Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obamageddon

Is Obamageddon the end of life as we know it? If it is, couldn't that be a good thing: no more war in Iraq or no more extraordinary rendition? I guess for the group that stated, "Saddam was like a boil that needed to be lanced," it wouldn't; instead Focus on the Family has released a Letter from 2012 in Obama's America. Although this is a serious attempt to stir up the Right, any validity is betrayed by their paranoia of homosexuality and abortion. A saner letter would focus on the benefits of universal healthcare, equality, not living in fear, peace treaties, and sustainable economic prosperity. Perhaps it is better to ask why the chicken crossed the road? and listen to Falwell's fabricated responses: "To get to a gay convention" or "That's why they call it the other side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken you will become gay, too."

I hope those who vote on Tuesday will realize that "This feast of beauty can intoxicate ..., just like the finest wine. Come on all you stumblers who believe love rules. Stand up and let it shine" (Cockburn, Mystery. 2006).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rethinking the 3 Rs

While watching the Bill Nye episode, Garbage, with my kids, I was struck by their inclusion of re-think with reduce, re-use, and recycle. 4 Rs are better than 3: even good products, such as the BigBelly Solar need to be rethought. This product holds the garbage of five cans, is clean and self contained, but offers no choice for recycling. Instead a similar product with multiple compartments for recyclables, biodegradables, and garbage could be used to divert waste from landfills. Only balanced thinking will balance equation of our consumption. Perspective can be gained by touring landfills with tomorrow's generation to see how they divert waste (paper bans) and capture leachate and methane. There's no easy path, but integrating disposal into a product's design makes sense. I again praise the efforts of RoHS and hope to see such standards spread through all industries.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reckoner and Golden Fragments

From the minute I bought the album, Reckoner has been of my favourites; Radiohead has now released each track of the song (guitar, bass, drum, etc ... ) separately, so you can mix your own track and upload it to their site. Some of the remixes are awesome, others hardly recognizable.


I seldom can pass up the release of "lost" recordings, whether they be basement tapes or others, and the Golden Unplugged Album was no exception. On the whole the recording quality is poor and better recordings could probably be found on fan sites; however, the album does have a few treasures. Satellite of Love not only shows off Bono's impressive falsetto range (I wonder if he can still hit them) and features the unyielding Lou Reed. Lucille and Lost Highway are fun country renditions, though Bono cannot traverse the genre of folk nearly so well; Stan Rogers would have done much better with the Springhill Mining Disaster. The crowd's refrain Sunday Bloody Sunday is heart-warming and Dancing Queen (with Bjorn and Benny of ABBA) is lots of fun. The fun continues with the trio of songs lead by a Larry Mullen Jr. who sounds like Joe Strummer. Overall this album is for the diehard fan and not one I will listen to often given its poor, and varied, sound quality.

Since their earliest collaborations Bela Fleck and Chick Corea have belonged together. Their musical intellects match, though for some listeners the experience can be like watching an Einstein at the chalkboard. The bright, cheery, staccato music they produce engenders the humour in their performance: they frequently dare each other to play first or outshine the other. This album also features one of my favourite Fleck songs, Sunset Road, a good listen for the sophisticate.

Algerian reflections

Perhaps McCain is "doing fine" despite a drop in the polls because he is counting on the Bradley, or Wilder, Effect; that is, he is hoping that the polls are out of sink with convictions, beliefs, and opinions. Although these effects have been broadly mentioned throughout the media, some counteract their conventional wisdom and Obama, himself, clearly understands that polls are fickle. McCain may also be confident because he knows that many voters are paralyzed by fear and that reason alone rarely prevails against it. McCain has done a good job of sidelining the major issues in a world that enjoys divesting risk through derivatives and hiding in ACDC's music. Palin made a gutsy and brilliant move by going on SNL and softening her image. However, some voters remain confused.

This would all be fine if we could hide from the $2.8T loss banks have suffered, the price of the Iraq War, and the moral degradation of sites, such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. We cannot. Consider this quote I gleaned from Dahr Jamail:

... for seven years, France has been a mad dog dragging a saucepan tied to its tail, everyday unaware that we have ruined, starved and massacred a nation of poor people to bring them to their knees. They remained standing. But at what a price! While the delegations were putting an end to the business, 2,400,000 Algerians remained in the slow death camps; we have killed more than a million of them ...
--Jean-Paul Sartre, "The Sleepwalkers," Les Temps Modernes, April 1962

Jamail, of course, freely amends this quote for Iraq: America for France, 4.7m for 2.4m and 1.2m for 1m. Although it will likely take a few more decades for the average voter to comprehend how we got here and how bad it was ( is), we do need change. It is not hype and cannot be for the worse.

Dialling Dylan

Over the years Dylan's music has entwined itself in my life, so much so that I sometimes think of him as a distant relative; you know, the type of uncle or aunt that you see seldom, but that always seems to direct your life in some way or another. Dylan helped me process religious conversion and Blood on the Tracks brought me back from the despair of failed romances. He puts our pain, suffering and humiliation into a digestible form, yet, as a fan, he requires that you take him on his own terms. This is what so many missed when he turned electric. Thus, as soon RSS feed came on my screen that he was coming to Victoria, I went to bobdylan.com and got some tickets, five days before they went on sale at the local box office. The seats were good and so was the company, my brother-in-law, Jer; I was looking forward to this night.

Although I didn't enjoy all of his interpretations of the "classics" and the fact they were interpreted at all, I had to respect his choice: the master bard had a right to know better. All of this came to head when he finally moved away from the keyboard and picked up his guitar (actually when the roadie that so longed for stage-time gave it to him); the fans were munching on the few scraps they had been thrown, barely able to distinguish his playing on Just Like a Woman, when the song ended and they cheered for more. None came, not even one song during an encore; Dylan was once more difficult to pin down, an-iconic. Nevertheless, I didn't know any of the men in their late fifties that comprised his band and I wished for some frame of reference, so I yelled above the crowd to the die-hard fan in front of me who had been writing down a set list, "Wouldn't it be great if Robbie Robertson appeared on stage." The fan responded with some empathy, "You never know." You never do know, but the band had a solid vibe; if Dylan wasn't as well versed in the keyboard, that was o.k. It was good to commune with him once more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gold Nuggets

I often wonder at Chance's machinations, how quick the beautiful can take up residence in one's being. Unfortunately, they often exit quicker than they entered, a quick gasp rather than a full breath. Fortunately, some stay and afford a modicum of stability. Recently, Chance struck while I researching my thesis chapter on groves; I found the book, Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens. The title held me at once, but the book is even more fascinating. It is Louise Westling's research on a handful of Southern writers. Look at how she begins the book, "When I was a young woman fresh out of college and sure my generation was going to correct the world's ills, my Kentucky grandmother, a model of the old-fashioned Southern lady, asked me if my friends and I believed in free love. That old term was far from our ideal of sexual equality and frankness ... That quaint idea made little sense to me for many years, though I puzzled about it as I tried to understand why the relations between men and women violated so many of my notions of cooperation" (ix).

The insights continue, "Yet nowhere else in American literature is there a group of accomplished women writers so closely bound together by regional qualities of setting, character, and time" (1). "If Welty celebrates womankind, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor struggle against it" (5). "... he has performed the part of St. George by defeating a 'dragon' which threatened to kill Denis's heir--and, by implication, to violate some sacred family spirit. That dragon is also the intruding urban machine in the pastoral garden ..." (82-3).

She also includes some spectacular quotes and the breadth of her research is impressive:
A fair young body trampled to death--
This beautiful, glorious Lady of ours!
Bring spices and wine and all the spring's breath.
And bathe her with kisses and shroud her with flowers.

O breasts whose twin lilies are purpled with blood!
O face, whose twin roses with ashes are white!
O dead golden hair, at whose far splendor stood
Millions of true souls entranced with delight!
(Simms, Trampled to Death)

In a similar vein, the newly released, American and British Writers - The Spoken Word, appears to be an impressive collections that has received favourable reviews. These CD's contain audio clips from famous authors, including the only recordings of Virginia Woolf and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Grim Reaper and Other Innovations

Apple's recent letter, sent to threaten a local Victoria school over a trademark dispute, shows just how big corporate nets can be. Fortunately, for bloggers, they can now purchase libel insurance. The only downside, as with all insurance, is the cost of the premiums, which start at $500; however, this product not only legitimizes the blogging world, but also offers protection in it. (At what cost is the only question you must answer). Another similar move toward wider Internet distribution is CBS's decision to show archived content on YouTube. If you wish to watch a number of news broadcasts you can check out LiveStation, which regularly adds networks to its service. (Not all stations are available in every country, but it's a free service).

A very clever new book, worthy of occupying a spot next to the Geist Atlas, is The Grim Reaper's Road Map: An atlas of mortality in Britain. This tome maps how people died; that is, for each cause of death, the number of deaths is represented by a shade of colour. Thus, at a glance, you can determine in which neighbourhood (1,282 total) people are more likely to die of a heart attack or under the blade of a knife.

Grasping change

This weekend has been packed with evidence that change is sweeping America: first, the release of September's donation figures, $150m (the previous record month was August with $65m; furthermore, 3.1m people donated in September and $50m has been raised so far in October); second, Colin Powell, breaking from his former master, Bush, and close friend, McCain, has endorsed Obama; and third, Obama not only went to Roanoke, the first Democratic Nominee since JFK in 1960, but also had thousands greeting him there. Nevertheless, Obama is no dummy and despite a strong campaign presence in other Republican strongholds, he has warned his supporters against getting cocky, "For those of you ... who support me and start reading the polls, I've just got two words for you, New Hampshire."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Final Debate

Tonight was the last in a series of successful debates; I have really enjoyed the variety of format (standing, town hall, sitting) and the adaptive questioning, e.g., the negative campaign question, in these debates. Again in this debate McCain seemed to get mired in the mundane, while Obama rose above it. McCain's $300 billion plan sounds even weaker than when he introduced it in the last debate, which is apparent when he makes his rebuttal, "It doesn't help that person in their home if the next door neighbor's house is abandoned." Besides repeating his mantras, such as "Greed and excess" and "hurting and angry," McCain seemed out of touch. He repeatedly spoke of the American Dream, something which Obama realizes is now a pie-in-the-sky dream (and something that must be rebuilt), since the Bush years, rather than a dream to be realized by any immigrant. The result was that his mentions of Joe the plumber seemed irrelevant especially when Obama quipped, "He has been watching ads of Sen. McCain's." McCain constantly dealt out the low blows: Class warfare, Ayers, and ACORN. Obama was brilliant in his responses, e.g., "Even FOX News disputes it" and "I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks." I have to take issue with McCain assertion that Biden was wrong regarding the Gulf War, for it is quite clear that Bush Sr. had given Saddam assurances that invading Kuwait was o.k.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Election 2008: What now?

Although some, mostly die-hard Harper supporters, argue that the extra 20 or so seats were worth the $350 million (a significant increase over the $277 million of 2006), it is difficult to determine if that is so. If you track the "progress" of the Reform Party>Canadian Alliance>Conservative party, a broader support base has surely been achieved; however, to think in such terms you have to be a proud supporter, a parent to the cause. In real terms, Western Canada, which used to be drowned out by the voices of Quebec and Ontario, has a greater voice since the 2006 election, but it is hard to make out what else the party is singing. This can clearly seen by the Conservative's campaign messages: they said that Dion had not changed his platform since the economic crisis, but had Harper? They said, "Don't take the risk" with Dion, but never stated what the status quo was; is it really about sweaters and kittens? So we ask, "What now?"

Will Harper be able to pass more legislation? No, he did just fine prior to the election. Instead, we will have to watch Baird embarrass us in places like Bali. We'll also watch Harper do whatever the U.S. president says; the only consolation is the huge leap in the polls by Obama, so there's less chance of a militant Harper. In Victoria, we'll have to hear about Lunn trying to place the blame on experts. As a side issue, I hope Lewis sees the folly of his decision not to back Penn, for Lunn got in for the fifth time without a majority. (Of course, some blame may be placed on Penn for abandoning the Greens in the first place, for many were hesitant to back a Liberal despite her track record). The biggest question is whether Harper will make a definable accomplishment. (After all, it's hard much the past surpluses have padded his economic performance). Will he really pass stiffer environmental regulations or just duck-and-run with Baird?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Technological encounters

Technology progresses so fast that many cannot catch up. For instance, the other day I was trying to explain the reasoning behind having 7000 songs on my iPod to a Luddite. In the end she said she was happy with her Walkman, or was it a Discman; however, she did dig my passion for music. She also liked the fact that you could play any song that came to mind instantly, match your mood to music, and be a DJ. For her, it was the task of organising them and the responsibility of listening to so much music frightened her. You got to respect that; I do spend quite a bit of time getting and organizing music. Although Pandora Radio, Last FM, and playlist makers help, iTunes on the computer (rather than the iPod) remains much more functional and intuitive, especially with Genius.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Second Presidential Debate

McCain's opening statement that he would solve the economic crisis by buying up "the bad home-loan mortgages" sounded preposterous. What about prudent home-owners? or the already bankrupt? Where would the money come from? I think this was a tactical mistake, one which will probably negate the brilliance and poll gains of choosing Palin as a running-mate. I think the town-hall format actually worked against McCain, he seemed to forget that he had to impress many more people than were in the room. Furthermore, despite his familiarity with the setting, he couldn't refrain from high-browing and drumming "greed and excess," "bipartisanship," and "cronyism and special interest"(anyway, doesn't he mean Cheneyism?) into the audience. Also how can American workers be the "best importers"? McCain also failed because he provided no details on health care, rather he referred it to a commission because "we're talking about very complex and difficult issues." He did redeem himself at times with statements, such as, "one of them [programs with overspending] is defense spending."

Barack on the other hand rose above the fray, he did not shy away from prioritizing energy, Medicare, and entitlements and he rose above comments, such as, "You know, nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall." Obama stuck to the issues. Now the question is whether Americans will do the same. Timothy Garton Ash notes that Democrats score better on the economy (he cites Kinsley's post), but that "Americans are gripped by the politics of fear." McCain spoke of the need for the government to "give some trust and confidence back to America," but doesn't America need a dose of reality, out of which they can begin to hope rather than fear?

Monday, October 06, 2008

VP Victor

The VP debate with its record ratings, viewers, and searches has sparked much analysis on who won: a few say Palin, based on the fact that she exceeded expectations while Biden just met them, and more, based on exit polls and speech content, say Biden. Nevertheless, the winner is Fey and SNL for their clever sketch:



With the gloves off, Tuesday's debate should be great.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Child Soldiers No More

From the day the tickets went on sale, I have been looking forward to the concert Child Soldiers No More. The benefit began in the usual UVic fashion: a lesser faculty member introducing Turpin, who in turn introduced the guests of honour, Dallaire and Cockburn. As Turpin speeches go this one was pretty good and Mary Ellen Purkis, the dean of HSD, got much better as the night wore on. The show proper began with a short PowerPoint presentation, which provided some background on and heart wrenching photographs of child soldiers. When Dallaire made his entrance he received an exuberant standing ovation; his obvious discomfort with this display of recognition and appreciation made him all the more worthy of it.

He then outlined the history of the child soldier weapons system, and its capacity, which encompassed the roles of mine clearers, prostitutes, ambush decoys, front-line soldiers and messengers. 300,000 children are involved, many forcibly, in the world today; not only in Africa where their involvement is widely known, but also in countries like Colombia and the Philippines. He described its origins: how battle lines, rules of engagement, and defined enemies eroded after the Cold War. The horrors of war have become the horrors of humanity. Nevertheless, Dallaire sees the solution in the essence of humanity; only by recognizing the humanness of every human can we make progress. We can no longer categorize human suffering by their assets; we can no longer let the insecurity of one super power dictate the globe's actions. Old models, such as peace keeping, do not work in this world. Rather middle powers, such as Canada, who have no imperial aims can facilitate the Responsibility to Protect (R2P); furthermore, the empowerment of women and education can facilitate change. The most touching story, for me, was his account of the child soldier, who with a shaky trigger finger and the barrel of the gun in Dallaire's nose, released his finger from the trigger when he spied the candy bar in Dallaire's hand.

At first Cockburn's laid back demeanour and the bright opening bars of his first song, seemed incongruent with Dallaire's depiction of the world; his footnote about Flor de CaƱa being mistaken with Florida Canyons only deepened this misgiving. However, as his performance wore on, I soon realized that his banter was a gift and that this evening had an ebb and flow: the subject was too severe to absorb for three hours straight. I soon found myself immersed in his talent; yes, he still has his chops. Nice touches, such as his falsetto on Lovers in a Dangerous Time, also added to the evening, however, his passion for peace was never far away. Despite my enjoyment, I still had a nagging feeling that Dallaire wouldn't appear on stage with Cockburn, but this sensation was quieted by Cockburn's announcement, "Let us bring Dallaire, after all this is no ordinary evening." What ensued was fabulous; Dallaire recounted two stories while Cockburn provided background music. As Dallaire told his tale of seeing the same look in childless boy's eyes as in his own son's and another of the shame that had cloaked girls who were rape victims, I encountered the power of story. The cadence of his voice, which matched perfectly with Cockburn's lick, only lulled you enough to make the sting of the horror tolerable. Thanks to both these extraordinary people this issue is indelibly etched on the minds of many.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Debate Double Header

I have been saturated by election fever, since Harper called an election. For me, it was a toss-up between watching the Vice Presidential Debate and the Leaders' Debate. After being spooked by Palin's radical leanings, I avoided her for a while; however, her "incident" with Zardari and interview with Couric won me back. Besides a role reversal of experience vs. lack, nothing spectacular happened for the nearly 70 million viewers. I did enjoy her barometer of the economy, soccer parents (I thought she would have plugged "moms" there) and introduction of "Hey, can I call you Joe?"

The Leaders' Debate, on the other hand, was dominated by May; on second thought, she didn't dominate as much as stand out. She wisely used the attention from the controversy of her inclusion in the debate to raise her profile and broaden her platform. I did enjoy Dion's pointed questions and comments to Harper, and to be fair Harper did well in responding to them. In addition, the debate was characterized by the good old fashioned Canadian technique of yelling over each other, which is absent from American debates.

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