30 April 2010

Deadly karaoke

Norimitsu Onishi at the New York Times offers a mindboggling piece about karaoke and violence in the Philipines.

Mr. Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings erupting from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way.”

“I used to like ‘My Way,’ but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it,” he said. “You can get killed.”

The article is primarily about “My Way,” but there are some really interesting digressions ...

A subset of karaoke bars with G.R.O.’s — short for guest relations officers, a euphemism for female prostitutes — often employ gay men, who are seen as neutral, to defuse the undercurrent of tension among the male patrons. Since the gay men are not considered rivals for the women’s attention — or rivals in singing, which karaoke machines score and rank — they can use humor to forestall macho face-offs among the patrons.

There's more, though the article leaves out this important tidbit from Wikipedia:

In the Philippines it was believed that [Syd] Vicious' version was inspired by deposed dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, where in the first part of the song Vicious attempted to imitate the voice of the late dictator.

Of course.

29 April 2010


Ragnell at Written World has an intriguing theory about the design of military Meals Ready to Eat.

All joking aside, MREs are an incredibly social food. Most contain an entree, a sidedish, a dessert, a snack, and a drink. Only one or two of these things will be edible to you (or you've gotten the only meal that anyone seems to feel is entirely good: The Chilimac. This is an anomaly, also no good for me because I don't like the entree--everything else on the menu rocks, though), the rest will either be disgusting or something you personally hate. You can, if you're hungry enough and alone, give up on your pickiness and just eat what you get. But I believe part of the point of the MRE (or an important side effect, since the main point was probably to make a meal that you could quickly eat a little bit of, work or get into a firefight, and then eat a little more of when the action dies down without it spoiling or spilling) is to build unit cohesion by forcing you to sit with the rest of your flight and trade food pouches to build an edible MRE (unless you got the cheese omelet, then you're shit out of luck. Though you probably will attract a crowd as it is such a legendarily disgusting entree that people will want to see your face when you eat it.)

Ragnell also has some good things to say about superheroes, especially Wonder Woman.

28 April 2010

Walk on the mild side

That Lou Reed, such a nice young man:

We chatted for a while, and she asked me what my favorite music was. I said the Velvet Underground — assuming, of course, she'd have no clue who they were. Her face lit up and she said, You mean Lou Reed's band???? It turned out she was the cleaning lady for Lou's dorm when he was at Syracuse, and she LOVED him. She said he was the sweetest of all the boys in the dorm, the most well-mannered and the kindest to her. She'd bake cakes and treats for him, and when he left college he would write to her. She said they still corresponded.

27 April 2010

Born Free

M.I.A.'s video for her new song “Born Free” is a well-crafted, harrowing political allegory well worth ten minutes of your time. I warn you: it's scary, gruesome and, as they say, “not safe to watch at work;” if you can't watch that sort of thing, check out Jezebel's synopsis.

It's better if you see it without having the surprise spoiled. But unhappily—and of course this is the point—the surprise isn't, fundamentally, surprising. Just like Zbigniew Libera's Lego kit, it is simultaneously absurd yet familiar, and that terrible familiarity is the point.

20 April 2010


Local Gas Pump

Originally uploaded by jmspool

Note that I am sure that, considered in isolation, each of these stickers was an improvement over the information design before it was added. It's a perfect example of how incremental design leads to bad design.

19 April 2010


Latke vs Hamentash: A Materialist-Feminist Analysis:

To summarize briefly an account that is richly nuanced (in fact, often incomprehensibly convoluted), Shapiro, an anthropologist, begins with the conjecture that the circles and triangles conventionally used to designate women and men on kinship charts are in fact iconic representations of latkes and hamentashen.

She argues, “(I)t is ultimately impossible for us to know whether, in the last analysis, the latke and hamantash should be considered as semiotic representations of the two sexes or whether the two sexes should be seen as semiotic representations of latkes and hamantashen. What is not, however, in doubt, is the association of latkes with the female principle and hamantashen with the male” (Shapiro 1990:3).

What is it that leads Shapiro to argue as a feminist that latkes, which have so clearly been part of the oppressive apparatus upholding the most retrograde patriarchal elements of Judaism, are a more appropriate symbol for women than hamentashen? I will argue that such an interpretation is possible only if analysis remains at a symbolic level which so decontextualizes the subject that there is no trace of the lived experience of the relevant social actors.

08 April 2010


In honour of Confederate History Month I give you Fengi on Confederate History:

Again with the brazen bigoted fuckwitcha stuff.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, reviving a controversy that had been dormant for eight years, has declared that April will be Confederate History Month in Virginia...he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states.”

Here is the central truth: The South started the Civil War in order to create a slave owning, white supremacist state. How do we know this? Because they fucking said so.

Virgina's Ordinance of Secession sated it was about “the oppression of the Southern slave holding states”. In the official statements explaining their acts of succession, Georgia denounced “the equality of the black and white races”, and Mississippi proclaimed slavery “the greatest material interest of the world” while complaining about the Union “It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.”

Texas was the most bold proclaiming their status “as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

The Confederate constitution was a duplicate of American document with extra language making slavery a permanent institution. This included the following language:

The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

This shows the Confederacy aspired to be an expanding slave owning empire. Note they specified “negro slavery”.

After the war, some confederates tried to revise history saying rhetoric about protecting the Southern way of life against Northern injustice was about vaguely defined complexities. Prior to the war, they were clear and strident that it was about white people owning African Americans as property (to be bred, burdened, traded and killed at will).

There were bigots a plenty in the North, but this isn't the issue. The South fought a war to create a racist slave empire. The Confederacy's defining - and arguably only - purpose was a crime against humanity.

The defeat of the Confederates is as much a victory as the defeat of Nazis in WWII. Both wer attempts to found a society on racial superiority and brutalized, oppressed and/or killed an entire group of people. Except Germany doesn't have state leaders whining they were only protecting a now vague “way of life”.

ADDENDUM: Offended provincials should realize people accept the diverse 21st Century South is not the Confederacy; it's part of why they think this is bullshit.

03 April 2010


A few weeks back, I was observing a focus group of folks around 20 years old. It turns out that a lot of them bring their laptops with them everywhere. (This is no longer geeky. Hmmm.) As an aside, one of them described the iPad as puzzling, “a laptop for old people.”

Laughter behind the glass.

Take it away, Nick Sweeney:

When I was seven, my dad built me a bed, taking inspiration from a drawing in an old woodworking magazine, scavenging the wood, cutting it to fit the lean in the room. It had three drawers and cupboard space beneath for the games and toys and books I steadily acquired, as well as the growing pile of tapes for my ZX Spectrum.

Around the same time, he carved me a miniature cricket bat the length of my middle finger, notching a V, varnishing it, winding cotton for the handle grip. It’s a precious thing to me.

He has built sheds, paved patios, dug out ponds, knocked out walls, fit gas fires, tied flies — and that’s just in his spare time.

My dad is a maker.

In his twenties, my dad bought a tenor banjo. It’s a beautiful thing: ivory buttons, inlaid mother-of-pearl on the head and fretboard, vellum skin, a duster stuffed behind to keep down the volume. Looking online some years ago, I found a site devoted to vintage banjos, which told me a little about its age and history and the journey it had taken over nearly a century of existence. I told this to my dad, and he was thrilled; I printed out the pages and posted them, because computers remain a mystery to him.

Last year he told me that the screws from a couple of the tuners had broken; finding replacements was difficult, because that gauge wasn’t made any more in Britain. I registered at a banjo forum, asked for help, and within days a kind person from New York not only told me the gauge I needed, but sent a bag of screws that I posted on to my dad. They were a perfect fit. When I described how I got them, I might as well have been telling him that aliens landed in the garden and left them behind.

A couple of Christmases back, I called my parents, who were staying with my sister and her family. Could I speak to my dad, I asked? I’ll give him a shout, said my mother, but he’s been playing on the Wii with the kids from the moment they switched it on.

I finally spoke to him, surprised by what I’d heard. “Bloody marvellous, son.”

When I look at the iPad, I see something my dad could use without hand-holding to find the history of that banjo, to seek out those screws, to look at old video of Sonny Terry, to feed his glorious practical creativity, unencumbered by the need to learn the habits and quirks of computing, and not relying upon a transatlantic support department.

There’s a liberation in open things (and opening things) but there’s a far greater one in how things can open up people.

A laptop for old people. Damn straight.

Sorry, Cory. I still love ya—and bless you for fighting against DRM and in favour of sane intellectual property—but this time you're wrong. I don't want to take a screwdriver to my computer, or to read its schematics; I just want the damned thing to work properly.