Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tagging Cyberspace - One Year On

Pop Impulse is approaching its first anniversary. Though I am still struggling with navigational and design issues, almost 170 posts later, I am generally very happy with the site and the opportunity to tag cyberspace with my own mark.

That's what bloggers do, we TAG cyberspace with digital grafitti just as a Home Boy with a can of spray paint marks a boxcar or bridge. Some of our grafitti is unexpected and beautiful, some is stark and angry, and much of what I discover is the record of many mundane lives, dreams and aspirations. Almost all is worthwhile in some way to someone. What I really appreciate about the Blogosphere is its bottom-up architecture, which gives voice and admin authority to all. In a previously top-down world, that has been a most refreshing new direction.

In a way, I feel like I've been here before. In the mid-90s I was the publisher and executive editor of Southern Oregon Magazine, the first online regional travel WebZine. That pioneering site was 365 pages deep, contained original maps and a staff of editors headed-up by John Enders, a former award-winning AP correspondent. My two partners have moved on from that venture. John Fricker is an IT manager at Musician's Friend (a Pop Impulse recommended vendor); and Gary Roberts, who was responsible for the design, look-and-feel and maps in the publication, has become a master of Flash animations and advertising. The magazine, alas, was ahead of its time and though it won four awards our attempts to monetize the asset fell short of our needs. It didn't help that we all had day jobs as well.

Pop Impulse has become my refuge and my soapbox. From this blog, I stand and rant to Net surfers about all the stuff that I find interesting and important. At this writing, I have about 500 regular readers. I write to give voice to my wonder, my opinions, and my discoveries. But you keep me going. Three-to-four posts a week. I am grateful for my readers, and agree to keep the content flowing as long as there is interest. At some point, I will better organize the several subjects that Pop Impulse covers. And as all bloggers, I'd like to increase the amount of comments, diggs and subscriptions that I I'm working on that.

In conclusion, I'd like to wish a Happy New Year to all. May the new year bring peace on earth and healing to the planet. I trust that all who celebrate at this time will have a safe and memorable passage into 2008. After a dinner at Meriwether's, my partner and I will be joining Portland, Oregon's hometown band Pink Martini at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to mark the event. I'll return to this blog the first week of January, the same time-frame that I first lit it up in January of last year.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christian Clergy Clash on Christmas

The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, where Jesus Christ was supposed to have been born. A holy site managed by priests from the Armenian Orthodox Church; the Eastern Orthodox (Greek/Russian) and the Catholic Church. A place where, predictably, on every high holy day there is conflict - among the clergy themselves. That's right. The ordained in pitched battle on the hallowed grounds where the Christian savior was born. Quite an image that. And a regular occurance. This time, it happened on Christmas and four were injured.

To review, the relationships between the sects charged with managing the site are so strained and bitter, every square inch of the place has been measured and marked-out as the turf of one sect or another. Cross the line, get you lights punched out. Then, of course, there are the differing calendars and dates that must be accomodated - often with rancor. Even cleaning the floor has been known to spark mini-riots. Such gracious and dignified behavior. OMG. Read the BBC report here.

But of course, we shouldn't be surprised. So many have died, often tortured and desecrated, in the name of one Christian sect or another. My own ancestors, the Celts, were famous for their internecine feuds. And the recent Irish troubles, pitting Protestants against Catholics, took almost half a century to settle. Then there's the Balkan conflicts. Don't get me started. Sometimes it seems to me that virtually all conflict has a least a few religious roots.

Bhutto Blamed Musharraf

In an October email to her American Spokesperson, Mark Siegel, Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated today blames former general and current Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. (Image: General Musharraf with Pres. Bush in 07)

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is reporting that Siegel forwarded the email to him and he agreed to embargo the contents unless an assassination actually took place. Well it did, and Americans need to ask themselves and their government if our policies and billions in aid have moved our national and regional interests forward. It is now clear that the government of Pakistan will blame outside extremists when it is their own hands that are bloody.

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

This morning, the Pakistani army killed one of the leading stateswomen in our generation, Benazir Bhutto. More specifically, the Paki Army's ISI security group is to blame. Either this elite corps, long-time supporters of the Taleban in Afghanistan and Kashmiri terrorists, assasinated Bhutto themselves, or their complicity and/or incompetance led directly to the attack. In either case, it is a sad day for Pakistan; for democracy, and, for empowered women everywhere.

It is no surprise that such a despicable act should happen in a country that is full of fundamentalists. That's what fundamentalists do, after all. And they seem to really get energized by exloiting and controlling their women. A 19 year-old gets gang raped in Saudi Arabia, the leading exporter of Wahabi fundamentalism, and it is her crime, her fault, and she is sentenced to 250 lashes. Uh huh. In rural Turkey, a young woman risks honor killing if she even looks at a young man without explicit family involvement and permission. Often it is the father or brother of the girl who murders her to maintain family honor. Now that's progressive thinking. And make no mistake about it, there are those here in the United States who would relegate women to subservient roles, burn books and use violence to impose their fundamentalist doctrines. Declare your independence from fundamentalism. Think for yourself.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Africa - The Power of Tribal Art

When I was 30, a friend needed to sell his collection of African masks and sculpture. The 25-piece collection lived at my home for months while I previewed the purchase opportunity for my associates. Though I never had an understanding or appreciation for tribal art to that time, living with those powerful pieces for months left me with a real sense of their meaning and value. I grew so fond of the collection that I was very sorry to see it go when a more serious collector stepped up and bought it all. I should never have let those pieces out the door. Since then I've been acquiring some African art of my own, including masks, batiks, weavings, baskets and wood carvings. I've included some of the pics in this post. Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rudy & Romney are DONE

You read it first here. The 2008 presidential campaigns of Gov. Mitt Romney and Mayor Rudy Giuliani are DONE. Kaput. Finished. Over.

Romney has been thoroughly exposed as an opportunistic phony who flip-flops in time with changing polls. It is clear now that he will say or do anything to get elected. I suspect it is a father-son competitive or comparison thing. In any case, his declining poll numbers reflect hemorrhaging support. And America's mayor Rudy is looking more-and-more like any other corrupt, wiseguy politician. It would have been counterintuitive, in any case, for the Republicans to nominate a candidate who was living with his mistress while still married. Makes Bill Clinton look quite saintly. At least he didn't divorce, twice.

The early stage Republican campaign has come down, for the time-being, to upstart evangelical Gov. Mike Huckabee and the GOP's proven Senate leader, John McCain. I'm predicting that McCain will emerge the victor and ultimate candidate, simply because faced with a real, ordained evangelical the rest of the party will bolt to McCain - led by the pro-corporatation, pro-globalization crowd. More on the upcoming elections and the Democratic primary race in a future post.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Royalty in the YouTube Era

In a cyberspace FIRST, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, England's longest living monarch at 81, today launched a Royal Channel on YouTube. That's right, HRH is now appearing in a variety of videos on the newly configured channel announced today. Readers might also be interested to note that her annual holiday address to the nation is also available as a podcast via the royal web site. Okay, I'm impressed. Her highness seems to get it, and she's obviously got some tuned-in advisors. Here is the Times of London announcement article, and here is the Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth II with everything you ever wanted to know about the old girl and then some.

This does represent something of a validation and coming-of-age for the Internet. YouTube is already playing an important role in US elections, in citizen journalism and user-produced entertainment. Google's YouTube site may turn out to supplant network television in the same manner that Craig's List has undermined local newspapers.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rainin in Paradise

It's definitely Rainin in Paradise. That goes for the weather outside my office window, and as a statement on the condition of our planet. It is also the title of the first single released from Manu Chao's September 2007 Disc, La Radiolina. Chao, arguably the hippest world beat musician on the international stage, blends liberation, a left-leaning point of view, and a variety of musical styles to create a rhythmic and infectious sound. The over-the-top animation in this video speaks for itself. Check it out. You know you want to.

Uzbekistan - Jewel of Central Asia

I've always been fascinated by the beauty of Asian carpets and the skill necessary to weave such treasures. I remember seeing a large, Persian silk carpet that took five generations of one family's life to produce. That is old-world dedication to tradition and quality, a favorite subject on this blog. The ancient Silk Road that introduced Asian treasures to Europe and the west runs through Central Asia, for years shrouded in the haze of the Russian communist revolution and territorial expansion. With the demise of the old Soviet Union, Central Asia is coming into its own again and opening up to the west.

The jewel of Central Asia, its biggest country, is Uzbekistan. Home to Tamerlane, the 14 century military genius and conquerer, Uzbekistan has some of the most exotic and picturesque cities in the region: Samarkand, Tashkent, Khiva and Bukhara. Even the names are exotic, and the architecture is simply stunning.

Blogging has opened many doors for the author and delivered countless new friends and opportunities. In that regard, I have discovered a really wonderful photoblog that is a chronicle of the travels of a very interesting Romanian accountant. His photos of the cities along the Silk Road, especially those in Uzbekistan, are great and very much worth browsing. I had hoped to use some of his fine pics in this post, but alas, he has not given me permission to do so and thus I am relying (as usual) on Wikipedia's comprehensive collection of public domain images. You'll just have to surf on over to Hoinarescu's blog, Creaga Pe Coclauri, and take a look at his images - which are more numerous and much better than Wikipedia's offerings. Make sure and click on his November "archive" for images of Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan is also home to one of my favorite new world-beat artists, Sevara Nazarkhan. A recipient of the BBC's Best Asian Artist award, Sevara has literally put Uzbek folk and popular music on the map. And she's very beautiful, in an exotic sort of way. I've always thought that Uzbeks actually look a combination of their Mongol, Turkic and Persian ancestors. Nazarkhan has a number of really excellent music videos, that are often featured on LINK TV (for those of you with Satellite).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakota Souix Secede from US - Declare Treaties Void

Wikinews is today reporting that the Lakota tribe, part of the greater Souix Nation, have formally declared their secession from the United States and further declared void all treaties past and present. (Image: Lakota, Pine Ridge Flag)

Now this is news, and it will probably only get a "news of the weird" mention from the MSM. Parts of five states are involved in this modern day insurrection, led by well-known native American activist Russell Means. The original story appears in the Souix Falls Argus Leader. Means and his group sent a letter to the US State Department and have received a sympathetic reception from Latin American countries with large indigenous populations like Boliva. Given the status and sovreignty enjoyed by Native Americans in neighboring Canada, and the election of native leaders in several South American countries, this is a movement that could grow in size and scope. Means is the man to do it, should it get done. His motivation and background are profound.

Sweet Solstice Treats

This time of year is perfect for traditional recipies and Winter comfort food. Fine food is a pleasure, like fine wine, fine music and fine company. In our family, there are several traditional holiday treats. My eldest daughter calls herself a "halfer," because we are a racially blended family -- which makes for some interesting holiday dining. We do homemade Tamales every December, and often prepare a batch of the "world's greatest salsa" as a side dish. This year, we're adding sweet and savory Empanaditas to our holiday fest menu, in addition to Nana Vickie's Rum Cake (soaking in Myers' as I write).

We continue traditions from the British side of the family as well, making Persimmon and Sago Plum puddings, and Yorkshire pudding to accompany our holiday rib roast. And of course, we consume lots of tippy Assam tea with milk to keep warm.

This is the Persimmon Pudding recipe that has been passed down in my family for a couple of generations. The Latin name for the American Common Persimmon means "food of the gods." That's understandable, given the treats that these pulpy, orange fruit produce. My partner makes cookies and the bread-like pudding full of walnuts, raisins and goodness. Here's how the pudding works.

Ingredients: 1 cup flower; 1/2 cup sugar; 2 Tbs butter or margarine; 1/2 Tsp salt; 1 Tsp baking soda; 1 Tsp cinnamon & allspice; 1/4 cup of milk; 1 cup raisins; 1 cup chopped walnuts; and, 1 cup persimmon pulp (about three fruit).

Directions: Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes with the pudding pan resting in a pan of water in the oven. Cooking in water is a must for this dessert.

We also enjoy a stove-top steamed Sago-Plum pudding. In America, plum pudding was often made with figs and became "figgy pudding." NPR ran a great story about holiday puddings yesterday, and included this fine article and recipe for their very alcoholic version on their website, here. This pudding is steamed in a tightly covered pan (Bundt is a favorite) and because of its alcoholic content, will last for months and definitely benefits from sitting a spell.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chris Dodd Stands Up to Spying Telecoms

As a former Telecommunications Councilor for the State of Oregon, I am delighted to report the success of Senator Chris Dodd's effort to derail a bill that would have granted retroactive immunity to large telecom providers engaged in extensive, unauthorized and unconstitutional spying on their domestic U.S. customers.

Just the phrase, retroactive immunity, raises my hackles. Know what I mean? So we're going to give a retroactive get-out-of-jail-free card to a bunch of commercial interests that have been playing fast and loose with our private information and personal conversations? And we're going to do this after-the-fact? After they've invaded our privacy and eavesdropped on our personal communications? I think not. Senator Chris Dodd didn't let it happen. For that, we all owe the fine gentleman from Connecticut a vote of gratitude. Thank you Senator Dodd! Check out the Good Senator's victory video here.

The Bushies have been pushing hard for this legislation, legitimizing their extensive domestic spying program - which has been seriously facilitated by YOUR phone company. Unless of course, you use Working Assets, now Credo Mobile. Read about alarming new domestic surveillance developments in this well-researched article by Tim Shorrock.

This victory was brought to you by Senator Dodd and the Netroot community, which generated about a half-a-million emails and a bunch of calls. Bottom-up democracy at work. Those who participated in this nationwide effort, take a bow. Now get ready for bigger and bloodier battles.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Last Minute Gifts Online

If you're like I am, you've left some loose ends and some holiday shopping until the last minute. So here are my unsolicited recommendations for great gifts that are easy to find and order online.

This holiday season, consider recognizing family and friends through a donation to leading organizations in their fields. For example Partners in Health is making an invaluable contribution to the health and welfare of the Western Hemisphere. Under the guidance of Dr. John Farmer, PIH started in Haiti, moved to the slums of Peru and is taking on major threats such as HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant TB and chronic illness. They do very good work for very little money and turn almost all of your donation into direct action. Or consider funding a specific project in a third-world county through a micro-loan. Just you and the entrepreneur. What a concept. makes it all possible. And a stunning 85 percent of loans are paid back in full. We're talking $50-to-a few hundred dollars. Way cool.

The Donors Choose site, here, allows users to pick a single classroom project in a US school to fund. Sure, this is something we pay taxes for and the government should rightfully fund, but the reality is that the current administration is spending all of its tax money on various wars, military projects and enriching private companies. So we need to step up and 1) change the administration; and, 2) fund worthy projects ourselves in the interim. This site has a lot of projects in the $50 range.

Another forward-looking gift for your activist friends is a carbon-offset credit. TerraPass has made this quick-and-easy to do online. So do what Al Gore does, buy offsets for your family and friends, and party with a clear (well, a bit clearer) conscience.

Google's New Knol Not a Wikepedia Killer

In a variation of the old, "if it bleeds, it leads" axiom of sensational journalism, today's technology news is rife with reports of Google's new challenge to Wikipedia. The WSJ headline says: Google Targets Wikipedia... C/NET talks of a Wikipedia "Rival." Well, that's one angle I suppose, but it is not the right one.

Google's new "Knol" platform is not a Wikipedia competitor, it is substantially different from the Wiki platform and it seeks to accomplish different goals. Read the Official Google Blog post here. Then, read Scott Gilbertson's post on the Wired blog. Scott gets it right. Once built, Knol will be a great compliment to Wikipedia and I personally welcome the development. And I confess, I'm interested in what readers think of my writing, so a rating system makes sense to me.

I've noted before that I use Wikipedia several times a day, and this blog contains almost 150 links to that wonderful and comprehensive source. In fact, I am a Wikimedia Foundation donor and have urged my readers to consider modest financial contributions as well. But I will certainly contribute content to the Google platform, and I imagine that I will soon be a regular user. Hey, the web is maturing and there's plenty of room for continued innovation, and new approaches. Bottom line, I trust both of these organizations and based on my own experience, both produce fine products with my best interests in mind.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There's Something About Gina

While I'm focusing on friends' blogs, I must say that long-time friend Gina Smith's web presence is pretty pervasive. I added a link to her fine blog, I'm Gina Smith, to my blogroll some time ago. And she's been kind enough to give Pop Impulse a nod and a link.

Is Gina the queen of high-tech mavens? There was a time when Esther Dyson occupied that throne, but IMNSHO Gina has emerged from the last decade-and-a-half as the clear monarch of mavens. She's certainly earned the title.

Gina's background is best captured by John Simonds in this interview, though he misses the fact she speaks five or six languages. Gina started in a modest technical writing gig and from there went to PC Week as a reporter. I met her at that point in her career and we've been friends since. Never one to rest on her laurels, Gina moved up to become editor-in-chief of E2; and, technology correspondent for the ABC Nightly News, Good Morning America and Nightline for 5 years. She wrote the Inside Silicon Valley column for the SF Chronicle for over a decade; and she's now a YouTube video star for Infoworld, an occasional contributing columnist to Computerworld, and published author. Her books include: iWOZ, written with and about Steve Wozniak; and, The Genomics Age. Check out this article she recently submitted to Computerworld about the individuals who shaped the computer industry. Gina is married to a wonderful and intelligent gentleman, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions, and she's the mother of an adorable three year old boy. There are a lot of blogs in the blogosphere, Gina's is one of the few I read with regularity.

Really Take America Back - Jeff's Blog

If you've got 20 minutes or so, head over to my friend Jeff Golden's blog: Really Take America Back. He's posted a very timely video that is worth a look. Yes, I know it's 20 minutes, but good things take time and patience. Jeff's blog is about rediscovering and celebrating our common ground. You'll like his sensibilities and his progressive politics, so take a look.

Jeff contributed three articles to this blog when he attended the YearlyKos event in August and covered the news on the floor for Pop Impulse. That was before he launched ReallyTAB. You can read them here, here and here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Urban Holiday Hijinks - Portland Hearts Santa

Red-and-white clad revelers filled the streets of Portland, Oregon on Saturday in the Rose City's whacky SantaCon celebration. Just one of the many events that "keeps Portland weird," the annual SantaCon kicks off Portland's Santa Season.

Organized by the local chapter of the Cacophony Society, Saturday's event featured Santas in vinyl; heavily-inked suicide girl Santas in hot pants and fishnets; bathrobed Santas, you name it. And for some odd reason, there were an assortment of bunnies as well. And of course, it all worked and was great fun. But it was not a spectacle you'd bring the babies to see. For that, there is the requisite mall at the Lloyd Center. We were treated to this great street musician, dressed for the occasion, who spent all day banging out the blues on accordian and harmonica. Just check him out.

If the personal musings of a new, part-time resident of Portland is of interest to you, check out: Portland Condo.

Don't Blame Consumers for Bad Loans

Now that it is clear the US economy has tanked behind the sub-prime loan scandal, the blame dogs are loose. And of course, it's the consumer's own fault they got screwed by system and owe their souls to the man. Yea, uh-huh. Like I believe that.

Here's the real story, told by countless victims across the country. For background, we all live hurried, complicated and stressed-out lives; and so we often turn to trusted professionals for counsel and advice. When those professionals turn into preditors, the system doesn't work. I know, because I have friends and relatives who were caught in the web of deceit. In the last few years, this is the counsel that an army of loan officers has been providing their trusting customers.

Let me show you the benefits of home ownership. Bottom line, it's like owning the bank. And I can get you into a house of your own no matter how bad your credit or insignificant your job. No problem. We can even finance 100 percent of the transaction, including my fees and the loan origination costs, to make it easier yet. Why wouldn't you want to do this? Look, this is the way that the very rich have been playing the system for years, now you can do it too. What's not to love. We'll just do an adjustable rate first, a second on top of that, and no down payment is necessary.

Often, I suspect, troubled spouses and partners asked: Are you sure we can afford this? Well, when my friends posed that question, they were told the following:

Look, real-estate is a sure thing. It just keeps going up in value. You will always be on the black side of the ledger and if worse-comes-to-worse, you can easily refinance. But you'll have to move fast to take advantage of these rates and this deal.

Given the fact that the middle-class is always working diligently to move up and improve their lot, it doesn't surprise me that many were swayed by these hard-sells. And yes, some even attempted to leverage real-estate speculation to launch themselves into the upper-class. It's the American Dream, after all. But no, they should have known better. What made all these sincere and enthusiastic investors think they could actually "invest" their way to prosperity and a share of the wealth? All consumers deserve, it seems, is scorn and ridicule from the pundits, from shocked bankers and from smug corporate CEO types. What should make this day different than any other?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Own a PS3? You Can Help Cure Disease

Turns out that Sony's powerful PS3, though loosing the console war to Wii, is somthing of a supercomputer. No really. IBM is working on an actual heavy metal product using some gaming silicon on board. And check out this radical cluster configuration.

The PS3's powerful processor is uniquely suited to a certain kind of intensive and repetetive calculation. So If you own the Ford Excursion of gaming consoles, you can download some software and devote some cycles to a really good cause. What is that, you ask? Increasing our understanding of how protein molecules "fold" and "unfold." Turns out the the biophysics of this physiological marvel impacts a number of chronic illnesses; like Alzheimer's, Mad Cow Disease and many cancers. So this is very good work. Makes up for a lot of slacking around chilling on the couch with controller in hand. Check out the Stanford-based "folding at home" project, here, to see what you can do. (Don't you just love the project title? Must have had a marketing maven on the team.) And read their executive summary in pdf format, here.

Why Should the Devil Get All the Good Tunes?

The International Herald Tribune, a very good source of international news and opinion, reviews today a new recording that chronicles the transition of African-American music from rural to urban environments in the pre-WWII timeframe. Compiled by the late folklorist, musician and professor, Dr. John Work III (pictured), Recording Black Culture was recently released by Spring Fed Records, a label based in Woodbury, Tennessee, according to the IHT article. Since the roots of Be-Bop, R&B, Boggie Woogie and the Blues can be traced to African-American culture, this release is of some note. Check out the mp3 clips that can be downloaded from the review. Spring Fed is worth checking out just because of their catalog of American roots music.

As the article notes, the release of this newly discovered collection of historic tunes has fueled the academic dispute around the work of pioneering folklorist Alan Lomax, who told part - but not all of the story of this important period in African-American culture. Now, that record is much more complete.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Consider a Donation to Wikimedia

Okay, it's the season for giving and I'll be holding forth shortly on some gift ideas for skeptical brainiacs who live on the edge. No really. I'm working on the post now, and you'll just have to wait. Today I'm writing to encourage a donation to Wikimedia, the parent org for all things wiki, including Wikipedia. Click here to donate now.

I use Wikipedia and WikiCommons several times a day. In fact, regular readers already know that many of my links are to Wikipedia articles. Over 150 links on this blog alone. There are now 2 million Wikipedia articles in English, all for free on an open, user-managed platform. A bottom-up encyclopedia.

Wikipedia has 8 million total articles in 250 languages, making it by far the largest and most detailed encyclopedia ever developed. But it can't exist and continue to work without our support. So far this year, about 37,000 users from all over the planet have donated. A $40 donation buys 100 million page-views of free information. A C-note subsidizes two Wiki academies in Africa. So join me and become a Wikimedia financial supporter this holiday season. Or gift the donation to a nerd. It's the right thing to do.

Is Homeland Security an Excuse for Corruption?

By now most Americans who are paying attention know that the Iraq war has cost us a half a trillion dollars in direct costs, the lives of over 3,500 US soldiers, and over a million dead Iraqi locals - most of whom were the victims of sectarian violence that simply didn't exist until we invaded. Many are also aware that whatever the outcome, the war has served as a massive profit machine for the military industrial complex, corrupt politicians and lobbyists, and the middle-men who lurk in the darkness waiting to broker deals. Paul Bremer, the first US administrator of occupied Iraq, personally lost 8 billion dollars in taxpayer money. We armed everybody in sight, including our enemies. Cash was imported to Iraq and doled-out from palates stacked with $100 bills. Uh Huh.

Now, Brave New Films in cooperation with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washinton (CREW) today released a new video that chronicles the cronyism and corruption around the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA's Katrina fiasco and gulf-coast clean-up. Turns out that there is a lot of officially-sanctioned corruption involved. Surprised? No, I didn't think so. Check it out for yourself.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Rankin Family - Real Folk, Real Music

If you like North American folk music, you're probably already tuned-in to one of Canada's finest acts: The Rankin Family. Hailing from the rural areas around Mabou on Cape Breton Island, The Rankins are legendary in the Maritimes and all of Canada. They have a sizeable following in the US as well, due to the frequent play their tunes are afforded on local and regional folk shows across the radio dial.

When my partner and I landed in Halifax on our recent trip to Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours festival, the cabbie that took us to town from the airport confided that the only music he really listened to or cared about was produced by the Rankin Family. And that was before we even got to the Island. Check out the group's website here. Download: Sunset and Nothing Like an Ocean for a taste.

Once on Cape Breton, the influence of the family is ubiquitous. The Rankin sisters run one of the Island's best-known pubs, The Red Shoe Pub, in Mabou (pictured above). In addition to great food and drink, the pub features Ceilidhs (Kay-Lees) nightly, with a lot of fiddle playing, during the season. And you're bound to hear some Scots' Gaelic being spoken, and certain to hear some songs in the ancient language of the Celtic Gaels.

Mabou is a center of Gaelic language resurgence. It even has a local government office of "Gaelic Affairs." I admire Canada's commitment to multicultural diversity and to respecting and preserving the languages of its many different citizens. And I admire the Rankin family, for their music and hospitality and for their ability to carry on the tradition after significant family loss. Lovers of folk music everywhere continue to mourn the loss of John Morris Rankin, the group's co-founder and inspiration, killed in a car accident in Cape Breton on January 16, 2000.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

WoW and CoD Merge in Gaming Coup

Gaming giants Activision and Blizzard have decided to merge and form the world's largest computer gaming company, according to this article in today's BBC online. World of Warcraft meets Call of Duty.

Having introduced Time Warner's AGEIS: Guardian of the Fleet to the market in the mid-90s, I know something about the gaming world - and this is some big news. That's why the deal is being valued at $18.8 Billion. Big bucks for a bid deal. Thank the French parent of Blizzard (WoW), Vivendi, for making this happen.

In addition to Call of Duty, US-based Activision authored gaming blockbusters like Guitar Hero and the Tony Hawk Series. So what does this mean to gamers? First, the industry is maturing and consolidating, for what that's worth. We have lost some fine small developers in the process. But in this case the meaning is clear: More horsepower for more games covering more territory. A good thing.

(Images are included based on "fair use" rules as no alternative images are available and no attempt to exploit the images for commercial benefit is being made.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sub Prime Crisis Leaves Schools Holding Junk

Florida Schools are borrowing money to pay teachers as school district investment funds are frozen, according to this report today on This is an alarming situation. The growing subprime loan crises now is taking its toll on US Schools. That's right. Greedy bankers are sinking our schools.

Here's how it works. School districts receive funding in a variety of ways: from annual state payments to bond proceeds. So large districts often have substantial sums of cash on their books that is better invested than parked. Makes sense, money needs to make money so ground isn't lost to inflation. So a bunch of large funds sprung up to service these needs. You know what's coming, don't you?

Sure enough, many of these funds invested in loan-backed securities including large portfolios of now worthless sub-prime loans. In Florida's case, the state "froze" the investment fund behind fears of a classic "run" on the assets. Fund losses were so large that massive withdrawals by client school districts would have literally broken the bank. Not a pretty picture. To make matters worse, a lot of towns and fire departments also use these funds to invest taxpayer dollars - according to the Bloomberg report. So just because your own personal property may escape foreclosure, don't breathe too easily. You're going to pay for the schemes of greedy bankers in so many ways. We're just beginning to get a grip on how many.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cumbia - Musical Gold from Columbia

Cumbia is everywhere. I've got a few bars of cumbia as my personal iPhone ringtone. Gets a lot of smiles. Cumbia is first and foremost Columbian, with origins in Guinea in Africa, according to Wikipedia's very informative article on the subject. The infectious musical style has swept Latin America and is gaining ground in USA. Los Lobos does Cumbia (Cumbia Raza). A staple of Tejano tunes, the late Selena was queen of the Cumbia. See her perform Amor Prohibido here.

Cumbia is definitely working class music, full of energy and joyful release. It is the up-beat rhythm, and the combination of instruments (image: Guiro) and voice that distinguish Cumbia for me. This is dance music. Or ginding, booty-shaking sounds, depending on your preference. Originally folk dancers used Cumbia in courtship dances, formalized encounters with eligible males and females enticing each other; making eye-contact; and touching in the proscribed, well-known movements of the dance. A wonderful tradition that continues today.

Now, Cumbia is danced in clubs and at parties where North and South Americans with hot Latin blood (or their partners) gather. At house parties in San Diego, Sacramento, Santiago, San Martin and San Antonio.

From its Afro-Columbian origins, Cumbia has developed dialects, and regional variations. In contemporary Columbia, Celso Pina is the acknowledged Cumbia King. Check out Celso in this video. In Argentina, groups like Damas Gratis define the street sound of Cumbia. In Chile, Cumbia is enjoyed by the upper middle-class and the wealthy. And Peruvians have their own take on the style. I am most familiar with Mexican versions, performed by artists like Lila Downs. From Puebla, on the great Mexican plateau, Cumbia has spread throughout the country, to the US, and now to my iPod.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is the US Becoming a Third World Nation?

I was struck today by this report on the wires that U.S. fourth graders had lost ground in test scores against many other developed countries, and now even lagged behind Russia. Behind Russia? In a vacuum, this report is disturbing. When mashed-up with other recent news reports, like our increasing, worst in the developed world infant mortality rate; the 47 million Americans without health insurance; the massive home foreclosure avalanche; and the loss of control of our energy and food supplies, it begs the question: are we becoming a third-world nation? For goodness sakes, our infant mortality rate is higher than Cuba's. And recent food recalls - from salad to beef - have been more than alarming. Read more here.

Has our government so squandered our resources and international good will that demotion to the ranks of the developing world is inevitable? And will anybody but our own citizens care? Mind you these are just questions, but I think the conversation around these issues is long overdue. I'm not, unfortunately, hearing many of the candidates address these questions head on. Surprised? I didn't think so. But we're not blind or stupid, or at least those of us who were have learned. It's time for some accounting and a change in direction.

In case you haven't noticed, the very rich aren't suffering much behind this recession. It will be the rest of us that bear the brunt, all the way to the upper middle-class. We're the ones risking our lives on salad-in-a-bag, because we're so busy making ends meet that time saved and convenience become important. We're the ones scraping to make our monthly health insurance payment, if we're lucky enough to even have coverage, and scrambling to save our homes from greedy bankers. For these sacrifices and more, we're being asked to step quietly and quickly to the back of the bus.

So what will third-world living look like? Well, it may just start with this recession. Unemployment will rise, and jobs will still exist, but at the low-end of the food chain. That's already happening. Budgets, both corporate and government, will shrink. Services will be cut back by government, and business will shutter plants. At the same time, disease, mental illness and crime will go up. Starting to get the picture? It gets worse. While we're dealing with this disaster, the newly wealthy around the world will start buying up all of our assets. For example, the tiny Arab emirate of Abu Dhabi just bailed out our largest bank by taking a large share of ownership two weeks after buying a substantial portion of one of our key hi-tech chip makers, AMD. Read the story here. Look for a lot more of that on the horizon. After the dust settles, we may be owned lock-stock-and-barrel by foreign interests. There are plenty of pundits and academics who insist that is a good thing, but I just can't see it unfolding quite that way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Google Announces Energy Initiative

Google today announced a new energy initiative designed to produce clean energy for less than the cost of coal power generation. A project of Google's foundation,, and Google Corporate, initial goals call for producing a full Gigawatt of power - enough to provide for the energy needs of a city the size of San Francisco. Read about it at Tim O'Reilly's site, O'Reilly's Radar. If you are wondering why an Internet giant is playing in the Energy space, just imagine how much power it must take to run a GooglePlex. O'Reilly likes the idea, and so do I.

Also today, reports surfaced about the Gdrive online storage and backup service that Google is due to announce in short order (the company declined comment today). It looks like this service formalizes and featurizes the functionality the company already offers users of several other products including Google Docs, Google Video and Picasaweb online photo archive. Again, a welcome move from the author's point of view. Readers of Pop Impulse know that I gave it up to Google long ago, and am totally delighted with the results. There's a reason the company's shares are around $700. Google gets it. And, of course, they're not Microsoft.

Monday, November 26, 2007

European Sounds

While I was listening to the sweet sound of Martin Taylor's guitar last night, I realized that I had not yet posted about my European Sounds playlist. Yes, I know. There are like a million styles of European music, and I've posted about a bunch. Even Balkan Gypsy Tango, here. Not to mention several posts on the music of Spain and Portugual. Each have their own playlists. So what's in my European Sounds playlist?

A lot of Gypsy jazz, punctuated by a little tango and musette. I am particularly fond of French Manouch-style guitar, popularized by the late Django Reinhart and the Hot Club of France. Martin Taylor plays Django as well as most, and is a personal favorite. His version of Musette for a Magpie just knocks my socks off. In the same vein, French Gypsy guitarist Romane is a technical and stylistic virtuoso. He evokes the kind of tangible passion that the Spanish Gitano guitarists wring from Flamenco. But in Romane's case, it is oh so sweet passion. Download Selene to see what I mean.

I've also blogged about, of all things, the I've included two of my favorite squeeze-box players in European Sounds. Richard Galliano, and an Argentianian master named Alfredo Marcucci. Marcucci trained in Paris, and plays an instrument invented in Germany, the Koncertina - call a Bandoneon in Argentina (image above). This man is the master of the tango. Watch him play here and here.

Rounding out my European Sounds playlist are some all-American artists and bands, including Madeleine Peyroux performing La Vie en Rose; Winton Marsalis playing April in Paris, and Pink Martini doing Sympathique.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Green Econometrics

If you are curious about the numbers involved in the emerging "green economy," surf by my friend Michael Davies' really wonderful site, Green Econometrics. Someone's got to mine the data; do the numbers, and analyse the results for the rest of us. At least if you are as averse to counting beans, or worse yet predicting bean totals, as I am. Econometrics is the science of applying statistical methodologies and quantitative analysis to study, analyse and understand economics.

I first met Mike in the eighties when he hired me to join Marketing Strategies International, a small skunk-works marketing research team that consulted with Ron Roner to help Apple target market niches prior to the introduction of the first Macintosh. Even back then, Mike's favorite book was the Statistical Abstract of the United States. That's right. And fancy regressions were his forte. Since that time, he's gone on to a bunch of Wall Street jobs, crunching numbers and developing data for financial mavens. He got his Bachelor's from Columbia, and his MBA from UCLA. Sort of a bi-coastal guy. And then, he got his CFA to top it all off. You want numbers, Mike is your guy.

So what's the big deal? Just this: we're entering into uncharted waters right now in our journey through endless economic cycles - as we shift from resource exploitation and excess to conservation and alternative resources. Nobody is sure just exactly what's going to happen, and when. So who do you call? The denizons of data; number crunchers extraordinaire; trend prospectors; and, heavy weight analysts. Who else?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dracula Dies in Germany

On Wednesday of this week, my favorite European newspaper Der Spiegel reported that "Ottomar Rodolphe Vlad Dracula Prince Kretzulesco, an adopted descendant of Count Dracula, died in Germany at the age of 67 after spending a colorful life organizing blood donor parties..." I'm not kidding. Read it yourself, here. (Image: Castle Bran in Romania, often associated with Count Dracula)

Aussies Change Direction - Dump Howard

The results are in and one can only hope that U.S. voters are as resolute next November as the Aussies were in their national elections yesterday. Australians finally tired ot the neo-conservative ideology of Bush buddy John Howard and sent him away, with prejudice. Looks like he won't even hold on to his seat in parliament. The Australian Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, swept into office in a landslide. And in a time of relative economic growth and propserity.

Rudd, who will be the next PM, promises to immediately withdraw all Australian troops from Iraq (so much for the coalition of the willing) and to sign-on to the Kyoto protocols for reducing green-house gasses. Rudd is also an Australian republican, and though not a top-priority issue, the country's relationship with the British crown could change.

I know a little bit about Australian politics, as my second-cousin Frank Crean was a vice PM and a Labor Party leader for years - as his son Simon is now. To be honest, though family, Crean senior was perceived to be a bit stodgy - a remnant of the days when Labor was run by the dock workers and had a much more English-style feel. Rudd has transformed the party with new faces, celebrity candidates and more effective appeals to the average, working bloke. Simon Crean has been a shadow minister for a number of years and will likely now get the trade and development portfolio.

Bush and his minions made no bones about their high-regard for Howard. If Tony Blair was Bush's Poodle, then Howard was his pit bull terrier. Australians, in my experience, have a special love for Yanks and are inclined to go the extra mile as our loyal friends. That apparently has its limits and has - at least for a time - come to an end.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fantagraphics & Upton Tea - Two Great Catalogs

It is definitely catalog season. And time to recognize our mail carriers, who labor to deliver the weighty, four-color appeals of enterprising retailers. I'm not fond of the volume, or the waste. There are, however, some exceptions to the rule.
Earlier this week, I received two catalogs that I rather enjoy. Fantagraphics Winter 2008 Catalog and the Upton Tea Quarterly.

Fantagraphics carries my favorite comic artists, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, and a host of others including Robert Crumb, Peter Bagge, Drew Friedman, Linda Medley and Miss Lasko-Gross. Not your drugstore comics, these novelas are exquisitely drawn with quirky characters and strong points-of-view (strong language and situations as well). I had a friend who was an underground comic artist in Berkeley back in the day, and I never got over the fascination I developed for street comics. I am pleased to report my own collection remains intact, and I'm privileged to own two signed Rick Griffin posters as well.

The Hernandez bros. are particular favorites. I've blogged about their convention-breaking Love and Rockets series before, here. The catalog features a new graphic novel from Gilbert, and all of the previous volumes from both bros.

The Upton Tea quarterly is a wonderfully produced one-color, 50+ page catalog that always features an interesting bit of tea history - along with an enormous selection of single-estate and blended teas from all major tea producing countries. Orders come with personalized, "especially prepared for [your name]" labels on tins and packets. And each order is accompanied by a free sample. Both are good things, as this is high-end tea for true afficianados. We've purchased a lot of tea from Upton and from Special Teas, another fine vendor of single-estate varietals.

We drink a variety of teas. Our principal brew is a hearty Assam blend, which we occasionally blend at home with single-estate Kenyan. We take our tea British-style, with a little milk (and in my case, a little sugar). So the stong, malty Assam teas make sense. In the afternoons, we brew high-mountain Taiwanese Oolong - often Gaiwan style.

Our favorite Taiwanese brew is Jin-Xuan from the Alishan district, which has a sweet delicate flavor and a delightful floral aroma. Whole-leaf or gunpowder green teas stand up to multiple infusions, and produce a lot of endorphins. No wonder they are well-known conversation stimulants. We purchase our Oolong tea from Ten Tea. Check out this YouTube video showcasing the proper way to prepare Lapsang Souchong tea Gaiwan style. Lapsang Souchong tea is another, specialty brew for us. It's dark and smokey flavor is perfect for special occasions.

Honda FCX Clarity Rocks the World

Automakers appear to be getting the message. At least some of them, like Honda. The venerable automaker for the great American middle class (hey, everybody's had or owns a Honda) introduced on November 14th the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show. I'm predicting a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in short order, because this car is a smash hit and an instant star.

The FCX Clarity's only emission is water, according to Honda's press release. Gives new meaning to the phrase "clean-running," doesn't it? For serious car lovers, and who isn't, this is great news. And the vehicle is good looking - inside and out. Buttoned-up with that traditional Honda fit-and-finish, the FCX Clarity is a sweet piece of work. And just in the nick of time. I want one.

The FCX Clarity is rated at approximately 68 mpg, with a range of 270 miles. Even interior materials are environmentally friendly. The vehicle uses Honda's V Flow fuel cell technology in combination with a new, compact and efficient lithium ion battery pack that is 40 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than the current-generation. A 5,000-psi hydrogen storage tank takes care of the fuel, which must be purchased from an appropriately equipped service station. There's not many of those around yet and thus company plans call for a limited, three-year lease program for southern California drivers to get started. Thanks, Honda - for leadership and vision.

Postscript: Honda is forward-thinking enough to quickly grant press credentials to serious bloggers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Balkan Gypsy Tango

If you haven't heard the Earth Wheel Fire Band from Serbia, you're missing some really great music. The band was recognized recently by the pioneers of World Music distribution, Putumayo, with the inclusion of the band's tune Gypsy Tango on the company's recent release "Tango Around the World." Thanks to Jefferson Public Radio for playing the tune this morning, and my partner for having the taste to get me up from the keyboard to listen. The band has two disks of their own, which can be found in Circuit City's online catalogue or on the site. Why should you care?

Serbia is known for its brass and especially its trumpet music. Pair one of the country's premier trumpet players with Olah Vintze's renowned band from the Vojvodina region of northern Serbia and you've got all the ingredients for musical magic. The sweet sound of Gypsy guitar, the gravel-like passion of a strong Gypsy voice (not unlike the Flamenco singers of Spain) and the soul of the Balkan Roma. Ahh, bliss.

I confess a fascination for the Roma people, their unusual language, culture and history. Gypsies, as is now well documented and known, started out in the Indian state of Rajastan - then migrated to virtually all parts of the Middle East and Europe. Read my post about Gypsy Music here, then head over to the band's web site (in Serbo-Croatian) and download a free tune. You may also want to check out the band's profile page on MySpace. You won't be sorry.

$$ & Banks Reeling - Recession Looms

I was sitting at lunch last Friday with a number of local bankers and lawyers. They were involved in an animated, half jocular, half serious conversation (as men are wont) about the country's current financial melt-down. Looking to place blame anywhere but in their own policies and practices, most were disparaging stupid consumers who succumbed to "have it all and have it now" messages and the many loan and credit solicitations they've been receiving almost non-stop for a over a decade. Uh huh, that's right. Blame us for your preditory business practices. Typical.

I've posted before about preditory business practices here, and here. The subject is not unfamiliar to me and Pop Impulse readers. It was only a matter of time before the proverbial feces hit the fan in these scenarios, and it has now. Big time. I was struck by a point-on article I recently read in the Asia Times. Doug Noland, who does a weekly financial round-up for the publication, offered some truely alarming predictions - based on some good data and analysis. Read the article here. So let's quickly review.

The sub-prime loan crisis, now well documented and widely understood, is just the tip of the iceberg. Because banks and loan originators got involved in a classic, greed-fueled feeding frenzy they started securitizing their loan portfolios and selling these collateralized debt obgliations to large investors including but not limited to pension funds, school district investment pools, hedge funds and money-market funds. And we sold these mortgage-backed securities worldwide. Now, these securities have gone from an AAA rating to JUNK. That's right, worthless junk. This predictable turn of events has created massive losses in the financial sector that are now spilling over to other sectors, threatening market liquidity itself. This has lead some key financial observers to worry about a system shock to world markets.

Just today, I read in my local daily paper that the auto industry is now threatened by a dramatically rising rate of delinquency and default on auto loans. Makes sense to me as unemployment rises and families struggle to meet higher adjustable rate mortages on their homes. But there's yet another tie-in. Turns out that Chrysler's new owner, Cerebrus (you know, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell) Capital Management is also an partner with GMAC in Recap, one of the nation's largest mortgate loan origination and service companies. We're all way too familiar with their subsidiary, DiTech. Could Chrysler be in danger from the sub-prime crisis? Could we all?

The world is watching as we melt-down. And it's not a pretty sight. Vocal critics of US policies like Venezuela's Chavez and Iran's Ahmadinejad have loudly questioned the US dollar's continuing relevance to the world economy. And China, which funds much of our debt, is also re-evaluating its large dollar reserves. Even our allies like the United Arab Emirates are contemplating pegging their currency to a basket of other currencies - rather than directly to our dollar as in the past. Look, I'm not being paranoid here. There's plenty of reason for concern. By this time next year, deep into the presidential election race, I have a sense that the issue will again be: The economy, stupid.