Archive for April, 2006

The immovable third

Apr 24, 2006 in Current Events

Bush’s approval rating hits new low - Yahoo! News

According to the latest polls, Bush’s approval rating stands around 32-35 percent. It’s not surprising at all that Bush’s approval ratings are so low. What is surprising is that they’re not lower.

The war in Iraq is an expensive, intractable quagmire. The federal deficit has ballooned. The economy is still shaky. Bush’s domestic policy is in shambles. His worldwide popularity is in the toilet, and his domestic popularity is circling the drain.

Yet, despite all of this, a stubborn 1/3 of our country insists that Bush is doing a good job. This 1/3 roughly corresponds to the number of registered Republicans and/or evangelical Christians in this country. (I don’t have the numbers, but look ‘em up.)

Christ, all you gotta do is throw out some God talk, be faithful to the party line, and at least 1/3 of the country will come out for you. Unless George Bush is exposed as a baby-eating liberal Satanist in disguise, I doubt we’ll see those poll numbers get much lower.

Ok, who let the hipster rock critics into the Library of Congress?

Apr 12, 2006 in Music

The Library of Congress has released the list of 2005 entries into the National Recording Registry. Every year, 50 recordings are selected for their historical, cultural or aesthetic significance. There are 200 recordings in the registry as of this year.

Last year, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet made the list. (The aforementioned albums are also the most recent entries in the registry.) The highlights of this year’s list:

  • Crazy Blues, Mamie Smith (1920) - The first commercial blues recording. The surprising success of Crazy Blues convinced the record labels that black people were actually interested in buying music recorded by blacks. And as jazz, rock and hip hop soon proved, so were white people.
  • Anthology of American Folk Music, edited by Harry Smith (1952) - The legendary box set of roots music 78s that helped spark the ’60s folk revival. Just in case you were looking for someone to blame for that.
  • Poeme Electronique, Edgard Varese (1958) - The first avante garde piece to be admitted to the registry. A massive musique concrete installation that premiered at the 1958 Brussels Exhibition.
  • We’re Only in It for the Money, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (1968) - The second avante garde piece to be admitted into the registry. Not only Zappa’s best work, but probably the album that truly captured the zeitgeist of the 60s. (Anyone who had the foresight to make fun of hippies in 1967 is deserving of immortality.)
  • Switched-On Bach, Wendy Carlos (1968) - Still going by the name Walter Carlos at the time, Switched-On Bach featured Carlos performing Bach on the Moog synthesizer (an instrument previously pioneered by jazz musician Sun Ra, who used it to make appropriately spacy sounds). Music would never be the same again. Dark Side of the Moon and prog rock would soon follow.
  • Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, Firesign Theatre (1970) - Remarkable if only for its title. The Theatre were a surrealist sketch comedy troupe that got their start in the late 60s.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil Scott-Heron (1970) - Radical black activist and poet Gil Scott-Heron released this scathing and hilarious putdown of televised mass media. [Lyrics and music], and in the process became one of the forefathers of hip hop.
  • Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth (1988) - The third avante garde piece to be admitted into the registry. Honestly, when I heard that Sonic Youth was on the list, I was expecting Dirty. This album is considered by many to be their best, although Evol is my personal favorite. Hey, at least it wasn’t Goo.

Like cheap vegetables? So do I!

Apr 11, 2006 in Current Events

Listen up America: Yesterday, millions of Mexican and other Latino immigrants stopped building your houses, tending your gardens, picking your vegetables and washing your dishes to take to the streets in large numbers and tell you that they’re tired of being treated like criminals.

America is a nation of immigrants, and unless you’re 100% Native American, chances are your ancestors came here on a boat for the very same reasons that Latinos and other illegals come here. And even though they may have come legally, your ancestors likely faced the very same discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment that the Mexicans do today.

Like it or not, we live in a world where brown people of many different races work for comparatively low wages, so that you can maintain your standard of living. Guess who built that house you just bought in that nice suburban subdivision? That nice shiny office building with the attractive landscaping? Who picked your fruits and vegetables? Who slaughtered and processed your store-bought chicken or steak? Who keeps these and many other things cheap?

Obviously, immigration reform is a complex issue with no easy answers. But stricter penalties against illegal immigration would do little to address the 10-12 million illegal immigrants that are already here. They’re not going anywhere — the cost of deporting 10+ million immigrants would bankrupt the economy. Not to mention that many businesses, especially in the agricultural sector, would go bankrupt if not for a steady influx of immigrant labor. Better to find some way to integrate them into society, and address the issue of border crossings seperately.

There’s a lot of racism and xenophobia regarding this issue, much of it, not surprisingly, from the Republican Party and its supporters. (Latinos are yet another group they’ve managed to alienate.) Polls show that immigration has become a major concern among Americans. With all the major issues demanding attention, doesn’t this sudden emphasis on illegal immigration seem like a smokescreen to you?

This is not an issue that is going to be resolved by those with authoritarian and xenophobic motives. This issue requires forward thinking, and I don’t think the politicians in power have the ability to resolve this issue fairly. Good thing there’s an election coming up.

How to prepare and drink Kava tea

Apr 08, 2006 in Pop Culture

I’ve previously written about my experience with kava in Hawaii. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to order some kava from an online vendor. I’ve recently ordered my second batch, and am ready to show you, dear reader, how to obtain and prepare the most potent kava tea this side of Fiji.

Kava (piper methysticum) is made from the roots of a tropical shrub native to the South Pacific. It has been used for centuries by Polynesian islanders for medicinal, ceremonial and recreational purposes. The root is ground and mixed with water to produce a brown, bitter tea. This website has more background on kava, if you’re curious.

The source I use for kava is Nakamal at Home, an online kava distributor in Florida. They sell fresh Borogu kava root from Vanuatu — the most potent in the world. If you’re making kava for the first time, get a kava making kit, which comes with a cloth strainer bag, two coconut shells for drinking, and a pound or two of kava. Might as well go full-on and get the Chief’s Jungle kava, if you’re brave. Pick up 15g of lecithin granules too — it makes a smoother and more potent drink.

The recipe I use is derived from the one on Nakamal’s website [PDF]. The following recipe makes about a quart of potent kava tea, enough for 2-3 people.

2 cups kava root
4 cups warm water
2 tsp lecithin

1. Dissolve the lecithin in a small amount of hot water. Mix the kava root, lecithin and warm water together in a large bowl. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

2. Scoop the wet kava root into the cloth straining bag. Wring and squeeze the kava root over the bowl until it is wrung completely dry. To obtain maximum extraction, rinse the dry kava root once more with warm water and squeeze dry again. You can also use a juicer for this step.

3. Use a mesh strainer or your clean straining cloth bag to strain any pulp from the liquid when pouring it into your serving container

If you bought the kava making kit, you’ll drink your kava from the coconut shells that came with it (about 6 oz.) Gently stir or shake the liquid before pouring. Have a glass of fruit juice handy. Orange juice works well, as well as banana, mango or pineapple. Get the real non-concentrated stuff from the refrigerator section.

Now, hold your breath and slam it down as quickly as possible! Chase it with fruit juice. If you find the taste so repugnant that you can’t finish it, try mixing the kava with fruit juice. It does a pretty good job of masking the taste. It’s generally advised to wait 10-15 minutes before drinking another serving. You should feel kava’s effects after 2-3 shells.

The first thing you’ll notice is that your mouth goes numb. This is temporary, it’ll pass in a few minutes. Upon further consumption, you’ll notice a very relaxing effect. Kava is a natural muscle relaxant, anti-depressant and anxiety reducer. You may also feel sleepy. Kava is said to promote vivid and colorful dreams, in case you decide to go to sleep after consuming it.

A couple words of caution: Don’t consume alcohol or other depressants with kava. Don’t drive after you’ve drank kava. Avoid kava if you have liver problems or an allergy to black pepper. Kava has few side effects, although I’ve noticed mild nausea after excessive consumption.

Domino, muthafucka!

Apr 02, 2006 in Pop Culture

After Luck With Poker, ESPN Bets on New York Dominoes - New York Times

After Texas Hold’em made smoky casino poker rooms and their steely-faced occupants famous, ESPN is angling to find the next big sport of chance. They’re betting on dominoes.

The game is popular with latinos and blacks in urban neighborhoods, where ESPN is scouring to find domino clubs and players for TV coverage. Could “el Natural” be the next Chris “Jesus” Ferguson? (Think “Jesus” with a spanish accent when you read that.)

The network is currently broadcasting domino games on their Spanish languade subsidiary and are planning domino-related programming on ESPN 2 this summer. If this takes off, I predict it’s only a matter of time before real money online dominoes becomes available.