Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gospel According to Phil

You know, Jesus is a pretty strange guy. I mean, a lot of mythological figures can be strange, but it's usually something overt and basic, like having a dog's head or throwing lightning bolts from the sky. Once you can wrap you're head around one or two contradictions the Gods just like you and I. But then there's Jesus. Ignoring all the supernatural water-into-wine stuff, this is a Jew who was killed by the Jews as a collective mass. He said "love thy neighbor" but his followers were responsible for the crusades. Not to mention this is a guy who exorcised one Gadarene Demoniac or two Gadarene Demoniacs depending on who you talk to.

Fortunately Philip Pullman is here to set matters straight. In his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, he presents a retelling of the gospel, and provides the only rational explanation for all this silliness. Jesus and Christ were two different people! Furthermore they were identical twins!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Edifice of Lies — WikiLeaks Pulls Back the Curtain on U.S. Empire

An article I co-wrote with Brandon Madsen for Socialist Alternative.

On Tuesday, December 7, Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks, was arrested after turning himself in to the Metropolitan Police Service in London. This is the latest in a series of attacks on the organization. The WikiLeaks website has been subjected to denial-of-service attacks. Corporations such as Amazon and PayPal have cut off services to WikiLeaks, while financial institutions such as MasterCard and Visa have been freezing their accounts. Whistleblower Bradley Manning was arrested in May, and faces a military court-martial and up to 52 years in prison.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 10: Julieta Venegas to Zemfira

And so "100 Music Videos" comes to an end. We've gone from '80s synth-pop to Finnish black metal to Australian hip-hop. We've seen works by such acclaimed directors as Tarsem Singh, Michel Gondry, Lars Von Trier, Richard Lester and Spike Lee (and we'll get some Spike Jonze in this installment). We've had a re-imagining of Metropolis and a documentay about the making of Easy Rider. And on occasion, we have had nudity. And meat. And eggs.

For our final installment, we will have Mexican fairy tales and Russian paranoid visions. We'll see a band do their take on a classic '70s sit-com and another band do their take on a classic '60s music video. And the epic battle between XTC and Adam Ant that started in our first installment will conclude in this one. Also, a low-budget goth klezmer birthday song.

So I bid you adieu. Or is it au revoir?

91. Julieta Venegas – Limón y Sal

Saturday, December 4, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 9: Todd Snider to Suzanne Vega

As we near the end of "100 Music Videos", I thought I would share a bit about my "MTV phase" in middle school. Up until 1994 I didn't really pay attention to MTV or music videos or modern rock in general, being more into the Beatles. But then I saw this amazing music video. The song was sort of Beatles-esque psychedelia, but harder, so that was nice. But the video had groundbreaking special effects that just completely wowed me. The song: Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun".

So, naturally, when I was working out what videos to include in this list, that was one of the obvious choices and I went to view it on YouTube. Well the thing about groundbreaking special effects from 1994, is, uh, well, they're not so ground breaking anymore. Also, did you know that, beneath its shiny, clean-cut exterior, suburbia has a dark side? Well I still got a nostalgia kick, but declined to include the video, because I don't think that anybody who wasn't in middle school in 1994 will be able to appreciate it. However, I did include a video by Tool that has groundbreaking special effects from 2001.

So here goes.

81. Todd Snider – You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)

Friday, December 3, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 8: Pulp to Smashing Pumpkins

I believe it was Jon Stewart who said "Have you ever seen Scent of a Woman . . . on weed?!" Well, if Jon Stewart reads my blog, then this installment of "100 Music Videos" is probably the blog entry he would advocate reading . . . on weed! This will be the entry where a bunch of naked cyclists is the least trippy thing going on.

Along the way we will have a video from the director of The Fall followed by a video from the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We have a video about people's eyes preceded by a band made of giant eyeballs. We've got space adventures and supermarket adventures and mountain adventures. And then there's video number 79.

So go forth and watch . . . on weed!

71. Pulp – Common People

Thursday, December 2, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 7: Sinéad O’Connor to Public Enemy

Question: What do the first and last tracks of today's installment of "100 Music Videos", Sinéad O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" have in common? Okay, they came out in the same year, but what else? Answer: Hank Shocklee.

Shocklee was the leader of "The Bomb Squad" an old-school hip-hop production team, known for utilizing a large number of samples, and creating dense, harsh, dissonant beats, influenced by musique concrète, to enhance the lyrics. They produced most of Public Enemies albums, including "Fear of a Black Planet". And Hank Shocklee also produced the incredibly melodic Irish chick rock of "The Emperor's New Clothes". I don't know, I thought that was interesting.

So let's get on with it, shall we?

61. Sinéad O’Connor – The Emperor’s New Clothes [dir. Sophie Muller]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 6: M.I.A. to My Chemical Romance

Today's installment of "100 Music Videos" is brought to you by the letter "M". All of our featured artists start with "M". But "M" stands for things other than "M.I.A." and "MGMT". It also stands for Man, Music, Mozart. And you will find plenty of examples of music on this list. And there will be two groups of men as well, but no Mozart.

More importantly, "M" is for Morris dancing. And Metropolis. These are things we will definitely see more of in this list. There will also be cows. While cow doesn't begin with "M" in English, it does in Italian, so it still applies to the situation at hand.

So let's get on with it.

51. M.I.A. – Sunshowers [dir. Rajesh Touchriver]

WARNING: This video offended somebody somewhere for some reason.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 5: Insane Clown Posse to Corb Lund

For today's installment of "100 Music Videos" I'd like to introduce a game I call "Irony or New Sincerity?" I don't think Alanis Morisette reads this blog, so I will assume you all know what irony is. New Sincerity, on the other hand is a bit more complicated. The idea is that, when something doesn't have indie credibility, but someone likes it anyway, they will pretend they only like it ironically. Then they keep their true feelings bottled up for a really long time, before admitting that they like it unironically. And then they go on obnoxious pseudo-philosophical rant about how admitting this represents some sort of paradigm shift in the way we as a culture perceive art until somebody makes them shut up. And that's new sincerity.

But sometimes there are things that just demand good, old-fashioned irony, so it can be tricky to figure out which one applies to which situation. I'll give you a head start here. The first video on the list: definitely, unequivocally irony. The last video on the list: so inherently awesome that there's no need for either. The rest, you'll have to figure out for yourself.

Let the games begin!

41. Insane Clown Posse – Miracles [dir. Paul Andresen]

Monday, November 29, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 4: Freezepop to The Imagined Village

In our previous installment of "100 Music Videos", I mentioned that, despite being in alphabetical order, you may find some unexpected thematic unity in the entries. This time, nothing. Two of the videos have mice. Two of them are about going to space. But beyond that, today is schizo day.

There are some things that this installment will focus on a bit more than other installments. If you are looking for videos about math, or Australian politics or epic battles between orcs and Nazis, you will find a higher concentration of those topics in this installment than any other one. By which I mean more than nothing.

. . . but I've been talking too much.

31. Freezepop – Less Talk More Rokk

Sunday, November 28, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 3: The Coup to Finntroll

Since I'm arranging these videos in alphabetical order, there isn't any explicit theme for each installment of "100 Music Videos". But sometimes, patterns emerge. On the basis of this installment, I have come do an astonishing conclusion: every single band starting with "D" or "F" is jovial and light hearted, while every single band starting with "E" is dour and serious.

For the most part, this will be a light-hearted installment. We will get to explore the lighter side of war, the lighter side of domestic violence and, most importantly, the lighter side of being hacked to pieces by surgical implements in a demonic hell-bar. Even the lone "C" band in this entry is taking a fairly humorous dissection of inequality in America. All in all it's a laugh riot. At least it would be if it weren't for those few "E" bands coming in and spoiling the mood.

So kick back, break out the nitrous oxide and enjoy (most of) the show!

21. The Coup – Fat Cats and Bigga Fish [dir. Andrei Rozen]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 2: Bijelo Dugme to Bruce Cockburn

I like to think of our first installment in "100 Music Videos" as something of a journey. A journey from Norway all the way over to Iceland. This installment will be an altogether stranger journey, as it begins in a country that no longer exists and ends in a country that most Americans don't believe exists.

We also venture into a wider range of genres, ranging from country to German hip-hop to some crazy made-up bullshit genre called "pronk". We get so see supermodel Kate Moss get murdered, a topless Japanese chick covering herself with sugar and Kate Bush getting gritty. People disappointed in the lack of Jonathan Coulton videos will get a nod. There's something for everyone. In fact, there's even something for unbirthing fetishists (furry fetishists are advised to check out our previous installment).

On with the show!

11. Bijelo Dugme – Lipe Cvatu

Bijelo Dugme - Lipe cvatu
Uploaded by Mr_Kelevra. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Friday, November 26, 2010

100 Music Videos, Part 1: A-Ha to Besti Flokkurinn

I now present the first installment of a ten-part series entitled "100 music videos". Like my "Check Out This Thang I Found On Teh Internetz" feature, it exists mainly as an excuse to add blog entries while other people do the work. As the title suggests, it will present one hundred music videos, ten in each installment, covering a range of eras and genres but, each in their own way, somehow pretty cool (don't worry, the ICP entry in the fifth installment is there ironically).

Some ground rules. No fan-made videos (sorry Jonathan Coulton). And there has to be a video online that can be embedded. It has to be reasonably good quality. So I'm not including videos that had the sound removed for copyright reasons (sorry, Prince) or if the only video is an incomplete copy from a VHS tape (sorry, Miranda Sex Garden). Some of the videos may be NSFW. In those cases, I will put a warning before the video that explains what potentially objectionable content may be found therein.

Let the videos commence!

1. A-Ha – Take On Me [dir. Steve Barron]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North Star: The Life of Peter Camejo

An article I wrote for Socialist Alternative.

Peter Camejo was a well-known political activist from his work in the Vietnam anti-war movement to his challenging of the two-party system with the Green Party and Ralph Nader. Two years after his death from lymphoma, his autobiography North Star: A Memoir has been published. It’s a good read, covering his whole life. In both its strengths and weaknesses, his life provides valuable lessons for future political activists.

He was born in 1939 in New York to Venezuelan parents and he grew up in both Venezuela and the United States. He describes how his childhood experiences in these countries resulted in his early political development:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy Return to Standard Time!

I know a lot of people don't like Daylight Savings Time. This is understandable because Daylight Savings Time kind of silly. However it does have one great advantage: the return to Standard Time. To celebrate this holiday I thought I would share with you what is inarguably the best (and only) return to Standard Time holiday specials on television. That is The Adventures of Pete and Pete episode: "Time Tunnel".

This episode captures all the things we love about the return to standard time. The extra hour (enough time to watch this episode twice with commercials). The fact that going back in time let's you rectify mistakes you may have made the first time round. The riboflavin. Although it does get the time wrong, since you're supposed to change the clocks at 2am not midnight, but that can be explained away by the power of imagination.

But most importantly, it introduced countless children to the phrase "No fog; no fun", a phrase that will forever be associated with the return to Standard Time. Happy return to Standard Time, everybody!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Clowns to the Center, Jokers to the Right

After the Republican victories in the mid-term elections on Tuesday, the response from many people, liberals and Democrats mainly, has been to blame this on collective insanity. On the surface this explanation seems somewhat almost reasonable. After all, if you're so angry about Obama's bail-outs for big business why are you voting for the party responsible for Bush's bail-outs for big business? That's insane!

But, do you know what else is insane? Going to an outdoor rally with this sign:

I mean, come on! When you're outside is precisely when you're supposed to use your outside voice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Math for People Who Don't Do Math Good

I don't need to tell you that the state of our mathematics education is deplorable. For some reason New York Magazine does need to tell you. A few days ago they released an article entitled "The Ten Most Ridiculous Classes Currently Offered at Liberal-Arts Colleges" that showed the terrible state of mathematical literacy amongst writers New York Magazine.

In order to find the ten (10) classes in question, the magazine assembled a panel of five (5) experts to read random course catalogs until they found something that sounded ridiculous. How ridiculous are they? So ridiculous that the authors filed their article under the New York Magazine sections for fuzzy math and math for people who don't do math good.

Actually, the classes they found weren't very ridiculous at all. But the fact that they didn't realize these were perfectly legit shows the disconcerting lack of mathematical understanding in this country. It's sort of like how Iran-Contra proves that Ronald Reagan was write about the evils of big government. The fact that the article decrying the state of mathematical literacy demonstrated a complete lack of mathematical literacy shows that the authors' hysteria was justified.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

3.5 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong

Living in America can sometimes give people a skewed idea of the way things are. For instance, one might get the impression that it's normal to refer to a health-care bill that forces people to buy health insurance from big HMOs as "progressive". You might think it's normal that when the government introduces austerity measures that the only protesters are Teabaggers demanding more austerity. And yet, in France, the government austerity measures that pale in comparison to Obama's have provoked a 3.5 million to take to the streets in strikes and protests.

Seriously, the French worker's willingness to take to the streets to defend their standard of living makes us Americans look like a bunch of Cheez Whiz-eating surrender monkeys.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The REAL 15 Manliest Movies

Recently I discovered an entry on the movie website Rotten Tomatoes entitled Manliest Movies. This is allegedly a list of the 15 manliest movies of all time, as compiled by a panel of five experts (they're all men), Ryan Fujitani, Jeff Giles, Luke Goodsell, Tim Ryan, and Alex Vo.

Disappointingly, all they came up with were a bunch of movies about guys shooting people. I must say, this gives a completely unrealistic portrayal of what it means to be a man. The notion that men only care about violence stems from a misinterpretation of Desmond Morris's book The Naked Ape. Specifically it stems from the interpretation that the book isn't a load of hokum.

With that in mind, I thought I'd compile a list myself of the real 15 manliest movies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

COTTIFOTI: Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck

Hey, everyone! I'm starting a new feature on my blog called "Check Out This Thang I Found On Teh Internetz" or COTTIFOTI, for short. The purpose of this of this feature is to mooch off of the hard work that other people did.

For our first entry, I will be mooching off of one Jonathan McIntosh of the website Rebellious Pixels who has created a video called "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in 'Right Wing Radio Duck'". It's a great mash-up of Donald Duck cartoons and Glenn Beck. It starts with Donald getting fired and having his house foreclosed (based on real Donald Duck cartoons where this actually happened), and he finds solace in Glenn Beck's seemingly populist messages. Then Glenn Beck starts acting like Glenn Beck, and then, well, why don't you just check out this thang I found on teh internetz . . .

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Blog Post No. 42

That's right! This is my 42nd blog post. As such, it's only fitting that I devote it to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Trilogy, the series that first made 42 a number people cared about.

By now, most people should know that 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. If you aren't one of those people, try entering "what is the answer to life the universe and everything" (without the quotation marks) into Google Calculator and see what happens.

First things first: that green planet guy depicted up there with his tongue sticking out that all Hitchhiker's Guide fans have come to know and love? Douglas Adams hated that guy. I know, he's so adorable. But it's not like he appears in the book. That's why Douglas Adams created the "42 puzzle" that appears on more recent editions of the books.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Rose-Tinted Look at Outsourced

Hey, everybody! It's that time of the year again when all those TV shows that we'll soon forget about start airing. Of all the TV pilots airing this fall, there's one that you must see: the plot for Outsourced. I know this because it's the only pilot that's part of NBC's "Must See TV" Line-Up and, come on, it's not like NBC would lie about something like that.

I mean, the concept is actually genuinely intriguing. It's about an American who shows up to work to find that all his co-workers have been fired and their jobs outsourced to India. But he gets sent to India to work with the new workers. It's a perfect opportunity for some biting satire of the way corporations exploit countries with weaker labor laws at the expense of workers in both countries while enriching themselves.

And, if we accept the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, it's entirely conceivable that, in one of those worlds, the show actually lived up to its potential!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Across the Desert, for Trombone and Orchestra

A little over nine years ago, I wrote a trombone concerto. I guess it's more of a concertino since it's just one movement. In late spring of 2001 my high school orchestra played it with me on trombone and made a recording (Thanks, dad!). Recently I was informed that the recording ended up on an internet download site (Thanks, mom!). I'm posting it here so you folks out there can listen to it.

Bear in mind, though that (a) this is a high school orchestra and (b) we only had a few weeks of rehearsal.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Art for the Masses?

"I'm making movies for the masses."
2012 director, Roland Emmerich

"Only the best for the working class."
—IWW founder, "Big" Bill Haywood
There’s this crazy idea out there that making lots of money is an indication of quality. It’s known as Worthington’s Law, and most people will readily admit that it’s garbage. There are a few people out there, Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Michael Bay, etc., who believe it, but who cares about them?

There is also an even more crazy idea out there that lots of people take seriously: namely that making lots of money means you’re in touch with the common man. Similarly, not making lots of money means you’re a stuffy elitist.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Truly Outstanding Movies: Land and Freedom

Note: Land and Freedom is not available on Region 1 DVD. It is, however, available on YouTube. You can watch it here.

It can be difficult to mix movies and politics. The needs of telling a story don't always jibe with the needs of making a detailed coherent argument. It also has to be condensed into close to an hour and a half. A book can do a better job at making detailed arguments, especially a non-fiction book. But with movies, you usually have to compromise. That's the rule. And Ken Loach's Land and Freedom is the exception.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm Afraid We Need to Use (gasp) Math!!!

The most recent episode of Futurama, "The Prisoner of Benda" was one of the most mathematically intense episodes. Written by Ken Keeler, who has Erdős number 4 for his paper "Short encodings of planar graphs and maps" co-written with fellow Futurama writer Jeff Westbrook.

Since the math got a bit complicated, I thought I would provide this handy little guide to what exactly was going in mathematically and what concepts were used.

As you could probably tell from the moment Professor Farnsworth said "Mind-Switcher", this is an episode about group theory, specifically the theory of the symmetric group.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Salute to Important Criminals

I would like, if I may, take some time to salute some criminals who made important contributions to society. Because, every once in a while, you should take the time to thank a criminal.

Now, I'm not trying to say that criminals are inherently good. In fact some of them are downright horrible. I'm looking at you, Bernie Madoff. However, consider the following. We have a black history month despite the continued existence of Alan Keys and Flava Flav. We have a women's history month despite the continued existence of Margaret Thatcher and Ke$ha. So why shouldn't criminals be similarly honored?

Like black people and women, criminals are discriminated against. There is an unwritten assumption that criminals are inherently bad people. It's almost as if the written law had some sort of actual correlation between good and evil. Now that's just crazy talk, but it's crazy talk that people believe, just like creationism and the linearity of the square root.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Impotence of the "Professional Left"

The Obama administration has always been about bringing the country together. No matter how much resistance the Republicans and the teabaggers put up, the friendly folks in the White House will always look for a compromise. You know, for the sake of unity and whatnot. Free healthcare? No? Then how about a toothless public option? Still to radical? Okay then, how about we force people to give their money to a bunch of HMOs? There we go!

Of course, this spirit of togetherness only applies to the right. If you actually want free health care then, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, you're a crazy person who ought to be drug tested. Sorry Gibbsyboy, but I have no intention of paying for drug tests. Now if you were to say, provide free health care, then I might consider it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To BP, the Cause of (and Solution to) All of Life's Problems

So it seems that the nightmare of the BP oil spill is finally over thanks to the hard work of those folks at BP. I'm not being sarcastic, in case you were wondering (okay, maybe a little). I mean the nightmare is not over, there's still all of that oil in the Gulf to take care of, thats ruining the environment and people's livelihoods.

And yeah, and there's the matter of that that other oil spill that started earlier today, but that was a Cedyco Corp well, not a BP well, so BP's blameless in that.

But at least the Deepwater Horizon leak is capped. And that is, sincerely, the result of those hard-working people over at BP. And we should sincerely thank those hard-working people over at BP who fixed the leak.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Truly Outstanding Comic Books: Ren & Stimpy: Masters of Time and Space!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to introduce you to the single greatest single-issue comic book of all time.

To be clear, I'm not saying this is the greatest comic book of all time. But most truly great comic books are long graphic novels. If they were ever released as traditional comic books, they were likely serialized. They tend to rely on a technique known in the comics world as "decompressed storytelling", although most people know it as "storytelling". In Ren & Stimpy: Masters of Time and Space! Dan Slott figured out the secret to doing compressed storytelling right.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Walls of Sound

Whenever the subject of separating the art from the artist comes up, the first name that's ever mentioned is Roman Polanski. After that it's Michael Jackson. But the third person who's always mentioned whenever the subject of separating the art from the artist comes up is Phil Spector.

There's a new documentary out, called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector based on interview footage of Spector taken during his murder trial, that's trying to further the notion that Spector may be a psycho killer but, dammit he's a genius.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Futurama's Back!

The good news: Futurama's back! The also good news: it's still awesome! The bad news: it's not available on Comedy Central's website or Hulu. The okay news: I was able to find streaming somewhere on the internet that seems to be legal. The bad news: it makes you stop after 72 minutes of watching. The good news: there are only two new episodes sos the total time is less than 72 minutes. The bad news: the website doing the streaming has a very strange definition of "72 minutes".

But still, Futurama's back!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deus Ex Scriptores

I have come to the conclusion that there may be some legitimacy to "Intelligent Design" after all.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, it started when Lucy Pevensie claimed that she had been to to the magical land of Narnia and, get this, that she went there through a wardrobe. I know I was skeptical too. But then Professor Kirke said we had to believe her because she was family. Okay, I wasn't family, but Peter, Susan and Edmund were. But, anyway, since they knew her, they knew she couldn't be crazy, and therefore couldn't under any circumstances think something was true that wasn't. And they knew that she wasn't a bad person, and therefore would never under any circumstances lie. Therefore, she had to be telling the truth.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Truly Outstanding Movies: Stroszek

I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but somehow, Werner Herzog's movie Stroszek got a reputation for being depressing. Perhaps this stems from the fact that Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself after watching the movie. But, it should be pretty clear that he was planning on committing suicide long in advance and just wanted to make sure the last movie he saw was awesome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Francis Wheen Gets Paranoid

Francis Wheen is a British journalist best known for his biography of Karl Marx. His latest book, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia documents the madness of the 1970s from Watergate to the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. As a collection of anecdotes it’s a highly entertaining read, but it’s far too rambling to provide any serious analysis.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Patton Oswalt Revives Firefly

This will eventually contain movie and comic book spoilers, but I will give a second warning before that.

At long last, we get further developments in Joss Whedon's Firefly saga. After getting canceled before it's first season finished, and being turned into an unsuccessful movie, the series will continue via canonical comic books, starting with "Float Out" written by Patton Oswalt.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Pirate Ain't a Pirate

I wrote this filk in response to the Israeli government's decision to send pirates into international waters to attack a flotilla sending aid to Gaza and the accompanying realization that pirates these days aren't as cool as they were in the days of Gilbert and Sullivan. It is to be sung to the tune of "The Last Shanty" by Tom Lewis.

When filling applications for a job in piracy,
Well, I was told, when choosing words, to do so carefully.
Instead of "pirate" I should say "Israeli man-o-war".
That's how I learned a pirate ain't a pirate anymore.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Going the GAMA Route

While the recent horrible Arizona immigration law has shocked the nation, one would expect that President Obama would have some harsh words. And he did have some harsh words, going so far as to call the law "misguided" (Them's fightin' words!).

More recently Obama has had the opportunity to put those words into actions. So, to show his opposition to the attack on immigrant rights he has . . . sent another 1,200 National Guard troops to police the border costing the taxpayers $500 million.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Come to the USA vs. Bracero: Immigration Smackdown

In today's Smackdown, we pit two immigration songs against each other. In one corner, from Clarkedale, Georgia is novelty country singer Ray Stevens with "Come to the USA". In the other corner, from El Paso, Texas, is protest folk singer/Marvin Gaye spouse Phil Ochs, with "Bracero".

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Quine-Duhem Thesis and Certainty

On September 23, 1846, the planet Neptune was discovered. But the person who discovered it, Alexis Bouvard, died on June 7 1843.

More accurately, Bouvard discovered the absence of the planet Uranus (don't worry, I'm not going to make any puns).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Enigmatic Iron Man

In a shocking turn of events Iron Man 2 is a good movie! In another shocking turn of events, its not as good as the first movie! The fact that the second turn of events is shocking is because usually the second movie in a superhero franchise is the best. But why is it shocking that it's good? Well, that's the real question isn't it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Really, Tina Fey!?!

It's a well known fact that there are only two universal truths: Saturday Night Live isn't funny anymore and the Greeks have a habit of taking to the streets that puts all other countries to shame. Well, last weekend those two universal truths collided.

Frankly, all Americans should take inspiration from the general strike in Greece last week. But SNL alum Tina Fey disagrees.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Why Anathem Sucks

This review contains spoilers near the end. I will include a second spoiler warning right before they start.

There seems to be an unwritten law among mathematicians that we must all be head over heels in love with Neal Stephenson and in particular his 2008 novel Anathem. Having read the novel I find I am left with no option but to become an unwritten outlaw.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's a Black President, Huey Freeman

I just watched the season premiere of The Boondocks, entitled "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman", and it was awesome!

You can view the episode here, at least until May 18.

It's about everybody's obsessions with Barack Obama during and immediately after the election and how he hasn't really delivered. And it's done as a mockumentary, going back to the election and inauguration, up to the present day.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Truly Outstanding Albums: Step Outside, by the Oyster Band

The first track on the Oyster Band's album "Step Outside" is a rock version of the traditional English May Day carol "Hal-an-Tow". That's May Day in the sense of Morris dancing and maypoles, not International Workers' Day. The lyrics are all about getting up early to welcome in the summer but, the way they play it, it's a fist-pumping rock anthem.

The fourth track is an original number called "Ashes to Ashes", which is seething with working class rage. It's also a great fist-pumping anthem, albeit one driven by fiddle and melodeon.

So if you're trying to celebrate May Day, but you're not sure which one you want to celebrate, just play this album and celebrate them both.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I am So Brave

It's true, man. I am just sooooo fucking brave! Why? Because I am willing to commit blasphemy! Specifically, I am willing to violate the second commandment by showing you a picture of Mohammed that I drew myself!

I am just such a fucking iconoclast. No, wait, the iconoclasts were the people who destroyed graphic depictions of religious figures. I'm, uh, whatever the opposite of an iconoclast is. Either way, I'm so brave.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Spartacus: Blood and Sand" is the Best Worst Show on Television

Over the past few months, people in were treated to a wondrous spectacle.

I'm speaking, of course, of Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand. A show which, according to TV critic Todd VanDerWerff, "feels like it was committee designed by a large group of 14-year-old boys with one gay friend." And rightfully so. As one would expect, the show was so successful that it was green-lighted for a second season before it even aired. And rightfully so.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tax Day Blues: Don't Blame the Socialists

As everybody scrambles to get in their tax forms by April 15, it's entirely understandable that people would be a bit upset about the whole thing. Less understandably, people blame all this on socialists and socialism. Most notorious of the Tea Party movement who, for some reason, equate Obama's bailing out capitalists with socialism.

Speaking as a socialist, I can assure you that, if your are a working person struggling to get by, socialists do not want to increase your taxes. We want them to decrease or even go away altogether. If you're a rich CEO who never did a hard day's work in your life, that's another matter. Ditto if you're a corporation. However, if you're a corporation, you are unlikely to be reading this because, despite the claims of the Supreme Court, you aren't really a person.

In fact, if you're looking for people to fight unjust taxes (actually fight, that is, not throw teabags into bodies of water), it is precisely the socialists you should look to. Specifically, the socialists of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Underneath a Shady Tree

Back in 1999, They Might Be Giants released an mp3-only album called "Long Tall Weekend".

For those of you who have seen the documentary "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns", this was one of the things they did during the five-year period after they left Elektra as a means of reminding fans that they still existed. It's mostly a collection of rarities that, for some reason or another, didn't make it onto other albums, but there are a few stand-out tracks. One of my favorites is a little ditty called "Lullaby to Nightmares".

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tulip Revolution 2: Electric Boogaloo

In commemoration of the five-year-and-two-weeks anniversary of the 2005 "Tulip" revolution that deposed hated Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev, the huddled masses of Kyrgyzstan have celebrated with an uprising that deposed the hated Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev. Despite government suppression of the protests that resulted in 74 dead, Bakiev was ultimately forced out of power and had to leave the country. Now, former Bakiev supporter Roza Otunbayeva is acting as interim president.

For a good analysis of the events, as well as an eye-witness report, check out this article and for an overview of the events leading up to the original Tulip revolution, check out this article.

So, will the new president, Roza Otunbayeva, be any different?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rational Abstraction

When I discuss mathematics with non-mathematicians, in particular higher mathematics, I am often asked, “What does this have to do with the real world?” Sometimes even other mathematicians ask this question and it’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. With other sciences, it’s clear what they have to do with the real world. We may not run into quasars every day, but you can still see them if you point a telescope in the right direction. But when does anyone encounter the 248-dimensional Lie group E8? Or for that matter a real, perfect circle? Or the number three?

Let’s start with the number three, or numbers in general. We may not encounter the number three in real life, but we still encounter three apples, or three cups of flour or a gallant ship that sails around three times before sinking to the bottom of the sea. The number three is not an actual object, but a property that applies to all the above things in the same sense that yellowness is not an actual object, but a property that applies to lemons and bananas.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Michael Moore's Mixed Messages

We have just witnessed a historic event. One day our grandchildren will ask us where we were the day that universal healthcare was established in the US. Since, at the rate things are going, we'll never get universal healthcare in the US, we will instead tell them where we were the historic day that every US citizen was given the right to give money to privately owned health insurance companies.

I'm actually not sure where I was, because I didn't hear about it until today. But I know what I was doing when I heard about it. I was reading Michael Moore's statement in celebration of the bill's passage.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Truly Outstanding Books: The Mysterious Stranger, by Mark Twain

Poor Satan. The guy just can't get a break. He leads one revolt against God and suddenly people act like he's evil incarnate.

You would think at least Finnish heavy metal band Lordi would support him. I mean they dress up as monsters. But when religious leaders accused them of Satanism they distanced themselves so much from Satan that they wrote a song called "Devil is a Loser". So, what, are they, like, good Christian monsters, then? Come on.

The Ayatollah Khomenei even went so far as to compare Satan to the American government!

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar for Best Makeup Goes to . . .

You have got to be kidding me!

Yes, for some strange reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that the above makeup job qualified not only as "good" but as "the best of 2009". I will admit that I haven't seen either of the other nominees, Il Divo and The Young Victoria, and maybe they had even worse makeup than JJ Abrams's de-imagining of Star Trek. However, that is a very low probability (see above). Also, District 9, which had awesome makeup, came out the same year, but that didn't even get nominated.

Ignoring for now Star Trek XI's merits as a movie (it's easy to ignore things that don't exist) there is very little makeup in the movie. Most of the aliens, like the ones hanging out in the Starfleet bar, are CGI monstrosities who look like Phantom Menace rejects. The only aliens with actual makeup jobs were the Vulcans, the Romulans and the Orion sorority girl pictured above. And the Vulcan makeup just entailed pointy ears and a wig.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Looking Backward vs. News From Nowhere: Utopian Smackdown

Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’s News From Nowhere are the two most well-known utopian novels to come from the socialist movement. There are other well-known utopian novels, such as Thomas Moore’s Utopia and Corey Doctorrow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, but Bellamy and Morris were not just describing better visions of society, but actively engaging in political activism. And yet, the two books are very different. In fact News From Nowhere was written as a reply to Looking Backward.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Can We Trust Non-Muslims?

Once again the city of St. Cloud, Minnesota is in danger. The city is being flooded with non-Muslims, who are threatening to destroy the Minnesotan way of life. It has already gotten to the point where 99% of Minnesotans are non-Muslim!

And yet some people actually question the sagacity of such activities as posting anti-non-Muslim cartoons on the doors of businesses owned by non-Muslims, refusal by doctors to treat non-Muslim patients and starting Facebook groups like "I hate non-Muslims in St. Cloud".

In fact a recent article in the St. Cloud Times goes so far in promoting the pro-non-Muslim agenda that it actively attacks non-non-Muslims.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Tea Party With Lobster

An article I wrote for Justice, the newspaper of Socialist Alternative, now enhanced with illustrations by John Tenniel.

The National Tea Party Convention, held on February 4-6 in Nashville, was billed as a grassroots gathering of conservative activists against the bank bailouts and Obama’s health care plan. The “grassroots” character of the event, however, was undermined by the $549 price of admission and the heavily publicized lobster banquet.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Giant Testicle of Freedom

Allow me, if I may, to ask you a deep philosophical question. If you had to choose between living in a seeming utopia that, on closer inspection turns out to be an unspeakable dystopia, or having free will, which would you choose?

Okay, that’s a bit too easy. Let’s try another. If you had to choose between living in an actual utopia or having free will, which would you choose? This is a more difficult question, so I’ll make it a bit easier. If you choose the utopia, it will turn out to be an unspeakable dystopia. Why? Because I said so.

Okay, a third question. If you had to choose between having seventeen normal-sized testicles or one giant testicle the size of a coconut, which would you choose? By the way, if you choose seventeen normal-sized testicles then it will turn out that you live in an unspeakable dystopia.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same

Remember George W. Bush? Remember how he had this thing called “No Child Left Behind” that was supposed to solve the education crisis by cutting the funding to schools that weren’t doing well? Remember how this idea was completely idiotic because the schools that performed poorly did so because they were under-funded? Remember how it was completely obvious that this had nothing to do with “helping the children” and everything to do with privatizing education and union-busting. Remember how everybody hated “No Child Left Behind”? Remember how they were completely right to hate it?

Remember how there was that guy Barack Obama who ran for president on a campaign of “Change”? Remember how he won and is currently president? Well, in Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, the school district board of trustees managed to outdo even Bush. They fired the every single teacher!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Last Theorem: Pro and Con

As I'm sure you all know, back when Arthur C. Clarke died two years ago, he left an unfinished novel entitled The Last Theorem, about a Sri Lankan mathematician who finds a three-page proof of Fermat's Last Theorem and, as one would expect, gets recruited by the CIA to fight aliens. All in all it sounds like a perfect idea for a book. I mean, aliens! Math! Sri Lanka! What's not to like?

Making matters even more awesome, none other than Frederik Pohl was hired to finish the book and it was published in July of 2008. Yet when looked it up on Amazon.com it averaged three stars. This shattered my confidence.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My name is George Brown and this is my blog.

This is one of those personal blogs that will just collect random thoughts so don't expect much thematic unity beyond the fact that it's me.

This is what I look like as a bee: