature - Leave room for nature.

You might think a bizarre monument in the middle of nowhere wouldn't bother anyone. But in fact, some people were very upset by its message. Some wanted it to be torn down. Some even thought it was from a global conspiracy. People took most issue with the commandment to keep the human population at five hundred million. What sort of genocide did the mysterious designers have planned for nine-tenths of us?

Internet comments often give insight into people's reasoning. At Damn Interesting, their article on the Georgia Guidestones prompted the following comments:

"The number of dreadfully naive people who just don’t grasp the implications of this, and the other Elitist propaganda is mind numbing.

So [those agreeing with a lower population], you think that reducing the population to 5,00,000,000 is a good idea aye? So which of you enlightened ones are going to volunteer to join the other 4.5 Billion viruses on their way to the gallows? Hmmm? Oh, you THINK you are going to be one of the 10% allowed to stick around, huh? What makes you think you are going to be one of the anointed ones? And at the rate of only 1 out of every 10 surviving this needed change, I suppose it will be alright by you that your entire family and friends are summarily dispatched, all for the sake of mother earth?


The bottom line here is that the international “Elitists” who run this planet are in constant fear that the masses (like you) are going to wake up one day, revolt, and put an end to their rule (though it seems their fear is unfounded from the looks of things). That’s why they want to reduce the population by 90%. Why 90%…because the remaining 10% would be much easier to control, and pose much less of a risk. And, that 10% is an adequate number by their estimates needed to properly serve them, else they might have to do an honest day’s work themselves and get their own hands dirty, Satan forbid. And finally, what good is it to be a maniacal egocentric elite ruler if there is no one to actually rule? So yes dear viruses, you do have purpose."

"The thing is that a small group of people (a kind of higher race) places itself a memorial for the future. A future where 1.000 people (the master race) can live on the fat of the land and another 499.000 people (slave race) have to live under total control. The climate hoax and the fairy tale about 9-11 are just the means to the end. Who cares about 3000 dead people whenkilling them eases the way of reaching the target carved in guide stones?

If I had the possibility, I’d blow the guidestones up.

When will mankind wake up?"

"And somebody just went there and completely VANDALIZED it!!!


This commenter linked to another blog that covered the vandalizing. The vandal spray painted the following over the monument:

"Fuck you read this Rockefeller"

"You will not succeed"

"Jesus will beat u Satanist"

"No North American Union"

"Skull + Bones sucs dick"

"Death to the Globalist"

"CFR scum"

"Rockefeller sucs"

"Rothechild sucs"

"The elite want 80% of us dead, see #1"

"911 inside job"

"Obama iz a Muslim!"

"Death to the New World Order"

"No one world government"

"Fuck the NWO"

"Jesus will prevail"

Which is quite a litany. Apparently, Obama, Rockefeller, Satanists, Muslims, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Rothechild planned 9/11 in order to achieve a North American Union, in order to start a New World Order, in which 80% of people will die. And made a giant monument to their scheme in rural Georgia.

The blog writer said this of the vandalism:

"This is too cool. I just can say WOW!,"

"And some dude just vandalized it. Way too cool!!!,"

"There is a BIG problem on guide number 1. How do you reduce world population from 6.5 billion to 0.5 billion? There is no way of doing it, unless killing LOSTS of people."

Commenters on his (I assume it's a "he") blog said the following:

"No, this is not "way cool." People who are not aware of what is taking place in our country will see this and learn to equate criticism of globalism with juvenile criminal behavior. And that's exactly what the bankers want."

"Good on them, anything evil should be destroyed, I love that they vandalised it. The vandalism is nowhere as offensive as their Satanist filth. Destroy all their garbage."

"This is good to see. Freemasons temples around the world should also receive similar treatment. We need to let these vermin know we are onto them."

"Epic. Just epic! This is a non-violent way to fight the NWO and it sends a clear message to those involved in the deceit. I commend them for taking a pacifist path and thank them for new desktop backgrounds! Grats to the people responsible! I commend you as true Patriots!"

And so on. (Naturally, I didn't include any well-reasoned comments. But you can read them for yourself if you are so interested.) My favorite comment in this vein comes from the Wired article, in which a Guidestone critic says:

"The Guidestones are the New World Order's Ten Commandments. They're also a way for the elite to get a laugh at the expense of the uninformed masses, as their agenda stands as clear as day and the zombies don't even notice it."

This question of population reduction interests me, though. Suppose we wanted to reduce the population without a New World Order-engineered "vaccine" that causes sterility. There is a group called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, for instance, which advocates reproducing below the replacement rate, so that the population will go down every generation. I decided to do some bad calculations to see how this would work. My intuition is if every two people produce one or fewer children, then each generation will be half the size of the generation before it. This seems like a easy way to reduce population, since we don't have to go through all the trouble of genetically engineering a pandemic virus, declaring martial law, rounding up all the dissidents in FEMA concentration camps, starting a North American currency union, etc.

Presently the world death rate is 8.3 per 1000. That means, every year, 8.3 out of a thousand people die. Since the population is 6.7 billion, that means 55 million people die a year. The birth rate is 20.3 per thousand. This means 136 million people are born every year.

I constructed a spreadsheet to see how different birth rates would affect the population in the years 2109, 2209, 2309, and 2509. This is somewhat naive, because, for instance, if people have fewer children, the average age of the population will go up, and older people have shorter life expectancies, meaning the death rate will go up. (For example, of you have two identically health populations, and one has half the people over 90, it will have a higher death rate than the population with fewer older people.) The point is, there are a lot of demographic effects I'm not taking into account.

If the birth rate stays at 20.3, and the death rate stays at 8.3, the population in 2109 will be 22 billion. In 2209, 72.8 billion. In 2309, 240 billion. In 2509, 2.6 trillion.

This calculation also ignores an disruptive technologies. Ray Kurzweil, for instance, predicts death will be cured in the next hundred years, so that would have an effect.

I did some experimental birth rates to see how the population would be in hypothetical future.

If the birth rate becomes 7.3, that is one more person dies than is born per thousand every year, you get the following time series:

2109: 6 billion

2209: 5.5 billion

2309: 5 billion

2509: 4 billion

It seems that this birthrate will not achieve the New World Order's population goal in 500 years. Next I tried a birthrate one half of the death rate.

2109: 4.4 billion

2209: 2.9 billion

2309: 1.9 billion

2509: 838 million

This made me think there was something wrong with my calculations, as that seems really slow. It would still not achieve the monument's target population in 500 years.

If the birthrate became one quarter of the death rate, we get the following:

2109: 3.6 billion

2209: 1.9 billion

2309: 1 billion

2509: 295 million

This time, we get 500 million in less than 500 years. My spreadsheet shows it will happen in 2425.

What sorts of draconian measures can we implement to reduce birthrates? As was proposed, we would require everyone to get a "vaccine" that actually makes them sterile. Or we could put fluoride in the drinking water, as this reduces sex drive. Both effective, but I think a cheaper proposal would involve increasing economic opportunities for women and increasing access to contraception. Several countries already have fertility rates below the replacement rate. Japan, for instance. Making contraception available would be a big help, as a study showed 38% of pregnancies are unintended.

Lesson: if you see anyone trying to encourage women to participate in the formal economy, they are probably an agent for the Georgia Guidestones-guided New World Order.

Explanatory note:

My population model took three inputs: Current population, birth rate per 1000, and death rate per 1000.

It calculated the number of people born that year by (current population/1000)(birth rate). It calculated the number of deaths as (current population/1000)(death rate). It then added the number of births to the current population, subtracted the number of deaths, and used this number as the starting population for the next year. It repeated the calculation from the year 2009 to 2509. As I said, this method is naive and misguided, but I think gives some idea of how populations grow or shrink over time. Someone who is math-wiser than I could easily write a formula that would output the population in any future year given these three inputs, rather than doing hundreds of calculations. But spreadsheets are so easy to use.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On the Ethics of Eating Roadkills

Some of you may recall an earlier post, in which we acquired one accidentally-killed deer's worth of meat. At first I thought I might eat it, but decided against it. Richard Dawkins must have heard my dilemma, for he questions ethicist, animal rights advocate, and Australian Peter Singer on the ethics of eating roadkills, both non-human and human.

Singer agrees with Dawkins that there should be no ethical objection to either. Although, as my comrade Ken often says, dead animals aren't food. By trying to find exceptions to the rule, one normalizes the eating of dead animals. A truly accomplished vegetarian realizes that refraining from eating dead animals isn't a burden, as eating dead animals is entirely undesirable. Like punching a baby in the face. Conceivably, there could be a situation that warranted, or even required, baby face punching, but we don't seek out these situations to satisfy our latent baby punching desires. (Don't ask me to concoct such a scenario, I'm just saying it is logically possible.)

Once Ken and I walked by a trash can and saw a leather briefcase being thrown out. It had a tear that made in unacceptable as a vessel for fine legal briefs, or whatever it was it transported in its course of service. "Say, Ken," I asked, "we could take the leather off that briefcase and turn it into moccasins." "Or," Ken suggested, "we give it a proper burial."

(Want to hear an overly technical argument against second-hand leather? Let's say A types will only buy new leather and B types will buy new or used leather. C types will only buy used leather, thinking it is more ethical. However, as C types buy up the stock of used leather, this leads to B types buying more new leather, as used leather becomes scarce. A second effect is that it drives up the price of used leather, making new leather a better investment. "Sure", and A type might think, "that's a lot for that leather trench coat, but I know I will be able to recoup most of the price when I sell it on the second-hand market.")

I think the only situation that could warrant dead animal eating is survival situations, such as being stranded in the mountains in a snow storm and eating porcupine.

Mountain lore says that you never kill porcupines, except in survival situations. Being covered in spines, they lack defenses to skull-crushing blows with tree branches. This makes them easy targets. Mountain lore singles out porcupines, however, as they are high in fat. Eating only rabbits, the story goes, will actually kill you, through a process known as "rabbit starvation." Apparently, if you don't enough fat your body kills you. This is not the case with porcupine. Therefore, a wise mountain dweller lets the porcupine live so that it will be there when you need it.

This started out as an excuse to post the Dawkins/Singer video, and I seem to have gone on for a while. Some say this is what talking with me in real life is like.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Trip to a Digital Info-Shop

Finding good anarchist propaganda is not always easy. It helps that fellow travelers tend to have a healthy disregard for copyright law. (Copyright? More like copywrong.) This usually goes both ways: people also release their own work under various copyleft licenses.

I found a corner of the Internet called Zabalaza Books. It is the website of a South African anarchist bookstore. I use store in a loose sense, because their website seems to have more books and pamphlets available for download than one could read.

This week I downloaded nine pamphlets from them. Here's a picture:

Anarchism: What it Really Stands For, by: Emma Goldman

Anarchist Economics, an alternative for a world in crisis, by: Abraham Guillen
I didn't get this one from Zabalaza, and mentioned it in an earlier post.

Collectives in Spain by: Gaston Leval

Community Control of the Poor Community: An Organising Manual for Community Activists, by: Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin

Digger Tracts, 1649-50, edited by: Andrew Hopton
I also didn't get this from Zabalaza. About The Diggers.

The Freedom to Succeed: The Anarchist Collectives in the Countryside during the Spanish Civil War, by: Deirdre Hogan

How to Fire your Boss: A Workers' Guide to Direct Action, no author indicated
This short pamphlet explains the shortcomings of strikes, and outlines other industrial actions that can be taken. My favorite is the "good work strike," in which workers give customers better treatment, without charge. The pamphlet says "Workers at Mercy Hospital in France, who were afraid that patients would go untreated if they went on strike, instead refused to file the billing slips for drugs, lab tests, treatment, and therapy. As a result, the patients got better care (since time was being spent caring for them instead of doing paperwork), for free. The hospital's income was cut in half, and panic-stricken administrators gave in to all the workers' demands after three days."

Principles of Libertarian Economy, by: Abraham Guillen
This is excerpted from a different section of the same book, Economia Libertaria, as Anarchist Economics.

So, You're Out of a Job!, by: The IWW
This 1933 pamphlet encourages workers to join the IWW to organize a general strike, the goal of which is to have a 4 hour day and a 4 day work week, at the same pay as before. Interesting at least as an historical document, if not as an organizing platform. The argument is, in part, that mechanization of labor makes people obsolete, but it doesn't need to. If a machine makes a worker 12 times more efficient, the employer lays off 11 workers. The IWW thinks all workers should stay on, and work 12 times less, for the same pay, since they are producing just as much as before. I think instituting this regime may involve overthrowing capitalism.

The Spanish Revolution: Anarchism in Action, by: The Direct Action Movement (now Solidarity Federation)

Workers' Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society, by: Cornelius Castoriadis
This pamphlet, originally published in 1957, lays out the groundwork for a self-managed society. Everyone would determine the conditions and means of their own job, plants would be run cooperatively, and industry delegates would coordinate the economy as a whole.
My favorite idea is the Plan Factory. In the Soviet Union's bureaucratic style of communism, planning was entirely not participatory. Stalin, using some form of fortune telling, determined the economy's goals. Under the system of workers' councils, the job of the Plan Factory would be to collect as much data about the economy as possible, and use computers to figure out a number of possible ways to meet people's priorities. Priorities would be voted on, as would the plan that was followed. The difference between the Soviet model and this one is that the Plan Factory has no authority over anyone, they serve the people (although the means and operation of the factory itself would be determined by its workers.) Castoriadis emphasizes throughout the pamphlet that an economy can be participatory only if people make decisions "in full knowledge of the relevant facts." So each plan would have to indicate what its implications are for the consumption levels and production targets of all workers.
A simplified exampled of a plan might say that in order to produce X cars, the steel plants would have to run Y shifts. Another plan might have few cars, and less work for steelworkers. Another plan might have fewer cars, but invest more in building new steel plants, so in the future they could produce more cars without undue burden on steel workers. And, in full knowledge of the relevant facts, the people choose which plan to follow.
There is also a complicated federal system of governance. Each factory elects a Factory Council and a General Assembly, as well as sends delegates to the Delegates Assembly and the Delegates Council. Importantly, delegates can be recalled at any time, and they remain at their jobs while serving. The Assembly makes the big decisions, while the Council makes the everyday decisions. Any decision of the Council can be overridden by the Assembly. Every individual department conducts their own affairs, however. For more details, read the book. It is very good.
Amusingly, it contains three sets of end notes. One written by the author in 1957, one written by Solidarity (London) in the 1970's when they translated it into English, and one written in 2006 by Lust for Life when it was posted to the Internet.
There exist many ideological conflicts. Naturally, between the capitalists and the anti-capitalists, but also between authoritarian anti-capitalists (Stalinists and the like) and libertarian anti-capitalists (anarchists). This author often contrasts his philosophy of "rational," left, anti-capitalism, with "Utopian," left, anti-capitalism. Consider the following passage, "Many absurdities have been said about money and its immediate abolition in a socialist society, and there is a great deal of loose thinking about the subject... People will probably receive a token in return for what they put into society. These 'tokens' might take the form of units, allowing people to organise what they take out of society... As we are seeking here to get to grips with realities and not fighting against words, we see no objection to calling these tokens 'wages' and these units 'money.'" Over three end notes in this passage, it is added "All the preceding talk of 'wages,' 'prices,' and 'the market' will, for instance, undoubtedly have startled a certain group of readers. We would ask them momentarily to curb their emotional responses and to try to think rationally with us on the matter... One could also invent new words, if it would make people happy, but this would not change the underlying reality."

Those are the books I downloaded. I encourage you to download books that seem interesting to you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Timeline of US-involved Armed Conflicts

We've been at war so long, it sometimes feels like it's always been this way. To help put this in perspective, I made this timeline of the years the US has been involved in an armed conflict. You might have to click it to make it large enough to read.

Most of the information comes from this article. I left a few off, somewhat arbitrarily. I didn't include seven minor conflicts with China (years 1918, 1921, 1926-1927, 1930, 1937, 1945-1947, and 1956) because they didn't have a name, and I left off American Expeditionary Force Siberia because it seemed a lot like the Northern Russian Expedition, which occurred in the same years. (Also left out: the Polar Bear Expedition.) I included two that are kind of questionable. The Mexican Revolution, in which 35 US troops were killed and 70 injured, as well as the El Salvador Civil War, in which 20 were killed and 35 wounded. While we were certainly entangled in both these events, the US efforts were primarily behind-the-scenes. The article I used listed conflicts were US soldiers were killed or wounded, and there are certainly interventions in which there were no US casualties, so that is another shortcoming of this timeline.

I have since noticed an error: I have the Quasi-War starting in 1778, when in fact it started in 1798. My sincerest apologies to any time travelers who went to 1778 in an attempt to stop the Quasi-War. Hopefully you enjoyed the June 24th solar eclipse or perhaps the Battle of Monmouth during your stay in 1778.

The timeline above is close to, but does not exactly match, what I pictured. This one is closer. Does anyone know enough about graphs to figure out how to do something kind of like a combination of the two?

I fixed a few things, and included a few more instances, based largely on this article. It really is arbitrary what you choose to include. I tried not to show every anti-pirate action, every foreign deployment, and every clash with a Native American tribe, but whether something is significant or not is just a judgment call.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What's Your Religion? I.W.W.!

I found this great documentary from 1979 about the Industrial Workers of the World called "The Wobblies." Watch it here:

I seem to be posting a lot of videos lately. All good, though.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three Videos on the Zapatistas

The Ann Arbor Free School recently organized a discussion group about the Zapatistas, the largely indigenous movement in Chiapas, Mexico. I mentioned that I had seen some interesting videos, and I'll post them here to share them.

They are in increasing order of length. The first is a message in English from Zapatista spokesguerilla Subcommandante Marcos, the second (in two parts) is a 60 Minutes piece where Ed Bradley goes to Chiapas shortly after the uprising, and the third is a full-length documentary titled "A Place Called Chiapas." Watching them should give you an overview, to jump start learning more.

Update: I found another video, as well as a site that has Zapatista communiques, translated into English. (Including all six "Declarations from the Lacandon Jungle.) Link!

Dubious Honor

It seems I have been linked to by the blog, "Science and Math Defeated," one of the crazier parts of the Internet.

He claims I sent him the following video:

What's up with that?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Best Day Ever

I just had one of the best Saturdays ever.

It started out going to the butcher to get a deer. Now, I'm a vegetarian, so I wouldn't kill a deer to eat it, but my roommate hit it with her car. Another compatriot with experience in such matters claimed he could field dress the deceased. This involved four of us on the side of I-94 at ten o'clock at night, wearing aprons, holding knives and flashlights. No one stopped to help us. We got the poor fellow back to the house and hung it up in the garage to drain the blood. The reason I was interested is that I want to tan the hide. I don't buy leather, but it is useful, so I thought an accidentally killed animal shouldn't go to waste. We thought we would skin and butcher the deer ourselves, but after watching a few videos on the Internet, we became convinced it was too difficult, and required a few specialized tools. We therefore resolved to take it to a animal processor. Later, a friend of ours from the Soo claimed she's been skinning and butchering deer since she was 10, and that it isn't too hard. But the die had been cast.

And Saturday is when we got the meat and hide back from the processor. I was tempted to eat some, but I had a dream that I ordered some chicken wings at a bar and felt really guilty. Further, a vegetarian friend also had a dream that he and I steamed baby turtles alive. Clearly a sign that I shouldn't eat roadkill deer.
1.71 lbs of venison round steak. Plenty more where that came from.

After we got the deer back, Smith and I worked on our windmill project. We are currently building a scale model of a wind turbine, in order to build a full scale wind turbine. On Saturday, we partially skinned the skeleton of the blade. Our idea was to build the blades like old airplane wings, with a wooden skeleton and canvas skin. See pictures.
A mostly complete skeleton of balsa.

After we glued the muslin on the wings (muslin serving as canvas in the model), we painted the muslin with watered-down glue. This caused the fabric to shrink and make the skin very tight. While we were waiting for the glue to dry, we made a strawberry cobbler with dumpster-dived strawberries. It turned out pretty well, as you can see in the pictures.
Our research shows it is best with chocolate chip ice cream.

After the cobbler, the muslin needed another coat. While this was drying, I was noodling on the piano, and discovered a housemate's set of Lord of the Rings soundtrack scores. We resolved to record the Elvish hymn "Fourth Eorlingas," in eight-part harmony. Using open-source audio program Audacity, and the microphone that comes with the Xbox game "Rock Band," (it turns out Rock Band uses a regular USB microphone.) we recording all eight vocal lines from "Fourth Eorlingas." Listen to it here. (Does anybody know a better .mp3 hosting service?)

To end the evening, those interested began cooking venison kebabs over the fire. Smith and I made cheese toast over the fire.
Poor kebab design: items with different cook times on the same stick.

Cheese bread, pre-fire. Some goat cheddar in there.

Cheese toast, post-fire.

This is what animals are made of. Here we see some bone marrow. Thanks, hematopoietic stem cells.

Overall, I'd say it was a day well spent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Toast Blogging

I recently wanted to make a time lapse video of toast being made. For that past couple days, I'd start some toast, go find my camera, and by the time I got back it was done. But today was different. Today I caught it in its natural habitat.


Look at that toast go!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ten Links I've Emailed

As an exercise, I went through my email outbox, and found the last ten emails where I've sent people links. I decided to post them here so readers can decide what kind of person is described by these ten links.

A comedy philosophy piece.

The website of a windmill company.

An article about "Steal Something Day." (An extension of "Buy Nothing Day".)

An article from GQ about Donald Rumsfeld.

"Wind farm kills Taiwanese goats."

Stephen Fry explains free software.

Richard Stallman sings the Free Software Song.

The Bulgarian folksong that inspired the Free Software Song.

A documentary about making cane fifes in Mississippi.

Jon Stewart mentions the Labadie Collection on The Daily Show.

While it would be perhaps amusing to present this without commentary, here are a few points that, I think, enhance understanding.

About the Free Software Song: I'm told it is in 7/8 time, but I can't count it for the life of me. However, the Wikipedia article on Bulgarian folk music says:

"One of the most distinctive features of Balkan folk dance music is the complexity of its rhythms in comparison to Western music...For example, the dance lesnoto ("the light/easy one") has a meter of 7 beats with emphasis on the first, fourth, and sixth beats. This can be divided into three groups, a "slow" unit of 3 beats and two "quick" units of 2 beats, often written 3-2-2...It should be emphasized that this terminology is a crude simplification and is not used by Balkan musicians; it does not capture the full subtlety of Balkan rhythms."

The Labadie Collection is, as Jon Stewart explains, a library collection at the University of Michigan that has documents from the history of anarchist and radical thought. I was there recently researching the history of the IWW in Ann Arbor, and I sent the Jon Stewart link to a friend of mine that works there.

This exercise was rather amusing, so I'll probably do it periodically.

Learn About Anarchism in Spain

Lately, I've been fascinated by the Spanish anarchist movement in the 1930's. They achieved autonomy over large parts of the country for, in some areas, up to three years. The were undermined by the Communists, attacked by the Fascists, and eventually lost the Civil War. In those three years, however, some remarkable things happened. The following are some things I've been reading and watching to learn about this time.

George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia was written following his time fighting against the Fascists in Spain. It is a first person account, and you can read it here. It came out 11 years before 1984, and was not well received when it was new.

Living Utopia (Spanish title: Vivir la utopia) is a 1997 documentary I've just started watching. It is interviews with the people involved in the anarchist movement during the Civil War. Here is the first part on youtube (Spanish with English subtitles):

Anarchist Economics is a zine I got at an anarchist book fair. It is an excerpt from Abraham Guillen's much large book, Economia Libertaria. You can read about how people in the autonomous regions organized their collective economy. Guillen contrasts this with both the capitalist, and authoritarian-communist modes of economy. I like this because it isn't just theory; people actually lived like this.

Anarchist Economics

Lastly, here is a youtube video of Noam Chomsky talking about anarchy. This may be a good introduction for those of you who are less familiar with anarchism. This video has been highly influential in my thinking.

Read and watch the preceding, and I hope it inspires your thinking.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Romp Through Victoria's Secret

The following is a correspondence I had regarding something I found in the Victoria's Secret catalog. The item in question does not appear to be on their website, so you may need to track down the catalog to see it for yourself. The "Josh" in this exchange also writes a blog, called Egalicontrarian.

From: Jason
To: Josh
12 April 2009, 1:20 pm

I was flipping through the Victoria's Secret catalog, and they had a collection of shirts that re-appropriated counterculture slogans. For instance, one said "Make Pink, Not War," because, you see, Victoria's Secret has a monopoly on the color pink.

So that's pretty obnoxious, but the next one was even worse. It said "Boys, Not Bombs." Like "Food, Not Bombs." Get it? Let's undermine a worthwhile group, debase women, and teach girls destructive values, all at the same time. "My need for boys is like a homeless person's need for food! Because I starve myself to get attention from older boys because I am actually quite dissatisfied with my life. So I should participate in consumer culture and trade currency for a t-shirt (made by girls my age in a sweatshop) that reflects this reality. Surely, this will help my self-esteem." Way to go Victoria's Secret, you may have summarized all that is wrong with society in a single t-shirt.

From: Josh
To: Jason
12 April 2009, 2:05 pm

I have to disagree on this one.

1) Only a monster would suggest that pleasing boys with sexualized clothing is worse than destroying the countryside of Vietnam. I think boys, food, and other things like love, are all preferable to bombs and war. In fact, degrading women with clothing may be itself preferable to destroying women with napalm.

2) Although Victoria's Secret can be plausibly criticized for debasing women in a broad sense, these slogans themselves do not. If anything, "Boys, not bombs" is just recommending one evolutionary instinct (sex) over another (aggression).

3) These ads do not suggest that a need for boys is analogous to a homeless person's need for food. The only analogy is this: Victoria's Secret's ads are just about as stupid as the ads they are parodying, and probably about as consequential. Also, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Consider this: many activists acquire mates after meeting them at activist events. Maybe even while wearing clothing purchased at Victoria's Secret. The only thing more attractive than an activist chick is an over-sexualized activist chick.

4) Lastly, the Victoria's Secret ad leaves open the question of starving oneself. Many boys prefer more voluptuous women, women like noted most beautiful woman in the world, Monica Bellucci.[1] So, "Boys, not bombs," contains within it the possibility of seeking to please a boy who is more evolutionarily rational [2] in his appreciation of the female physique [3]. This may lead to the paradoxical situation whereby a Victoria's Secret ad both impresses upon a woman successfully and yet guides her away from Victoria's Secret. Then again, I am not knowledgeable enough to know the size variance in the clothing offered by this business. We should ask Ashwini, so I've CC'd her.

From: Jason
To: Josh
12 April 2009, 9:04 pm

The one thing I want to add is that while "Make Love, Not War" is merely a slogan that borders on meaninglessness, "Food, Not Bombs" is a sprawling anti-capitalist organization with over 1000 chapters on every inhabited continent, that takes food that would be otherwise thrown out, and feeds homeless people and activists, while distributing radical literature. I heard a talk by the founder at a conference last weekend and it is very awesome. Check it out:

While I would choose boys over bombs, I don't think that is actually the sentiment of the shirt, as Victoria's Secret does not appear to have any interest in dismantling the war infrastructure, and would certainly support a war to, say, keep the prices of their inputs low.

Further, I am reminded of an early talking Barbie doll that said things like "Math is hard" and "Let's go shopping." While, certainly, math is hard, I question the wisdom of giving a young girl a toy that reinforces that stereotype to her every day she plays with it.* Similarly, I have no problem with girls being interested in boys as partners, but these shirts seem to be reinforcing the stereotype that girls ought to be seeking boys, by any means necessary, and to the detriment of other things, like careers. (Sidebar: Martha Cook dormitory [an all-girls dorm at the University of Michigan] and the Law School used to have functions together, so freshman girls could meet soon-to-be lawyers. (Almost all of whom were male at the time.) This is because girls, even while at college, should be focused on finding a man to please. This is referred to as getting one's "MRS" degree. Get it? "Mrs."? Also, law students are often quite a bit older than girls in Martha Cook, making it kinda creepy.)

Lastly, the shirts reinforce heteronormative values, by not having shirts for non-straight girls, who will feel excluded from yet another venue. (Sidebar: Perhaps you think non-straight girls should be excluded from consumer culture because it is so destructive. I agree, but I think this is just another way they are marginalized. Just like how one can be against gay marriage for the same reasons as they are against straight marriage, yet think gays should have the option.) (Further sidebar: I was going to say reinforcing heteronormativity was a minor objection, but then I realized I think that because I'm straight and society accommodates my proclivities. Therefore, I say it is a non-trivial matter.)

*The full story is that only 1.5% of Teen Talk Barbies had that particular phrase, but the rest are scarcely better. "Wanna have a pizza party", "Will we ever have enough clothes", etc. Allegedly there was a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization that would buy the Barbies and swap out their speaking chip with that of the concurrently released talking G.I. Joe, then return it to the store. While I don't support G.I. Joe's foreign policy, I appreciate the culture jamming of swapping the chips.

From: Ashwini
To: Jason, Josh
16 April 2009, 1:39 pm

I appreciate being consulted. [Josh] are you saying I am one of those "over-sexualized activist chicks?" In which case I am somewhere between flattered and insulted.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things war, bombs and other things are way worse than things that negatively impact young women in the U.S.'s self-concept and body image. It is annoying though and Jason is right that it appropriates activist jargon. I also get annoyed when I see Jenna Bush wearing a kaffiyeh and when Che's face is plastered all over Abercrombie t-shirts. Is it worse than napalm? No. But is it worth criticizing? Absolutely. "Boys not Bombs" is problematic in the same sense that a t-shirt that says "Who needs math you have these" on it is problematic. It encourages girls to advertise themselves as objects and to send the message that their priorities lie in dating and romance alone. And of course, the perception changes if it's a 16-year old girl wearing it versus a 35-year-old woman.

And [Josh] I think your point number 4 is both hilarious and retarded so I'm not even going to get into it.

What can we conclude from these exchanges? I'm tempted to make an off-hand remark about having too much time on our hands. However, such analyses are, I think, valuable. This is because Victoria's Secret gets to spend millions of dollars on catalogs and advertisements (some featuring Bob Dylan) to reinforce the world view that maximizes their profits. As every business does this, other modes of thinking are made more and more difficult. I should think the occasional unpacking of this serves some purpose.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Metal Song You Won't Want to Miss För Allt Smör i Småland

People liked my post about Georgian folk/jazz fusion, so I thought I'd post another music video I recently discovered.

I was reading an article on an alleged artifact from a 19th century war: two bullets, fused as if by a mid-air impact. In the comment section, people discussed whether such a thing could happen, or whether it was a hoax. One commenter said that one finds many such fused bullets around the site of the Battle of Gallipoli. Someone replied, "Only reason I know of Gallipoli is through Sabaton. Let the music tell the story."

I thought Sabaton could be an opera or something, so I looked it up. It turns out they are a Swedish power metal band that primarily writes songs about historical battles. Here's the music video for "Cliffs of Gallipoli," from their 2008 release The Art of War. I can't decide if this is ridiculous or awesome.

Maybe I'm not a metal expert, but they do remind me a little of Dethklok. Further, I think anti-war metal is somewhat rare. But, as the say in Sweden, "Lika barn leka bäst."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wikipedia Strikes Again: Amazing Georgian Folk Music

Somehow, I ended up on the Wikipedia article on yodeling. It claims that there are different varieties of yodeling in different cultures. It continues, "[i]n Georgian traditional music, yodelling [sic?] takes the form of krimanchuli technique, and is used as a top part in three/four part polyphony."
This sounded intriguing, so I searched Youtube for "krimanchuli" to hear some of this Georgian polyphonic yodeling. I clicked on the first video, called "Orera 'Krimanchuli,'" and it blew my mind. Six Georgian guys in skinny ties singing the most intricate contrapuntal melodies. At first it is just amazing. Then around 1:30, it takes off in a new and exciting direction, as they add drums, piano, and bass. They alternate between Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross-esque vocalese solos, and harmonies tighter than the treads on a T-72 tank. The yodeling comes in at around 3:14, which will only impress you further. I'm at a loss for words, just watch it yourself.

Sidenote: There are bands today that dress like this, except they are doing it ironically. Of course, irony was outlawed in the Soviet Union, so we can only assume they are very serious.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Most Delicious Lawn

I bet some of you think food is the kind of thing that comes from the store. This is not strictly true. In fact, some foods pre-date stores by many years. And if you know where to look, they might be nearby.

Growing in the lawn, of their own according, I’ve so far identified two delicious wild inhabitants*.

First, morel mushrooms. These little fellows cost $25-$30 a pound in the store. Little do they know, you can find them in the outdoors. In my case, in the lawn by the ash tree. I’ve found four so far, plus an addition 30 or so from the nearby woods. For any of you that plan on eating morel mushrooms in the wild, I recommend a website such as this, which explains the difference between a delicious morel mushroom, and a tricksy false morel mushroom. We don’t want you eating rocket fuel, now do we? Even sautéed in garlic and butter. On a bed of risotto. (I am not a mushroom expert, but morels are allegedly the one mushroom with easy-to-identify poisonous look-alikes. Remember: if the stem ain't hollow, don't swallow. Also: When in doubt, throw it out.)

This is a stock photo. Once I find another I'll put a picture here.

Next, we have a delicious invasive species Alliaria petiolata. Known to the layman by such names as “garlic mustard,” “jack-in-the-bush,” and “penny hedge,” this illegal immigrant comes from Europe and has overstayed its visa. When something is invasive and delicious, there is a moral imperative to eat it. As the name suggests, the leaves taste like garlic and mustard. I like mine in a salad or on a sandwich. The small leaves are milder, and the larger leaves are sometimes uncomfortably spicy. It just looked like a weed to me, until a local Euell Gibbons pointed it out. I’ve eaten it every day since. Delicious though it is, "[m]any land managers consider it to be one of the most potentially harmful and difficult to control invasive plants in the region."[1]

This is also not my photo. Coming soon, though.

*I first wrote “plants,” the realized mushrooms are not a plant. In fact, fungi are closer to animals on the evolutionary tree than they are to plants. So I changed it to “inhabitants.”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wikipedia and the Domino Theory

The other day, I added a paragraph to the Wikipedia article on the Domino Theory. The Domino Theory was a piece of propaganda popular during the Vietnam War that theorized if the Communists take over Vietnam, they will soon take over Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Indiana.

Noam Chomsky has an interesting view on this, so I added it to the article. I added

"Noam Chomsky writes that he believes the Domino theory is roughly accurate. If a people in a poor county see another poor country take control of its economy and succeed, they will of course want to emulate them. This is why, he claims, the US put so much effort into suppressing people's movements in Chile, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Laos, Grenada, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. "The weaker and poorer a country is, the more dangerous it is as an example. If a tiny, poor country like Grenada can succeed in bringing about a better life for its people, some other place that has more resources will ask, 'why not us?'" Chomsky refers to this as the "threat of a good example."

If one is a good Wikipedian, one find citations for one's claims, so I searched the Internet for the article where Chomsky says this. I found an excerpt on the New Humanist website, where they quote the Third World Traveler website quoting Noam Chomsky's book What Uncle Sam Really Wants. Chomsky likes to repeat himself, so one can find a citation of something you think you heard him say fairly easily.

Noam Chomsky: I once rode in an elevator with him.

Also, I put this paragraph in the section "Arguments in favor of the domino theory." This is slightly unusual, as most people who opposed the Vietnam War didn't think the domino theory was real, while Chomsky opposed the Vietnam War and thinks the domino theory is real, but for different reasons.

I check back a day later, and somebody has edited the paragraph. A user had put scare quotes around the phrase "people's movements" and appended "although he put a more positive spin on the threat" to the first sentence. That's kind of odd, but I didn't change it because "people's movements" isn't the perfect word to describe all the things Uncle Sam opposes. When one edits Wikipedia, one is supposed to describe one's edit. This user described his edit as "If what this anonymous IP says is true, then Chomsky's view is that of a blessing rather than the threat of tyranny." A little weird. I go to his Userpage, where Wikipedia users can describe themselves, and he goes out of his way to mention, among other things "This user is as anti-racist as he is anti-communist" and "This user rejects the myth that insurgents in Iraq are 'resisting U.S. occupation,' and knows that each terrorist group is fighting for their own agenda, making the Iraqi people the victims."* (He loves those scare quotes, doesn't he?)

The domino theory as illustrated in Wikipedia

It seems to me that his edits didn't help, but I left them because getting into "edit wars" is silly and multiple viewpoints are part of the point of a collaborative encyclopedia. Five hours later, he strikes again, this time adding "so-called" before his already scare-quoted "people's movements," his description of the edit reading "re-emphasizing Chomsky's false notions of the communist threat as 'people's movements.'" What strong feelings he must have on the matter. I still decide to let the edit stand, although I fear if I do that, he will spread his propanganda to the article "Vietnam War," and then to the article "Communist Party of Nepal," and from there to the article "Auto-Lite Strike," then to "2000 Cochabamba protests," and so on. No history will be safe from the red pen of this menace. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

Well, maybe not. It is worth mentioning that another user added something to the paragraph, saying "Chomsky claims there are two domino effects, one internally discussed between US policy makers, which is that of the 'Good Example', and another for public consumption, that of the spread of 'Communism.'" He didn't cite this, so I'm not sure if that's a fair statement, but I let it stand.

*I think his comments on the Iraq War are part right: each group is fighting for their own agenda, making the Iraqi people the victims, but I find it odd that he excludes the US from this admonishment. Probably the same reason he thinks the Communists that the Vietnamese people supported** were an outside threat imposing tyranny.

**Even Eisenhower said if the 1955 elections had happened, in line with the Geneva Accords, Hồ Chí Minh would have 80% of the vote. Instead, South Vietnam claimed they weren't bound by the accords, and had a sham election to put Ngô Đình Diệm in charge. (For instance, Diệm*** got more votes than there were voters in some areas.) But I digress.

***Note on Vietnamese naming conventions: While their last name is listed first, they are still referred to formally by their given name (that is, the name that comes last.) In the case of
Ngô Đình Diệm, "Ngô" is his family name, but he is referred to as "Prime Minister Diệm." This probably helps avoid confusion, as the top five family names are used by 71% of the country.