27 January 2008

You and Your Meat: A Stupid Love Story That Needs to End

I'm really excited at the moment as I turned (well, clicked) to the NYTimes "Week In Review" section to find a piece about the livestock industry. I can't for the life of me remember when I've ever seen (that is, if there ever has been) a piece like this in the Times. As I've now been vegetarian (and sometime vegan) for almost a third of my life (wow, really? crazy), this has been an issue of great importance to me. There have been times when I've wavered on certain aspects of the animal-rights agenda (and certainly resuming the occasional consumption of eggs and dairy constitutes such), but there are some things you just can't argue with. Regardless of your take on the ethical/moral issues involved with animals, it must be accepted that factory "farming" of livestock is an environmental disaster. As parts of the world experience an increase in wealth, meat consumption also rises, contributing towards the destruction of tropical rainforests, increased greenhouse emissions (more than transportation!!!), polluted water systems/watersheds, and greater consumption of the world's grain supplies in the form of livestock feed. The Times piece goes into more detail on all these aspects, and i urge you to pass this article on to your friends and cohorts. It doesn't take a preachy tone, it doesn't tell you how to lead your life or change your habits, it simply relates the facts on what a meat-heavy diet is doing to this planet.

Check out the article for yourself here: "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler"

26 January 2008

PowerRangerRickshaw

Sometimes you just have one of those nights. I think I was still a little bit delirious on Friday after having seen Mastodon and Neurosis at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (Hank from Stay Fucked was there, too, and posted a good review on his site, Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches). That place was awesomely creepy and good for exploring of the type that non-masons probably aren't supposed to partake in whatsoever.
But I digress. Friday night I was chillin with Sam, he who used to post here on basketball until he got too lazy, before heading out on the town. To give an idea of what kind of mood we were in, a snippet of conversation:

S: "It's not very often you're the only person in the world doing something at a given time, but I think right now we're the only people in the world watching the Australian Open Women's Final and listening to One Last Wish..."
A: "...and really stoned..."
S: "yes."

And later that night, with the aid of our good friend Stefan, we're pretty sure we created the world's longest (and therefore, BEST) portmanteau:

A.C. Earlgreyhoundofbaskervillageidiotsavantguardianangelofdeath-
metalheadcheeseplatterpussyringoffirefighters

if you have a better one, we'd love to hear it.

Stefan and Dirk going to the spring semiformal






Not really sure how Stefan got himself into this mess! What wacky guy!

21 January 2008

A Rambling Might Pass For An Idea

A few days ago I was going through some notes/writings from a while back and came across some prescient lines that were almost two years old. I don't normally get overly excited about a lot of my past jotted-down mental notes, but in this case I had just been reading Jonah Lehrer's latest piece in Seed Magazine, "The Future of Science...Is...Art?" I highly, highly recommend reading the whole piece and now I'd really like to read his new(ish) book, Proust Was A Neuroscientist. Now Lehrer himself is a neuroscientist and the premise of his piece in Seed (where he is also an editor) was that there are many places in the scientific world where reductionism is reaching it's limits of comprehension and understanding. Foremost in the author's...um...mind, is his own field of neuroscience, but his ideas certainly translate to the worlds of string theory (see my previous post) and cosmology to name but a couple.

After finishing The Elegant Universe last week I decided to cool it on science books and read some fiction. In the ensuing mental vacuum I picked up J-K Huysmans' The Damned and Zola's Germinal. Now I'll be posting more on those in a few days, but I'd like to note that fin-de-si├Ęcle France was a fantastic period for me to jump into. Romanticism was being overtaken by naturalism (in literature anyway), yet there was still the obvious tension between the medieval/pre-Enlightenment mindsets and the positivist, urban, scientific worldview. Without going too far into (what would at this point be) an incoherent discourse on art and science, I'd just like to address Lehrer's ultimate point that in order for science to maybe move to a higher level of understanding, it needs to take a few cues from artists. Really what would be incredible is for more artists and scientists to learn from each other (Lehrer suggests keeping artists-in-residence at science institutions for one) and to push each other deeper into their respective fields. Really it would be great for the lines between these disciplines to become much more blurred.

Anyone who follows what I write about here will notice a mix of science and literature that informs and inspires my writings and music. So I decided I'll post, at the risk of maybe a little embarrassment, the original, unedited notes, "On the Apocalypse," I made on an inspired day in April of 2006:

the apocalypse can be interpreted as the time when the reign of illusion over peoples' lives comes to an end.
it is considered a horrific event in the minds of those who desire/prefer to live under such illusions and would like such perspectives to continue on earth.
conversely, it is not seen as a horrific event by those with a more rational and scientific outlook. in fact, it is not seen as something that is even necessarily "real" and could possibly be considered as another illusion in a world teeming with them.
if it is the time that Lucifer comes, then it will be the time that brings light to humanity. Lucifer is the "bringer of light" which can be associated with knowledge and learning. The "darkness," the time ruled by magic and illusion is defeated by the bringing of light and knowledge to the world.

another, less black-and-white, way to look at this is that light and dark must coexist, lest they lose their meaning in reference to one another. since the world will possibly never be fully understood (since science only looks to cancel out falsities and doesn't concentrate on certain, final "answers") there will always be a sense of mystery and darkness about things.
those who favor the mysterious will fear the bringing of light, lest it destroy the illusions that govern their lives. those who favor science will always distrust those who base their worldview on illusion and magic because of their irrational aspects.
ultimately, art is based on a combination of the two; a realization that it is the coexistence of these elements that give the universe its beauty and that also drives us to further understanding lest we become complacent and lazy in our mystical thinking.


I hope any of that made any sense at all to somebody outside my brain and if it starts some kind of discussion or conversation, awesome. In the meantime go read Lehrer's piece in Seed.

16 January 2008

Oh, If Only I Knew What He Was Talking About


Brian Greene - The Elegant Universe

Alright, this is going to be a bit of a bullshit post, if only because I finished this book a week ago. I had a great post in my head, but my internet was spotty and I failed to write anything down or take notes for myself. That was stupid of me, though certainly not the first time that's ever happened.

With that caveat in mind, here's the main point (I think) I wanted to make last Monday. As much as any book on string theory can be, The Elegant Universe is a winner. Greene boils down the essentials in an incredibly simple fashion with easy-to-understand and insightful analogies. String theory is mind-bogglingly complex; it stretches beyond what most humans are capable of imagining (and that includes many of the involved scientists). Without knowing the math behind all this, it remains difficult (in my opinion) to perceive this microscopically small world, so I commend Dr./Prof./Mr. Greene for his efforts in trying to make all this accessible to the layman. I can't possibly begin to describe this world here and it would be a crime for me to try. Realistically, I need to reread whole chapters at some point because there is so much that I had to skim through because I simply did not understand what was going on.

My own ignorance notwithstanding, what I found lacking in this work was some of the storytelling. A good deal of the book is devoted to the history and development of string theory, Greene lays down the foundations of 20th century physics as it relates to the most modern conceptions of how the world has begun to appear to modern theorists. However, in an attempt to ground and humanize many of the "characters" here, the main story tends to drag; details of the lives of these (mostly) men and their situations come at the cost of attention to the flow of ideas. I guess that would be my only critique, as I found my attention wandering about 3/4 of the way through when that should really be where things are picking up steam and careening towards a conclusion. This isn't to say that Greene is a terrible narrator, but I think some editing of the storyline could have helped me keep focus when the physics started to get more complicated and outright weird.

I definitely recommend The Elegant Universe for those uninitiated in the world of string theory (much as I was). Given that this book was written a couple years ago, a lot of this work has been furthered in that elapsed time. I've been trying to find "updates" of sorts, but I'm finding material hard to come by. I'm also looking for anything that might be able to tie chaos theory in with any of this string business. If anyone knows of anything, point me in the right direction...

13 January 2008

Sunday Quickie

I've been sitting at my computer all day backing up files because my old backup drive was stolen along with my guitar and some 7"s on xmas eve. Seriously, who steals at little backup drive? Can you get a bunch of money for those? Do you just want my embarrassing files like my college thesis and some bad writing I did four years ago? Did you assume I had my iTunes folder backed up on there?
Anyway, in between copying bursts I read a great piece by Steven Pinker in today's Sunday Times Magazine. It's on the development of morality in humans and anyone that's even remotely interested in the subject will surely enjoy it and have plenty of think about and discuss with friends or coworkers or invisible entities that they maintain are near. I haven't read any books by Pinker, but I plan on it, as soon as I read the other however-many books I have to my "to-read" list.
In other news it's gonna snow here tonight, the Pats won last night and will now face the Chargers next weekend (I'm a bit disappointed, however, that we won't have a chance to defeat the Colts again on the way to the Super Bowl). Some good things had to happen this weekend to offset my manager-less Newcastle United getting thrashed by Man U. Ugh...

"The Moral Instinct" @ NYTimes.com

11 January 2008

I've got TWO Golden Tickets!

To go see NEUROSIS and MASTODON and neither of them are for you, unless your name is Nick Salek, which is probably isn't, because Nick doesn't read blogs (at least as far as I know). What would make this better is if instead of Nick I had some awesome girl coming with me, but since that's just a pipe-dream, might as well bring along my bandmate (other bandmate, Jeremy, where are you? Get yr damn ticket!).
I'm wicked excited cos I've never seen Neurosis live before and satan, mother of god, they're playing with Mastodon (or vice versa, whatever). Now I just have to make it through another two weeks intact.

On a completely different note, I've somehow managed to trick a slew of folks from around the world to visit this site, but I've yet to sucker anyone from Africa. WAKE UP, AFRICA! I know you're busy preparing for the African Cup of Nations, but take two seconds and visit me so that I can get a pretty dot on your vastly underappreciated (and undernourished) and overexploited -- yet astoundingly beautiful -- continent.

(there, that nod to the ACoN should do the trick...)

08 January 2008

Yes, Sometimes I Read Fiction

Gary Shteyngart, The Russian Debutante's Handbook

Now it's not often I stray from my beloved non-fiction pop-science geek books, but tore through this thanks to what I must say was a great tip. Since I wasn't a Lit major nor an avid fictioneer, I don't really know how to discuss such books. (Really, anyone who reads this knows I don't actually know how talk about much of anything, but damn if I don't try). That means I haven't the foggiest about the plot arc or allusions to other works or any of that crap. What I do know, however, is that this book kept my attention and had a lot of funny jokes in it. I've also been to Prague, the basis of his fictional city of Prava, which added a level of familiarity to the proceedings.

On a more serious note, I'll say that this book was a fantastic antidote to all the bullshit ravings about "quarterlife" that have been floating around the media lately. I'm 26, have been fairly directionless for the past few years and, um, whatever else "qualifies" someone for a "quarterlife crisis." Oh, having a decent level of neuroticism helps, too. Anyway, before youtube and facebook and all the rubbish self-promotion/self-pity party started folks just went about their business figuring out what to do with their lives without fucking crying about it to whatever gullible anonymous strangers would pay attention. Shteyngart's story here is a product (and a marvelous one at that) of that post-college wonder/wander-ment and there isn't any unwarranted crying over spilled milk.

Now that I've completely butchered another review of something I really enjoyed, I'll recommend this book and look forward to reading his follow-up, Absurdistan.

07 January 2008

Hey Look, It's a Music Post!

There's a great show coming up on Thursday featuring my friends Stay Fucked. All the info via (stellar) drummer, Hank Shteamer:

here is info on our belated end-of-tour show! CDs and new hand-screened t-shirts will be on hand. all the other bands rule. hope to see you!


this Thursday, 1/10
@ Cake Shop
152 Ludlow between Rivington and Stanton

(bands listed from latest to earliest)

*Dysrhythmia
*Stay Fucked
*We Be the Echo
*The Future Has a Silver Lining

8pm, $6

myspace.com/stayfucked

02 January 2008

East v West: Terrorist All-Star Game

Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies

Recently we started getting coursebooks in stock at work and, as curiosity dictates, I started skimming through some to see what some of the NYU profs are assigning this term. This one, Occidentalism caught my eye and I ended up reading the whole thing in spare moments over two days. It's not a lengthy tome, but it's an easy read as well as, I think, a well thought out work. The major premise, as I gather it, is that militant Islamism is just the latest in a line of ideologies spawned to opposed "the West." This entity is really the intertwined systems of scientism, progress, democracy, capitalism and not the monolith that those who wish to counter it (with violence it should be noted) would like to make it out to be.
One of the major points that the authors repeatedly make is that a lot of "anti-Western" thought is actually Western (and more specifically, western European) in origin. In fact, a good deal of it is Western systems of thought--communism, fascism, romanticism--that are introduced in one form or another to non-Westerners and summarily bastardized in a context that doesn't mirror that within which the ideology originally grew. It should be duly noted that popular support for such anti-Western sentiment tends to increase because of the disconnect that natives feel between what Western-educated (or connected) elites of their home countries end up doing in the name of "progress" there. Just as many in the "West" have a poor grasp of the realities away from their doorsteps, those in the "East" or "South" have similarly skewed visions of what it means to be "Western" in origin.
I'm off now to search for come critiques of this book, since I'm sure there are a few, but I must state that this book isn't some apologetic for Eurocentrism or West-ism or some other nonsense. I have plenty of issues with elements of global capitalism and misused technology and imperial tendencies. Nonetheless, I'm no romantic (in the true sense of, say, German Romanticism, which is discussed at length in the book) about some idealized past or harbor the delusions of heroism that inform the basis of much anti-modern thought. Anyone who reads here knows my support of responsible scientific inquiry and my disdain for religious and spiritual hokum. Whatever, I'm losing my train of thought...
The point is this book is a quick and intelligent read, definitely for anyone who'd like a good geneology of the roots of anti-modern ideologies, particularly ones that espouse violent means. I'd love to get comments on this from anyone else who has read it.