No Illusions Podcast #41

News updates from around the globe. Includes the following stories:

Former Tasmanian MP found guilty of having sex with a 12 year old girl, but gets no jail time. 

Time Magazine Doesn’t Want To Show U.S. Citizens Pictures Of Revolution. 

U.S. Senate Are Voting On Legislation That Allows Their Military To Arrest Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime, and in Any Country. Including the U.S.A.

More US Soldiers Committed Suicide Than Died in Combat

US Military Manipulates the Social Media

U.S. Army and Psychology Largest Experiment Ever

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No Illusions Podcast #40 – Doug La Follette, Wisconsin Secretary of State

Doug La Follette (born June 6, 1940) is an American academic, environmental activist, and politician from the state of Wisconsin. A Democrat, he is the current Secretary of State of Wisconsin and has served in that role since 1983. He is also a Fulbright Distinguished American Scholar and the author of the 1991 book The Survival Handbook: A Strategy for Saving Planet Earth.

I had the chance to chat with Secretary La Follette this morning for an hour about the attempts to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, President Obama’s track record in his first term and the trend of U.S. politics since Reagan.

 

3D Printer Project Overshoots Fundraising by 600%

3D printing is an amazing phenomenon. So is Kickstarter.

Brook Drumm from printrbot.com designed a new, easy to build, inexpensive 3D printer for the home. To get it into production, he needed to raise $25,000. So he created a project on Kickstarter.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/printrbot/printrbot-your-first-3d-printer/widget/video.html

 

Instead of raising $25,000, he’s already raised $171,000! I can’t wait to have one of these machines!

Imagine – the next time a plastic doohickey on one of your kitchen devices breaks, instead of throwing the entire unit out because you can’t get a replacement doohickey, you just download or create a blueprint for the piece and make it yourself at home!

Truth Goggles

According to Neiman Journalism Lab:

“Dan Schultz, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab (and newly named Knight-Mozilla fellow for 2012), is devoting his thesis to automatic bullshit detection. Schultz is building what he calls truth goggles — not actual magical eyewear, alas, but software that flags suspicious claims in news articles and helps readers determine their truthiness. It’s possible because of a novel arrangement: Schultz struck a deal with fact-checker PolitiFact for access to its private APIs.”

(via Bull beware: Truth goggles sniff out suspicious sentences in news » Nieman Journalism Lab.)

It’s a fascinating idea. Imagine browsers having a plug-in that is able to fact check all sorts of data using sources such as Wikipedia. It could have a huge impact on the future of news media. Imagine reading an article on, say, climate change in The Australian, and this “truth goggles” plug-in pointing out all of the inconsistencies in their reporting.

Or imagine reading Hilary Clinton ramping up the case for invading Iran because they are weaponising uranium, but have “truth goggles” pointing out that there is no evidence to support this claim.

Of course, this process doesn’t *need* to be automated with an algorithm. Chrome extensions like “Glass” allow people to comment on websites. For example, see this screenshot of a comment I left using Glass on a story in the Brisbane Times today about News Ltd corruption allegations from former QLD senator Bill O’Chee.

Could we all use tools like Glass to subvert the ability of the mainstream media and certain blogs to spin bullshit to their readers? Of course there is always the comments section of most sites these days, but perhaps they tend to get moderated and news sites promote comments by their faithful believers. Would Glass-like tools also get corrupted by flame wars? How do we keep them clean and useful? User moderation ala Wikipedia?

 

Pygmalion – QPAC

My wife and I were lucky enough to attend the opening night of QPAC’s performance of Pygmalion last week.

It’s a terrific show – even if I must confess that really didn’t understand the second half of the play much at all.

More on that shortly.

Let me first say that I thought the production was excellent. The sets, stage design and performances were mostly impeccable. My only concern was the performance of the actress playing the wife of the American ambassador. What the hell was that accent? My wife, an American, could barely contain her disgust. Fortunately, said actress isn’t on stage very long. Aside from that, the accents and performances were excellent.

For people like myself who have never read or seen Pygmalion before, think “My Fair Lady” without the songs or the Hollywood ending.

Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1912, it’s the story of a wealthy London aristocrat, who happens to be both an expert in phonetics and a complete dickhead of a human being, and a young, poor, flower girl. He meets the girl on the street, makes fun of her lower-class accent and manners, then jokingly suggests that within three months he could teach her to pass herself off as a princess. Much to his chagrin, she turns up on his doorstep the next morning, determined to take him up on his challenge.

Despite it’s advanced age, the play is timeless in many aspects. In a country like ours that has a Prime Minister whose accent is the topic of much discussion, your accent and how you conduct yourself can still make or break a job interview or even determine the success of a professional career.

Where the play lost me was the second half. Not QPAC’s fault at all, of course, as I’m sure they are being true to the original text. I just couldn’t understand why Eliza seemed to give two cents what Higgins thought of her. He was a complete dickhead from the moment she met him. Even though I can appreciate that she may have grown a little fond of him during their three months working and living together, he seems to have treated her like an indentured servant. Perhaps she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? He was twice her age (at least) and didn’t seem have have any fond feelings for her, except for a regret to be losing his best student and servant. As most of the second half of the play is devoted to the end of their working relationship, it seemed to drag on a little.

Anyway, these minor complaints are probably due to my lack of understanding of the play. All in all I’d highly recommend going for yourself. Congrats to QPAC for putting on another fine show!

Nanotechnology Mirage Effect

Researchers at the University of Texas Dallas recently demonstrated that transparent carbon nanotube sheets, which can have the density of air and the specific strength of steel, can be used to make objects invisible.

WOAH!!

This news is a couple of weeks old but somehow I must have missed it.

Their website goes on to say:

“This invisibility for light oblique to the nanotube sheets is caused by the mirage effect, in which a thermally generated refractive index gradient bends light array from a hidden object.”

Okay, so it only works on the oblique, so you’re not going to use this to sneak up on anyone anytime soon, but this still blows my mind.

Of course, the research is being funded by “Office of Naval Research, NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research”. Uh huh. Invisible battleships, anyone? I hated playing BATTLESHIP as a kid.

Occupy Wall Street’s big win in one graph

 

“… the use of the term ‘income inequality,’ from less than 91 instances in the week before the occupation started to almost 500 instances last week.”

 

… writes Dylan Byers at Ben Smith’s new and expanded blog via Occupy Wall Street’s big win in one graph – The Washington Post.

 

Building awareness and discussion. Driving issues up the priority stack in the minds of the people, the media and politicians. It’s what movements like OWS can accomplish. It’s what we can do with tools such as podcasting and Twitter. Keep in mind that OWS was started (in part, at least) by Adbusters magazine (who’s CEO, Kalle Lasn, has appeared on this show in the past just BTW).

“Lulu” by Lou Reed & Metallica – The Review

It’s about time someone who has actually LISTENED to the new album by Lou Reed & Metallica, “Lulu”, wrote a review. I’ve now had the opportunity to listen to it a few times and I’m blown away by it’s power and majesty.

First – some background and a disclaimer.

The disclaimer is that I’ve been a Lou Reed fanboy for most of my life. While his track record certainly has a few missteps (and who doesn’t?), mostly during the late 70’s and early 80s, I’d argue that his body of work is, on the whole, brilliant. He’s up there with Dylan, Cohen and Neil Young as one of the true masters of adult contemporary rock. In particular, Reed has always tried to push the boundaries of rock as a literary medium for adults. Never content to write typical rock songs about getting laid and falling in love (although there are lots of songs containing sex and love in his catalogue), Reed has always (IMHO) tried to mine the human experience for subjects worth of serious art. The 3 minute rock song is his canvas. The rock album is his exhibition of songs, often around a theme.

“Lulu” follows in this tradition.

Now for the background. Not about Reed’s music but about Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” plays. Wedekind was a German playwright who died in 1918. His work was considered extremely controversial during his lifetime but laid the groundwork for Expressionism and “epic theatre” and also provided the basis for one of the greatest silent films (Pabst’s 1929 “Pandora’s Box”) and operas (Berg’s 1937 “Lulu”) in history. In certain ways, Wedekind also could be said to (directly or indirectly) have influenced Reed’s own music and, as a result, influenced rock and roll via Reed’s Velvet Underground, one of the most influential bands in the ’60s. Wedekind’s discussion of topics such sex, suicide, abortion and prostitution in his plays were as dangerous in his day as Reed’s topics of heroin and S&M were in his V.U. songs fifty years later.

Both Wedekind and Reed are artists who dig deeply into the darkness and pain of our lives in order to find material for their art. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that most people shirk from the product. The general public is too busy watching scripted “reality” shows to recognise the truth of their lives when presented with it unvarnished. Their taste in music has been dumbed-down to such an extent over the last twenty years of corporock that they have the equivalent of a five-year old child’s appreciation of nuance and sinew.

Wedekind wrote two plays about “Lulu” – Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1904). They were influenced by the life of dancer Lou Salome (“Lulu, The Clown Dancer”), who seduced everyone from Neitzsche to Freud. Wedekind’s advances to Salome were turned down, so instead he worshipped and destroyed her in his plays.

In the two plays, Lulu climbs her way to the top of society through sexual manipulation (after being sexually used from the age of seven). Her various husbands die of heart attacks, have their throats slit, or get shot. At the end of the story, her abusive father reappears, dragging Lulu back into incest and the life of a street whore in London.

Not your usual rock album, then.

The first track, Brandenburg Gate, starts with acoustic guitar and Lou’s gentle vocals:

I would cut my legs and tits off

When I think of Boris Karloff and Kinski

In the dark of the moon.

Enter Sandman. Sorry, I mean enter Metallica. About 50 seconds into the first track, the masters of metal bring their bone crunch and thereby provide the story with an intensity and throbbing that reflects Lulu’s passion for life.

Over the rest of the tracks, Lou’s vocals waver and buckle under the sexual passion, betrayal and murder of Lulu’s lovers. Metallica keep up the bashing wall of sound, with the occasional waves of strings and synth lulling us into a slumbering death (such as in the final track, the 19′ 29″ second “Junior Dad”). The tracks are brutal, painful, perverse and violent. Lou’s voice contorts, rasps, pleads and taunts. Metallica just crushes everything in their path.

Like Reed’s 1973 album “Berlin”, which was originally panned universally by critics and is today lauded as a masterpiece, I suspect “Lulu” is 40 years ahead of it’s time. People will flock to this only after the 99% Movement has killed off the corporocracy and it’s bastard child corporock and we have re-grown our ability to listen to music.

This is an album that demands headphones and darkness. Turn off your iPads, get a glass of single malt and a cigar, put this bitch on and surrender. Think of it as a play or an opera. Go on Lulu’s journey. Give in to the pain.

You won’t be disappointed. But it’s not for pussies.