Thursday, March 27, 2008

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Apologies for the lack of posting. Music and a pair of fat earmuffs own my soul right now. Two, possibly three mixes coming up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Obama Doctrine

The Obama Doctrine - Spencer Ackerman @ The American Prospect

This article from the latest issue of the American Prospect is an examination of the meaning behind Sen. Obama's remark during a debate that we not only need to end the war in Iraq but "end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." Basing his article around this statement, Ackerman interviewed many of the foreign policy team the Obama campaign has put together and questioned them on what a President Obama would do to change the U.S.'s foreign policy and how his vision of American foreign affairs differs from that of Sen. Clinton or Sen. McCain, not to mention President Bush himself. The consensus is that versus taking a democracy-promotion approach a President Obama would take a dignity-promotion approach. What that means is not simply holding free elections but providing the basic underlying infrastruture for a democratic election to actually mean something.
It's an approach that many liberals and commentators have long called for, including Ackerman's close associate Matt Yglesias and the relatively recently converted Andrew Sullivan. What this approach entails is bringing the best the U.S. has to offer in refugee relief, ending dictitorial regimes that prevent such relief, and providing the necessary aid to oppressed peoples that they feel secure enough to either call for elections or bring about their own uprising. Instead of simply offering elections, an Obama presidency would press the issue of human rights, and if you've heard his policy position on free trade, you can see that the human rights issue is a top priority for Sen. Obama.
I believe I've argued before that a foreign policy focused on human rights does more to protect the image of America as the shining city on the hill (which gives us a good deal of legitimacy when we do act) and allow us the freedom to act in regions and in ways that do not conform to standard diplomatic tactics. Sen. Obama's thinking on this isssue rises to the strategic level. The human rights card is available for almost any kind of foreign issue: global warming, labor rights, diplomacy, foreign aid (both monetary and basic food and medical supplies) and, importantly, as a way of pushing 'rogue states' or generally states that have decided to play their own games in their regions of the world to fall in line with U.S. interests or at the very least UN mandates.
Now this might have a touch of American exceptionalism in it, but Sen. Obama's attitude over foreign relations marks a departure from previous administrations unwilling to use military and diplomatic power appropriately. While the need to maintain a large military with full battle gear is necessary the use of Special Forces will certainly rise in an Obama administration. His remarks on Pakistan show his willingness to use military force when certain objectives require it. But it also become a genuine stick to lay in front of troublesome nations while offering a genuine alternative that avoids military confrontation.
In deciding between the remaining three candidates for president it is clear that Sen. Obama is the only one who is offering a real foreign policy and one that attempts to show the best of American power. It's a Teddy Roosevelt style policy of speaking softly but carrying a big stick. Our actions must do more to prevent radicalism from spreading than simply fighting the radicals that already exist. It's a foreign policy that I can support with confidence, particularly coming from a new generation of Democrats unafraid of the Republican attack machines.

Hyper-Entangled Brains

Hyper-Entangled Photons --'Superdense' Coding Gets Denser - Slashdot

Advances in particle science like this one are what make me happy to wake up in the morning. The idea of quantum entanglement (or as Einstein put it, "spooky action at a distance") is that you have a pair of subatomic particles whose properties are related to each other. If one particle has an up spin then the other has a down spin. Now take those particles and separate them by a thousand miles. Would the same relation apply? As far as experimentation has show, yes, the relation remains, meaning that information such as whether a particle is to spin up or down can travel faster than the speed of light. It seems that hyper-entanglement involves several particles all arranged together and then given an appropriate separation. And the results are that the same relation between a single pair of particles can also apply to multiple particles. The implications are staggering, from true teleportation to the sending of encrypted data to multi-line processing in computer chips. Hyper-entanglement could go even larger, to the point that our entire universe might have a hyper-entanglement with another universe where changes in either universe are reflected in the other universe. Amazing stuff really and I love it.

Why You Can Hate Hillary Clinton

Politics as Sideshow - David Kurtz @ TPM

Kurtz posts an email sent in by one of TPM's readers and there's a striking quote about Sen. Clinton that I hadn't thought about before. It reframes the issue of sexism somewhat in disliking or outright hating Sen. Clinton.
"Can you hate Barack without feeling racist? It's not easy. But with Hillary it is. You can hate her without feeling sexist, because she's a Clinton."
I think this feeling is a predominant reason for why the mainstream media doesn't pull its punches when it comes to the Clintons. Sen. Clinton is not just a female senator from New York, she's also the wife of President Bill Clinton and candidate for the Presidency herself. Nearly twenty years of arguing over the Clintons has left the media with the sense that nothing is really out of bounds. Had any other woman run for president, the media would treat her with kid's gloves for fear of falling into sexism. Additionally, the animosity that the Clintons engendered during their time in the spotlight has allowed the American public to either love or hate them without reservation. Sen. Obama, on the other hand, hasn't been around long enough for a large number of people to form a solid opinion of him.
I think also that Sen. Obama has gone about things in a completely different way than either Sen. Clinton or the rest of the politicians out there so it confuses people somewhat. After the whole Reverend Wright issue came up, Sen. Obama stood up and gave one of the greatest speeches on race in America since the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of ducking and hiding, trying to evade the issue, Sen. Obama went to the mat over it. That shows a lot of guts and it's hard to hate someone who shows that kind of moxy. It's the same reason why the media still loves Sen. McCain, despite his less than stellar platform. So we're left with three people of who two do their best to make it hard to hate them while Sen. Clinton, by virtue of being Sen. Clinton, has trouble crying sexism when she has done so well for herself in the last two decades. No one is really convinced when she cries sexism because she's Hillary Clinton. Strange, I know, but the political game itself is more than strange.

Technology and the Jeweler

Turin'd - Kevin Kelly @ The Technium

I do believe that Kelly has a great point here about the advantages technology can bring to any field, science, or profession. Working as a jeweler (and working with a jeweler with 70s years of experience) I've seen some of the old ways jewelers would heat metals, use drills and polish. Now we have fancy bi-channel torches and flex shafts that can spin burs, drills and other small wheels two incredible rpms while maintaining a great amount of torque. Polishing lathes and ultrasonic cleaners are there as well. So far, the only way technology has failed the jewelry industry is in the setting of stones. Albeit we have gotten to a point where a CAD design machine can cut a wax mold better than the finest jeweler and casting techniques have advanced to the point where you can set stones in the wax before casting.
It's that last part though that has failed in many ways. While the purity of the cast and the metal is true, the use of computerized casting machines has led to the rise of the micro-pavé setting. A pavé setting is one where the stone is essentially embedded in the metal with typically only two or three small beads acting as prongs. My grandfather, when he bought his second house, would work nights paving stones into watch bands for 5 cents a stone (which was undercutting the competition in New York at the time). It's a difficult technique and one I have yet to master. Computer-aided design and casting can make pavé settings but either through cost-cutting measures or the limitations of the machine we have pavé sets that leave too little metal in the beads meant to hold the stones in place. So, working in a repair shop, we regularly see customers with shiny new micro-pavé rings where a stone or two has fallen out. Of course we can reset the stones but usually we also have to rebuild many parts of the setting to ensure that more stones won't fall out in the future.
Now the micro-pavé problem is an extreme example of where technology itself has failed to produce good results. Most jewelers are not opposed to new technologies that can make their work easier, but for those bench jewelers that have to repair, resize or rework jeweler, technology has its limits. So far I haven't seen a machine that can retip a prong, size a ring to a non-standard size or any size at all for that matter, reshank, reset or modify existing settings. While technology has enabled the jeweler to do all of these things quickly and with greater ease, it has not replaced the jeweler.
I think this is part of a larger point Kelly was trying to make. There's a fear in almost any field that the computer will replace the worker. That has happened before, but for some fields technology can only enhance what the worker does but cannot replace.
Until the development of genuine AI, there's little chance of technology replacing the people of those fields that require the use of creativity and learned understanding of the field. When a computer can correctly identify a ring's metal, it's stones, and what needs repairing then the jeweler might become obsolete. But until then jewelers will still hang around. We don't mind technology making our jobs easier. We do mind when technology makes our jobs harder and that's the key point Kelly should remind his audience of.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Preview Review

The Whip @ MySpace

The Whip has garnered some weird sort of acclaim, enough so that they've caught my attention. I've listened to a few tracks, tried to get a grasp of their sound. It's electro-rock, for sure, but whether it actually does anything different or new that the ever-growing number of electro-rock acts I don't think so. Part of the point of electro-rock is to craft music that you can play on the dance floor and while the Whip succeed to a degree, honestly I find it kind of boring. Much in the same way that bands began popping up with a garage sound during the early part of the decade the Whip seem to think that playing it by the book will get them a record deal and a few years of touring, which it probably will. But it's still a dilution of the genre and a sign that perhaps the electro-rock scene is approaching its peak, if it hasn't already. In other words, bands like the Whip make me sad because they announce the consumerization of a sound versus the creating and stretching of a new one.

The Dodos Instore @ Good Records 3-18-08

After their whirlwind time in Austin during SXSW, the Dodos came to Dallas for a couple of shows and probably some much needed rest. While I wasn't able to see them play at Lola's in Ft. Worth I did catch their Good Records instore with MissInfo of fotophonic. I only snapped a few shots, in part because the crowd was so thin it felt intrusive, but also because I was rather well captivated by the music.
The set-up was a basic two-man deal: one on guitar and vocals, one on drums. There was a third guy for the sounds that Meric Long (singer/guitarist) and Logan Kroeber (drummer) couldn't produce or replicate themselves. Long had a dual mike set with one mike both on a slight reverb plus routed through a pedal that allowed him to either loop or double up the sound. For the vocals the loop was more common while Long also put his guitar through another loop/double-up plug. The effect was worth the effort as Long was able to bring in a twin guitar sound or a trumpet loop when the song required it. Kroeber, the drummer, had an unusual kit as well. Three drums, including the snare, but no kick drum for that bass sound. He also had only two cymbal stands, but the primary stand used two cymbals with a smaller one layered atop the other.
All of this is to say that I was interested in hearing how these two gents would perform live after listening to their first album Beware of Maniacs and a few song available before their new album dropped the day of the instore. For the most part the additional sound guy was there for the bits and pieces of sound that neither Long or Kroeber were able to do themselves, although if they could I'm sure they would have. The two-person non-electro set-up was a delight to see for its own aesthetic purposes. The music itself however, was astounding. It's not often that a band with an arrangement like the Dodos have can make their songs sound better live but they pulled it off brilliantly. They were dead tired by the looks of it. Even so, they didn't hesitate to play with all their heart. The two songs I wanted to hear ("Men" and "Fools") were excellent and I'm a little disappointed I didn't have anything to record the set with. As I said, the instore was for the release of their new album Visiter, which has quickly found itself in rotation on my cd player and iPod. It's an excellent album, one that I suggest you actually pay money for.

The Dodos @ MySpace
The Dodos Music
The Dodos @ Amazon

Like Michael Jackson White

Okay, it's way too early out of bed to post but a byline caught my eye on the Washington Post's web page: "Okay Obama, Now Show Us Your White Side. What, does he need to shop at the Urban Outfitters, listen to some Trace Adkins? Watch NASCAR and How I Met Your Mother? He ain't no oreo.