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Kjell

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Album review of Take Care by Drake [Feb. 23rd, 2012|05:24 pm]
Kjell

The music from the title track of Take Care is producer Jamie xx's reedit of his remix of Gil Scott-Heron's cover of a song performed by Bobby Bland (and written by Brook Benton) back in 1959:  "I'll Take Care of You." Just listen to Jamie xx's 2010 remix and it's pretty clear Drake and Rhianna aren't doing much besides getting it out to a wider audience.

"Doing it Wrong" stands out because the last third is a soulful harmonica improvisation by Stevie Wonder, who apparently served as a sort of mentor for Drake during the album's production.

The eerie atmospheric dirge of "Marvin's Room" is the good track that lured me to listen to the full album. On the physical CD, there's no track separation between the song and "Buried Alive (Interlude)." A great pairing. That interlude is, however, rapped by Kendrick Lamar; Drake didn't write or produce it. Percussion frills in the song are reminiscent of the recording techniques as in "From Stardust to Sentience" (High Places), while the affective, voyeuristic use of a lo-fi recorded phone conversation recalls tracks like "Janine" (Soul Coughing), "…A Psychopath" (Lisa Germano), etc.

"They say more money more problems, my nigga don’t believe it / I mean, sure, there’s some bills and taxes I’m still evading / But I blew six million on myself and I feel amazing." (Drake, "The Ride")

Some have (ridiculously) interpreted Drake's album as a "critique of the very culture that's created him as an artist" (Ann Powers, NPR).

The feeling I get from Take Care is of an increasingly explicit alienation between fan and icon. Either that, or all the melancholy and angst Drake puts into the album is drama for the sake of entertainment for the sake of money (maybe Drake really does feel amazing). Celebrity portrayed as martyrdom, Drake clutches his golden chalice, alone in the dark room, suffering for the game, alienated by his riches and status. Meanwhile, while a fan may enjoy the vicarious experience of success through an icon to some extent, they're also alienated by admiration of something they are not. When does respect and love for an star turn into envy and schadenfreude? Does a player-hater hate the player, the game (as Ice T recommended back in '99), or their own lack of game?

The alienation of star from fan is paradoxically bridged by mutual commiseration about the alienating effects of the culture. Fans can relate the suffering Drake feels in his estrangement from normal people to their own suffering of not living up to cultural ideals of material opulence. A sadistic ying-yang of respective exploitation between star and fans, each reflecting the pain of the game. One pole extravagant, overdosed, the vast other malnourished, unesteemed. A microcosm of (and cultural allegory for) income inequality in general, extrapolated into a realm of cultural and spiritual inequality. There is no culture that invests more wholeheartedly and desperately into the American dream of rags to riches than those who believe in the game. No one takes simplistic, cutthroat libertarian market values further, applying them to a model of art as a meritocratic popularity contest (ala American Idol and all it's spinoffs). It creates a true belief in a dynastic succession of #1 rappers playing King of the Hill. Art as a battle and the battle is an empty message. Combat among slaves and gladiators in an American Circus Maximus.

"All I see are Minstrel MC's on these channels / Perceived battles only held to sell albums" (Dälek, "Culture for Dollars")
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Are we the 99%? [Oct. 27th, 2011|11:17 pm]
Kjell
From Wall Street to Westlake Center Plaza in Seattle, the Occupy movement's "We are the 99%" signs have made me curious about the veracity of its unifying slogan as an economic claim. I'd visited such statistics before, but never felt I understood them in a coherent big picture of our nation's household wealth.

We spend so much of our lives navigating the economy, setting our sights on an higher income, aspiring to a higher net worth, comparing ourselves to coworkers and peers — but do any of us have a good map? I never found a good one by Googling, but I knew the data was public, so I decided it was time to crunch it. If you too find this visualization useful, click through it to the interactive version and please share it.

Source: The Federal Reserve's most recent available triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (2007).


Notice that the brackets of net worth on the x-axis are log scale, not linear. There's an factor of 10 increase every third bracket. For the sake of nice even ranges, a slight irregularity to the intermediate scale factors is introduced: Instead of using 10^(1/3) ≈ 2.15, the range multipliers increase as 2, 2.5, 2. The other necessary irregularity of this graph is how it crosses into the debt brackets. 2% of the population is reported at 0 (making it the population's mode), so I chose to show it separate rather than lump it into a range. The brackets on either side of zero range by a factor of 1000 because a more detailed breakdown of his region seemed unnecessary and would be visually disruptive. And a final note: the negative share of total net worth held by those in debt (cumulatively, they have less that a quarter of one percent impact on total wealth) was left off for convenience in formatting the graph.

So, how well does the rhetoric "We are the 99%" hold up? The top 1% of the population (those with net worth $8.36 million and up) own 33.6% of the nation's wealth. To those not already familiar with statistics on wealth inequality — and studies show that most Americans are not — the revelation that over a third of the nation's wealth is concentrated in the richest hundredth of households can be shocking. A stat like that ought to be shocking, right? I think so.

At the same time, I'm not convinced that the millions of millionaires (literally, 8% of the total US population) with net worth under $8.36M were meant to be part of the Occupy movement's rhetorical "we." But if a revision were to be made, where would "we" draw the line? In the interest of accepting the support of groups such as the tumblr "We are the 1 percent, we stand with the 99 percent" and all the sideline support of those who have not, or cannot, make the commitment to camp and protest in public squares, it seems in the best interest of the movement's message that it not be too divisive.

Interestingly, if the slogan were to flip to "We are the 1%," that could make sense in a way too, while better representing the actual demographics of likely protesters: The bottom 41% of the population (those with under $70K) own 1% of the nation's household net worth. 50:50 balance points may also be worth considering: The 97th percentile of the population (those making above $3.4 million) is the point with equal wealth above and below. $121K is the population's balance point (median) and 2.5% of total wealth is owned by the lower half. Or perhaps what frames the most dramatic contrast of all is the fact that about 10% of the population has zero or negative net worth — close to the same percent as those holding over a million.

But what about the middle? Politically, it's very popular to show unreserved dedication to the well-being of the "middle class," a group to which many claims are attributed by many people (much as with the disputed rhetorical ownership of "the American dream"). The wide-ranging 'middle' is also a politically useful group one may summon in order to downplay and redirect class conflict between more economically disparate classes.

On the graph, we see a tale of two middles: A red bell-curve of wealth and a partially overlapping blue distribution of people. Centering a net worth bracket on the intersection of the curves, around $557K, would give the closest equivalence between share of population and share of wealth. In other words, a harmonious maximization of money and peers, and a political goldmine. This is the demographic of small business owners and entrepreneurs that both parties put atop their highest pedestal when they're pitching business incentive policies to voters.

If the middle class is to be made of people though, then this lauded red/blue overlap group is probably a bit too high for statistical inclusion.  The middle 50% of the US population has net worth in the range of $14K–$373K and as a group it holds 12.83% of the household wealth. Policies that directly cater to this subset of the population are theoretically likely to be rewarded with the highest approval ratings and votes (although this is problematized by an openness to being convinced otherwise by certain corporate-funded media campaigns). Ignoring political considerations however, there is still a strong argument for the economic importance of a strong middle class. Despite the small share of overall net worth, the middle class is still highly relevant — as workers. The labor of this class is the traditional engine on which the businesses owned and managed by those with higher net worth operate. Notably, this dependence is decreasing due the greater cost-effectiveness of outsourcing labor, as well as the greater reliance on investment in capital that can perform increasingly more of the same specialized manual and knowledge-work as humans: a gradual trend of automation.

The red wealth distribution's parallel to the middle class is the middle 50% of total household net worth. This block ranges from $761K to $11.8M and — mirroring the middle class' capacity for 12% of the wealth — this wealth holds 12% of the people! There are a massive amount of liquid assets here, free for investment and development. They may be employed to develop technologies, invest in production, generate interest from the loans given to the bulk of the population, or perhaps fed into to the stock market with the expectation that the money therein will make its own money.

This brings us to the reason that the Occupy protests began in Wall Street in the first place. It's an issue of accountability among the small, rich percent of the population to the large, poorer part. When money is catastrophically mismanaged, or the lower ranks of the net worth distribution find themselves over-exploited to the detriment of the entire system, the most tangible stress and physical suffering in the down economy accrues to the middle class and those below it. And when Washington does not seem responsive to this suffering, either because of congressional obstructionism or a lack of leadership resolve to offer protections and alleviation to the blue distribution by fairly taxing the red, that's when people take to the streets. Maintaining a protest presence like Occupy is far less comfortable, far more risky, and more personally stressful than the alternative of nonparticipation and acceptance of letting others guide the system. But while in the latter there may be at most hope of change, sometimes hope is not enough and we need action.

Let us hope that these actions will have an effect. Or better, if you support the cause — join the action.
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Replying to The Irrationalist [Oct. 6th, 2011|03:05 pm]
Kjell
Being an unpoetic response to a poet:

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffram is a quick read.

Saying so is an enticement and an apology, presenting its existence as an embarrassment, offering a testimonial that it will steal a mercifully short span of your attention, if you grant it.

Personal time and attention management — controlling informational I/O — is the most valuable skill to develop. It staves off information overload. Worrying about wasting time is worse than wasting it though, since fear of inefficiency (or of just about anything) makes for a self-defeating motivation. …Lolcats after the break!

I predict that the most difficult final challenge for AI will be to decide what is worth spending processor time computing about.

On to Buffram. Full samples, as well as abridged excerpts (that probably miscontextualize the poetry, but indeliberately! And I sincerely hope, not too badly):


PoetryCollapse )


I hope you'll agree with me that "On Attachment" and "Romantic Interior" bookend this fragment in a pleasing and optimistic way.

Meanwhile, "Dim-Lit Interior" was featured in the Poem of the Week section in February 2008 on the website of the Parliamentary Poet Laureate. It's eloquently writ, but has a depressive perspective. Or is it possible not to observe the narrator as despairing in the following lines?

"Despair comes from failing to believe new things are possible. […] The things I would most like to change are the things that
make me believe change is possible."

I find it troubling that this mood seems to justify itself with fatalistic Alvy Singer-esque (Woody Allen) astronomical musings (particularly since the poet herself seemed to warn against allying oneself to such conclusions in On Common Sense).

In the face of this negativity, I wonder, who are we now, to say that we — that Life — will not, in some way, in the long run (the length of which may in hindsight appear fleeting and bittersweet in its ephemerality), overcome entropy on a non-local scale? Will our program of environmental manipulation stop short of advantageously reshaping physics? If we decide on different laws, will they not ultimately be Life's to rewrite? The universe is a house that will eventually crumble. But perhaps we will leave home long before it becomes inhospitable, or perhaps we shall renovate space and time to fit a new us, anew.

Is this ambition to be spoken in hushed, taboo tones so as not to offend the gods, as did Homer? Put as such, no. But are there legitimate concerns of overreach and the risk of great power amplifying wrongheaded actions? Yes, certainly. All the same, I can't stand that the conventional wisdom of existentialists and science-saavy philosophers is that Life ultimately has at most an Observer Effect on the universe at large, not a lead role. That at some point, intelligence, complexity and progress will reach an evolutionary plateau. And we are best off to preemptively throw up our hands, chuckle at the absurdity of our existence juxtaposed with our cosmic insignificance, and find solace in our finite time.

ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Take the thing you love most and cut it up.
Arrange the parts carefully
According to the picture in your head.
Now shine your mind at them.
If their laws come striding boldly forth at you
You will soon become a great man of your time.
If instead they lie there on the table bleeding beauty
You are probably a poet or a child.


P.S. While writing this, I had a delightful misrereading of Dim-Lit Interior:

"So lead me O Destiny whither is ordained by your decree.
Just please don't force me to vacuum the stars.

Please don't force me to vacuum the stars.
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oh, inverted world [Sep. 27th, 2011|02:08 pm]
Kjell
The universe, inverted along the boundary of Earth.
Pictured above is the standard (Copernican) model of the universe, inverted about the boundary of Earth. If this mathematical transformation of space is accompanied by appropriate redefinitions of physics (such as light propagating in curved trajectories rather than straight lines), then there is nothing empirically invalid about this model — that is, there would not be any observational differences between the models to people in either universe. The fascinating conclusion is that "topology of space-time is conventional, rather than intrinsic."

But before more deeply considering the hollow Earth, let's take a quick look at two types of perspectival and spatial inversion:

First, the optical illusion painting 'Paradoxymoron' by Patrick Hughes (video). I'd love to move in front of this in a gallery space and get a sense of the parallax. It's fun, if gimmicky, drawing attention to the routine collapse of 3-dimensional data into 2.

Second, is True Reverse Perspective (video), a transformation that reminds me of a fever dream. This technique is also known as Byzantine Perspective. Philosophically, there is an unusual notion associated with it as an omniscient, "God's Perspective" — the viewer as vanishing point.

Alright, promised link to the hollow Earth theory article now: The online version of this article "Mostafa Abdelkader and the Geocosmos" lacks the figures to which the text refers, so I've posted these below:

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you do the math [Jun. 26th, 2011|07:51 am]
Kjell
 

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(no subject) [May. 14th, 2011|02:57 am]
Kjell
I bet life doesn't flash before your eyes before you die, or even in most near-death experiences. I don't think there's any 'life review.' The notion of such a recap is very cinematic; I wouldn't be surprised if we're lead to expect it in real life from seeing it in film actually, not the other way around.

Who you are in death isn't necessarily a sum of who you've been, nor a July 4th finale of being. Who you were is stretched out across time and spread across people, moments, and the traces you've left behind. Who you were is many things. Who you are, is suddenly nothing.

This isn't meant to be morbid. It's just some thoughts I thought around the time I took Whidbey in to be put to sleep. A sunny afternoon. His eyes never closed.

Figured I'd have posted on this months ago, just didn't get around to it before now.
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Goodbye, friend [Jan. 25th, 2011|12:13 pm]
Kjell






Whidbey

(May 21, 1997 — January 25, 2011)
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synchronicity [Jan. 10th, 2011|09:46 am]
Kjell
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Some music videos from 2010 [Dec. 27th, 2010|02:30 am]
Kjell
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The Pudding Like a Night on the Sea (by Ann Cameron) [Oct. 27th, 2010|11:20 pm]
Kjell

“I’m going to make something special for your mother,” my father said.

My mother was out shopping. My father was in the kitchen looking at the pots and the pans and the jars of this and that.
  “What are you going to make?” I said.
  “A pudding,” he said.
  My father is a big man with wild black hair. When he laughs, the sun laughs in the window-panes. When he thinks, you can almost see his thoughts sitting on all the tables and chairs. When he is angry, me and my little brother Huey shiver to the bottom of our shoes.
  “What kind of pudding will you make?” Huey said.
  “A wonderful pudding,” my father said. “It will taste like a whole raft of lemons. It will taste like a night on the sea.”
  Then he took down a knife and sliced five lemons in half. He squeezed the first one.
Juice squirted in his eye.
  “Stand back!” he said, and squeezed again. The seeds flew out on the floor. “Pick up those seeds, Huey!” he said.
  Huey took the broom and swept them up.
  My father cracked some eggs and put the yolks in a pan and the whites in a bowl.
He rolled up his sleeves and pushed back his hair and beat up the yolks. “Sugar, Julian!” he said, and I poured in the sugar.
  He went on beating. Then he put in lemon juice and cream and set the pan on the stove. The pudding bubbled and he stirred it fast. Cream splashed on the stove.
  “Wipe that up, Huey!” he said.
  Huey did.
  It was hot by the stove. My father loosened his collar and pushed at his sleeves, The stuff in the pan was getting thicker and thicker. He held the beater up high in the air. “Just right!” he said, and sniffed in the smell of the pudding.
  He whipped the egg whites and mixed them into the pudding. The pudding looked softer and lighter than air.
  “Done!” he said. He washed all the pots, splashing water on the floor, and wiped the counter so fast his made circles around his head.
  “Perfect!” he said. “Now I’m going to take a nap. If something important happens, bother me. If nothing important happens, don’t bother me. And – the pudding is for your mother. Leave the pudding alone!”
  Huey and I guarded the pudding.
  “Oh, it’s a wonderful pudding,” Huey said.
  “With waves on the top like an ocean”, I said.
  “I wonder how it tastes,” Huey said.
  “Leave the pudding alone,” I said.
  “If I just put my finger in – there – I’ll know how it tastes,” Huey said.
  And he did it.
  “You did it!” I said. “How does it taste?”
  “It tastes like a whole raft of lemons,” he said. “It tastes like a night on the sea.”
  “You’ve made a hole in the pudding!” I said. “But since you did it, I’ll have a taste.”
And it tasted like a whole night of lemons. It tasted like floating at sea.
  “It’s such a big pudding,” Huey said. It can’t hurt to have a little more.”
  “Since you took more, I’ll have more,” I said.
  “That was a bigger lick than I took!” Huey said. “I’m going to have more again.”
  “Whoops!” I said.
  “You put in your whole hand!” Huey said. “Look at the pudding you spilled on the
floor!”
  “I am going to clean it up,” I Said. And I took the rag from the sink.
  “That’s not really clean,” Huey said.
  “It’s the best I can do,” I said.
  “Look at the pudding!” Huey said.
  It looked like craters on the moon. “We have to smooth this over,” I said. “So it
looks the way it did before! Let’s get spoons.”
  And we evened the top of the pudding with spoons, and while we evened it, we ate
some more.
  “There isn’t much left,” I said.
  “We were supposed to leave the pudding alone,” Huey said.
  “We’d better get away from here,” I said. We ran into our bedroom and crawled
under the bed.
After a long time we heard our father’s voice.
  “Come into the kitchen, dear,” he said. “I have something for you.”
  “Why, what is it?” my mother said, out in the kitchen.
  Under the bed, Huey and I pressed ourselves to the wall.
  “Look,” said my father, out in the kitchen. “A wonderful pudding.”
  “Where is the pudding?” my mother said.
  “WHERE ARE YOU BOYS?” my father said. His voice went through every crack and
corner of the house.
  We felt like two leaves in a storm.
  “WHERE ARE YOU? I SAID!” My father’s voice was booming.
  Huey whispered to me, “I’m scared.”
  We heard my father walking slowly through the rooms.
  “Huey!” he called. “Julian!”
  We could see his feet. He was coming into our room.
  He lifted the bedspread. There was his face, and his eyes like black lightning. He grabbed us by the legs and pulled. “STAND UP!” he said.
  We stood.
  “What do you have to tell me?” he said.
  “We went outside,” Huey said, “and when we came back, the pudding was gone!”
  “Then why were you hiding under the bed?” my father said.
  We didn’t say anything. We looked at the floor.
  “I can tell you one thing,” he said. “There is going to be some beating here now!
There is going to be some beating here now! There is going to be some whipping!”
  The curtains at the window were shaking. Huey was holding my hand.
  “Go into the kitchen!” my father said. “Right now!”
  We went into the kitchen.
  “Come here, Huey!” my father said.
  Huey walked towards him, his hands behind his back.
  “See those eggs?” my father said. He cracked them and put the yolks in a pan and set the pan on the counter. He stood a chair by the counter.  “Stand up here,” he said to Huey.
  Huey stood on the chair by the counter.
  “Now it’s time for your beating!” my father said.
  Huey started to cry. His tears fell in with the egg yolks.
  “Take this!” my father said. My father handed him the egg beater. “Now beat those eggs,” he said. “I want this to be a good beating!”
  “Oh!” Huey said. He stopped crying. And he beat the egg yolks.
  “Now you, Julian, stand here!” my father said.
  I stood on a chair by the table.
  “I hope you’re ready for your whipping!”
  I didn’t answer. I was afraid to say yes or no.
  “Here!” he said, and he set the egg whites in front of me. “I want these whipped and whipped well!”
  “Yes, sir!” I said, and started whipping.
  My father watched us. My mother came into the kitchen and watched us.
  After a while Huey said, “This is hard work.”
  “That’s too bad,” my father said. “Your beating’s not done!” And he added sugar and cream and lemon juice to Huey’s pan and put the pan on the stove. And Huey went on beating.
  My arm hurts from whipping,” I said.
  “That’s too bad,” my father said. “Your whipping’s not done.”
  So I whipped and whipped, and Huey beat and beat.
  “Hold that beater in the air, Huey!” my father said.
  Huey held it in the air.
  “See!” my father said. “A good pudding stays on the beater. It’s thick enough now.
You beating’s done.” Then he turned to me. “Let’s see those egg whites, Julian!” he said. They were puffed up and fluffy. “Congratulations, Julian!” he said. “Your whipping’s done.”
  He mixed the egg whites into the pudding himself. Then he passed the pudding to my mother.
  “A wonderful pudding,” she said. “Would you like some, boys?”
  “No thank you,” we said.
  She picked up a spoon. “Why, this tastes like a raft of lemons,” she said. “This tastes like a night on the sea.”

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