Monday, December 31, 2007

President Bush's grandfather plotted a fascist takeover of America

Here's a rather creepy BBC radio report on how a number of powerful businessmen, including Prescott Bush, plotted a fascist coup and takeover of America. Amazing, isn't it, that such a major story has remained hidden from the American people?

I wonder how far the apple falls from the tree...

---------------

The guy who blew the whistle on them in 1934, incidentally, was General Smedley Butler, the author of the famous 1935 treatise War is a Racket.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How Big is the Global One-Mind Machine?

I've swooned for Wired "Senior Maverick" Kevin Kelly in the past, when he wrote his eloquent paean to the Web's first decade, We Are the Web. Kelly's latest mind-blower is Dimensions of the One Machine, which outlines the contours of our current cyberspace and posits the future rate of growth. Among the startling specs:

There are about 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Today the Machine has as 5 orders more transistors than you have neurons in your head. And the Machine, unlike your brain, is doubling in power every couple of years at the minimum.

I was recently blown away when I realized my $40 4 gigabyte thumb drive, about a third the size of a pencil, contains storage equal to 3 thousand of those old hard plastic 3 1/4" floppy discs we all used until a few years ago. You can now buy a terabyte (1000 gigabytes) hard drive for around $400. To discuss the One Machine, Kelly talks in exabytes (1 billion gigabytes) and zetabytes (1000 exabytes):

One of the problems we have discussing this Machine is that its dimensions so far exceeds the ordinary units we are accustomed to, so we don't have a way to reckon its scale. For instance, the total international bandwidth of the global machine is approximately 7 teratbytes per second. We used to talk about one Library-of Congress-worth of information (10 terabytes), but that volume seems absolutely puny now. In ten years terabytes will fit on your iPod. Keeping that metric for the moment, one Library-of Congress-worth of information is zipped around on the Machine every second. These are very deep cycles of processing. What will we use to measure traffic in another 15 years?

We could start by saying the Machine currently has 1 HB (Human Brain) equivalent . That measure might hold up for a decade or so, but after it gets to 100 HB, or 10,000 HB, it begins to feel like using inches to measure galactic space.


Shivers...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Letter to a Senator or Congressman (or Congresswoman)

This is in response to an excellent email from Democrats.com, reprinted in italics at the end of this post.


Dear Senator or Congressman,

As I write this, our President is in the midst of an extraordinary power grab. He is attempting to turn America into a dictatorship, in which secret prisons and torture are accepted and commonplace, and rampant extraordinary corruption the norm. You know this and I know this--in fact, the whole world knows it.

What I don't know is why you are aiding and abetting this crime.

But I do know this. The American people are a sleeping giant and you are beginning to arouse the beast. America will not stop until the President and Vice President have been impeached and tried in an International Court for war crimes and treason. Along with the President and Vice President, the court will also focus its attention onto their willing executioners. And you, Senator or Congressman, will be called to account and will likely be charged with being an accessory to torture, treason, and other war crimes.

I believe that you contain within you more power for good than evil. But some sort of allegiance to the dark side is making you betray your country and instead support the dangerous occupants of the White House. I urge you to cast off the dark and follow the light. Protect the American people. Protect the Constitution, and protect America and everything great for which it stands.

Now is the time for you to show your strongest mettle, Senator. History will remember you for what you do from this day forward. Let there be Light.

PeaceLove


------------------

Email from Democrats.com

No Waterboarding. No Dictatorship. No Mukasey.

In an impassioned floor speech opposing the nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked: "Will we join that gloomy historical line leading from the Inquisition, through the prisons of tyrant regimes, through gulags and dark cells, and through Saddam Hussein's torture chambers? Will that be the path we choose?"

Mukasey refuses to say that waterboarding is torture because Dick Cheney won't let him - otherwise he would have to prosecute Cheney and Bush as war criminals . Mukasey also believes the President can ignore FISA and the Constitution and wiretap American citizens without a warrant, which makes the President a Dictator.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Mukasey next Tuesday. All 9 Republicans will support him, so all 10 Democrats must oppose him. Joe Biden, Dick Durbin, Ted Kennedy, and Sheldon Whitehouse already do, but the others are undecided (Ben Cardin, Russ Feingold, Herb Kohl, and Pat Leahy) or leaning towards Mukasey (Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer).

Tell your Senators to oppose Mukasey:
http://www.democrats.com/peoplesemailnetwork/122

Call the undecided Senators and report their responses:
http://www.democrats.com/mukasey-judiciary-whip

Chuck Schumer is the key vote and he chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee - so if you give them money call 202-224-2447 to say you will not contribute if Mukasey is confirmed.

____________________

No Wiretaps

Democrats.com has led the fight against Bush's warrantless wiretapping since it was exposed by the New York Times in December 2005. We believe it must end immediately, we believe Cheney and Bush should be impeached for it, and we believe everyone involved should be punished through prosecution and lawsuits.

Senators Jay Rockefeller and Harry Reid do not agree with us. They are working overtime on a bill to expand Bush's wiretap power and give full immunity for all past crimes. But Senator Chris Dodd is outraged and promises to filibuster the Rockefeller bill. Dodd gave a tremendous speech on Friday and spoke for all of us.

Dodd needs 40 Senators to support his filibuster, so please write your Senators:
http://www.democrats.com/peoplesemailnetwork/114

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Apple Death Watch: Ten Years Later


Fake Steve Jobs has a post up reminding everyone of the above Wired cover story from June, 1997. I remember reading it at the time with a tremendous sense of loss; although I was not the passionate Apple fan I am today, I still knew in my gut that something important would be lost if Apple went under. The "101 Ways to Save Apple" are mostly completely off-base, except for #50: Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development.

The last decade has been one mind-boggling breakthrough after another, thanks largely to Jobs' uncompromising vision. Of course, now there's another problem to deal with...


--------------------
TOTH to FSJ, Photo: Bernd Hammer, Lair & Garden.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

UPDATED: Capitol Police Attack, Injure Anti-War Minister

When anti-war Iraq veteran Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, tried to enter the Petraeus hearings wearing an "I Love the People of Iraq" button he was refused entry. When he questioned why others behind him in line were being allowed in while he was not, police threatened to arrest him and ultimately jumped him and tore some of the ligaments in his leg.

Luckily, someone had a video camera and captured the whole incident. And now BoingBoing has posted it, too. This should be interesting to watch how the story unfolds.

UPDATE: Reverend Yearwood YouTube's his side of the story here, and addresses the ANSWER Coalition here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jérémie ICE

I love finding any fresh approaches to YouTube-type magic This guy, Jérémie ICE has some fun stuff!
Karate Cord

Smoking D'Lite

Fun/cool backwards action

Last but not least, his Cyril parody is pretty funny.

----------------
Hat tip to my buddy Martin for the links.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hidden Gem: Company Man

I love finding maligned film gems, those pictures that open to disastrous reviews, get dumped by the studio, and slowly build their small, passionate cult following through word-of-mouth by ardent devotees. Once in a while, a single passionate critic can sway me to check something out. Blade Runner was one such film. It was pretty universally panned when it came out. But I happened to be lucky enough to read a review by the excellent Joel E. Siegel (as distinct from the Joel Siegel who reviewed films on Good Morning America) in the Washington, DC City Paper. Siegel's original 1982 review isn't online, alas, but it basically said, Ignore those other critics; this film is amazing. [UPDATE: Siegel's review is here.]

On the strength of that one review, I saw Blade Runner when it came out and was blown away. Blade Runner was lucky. It somehow survived its original dumping and is now widely considered the best cyberpunk film ever made.

Other films aren't as lucky. John Boorman's 1990 Where the Heart Is is another favorite I saw on the strenth of a single review (John Powers in the L.A. Weekly? 8/9/10 NOTE: Nope, Charles Taylor in Salon). Where the Heart Is is another one of those horribly reviewed films that turns out to be astonishing, a very beautiful farce about creation and destruction, love and magic. The only excuse I can think of for its generally terrible reviews is that it's too European for mainstream American critics--even though it takes place in New York and stars Dabney Coleman, Uma Thurman, Suzy Amis, and Joanna Cassidy.

Here's a really longshot film for you to put on your Netflix queue: Company Man. I first read about the film back in 2002 in Esquire Magazine. Film critic Tom Carson, defending a film almost universally deplored, called Company Man "the funniest cold war farce I've ever seen." Carson had been a State Department brat during the time period and he thought the film captured, in it's own wacky way, the real feel of that world.

I'm a State Department brat myself, though from a somewhat later period. Carson sounded as if he knew what he was talking about, and I loved his passion in defending the film: "About midway through, I was marveling that a movie this sharp and entertaining could have gotten such dismissive, peeved critical notices." Carson's review really sold me on the film and I've wanted to see it ever since.

Well I just caught Company Man on IFC (Independent Film Channel), and I thought it was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Carson wasn't kidding; I checked the external reviews off the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and the general consensus is scathing. People hated this movie, and in some cases thought Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Dennis Leary, Allan Cummings, and a host of other big name actors gave career-worst performances. Virtually everyone, excepting Carson, found the whole production completely flat and cheap.

Metacritic, which assignes a meta-rating to films based on an overview of a large number of critics nationwide gave Company Man an 18. Out of 100. Next to the 18, which has a red background, is the color key: Extreme dislike or disgust. That's only two points up from Showgirls (16) and two points down from Corky Romano (20).

They're all wrong. They had no idea what they were seeing. The film's a scream.

Through the Miracle of the Internet (and it is a Miracle), I found the original review I read in a doctor's waiting room over five years ago:

In From the Cold

Company Man reminded me of Dick, another one of those films funny to those who remember thirty- to forty-year-old history with something akin to fondness. And another political farce (this one about Watergate) you may want to check out.

8/9/10 Update: Siegel's Blade Runner review, along with the story behind it is here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Flesh


French photographer, graphic artist and filmmaker Edouard Salier has created quite a splash with Flesh (2005), a ten-minute meditation on the merger of erotica and violence. Reaction on the blogosphere has been decidedly mixed. Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing recently called it "9/11-themed CGI terror-rotica," but added, "I don't know that I'm a fan of it, or not." Count me a fan. Flesh is a stunning, visionary work, even in its heavily degraded YouTube version. The Strikeback Films website has some much crisper clips; this must look amazing on the big screen.

YouTube link (NSFW, and you may need to log in and promise you're over 18 to view it.)

I sympathize with reviewers who find Flesh merely pornographic and empty, but to my eyes it's neither. Unclear it may be, but the horror and decadence on display certainly seems to express uncomfortable truths about fundamentalism, Islamofascism, and American hedgemony. I recommend the explanatory commentary on the website's About section for more details.


Just in case you were unclear about Salier's intentions, here's his earlier (2004) 4-minute short Empire. It's a decidedly more low-key work, but no less uncomfortable for it. The degraded YouTube clip is again a bit hard to read; that's military hardware moving across the screen.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Magic and Metadiscourse

A ventriloquist lost his job when a local nightclub went out of business, so to make ends meet he began working as a "spirit medium." He had a talking skull on the table and people would come to him to talk to their dead relatives. The ventriloquist could secretly move the skull's mouth and make it seem as though the skull itself was talking.

One day, a very wealthy society matron came to talk to her dead husband. The woman was so impressed with the contact from beyond that she said to the "medium:"

"Young man, you have an extraordinary gift. If I pay you a thousand dollars can I come back next week to talk to my husband for a few hours?"

The ventriloquist "medium" responded, "Lady, for a thousand bucks you can even talk to him while I drink a glass of water!"



When Good Magicians Go Bad

Here are a couple of stories about two of my good friends in magic, each making a critical mistake.

1) A very talented kid I know was frying some laypeople with his rubber band magic. He did a beautiful version of Crazy Man's Handcuffs, a classic effect in which one rubber band seems to simply melt through another. My friend knows how to sell this type of thing. He brought the attention in close, created a very tight frame around the action, and slowed down the moment of the magic. When that band melted through, the spectators gasped.

Hold that moment. The effect is over but the ramifications are still building in the spectators' minds. Then...

...my friend started talking about the trick. "I usually do that as a 3-phase routine, but I've started eliminating the last part..."

2) Another friend, a talented magician with the look, dress, and demeanor of a wizard, performed Anniversary Waltz for about 60 people. In Anniversary Waltz, a couple each select a card and sign the face. After some magical incantations, the two cards fuse together into a single, double-faced card each side of which is one of the signed, selected cards. Symbolically, the fused card represents the fusion of the two people, their link and their bond.

Picture the scene. My friend, looking like a cross between a magician and a high priest, is standing between the two spectators like a minister officiating at a wedding. He has fused the cards, and he gives it to them as a memento. Beautiful framing, magical moment.

Then he says, "You'll definitely want to hold on to that card, because when you leave here everyone in the audience will want to pounce on it and examine it from top to bottom to see that it is, indeed, a single card."


What Happened?

I've caught good magicians doing this type of thing before, but I have only recently learned the name for it: metadiscourse. In writing, metadiscourse is essentially writing about the act of writing itself. More specifically, we use metadiscourse when we refer to the act of writing whatever it is we're writing at the time. In Technical Writing, metadiscourse is generally a no no; you're not supposed to say, "This guide covers" or "Later, I will discuss..." because those are of no interest to your reader, who only cares about the information, not the form of the information or the process in which it was written.

I've struggled to define the term accurately for you and the best I can come up with is this; this whole sentence is metadiscourse. Of course, metadiscouse can be wonderful. Blogs, for instance, thrive on metadiscourse, since they are often channels for bloggers to work through their own thinking on various issues in a public way. In the future, I might have more to say about the role of metadiscourse in our modern wired society (think Twitter). But that's enough metadiscourse for now.


Magic and Metadiscourse

In the examples above, the magicians killed the moment by talking about the tricks after they happened. The young fellow took an impressive effect, a rubber band passing through another, and turned it in the eyes of the audience into a routine, a studied series of moves and sections. The wizard took a beautiful effect about a sacred union and turned it back into a puzzle. Metadiscourse doth slay the mystery.

Metadiscourse can play an important role in magic. When David Blaine talks about how Houdini inspired him, or when Criss Angel channels David Blaine to talk about how Houdini inspired him--that's metadiscourse. Much of the metadiscourse in magic can be banal, like stories about "the first trick my Grandpa showed me when I was a boy," or the perennial "I learned this trick in the Orient many years ago...." It can also be deep; Ricky Jay is a master of metadiscourse, and his entire 52 Assistants show is as much a tribute to the history and practice of card magic as it is about the magic itself.

For the most part, however, too much metadiscourse is death to magic. To create a sense of jaw-dropping astonishment, you almost by definition have to take your spectator outside the province of magical technique and history and put them in a pure, unfiltered now. David Blaine is smart enough to put all his metadiscourse, his setup, up front. You'll never see Blaine create a miracle and then talk afterward about the process. Blaine is comfortable enough with the visceral notion of wonder that he allows his spectators to remain in the state for as long as possible.

But many magicians are uncomfortable with actual wonder, and their own power to create it. So they reflexively move to kill the moment of wonder by cracking wise, or talking about the trick. Rather than allowing the spectator to simply be in the experience, they feel the need to fill the "void" with mindless chatter.

I've become very sensitive to the issue of metadiscourse, especially as it applies to magicians who appreciate and strive to create deep wonder. In the examples above, I was able to call my friends' attention to the phenomenon and point out how much stronger their material would be if they eliminated all post-effect metadiscourse. Being gentlemen of taste and discrimination, and excellent magicians both, they understood and will certainly be more conscious about not stepping on their own effects in the future.


"Technical Metadiscourse" in Magic

I've always loved the joke that opens this post, but I think it's particularly funny for magicians, for whom there's a lot of truth in the ventriloquist's retort. Magicians are often so in love with their technique they create extra proof of innocence where none is required. For instance, another very talented magician friend (I'm extremely lucky to have such an amazing community of magicians around me) sent me an email about an idea he saw posted on the Magic Cafe. The idea is a "subtlety" added to Bob Sheets' Hang 'Em High, a rope through body effect I've been doing for years.

In this new "improved" version, before you pull the rope through your body you attach a sticker with the name of your two spectators to the center of the rope. Then, when the rope passes through you the audience sees the sticker still on the rope. In other words, you have just "proved" something that didn't need proving, that the rope that passed through your body is the same rope you started with.

I've coined a term for such types of technical solutions to what are often non-existent problems: technical metadiscourse. Technical metadiscourse comes about when magicians create extra presentational points to cover what they see as a weakness or potential hole in their secret methodology. Such tools can be important in magic. Having a spectator sign a card is an example of useful, overt technical metadiscourse. The signature is openly intended to preclude an obvious method (duplicate cards) from entering the spectator's mind and ruining the effect.

On the other hand, magicians often have no feel for when such "over-proving" is necessary or even prudent. The common magical aphorism covering this situation is Don't run when you're not being chased. At one of our local magic contests, yet another talented magician won by causing a borrowed bill to vanish and reappear under impossible conditions in a selected lemon. Many of the other "magicians" were surprised the trick played so well. Someone asked one of the spectators, "Did he have you sign the bill?"

Spectator (puzzled): "The bill was inside the lemon!"

Skeptic: "But, did he tear off one corner so you could identify the bill later?"

Spectator (patiently, as to a child): "But that was my bill, and it was in the fucking lemon!"

Examine your magic for unnecessary metadiscourse, both technical and verbal. Eliminate if possible. Be fierce with yourself.


Why Magicians Use Inappropriate Metadiscourse

I have several theories about why magicians often feel the need to add metadiscourse both during and after an effect.

My first theory states that magicians often add technical metadiscourse as a way to assuage their guilt. Here's a classic example every beginner is taught to avoid, "This is an ordinary deck of cards." Saying such a thing only arouses suspicion; why wouldn't it be an ordinary deck? Even though magicians very rarely make such a silly mistake, they often create similar situations. For instance, I can't tell you how many times I've seen magicians performing coin and card effects spasmodically "proving" that their hands contain only cards. Or magicians doing the Silk from Empty Hand trick pointing their hands, fingers towards the audience, for waaay to long just to "prove" that their hands are really, really empty.

Sometimes, we just do it because we can. Even when we shouldn't.

Another pet peeve, which I see all the time during performances of Professor's Nightmare (in which three unequal lengths ropes become all the same length): "Now I have one...two...three lengths of rope, all the same length." Those familiar with Professor's Nightmare will know the count I'm referring to. Unless you're working a nursery school, you don't need to explain that three ropes are counted one...two...three. And you don't need to tell people what they can already see, that the ropes are now the same length.

I don't object to the technique, by the way, just the pointless counting. When I used to do Professor's Nightmare table-hopping, I would always do the display count as a convincer, but I would say, "Once again, here's the short rope, here's the middle-length rope, and...Oh, wait, that's the short one, this is the medium-length one...and I guess this is the long one." In other words, I use the display as a setup for a gag. The gag not only gives me a reason to do the count, it also reinforces that they are all identical in a fun way and it gives me a rhythm to move through the count and cover any dirty work I might wish to accomplish.

The whole display is technical metadiscourse, designed to point away from the method. Done right, it's very convincing; done badly, it makes you look guilty. Don't feel guilty fooling people. Your job is to create wonder, and you have the tacit permission of your audience to lie or cheat however you like (as long as no one gets hurt) to create the illusion of impossibility.



Magicians are Friendly

My other theory about why we magicians often add needless metadiscourse is that we all want to be friendly and communitarian. Fooling someone, creating deep astonishment, inevitably creates a wall between us and the audience, between us who "know" and those who have no idea what just happened. We want to soften the blow, to comfort the audience that it's all in fun, that it's all a trick, that it's all "entertainment."

So we say, "That's something new I've been practicing." Or, "That's a cool Paul Harris routine." These are metadiscourse; they mean a lot to a magicians but only serve to puncture the wonder bubble for your spectators.

Please don't make this mistake. Keep your magic occult, hidden, secret. I don't mean you should take full credit for every trick you do, but when people ask "Where did you learn all this stuff?" they don't really want to hear, "I got a book from the library, then hung out at the magic club meeting at the local church...." They don't want to hear, "Well, the original idea was in Frank Garcia's Million Dollar Card Secrets, but then Racherbaumer did some work with it...."

Here's an idea: Script your answers to common questions.
Q. "Where do you learn this stuff?"
A. "I'm part of a small group of magicians who meet and work together to bend space and time and create miracles."

That's a gag answer, in a way, but it's also relatively true without being mundane. When people ask that question, here's what they secretly hope you'll say (and mean):

"Gypsies stole me as a child and I was trained in the dark arts."
"I was kidnapped by men in black and my power grew in a secret underground laboratory in the Rocky Mountains."
"After the lightening struck my skull, I began to see and understand things others could not."

I'm not suggesting you use these lines (although feel free to, especially if they're true). I'm only saying people want mystery and romance, not prosaic explanations. When you demystify the art you're not doing anyone a favor. Not your audience or yourself.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hans Rosling at TED

The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference is an annual invitation-only gathering of some of the most brilliant people in the world. Geniuses from one field after another get up and speak for twenty or so minutes about whatever they want, and the TED people have graciously put up many of the talks online. If you have time to kill and a mind to blow, you could do worse than to spend a few hours watching one astounding presentation after another.

I first saw Hans Rosling's 2006 talk about six months ago and it literally brought tears to my eyes. Rosling is a Swedish professor of public health on a mission to make the world's data, especially UN public health data, widely available and accessible. Here he creates highly visual animated data maps to show that the world is getting better, the gap between rich and poor is shrinking, and life expectancy is rising almost everywhere. This is a stunning, rousing talk and is apparently now considered legendary among TED aficionados. Check it out here.

Now, his 2007 follow-up talk is also online. All together now: Hans Rosling Rulez!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A New Kind of Surrealism - Updated

Update: The old link died. I Googled "super cool pic" and found this new one:

This is absolutely trippy.

Hold the mouse button down and slowly move around. The old link was full-screen; this one, unfortunately, is not. But it's still rockin' cool.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Torture, Nazi Style

Andrew Sullivan, the influential blogger for The Atlantic, is also a disenchanted conservative and former editor of The New Republic. In a recent post, Sullivan compares the Nazi's interrogation methods, which were deemed war crimes punishable by death in the World Court, with the interrogation methods approved by the Bush administration.

Conclusion:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

Read the whole post here.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Danny Elfman and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo

I've been a big fan of Danny Elfman since the Oingo Boingo days, back when New Wave music was the hippest thing going. Hits like Little Girls, Dead Man's Party, and Stay will be instantly recognizable to anyone who watched MTV in the early days, when MTV was the most cutting edge cultural force in popular media. Only a Lad was probably Elfman's biggest hit but I couldn't find a video on YouTube.

I was as amazed as anyone when Elfman suddenly emerged with the quirky but brilliant soundtrack to Tim Burton's Pee Wee's Big Adventure. His follow-up film scores, including other Burton films like Edward Scissorhands and Batman, plus the opening song from The Simpsons have shown his range and remarkable ear for moody, kaleidoscopic tunes.

Before he became a rock star, Elfman and his brother Richard were part of the absurdist theater troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, and it was in this role that they took the Gong Show by storm back in 1976. Check it out below; this is a loopy performance on one of the loopiest TV shows ever!



TOTH to BoingBoing for this one.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ray McGovern: Cheney was behind forged Niger documents

Okay, he has no evidence he's willing to share (yet), but former CIA officer Ray McGovern has been a heroic thorn in the administration's side for a while now and I hope he can back up his claims.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jon Stewart on Bill Moyers

Here's an awesome half-hour interview with American treasure Jon Stewart by American treasure Bill Moyers, presented under the terms of Fair Use, no doubt. These are two of the most truth-talking figures on television today.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tell Us The Mission (Accomplished)

Actor/poet Steve Connell slams the administration and its catastrophic war in this striking new video.


---------------------------------------------
I'm very late to the game here; this is the first time I've embedded a YouTube on my blog. The moment I posted this I got a jolt. What mind-boggling technology we've unleashed! The democratization of all media is extraordinary; in politics, this could quickly end up with our president impeached. Progressive hero Dennis Kucinich has just filed articles of impeachment against the Vice President.

Onward!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stewart/Colbert = Yin and Yang

Am I the first to notice this?
Click for larger image.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

R.I.P. Dan O'Neil


Among the tragedy coming out of Virgina Tech this week is the loss of 22 year old Dan O'Neil, a talented musician. His website at www.residenthippy.com contains some beautiful songs you might want to check out if you feel like taking a little trip to sadville.

Did You Know? - Another Mind-Blowing Video

Did You Know? is essentially a bunch of factoids and statistics set to music. But the picture it paints of the tectonic shifts in our culture and society is pretty mind-blowing. Some of the concepts, such as the fact that the 25% of China's population with the highest IQ is more numerous than the entire population of the United States, certainly calls America's future primacy into question. Others, like the estimate that by 2023 a $1000 laptop will be more powerful than the human brain, and by 2049 more powerful than the entire human race, are so outside of any conceptual framework I can imagine that I can only drape my jaw on the ground and wonder.

The age of YouTube brings astounding visions daily. Someone else took Did You Know and made a slightly modified version with a somewhat different focus. Did You Know II concludes with a look at the massive new content creation happening among the young -- blogs, wikis, MySpace, and the like.

I recommend you check out both.

----------------------------
TOTH to John B., via Josh, via...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Amazing Animation Explains Mind-Blowing Web 2.0

A favorite theme of mine is that the pace of change is accelerating quite dramatically. Even though I know this is true, I'm still blown away by how fast and how far we've come, even in the last, oh, year, year and a half. The internet is making us smarter by orders of magnitude, by exponentially extending our capabilities.

This extraordinary 4 1/2 minute film is a dense and mind-blowing journey into the heart of what's happening. It's called The Machine is Us/ing Us, and it was made by one Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. I recommend you view it more than once.

---------------------------
I first saw this when BoingBoing linked to it a while back. Just the other day my friend Greg sent it along to me again, and my second viewing impressed me even more than the first. Thanks Greg!

The version I linked above it the "Final Version." The version just before this received almost 2 million hits. I think they're almost the same; this final version is just slightly cleaned up based on some user suggestions.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Multiple Kite World Record Holder

I'd not previously heard of multiple kite flying, but Ray Bethell is apparently the world champion. This video certainly is a delightful surprise.

Bethell makes the kites look like the Blue Angels. Neat-o!

---------------

Hat tip to the Grand Illusions newsletter for the link.

WARNING! Scrumptious toy alert! Don't click on their link unless you have a few extra dollars you'd like to part with.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An Open Letter to the Genii Forum - UPDATED

Backstory: An extraordinarily talented young magician I know named Chris Brown has a video up on YouTube which has garnered over 2 million views, an astonishing number in the YouTube universe and a sure sign that he did something right. Needless to say, many magicians hate him.

The Genii Forum, one of the most influential online forums for magicians, has a whole long thread of pompous deconstruction (no really, don't bother) about why Chris' video is terrible and pointless and why Chris needs to consult with them so he can learn how to really do magic like a pro. Okay, it's not entirely all about that, and there are some voices from people who actually get it, but in the subtext of the thread that description pretty much sums it all up.

Anyway, as one of his many mentors (and probably his biggest fan among us), I felt the need to respond in a public way to the whole thread. If you're not into magic you may want to skip this. On the other hand, if you're interested in hearing some inside dish about the magic community, read on.

UPDATE: 3/22/07 - After you read this, you may want to check out the follow up, which I posted directly to the Genii Forum here.
UPDATE: 3/23/07 - And another one here.

UPDATE: 12/16/09 - Apparently, most of the names on the Genii Forum have been "anonymized, so my posts no longer can be identified as mine (nor can Chris' responses, except where he identifies himself). I have therefore added my follow-ups below.

-----------------------------------------------------

Hoo Boy, I just had to write in on this one. It's amazing to read such a typically clueless discussion as has characterized much of this thread. I'd almost wager money that most of those so upset about Chris' YouTube video aren't big fans of David Blaine either. When you don't know why the successful are successful you don't really understand your own art.

2 million hits on YouTube doesn't happen by accident, folks. It just doesn't. 2 million hits happens because you struck a chord with a lot of people by showing something, unfiltered by traditional media filters, that moves them in a deep and personal way. And they have, in turn, done your marketing for you, driven by passion -- theirs -- to share with all their friends whatever it is in your clip that moved them in some new way.

Chris' clip is more amazing than most of you know, and better magic, too. His technique is fine, and he's the most gifted natural performer I've encountered in many many moons.

He has a vision, guys. He's young and he's raw, but he has a vision, for himself and for magic. And he's got the cojones to pull it off, too.

People -- a lot of them, obviously -- saw the video and thought the magic was amazing. That's why they recommended it to their friends, and that's why he has 2 million hits. He has a lot of fans because they can feel that he's real. Not a prefabricated fake like Copperfield, but a real person who loves to make magic happen for real people.

And the humility! Chris has real humility. He's cocky as hell, but deep down he's a serious soul. Read his comments on the thread. It's all about gratitude for your opinions, about respect for his elders, about not wanting to start any fights, about his love for magic and his desire to express himself through it.

He learned from the Master, folks. He's a disciple of David Blaine all the way, and David Blaine is the most important magician since Houdini. By far. David Blaine saved magic. He's the reason really cool, hip, artistic kids now are attracted to magic.

I've been in magic well over thirty years and it was never the cool, hip, artistic kids who did magic. Never. To be a magician was to automatically not be the cool, hip, artistic kid.

Now, thanks to David Blaine, we have more amazing cool, hip, artistic young magicians than ever.

The aging magical chattering class hates the Blaine style, so snootily dismissed as "Street Magic," precisely because it has the actual "street" in it, as in real people, in the real world. The idea that magic should be something that happens in their world, on their streets, in their lives, is anathema to the dysfunctional paradigm in which magic has stagnated for the last hundred years.

Like the aging rock and roll chattering class that hates and fears Hip Hop -- which similarly emerges from and expresses the feelings of the street -- magic's aging chattering class has quite convinced themselves that real magicians work gigs for money, like birthday clowns, or work live in theaters. Getting someone to pay you a lot of money to do only the magic you really, really want to do, is obviously not a path a serious artist would ever take. That's why the best and wisest actors are the ones who do commercials and amusement park shows rather than those slackers, like Robert DeNiro, who become movie stars. That's why the band that played at your wedding is obviously a more "serious" bunch of musicians than Radiohead. Or U2.

The chattering class' slide from mediocrity into irrelevance will only get worse...

And to mix your magic with Hip Hop -- quelle horreur!

Hip hop is the lingua franca of youth, my friends, and it's a language in which youth are fluent. You want to express something meaningful to kids and young adults, in a way that's hip and cool, you back it with hip hop. And Chris does just that, not because he cares about being cool, but because hip hop is his lingua franca too, it's the music that expresses how he feels, in a language he understands.

How great for all of us who love magic that the art is being saved, day by day, by the people the old guard hate and fear the most. This is absolutely the best time in a hundred years to be a great magician, a golden age. And Chris is lucky and honored to be riding in the vanguard right now.

Just be grateful for our front-row seats.

-----------------

Follow-up Comment

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful responses. My own post emerged from what I saw as a deeply and unfairly stacked deck on this thread. Pete Biro posted the YouTube link, whereupon a whole slew of people saw fit to insult Chris, his video, and YouTube magicians in general. Most of the attacks came from a predictable if, in my opinion, flawed paradigm which states that young magicians making cool magic videos are somehow to be hated and dismissed.

Brad said, "If they spent half as much time reading "Our Magic" as they do reading their 'Final Cut Pro' manuals, magic would be a better place."

And: "In art, a mannerist period is defined as a time frame in which the means of expression become so pervasive nothing ends up being expressed. Today's younger generation has found themselves in/created for themselves a mannerist period."

Is it possible, Brad, that something important IS being expressed but that you simply can't read the language? That paragraph makes you sound exactly like those old folks who claimed that rock and roll was useless noise ("You can't even understand the words!") and that those kids who loved it were therefore idiots. History has not been kind to that particular viewpoint -- although patronizing kids remains as popular as ever.

Asking Chris to clarify his point is like asking a painter to explain a painting, or a musician to explain a song. The expression speaks for itself, and it either works for you or it doesn't.

But don't assume there's nothing there.

Chief mouthpiece Richard Kaufman saw fit to weigh in with three -- three! -- insulting comments, including:

"What's different now is that places like YouTube provide a location where everyone can strut their underdeveloped stuff for all the world to see.

"All I can say is, YUCK."

And:

"I disagree, Tom. I would rather they NOT be performing publically [sic] for millions of people around the planet to see when they are fit only to practice in front of a mirror."

(Gee, Richard, just what in Chris' video do you think is only fit to practice in front of a mirror?)

And:

"I don't recall what Eugene wrote, but I would say that performance without an audience is called practice."

(Oh. I guess 2 million people isn't a big enough crowd to be called an "audience?")

And finally, on his 4th post, Kaufman writes:

"I should add that I have not watch [sic] the clip in question on YouTube, merely commenting on the general phenomenon."

In other words, Kaufman has just pontificated 3 times about a clip he hasn't seen. He is admitting publicly that he is prejudiced (as in, "pre-judging") against magicians on YouTube, which automatically disqualifies his opinion from serious consideration.

And he's not the only one.

David Alexander: "YouTube and its clones have given an outlet for the ignorant and self-absorbed who have no business stepping away from their mirrors. The number of viewings for some of these videos is sad news in that a great many people are being educated as to what magic is, not what it can be in the hands of a competent performer."

That's some pretty broad hating without any specifics.

Brad Henderson gives props to David Blaine, finally. But where David Blaine trumps those who have followed is in his deep, spiritual quest for meaning. Not even the merely super-talented, like Cyril and Derren Brown, can touch that. Brown, in particular, falls back on his pseudo-scientific explanations, that old "combination of magic, psychology, and intuition" bullshit so favored by mentalists these days. Don't get me wrong: I love Brown and I think he's quite brilliant, but he doesn't project a transcendent search for meaning the way Blaine does.

Magicians get so wrapped up in technique, in history and crediting issues, that they fail to see the organic way in which all arts grow and change. Chris is driven by a vision -- not yet fully formed, I don't think -- but he has a real vision in the same way Blaine does. He's a truly modern magician, with multiple streams by which his fans can respond and interact with him.

How many people on this forum have motivated their audiences to make fan art?

----------------

Final Follow-up Comment

The magic community has shown a lot of hostility to the YouTube generation. But I'm surprised that a lot of people on this forum don't basically think Chris' video is cool, shows some pretty eye-popping (if standard, to all you pros) magic, and demonstrates nothing but respect and love for the art and craft. Same planet, different eyes, I guess.

I happen to think Chris' video presents magic in a great light -- the tricks all look great, his timing is good, and the music is modern and hip. There aren't that many magic clips I want to watch more than once but Chris did a great job with this one and it survives multiple viewings.

Of course, I'm quite partial to progressive Hip Hop, too, and the Cannibus song is very cool. Chris knows his music, and he communicates a lot by the choices he makes.

It seems as though a lot of non-magicians were impressed with the video as a demonstration of magic, too. That "Twins do magic" video linked to in an earlier post is a loving tribute by a couple of girls who were impressed by Chris' magic. You can either feel contempt for the uneducated laymen or you can ask what you can do to reach people the way Chris did.

Blaine wannabe: hogwash. Yes, Chris and many other magicians of note under 25 are the children of Blaine, no question. Chris would be the first to acknowledge this. Blaine created a whole new paradigm of magic for the 21st century: wear normal, hip clothes, take it to the streets, do it for real people with real objects in real situations...

And thank god for him, too. Blaine single-handedly stopped magic's slide into artistic irrelevance. I was getting pretty tired of magicians dressed like waiters doing tricks with gentlemen's hats and silk scarves and canes -- turn-of-the-century accouterments with little meaning to modern spectators.

I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly. How many magicians before Blaine can you think of who were as hip and contemporary as, say, The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Or Nicholas Cage? Or, for that matter, Criss Angel?

Angel wears jeans and tee shirts and performs in the streets, too, with cool music video-style editing. Is he also a Blaine wannabe? (Wait, don't answer that.)

Blaine provided a language; young magicians now use that language as a starting point for wherever their art needs to go. Chris is no more a Blaine wannabe than Channing Pollack was a Robert Houdin wannabe just because he, too, dressed in formal evening wear.

It was Houdin, in fact, who said that a magician should dress in the appropriate contemporary clothes of a gentleman. These days, gentlemen wear jeans and t-shirts far more often than tuxedos. At least the cool ones do.

Making a video after only 2 years in magic? Yup, a lot of us initially encouraged Chris to wait a while. But he's young, ambitious, and energetic and he wisely chose to ignore us older naysayers. After all, who are we to try to nip the blasting energy of youth in the bud? Chris will not be dissuaded by anyone; he has vision and drive, and I applaud him for it.

"You won't be young forever." Andy Warhol.

More power to you, young brother Chris. Take it all the way!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Vote Different: UPDATED

UPDATE: March 20th. I guess I'm only slightly ahead of the mainstream. The San Francisco Chronicle today had a front page article on Vote Different. Like all great masterworks of the YouTube age, this viral attack ad really exploded fast and changed the rules virtually overnight.

Obama's people are denying any involvement (and there's no particular reason to believe otherwise), but they've got to be dancing gleeful jigs about this powerful anti-Hillary mashup of Apple's famous 1984 commercial. The original was directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner), and this impressive new version surfs the iconography beautifully. Hillary makes a surprisingly convincing Big Brother, too.

I'm just saying.

This is a major new development. The political hacks have lost control of their own message. Expect to see more homebrew political ads cropping up all over between now and '08.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brain Exercise: 50 States in 10 Minutes

Ironic Sans is photographer David Friedman's entertaining blog. David (as he refers to himself) first attracted notice with his pre-pixilated clothes, hilarious tee shirts with "pre-pixilated" logos suitable for TV (no accidental advertising).

Now David has up a post about a game he likes to play with his friends, in which he tries to remember and write down the names of all 50 U.S. states in 10 minutes. One of his readers designed this terrific online version. If you have 10 minutes to spare, click on it and give it a try!

I got 38 on my first try. Is that good or lame?

Update: I got 39 on my second try. That's exhausting!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dylan Hears a Who - UPDATED


Via BoingBoing, here's a fantastically funny pseudo-mashup [No longer available here. See UPDATE below.] of "Bob Dylan" singing Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat is a particular standout.

UPDATE 4/13/07: Apparently, the Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) estate has no sense of humor and Kevin Ryan, the creator of the clever Seuss/Dylan mashup, had to take it down or risk costly litigation. Salon has the full story here.

Dylan Hears a Who is still available via P2P, naturally. The Dr. Seuss people come off as the ineffectual culture bullies they are.

Copyright laws these days punish creativity. Here's a great article about copyright and intellectual property by a musician who decided to post all his music on the Web for free. He also recounts the story of his gifted 18-year-old student whose creativity was rewarded with 2 -- two! -- cease and desist letters from big corporations. Recommended.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Kids Today...

New York Magazine has a fantastic article on the vast (and growing) generation gap between kids today and their parents. Pull quote featuring Clay Shirky, new media studies professor at NYU:

Shirky describes this generational shift in terms of pidgin versus Creole. “Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media.”

That’s a cool metaphor, I respond. “I actually don’t think it’s a metaphor,” he says. “I think there may actually be real neurological changes involved.”


It's nice to see some generally pro-kid coverage of Internet trends, for a change.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Hero: Craig Ferguson

I'm a few days late to the game here, but I just watched Craig Ferguson's now-famous monologue in which he discusses his own alcoholism and explains why he won't make any jokes about Britney Spears (basically, it boils down to "I want to be able to sleep at night.") Ferguson, who gained fame playing Drew Carey's fatuous Scottish boss on The Drew Carey Show, devotes over twelve minutes to his moving tale of how alcohol saved his life--literally--and how he left it behind fifteen years ago.

Worth a look, if only to see genuine compassion in place of the leering, celebrity-obsessed culture that permeates so much of the mediasphere.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Denny Does the Bottles

Denny Haney, owner of Denny & Lee Magic Studio, is an old acquaintance from waaaay back in the Al's Magic Shop days (I'm sure he wouldn't remember me). Denny just YouTubed a clip of himself doing the Multiplying Bottles. It's a funny five minutes.

Nice legs on the table, too!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

al-Cuties


al-Cuties is a sharp and funny little flash flash animation from Josh Gosfield and Alex Sherwin that spares no one. You can check it out at the al-Cuties website or, better yet, bump up the numbers at YouTube.

(Link via the always-excellent AlterNet.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

In My Language

Via BoingBoing, this is a fascinating short film by an autistic woman named A.M. Baggs. In the first part, she wanders the house interacting with the objects around her; in the second, she uses a natural language translator to discuss communication, language, consciousness, and what it means to be human. An eye-opener.