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.