Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Roots - Game Theory

Best Ever? I've been buying every Roots record since "Do You Want More???" came out it '94. It knocked my socks off when I first heard it. There are only a select number of records that I can pinpoint the change in perspective upon the first listen. The first time you hear a group, sometimes things in your head just open up if it hits you right. That was DYWM???. Their next release,"Illadeplh Halflife" hit me weird, but it sweetened with listens. "Things Fall Apart" was tight enough to be bought twice, the second time after it got jacked from my car. Those two records for me represent the purest of the Roots, disposed for the most part with the happy joints of the earlier record in favor or heavier material. Phrenology hit me weird too, and though it has great moments, is the most disjointed and least of the Roots albums The Tipping Point was an improvement, but still has moments that fail.

Game Theory is better. The experimentation that dragged on the last two records has not disappeared, but it has never worked so well as on GT. Malik B is back and great to hear on 2 cuts. Black Thought sounds spectacular, and his parts of Long Time contend for best moment of the entire Roots catalogue. It sounds like the band has somehow found a new level of cohesion. On the last two records there were moments I wasn't down with. I can say that every beat on GT is working. At times in the past, the band could have used some sense of restraint idea-wise. On this record its hard to tell if they found the restraint or grew enough to make the ideas work. Where on Phrenology, a hard rock track just sounds like a bad idea, on GT, the hard rave-synth thumper that is Here I Come comes together, ending in a too-short ?uestlove drummapella.

Then the jam of the album, "Long Time." I noticed on Letterman the Tuesday night a guitarist I didn't recognize. He's a big part of what makes this song and album so great. On the album credits, strings are attributed to Capt Kirk. More mysterious is the other unknown name, "Knuckles," responsible for "The '!!!!'," whatever that means. All over the album are players from the OkayPlayer stable: familiar folks like Dice Raw and Malik B, but also newbies like John-John, Porn, Mercedes Martinez, and Peedi Peedi (who gives a worthy effort, but is the weak link in the middle of the otherwise perfect "Long Time").

The tone on GT maintains the gritty realist feel found on each record since "Illadelph." Politics, race, crime, death, all the familiar issues that make the Roots the thought provoking act that they are haven't disappeared, thank goodness. Although I do enjoy a little innocent jam now and again like at the end of "The Tipping Point" when the band rips up George Kranz's "Din Da Da," the light moments on this album are few.

One gripe: the copy of the album that I bought this evening at midnight from Meijer is clean of the minimal cursing and drug references. It is not labeled "clean." Not that big of a deal, but a little annoying.

Lastly, the guardian angel of this record is J Dilla, whose beats bookend the record, which ends with a beautiful tribute to the passed Detroit producer who was a true hip hop genius of the highest. Dilla, R.I.P.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Birdman of Alcatraz

Earlier this summer I visited Alcatraz and my curiosity was stoked by the tale of Robert Stroud, a/k/a "The Birdman of Alcatraz." Tonight I watched the movie of the same name based on his life as a prisoner/ornithologist. After reading this brief bio it would seem, not surprisingly, that his character was polished up a bit for the film. From imdb:
Stroud was actually imprisoned in cell #42 located in the D Block. According to Frank Heaney, a former prison guard (1948-51), Stroud was anything but the sympathetic character as portrayed by Burt Lancaster. He was an extremely difficult and demented inmate who, though highly intelligent, was a villain and a psychopath.
A published jailhouse author whose work broke new ground in ornithological medicine, he was no doubt a brilliant man, but with some seriously violent tendencies. It's an amazing story, and a fine and inspiring film which earned Burt Lancaster an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Hemp turning a corner?

This is a very good sign.

From the NYTimes:
“Industrial hemp is a wholesome product,” said Mr. Meyer, 65, who says he has never worn tie-dye and professes a deep disdain for “dope.”

“The fact we’re not growing it is asinine,” Mr. Meyer said.
I couldn't agree more. A little more:
To its supporters, industrial hemp is utopia in a crop. Prized not only for its healthful seeds and oils, rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, but also its fast, bamboo-like growth that shades out weeds, without pesticides.

“Simply put, you create a jungle in one year,” said John LaBoyteaux, who testified in Sacramento on behalf of the California Certified Organic Farmers association. “There’s a growing market out there, and we can’t tap it.”
Do your part to fuel the market! Money talks, you know. I'm currently wearing hemp shorts and an organic cotton tee, and they're lovely.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

D.F. Wallace on Federer

I played some tennis in high school. I never made the varsity squad (I was robbed), and I lost a lot. But as with my golf game (now abandoned for political reasons), my enemy was myself. To explain: I always felt that I only rarely achieved my potential as a player, and therefore when I lost , it (usually) wasn't that my opponent bested me, but because I had not played at my peak level. I enjoyed the game for the moments at which I was playing well, a feeling sweetened by every game lost on an unforced error. Potential achieved contrasted with potential hinted at, I was driven by an urge for self-actualization. Perhaps my fatal flaw was that hypersensitivity to my errors which often rattled me. I've said it before: I only get mad when I play tennis and golf.

It's a psychological can of worms that I'll likely spend time on away from here, but in the meantime, check out David Foster Wallace's article on Roger Federer (and the modern tennis game in general) in the NYTimes. He's one of my favorite authors, and his genius is on display here, footnotes (there are 17 of them) and all. Nothing less than a joy to read, and more inspiration to focus on reducing those unforced errors.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Biking To Work!

Today, after much hesitation and fear of sweatiness, I rode the bike to work. It's only 5 miles, but it's a hilly 5 miles, and the trip requires some level of exertion. The weather today was good, with temps in the upper 70's/low 80's and sunny. I rode wearing a moisture wicking running shirt and a regular pair of shorts. I packed in my courier bag a change of shirt and some water and extra innertubes and bike tools. I wore regular sneakers, no clipless bike shoes.

The ride was thoroughly enjoyable, as I'm able to stay off the busiest roads for most of the trip. Having a bag on my back makes it hard to stay cool and dry, however. I'd really be better off with a basket or at least a smaller bag, but until I get either of those, my GAP courier bag will do. The only crazy part of the trip is when I have to cross the highway on Plainfield avenue. That's some crazy traffic. I stuck to the side of the street (no sidewalks, I've popped a tire that way), and I signaled for turns (only right, thank goodness), though taking my hand of the handlebars at downhill speeds in heavy traffic made me a tad nervous.

I gave myself plenty of time, but the trip only took 20 minutes - only 10 minutes more than in the car. After a quick refresher in the men's room and a change of shirt, I was looking good for work. I was really looking forward to the ride home, but at the end of my shift I was notified that I will have to be on call tonight, which means the company vehicle comes home with me. Aggravating, but I'll look forward to riding home tomorrow instead. All in all, a very pleasant experience! More responsible than a car, and cheaper and faster than the bus!

Thanks to Jeremy and my co-worker Jason (who has no choice as his car broke down, but rides much further than me) for the inspiration!

If you're curious, I'm proud to ride a(n at least) third-hand FUJI TEAM road bike. It has nice but dated components, old enough that the gear levers are mounted on the down tube. I'd guess it's from the late 80's or early 90's. It was bought four or five years back under the table from a guy who worked at a bike shop for $150, and I love it!

Monday, August 14, 2006

West Virginia Rafting

I'm just back from a lovely journey to beautiful West Virginia on a two day rafting trip. There's some photos posted up here on flickr. The pics are only from Day 1, which was on the relatively chill Upper New River. Day 2 was on the Lower New which is a little rough for a camera, even one in a zip lock bag. Day 2 was also in the big raft. We went through a company called Extreme Expeditions, and they made everything real easy for us, besides scaring the crap out of us, that is.

Surf's Up.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fallows Says: "We Win"

James Fallows is the author of the cover story in this month's Atlantic. Over the course of the "War On Terror," Fallows has been providing levelheaded and insightful analysis on the conflict. I know of no other writer as accurate when it comes to striking a tone resonant with truth. This month J.F. does it again. He proposes an end to the WOT. It's as simple as saying "We Won." al-Qaeda is sufficiently disabled so as to no longer pose a threat the scale of another 9/11.

The power of al-Qaeda (and other disparate terrorist groups) no longer lies in what damage they can inflict upon us, but in provoking us to shoot ourselves in the foot (see "Iraq"), a tactic which has been named by others "superpower baiting." By keeping us engaged in a "war." The terrorists are achieving as least some level of victory. Let's call an end to the WOT.

From The Atantic:
In its past military encounters, the United States was mainly concerned about the damage an enemy could do directly—the Soviet Union with nuclear missiles, Axis-era Germany or Japan with shock troops. In the modern brand of terrorist warfare, what an enemy can do directly is limited. The most dangerous thing it can do is to provoke you into hurting yourself.

This is what David Kilcullen meant in saying that the response to terrorism was potentially far more destructive than the deed itself. And it is why most people I spoke with said that three kinds of American reaction—the war in Iraq, the economic consequences of willy-nilly spending on security, and the erosion of America’s moral authority—were responsible for such strength as al-Qaeda now maintained. . .

The United States is immeasurably stronger than al-Qaeda, but against jujitsu forms of attack its strength has been its disadvantage. The predictability of the U.S. response has allowed opponents to turn our bulk and momentum against us. Al-Qaeda can do more harm to the United States than to, say, Italy because the self-damaging potential of an uncontrolled American reaction is so vast.

How can the United States escape this trap? Very simply: by declaring that the “global war on terror” is over, and that we have won. “The wartime approach made sense for a while,” Dearlove says. “But as time passes and the situation changes, so must the strategy.”. .

War implies emergency, and the upshot of most of what I heard was that the United States needs to shift its operations to a long-term, nonemergency basis. “De-escalation of the rhetoric is the first step,” John Robb told me. “It is hard for insurgents to handle de-escalation.” War encourages a simple classification of the world into ally or enemy. This polarization gives dispersed terrorist groups a unity they might not have on their own. Last year, in a widely circulated paper for the Journal of Strategic Studies, David Kilcullen argued that Islamic extremists from around the world yearn to constitute themselves as a global jihad. Therefore, he said, Western countries should do everything possible to treat terrorist groups individually, rather than “lumping together all terrorism, all rogue or failed states, and all strategic competitors who might potentially oppose U.S. objectives.” The friend-or-foe categorization of war makes lumping together more likely.

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Dream Car"

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Another Blog

I just started another new blog called Things I've Underlined. Pretty self explanatory. If you're bored. . .

Joseph Campbell is Right

Tonight I am watching another interview between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, recorded shortly before Campbell's death in 1987. Here's an excerpt eerily relevant to today.
Campbell: "The world changes, then the religion has to be transformed."

Moyers: "But it seems to me, that is what we are, in fact, doing, we're-"

Campbell: "That's in fact what we better do! But my notion of what the real horror today is what you see in Beirut, where you have the three great western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and because the three of them have three different names for the same Biblical God, they can't get on together. They're stuck with their metaphor, and don't realize it's reference."

Moyers: "So each needs a new myth."

Campbell: "Each needs it's own myth, all the way: love thy enemy, you know? Open up! Don't judge!
I've been saying this for years, but almost 20 years on we're in the same mess, and I think it's more our fault than we care to acknowledge.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The making of an all electric EV VW Cabriolet: It begins

Inspired by Joseph Campbell

After one interview between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, I am highly inspired. A spiritual man who found the commonality among the great religions and the great myths (is there a difference?). It's available at Netflix. The man who studied heroes is a hero himself.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I want a pair of these shoes

More info at Simple Shoes.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

DIY Solar Generator

If you have $350 and a little time, you can make a solar power generator. Looks intriguing. I'd like to try it. Instructions here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Vail Goes Wind Power

photo: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

From the NYTimes:
Vail Resorts, the big Colorado ski and recreation company, said Tuesday that it would make a huge investment in wind power, buying enough credits to offset all the power needed for its resorts, retail stores and office buildings.

The announcement makes Vail the second-largest corporate buyer of wind energy in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, after Whole Foods Market Inc., the big supermarket chain that went to all wind power earlier this year.
A little extra insurance for the ski industry, perhaps? Here's to snowy slopes!

EPA Called Out

From the NYTimes:
Unions representing thousands of staff scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency say the agency is bending to political pressure and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides.

. . .The leaders also wrote that they believed that under priorities of E.P.A. management, “the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide industry come before our responsibility to protect the health of our nation’s citizens.”
In the Bush administration, business trumps public health every time.

This story reminds me of Rachel Carson's seminal work, Silent Spring. It's an absolute must read for any environmentalist. You can thank me later.

Which Fuel Is Best?

Popular Mechanics has a great diagram on alternative fuels.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Who Killed The Electric Car - Trailer

longer trailer, but really quiet. Also, watch an electric beat a Ferrari and a Porsche here