Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Zoot Suit - East LA's Fashion Revolution

Quick, imagine the most elegant male figure you've ever seen. If he's not in a Zoot Suit, then think again. Who can forget the image of Edward James Olmos as El Pachuco in the film version of Luis Valdez's famous play. Or Jim Carrey in that bright yellow Zoot Suit in The Mask.

Though the distinctive suits, first called "drapes," made their original appearance in Harlem, it was the large Chicano population in East LA that made the look their own. And during the repression of the 30s and 40s, the suits became a symbol of resistance and rebellion. The ensuing "Zoot Suit Riots" inspired the Valdez play and subsequent movie - forever enshrining the Zoot Suit in Chicano culture. (image courtesy of El Pachuco, used with permission)

A proper Zoot Suit can still be hard to find. The ensemble includes long, wide-legged trousers called Tramas, and the long Carlango coat replete with wide lapels and notoriously padded shoulders. Shoes must be European, preferably French and often two-tone, made from the finest leather with pointed toes. The look is completed with a long chain that dangles prominently from the belt to the knee and back - tucked into a side pocket. A colorful, brimmed felt hat with a feather tops it all off. Oh, then there's the pose. One foot forward, weight on the back foot with a slight backwards lean, hands in pant pockets or resting on the belt, and a very serious look around the eyes. It helps if you've got a thin, black mustache and a tailored goatee.

You know, when you work hard all week and the system isn't structured to provide your community with all the rewards of the American dream, you make your own dreams. You create your own look, and you wear your best with pride. You dress up for whatever you've got going on on the weekend, and you look sharp. That's what it's all about.

There's this shop in my old neighborhood - Fullerton, California - that has been making Zoot Suits since 1978. That's right, the real deal. Inspired by the play, by the symbolism and by the fashion, Phyllis Estrella made it happen. Now a larger, family enterprise with a really good-looking web site, El Pachuco is a legend in Southern California. These are the suits you see in Lowrider magazine. If you love fashion, and are looking to make a serious statement, check out this place. You won't be sorry.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ian Murdock Joins SUN

Sun Microsystems (SUNW: Nasdeq) today announced the appointment of Ian Murdock to the position of Chief Operating Platforms Officer. Murdock posts about the move on his weblog today.

A legend in the open source software community, Murdock will retain his title and role as chair of Linux Standard Base (LSB), the Linux platform interoperability standard group. Prior to joining Sun today, Murdock was Chief Technology Officer of the Linux Foundation. He co-founded Progeny, a major Linux distributor; and, was founder of Debian (a combination of the first three letters of his wife Debbie's name and his own first name), arguably the first, decentralized open source project run by volunteers.

On his weblog, Murdock is coy about his charter - but allows that working to close the interoperability gaps between Sun's Solaris operating system and Linux will be a priority.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tony Furtado - New Album from an Amazing Musician

How do you classify the music of cross-over innovators like Bela Fleck? Can genius be pigeonholed? I don't think so. Tony Furtado's music, all thirteen albums, are in the same vein. All defy cookie-cutter musical categories.

Somewhere between alternative bluegrass and alternative country - with a few jazz, Celtic and Latin influences for good measure - Furtado is often compared to Bela Fleck. Like Fleck, he started out as a banjo sensation - twice winning the national banjo competition. But unlike Fleck, Furtado extended his instrumental repertoire to include almost everything with wires and wood. His slide guitar playing is exceptional.

Where Bela pushes limits, builds mathematical constructs with his music, and has composed an entire song that is a palindrome, Furtado is driven to extract every last ounce of emotion from every note he plays. A natural storyteller and songwriter, his melodies are sweet, fluid and often haunting. That's when he's not thrashing his slide to evoke some raw country blues with Kelly Joe Phelps on vocals. I love both Fleck and Furtado, but I tend to react to Bela's work with my brain and my feet; and to Tony's music with my heart, soul and body chemistry.

I'm rarely happier than when I'm listening to Furtado's American Gypsy (2002), Tony Furtado Band (2000) or Roll My Blues Away (1997) discs. His music reaches down and turns on a fire hydrant of emotions. It has a welcome, masculine vibe that is strong, confident and unrepentant - sure to appeal to alternative music-loving males as well as their female counterparts. My partner's enthusiasm testifies to that.

Some of Furtado's sweetest slide guitar tunes include: "Can You Hear the Rain," "Promise of a Better Day," Song for Early," and "Crow Country." These songs are the musical equivalent of soulful cowboy poetry, featuring the artist's strong, instrumental voice. And Tony has mastered the art of speaking to his audiences with only his instruments. They weep, cajole and moan. There is authentic passion in all of his music. It's all real, nothing sounds contrived or formulaic. Honest music.

Songs like "Willow Tree," "False Hearted Lover," and Bill Munroe's "Molly and Tenbrooks" showcase Furtado's country blues licks and the sultry moan of Kelly Joe Phelps' unique and pleasing voice.

In January, Tony Furtado released his 13th album; appropriately dubbed 13. It has 13 tracks. Furtado is 39 years old, three times thirteen. The work marks a departure from previous compilations in that it features a bigger cast of supporting musicians, and a nod to alternative, southern-style rock. So this album speaks to the "feet" thing. It is definitely "danceable." In addition to ten original compositions, he performs three covers on this disc. Furtado's covers always bring something new and unexpected to the work of other songwriters. On 13, he offers versions of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Sun," and Elton John's "Take Me to the Pilot." The artist also showcases more of his own vocals on the new disc. He's got a nice tenor, and is maturing as a songwriter.

If you count yourself a fan of alternative bluegrass or country; and you are intrigued by a gifted artist and storyteller, dial-up Furtado's web site and check out his tunes and discography. He's back on a min-tour after a year's hiatus. I'll be there when he appears a the Mobius in Ashland, Oregon in April. Wouldn't miss it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Malware Reported on Google's Blogger

Internet security appliance firm Fortinet is today reporting that Google's blogger.com site has been invaded by malware. Pop Impulse uses the blogger.com platform and I am quite concerned with this unwelcome news. I have forwarded the "owner" of the blogger.com "help group" an email asking for clarification. None is forthcoming at this point. We're watching this development closely and will post clarifying news or notices of fixes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Virtual Berlin

Whoa. Berlin has gone virtual. Germany's famed capital can now be viewed in stunning, user navigable 3-D on Google Earth through this link. You can even click your way through the Brandenburg Gate or wander into the Reichstag. Check it out. Now think of the possibilities. Virtual shops where real vendors are located, for example. This is some cool stuff. And the Berliners beat their cross-regional rivals in the City of Hamburg to the punch. I posted about the Hamburg project and their promise, now unfulfilled, to be the first 3-D metropolis on Google Earth almost a month ago. Props to Berlin.

Happy Pi Day

It's Pi Day. And if that weren't enough for science geeks, it is also the anniversary of Albert Einstein's birthday. Now that's convergence. So today, 3.14, at 1:59 we well have the first six digits of the magical number line up. Forums are already ablaze with an a.m. or p.m. discussion, military time vs. a 12-hour clock, nuance after nuance. Isn't science fun? No, seriously... it is good to celebrate math - especially in the face of the concerted attack on science and even individual thought by authoritarian fundamentalists of all stripes. I'm thinking that the occasion deserves a couple of toasts: To Pi, and all magical numbers; and, To Einstein, for proving that geeks can be sexy. Give the Sergeant a Hoo-Yah.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gonzales Should Resign

The privacy of law-abiding, average American citizens has been compromised. Recent reports by the Justice Department's Inspector General, cited extensively in last week's news, make it clear that our rights are being trampled right here at home. After insisting publicly that no wide-net would be cast, the magnitude of federal government email interception and eavesdropping is staggering. To find out how the federal government may be gathering and using information about you, check out this interactive site owned by the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Especially onerous is the fact that the process has been overseen by fumbling and incompetent operatives with no sense of public responsibility or personal honor. And they're planning even bigger initiatives. According to USA Today, the newest government system called ADVISE - for Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement - is capable of cross-matching material from websites and blog posts to government records and personal data. Techies, ponder this: The Feds can take ten-terabyte gulps of data and process it in under a minute. Now that's very good for science, but it doesn't bode well for maintaining personal privacy. The government project is difficult to research, but here is a sample of the technology being deployed at MIT. Can anyone say accountability?

Not Gonzales. During his tenure our privacy and basic rights have been compromised; we have continued to use widely-questioned methods of torture in our interrogations, and have legions of seized prisoners to whom we have denied the basic rights of Habeas Corpus.

Now, we are faced with the specter of political firings of perfectly performing federal attorneys - who resisted overt pressure from Washington to put justice aside for political motives. Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse. In one case, a federal attorney was fired to make room for an aide to Arch-Mage of the Dark Side, Karl Rove. Will somebody please pass the air sickness bag?

Making matters worse, instead of being accountable the AG has been dismissive of the problem, labeling it an "overblown personnel matter." Yea, uh huh. News bulletin: all the fired attorneys had great performance reviews. The president could take a lesson from Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, who when confronted with the same dismissive attitude about the treatment of disabled veterans at Walter Reed Hospital's outsourced rehabilitation center immediately fired the top two generals involved and sent a strong message to the services that this kind of outrageous behaviour would not be tolerated. I'm guessing that's not going to happen in the Justice Department.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Sweet Little Parlour Mysteries

I love Arturo Perez-Reverte. This fabulous Spaniard writes sweet little parlour mysteries for smarties. Literary entertainment for thinkers. I've got about six of his lush, Euro-centric novels on my bookshelf. He is probably best known for The Club Dumas, which was turned into a wonderful movie starring everyone's favorite actor, Johnny Depp. Dial-up The Ninth Gate from your movie provider and you'll be hooked. Perez-Reverte writes very well researched stories, replete with historic fact, literary references and a level of detail that gives his readers more than expected -without overburdening his prose or cluttering his plots. His characters are indelible, and very earthy. Aging Gypsy divas with spit curls; villains so despicable one can just imagine the tips of their mustaches curling up in ugly sneers; quirky sidekicks and a cast of colorful extras populate his work. And always strong women. Either as protagonists or antagonists.

If you enjoy art, read The Flanders Panel first. The resourceful protagonist in this story artfully restores the work of Flemish masters in her studio next to the Prado Museum. If you are intrigued by fencing and the fine art of the epee, then read The Fencing Master first. You'll meet a very beautiful, but dangerous, woman and learn the secret of the "unstoppable thrust" in a dying world of honor and chivalry. In The Seville Communion, an ancient church is a major character in a convoluted plot involving computer viruses and detective priests. The Queen of the South follows a resourceful drug cartel queen through adventures in Mexico, Spain and Morocco. For lovers of the sea and Explorer's Club sorts, there's The Nautical Chart which unveils a mystery surrounding an ancient and rare sea pilot's chart that is purchased at auction.

Memorable characters, including a lot of strong women; historic settings; engaging plots; and, lush, colorful prose. These titles are all good reads. That said, I know a lot of Perez-Reverte fans and all have at least one book that leaves them less than satisfied. Personally, I attribute that reaction to the fact that the author produces such consistently high-quality and enjoyable work - I'm talking four- and five-stars, that the occasional three-stars one might apply to a single book reflects a statistical regression to the mean. Hey, Johnny Depp starred in one of his elaborate tales. Nuff said.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

International Women's Day 2007

Today the world celebrates International Women's Day. Conceived in 1911 by German activist Klara Zetkin, IWD seeks to honor and celebrate the contributions of women to society, the human race and the planet. The theme for 2007's event is "Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls." A very good cause that I have championed in a previous post.

It strikes me as a very appropriate moment to reflect on the role of women in our societies. With a declared female candidate for president of the United States, a female German Chancellor, a strong female contender for the French PM spot, and president "Ma Ellen" delivering Liberia from decades of strife, women are on the ascendancy. Some poetic justice in that, as stupid white men have mucked-up the planet with their short-sighted aggressive bluster, cowboy justice and insatiable lust for power and material possessions.

In some parts of the world, like Burma, it is a single female that stands bravely against oppression. As of today, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 11 years and 135 days under house arrest in her home country. All for speaking out for individual freedom and liberty. If you're planning a trip to Burma, don't go. There is simply no excuse for spending money and offering any support at all for this pariah nation.

Also today, China issued its annual "Human Rights Record of the United States" report. To provide some perspective for our own IWD events, I thought I'd cut-and-paste some of that report's findings regarding the human rights of women in the U.S. So here goes:

"Women in the United States do not share equal rights with men in politics. Despite the fact that women outnumber men in the U.S. population, they hold only 82 seats in the 109th U.S. Congress, including 14 seats or 14 percent of the Senate and 68 or 15.6 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Low-income American women lack proper labor protection and social security and live a hard life. A survey by the Community Service Society showed that among low-income working mothers living on less than 32,000 U.S. dollars for a family of three, more than half were not entitled to even a single day of paid sick leave; 61 percent did not have paid vacation; and 80 percent did not receive any employee health benefits for themselves or their children. In 2005, 37 percent of the low-wage mothers had to give up necessary medical care, and a third had their electricity or phone turned off because they could not pay the bills. Forty-three percent had to rely on food pantries, and 42 percent fell behind in their rent."

How to get involved: Check out Women for Women, an organization that facilitates women sponsoring other women in third word countries.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wiki Storm Reveals Cluelessness

Recent media headlines have been screaming, again, about the sky falling at Wikipedia. This time the storm is centered around an outed Ph.D. wannabe who was editing stuff that was clearly way over his head then staking his fictional credentials on strongly-stated opinions of worth. Like he knew. Turns out he didn't, but that's not the point. One editor among millions and the whole process is somehow called into doubt. Not buying it.

So why the negative attention? Does it seem to you, as it does to me sometimes, like the traditional 20th Century world is waiting with bated breath for Wikipedia to fail? What's up with that? Here's one possible explanation. 20th Century thinkers just don't get the whole, "bottom-up" thing. Not only does it not make sense in their traditional models, but they also seem to find the prospect to be threatening. So they subconsciously or consciously want all things Wiki to fail. It's that simple. What we're seeing here is push-back. Fact is, the problem cited is already solved. Wikipedia today announced that they would require verification of credentials. End of story. The problem, after all, was a mechanical one - not a fundamental flaw in philosophy, mission or method. So why the fuss?

Just like traditional broadcast networks are panicked at the thought of consumer generated content, traditional information aggregators and brokers are threatened by what is essentially "open source information." Somebody has to say it: bottom-up is the democratic way. The way of the future, if consensus and collaboration are important. After all, it's not like traditional sources of information can be trusted any longer. Not with Japan conveniently re-writing the history of World War II, the American right wing re-writing the history of Vietnam; and now, George Bush feverishly attempting to re-write the basis of 9/11 and the Iraq war. What is clear is the fact that grass-roots observers are a valuable balance. Especially when the effort is worldwide, overseen by an army of volunteers, and transparent in its presentation of information and the controversy surrounding the data served-up. I recently posted about the late activist, Saul Alinsky. The Wikipedia page I referenced clearly noted right at the top that the article was the subject of some dispute regarding its neutrality. I can work with that. It leaves the "weighting" process up to me and my research methods. A good thing. That's the thing about open source, it is always being improved, enhanced and expanded. Very organic.

Wikipedia and other popular Wiki sites to my knowledge do not claim the mantle of "be all, end all." Rather they provide an online hub for information seekers. Wiki sites are aggregators that refresh regularly, add background and links; and finally, use the basic tenants of Web 2.0 to provide a useful archive of information which already boasts over ten times the content of the print giants of the information industry. As such, these sites are nothing short of a raison d'etre for the Internet. Cluelessness is no longer an excuse for destructive criticism. Get over it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ghana Celebrates its 50th

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence from Great Britain. They're partying in Accra as I write. Kwame Nkrumah, the father of the Ghanaian state, was the first in Africa to stand up and say: enough colonialism, it's time for Africans to govern Africans. Following his lead, other countries soon followed suit. In the West, we know Ghana as the home of the proud Ashanti people, their fine wood carvings and colorful Kinte cloth.
My Ghanaian friend, Osei Agyapong Kwaku, tells me there are currently 20 million inhabitants of Ghana - of which 12 million are children. Osei attends Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology. Five other schools: the University of Ghana; the University of Cape Coast; University of Mines & Technology; University of Education and the University for Development Studies comprise the government's system of higher education. Osei's father is "Big Alex," and his mom is called "Comfort." Osei tells me that in Ghana, boys and girls take one of their names from the day of the week on which they are born. For example, boys born on Wednesday like Osei, take the name "Kwaku." Former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghanaian Kofi Annan, was born on a Friday - as all boys born on that day take the name "Kofi." And the founder of the country, Kwame Nkrumah was born on a Saturday, as Kwame signifies that day of the week.

So if you're looking for a good excuse to raise a glass, or to honor the human spirit, Ghana's independence day celebration rises to the occasion. To Osei and his countrymen, congratulations.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Belushi - 25 Years On

It's been 25 years today, since John Belushi's untimely demise at the Chateau Marmont on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Described by pundits as "...part of SNL's DNA," Belushi was the king of comedy. His influence is still felt. Props to John. A lot of today's best comedians are standing on his shoulders. We remember with affection and a continuing sense of loss.

Image: Belushi in Animal House. Copyright by the studio and actors involved, included based on the "fair use" doctrine (see note in sidebar page element).

Friday, March 2, 2007

Rules for Radicals

The mystery surrounding Senator Hillary Clinton's Wesleyan College dissertation, "sealed" during the Clinton Presidency, on mid-century organizer and intellectual Saul Alinsky has sparked a renewal of interest in his writings and his school of community organizing that trained the likes of Cesar Chavez. Long called a Communist by his detractors, Alinsky was never actually a member of any party - but would work with whomever would join his efforts in the blighted and exploited communities he organized. In the 30s, that often included young members of the American Communist Party. He is still so controversial that the "neutrality" of his entry in Wikipedia is being challenged.

Alinsky spoke to disaffected and rebellious youth in his well-read tome: Rules for Radicals. Designed to speak directly to the next generation of activists, it is still a great read -regardless of political persuasion. In the book's prologue, Alinsky explains: "What I have to say in this book is not the arrogance of unsolicited advice. It is the experience and counsel that so many young people have questioned me about through all-night sessions on hundreds of campuses in America. It is for those young radicals who are committed to the fight, committed to life."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tiny Homes and Convergence

Sometimes forces converge and a new post emerges. This week, I was reading reports of a consensus that McMansions are on the way out. That is, houses are finally getting smaller. It struck me as serendipitous timing, with Al Gore winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature; noted corporate raider KKR announcing that it was going to buy TXU and actually reduce the number of planned new coal-burning electric plants in Texas from 11-to-3; and ADM (you remember, Archer Daniels Midland) touting its new bio-fuel programs on PBS. So I decided to jump on the bandwagon and post about tiny homes.

Part of living small, reducing impact and managing footprint involves changing behaviors and changing spaces. Of course, small houses have small utility bills and a reduced impact on their surroundings. For those and other reasons, tiny homes are getting a lot of attention as primary dwellings as well as low-impact vacation get-aways. As one of many sites notes: "Once you start looking, tiny homes are everywhere."

Jay Shafer is one of the best-known Tiny Home gurus. Since 1997, he's actually lived in a very tiny space, no larger than a typical McMansion master bath. Thanks to Jay for allowing me to reproduce some of his images. He's into composting toilets, on-demand water heat, gray water recycling and energy conservation. And his designs are, well... so cute and practical. His Gypsy-style Vardo on wheels is what I'm taking about. Check it out.

On the more edgy side of small space design are the guys at Blue Sky Mod, who have come up with one of the most beautifully designed tiny homes to date. So if you want to explore the incredible lightness of low-impact living, these are some resources.