Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dave Grohl: This is a Call

The first "Buzz Cut" I remember seeing on MTV was Smells Like Teen Spirit. At the time I was at loss. I couldn't decide if it was the dumbest thing I'd ever seen or pure genius. I decided to reserve my judgment until I listened to it more. I didn't have to wait long. The new "Buzz Cut" slot was a heavy rotation promotional position. I think I saw the video about 30 times that weekend. I decided that the music had a raw visceral power and a catchy melody despite its sometimes inscrutable lyrics, and by the time Nirvana's next video, In Bloom, came out there was no disputing the band's tongue in cheek sense of humor.

Someone recently gave me a copy of This is a Call: The life and times of Dave Grohl. The book itself tends to meander a bit (I could almost see talking about Metallica a little as a demonstration of the potential for cross over hits, but Warrior Soul? Really!?), but it seems pretty thorough. There are tons of interviews with a lot of different people.

I've learned a few things though. I hadn't realized before that Dave grew up near DC. He actually played music in the same circle of people as the Dischord Records crew. I knew that he played drums for a band called Scream, but I hadn't heard of Scream anywhere else before and didn't know they were affiliated with Dischord. In fact, he even turned down an offer from Ian MacKaye to play drums for what was to become Fugazi!

Also, after Dave's first tour with Nirvana he lived with Kurt next door to Martin apartments. Martin apartments was somewhat of the hub of the Olympia music/art scene where "[e]veryone was in a bad, everyone crafted, everyone had a fanzine, everyone was everyone else's biggest fans... even when they were not." Among the residents of the sixteen to twenty apartments next door, were Calvin Johnson of K Records and Slim Moon of Kill Rock Stars. Slim Moon on the Olympia scene at the time:
"To people from other parts of the country, people in Olympia might have seemed a little naive. But they were Peter Pans who were pushing each other to do shit. People pushed each other to excel, to make art, to be in bands, to put on shows, whatever, to do their own thing and not just be consumers."
This ties in nicely with my theory of consumerism: that creativity is the antithesis to consumption. Consumption like an addiction takes a bigger and bigger dose to get the same effect and leaves you less satisfied. Conversely, practicing creative endeavours makes you more competent and helps you feel more satisfied.

Is there more to say about the book? There's always more to say, but I haven't finished reading it yet. Hopefully, there won't be any more horrible detours like Warrior Soul.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will the Fight Against Censorship Ever End?

It been less than a week since the internet went on strike against SOPA and congress decided to back down for the time being. Within days there was already a new scheme to attack free speech. The author offers two plans as alternatives to Cass Sunstein's cognitive infiltration strategy to stop the spread of "fringe beliefs". Sustein's scheme is reminiscent of COINTELPRO, the illegal program that was denounced by the Church Commttee.

Sunstein is Obama's head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, (which might as well be called the ministry of truth) and a co-author of the hideous Nudge: Improving decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Here's how a "nudge" works. When the TSA wanted to implement body scanners they gave passengers the false choice of the scanner or an even more invasive pat down. Sunstein is one of Obama's trusted confidants and his proposals should not be disregarded.

The alternatives given in the Slate article are: 1) Stop search engines from indexing such information. 2) Red flag the sites instead of removing them and link to the "proper" information as decided by "consensus". The first provision was actually part of SOPA which, demonstrably, millions of people found egregious. The second is even more pernicious. Sunstein admits that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Again from Slate:
He acknowledges that some “conspiracy theories” previously dismissed as insane and fringe have turned out to be entirely true (his examples:  the CIA really did secretly administer LSD in “mind control” experiments; the DOD really did plot the commission of terrorist acts inside the U.S. with the intent to blame Castro; the Nixon White House really did bug the DNC headquarters). 
So in fact what he is really advocating is the Noble Lie for the greater good, a favorite tactic of the neocons, but the author of the Slate article is much more cunning in his framing of the argument by focusing on "fringe beliefs" and "consensus" science, including such topics as global warming, Darwinian evolution, HIV and AIDS, and 9/11. He also discusses the possibility of a link between vaccines and autism at length. From Slate:
As scientists debunked the link between autism and mercury (once present in some childhood inoculations but now found mainly in certain flu vaccines), most activists dropped their mercury theory and point instead to aluminum or said that kids received “too many too soon.”
He cites this as evidence that the "deniers" are too indoctrinated to ever be "discredited" because they just "move the goal post" so their ideas must be censored to keep them from spreading. I personally believe that vaccines have done some wonderful things. Polio has been virtually eradicated, but I can attest to the fact that my daughter gets many more vaccinations than I did. Why is this not a proper subject for discussion?

Science depends on open discussion. Einstein challenged the "consensus" that light traveled through a luminiferous ether so now we study relativity. Copernicus and Newton also challenged the consensus. This is a necessary part of the process.

Regarding Darwin and evolution, Charles Forte wrote:

"Darwinism of course was never proved: The fittest survive. What is meant by the fittest? Not the strongest; not the cleverest – Weakness and stupidity everywhere survive. There is no way of determining fitness except in that a thing does survive. "Fitness," then, is only another name for "survival." Darwinism: That survivors survive." (The Book of the Damned, pp. 23-24)
This clearly shows the circular logic inherent at the core of Darwinism. Circular logic is usually tolerated in religion, but it has no place in science. Yet since Forte published this book in 1919 there has been no change in Darwinism significant enough to repair the fatal flaw that he pointed out 93 years ago. Maybe if supporters of Darwinism spent less time trying to crush dissent and more time in discussion of such flaws their theory would have been improved by now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Anything that is Worth Learning can be Learned from Twain

I looked up a couple of Mark Twain quotes for my last blog. It's amazing how timeless his wisdom truly was. Besides his two quotes that I used in that post, here are several other quotes that relate to things I have read or thought about in the last couple of weeks:
  • A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.
  • I have never let schooling interfere with my education.
  • It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
  • It is easier to stay out than get out.
  • Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.
  • Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.
  • The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
  • There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
  • There is no distinctly American criminal class - except Congress.
  • We have the best government that money can buy.
  • Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.
The last quote may well some up Twain's philosophy on life. (Not to mention Rothbard's and Mencken's) This one is a major reason that I've started writing this blog:
And last, I found one that pretty well matches my own philosophy:
  • Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

Tim Thomas Declines Invitation to the White House

Mark Twain once said: "To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal." Indeed, it appears that the news that Tim Thomas declined an invitation to the White House is overshodowing the news that the rest of the team did attend.

When Bruins president Cam Neely was asked about the situation he stated that Thomas made a personal decision not to attend based on his "own opinions and political beliefs." Thomas's official Facebook page had the following statement:
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
"This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.
"This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT"
"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare," is another truism from Mark Twain. It's good to hear that there are still some who will say what they believe in our current environment in which everyone might be offended by everything. Case in point, Kelly Clarkson was villainized for her choice in politicians. No dissent is allowed. You're either with us or against us. So what do you do if like Tim Thomas you don't agree with either side?

Monday, January 23, 2012

New in PC: Cougars are Offensive

It's been said that the best defense is a good offense, but a new school in Utah is afraid of being offensive. Students of the school voted that their mascot should be the Cougars, but the school bored rejected the selection because it may be offensive to middle aged women. In case you didn't know an alternate definition of this term is "a middle-aged woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man."

Is this offensive? Not having been appointed to the PC thought police I guess I can't answer, but it would seems to me that the above definition has to parts to it. The first part is being a middle aged woman. Of course a person's sex and age are accidents of birth, but the second part is different. "Seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man" is an action, a desire, a choice. It requires volition on part of the subject. If a woman chooses something for herself, will she be offended by it? I would guess that not to be the case unless she had some sort of self loathing psychosis. Either way, I don't see it as any of my business. (Maybe that's why I was never appointed to the PC thought police.)

Offensive? It certainly is as suggestive as the Gamecocks or the Trojans, and somehow Santorum is mentioned all the time without being censored.

The author of the blog linked to above also offered some commentary that I found curious:
More significantly, why would the board even offer "Cougars" as a potential mascot choice if it wasn't prepared to accept it? That lack of logic is positively baffling. Surely everyone could have saved themselves a lot of face if they simply had not allowed prospective students to choose to be the Cougars in the first place.
In essence, the author claims that it's quite acceptable that the plurality of students didn't their desired choice. (In fact, the majority would not get their choice. "The Cougars" won with only 23 percent.) The author seems comfortable with those who are in control manipulating the choices so they get the result that they desire. My first reaction was that this was another example that the average person doesn't know what in his own best interest, but this reminds me more of electoral politics where you get two choices with only trivial differences between them. No one likes either choice so you vote for the lesser of two evils. Then the average person is told: "You had a choice. You made a difference. You're special!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mom Arrested for Son's Tattoo

This family lost a son and brother, Malik, in a car accident. Malik's 10 year old, younger brother told his mom, "I want to get a tattoo with Malik on it, rest in peace." The mom agrees. (I'm not saying I would let my child get a tattoo, but I'm not judging.)

In 2010 a law was passed that states: "it shall be unlawful for any person to tattoo the body of any person under the age of 18, except for a physician or osteopath." I didn't realize that there was such an epidemic of underage tattoos that a group of politicians needed to get together and decide that it was important enough to pass a law prohibiting it. (I also didn't realize that underage tattooing was a subject that falls under the purview of a political body.)

There is no mention that the mother is being accused of neglect, abuse, that they are are taking the son away from her, or even that social services is investigating her. The police only charged her for allowing her son to get a tattoo. The mother said, "He’s my child, and I have the right to say what I want for my child. I can’t go tell anybody else what I want for their child.” This law is another example that fits into the category of the average person doesn't know what is best for himself.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Krugman, Asimov and Hayek

While writing my last post, about Heinlein, I came across an interesting tidbit of information that I had never heard before. Paul Krugman cites Asimov's Foundation Series as his inspiration to become an economist.

The series is a classic. It won the Hugo Award for best series ever. (The only winner ever by definition) The plot really was revolutionary. There was nothing like this before its release. Speaking of plot, from Wikipedia:

The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology (analogous to mathematical physics). Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone on a small scale. It works on the principle that the behavior of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy, which has a population of quadrillions of humans, inhabiting millions of star systems). The larger the number, the more predictable is the future.
So basically any large system's future can be predicted with accuracy and the larger the system the greater the accuracy. This is not just simple statistics that psycho history encompasses. It involves specific sequences of events, and their timing.

This is of course impossible. It is science fiction, by the way. This was the subject of Hayek's The Counter Revolution of Science. Hayek makes the case that the social sciences are not concrete like the hard sciences, and the methods used in the hard sciences cannot be transferred to the softer science. In physics there are constants so a person can use the constants of physics to solve for the variables that are needed. Economics, on the other hand, deals with human action which has no constants. Only an omniscient being could know the state of all the factors in a large system of human actors. Not being omniscient, we mortals must use a different method to understand such a system.

In the fictional world of Foundation, Hari Seldon creates his Foundations (two of them actually) and saves the galaxy. A nearly omniscient being controls the galaxy to save it from its own destructive tendencies because as all liberals know most humans are not intelligent enough to know what is best for themselves. Hari Seldon's psychohistory predicted that the empire would fall, and the galaxy would have a dark age. The best Hari could do was to shorten the dark age to 1,000 years.

Rethinking the novel just now, most empires here on present day Earth have been fairly nasty. Maybe the galaxy would be better off without it. I don't know. I'm not omniscient, but Hari Seldon was near enough omniscient to make no difference. Maybe that is what really inspires Krugman.

Heinlein on Children in Warfare

I'm almost ashamed to admit that, until recently, I had never read Heinlein. I've read Clarke (creative on the engineering side of science fiction but too utopian) and Asimov (obviously great at science but understood little about human nature). Of course it's Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein who make up the Big Three in science fiction, and I've also read that Heinlein had some interesting libertarian themed stories. I just haven't had the time to get to read much fiction, but now I'm correcting my error in skipping Heinlein. I've just finished The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
It's a pretty good book, and most of it holds up well even given the ever changing world of technology that we live in today. Heinlein was quite a prognosticator. His stories extrapolated several innovations. He also had an interview in a magazine during which he made some speculations about the near future. Nothing he wrote was accurate enough to make you think that he had a crystal ball, but following trends and making predictions is a difficult task. If it was easy we could all make fortunes on stocks.
Here is a list of items, in no particular order, which he either predicted for the immediate future or incorporated into his novels that have since come to pass: 
  • First manned rocket to the Moon by 1978 
  • Synthetic foods 
  • Commercial rocket travel 
  • Development of elements greater than 98
  • Robotic exoskeletons for soldiers
  • Mobile phones
  • Answering machines
  • Video phones
  • The internet
  • Urban sprawl
  • The cold war
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union
  • The sexual revolution
It's not exactly scientific, but anecdotally, it's a pretty impressive list, no? Getting back to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, there is also a reference to Japan having been goaded into attacking at Pearl Harbor. This is an area where Heinein was ahead of his time also because it is an idea which is sadly still not widely accepted.
There are a couple of items I would like to point out where Heinlein was wrong. In the 1949 predictions interview Heinlein stated that Americans would never fight a preventative war. If Americans had to fight they would, but they wouldn't go looking for one. Unfortunately he was proven wrong the very next year starting with Korea and the long list that has followed through Vietnam to today in Iraq, Libya, and now Uganda.
One other area where he overestimated human compassion was during the planning phase of the revolution in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The revolutionary party was using children for small jobs, and the protagonist tells how even the warden's goons would think twice before arresting a child. This book was released in 1959, so the greatly foresighted Heinlein, who had such wonderful insights about such diverse topics as those listed above, failed to see how terribly children would be treated in a war less than 50 years way. This was the one part of the novel that made me stop and think to myself how much time has changed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Going Galt on SOPA

The internet went on strike yesterday. The list includes AOL, Craigslist, EBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo and Zynga. No big whoop. Even Kim Kardashian tweeted about it: http://twitter.com/KimKardashian. There are petitions too. There are already provisions dealing with piracy, and they are already being abused. If anything these laws need to be weakened not strengthened. Even as bad as SOPA is it will not stop piracy as deSopa has already shown, and it will turn people who have done nothing wrong into criminals, Like this guy.

Not to mention the serial hypocrisy of the people pushing these bills. The RIAA pirated episodes of Dexter, the MPAA pirates its own movies, and the bills' sponsors are copyright violators too.

I think a thought experiment would be fun.Just off the top of my head... If SOPA was passed today what websites would be shut down tomorrow and why?

Google: Links to copyrighted material and information about how to bypass SOPA.
Facebook: Links again.
Myspace: Same as facebook.
Youtube: Contains copyrighted material.
Ebay: Pirated DVDs.
Amazon: I'm sure the Amazon Market has a few pirated DVDs if you look hard enough.
Reddit: Links again.
Blogger: Even if blogger could effectively police its own users, how will all of those users police their comments?

So the day after SOPA passed every website you visited would only contain this:

I may be exagerating, but only a little. I'm sure that any site that ends in .gov or .mil will still be available.

Also if an artist posts there own music somewhere without the labels permission is this a copyright violation? The recording industry needs to face the fact that it is dying. By refusing to adapt it has given itself a death sentence. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails both showed that there are viable ways to adapt. Edward Burns showed how it could be done with movies. Good riddence to failed business models. Savvy entrepenuers and artists will give the public something better. If the internet isn't completely shut down first.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Everyone Is Sick of Hearing About Greece

Actually, everyone was sick of hearing about it last year, but it's getting worse. The British Daily Mail has a piece out about how bad it is now. Medical supplies, even aspirin, are low. Kids whose parents can't afford them are being left on the street. This is how they roll at the IMF. If Greece would have defaulted instead of being bailed out then they might have avoided this.

Zen and the Art of Lyric Comprehension

I met a friend of a friend at a bar this weekend and inevitably conversation turned to music. In my world everything gravitates toward music. It's not a secret that I'm a fan of the band Tool. I've been to 5 of their live shows. They're presentation is mesmerizing, and they musicianship is even more evident live than it is on recordings. It's not uncommon for me to be seen in a T-shirt that bears their logo.

(I'm particularly fond of my T-shirt with the eye design that's on the left side of this pic. It amazing that a simple pattern, gray on black, can be both subtle and slightly unsettling simultaneously. In fact, that may be my definition of art.)

So given my respect for Tool, when he mentioned this band I began to express how much they have impressed me. He stops me in the middle of my praise to tell me, "Yeah, but I was disappointed to find out that their singer was gay." Yes, some one's sexual orientation is should have no influence on whether or not you enjoy their music, but this was a hole in the wall bar in Hicksville, IN so I had to let that slide. At no point should meaningless chatter over drinks evolve into a sermon.

The piece I couldn't help but overlook was that it's not true. (Scroll down to question C13) I explained that Maynard has a son that was featured on an A Perfect Circle record, and that I was curious as to why he thought so. His response: "My buddy made me listen to the lyrics of Stinkfist. He's talking about being elbow deep in some dude." Genius reply, no?

The lyric is: "Elbow deep inside the borderline. This may hurt a little, but it's something you'll get used to." First male or female is never mentioned for either the speaker or the person being addressed so obviously he was reading into this what he wanted to read into it. Second, why would anyone think that the song is actually so literal? The "deep inside the borderline" section is repeated 4 times. Each time getting progressively worse: from finger, to knuckle, to elbow, to shoulder. At the end it's not even believable. So again, why would anyone take this literally?

The lyrics of the chorus: "Not enough. I need more. Nothing seems to satisfy. I don't want it. I just need it, to breathe, to feel, to know I'm alive." This reinforces the metaphor. The presentation is more or less just for shock value.

Everyone wants more. More money, more toys, more power, more sex. Did I mention money so you can buy more toys, power, and sex? Like an adiction, it takes more and more to get that dopamine high. This is the real problem with consumer society. Say you buy a fast car. You like it for a while, but then you get bored with it so now you have to spend even more money to buy a faster car that you'll eventually get bored with. Until you can't afford to buy a faster car. Consumption requires more and more resources, and leaves you less and less satisfied.

The antidote to this cycle is creativity. The more you create the more difficult it will be, but the more satisfied you become. When I play music, the more I practice the more difficult material I can play. The more difficult material I can play the better musician I will become, and the more satisfied I will be. It's a self reinforcing loop.

This works with any craft. Art, carpentry, archery, cooking, anything you like to do. The more you practice, the better you will become, and you will feel more satisfied. So why don't you create something? It seems to work for the guys in Tool.