Monday, March 31, 2008

Seville's Spring Fair

The Author is retiring for three weeks of holiday to the Iberian peninsula. I'm not anal enough to have pre-written ten posts and stored them with images and links on a Net-based blog publisher. No, I'm going to walk away for a spell and rest my brain and my fingers. That said, I may venture by an Internet cafe and post a short update at some point. Or not. The really good news is that my partner, Lupe, and I are traveling to party and listen to lots of new music which I will then dutifully report on in future posts.

We're not just going to any party. We'll be attending the annual Seville Spring Fare in Spain, arguably the country's biggest and most music-driven event of the year. (Seville at night and street fair pictured) So we'll be listening to lots of Flamenco and fine Gitano musicians. There'll be drinking (of course), dancing and bull-fighting for a week of unparallelled revelry. Yea, that's what I'm talkin' about.

While I'm away, I'd like to suggest regular readers take the opportunity to check-out the sidebar contents for previous posts that may be of interest. Or, you can go to a new Pop Impulse partial post list web page, here. There are lots and lots and lots to check out (over 220 posts). For example, one could take a tour through the "music & bands" category. Most posts have links to artist websites and videos. From Cuban Surf Rock music here, Alt. Mex here, to the blues here, here and here. Or, one could check out some cool places like Cape Breton Island, Madrid, Venice and that Treehouse bed and breakfast in Cave Junction, Oregon. Gluttons for punishment can groan and stress their way through multiple posts on consumers, the economy and the sub-prime meltdown. Have at it. I'm outta here in the morning.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

In Defense of Gossip

Oscar Wilde once said: "Gossip is charming! History is merely gossip . . .But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality."

Gossip is not just another way of saying public opinion. It is more fundamental than that. Gossip is the glue that holds society together, the way we determine our social ranking and rank others, and a valuable tool for navigating the perilous waters of human relationships. It is also, very probably, the reason humans developed language in the first place, according to professor Rob Dunbar of the University of Liverpool. Check out his book published by Harvard Press here.

When we were all monkeys, grooming did the trick. Bands of primates conduct a lot of their social communications around grooming rituals. Here's how it works. Senior monkeys can get any other band member to engage in grooming. Monkeys that are more junior or have less status not only have trouble getting groomed, they may not find other monkeys willing to grant grooming rights. And of course, there is nuance. Who gets groomed first? How long and thorough is the gooming behavior? Are there signs of submission and dominance - apparent to all - that emerge during grooming? This is how primitive communication works.

As primates evolved to homo erectus and homo sapien stages, bands grew to tribes and primitive communication could no longer handle the communications load. No, it took an evolutionary leap to do that. Language. So we owe a lot to our tendency, sometimes irresistable, to gossip with our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. According to Anthropologists and specialty linguists, we actually learn a lot of what we know about our immediate social environment from the effort. Here's to gossip, in all its forms short of maliciousness. And we all know the difference between useful gossip and malicious or hateful innuendo.

What If Your Job Looked Like This?

If you haven't already seen "A Day Without Mexicans," rent it now. And since I'm on the subject, check out one of my favorite blogs, "The Unapologetic Mexican," here. All this because my friend Anne Jones, a real chistosa, sent me a link to the totally hilarious (and ironic) video I've embedded below. Just couldn't resist. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour - Sydney Leads the Way

With Sydney, Australia driving the effort, Earth Hour is happening today around the globe. Conceived to draw attention to global energy consumption and to make an ever-so-small contribution to conservation, Earth Hour organizers are asking major cities in every country to dim or shut off the lights for an hour this evening.
Sydney led the way with strong support from the Lord Mayor, and even Google is is turning down the lights between 8 p.m and 9 p.m. to participate. And well they should, as data factories now use as much energy as all air traffic. That's right, each Google search query according to this article in Der Spiegel takes as much energy as running a low wattage light bulb for 15 minutes to an hour. Check out the Wikipedia page on Earth Hour to see if your city or town is on the partner's list. And if you can drag yourself away from March Madness or your regular evening activity for an hour, please consider participating in this grassroots, global effort. Polls have shown that the effort itself is succeeding in raising the visibility of this important issue.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Does the Current Summit in Syria Confirm the Arab Rift?

The Arab nation appears to be moving into two, opposing and often adversarial camps. For purposes of this commentary: the traditionalist faction and the militant rejectionists. The traditionalists are championed by president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia; and King Hussein of Jordan, joined by the King of Morocco, the King of Bahrain and the Sultan of Oman. All reign without organized opposition in their countries, even Mubarak. All are highly involved in the global marketplace. None sent high level delegations to the summit.

The militant rejectionists include the majority of the Palestinian people, led by the democratically elected militant Hamas party; Hezbollah in Lebanon; and Syria. The rejectionists often have constituencies of long-oppressed, poverty stricken populations who seek urgent redress of their suffering or deprivation.

The Arab Summit, underway in Damascus, Syria, has highlighted a growing rift. Notably absent are the leaders of the traditionalists countries, many of whom sent low-level intermediaries to signal their displeasure. Some simply declined to attend. The reason most often cited is the traditional leaders' distress around the Syrian role in Lebanon, though there are sectarian overtones as well. Most traditionalist leaders are Sunni, while Syrian leadership is Alawi and close to Persian Iran's Shia leaders.

Iraqi leaders, both president Talebani and PM Nouri al-Maliki, declined to attend due to unrest across their country. Likewise the Lebanese factions, seemingly locked in an endless death grip, sent no representatives. Lebanon is teetering precariously toward state-failure. It's most powerful single faction, Hezbollah, appears to be readying itself for renewed war. These are powerful reasons for the Arab nation to come together and reach a consensus position, instead there is evidence of increasing polarization within the block.

The real question is how all of this is playing on the Arab "street". That begs a follow-up question regarding the ability of the grassroots Arab nation to influence entrenched leaders with agendas and national treasuries at stake. It is clear from a review of the literature and the nightly regional news (Mosaic on LINK TV) that the street remains concerned with the plight of occupied Palestine and the oppressed Palestinian masses; and the inability of Arab governments to cooperate on consensus, pan-Arab solutions. The price of bread and the distribution of oil wealth are also ongoing concerns, according recent press reports.

It is not surprising that while their leaders play political Backgammon, the Arab nation desperately seeks consensus; justice for Palestine and Palestinians; fair distribution of oil wealth and water resources; and, food on the table. And it is no coincidence that the militant rejectionists, some democratically elected and many with broad popular support, address these very issues in their appeals. It appears to this author that the rejectionists act, while the traditionalists compromise and condone the status quo. It's not a new model. It is a prescription for discontent and militancy.

One positive outcome of the rift has been the recent effort by Saudi King Abdullah to open a dialogue with all of the religions of the Levant, all peoples of The Book. In the face of militant rejectionism, certainly not unknown in The Kingdom, it is a good thing for absolute rulers to appear moderate and to entertain moderate goals. Moderation, after all, is the counterweight to revolutionary change. The problem for his royal highness is that moderation is best cultivated through the roots, rather than rained down from above. And Saudi Arabia's religious roots in Wahabism are anything but moderate. Remember, this is a country where women can't drive, or appear in public without a related male chaperone. A state that has "religious police," notorious after sending improperly covered young girls back into a burning school to die a few years back. This is quite unlike the recent Turkish effort to re-examine the Hadiths, which is driven by the country's vast religious masses who seem to sincerely recognize the value of modernizing their faith.

Beyond a new appetite for moderation, the rift has few positives beyond shining the light of international attention on the issues. Or perhaps what we're really seeing is the region taking sides before a new "coalition" military strike against Iran. In any case, the summit is an opportunity lost just when time is running out for peace in the Middle East. (Cross-posted to's Middle East Politics section).

Unafraid - The Book

My friend and occasional contributor to this blog (reports from the Yearly KOS conference), Jeff Golden, has just introduced his new novel: Unafraid. A fictional look at how this country may have evolved had that bullet missed JFK 45 years ago in Dallas, the new novel is about hope and honesty in government.

Given the current political conversation in the US, the book is quite timely. Jeff, a recovering politician and radio talk-show host himself, has also just launched Immense Possibilities Radio (IPR) over at EQ TV. A gifted interviewer, he always manages to uncover interesting and provocative guests for his wide-ranging conversations. Worth a listen. You can get on his email list by sending him a note at this address. His previous shows are archived on the site. Read his posts to this blog here, here and here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Database of Red Light Cameras Offered Free to GPS Users

cctv camera Get it now! This news will be on PRWeb Monday morning. After that, there may be some traffic to contend with on the download site. Bottom line: an extensive database of red-light and speed-trap cameras nationwide is being offered free to GPS users. So if you've got a GPS Nav system that you use in your vehicle, this database will expose all the speed traps and red-light cameras along your chosen route. Sweet. Even more interesting, the company is employing a user-driven, bottom-up approach to data acquisition. So surf on by this site and check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

China's Reprehensible Repression in Tibet


It's not bad enough that China has Disneyfied Lhasa and turned an ancient people and religion into a tourist attraction. No the Chinese government has been Hanifying Tibet as well. The Han, China's powerful ethnic elite, have a long history of heavy-handed regional adventurism. In Tibet's case, that has meant the exile of tens of thousands (govt. in exile) and importing thousands of ethnic Han to cleanse the country of its indigenous influences and authority. It is, therefore, an insidious form of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing. Now, they're shooting citizens, and gassing monks and nuns. No wonder there's local resentment and unrest. The Chinese government's answer? Mobilize hundreds of thousands of troops, fill Tibet and surrounding provinces where ethnic Tibetans reside with troops and police, clamp down on Monasteries, and imprison monks, nuns and average Tibetans suspected of speaking out. Read Mark's comprehensive post on Boing Boing about the riots.

Tibetan MonkThe foreign press has been rounded up and moved away from the action. The Internet has been comprehensively filtered, and the Chinese government is denying any culpability - instead falling-back on their long-time practice of blaming and demonizing the Dalai Lama. Yea, uh huh. Like I'm buying that. Like anybody's buying that. This is brutal repression, pure and simple. The massive denial of basic rights and respect to an entire people and their religion. Though I've been known to condemn the antics of wingnuts and fundamentalists of all strips, the actions of the Chinese authorities in the case of Tibet are over-the-top. There are several petitions making their way around the progressive blogosphere, and The Author has signed all he's seen. I hope my readers will consider doing the same, and taking whatever other actions that may be available to let the Chinese government know that this is not acceptable behavior.

It would not be proper for me to offer such advice and direction without acknowledging the human rights violations of the US in Iraq and Guantanamo. I have posted about my revulsion regarding our current president and foreign policy on many occasions. That is just the point. I can voice my opinion in any forum without fear of sanctioned, state retribution. Unlike the Tibetans, who are being summarily shot and imprisoned for being frustrated and protesting. Now that's dictatorship. It will be a very unfortunate endorsement of this kind of repression if the leaders of the FREE world attend the Beijing Summer Olympics 2008 "Opening Ceremony." Free Tibet Now!

An Error in Judgement

In a previous post, The Author endorsed Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president of the US. That was a mistake in retrospect. And I need to correct that mistake now. Motivated by well-established feminist leanings and a sense of fairness, I had believed that Senator Clinton was the individual best suited to lead the country out of the Bush era. I was wrong. The conduct of Senator Clinton's campaign and the graceless manner in which she has dealt with competitive challenges, I believe, disqualifies her for the job. And then there's the nasty rantings of the men around her, notably James Carville and husband Bill. Carville has taken to bitter whining, bashing my favorite Democrat Bill Richardson. Shame. And former president Clinton has squandered his goodwill and remaining stature with Party regulars in recent days with his invective and innuendo.

It doesn't have to be that way. I attended the Obama rally held last week in Medford, Oregon. I was impressed with the candidate's modesty, sincerity and depth. He was gracious, though he drew clear lines between his positions and those of Senator Clinton. He spoke calmly and confidently, without the need to go negative on anyone. A real breath of fresh air. I finally get it. This guy really is about change, and substantial change at that. He really is about hope and a new coalition. I wasn't ready to believe that was the case, but I am now persuaded. So with some embarrassment (I hate being wrong), I'm going to retract my initial endorsement and urge my readers to dial-up an Obama speech or two on YouTube. I think you'll understand my change of heart.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Glen Breton - N. America's Only Single Malt

Outstanding single-malt whisky is one of life's great pleasures. Especially if, like The Author, one is of Celtic ancestry. North America has but one single-malt whisky distillery, and it is only natural that it is located in the most Scottish corner of our continent, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. I've posted about the culture and music of Cape Breton before (here and here), and had the opportunity recently to visit this magical place and sample their world-class music and whisky.

Glen Breton Rare single-malt is handcrafted in limited quantities at Inverness County's Glenora Distillery. Set among forests of Sugar Maples, the distillery gets its crystal clear water from MacLellan's Brook (pictured below), which flows down from the Mabou Highlands. The facility is warm and friendly, offering thirsty visitors regular tours, fine local music and a wee dram in the attached restaurant. So if you like single-malt and you enjoy impressing your friends and your palate, try a bottle of Glen Breton Rare. Rich, creamy and very finely nuanced, I think you'll rank it right up there with Scotland's finest. (image taken by The Author)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marcia Ball - Wicked Boogie Woogie

Professor Long Hair would be proud. That's just what I told Marcia Ball when she was signing a CD for me last Saturday night after a "Blues Women" concert at the Schnitzer Center in Portland. This woman certainly knows how to boogie. Check out her MySpace profile. Ball doesn't tickle the ivories, she beats them into soulfull submission in an energetic display that is perfect for the stage. Ball's repertoire, from Blues to Boogie Woogie and Honky Tonk, includes a lot of original material and spirited covers of old and new standards. I've been a big fan for years. More on Ball's concert co-stars in a future post. But for now, check out her video below for a dose.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Magic is Over

According to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, "...the magic is over," for the US. In an extensive interview with International Herald Tribune writer Alison Smale the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) turned diplomat allows that the next president of the United States will have a daunting task ahead. He offers the dismal benediction that: "It will never be as it was before." Regrettably, I am forced to agree.

As a frequent overseas traveler, I am concerned about our country's international reputation. George Bush entered office with a clear disdain for foreign policy and nation building. So it comes as no surprise that his now obligatory focus on foreign affairs is myopic, ego-centric and belligerent. It is shocking that his administration's attempts at nation building have been so costly and incompetent - creating more problems than before his intervention. What has come as an additional surprise is the amount of blood he is willing to shed, the amount of our national budget he is prepared to squander, and the incredible level of incompetence and corruption he will abide in his mid-guided adventures. Put quite simply, we are ruined. Bankrupt. The price of our government's folly is staggering and ongoing. Our grand-children may not dig themselves out of this hole.

The sad truth is that George Bush is going to spend his last months in office systematically making things worse on every front. You can take that to the bank. He's determined to see his twisted vision through. Neither Congress nor the bureaucracy seems able to stop him. An unstoppable, downward trajectory that will surely take him and his cronies to the darkest place in recent history. It is an enormous irony that in the face of such deeds, Americans still obsess about the victimless-crime of Eliot Spitzer, the ill-advised but consenting dalliance of Bill Clinton and the current mental condition of Brittany Spears.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

International Women's Day

At almost 20:00 hours, I'm coming late to this subject. I couldn't let the Annual Womens Day to go by without mention. The Author is the father of two daughters, and a long-time feminist.

International Women's Day began in 1908 when 15,000 working women in New York City marched for better pay, shorter hours and voting rights. Today, 70 percent of the world's poor are women. And more than half the women in the world live in countries that have made no progress towards gender equality in recent years. So the struggle continues. To discover where we're at today, check out the 2008 Gender Equity Index at Social Watch, here.

In 2005, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Bejing issued the following statement.

Women contribute significantly to economic life everywhere. However, women are largely excluded from economic decision-making. They face low wages, poor working conditions and limited employment and professional opportunities…[and] their unpaid work is not measured… and not valued in national accounts. (source)

Pretty much sums it up.

Blogger Elected to Parliament in Malaysia

Blogger Jeff Ooi was elected to the Malaysian Parliment in elections held today. Check out his now historic blog here. Jeff's campaign messages included this one: "Send a Blogger to Parliament." Yea, that's what I'm talking about. This is a signal moment in the political maturation of the blogosphere, a milestone passed. Time for my personal victory dance. The Author is impressed and delighted when any citizen activist or citizen journalist is recognized by his or her community and entrusted with representing their interests in government. (Malaysian Parliament pictured below)

This Malaysian election was extraordinary in a number of ways. It also marks the largest defeat the ruling party has ever suffered since taking over from the British. That happened for a variety of reasons, many related to disappointment and a new activism among the ethnic minorities in the South Asian country. Malaysia is 60 percent Malay, the so-called native sons; 25 percent Chinese, and, 8 percent Indian. The remaining percentage comprises several, smaller groups. According to historians, the big-three ethnic groups worked out a social contract early on.

Under Malaysia's "social contract" hammered out by the nation's founding fathers, the majority Malays will have an unchallenged hold over politics in return for non- interference in Chinese domination of the economy. Today, ethnic Chinese are starting to wonder whether they have been shortchanged and are likely to put the long-standing deal to the test in general elections expected next month, one report said. (source)

If you are interested in following the events in Malaysia, there are a couple of sites to bookmark. Malaysiakini was one of the very first, unauthorized Internet citizen journalism sites. It continues to provide an alternative to government news. The nation's major paper, The Star, often reflects the government line and is thus, a balance for Malaysiakini. And of course, there's Jeff's blog.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Turkey Re-examines Hadiths

I'm intrigued by the news (here) that a sizeable group of senior Turkish Clergy and scholars have undertaken a review of the Hadiths. The Hadiths serve as Islam's second-most-important religious text after the Quran - which tradition holds is the direct word of God delivered verbatim to the Prophet Mohammed by the Angel Gabriel. The Hadiths give Islamic scholars insight and direction, through the stories, sayings, proverbs and illucidations they offer. If there is to be any modernization of the ancient faith, it will begin with a re-interpretation and updating of the Hadiths.

It is also of note that Turkey is undertaking this effort. Islam is well-suited to a single political authority, and Turkey was the last Islamic Caliphate. For an extended period of history, including the Ottoman Empire which stretched well into Europe and Asia, Turkey was the sole source of political law and religious influence in the Moslem world. As the article cited above notes (link), this is not the first time the Turks have undertaken such a review. So there is historical precedent for their effort. A good thing. And Turkey has its own motivations, as it seeks to become Europe's newest member. By demonstrating its moderation, Turkey can appease its own secular, hard-line generals; make an important gesture to the European Union; and, set in motion a process that could provide a clear alternative to Muslim extremism.

In doing so, at this moment, the current Turkish leadership - with firm roots in Islamic politics - is playing a powerful card. It is also positioning itself as a far more palatable regional leader than the current Iranian regime. It will be interesting to follow this development, as it has implications for religion, politics, foreign affairs as well as regional peace and stability. It is, however, not something you'll see showcased in the MSM.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gaza Holocaust - Bush's Folly

As the Middle East boils with violence and war, it comes as no surprise that once again (regrettably), the failings of Bush's foreign policy are to blame.

Israel's military incursion into Palestinian Gaza last week resulted in over 100 deaths, many of those innocent civilians and some small children. Read about it here. This in retaliation for the 7th death of an Israeli citizen by rocket fire in ten years. It's no wonder the Secretary General of the UN described the Israeli response as excessive and disproportionate. By any measure, that's what it was.

Under the laws of war, we're told, civilians may be placed at risk only for reasons of military necessity. They must never be targeted to create political pressure, or for reasons of revenge. That's just morally wrong. Israel promised the Palestinians a Shoah, or holocaust, if their efforts to fire rockets continued. Read the BBC account of the threat here. So the victims of the Nazi Shoah are now promising their adversaries the same kind of treatment? And as it turns out, this current disaster is largely due to pressures and miscalculations by the Bush Administration. Here's the story.

After Arafat died and left the Palestinian people and state without a clear leader, the Bush administration insisted on immediate elections - though neither Fatah or Hamas really wanted them. Well, Hamas won the elections and Condi Rice famously observed: "...nobody saw that coming." Exactly my point. Cluelessness at the highest levels. So rather than support the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a free and fair election, Bush decides to create a civil war between Palestinian factions. Another very bad idea from the mental midget we call president of the United States. The plot was first reported in late 2006 by Debka File, then here in Dec. 06 at the Arabist blog. Read some of the posted comments for additional background.

Now, Vanity Fair exposes the entire SNAFU in this revealing piece. A must read. His elections a failure from the US point of view, and his civil war lost, Bush has apparently given the Israeli military a green light to clean-up the whole affair in their usual, very heavy-handed manner. Not a pretty picture. This has inflammed Arabs and Muslims around the world at precisely the moment when the Middle East can least afford additional stress. One has to wonder just who's in charge and what they're thinking.

For more background on Gaza, check out these blogs. TabulaGaza; A mother from Gaza; and, FromGaza.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Latin Rhythms Playlist on VodPod

VodPod is a net-based video collection site with some cool widgets. I use one in the sidebar of this blog to enable readers to watch and listen to some of my favorite Flamenco and Fado artists. Today, I'm posting this note so that I can play with a new VodPod configuration in the body of my post. I've selected some tunes and artists from my "Latin Rhythms" playlist, one of several Spanish-language playlists on my personal iPOD. I've posted before about Alt. Mexican music, here. And about Mexican/American Diva Lila Downs, here. This VodPod collection contains a variety of musicians, tunes and styles. Enjoy. And let me know if any of your personal favorites belong on my list.

get your vodpod

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Steve Novick for US Senate

The Author is taking a minute to personally endorse the candidacy of Steve Novick for US Senate from Oregon. Steve is running against Oregon House speaker Jeff Merkley in the Democratic primary, and we're in good shape with two good candidates to oppose the ever-waffling incumbent Gordon Smith. But Steve is the best candidate of the two for a whole bunch of reasons. Let me share a story.

When I was invoved in competitive thinking in high-school (you know, mental sports), my most influentual mentor, teacher and coach took me aside before the final round of one critical contest and told me the following. "Look," he said, "there'll be a bunch of your equals in that room all doing their best to defeat you and emerge victorious. Just do one thing differently from all the rest, to ensure you stand out from the crowd. All things being equal, you will win." Well I took his advice to heart, and I won.

Steve Novick stands out from the crowd in many ways. He graduated from the University of Oregon while a teenager, and from Harvard Law School at age 21. That's pretty exceptional, don't you think? And then of course, there's his size. He's 4'9". And did I mention that he's got a metal HOOK at the end of his left arm? So of course he characterizes himself as the candidate with the strong left hook who fights for the little guy. Check out his blog here, and his now viral TV spots, here and below. I've been a political consultant for over 20 years (every election cycle) and these are some of the best ads I've ever seen.

So Novick is wicked smart, he's got a demonstrable can-do attitude, he knows what it means to be in several minorities and to overcome hardship. Perhaps most impressive is the robust sense of humor he has maintained throughout his life and career. What's not to love? And one more thing, he's not a part of the totally dysfunctional Oregon state legislature. I would like Jeff Merkley a lot more if as speaker of the house he demonstrated some inspired leadership. Didn't happen, IMNSHO. So surf on over to Steve's website and check out his positions on the issues. You'll be impressed. I am.

Court Gives Domain Back to Wikileaks

In the post below, The Author complained about the increasing exercise of government and corporate control over the Internet. Again, a bad thing. Well, in a moment of clarity the judge in the Wikileaks case that I cited in the last paragraph has reversed his decision and given the anonymous whistleblower's site back its domain name. Sweet. A good thing. And such quick turnaround. Very impressive. Read about it here.