July 09, 2008

Web Fun, Ctd.

I must admit, as a huge music fan, this is really exciting. One of the websites I mentioned a few months ago, Deezer, allows you to embed songs or entire playlists on your own site. The increasingly free flow of music, via Myspace, iTunes (ok, maybe not all free) or this make the internet that much more fun and engaging. The short playlist below is representative of my work or study music.

July 08, 2008

Citizen's Arrest

Running down the daily blog roll, I found a particularly interesting comment on The Cunning Realist.

Not to mention a citizenry with very little interest in citizenship. It will take a great crisis to get things moving.
--Mary, July 8, 2008

This is a recurring theme in much of my recent reading (and viewing). Our culture has shifted so far toward capitalism, it is no longer a facet of life, but life itself. Citizenship, community, family and personal lives have all taken a back seat to our material aspirations.

From Bill Moyer's Journal:

Bill Moyers: Here we are, at the height of the holiday season. The malls and the shops are packed. Stuff is flying off the shelves. And like Grinch or Scrooge you stand up and say, "Capitalism's in trouble." Why?

Benjamin Barber: Because things are flying off the shelves that we don't want or need or even understand what they are, but we go on buying them. Because capitalism needs us to buy things way beyond the scope of our needs and wants to stay in business, Bill. That's the bottom line. Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It's manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it's got to produce.

I would encourage everyone to watch this interview in its entirety. Mr. Barber is on point regarding not only the American consumer, but also American capitalism. We work harder to produce and purchase more of what we do not need and corporations respond with an unwavering focus on developed markets. In an increasingly pluralistic and informed society, the focus is somehow progressively self-centered.

For example, global warming has become a hot-button issue and being "green" is very fashionable. Yet "green" equates to buying new light bulbs, new cars, new homes even. Two minutes on Google and our supposedly informed public can find that "the US consumes 25% of the world's energy (with a share of global productivity at 22% and a share of the world population at 5%)." (Wikipedia) The most effective and immediate way to be "green" is to reduce your consumption of energy and energy intensive products, not the other way around. It all seems fairly intuitive, but we are accustomed to the healing power of consumption and would hardly know how else to spend our time.

Similar concerns are voiced in an excellent Orion Magazine article:

Today "work and more work" is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but “higher productivity”—and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce...

Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods—the big stuff such as cars and appliances—was thirty-two times higher. Meanwhile, by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.

This brings us back to Mary's comment about the lack of interest in citizenship. Our competitive marketplace is not just amongst companies, but also the consumers. For most, the daily struggle is to prove your material worth. Intellectual challenge, intimacy with family and friends, artistic ability, health and fitness, service and charity, religious commitment... these are all nice and occasionally fit into our schedule, but they are no longer priorities.

Consider life's true gifts and consume vivaciously. Embrace your family and friends, your pet and the great outdoors, a nap on Sunday afternoon or conversation with friends, good music and laughter. Consume the material excesses less often and let your life be filled with authentic pleasures.

June 05, 2008

Bear Stearns

From today's Financial Times:

Bear Stearns sought rescue financing from Temasek of Singapore in the days before its sale to JPMorgan Chase but was rebuffed, underscoring the growing reluctance of sovereign wealth funds to make high-profile investments.

Could it be Temasek thought Bear Stearns was a bad investment and not necessarily concerned about being "high-profile" or not? More...

...Sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East and Asia that were recently asked to provide capital for Wachovia - another US bank with a strong domestic orientation - but refused.

The FT seems to imply that SWFs are not going to be interested in US businesses that are large and/or have a domestic focus. I think the conclusion should be poorly managed investment banks are never a good investment, regardless of whether its my money or a SWFs.

April 25, 2008

Web Fun

Bored at home over the weekend? Check out a few of these sites:

Twine - labeled as a knowledge networking site, it is part of the semantic web movement to further integrate our life with technology... as if we need that...

Deezer - if you've been using Pandora or some other internet radio site, this is a fun one to try. Best feature I've found so far is the ability to create your own playlists and not being limited to the same songs over and over like Pandora tends to do.

Viewzi - difficult to say much here. You must register for the site and wait for your invitation to join (like Twine). I haven't been invited yet, so there isn't much to comment on. However, it is interesting to consider what an alternative to google might look and function like.

Vimeo - like YouTube, but better. More interesting content and higher quality videos. Some pretty eclectic stuff on here.

Last FM - another fun music site. My favorite part of the site is the "similar artists" section. It provides a long list of similar artists, but ranks them in order of how similar they are to what you were listening to.

cleanhotdry - if you like coffee, you'll like this site. It's a very new blog coming from Vancouver. Sounds like they have a vibrant coffee scene there and the writers seem very informed. Hope they update often.

Audio Visualization

I've recently become interested in the concept and creation of audio visualization. When we listen to music, it can stir emotions or memories that translate into images. In its most basic form, this resembles Windows Media Player and its various moving images to accompany your music. The video below is much like that. Points of inflection are shown by brigter lights or a larger image, while softer moments have softer images.

However, I think the concept can be expanded upon to produce something that resembles a hybrid of what's below and a more traditional music video.

February 29, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

Of my Oscar predictions, I missed only two. Among a host of great movies and actors, the category for best supporting actress was destitute; so I won't spend too much time grieving that miss. However, I am deeply interested in documentaries. No End in Sight was a wonderful look at the Iraq war and examination of America's easily avoidable and drastically deleterious mistakes therein. Despite this, it was not the winner of Best Documentary. The winner was Taxi to the Dark Side. Therefore, Taxi is on my agenda for the weekend and hopefully a brief review on EO is as well.

February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley

I'll post some original content on here soon. However, I don't have the expertise or knowledge to comment on the death of William F. Buckley. There are plenty of tributes and obituaries worthy of your time, just not from me.

Despite this, Ezra Klein's comments resonated with my sense of a current conservative anti-intellectualism. I believe new media is slowly elevating our national discourse away from cable news and conservative radio, however we are far from a nation where being a political thinker "made you a cultural figure."

As a slightly more general point, in the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger. Run a search on quotes from Galbraith, Buckley, or Friedman, then do the same for O'Reilly and Coulter. We're really losing something here.
-- The American Prospect, February 27, 2008

February 25, 2008

The Food Crisis Has Arrived

I pointed to talk of a "coming" food crisis a few days ago. Well... it's here.

The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities...

WFP officials hope the cuts can be avoided, but warned that the agency’s budget requirements were rising by several million dollars a week because of climbing food prices.

The WFP crisis talks come as the body sees the emergence of a “new area of hunger” in developing countries where even middle-class, urban people are being “priced out of the food market” because of rising food prices.

The warning suggests that the price jump in agricultural commodities – such as wheat, corn, rice and soyabeans – is having a wider impact than thought, hitting countries that have previously largely escaped hunger.
--Financial Times, February 25, 2008

February 24, 2008

Oscar Predictions

I promised to get a few of my picks up for tonight's Oscars, so here they are. One note: I have not seen There Will be Blood yet...

Actor in Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actor is Supporting Role: Javier Bardem*

Actress in Leading Role: Marion Cotillard

Actress in Supporting Role: Cate Blanchett

Animated Film: Ratatouille

Documentary Feature: No End in Sight*

Music: Atonement

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men*

I think my favorite film of the year was Bella. The film is not nominated for any awards.

* Denotes a personal favorite.

February 15, 2008

The Coming Food Crisis

The rising costs of food and subsequent potential for crisis should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to commodity markets and policies.

From the New York Times:

The distortions in agricultural production are startling. Corn prices are up about 50 percent from last year, while soybean prices are projected to rise up to 30 percent in the coming year, as farmers have replaced soy with corn in their fields. The increasing cost of animal feed is raising the prices of dairy and poultry products.
--September 19, 2007

The general media is not paying much attention to this, as subprime related news continues to dominate most outlets. However, the situation demands a shift in focus to a problem that will likely have a much deeper impact on the world (i.e. famine and starvation).

Today's Financial Times points out a few more structural problems within the current market:

Rising food prices pack a powerful political punch in the developing (or partly-developed) world, to a degree that is sometimes underappreciated by the pampered west...

Goldman Sachs thinks this is just part of a much bigger problem of capital and resource misallocation. After all, Mr Currie argues, if the world today was a rational economic place, then regions such as the Gulf which are food-constrained ought to be investing heavily in agriculture. And since the US is the world's biggest agricultural supplier, this implies that the Saudi Arabians, say, should be snapping up farms in Wisconsin - as America secures oil in the most efficient manner by sending teams of Texans to Riyadh.

But in practice numerous investment controls prevent Saudi Arabians from buying Wisconsin farms and Americans owning Saudi oil wells. And these controls are not being dismantled now. On the contrary, mutual mistrust is now rising. Hence the fact that Gulf leaders are currently considering desalinating sea water to plant wheat in the desert - while the US and Europe are trying to turn corn into fuel. Such exercises might make sense in domestic political terms; but they are apt to be fiendishly expensive. Thus the upshot of this misallocation, Mr Currie would argue, is even more inflation - even if the world does experience some form of growth slowdown.

This campaign season, consider the issues facing the rest of the world and America's role in finding solutions. We need a leader who is informed, capable and willing to deal with situations unrelated to subprime or Iraq... immediately.

There Will Be Blood

I'm hoping to see There Will Be Blood this weekend. It is the only nominee for Best Picture of the Year that I have not seen. Before the Oscars, I will list my favorites for a few of the categories and try to rank the best picture nominees.