Thursday, April 29, 2010

DJ Spooky on copyright law: Open Source, Open Culture

Big Think

Question: Should digital content be free?

DJ Spooky: I’m a big pro-open source, pro-creative commons kind of artist. I think that it’s important to realize that copyright law as it is written relates mainly to the 18th century’s relationship to physical goods. And as things move more and more to a digital media, hyper-connected world we need to transform the models of how we think of ownership. Copyright law is something I respect, but the way the law is written versus the way we live in this rip, mix, burn kind of scenario, you know... It’s all about I think thinking of digital music as the kind of new folk culture where everyone should share, and by sharing they create a more rich and robust, you know, narrative.

Check out the interview on video HERE.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Filmmaker Werner Herzog reads "Where's Waldo?"

Church Bells, Prayer Calls, and American Public Space

In Media Res
Attending to Attention: Church Bells, Prayer Calls, and American Public Space
by Isaac Weiner — Georgia State University
April 13, 2010 – 00:03

Curator's Note

This CBS News clip from 2004 describes an (at the time) ongoing dispute about the Islamic call to prayer, or azan, in Hamtramck, Michigan. For six months in 2004, controversy raged in Hamtramck, receiving national attention, as residents debated a proposed amendment that would exempt the azan from the local noise ordinance. The call to prayer functioned as a flashpoint in disputes about the integration of Muslims into this historically Polish-Catholic dominated urban enclave. No one openly contested Muslims’ right to worship in their mosques, but some neighbors resisted and regarded as inappropriate this public pronouncement of Islamic presence that audibly intruded upon public space.

Christian and Muslim communities have long used auditory announcements, such as church bells and prayer calls, to mark social and geographic boundaries. The Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer even described parishes as “acoustic communities,” constituted by those within auditory range of its church bells, its boundaries mapped aurally rather than visually. But such an understanding assumes a homogenous listening community, a uniform audience of willing hearers who interpret the meaning of these public pronouncements in similar ways. In the pluralistic public spaces of American life, these sounds reach multiple, heterogeneous audiences—both intended and unintended, willing and unwilling—who hear and respond to them in different ways. These public sounds mediate contact among diverse religious communities.

Critics of the azan described it as “noise” and argued that they should not “have to” listen to it. Proponents, in turn, argued that the azan was no different from church bells, and moreover, that religious sounds could not possibly constitute noise.

“Noise” is a funny thing. On the one hand, it refers simply to loud sounds. But more typically, it refers to sounds that are unwanted – or, in the words of Peter Bailey, to sounds that sound “out of place.” Sounds are not inherently noisy. Instead, for sounds to become noise, one must take note of them.


Read the post, comments, and see the 2004 news video mentioned above HERE.

Music lessons build brainpower


Music lessons build brainpower
School districts cutting arts programs should first consider that playing an instrument activates neuro-pathways to facilitate learning.

Steve Lopez

April 25, 2010


All of which takes me back to April 14, when David Robertson, a Santa Monica High alum (1976), returned to campus, made a pitch for Measure A and was treated like a returning hero.

Robertson, one of the brightest conductors in the world of classical music, was in town to lead his St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a Disney Hall performance that night. But he stopped by SaMo High first to hang with members of the school's premier orchestra and hear them play Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 and Bernstein's Overture to "Candide."

Robertson was impressed, but not surprised. He told the students that in all his worldly travels, he's never seen a public music program as good as the one in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where he sang in first grade, began studying trumpet in fourth grade and played in an orchestra by 6th grade.

"No other program compares," Robertson said.

In the audience, teachers and parents told me about students of all income levels who have prospered in the program and gone on to great universities, some studying music and some not. Also in the audience was a friend of mine, L.A. Philharmonic violinist Robert Gupta, a New Yorker, who, amazingly, joined the orchestra in 2007 at the age of 19. And here's where the brainpower angle comes in.

High school music instruction isn't threatened in Santa Monica just yet, but the elementary school program could take a big hit, which reminded me of Gupta's theory on how studying music at an early age can develop the brain.And by the way, he's no slouch on the subject. Gupta graduated from college with a pre-med biology degree at 17 and two years later also had a master's in music.

"The corpus callosum is enlarged" when you study music, he explained to me at Santa Monica High, saying the expansion of that pathway increases communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.

We were backstage by then and Robertson chimed in, saying the visual, audio and motor skills learned in music build brainpower.

"Any time you learn, what you're doing is building a network that will fire automatically," said the conductor, explaining how a musician travels along a C-major scale without rethinking every step in the process.

This kind of development is particularly helpful at an early age, said Gupta, because a child's brain has many more neurons and is far more active than an adult's. That's why it's easier to learn music, or language, as a kid, particularly if the brain gets lots of exercise.


Read the full post HERE.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Against Yoga's Expense and Star System

New York Times has a story on Yoga's New Wave:

April 23, 2010
A Yoga Manifesto

ZEN is expensive. The flattering Groove pants, Lululemon’s answer to Spanx, may set Luluheads, the devoted followers of the yoga-apparel brand, back $108. Manduka yoga mats, favored for their slip resistance and thickness, can reach $100 for a limited-edition version. Drop-in classes at yoga studios in New York are edging beyond $20 a session, which quickly adds up, and the high-end Pure Yoga, a chain with two outposts in Manhattan, requires a $40 initiation fee, and costs $125 to $185 a month.

You can even combine yoga with a vacation in the Caribbean, but it will cost you: in August, the luxurious Parrot Cay resort in Turks and Caicos has a six-night retreat with classes taught by the “yoga rock stars” (in the words of the press release) Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. The cost? A cool $6,077. (In August!)

And is it surprising that yoga, like so much else in this age of celebrity, now has something of a star system, with yoga teachers now almost as recognizable as Oscar winners? The flowing locks of Rodney Yee. The do-rag bandanna worn by Baron Baptiste. The hyper perpetual calm exhibited by David Life and Sharon Gannon, who taught Sting, Madonna and Russell Simmons. The contortions (and Rolls-Royces) of Bikram Choudhury.

Yoga is definitely big business these days. A 2008 poll, commissioned by Yoga Journal, concluded that the number of people doing yoga had declined from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million almost four years later. But the poll also estimated that the actual spending on yoga classes and products had almost doubled in that same period, from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion.

“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” Mark Singleton, the author of “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice,” wrote in an e-mail message this week. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.”

Well, maybe it is the recession, but some yogis are now saying “Peace out” to all that. There’s a brewing resistance to the expense, the cult of personality, the membership fees. At the forefront of the movement is Yoga to the People, which opened its first studio in 2006 in the East Village on St. Marks Place, with a contribution-only, pay-what-you-can fee structure. The manifesto is on the opening page of its Web site, “There will be no correct clothes, There will be no proper payment, There will be no right answers ... No ego no script no pedestals.”

One more thing: There are no “glorified” teachers or star yogis. You can’t even find out who is teaching which class when, or reserve a spot with a specific instructor. And that’s exactly the way that Greg Gumucio wants it.
Read the full story HERE.

TicketMaster's Merge with Live Nation

The New York Times has a good story on the merger HERE.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Composer Jennifer Higdon's Huge Year

Jennifer Higdon's huge year (and really it has only been four months). She's won a Grammy for one classical composition and a Pulitzer for another. She's in high demand, people enjoy her music, and actually want to hear it. As you can tell by the story, there is a little defensive posture about this accessibility. The NYT has a profile:

April 22, 2010
Despite Anxiety and Naysayers, Composer Wins Her Pulitzer

PHILADELPHIA — Jennifer Higdon wishes there were a 12-step program on how to deal with all the various stages of composing anxiety, she said, laughing, on Sunday in the spacious apartment here that she shares with her partner, Cheryl Lawson.

“Starting a piece is the worst,” she said, “and that can stretch from one day to three weeks of agony. The cats run and hide.”

Despite the angst, Ms. Higdon, 47, comes across as friendly, down to earth and upbeat. And her creative struggles have paid off. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this month for her Violin Concerto, which she wrote for the young soloist Hilary Hahn. The Pulitzer committee praised the work, which received its premiere in February 2009 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity.”

Those are qualities integral to many of Ms. Higdon’s scores. Her large catalog also includes a piano concerto (which was given its premiere in December by Yuja Wang), a saxophone concerto and numerous chamber and orchestral works. “The Singing Rooms,” for chorus, orchestra and solo violin, recently had its premiere with Jennifer Koh as soloist. The San Francisco Opera has commissioned an opera for fall 2013.

Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has conducted and recorded several of Ms. Higdon’s works, including the lively Percussion Concerto. She described her music as American in its immediacy, vitality and sense of optimism. Echoes of American composers like Aaron Copland can be heard in works like “Blue Cathedral,” the most frequently performed piece in the 2007-8 season of those composed during the past 25 years, according to the League of American Orchestras. Another of Ms. Higdon’s most popular works is the bluegrass-inspired “Concerto 4-3.”

Her scores are “very strong rhythmically,” Ms. Alsop said, “with real scope and shape and architecture. She knows how to bring out the best of the various instrumental colors in the orchestra.” She added that Ms. Higdon’s music is “very immediate, authentic, sincere and without pretense.”

“I’m not sure when ‘accessible’ became a dirty word,” Ms. Alsop said. “I’m not of the belief that something has to be inscrutable in order to be great.”

Ms. Higdon got experimental urges out of her system at a young age. Her parents were hippies, she said, and she and her younger brother were fed a steady diet of avant-garde film, art and theater in Atlanta, where her father, Kenny Higdon, worked as a freelance artist for advertising agencies. A huge black-and-white abstract painting by Mr. Higdon hangs in his daughter’s living room.

When Ms. Higdon was 11, the family moved to Seymour, a tiny town in Eastern Tennessee, where she and Ms. Lawson met in high school.

Ms. Higdon, who still speaks with a lilting Southern accent, had almost no exposure to classical music growing up, but taught herself to play the flute at 15 and entered Bowling Green State University at 18 as a flute major. After catching up on theory classes she began composing at 21. She received an artist diploma from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where she now teaches composition, before studying at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I was kind of the black sheep of the family going into classical music,” said Ms. Higdon, laughing, but said her parents were fully supportive of her choice. At Bowling Green she took a conducting class with Robert Spano, now music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He describes her music as “expressive and beautiful and communicative and fresh and inventive.”

She is “very representative of something that’s happened in American music with composers of her generation,” Mr. Spano said, “a palpable aesthetic shift from the generation before them that I find very powerful.”

Ms. Higdon, who studied with George Crumb at the University of Pennsylvania (where she received master’s and doctoral degrees), does use some experimental touches in her scores. The Violin Concerto (which Ms. Hahn has recorded for a Deutsche Grammophon disc to be released in September) begins with percussionists using knitting needles on crotales, or small cymbals, and glockenspiel. In her piano and string duo “String Poetic” Ms. Higdon makes imaginative use of the strange texture of stopped piano strings (a sound created when the pianist damps the strings inside the instrument with one hand and plays the keys with the other).

But any avant-garde touches are mostly incorporated into traditional structures and sound worlds. In the first movement of the violin concerto, after a spare introduction, the violin soars with propulsive vigor over a rich orchestral fabric, with introverted passages alternating with fiery outbursts. A jaw-dropping cadenza concludes the movement.

One of Ms. Higdon’s biggest obstacles has been her own success.

Read the entire post HERE.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Equal Temperment Tuning; The Wolf at Our Heels

The Wolf at Our Heels: The centuries-old struggle to play in tune.
By Jan SwaffordPosted Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at 10:08 AM ET

You are about to enter the Twilight Zone. I submit for your consideration an oddly named book lying on an ordinary desk: How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care), by professor Ross W. Duffin. This book was written by a madman. Or is he? You should understand: If Duffin is mad, he's not alone. And the spaces between the lines of his book are filled with the silent laughter of the gods.

The gods are laughing at their little joke on musicians. When it comes to the tuning of instruments, especially keyboards and fretted instruments, nature drops a giant hairball in our path. Here's a short course on the arcana of tuning. It will take us to the meaning of a celebrated collection of keyboard pieces: J. S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, humankind's greatest musical riposte to the laughter of the gods.

In dealing with tuning, there are two main terms to know. One is interval. It means the distance between notes. The basic science of intervals was laid out in ancient Greece, perhaps first by the mathematician Pythagoras. The first notes of the C major scale are C, D, E, F, and G. The note E is the third note up from C, so the interval C-E is a third. The note G is five notes up, so C-G is a fifth. So musical intervals run second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on. (Some intervals can be major, like F to A, or minor, like F to A flat.)

OK? Now, as Pythagoras discovered, intervals are also mathematical ratios. If you take an open guitar string sounding E, stop it with your finger in the middle and pluck, you get E an octave above. The octave ratio, then, is 2:1. If you stop the string in the ratio 3:2, you get a fifth higher than the open string, the note B. The other intervals have progressive ratios; 4:3 is a fourth, and so on.

So far, all very tidy. But this is where things get hilarious. As Pythagoras also realized in mathematical terms, if you start with a C at the bottom of a piano keyboard and tune a series of 12 perfect 3:2 fifths up to the top, you discover that where you expect to have returned to a perfect high C, that C is overshot, intolerably out of tune. In other words, nature's math doesn't add up. A series of perfect intervals doesn't end at a perfect interval from where you started. If you tune three perfect 5:4 major thirds, it should logically add up to an octave, but it doesn't; the result is egregiously flat. It is this innate irreconcilability of pitch that, through the centuries, has driven men mad. Professor Duffin is a living representative of a long line of obsessives. Personal and institutional battles have been fought over the issue of tuning, fame won and lost. It was ever thus, wrestling with the gods.

What all this means in practice is that in tuning keyboards and fretted instruments, you have to screw around with the intervals in order to fit the necessary notes into an octave. In other words, as we say, you have to temper pure intervals, nudge them up or down a hair in some systematic way. Otherwise, you get chaos. So there's the second word you need to remember: The business of adapting tuning to nature's messy math is called temperament. And now we're halfway to understanding The Well-Tempered Clavier: It has to do with the art and science of keyboard tuning. We'll get to the wellness in a minute.

There have been some 150 tuning systems put forth over the centuries, none of them pure. There is no perfection, only varying tastes in corruption. If you want your fifths nicely in tune, the thirds can't be; if you want pure thirds, you have to put up with impure fifths. And no scale on a keyboard, not even good old C major, can be perfectly in tune. Medieval tunings voted for pure fifths. By the late Renaissance the tuning systems favored better thirds. The latter were various kinds of meantone temperament. In meantone, most of the accumulated fudges were dumped onto two notes, usually G# (aka A flat) and E flat. The shivery effect of those two notes played together in meantone temperaments earned it the name "wolf," which, like its namesake, was regarded with a certain holy fear.

By and large, in composing music for meantone keyboards you avoided the wolf, so never, for example, wrote in the key of A flat. In fact, those temperaments left only a few keys that were well-enough in tune to be usable: the keys between two flats and three sharps. Between the 16th and 18th centuries a lot of splendid music was written in meantone tuning, within that range of a dozen major and minor keys. But the inability to write in all 24 possible keys ate at composers' guts. More and more, there was a demand for a tuning system that would render all keys usable—and escape the wolf.

One of those tunings was already known to the ancients: equal temperament. Here the poison is distributed equally through the system: The distance between each interval is mathematically the same, so each interval is equally in, and slightly out of, tune. Nothing is perfect; nothing is terrible. So now it's all fixed, yes? The laughter of the gods has been stilled, right? Are you kidding? You fools: The gods never lose.

For centuries, equal temperament didn't catch on because musicians tended not to like it. Even when fretted instruments were invented and lutes and guitars were mostly tuned in equal temperament, they still didn't like it. Most especially, musicians didn't like the fat major thirds of equal temperament, which are way out of tune with nature. They preferred the sweet thirds of meantone temperaments, with all their limitations. For another thing, in meantone each key had an audible personality, from, say, the almost-pure and upstanding C major, suitable to moods of equanimity and celebration, to shadowy C minor, suitable for doubt and despair. Equal temperament leaves every key with exactly the same personality, which was widely felt to be boring. Musicians still preferred, then, the old varieties of what is generically called unequal temperament.

In the late 17th century, tuning geeks came up with a new idea: Let's hair-split all over the keyboard, tweaking this and that in minuscule ways, letting, say, a third be a bit larger in one spot and a bit smaller in another. These kinds of flexible temperaments accomplished several things at once: 1) They made all keys usable; 2) yet they preserved the individual character of keys, because each still had its distinctive collection of intervals; 3) and they tamed the big bad wolf.

Hey, said adherents of this more sophisticated unequal system, this really works well! So they called it well-temperament. One of those adherents was J. S. Bach. He wanted, he said somewhat testily, to write in any damn key he felt like, and he tuned his harpsichord himself to make that possible. When a famous organ tuner who did meantone tuning showed up, Bach would play an A flat major chord on one of his organs with its howling wolf, just to torture the old man.

Bach wrote the preludes and fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier (clavier meaning any kind of keyboard instrument) not only to show off this improved system but to help make well-temperament mandatory by writing irreplaceable pieces in every key. Anybody who wanted to play from the WTC was pressured to use well-temperament, because many of the pieces sounded sour in any other tuning. (However, heh-heh, there's no precise record of which well-tempered system Bach used.)

The various kinds of meantone and well-temperament help explain why, in the 18th into 19th centuries, keys had particular emotional associations. Key descriptions of the time sound outlandish, and indeed some were on the loony side, but they were founded on the reality that in unequal temperaments each key had its distinctive color and personality. "Is something gay, brilliant, or martial needed?" wrote one theorist. "Take C, D, E [majors]." Another: "D major … the key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing." All those keys were relatively well in tune on the keyboard. Minor keys were innately less in tune, so darker in sound and import: G minor, for example, is "suited to frenzy, despair, agitation. ... The lament of a noble matron who no longer has her youthful beauty." You want a pretty pastoral piece? You want a relaxing key like F major—the key of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony:

Two of Beethoven's favorite keys tell us a lot about him. The most famous is C minor, described by one writer of the time as "a tragic key … fit to express grand misadventures, deaths of heroes, and grand but mournful, ominous, and lugubrious actions."

On the other hand, in the prevailing unequal temperaments there was still the presence, or at least the ghost, of the old wolf. Thus, croaked one theorist concerning that key, "Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius." Beethoven studied the theorists carefully, then did what he wanted. As for the putrefaction of A flat major: baloney. For Beethoven, that key, with its complex and distinctive coloration, suggested feelings in the direction of nobility, devotion, and resignation, as in the second movement of the Pathètique, again by Andras Schiff:

When composers stretched for more harmonic variety and tension in the first decades of the 19th century, as a practical matter the once-despised equal temperament won out over unequal tunings, which withered away during the century. But as professor Duffin exemplifies in How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, many tuning geeks today still find that temperament loathsome. Actually, Duffin's book is less rabid than its title sounds, amounting to a plea for playing keyboard music through the early 19th century in period tunings, especially in one called "sixth-comma meantone," which Duffin believes is the tuning Bach had in mind for the Well-Tempered Clavier. His reasoning is of Glenn Beckian deviousness. Some claim to find a cabalistic clue to Bach's intended tuning, close to sixth-comma, in the curlicues at the top of his title page for the WTC:

That idea may be nuts, or not. Bach was into puzzles, numerology, and all kinds of musical cabala, so the nuttiest idea of all about his tuning might well be right. It would figure. Listen to Watchorn in the curlicue tuning—or rather a theory about it—in the C# Major Prelude, one of the world's most happy-making pieces. This is another key out of the pale in older temperaments:

How do the travails of keyboard temperament apply to instruments without fixed tuning, like violins, trombones, flugelhorns, and the human voice? They don't apply at all. Most of the time violinists, et al., tune by ear, on the fly, note by note, and chord by chord. That's why a string quartet or an a cappella choir can be better in tune with nature than a guitar or a piano can. As a high-school trombonist playing with a piano for the first time, I found adjusting to keyboard tuning a pain in the neck—without knowing why. String recitalists know that pain intimately. Meanwhile, an orchestra is made of a bunch of instruments, some of which tune naturally by ear—strings, woodwinds, brass—but also instruments in fixed, equal temperament: harp, marimbas and xylophones, harpsichord and piano, etc. What do orchestras do to harmonize all those conflicting demands? They do the best they can and try not to think about it too much. It can make you crazy.


Read the full article and its accompanying sound file examples HERE.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sly Stone's Weird 2010 Coachella appearance

CNN has the report.

Gary Giddins on the Future of Jazz

another great interview clip from

What's Next for jazz?

Gary Giddins: Well, nobody knows where jazz is going, because nobody has ever known where jazz was going. I mean, you couldn't possibly predict the Swing Era from the '20's or bebop from the Swing Era or Avant-garde from Bebop, or Fusion, or on and on and on. So, we don't really know where it's going.

But I would say this. I don't think we're going to be seeing those kinds of distinct and discrete movements like Swing, Bop, and Fusion. I think now, it's a question of individuals—one thing that is important to remember is that in the early years of jazz, a lot of major musicians, like Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman, had college educations and degrees and all of that.

But a lot of the great figures, like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, did not. I mean, Armstrong didn't even go through high school. Hundreds, if not thousands, of major figures learned on the bandstand, that was their apprenticeship.

Today, the apprenticeship of musicians is in the college orchestra. I mean, you're just not going to meet a musician who hasn't got a least a BA and probably an MA, and hasn’t been to a music school and hasn't had “Giant Steps” and a homework assignment. So, it's very different.

So, because they have this historical perspective, they aren't necessarily just coming out of whatever their generation is into, and also because they are growing up and they don't have the same prejudices against pop music that certain generations had, they can use that.

So, today's musicians, who maybe grew up with hip-hop, may use hip-hop beats in a way that if you're not looking for them, then you won't even hear it. But it's there, it's informing the way they think of rhythm.

And they may use things that they picked up from Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie that isn't particularly obvious, it's not a homage, it's not a matter of playing “Conna Homa” or “Sophisticated Lady,” it's just voicings or it's some idea that they picked up.

Read the full transcript or watch the video HERE at Bigthink.

50 Cent, Fearlessness, and You (author Robert Greene)

An anyone learn to be fearless? Robert Greene (“The 50th Law”) considers a famously unflappable rap star and gives an emphatic answer. From

Robert Greene: Well I wanted to look at something kind of really underneath it all because The 48 Laws of Power I’m looking at these games that people are playing in this kind of court like atmosphere with all these politics going on and strategies being used and all of that. I wanted to like dig underneath it and go into the mind and the guts of what makes a person powerful or successful. Not just with money, but just in the sense of feeling like you’re a powerful person and I had the chance to work with 50 Cent. He was a fan of The 48 Laws. A lot of rappers are...

... Not only did he manage without a mother or father in his life. He never knew his father. His mother was murdered when he was eight. Not only did he manage to be a hustler, but he managed to get out of the hustling racket. He managed to get into music, but he managed to survive that horrible world of music with the crap political games that go on within. He not only survived, but he was able to become successful, but he kept building on it and building on it. It’s a typical American rags-to-riches story. I wanted to know why. What’s underneath it? What was that quality that maybe we could learn? And in spending time with him I felt like if I could summarize it in one word it’s that this is a man who comes to life without fear. So it’s not just fear of death or bullets. That’s the obviously thing we’re talking about. I’m talking about here is a man who is not afraid of change for instance. If something happens where a situation is new, he has lost a job, he has been cut off of his record contract or something happening he doesn’t get upset or worried. He is calm. He deals with it in a fearless manner. He takes risks, but the risks are controlled, but he is not afraid of failing. He is not afraid of being criticized. He is not afraid of being different from other people. When I thought about that it’s just how powerful you could be in life if are not afraid of the things that happen to you. You’re able to feel balanced and in control and make decisions not based on exaggerating risks etcetera, but on reality. I just thought it was an incredibly powerful way to be in the world...

... When you’re afraid and fearful it’s like your mind close… the aperture of your mind closes up to this and you stop looking at the world around you. You want everything to be comfortable and familiar and the same. You stay in your house. You watch the same TV shows. Everything just… The circle closes up. When you’re not afraid and we’ve experienced it all in our lives. When suddenly you’re in a new country and you just don’t… You’re traveling and you feel open. You’re mind is active and alive. You become creative. Everything changes. This is the key to feeling powerful, but also to being creative in the world, so I wanted to get underneath all of the other things, the power, the seduction, the strategy and see that quality that lay underneath it all...

Read the full transcript or watch the video HERE.

Did Body Art Predate Cave Paintings?

From Bigthink .com

Donald Johanson, a paleoanthropologist, says body art predates cave paintings. My one complaint with this interesting video is that he describes places that he has photographed but does not include the images in this video.

h/t Daily Dish

Sunday, April 18, 2010

BBC story on Hitler "Downfall" parodies

A climactic scene in the excellent German film Downfall, about Hitler's final days in his bunker at the end of WWII in Europe, has been parodied countless times on YouTube. I would link to a bunch of those parodies here, but they constantly get taken down for copyright infringement (which doesn't make sense to me, as parodies are okay under copyright law). Actually, the parodies are what led me to watch the film itself (also on YouTube), and it is really excellent, top to bottom. Here's the BBC story;

The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

Five years ago Downfall's release saw the German film acclaimed for its portrayal of Hitler's last days. But since then it has become almost as famous for a wave of internet parodies of its climactic scene.

Hitler is angry.

Very angry indeed. Angry enough to order all but his most senior generals out of the room so he can vent his rage.

# Coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, and roughly meaning the cultural equivalent of a gene
# He described: "A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation... Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches."
# Internet meme: An idea that spreads through the internet, or the spread of that idea

He is angry because Cristiano Ronaldo has been sold to Real Madrid. Or because the ending of Watchmen has been changed. Or that Hillary Clinton has lost the Democratic presidential nomination. Or that Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at an awards show.

It's become one of the best known "internet memes" around, a comic construct that has spread inexorably on YouTube and other platforms like a cultural version of Japanese knotweed.

In the original movie, the climax for many viewers might be the moment in the bunker when Hitler is told of the failure of General Felix Steiner to gather enough troops for an attack to ward off the Soviet advance on Berlin.

“ It is by word of mouth, or word of tweet ”
Bill Thompson On the spread of the Downfall parody meme

In this three-minute, 50 second scene, Hitler, played by Bruno Ganz, plunges between frothing vitriol and terrifying suppressed emotion as he confronts his top generals. The rest of the staff, standing in the corridor outside, listen rapt to the exchange.

But the parody makers have taken this clip, put it through a programme like Movie Maker or iMovie, and added their own subtitles, synced as closely as possible to the audio.

In some parodies, Hitler is being the public figure that is lampooned - Hitler becomes Hillary Clinton losing the nomination, or BBC chief Mark Thompson having to face Jeremy Paxman. But in many of the parodies, Hitler is simply reacting to events, the relegation of Sheffield Utd or Usain Bolt breaking the 100m record.

It is not an obvious subject for humour. Yet for millions of internet users there is something hilarious about this scene being turned on its head.

There is no clear explanation why this category of parody should have proved such a hardy internet meme, says technology writer Bill Thompson.

"It was just lucky. There is no particular reason why Downfall should have taken off."

YouTube launch

Every day in bedrooms all over the world there are bedroom comedians dreaming of creating something that will spread like wildfire. Most of their work goes unregarded, but to Thompson, they are the inheritors of the punk ethos.

"Maybe Downfall was in the right place at the right time. It coincided with the launch of YouTube.

# Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live: 4,260,975
# Hitler finds out Kanye West Disses Taylor Swift: 1,067,024
# Usain Bolt Breaks 100m World Record: 1,096,241
# Ronaldo leaves Utd: 1,439,671
# Hitler Finds Out Sarah Palin Resigns: 497,903
Stats taken on 13 April. Source: YouTube

"Once it becomes successful it is unstoppable. It is by word of mouth, or word of tweet. The internet does what it was designed to do. It enables two-way communication."

Read the full story HERE.

And speaking of fair use for parodies...

Hitler, as "Downfall producer" orders a DMCA takedown from Brad Templeton on Vimeo.

and a parody of the parody...

And a World Cup update:

And now, an April 2011 update for Rebecca Black's "Friday" song:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Digital Music Royalties

A great blog post with graphics HERE, based on a post by the Cynical Musician HERE, plus raw google doc data HERE. This is all based on UK examples, but the relevance to the USA is pretty clear.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

9/11 and Star Wars Death Star Convergence

College Humor has some great satire on 9/11 tropes, commemoration, and conspiracies via stormtroopers reminiscing about the Death Star

Hardline Somali Militants Ban Music on Radio


April 13, 2010
Somali Radio Stations Halt Music

MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least 14 radio stations here in the capital stopped broadcasting music on Tuesday, heeding an ultimatum by an Islamist insurgent group to stop playing songs or face “serious consequences.”

The threat left radio stations scrambling to scrub even the briefest suggestion of music from their daily programming. “Bam! Bam! Bam!” — the sound of gunshots that Somalis in Mogadishu have grown accustomed to hearing — was played by Radio Shabelle on its news broadcast to replace the music it usually uses to introduce the segment.

Similarly odd sounds — like the roar of an engine, a car horn, animal noises and the sound of water flowing — were used to introduce programs on some of the other radio stations that stopped playing music.

“We have replaced the music of the early morning program with the sound of the rooster, replaced the news music with the sound of the firing bullet and the music of the night program with the sound of running horses,” said Osman Abdullahi Gure, the director of Radio Shabelle radio and television, one of the most influential stations in Mogadishu.

“It was really a crush,” he said. “We haven’t had time to replace all the programs at one time; instead, we have chosen these sounds.”

The insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, issued its ultimatum 10 days ago and set Tuesday as the deadline to comply, saying that music was “un-Islamic.” In other parts of the country, insurgents have taken over or shut down some radio stations. Last week, the Shabab, the country’s most powerful insurgent group, said it was banning foreign programs like those broadcast by the BBC and Voice of America, calling them Western propaganda that violated Islam.

The radio stations that stopped playing music on Tuesday are based in both insurgent and government-controlled areas of the ruined capital. Those located in insurgent-held territory seemed to have little alternative, but some of the managers at stations in government-controlled territory argued that the lack of security and the loss of advertising income led them to comply as well.

Somalia, crippled by years of unrest and the lack of a powerful central government, is one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.

“Mogadishu media has become a defenseless victim that is exposed to all sorts of oppression, abuse and brutality,” said Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a statement published on the group’s Web site. Nine journalists were killed in 2009 in Somalia, according to a report published on the site.

The transitional government, which has been weakened by constant attacks, roadside bombs and suicide bombers, controls only a few enclaves of Mogadishu with the support of the African Union peacekeepers.

“The government cannot guarantee our security, and we have to make our first priority the safety and security of our employees,” said Abdirashid Abdulle, director of the newly established radio station Tusmo, which is based in Hamarjajab, a government-controlled area.

Many residents expressed dismay at the new restrictions. “We are really losing all hope of life,” said Hashi Abdullahi, who said he liked to listen to music. The insurgents have “punished our life with bullets, and today they are punishing us with a ban on all types of music,” he said.

Many also worried about getting accurate and balanced news after learning that the radio stations followed the orders of the insurgent groups.

“I think that this was a test to terrorize the media in Mogadishu, and it’s seems like a justification to confiscate the radio stations that fail to comply with the order in the areas under their control,” said Ugaas Mohamed Bashir, vice chairman of the Somali Traditional Elders Council.

At least two radio stations did not heed the ban. The government-owned Radio Mogadishu and another station, Radio Bar-Kulan, which is mostly produced in Kenya, continued playing music.


Hardline Somali militants ban music on airwaves


Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 9:23 a.m.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Rock, rap and love songs once filled the airwaves in Somalia's war-torn capital, one of the few pleasures residents had. But Islamist militants ordered music off the air Tuesday, labeling it un-Islamic in a hardline edict reminiscent of the Taliban.

Stations immediately complied, fearful that disc jockeys would face the harsh punishment militants mete out here: amputations and stonings. The edict is the latest unpopular order from the Islamists, who also have banned bras, musical ringtones and movies.

More than a dozen radio stations complied with the order by the militant group Hizbul Islam, the National Union of Somali Journalists said.

"Journalists working in these stations have in the past witnessed broad daylight assassination of their colleagues and have now been signaled that they would follow the same fate if they do not obey these oppressive orders," said the union's secretary-general, Omar Faruk Osman.

Somalia has a tradition of music and most residents greeted the ban with dismay. Rock, rap and love songs from the U.S., Europe and Africa could be heard on Somali stations before the ban.

"Now I think we are going to be forced to hear only the horrific sounds of the gunfire and the explosions," said Khadiya Omar, a 22-year-old Mogadishu resident who called music a "tranquilizer" to help him forget life's troubles.

Somalis in the country's capital can still listen to music on two stations: one that the government controls and another that is funded by the United Nations. Both stations are based in the small area of Mogadishu under the control of government and African Union forces. Similar edicts have been imposed on stations in the southern Somali regions held by the Islamist group al-Shabab.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years. Thousands of civilians have died in violence-wracked Mogadishu in a conflict that has intensified the last three years and the U.N. estimates some 100,000 people have been displaced in the capital this year alone.

Islamic insurgents control much of Mogadishu and have been trying to topple the country's fragile, U.N.-backed government.

The music ban went into effect one day after fighting between the Somali government and Islamist insurgents killed 21 people in Mogadishu.

"We are in a war-ravaged country and music is what brings us relief from anger, frustration, depression, fatigue and other emotional and physical pain," said Isaq Ali, a Mogadishu resident.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said Tuesday he was worried about the plight of civilians in the capital, the principal victims of the fighting. In March, more than 30 civilians were killed and 900 wounded in fighting, Bowden said. More than 100 of the injuries were children under age 5.

The deputy chairman of the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association, Mohamed Ibrahim Nur, condemned the music ban and called for Hizbul Islam to retract the order.

"This will paralyze the already violence-affected media in Somalia and will deprive Somalis from getting independent information free from threat, censorship and imposition of radical addicts," he said.

Any station that defies the order could face severe punishments. The Islamists frequently assassinate those who defy them or carry out punishments like amputations. Abdulahi Yasin Jama at Tusmo broadcasting said that stations have no choice but to comply.

"We had no other option but to stop playing music. Now that we have dropped music we may lose listeners. If we ignore the warning we have to face the wrath of the militants," said one of Mogadishu's radio directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal attacks.

The director noted that the station also would have to re-record all of its commercials that contain music.

The order to stop the music echoes the Taliban's strict social rules imposed on Afghans beginning in the late 1990s. The Taliban banned music and movies and didn't allow women to leave their homes without an escort by a male family member.

The ban on music means that even talk-radio stations will have to make changes. Jama, from the independent broadcaster, said his station would have to stop using music as a bridge between programs.

"We are using other sounds, such as gunfire, the noise of vehicles and birds to link up our programs and news," he said.

Thoughts on a Southern Plantation

I posted this on a message board of TN Coates' blog, one of his essays on the recent denial of the prominence of slavery in southern proclamations honoring the confederacy. His post The Ghost of Bobby Lee is an example of his insights on the subject. See all the links to his earlier posts, which are in response to the recent proclamations honoring the confederacy but failing to mention anything about slavery. He ends his essay, "What might I have been in another skin, in another country, in another time?" A commenter wondered what he would have been like had he been born in the confederate south, would he have fought for Robert Lee? In response i wrote:

You know, I had a really unsettling experience touring a plantation in Louisiana. My wife and I got to the upstairs porch of this mansion and I looked out over this huge expanse of green grass and white picket fences, shaded by massive oak trees, and across the street the top of a ship peeked over the levee holding back the Mississippi River, gliding silently downriver. It was afternoon and so peaceful, and I imagined my future children playing on the shady grassy lawn that could hold two football fields, safely within sight and earshot yet surrounded by the glorious beauty of nature, how--dare I say it--ideal it would be. And in that moment I imagined how differently I would have seen the world had I been born into it here, back then. The slave quarters were out of sight for a reason. I always like to think that I would have known better, but that moment of beauty on an afternoon porch made me drop my guard and reveal a truth more uncomfortable than I would like to admit.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Graciela Peréz-Gutierrez (1915-2010)

NYT has an obituary of the famous Graciela:

April 9, 2010
Graciela Peréz-Gutierrez, Afro-Cuban Singer, Dies at 94

Graciela Peréz-Gutierrez, known professionally as Graciela, one of the great voices in Afro-Cuban music, died on Wednesday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 94.

The cause was renal and pulmonary failure, said Mappy Torres, her friend and assistant.

For 32 years, Graciela sang with a band formed by her foster brother, Machito, whose real name was Frank Grillo.

Many of Graciela’s most famous appearances on records, including “Que Me Falta,” “Vive Como Yo,” “Ay José” and “Si Si No No,” were swoons and flirtations, from coy to outrageous. She was a forthright performer, singing with a clear and powerful alto voice; she could make it soft, then expand it into a clipped vibrato or a ragged shout.

Graciela and Machito, both raised by Graciela’s parents in Havana, were each established professional singers before they teamed up in New York in 1943.

In Cuba, Graciela had been singing with the all-female Orquesta Anacaona and El Trio Garcia and had traveled to New York, South America and Europe. Machito had moved from Havana to New York City in 1937, recorded with the Orchestra Siboney and Xavier Cugat, and ultimately formed the Afro-Cubans with the trumpeter Mario Bauzá, a group that helped galvanize the mambo and Latin-jazz movements.

When Machito was drafted into the United States Army in 1943, Bauzá sent for Graciela, eight years Machito’s junior, to join the Afro-Cubans. She was the band’s lead singer for a year before Machito’s return. From then through the 1950s, with the two lead singers trading off vocal turns and Graciela clicking through the rhythm pattern with her wooden claves, the band established a high standard for the mambo orchestra.

The Afro-Cubans played to integrated audiences at the Palladium, Town Hall, the Apollo, the 52nd Street jazz clubs, the Concord Hotel in the Catskills and the Crescendo nightclub in Hollywood, among other places.

Graciela left the Afro-Cubans in 1975 but rejoined with Bauzá’s own band, first in 1976 on “La Botanica” and then during the 1990s in his career’s 11th-hour revival.

Graciela was never married and had no immediate surviving family members. She died, Ms. Torres said, with her claves in her hands.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A.N.C. and South African Song Controversy


pril 7, 2010
A.N.C. Issues Caution in Singing Polarizing Songs

JOHANNESBURG — The governing African National Congress on Wednesday told its members to be “circumspect” in singing songs from the anti-apartheid struggle, retreating from its earlier defense of a contentious song — “Shoot the Boer” — that in recent days has become associated with the killing of a white supremacist leader.

The song has enjoyed a resurgence since it became a part of the public appearances of Julius Malema, the president of the A.N.C. Youth League.

Boer means farmer in Afrikaans, the language spoken by the descendants of Dutch settlers. It is sometimes used as a term for Afrikaners. The lyrics include the words “shoot the Boer” and “shoot them with a gun.”

Last week, two judges, in independent proceedings, banned the song. The A.N.C. called these decisions unreasonable, contending that the lyrics were metaphorical and needed to be viewed in a historical context. It said it would try to get the rulings reversed.

For his part, Mr. Malema, an extremely difficult man to silence, vowed to continue his renditions of “Shoot the Boer.” This persistence took on new meaning when the white supremacist leader, Eugene TerreBlanche, was killed on Saturday. The police attributed the crime to a dispute with two farmhands over pay. But some of Mr. TerreBlanche’s followers blamed the song.

There were calls for revenge, but these have been retracted.

Mr. TerreBlanche, 69, the leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, was a prominent newsmaker in the early 1990s. But his influence had waned since then.

On Tuesday, there was a confrontation when the accused first appeared in court. People mourning Mr. TerreBlanche waved flags that signified white rule and sang a racist song. Meanwhile, blacks chanted “hero, hero, hero” as the accused passed by.

The shouting between the groups ended in a standoff. Indeed, though passions run high in Ventersdorp, where Mr. TerreBlanche lived, the events seem merely a matter of conversation around the rest of the nation.

Nevertheless, the statement of the A.N.C. leadership, citing “the environment currently prevailing in our country,” asked its members to “restrain themselves” lest they be used as scapegoats by right-wing troublemakers.

That especially applied to “liberation songs” that can be seen as “contributing to racial polarization of society,” it said.

The statement said the A.N.C.’s executive committee would discuss the appropriate use of liberation songs at a meeting in May.

No mention was made of “Shoot the Boer,” just the euphemism “the song that is hotly debated currently.” Nor was there mention of the song used at rallies by President Jacob Zuma, “Bring Me My Machine Gun.”

See original story of many additional links to previous parts of the story.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

What Will the 2010 Census Say about New Orleans?

April 7, 2010
Suspense Builds Over Census for New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Nobody really knows how many people live here.

Ever since this city was full of water and nearly empty of residents in September 2005, the true size of New Orleans has been a matter of wild uncertainty. Even today, population estimates can swing by the tens of thousands.

“There’s a range out there that might be as big as 50,000,” said Ken Hodges, chief demographer for Nielsen Claritas, a market research firm. “There is still a substantial amount of uncertainty.”

By early 2011, however, the city’s population will finally become an official number, if not a hard fact.

This year’s census will be revealing and important in every city, of course, according to the crude math that each citizen equals a certain amount of government money and political clout. But the stakes of the census here, as in other hurricane-battered cities and towns from Moss Point, Miss., to Galveston, Tex., are more profound.

The final numbers, no matter how much people here may challenge them — and challenges are almost a certainty — will go far in determining how New Orleans thinks about itself, whether it is continuing to mount a steady comeback or whether it has sputtered and stalled, how far it has fallen in the ranks of the country’s cities, and how quickly it is likely to rise again.

Determining how many people live here will not be an easy task, given the thousands who are still homeless or living with relatives as they await permanent housing, and the bureau is allowing some unconventional counting practices. The results should show who the city’s residents are, answering one of the most agonizing questions that has lingered after Katrina: What is the true size of the city’s black majority, once as large as two-thirds of the population?


Read the full story (w/images) HERE.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Silfredo La O Paints and Dances to the Music of the Afro-Cuban Oricha

A cool event on April 3, 2010, the debut of a space in downtown San Diego called The Salon. Cuban dancer, painter, and drummer Silfredo La O danced and painted to the music of the oricha as performed on batá drums and voice. Photos and video by Kevin Delgado.

Slate on Brittney Griner, Femininity, and Women's Basketball Athletes

Slam Dunks and Nail Polish: Brittney Griner and the feminine dilemma of women's basketball.

By Hanna Rosin
Posted Tuesday, April 6, 2010, at 1:42 PM ET


On Sunday before each of the women's NCAA Tournament semifinals, ESPN aired a let's-get-to-know-our-players clip. This makes sense given the relative obscurity of women's basketball players. The real agenda, however, seemed to be to convince viewers that these players are actually women. Each bio clip unfolds like fairy-tale dress-up: A player appears in her daytime clothes, and then—with the help of some presto twirl magic—in her basketball uniform. Stanford's Rosalyn Gold-Onwude is "something like a diva," she says, giggling and vamping in her flirty fuchsia dress. Her teammate Jeanette Pohlen says she "owns over 90 colors of nail polish," and Cardinal center Jayne Appel confesses that her favorite day at the sorority house is "sandwich day." Baylor's Morghan Medlock, dressed in a pink stripy tank top and headband, says she likes to shop. Once the women change into their basketball clothes, they shift their focus from the mall to the court. "I'm a nightmare on the glass," Medlock says.

The result is a confusing mishmash of girl-power messages, something like the sounds that emit from working-woman talking Barbie—"I have e-mail!" and then "I can't wait to go dancing with Ken!" Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 freshman from Baylor University, could never be excluded from these getting-to-know-you intros because she is, as the announcers declare, "the talk of the tournament." But she does not exactly fit the bill. She looks pretty much the same pre-twirl as post-twirl, in black pants and a black T-shirt. She smiles shyly and says in her deep voice, "I'm Brittney Griner, and I love bacon." (At least that's what it sounds like—it's hard to tell from the clip.) In the final parade of lady players, she flexes her muscles in the center as her shorter teammates pose around her.

In theory, the women's tournament should be a time to celebrate the vast array of women's talents and body types. True, these women do not play nearly as hard and fast as their male counterparts. Still, it is a genuine pleasure to watch these Amazons display the fierce concentration and physical fearlessness we are so used to seeing from men. This is the lofty spirit of Title IX—that even in spheres we have long considered the exclusive domain of macho, women can hold their own. I always try to make my daughter watch a few minutes of replay, and talk to her about the players as if they are civil rights heroes like Rosa Parks.

But women's college basketball, like many professional women's sports, often seems uncomfortable with its own unconventional version of femininity. In the WNBA, the Washington Mystics don't have a "Kiss Cam" during timeouts because some fans might get offended by lesbian smooching. "We got a lot of kids here. We just don't find it appropriate," Sheila Johnson, the team's managing partner, explained last year. The league's rookie orientation has included seminars on fashion, hair, and makeup. "It's all contributing to how to be a professional," WNBA president Donna Orender said about the beauty sessions. To grow its audience—and to avoid the perception that it's a sport exclusively played by and marketed to lesbians—women's basketball gets packaged as a wholesome family sport replete with all-American ladies. But that aspiration limits the range of possible feminine archetypes.

Into this dilemma walks Griner, a freshman phenom who dunks, wears size 17 men's shoes, and has a wingspan of 86 inches. If anything can save women's basketball from obscurity, Griner is it. The University of Connecticut's team, which beat Baylor Sunday night, has a 77-game winning streak and great players in Maya Moore and Tina Charles. But Moore and Charles do not stand out like Brittney Griner. The Baylor star was universally ranked as the top recruit when she came out of her Texas high school last year. In her senior year, she dunked the ball 52 times in 32 games. In her first college season she's already set records for blocked shots, and her four dunks aren't far off from Candace Parker's career college record of seven. After Sunday night's game against UConn, Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma whispered his congratulations to Griner and said he hoped to coach her one day, maybe in the Olympics. After their conversation, Griner broke out into a big smile.

But Griner fits no one's idea of traditional femininity. In a close-up head shot her features look quite delicate. But this only makes it more shocking to hear her voice, which is deep and husky and outside what we register as a feminine range. Off the court, she dresses and walks in a way that would probably not be greeted with approval at a WNBA rookie orientation beauty seminar. .....

Read the full post, plus audio, images, and links HERE.

Binyavanga Wainaina's "How to Write about Africa"

A devastating (satirical) masterpiece of African literary tropes in GRANTA, which came up in one of TN Coates' great comment discussions.

How to Write About Africa
By Binyavanga Wainaina

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

There's a lot more. read the full post HERE.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Op-ed argues for eliminating baseball skybox deductions.

Op-Ed Contributors
Throw Out Skybox Tax Subsidies

Published: April 4, 2010

UNTIL the 1970s, Major League Baseball was a populist sport. Bleacher seats cost as little as a dollar, meaning middle- or even working-class fans could afford to take their families to a game a few times each season.

But in the years since, tickets to baseball games — along with other professional sports events — have skyrocketed in cost. Over the last two decades, the average ticket price for a Chicago Cubs game has increased 265 percent, more than four times the inflation rate. Add in parking, concessions and souvenirs, and a family trip to one of this week’s opening day games could easily cost a few hundred dollars.

There are many reasons for the price explosion, but a critical factor has been the ability of businesses to write off tickets as entertainment expenses — essentially a huge, and wholly unnecessary, government subsidy.

These deductions have led to higher ticket prices in two ways. On the demand side, they have fueled competition for scarce seats, with business taxpayers bidding in part with dollars they save through the deductions.

On the supply side, the large number of businesses bidding for expensive seats has driven the expansion of luxury skyboxes and a reduction in overall seats in new ballparks.

While baseball parks built in the 1960s and before held as many as 56,000 seats, the modern trend is toward smaller-capacity parks, with a higher percentage of total space dedicated to skyboxes. The new Yankee Stadium, the only major-league park built since 2000 with more than 44,000 seats, has 3,000 fewer seats than its 1923 predecessor but almost three times as many skybox suites.

Congress has occasionally expressed concern about deductions for business entertainment, including tickets to sporting events. In 1962, it placed limits on the deductibility of business entertainment generally. In 1986 it restricted the deductibility of luxury skybox tickets to the face value of non-luxury premium tickets, like center-court seats at a basketball game or behind-the-plate seats at a baseball game. For example, if a ticket to a skybox suite cost $500 and a seat behind the plate cost $100, a business could deduct only $100, subject to other limitations on deductibility.

That made sense when there was still a substantial price disparity between skybox seats and tickets for even the choicest non-luxury seats. But the price for non-luxury premium tickets has grown significantly in recent years — thanks in part to endless demand from businesses and the use of more sophisticated, Web-based pricing tools by the teams — rendering the skybox rule meaningless.

Ideally, Congress would get rid of business-entertainment deductions altogether — after all, they are little more than an excuse for corporate executives to consume luxury items at a discount, distorting markets and cheating the public out of substantial tax revenue.

Given corporate America’s passionate attachment to sports-related perks, a blanket elimination may be unrealistic, though. A more feasible but still effective approach would be to limit deductions for luxury skybox tickets to a low, fixed amount — say, $50 per seat, per game.

Such a limit would be fair, unambiguous and easy to enforce. But above all, it would help baseball return to its roots, when average folks — not corporate entertainers — were the ones filling the seats.

Richard Schmalbeck is a law professor at Duke. Jay Soled is a professor at the Rutgers Business School.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Senegalese Monument to Open


Jesse Jackson, Akon mark African Renaissance
Unveiling of Senegal’s controversial new monument draws a crowd
By Diadie Ba
updated 3:33 a.m. MT, Sat., April 3, 2010

DAKAR - Senegal's monument to the "African Renaissance" will be formally unveiled before foreign dignitaries and celebrities on Saturday.

Slightly bigger than New York's Statue of Liberty, the giant group of man, woman and infant is perched on a hill overlooking the Senegalese capital Dakar.

President Abdoulaye Wade has invited about 30 heads of state to the inauguration, a day before the 50th anniversary of Senegal's independence. U.S.-Senegalese rapper Akon and U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson will also attend.

Opponents of the statue — which is billed as representing Africa's rise from "centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism" — are due to protest in central Dakar on Saturday despite a ban on all marches by town authorities.

In the latest blow to Wade's project, a leading imam on Friday issued a fatwa condemning it.

The $28-million statue has been criticized as a waste of money in a country with crumbling infrastructure and welfare provision, while Muslims have branded it "un-Islamic" for presenting the human form as an object of worship.

"We have issued a fatwa urging Senegal's imams this Friday to read the holy Koran in the mosques simply to ask Allah to preserve us from the punishment this monument of shame risks bringing on Senegal," imam Massamba Diop told followers at his central Dakar mosque, using the term for a religious ruling.

Soviet-style realism
Pro-Wade senator Ahmed Bachir Kounta, a Muslim scholar, said the statue was a cultural project and rejected the charge of idolatry.

"Every architectural work sparks controversies — look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris," he said of the 19th-century structure labeled by early critics as an expensive eyesore.

Wade, who at 83 has confirmed he will seek re-election in two years' time, has said he was personally involved in designing the statue. Critics have said it is more Soviet-style realism than traditional African art form.

The monument has been built by North Korean laborers, another source of discontent in a country where formal employment is scarce.

Friday, April 02, 2010

UCSD Scientists Study Cognition and Music

Voice of San Diego
Hoping My Rhythm-less Brain Can Beat It
Posted: Thursday, April 1, 2010 6:55 pm | Updated: 7:02 pm, Thu Apr 1, 2010.


I am pretty sure I have no rhythm.

I can't dance, can't tap my foot along with a song, and whenever I'm in a gospel-style sing-and-clap situation, I always end up accidentally clapping at the wrong time. While I've always seen my lack of rhythm as a detriment to my social life, when I mentioned it to Ani Patel and John Iversen, biologists at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, their eyes lit up.

"Really? That's very interesting," Iversen told me. "Maybe you could participate in some of our experiments."

Patel and Iverson's interest in my rhythmical challenges isn't just for their own amusement. For the past 13 years, they've been at the forefront of an emerging research field, studying the neuroscience of music.

Although the study of music and the mind might sound frivolous, Patel and Iversen use their work to lay the foundation for a deeper understanding of how the brain processes language, rhythm and movement, which can aid in the treatments for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and language disorders.

Music is a handy tool to help build this base understanding of the brain because it has a wide range of impacts on the brain, causing auditory, motor and emotional responses, Patel said.

"It's a two-way street," Iversen said. "We're trying to understand what music is and how it affects the brain, but it also helps us study how the brain works."

Much of Iversen and Patel's work focuses on how the brain perceives and processes rhythm. And although Iversen said they have not yet found anyone without an innate sense of rhythm, I set out to be the first. I met him in a small conference room in the Theory Center, the main Neurosciences Institute building on the edge of the Scripps Research Institute campus, for a series of rhythm tests on his laptop.

Iversen started simply, testing my ability to hit the "S" key on his keyboard in time with a steady beeping noise. I passed this first test, but when we switched to actual music I immediately began to have trouble. Although I could hear the beat and tap along with "One Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line, I was hopeless with The Black Crowes' "Hard to Handle."

While Iversen said I was no worse than some of his test subjects, I'm no match for Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo that Patel and Iversen found could bob his head and tap his feet in sync with a variety of musical tempos.

Next Iversen brought me to a lab on the Scripps campus where a machine would measure the magnetic fields produced by my brain's electrical activity. Because the machine's readings would be thrown off by any movement or metal on my body, I changed into hospital scrubs and a hairnet and lay down in a soundproof booth while Lacey Kurelowech, one of the study's coordinators, taped electrodes to my hands, face and chest. She then placed earphones in my ears and lowered the machine's magnetic detector, which looked like a large helmet, onto my head.

Over the next hour, I tried to lie completely still and not blink while attempting to tap out a rhythm from a series of convoluted beeps that sounded like a Pac-Man game. It was not easy.

Even though each set of beeps began with a steady rhythm to guide my attempts at drumming, when the rhythm turned irregular I quickly became distracted and was sure my timing turned off. Toward the end of the hour, I developed a strategy: I ignored the irregular beats and tried to keep my timing with a waltz-like count of four.

As it turns out, my strategy ties in to one of Iversen and Patel's rhythm theories. Iversen said they use that test to measure the brain's auditory and motor responses to a perceived rhythm, and are finding the brain may respond to a beat even when the body is not moving at all. This suggests people -- and maybe cockatoos -- have an internal sense of rhythm.

While this finding might be comforting for those as rhythmically challenged as me, it also has broader applications. Jessica Grahn, a neuroscientist with the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, said Patel and Iversen's work has informed her own studies of beat-processing in patients with Parkinson's.

She said their work on how people reproduce rhythms they hear helps explain why Parkinson's patients, who have difficulty creating a sense of timing in simple movements like walking, can move more steadily when they walk to music.

Ashley Vanstone, a psychology researcher at Queen's University in Canada, said Patel's research on the relationship between music and other brain functions, especially language, helps lay a foundation that informs a broad spectrum of neuroscience work.

While Patel and Iversen are happy their work helps, they said it's not their primary motivation.

"People often lump science and technology together, where technology is about solving a problem that gives us products," Iversen said. "Science overlaps with that, but it also has a component of simply understanding how things work with the faith that with that understanding comes power.

"If you do everything with a specific goal in mind, you'll never have those happy accidents that help you discover new things."

Instead, both Patel and Iversen said they were driven to their studies of music and the mind largely because of their own interest in music. Both began playing instruments at early ages, and both played in bands after college (Iversen in a neopsychadelic funk band called Zen Panick and Patel in a band of marine biologists). And while both said they loved playing, neither dreamed of becoming a professional musician.

"We were paid in beer, and you can't make much of a career on that," Patel said.

Still, they see their passion for music as significant.

"So many people have such a deep connection to music, and I wondered why, and how it affects the brain," Patel said.

While I couldn't argue that most people love music and moving to its beat, I was still sure my rhythmic sense was missing. But after my tests ended and I was released from the soundproof booth, Iversen told me what he'd seen in my brain activity.

I was anticipating the next beat before it actually occurred.

"That means that although you may not be aware of it, you definitely have a beat," he said.

So my brain can anticipate a beat. But I still don't think I'll be able to dance or clap well any time soon.

Claire Trageser is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Contact her directly at

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Flickr Collection of "Teabonics" Signs

This Flickr page by Pargon, who introduces them:

These are signs seen primarily at Tea Party Protests.

They all feature "creative" spelling or grammar.

This new dialect of the English language shall be known as "Teabonics."

See Pargon Teabonics sets HERE.

A taste:

No Diploma!