28 Apr

Barbershop Quartet singing the Ewok Celebration Song

in Funny, Sci-Fi, Video

If you've been a long-time reader of this blog, you know by now that I am huge sci-fi fan.  What you almost certainly don't know, is that it takes only mere seconds of a barbershop quartet performance to send me into fits - yes, fits - of pure glee.  Never did I imagine that, one day, the modern commnications marvel that is the internet would come along to deliver both in a single, double-shot package of mirth.  Enjoy!

27 Apr

Fun with Disembodied heads

in Geek, Video, WTF?!
Think holograms are all about greening the planet and military psy-ops?  Pi-sha!  This is what the futuristic renaissance is really about:

Neurosonics Live from Chris Cairns on Vimeo.

23 Apr

Corporate Capitalism is Evil - Hitler Copyright Edition

I've had the pleasure of meeting several times with a well-known masculinities scholar named Michael Kimmell who once explained to me why academics make poor talk-show guests.  Detailing his appearance on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show - I believe the topic was white supremacy - he was flanked on both sides by frothing extremists.  His role was ostensibly to be the impartial 'decider' of right and wrong.  That's not the way it works.

Anyone who has spent time thinking deeply about an issue must conclude that dichotomies - good/evil, right/wrong - simply don't exist.  They are a journalistic shortcut that keep us divided by preventing an earnest challenge to the underlying mandates of a particular ruling class.  To paraphrase Cary Elwes, anyone who claims otherwise is selling something.

The early days of the Cold War was a large-scale example of this dynamic.  It is no more logical to claim that the spread of communism was a threat to the people of the United States than it would have been to worry about Poland attacking us after being occupied by the Germans.  Before the U.S. decided to escalate a nuclear arms-race, there was no credible motive to fear the spread of an economic ideology.  While forceful Soviet occupations may have indeed raised worthwhile issues of human rights and just warfare, the conflict was far more about determining the economic framework of an increasingly globalized world.  With two main players, a dichotomy was erected between capitalism and communism.

Capitalism prevailed which lead some, like the newly influential Francis Fukuyama, to declare the 'End of History' whereby liberal capitalism had become so entrenched as to withstand any foreseeable challenge.  Indeed, Bill Clinton pursued this framework with almost messianic zeal, combining neoliberal globalism (a global economy free from regulatory impediments) alongside a vigorous pursuit of American exceptionalism.  With his predecessor combining this mission with militarized enforcement, it is indeed easier today to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

The problem with such dichotomous thinking is that it fails to account for a multiplicity of options for a global economy.  'Capitalism' is an amorphous concept - it can (and does) exist in many different forms throughout the world.  As such, there is no credible basis for our present ruling class' definition of capitalism in terms of corporatism whereby we have surrendered control of our global economic system to entities that lack any responsibility to the public good.

All of this is my long way of leading into a rant about Youtube's latest decision to remove Hitler 'Downfall' parodies from their servers.  This was done in compliance with a takedown notice from Constantin Films despite such videos enjoying support from the film's creator as well as legal protection as a parody under U.S. law.  But what Youtube uploader has the resources to defend themselves against a movie studio in court?

If you haven't seen Downfall, it is an absolutely brilliant film that left me in a bad mood for weeks - I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out.  If you have heard of the film, chances are it's because of one of these parodies having sustained this meme and likely driving millions of more viewers to this German-language film while the producers of such remixes have not made a single penny.  But whether or not such parodies are actually making the studio money is irrelevant insofar as remixes are not only protected by law, but are essential to the evolution of artistic expression

We've all borne witness to what corporate absolutism does to the environment, worker's rights, etc ... nobody wants to live in a world where art is strictly commodified and the only way for artists may only make a living is by reproducing tightly regulated and homogenized products for mass consumption. 

Copyright is meant to prevent theft, not inhibit our cultural development.  It is already running amok and trending towards an institutionalized absolutism that will cripple the digital age.  Capitalism has spurned progress in a number of wonderful ways, but economic systems are meant for the betterment of society. When such system begin acting to our detriment, then they must be questioned and refined lest we surrender to yet another form of totalitarian rule.  You can start by enjoying the following video while you still can:
20 Apr

We have to get out of LA - it's all comin' down!

in Animation, Capitalism, Corporatism, Intellectual Property, Products, Video

Welcome to Logorama - quite simply the most enjoyable and provocative short I've seen in Donkey's years!  Logorama was directed by the French H5 collective and debuted at last year's Cannes festival.  It later won an Academy award under the “animated short” category.

It's a bit long (about 16 minutes), and definitely NOT suitable for work, but totally worth it.  I watched it and then watched it again.  I think I might grab a third showing after I post this.  Enjoy!

16 Apr

UK’s TalkTalk will not comply with draconian Digital Economy Bill

in Copyright / Copyfighting / Piracy, Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Video

For those who are unfamiliar with such bills, there has been a major worldwide push, lead by those poor, suicidal bastards in the entertainment industries, to force internet service providers (ISPs) to cut off customers after three, unsubstantiated accusations of copyright infringement.  291106riaa

At least one company  has proven willing to stand up for common sense:

After the election we will resume highlighting the substantial dangers inherent in the proposals and that the hoped for benefits in legitimate sales will not materialise as filesharers will simply switch to other undetectable methods to get content for free.

In the meantime we stand by our pledges to our customers:

  • Unless we are served with a court order we will never surrender a customer’s details to rightsholders. We are the only major ISP to have taken this stance and we will maintain it.
  • If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we’ll see them in court.

Not likely to see this level of consumer advocacy in a U.S. ISP anytime soon.  I imagine something a little more like this:

14 Apr

Oklahoma Tea Party Organising for an Anti-Government Militia

in Gun Control, Healthcare, Racism, Taxation, Tea Party

For the only state in the “union” to proudly lack a single county voting for Obama; whose government employees permit gun safety classes only for registered republicans; whose ranked among the 10th worst state in the country for child well-being,  the fifth worst states for women, and eighth worst state for healthcare; who the BBC identified as the most racist and ignorant state in America – yes, this shining example of America’s heartland is once again leading the race to the bottom:

Image: 9-12 March in DC-58, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from andrewaliferis's photostream

Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty. …  But the militia talks reflect the frustration of some grass roots groups seeking new ways of fighting recent federal initiatives, such as the health reform plan, which requires all citizens to have health insurance. Over the last year, tea party groups across the country have staged rallies and pressured politicians to protest big government and demand reduced public spending.

In strongly conservative states like Oklahoma, some legislators have also discussed further action to fight federal policies, such as state legislation and lawsuits.

Excuse me - ‘some’ legislators are talking about fighting back with the law? 


Image: 9-12 March in DC-71, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from andrewaliferis's photostream

As the Republican gubernatorial candidate points out, such militias are indeed  permitted by the second amendment (though check out his statement for an accidental denunciation of the gun lobby’s overreach), though it is unprecedented for a state to legislatively enlist a private military to fight against the federal government.  Moreover, it is entirely unclear on what kinds of military actions would be able to repel the evil onslaught of health care. 

But during the 15th anniversary week of the OKC bombing, the money quote comes from J.W. Berry, a Tea Party leader in Tulsa, who argues that since it’s done with the full cooperation of the legislature, that “it's not a far-right crazy plan or anything like that.”  Berry began soliciting support for the movement through his newsletter article, “Buy more guns, more bullets.”

Welcome to the growing pains of that hopey-changy thing.

06 Apr

Tea Partiers unified by anger, but what about the devil within?

in Capitalism, Elections, Politics, Tea Party

Gary Hart picks up on a meme that has been troubling me for a  while – namely that the common denominator among the disparate cells of the Tea Party is anger.  But who the hell are they to claim a monopoly on anger?

One thing needs to be made clear. If anger is the admission dues for membership, then I qualify. I'm as angry as any tea-partier. So tea-partiers have to get over the notion that only they have a right to be angry. A lot of Americans are angry who don't necessarily therefore want to impeach Barack Obama, or spit on congressmen, or scream at town hall meetings, or bring down the government of the United States. No one, including the tea party, has a corner on anger.

One of the reasons I think that people have a difficult time taking teabaggers seriously is that, despite boasting a national sympathy of somewhere 

<div id="attribute">Image: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/binaryape/2873634346/">If Karl Marx was alive...</a>, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from binaryape's photostream</div>
Image: If Karl Marx was alive..., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from binaryape's photostream

between seventeen and twenty-eight percent of Americans, they lack any unifying platform.  More specifically, their grasp of what they don’t like has not, to date, extended into a coherent articulation of what they would do differently.  Shouting a cacophony of nebulous buzzwords – free-market, small government, anti-socialist – lends the appearance of a political ideology without actually having to engage with any of the intellectual rigor mandate in proffering an alternative.

Like Gary, I am no Palin-come-lately myself.  I became so angry in 2000 at the Supreme Court’s Gore v. Bush decision that I’ve spent the better part of a decade working to dismantle the opportunistic, corporatocratic policies that are being jammed down our gullets.  Am I a touch less angry with Obama behind the wheel?  To quote Palin, ‘you betcha’.  But let’s be clear – we’re talking about a kinder, gentler machine gun hand here.  I have my eyes on the real problem  - the usurpation of global democracy by an unchecked oligarchy of free-market ideology

And herein lies the ultimate irony – after years of voting against their economic self-interest, the angry masses are being crushed by the free-market ideologies they so fervently supported, yet remain zealous enough to believe that the answer lies in greater commitment to a free-market.  I would say that Palin and her ilk would do well to read a little bit of the Marx they claim to so despise as I would imagine they would find a great deal of themselves in his work.

I know that may be too much to ask, but I do hope the Tea Party soon learns that the real problem is far bigger than a single politician or party.  And I hope they learn this lesson before somebody gets shot.

01 Apr

Museum of Hoaxes has the Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All-Time

Care to learn more than the AMA’s recommended daily allowance of theories concerning the origin of April Fool’s Day?  The Museum of Hoaxes has you covered, along with the top 100 hoaxes of all time as measured by “notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.”  At the top of the list is the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest:

spaghetti harvest1957: The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

My personal favorite came back in 1998 when it was reported that the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of Pi from 3.14159… to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0.  ‘Cause this, you know, could actually happen!

29 Mar

Link Vomit – Science and Tech Edition

in Environment(alism), Geek, Inventions, Science & Technology, Wednesday Wish List, WTF?!

Image: Drank too much? - Vision and scenes of Hell!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rwp-roger's photostream

The town of Inuvik, Canada, will no longer spend winter in permanent darkness, thanks to their shiny new artificial sun!  Despite being just freakishly awesome, I wonder what effect this will have on the local ecosystem?

Attention super-villains: Seeking exotic materials for your next go at world domination?  Check out inventables.com for the latest and greatest microreplication devices, spray-on metals, and talking tapes.  On a side note, do you  really want dominion over this planet?  Sounds like a helluva workload to me …

Speaking of spray-on materials, a Germano-Turkish research conglomerate has developed a non-toxic form of glass coating that is both flexible and breathable and is designed to protect against a score of environmental hazards.  I imagine we’ll file this one with the electric car and any other product designed to decimate entire economic sectors in the selfish name of environmental protection.

Google is reportedly working on a speech-to-speech translation system.  Of course, I hear this and think Star Trek style real-time interspecies communication, but I imagine the typical conversation sounds a lot more like, “For why do you recite intercourse you?  I perform solament translation service error!”

Researchers in the U.S. have developed a skin-based device interface that operates on the electric signals conducted through touch.  Ostensibly, this will allow people to perform a series of gestures to control their mp3 players, make a phone call, and send email.  As someone who is still getting used to the site of people using their bluetooth headsets on the street, I look forward to the day when everyone is spasmodically touching themselves!

Clever little monkeys at the University of Technology and the University of Michigan have developed a prosthetic foot that stores the kinetic energy of the downstep for release in the upstep, thereby mimicking the action of the human ankle.  Next stop - go go gadget legs!

Finally, from the New Scientist, Valerie Jamieson – aka Dr. Buzzkill – explains why we’ll never travel at warp speeds.  However, fear not, for there is no shortage of clever little pointy-eared fans with the smarts to rebut her hypothesis.  

27 Mar

Appeals court rules that police can electrocute anyone they damn well please

in Civil Rights, Judicial Failures, Police Abusing Power

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Seattle police were operating within the law when they tasered a pregnant woman – tasered her again, and then tasered her a third time – while she was strapped into the driver’s seat of a car with no keys in the ignition.  In an unusually strongly-worded opinion, the dissenting judge, Marsha Berzon, called the decision “off the wall” and chastised her colleagues:

“I fail utterly to comprehend how my colleagues are able to conclude that it was objectively reasonable to use any force against Brooks, let alone three activations of a Taser, in response to such a trivial offense," she wrote. … Berzon said the majority's notion that Brooks obstructed officers was so far-fetched that even the officers themselves didn't make that legal argument. To obstruct an officer, one must obstruct the officer's official duties, and the officers' only duties in this case were to detain Brooks long enough to identify her, check for warrants, write up the citation 10085096athe-bill-of-rights-fourth-amendment-postersand give it to her. Brooks' failure to sign did not interfere with those duties, she said. Furthermore, Brooks posed no apparent threat, and the officers could not have known how stunning her would affect the fetus, or whether it might prompt premature labor — another reason their actions were inexcusable.

The most stunning aspect of this case – aside from, you know, the electrocution of a defenseless pregnant woman for having the audacity to not be nice to her bullies, is that the defense was able to successfully argue the use of force was justified based on the potential threat the victim might pose at some hypothetical point following the traffic stop.  Hall wrote: "It seems clear that Brooks was not going to be able to harm anyone with her car at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, some threat she might retrieve the keys and drive off erratically remained, particularly given her refusal to leave the car and her state of agitation."

Yes.  And she also could have also been hiding a bomb in her trunk, been planning to download copywritten materials, or had a genetic mutation allowing her to spit acid out of her eyes.  Yet we are afforded protection by the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution against having to defend ourselves against potential crimes when there is no reasonable expectation that such crimes will be committed.  As the prosecution and single sane judge rightfully argued, being angry at a traffic stop is not a crime, refusing to sign a ticket is not an arrestable offense, nor is it against the law to resist an illegal detention.  It IS, however, unlawful to physically assault a helpless pregnant woman who poses no threat to your safety.  

This trend is disturbing – not simply the fact that wearing a badge seems to make anything you say a de facto lawful order – a fact that most minorities in the U.S. are already familiar with, but that the courts – and worse, the American people – seem to be increasingly willing to bypass constitutional liberties in favor of authoritarianism.  As digby points out - “where are all the anti-authoritarian libertarians now? It seems as if they only care about the constitution when it comes to taxes and guns. Someone else's right not to be electrocuted for refusing to sign a traffic ticket? Not their problem.”