Monday, August 18, 2014

Death of Aramaic

The language of Jesus may be dying after thousands of years, thanks to ISIS. I'm not invested in religion, but I do find languages to be interesting. For instance, I watched The Passion of the Christ not for its story or religious importance, but because I wanted to hear Aramaic spoken. According to a Foreign Policy article, ISIS may be crushing Aramaic out of existence. From the FP article:
    Beyond the urgent humanitarian crisis lies a cultural and linguistic emergency of historic proportions. The extinction of a language in its homeland is rarely a natural process, but almost always reflects the pressures, persecutions, and discriminations endured by its speakers. Linguist Ken Hale famously compared the destruction of a language to "dropping a bomb on the Louvre" -- whole patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems of knowledge are among what is lost. If the last Aramaic speaker finally passes away two generations from now, the language will not have died of natural causes.
As much as I like language, I find most of the article to be sensationalized in the typical media fashion. Languages come and go, and it is most certainly not like "dropping a bomb on the Louvre". Things change, some things die and fade away, to be replaced by other things. No reason to go into hysterics.

Writing the emperor

A poet named Florus wrote a letter to Hadrian, emperor of Rome from 117-138 (source). Hadrian replied.

Florus to Hadrian:
    I don't want to be a Caesar,
    Stroll about among the Britons,
    Lurk about among the...
    And endure the Scythian winters
Hadrian's reply:
    I don't want to be a Florus,
    Stroll about among the taverns,
    Lurk about among the cook-shops
    And endure the round fat insects
A couple of statues of Hadrian:

A little bit about Hadrian: Most famous for Hadrian's Wall in the north of England, he was considered one of the Five Good Emperors, along with Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. I never liked this list. I believe two good emperors are missing -- Augustus, the first emperor, and Vespasian. That last one, full name Titus Flavius Vespasianus, is my personal favorite for several reasons:

1. According to the lore at the time, Vespasian was only a high-ranking general who followed orders of the emperor, and never wanted to become emperor himself. During a time of upheaval and instability and civil war, others begged him to declare himself. We won't ever know if this is true, because many leaders throughout history have found it advantageous to portray themself as a reluctant hero, even though they privately lusted after power. There's little doubt that Vespasian believed he would be a better emperor than the three upstarts who declared themself emperor in 69 AD, and Nero, who was emperor until 68. Then again, the average Roman citizen probably thought themselves more qualified than those men.

2. While proconsul in Africa (North Central Africa, between Egypt and Mauritania), he didn't do what most proconsuls were infamous for -- he didn't pillage the locals. By law, a proconsul (person the Senate appoints to govern a province) must collect taxes for Rome, at the rate decided by the Senate. An additional tax could be levied on the local population, however, and this additional amount was kept by the proconsul. There was a common joke at the time about a proconsul needing to make the extra tax massive because it must do two things -- it was used to make him rich and to defend himself from corruption charges on his return to Rome. In other words, the wealth must be great enough to pay the necessary bribes to drop charges of corruption, and still leave the newly returned proconsul immensely wealthy. (That game and how it was played is one of the more interesting elements of ancient Rome)

Vespasian, by all accounts, was fair and generous with the people in his province. They loved and respected him because they knew they were lucky Vespasian was not corrupt and greedy. Not surprisingly, he had a lot of support from them when he later declared himself emperor.

3. He was down to Earth, by all accounts. Some say this is because he was a simple soldier, lacking the sophistication and education of most other emperors. I'm not so sure. Two anecdotes illustrate Vespasian's character and, perhaps, simplicity.

The first is his response to a negative reaction to a new tax he imposed on the city of Rome. He put a tax on public toilets, the ones where the urine would be used for tanning. When an official complained about this, Vespasian held up a coin that had been collected from the tax and smelled it, declaring something to the effect, "It smells fine to me." Because of his association to public toilets, one of the French words for public toilet is Vespasienne (2000 years later...).

The second were his final words. Some of his contemporaries claimed he said this, and some thought it was folklore. Just before he died, Vespasian said, "I think I'm becoming a god." He was mocking the tradition of deifying emperors after their death.

4. The Colosseum, which everyone knows about, was officially called the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after the man who approved the funding and pushed the project through -- Vespasian. Unfortuantely, he died before the project was completed. The building was the first modern sports arena, and the only one of its kind for a couple of thousand years. Humanity would not catch up to ancient Rome, and Vespasian's creation, for almost 2000 years.

5. Stability and financial reforms. Nero committed suicide in the year 68, and in the following year four different people declared themself emperor. The result of the warring factions was the first civil war in Rome in a hundred years or so (Marc Antony fought Augustus in the 1st century BCE). Vespasian was the last of the four, and he was victorious. After one of the worst periods of their history, Vespasian marked the beginning of a new trend -- stability and sanity. He may not have been an Augustus or Aurelius, but compared to previous emperors like Nero, and the bloody civil war that followed him, Vespasian was exactly what Rome needed.

More on the Five Good Emperors at Encyclopedia Britannica

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Edward Snowden talks to Bamford

REQUIRED READING FOR ALL AMERICANS: The new Wired article by Bamford as he interviews Snowden.

It's the best and most interesting thing I've seen so far on Snowden -- the material he's leaking and his reasons for becoming a whistle-blower. "Whistle-blower" is the label used by his supporters in the press. His critics, like John Kerry, our SECSTATE, call him a traitor. Hard to know what he really is. Each of us will have to decide independently. My mind is unclear. I believe he damaged my country, but was the damage necessary to force positive change? I may never decide.

Snowden's choice of Bamford for the article makes sense. He's James Bamford, the first NSA whistle-blower from the early 1970s (as far as I know he was the first). Since then he's become an accomplished writer. I have a copy of his Puzzle Palace on a shelf in front of me. That's the first book detailing the NSA -- why it was created, when, and by whom. It also covers how it operates and what it's mission is (SIGINT). I imagine the list of people Snowden is willing to talk to is very short, and Bamford would certainly be on that list.

The new Wired article reveals a lot of new information -- new information from the treasure chest he took from the NSA, and also information about himself. Snowden explains a little bit about who he is and exactly what motivated him to do what he has done.

On the human side of things, Bamford revealed some of Snowden's life in Russia:
    Russians on the street occasionally recognize him. "Shh," Snowden tells them, smiling, putting a finger to his lips.
Of particular interest to me was the timing of the leak. Snowden said he had become disillusioned under Bush and all the worldwide surveillance happening post-911. He held off becoming a whistle-blower when it seemed like Obama was going to win his first try at president. Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail indicated that some of the problems would be fixed, so there may be no need to flee with the thumb drives.

After Obama became president, Snowden saw (front row seat with top secret clearance at the NSA) that Obama greatly expanded all of the unconstitutional programs, and that's what made him do what he did and when.

All of this echoes what Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and confidant of Snowden, said a few months ago:
    "When I first began writing in 2005, I was focused primarily on the Bush NSA program, and I was able to build a large readership quickly because so many Democrats, progressives, liberal bloggers, etc, were so supportive of the work I was doing. That continued to be true through 2008.
    Now, a mere four [years] later, Democrats have become the most vehement defenders of the NSA and the most vicious attackers of my work on the NSA - often, some of the very same people cheering so loudly in 2006 and 2007 are the ones protesting most loudly and viciously now.
    Gee, I wonder what changed? In the answer lies all you need to know about the Democratic Party."
I've heard Nancy Pelosi, Democrat and House Minority Leader, pin the lawless and unconstitutional behavior on Bush as recently as three weeks ago. Pure, unadulterated lies to the American people. Worse than the lie, the general public is so uninformed that they will believe her pathetic lies. It's a two-man con. Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats were in on the surveillance programs under Bush and they voted their approval. Two-man con. Patriot Act? Bi-partisan support. Two-man con. When we have a Republican president again, I expect that person to continue and even increase the power of federal government, which automatically reduces individual liberty. When that happens, Democrats will pretend to be angry again. Two-man con.

Here's what a pathetic, bumbling liar looks like -- Nancy Pelosi on the NSA:

As you watch her attempt to distance herself from the problem, blaming "the Bush administration" for the NSA surveillance problems, remember that she and her party supported it in speeches and by their voting record. Bush had bi-partisan support. It's reminiscent of the Iraq War. During the 21 days it took to arrive in Baghdad, marking the end of major hostilities, the American public was in favor of the war by 69%. As the mop-op operation dragged on and public support waned, Democrats began to lie, claiming they were against the war. Kerry, Pelosi, Reid, Hillary Clinton, all voted for the war and voiced support publicly until the opinion polls indicated the public was losing interest, and then they said Bush was an awful human being for getting us into the mess.

These lies and shameless pandering passes for leadership in the United States of America. It also makes me think of Obama saying Bush is unpatriotic for adding so much to our debt. Bush increased our debt from $8 trillion to $12 trillion in eight years, which makes him, on balance, a failure. Obama has increased our debt from $12 trillion to just over $17 trillion in six years. These people are, and there's no nice way to state this simple truth, worthless fucking liars who are not working for us even though they were hired to do so.

Back to Snowden: Also cementing his decision to come forward were the lies told by then NSA director Clapper to congress, presumably under oath. Things were bad under Bush, but they had become much worse under Obama. This is why I no longer vote Democrat or Republican. They are two sides of the same coin -- a two-man con. That's not the paranoid ramblings of an anonymous blogger -- it's all real, it's happening. We're not losing our liberty all at once; it's happening slowly, with each "leader" we elect. We were warned about this by some wise folks long ago -- the ones who created this country.

Well, some time ago this stopped being a political blog. Old habits...

2nd amendment

I was surprised that the following is one of my most popular comments on Reddit. I expected the dumb children of America who are indoctrinated into socialism K-12 to downvote the H out of it, but that was not the case. The comment is a response to somebody who mentioned a couple of reasons gun-owners want to own those guns.

This may be the best comment I've ever read about the gun debate. All of your points are accurate, in my view. Gun culture is not limited to committing murder. The BBC disagrees, which is why I sometimes get frustrated by the left-wing portrayal of gun ownership. Some of the right-wing coverage is problematic too. I'm not Democrat or Republican. The BBC, which is left-wing, said a few years ago that owning a Glock could not have any other purpose than to commit murder. Obscene journalism. The right-wing, which I'm not aligned with much, is far more moderate. They advocate long-guns and handguns, but not mortars and tanks and nuclear weapons. They advocate defense of family and hunting, and not much else.

Another point to consider, which I realize sounds extreme in 2014, is that the framers of our Constitution were very clear about one essential point: The citizenry of America has the absolute right to overthrow the government by force if we believe it has become tyrannical. In other words, we can repeat the American Revolution if we (the people) believe that becomes necessary. Think the 2nd Revolution can't happen? I hope not, but the right is reserved, in writing, for just such an occasion. The concept was included as a warning to government that, while we recognize the authority of government, that authority is subservient to the people. Again, that sounds archaic, but it was, and remains, necessary to remind governments who is the ultimate authority in the land -- it's the people who install and remove governments. An unarmed nation cannot mount a revolution, so the people who just lived through the colonial days under King George, the framers, didn't want future generations to be unarmed for that very purpose.

From the pre-amble to the Declaration of Independence:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

2.1 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

2.2 That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

2.3 Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Half of the Constitution is literal, meaning that it lays out what our government is, what it does, and how it's constituted. The other half, roughly, is meant to protect the people from government. That's because governments, all of them, everyone, throughout time, have one thing in common -- increasing power and control, sometimes (but not always) to the detriment of the liberty of the people. Jefferson said it best: "The beauty of the 2nd Amendment is that it will not be needed until somebody tries to take it away." We were not the originators of the concepts of freedom, but we were the first to put it into practice, from the ground up -- to build a country from scratch on the foundations of liberty, and to guarantee that liberty, we are armed as individuals. If that sounds extreme, I would ask that you consider which political ideology is feeding you news and information.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

It Might Get Loud

At approximately 55:45 in the documentary It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page straps on a guitar and starts Whole Lotta Love. The faces of Jack White and The Edge say what needs to be said. Children sitting before their father; Hercules entertained by Zeus. Whole Lotta Love was probably the first hard rock song ever produced. Fans of Van Halen, AC/DC and a lot of metal bands owe their thanks to LZ and WLL.

Another interesting thing about the documentary, The Edge indirectly ridicules Jimmy Page, and Jack White indirectly ridicules The Edge. The Edge says something about the arrogance of 15-minute guitar solos, something Jimmy Page was famous for, and Jack White says something about the wrongness of too much technology used in guitar playing, which The Edge is known for. This shows how rock guitar changed from generation to generation.

Below is my favorite part of It Might Get Loud. As much as I love Jimmy Page and respect The Edge, I wanted to hear more of Jack White.

Good reads: George Carlin in 1980 and more, a precious gemstone, has linked to a 1980 Playboy magazine interview with George Carlin. It's fantastic, as you might expect. Carlin had just taken a few years off while he kicked cocaine and alcohol, and examines his life and career and the state of comedy and entertainment. Something I found interesting, Carlin mentioned Jaynes' book about the origin of consciousness, a book I read a few years ago. Most psychologists have discarded the theory presented in the book, but it's a staggering achievement nonetheless. Check the reviews on Amazon, even among the people who acknowledge the theory has been largely discredited.

Another fascinating read is about Gary Kasparov, Russian chess champion, running for the president of organized chess (FIDE organization, which organizes tournaments and rankings and other chess stuff). The twist is that it's similar to a le Carre novel. Kasparov renounced his citizenship of Russia, and Putin is supporting his rival to head FIDE. The campaign to lead FIDE has become political and downright dirty.

Rosetta pick

ESA just posted a new, detailed pic of the comet the Rosetta probe is now orbiting after a 10-year flight. I only have a few comments. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

1. Great image. Hats off to ESA for nearing completion of a difficult mission.

2. I sort of believe in a global village, but not on Earth -- in space. ISS is a good example of sharing risks and costs. I think that all capable nations should band together more, and in bigger ways, to do some really exotic stuff in space. Colonizing Mars and the Moon, for example. As an American... let's rephrase that, as a non-leftist American, I prefer seeing NASA in the headlines and the U.S. flag on the Moon and Mars, but I don't mind at all when ESA is in the limelight. I always wish others well. Not always, I guess: here, here, and here.

Many nations have space programs now and many others are heavily involved, so a few massive, joint projects are in order. I'm not talking about the ISS or ISSv2 because that would be just another satellite around Earth, which is something we've been doing since the 1950s. I'm thinking new and amazing. Only one nation can do anything big on its own, and that's mine, but we lack the leadership to get anything done. The current president of USA believes the No. 1 mission of NASA is "outreach to the Muslim world." That's not a joke, though it should be. Even though the USA can move independently, why? The more people involved, the bigger and better the projects can become.

Space Programs (from memory), in order of experience and capability:

Iran (nominally)

Involved but without individual launch capability (from memory):

South Korea
South Africa
New Zealand

3. When are the nutjob conspiracy theorists going to notice an anomaly on the new Rosetta pic? There's a spot on the image, near the center and towards the upper-left, that looks like a hole was drilled BY AN ADVANCED ALIEN RACE (heh).

Monday, August 04, 2014

First Hellcat road review

I believe this is the first Hellcat review. Hellcat is the new Dodge Challenger SRT with 707hp -- the most powerful production car in U.S. history.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Better than MP3

Some people are ahead of me, and some are way behind. If you haven't moved beyond MP3s, listen up. MP3s were patented in 1985 by a German university, which still holds that patent. They don't collect royalties -- thank you very much! The format became popular in the late 1990s because internet speeds were fast enough to actually move them around. Now, we don't need such compressed (ie low quality) digital music. There are many superior formats, and they're usable now because of fast speeds and an abundance of cheap storage. I got a 2TB external for $59 recently. No excuse to listen to highly compressed digital music.

There are several options for better music, and I finally -- laughably in 2014, I know -- downloaded my first track of better music. I grabbed Please Read the Letter, by Plant / Krause. I use the GOM audio player, which I consider the best available, which plays FLACs and WAVs. I got the WAV from It's stunning. I use a low-end laptop for music, which is kind of a joke, along with good headphones and a headphone amp. It's stunning. It's stunning. Did I say that already? Robert Plant, btw, can't hit the high notes anymore, but he still has the chops. He won a Grammy for the album the song was included with. The song was written, of course, with Jimmy Page. I admit that part of the reason I like the song is because long ago I sent a letter to a girlfriend, just as we were breaking up, and she returned it unopened with "I'm not reading this" written on the outside. Never forgot that. It was a last ditch effort to save things, and it failed. If only she had read that letter! It was as if the song were written for me. Ever feel that?

To give you a comparison, the MP3 version of the song is about 6MB, and the WAV is 199MB. With cheap audio equipment an MP3 is fine. In fact, 256k and up is fairly good. I have a lot of that, and I don't mind listening to that stuff. But, we're way beyond that level of quality. MP3s date to 1985, and it's 2014 now. Think about it.

The only problem I'm seeing at HDtracks is that most music is available only in album format. I went through the plastic record scene, and I'm unwilling to return to buying an entire album so I can listen to two songs. That's a deal killer. Some are available per track, though.

After listening to the lossless Please Read the Letter, I listened to the MP3 versions of Embryonic Journey by Jefferson Airplane and Medley by Leo Kottke (which is an astounding example of mastery). They sound fantastic. MP3s aren't bad. Still, we can do better.

On a totally unrelated subject (because this is no longer a political endeavor), I just finished the first draft of my new novel. It's only the second time I've done that, and the first one was not good. I never showed it to anyone, let alone try to find an agent or publisher. This one is different. It's fantastic -- although I'm biased, of course. It's about a guy who discovers he has a triple helix, instead of double. It's how he makes the discovery, and what it means for him, and against him, and the effect the discovery has on humanity. Sci-Fi, technically, although it's character driven. Not much science until the halfway mark. Wish me luck. My odds of publishing a fiction novel just went from 20,000,000:1 to 15,000,000:1!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adrian Peterson Q&A

Peterson did another Reddit AMA. My favorite:

Q: If I get the first overall pick in my fantasy league this year, tell me why I should pick AP?

AP: Do you want to win?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Web Wisdom

Here are a few gems I've found. They come from Reddit posts and comments, plus YT comments, news media comments, etc. I'm not giving credit, except in a few instances, because it's too much work and, well, dis be da web.

If our ass was split horizontally, it would clap when we run down the stairs.

"What the hell are we drug testing a janitor for? What's the worst he gonna do? Drop the mop? If you're thirty-nine years old and a janitor you should get to smoke a joint." -- D.L. Hughley

"I'll be speaking with my lawyer" is the adult version of "I'm telling mom".

Teach a man with Alzheimer's to fish, and he'll eat for a day.

Bras are actual booby traps.

American football is like a turn-based strategy game while soccer is like a real-time strategy game.

Tortillas are the rolling papers of food.

Chimpanzees must think we're aliens. We have vastly superior technology, and sometimes we abduct them for medical experiments.

I wonder if our sun is part of some other planet's constellation. Yeah, the Dumbass Idiotus Majoris -- me

What's as bad as people say it is? Stepping on Legos. And depression.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Rain Song

I have to find something to post since my political complainings are in the past... Here are several covers of Led Zeppelin's Rain Song, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created. All of the musicians in these videos are extremely talented -- there are many hamfisted covers out there, and these are not those. As good as these people are, however, consider the talent of the person who first created the song -- Jimmy Page. Staggering, really. It's not classical guitar, sure, but it's nearly surreal talent on display.

As for JP, some of his individual talent is lost in LZ. That's blasphemy for true believers (Led Heads), but I think it's true. The band works well together, as all 4 members are (were) considered virtuosos. JP created 95% of the music, though, and his guitar playing shines through while simultaneously losing something with the other band members doing their thing. That's why I like covers. These artists fall short of JP, but JP's brilliance and talent are evident here in a way that isn't accessible in the full LZ version.

Friday, July 04, 2014

9 ways to pronounce "ough"

Must be tough learning English as a second language...

A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.

Great acoustic guitar

If you like acoustic guitar, and I know you do, because you're kind of a dumbass if you don't, I found a YouTuber worth following, although he stopped uploading a couple of years ago. He does acoustic covers of some great rock, and he's talented. From his name, I'm guessing he's Polish, but it's hard to say for sure. Anyway, the vids are fairly low quality, but still very good. Here's the link to his YT channel, and below are a few vids.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Funny headline at National Post

Unless I'm misreading the headline, the Nat'l Post of Canada made an error. A ghost is leading the fight against militants in Iraq? The details say it's the daughter of the killed woman, but the headline says it's the dead politician herself, doesn't it?

As a side note, Canadian press is worth reading. They're our neighbors, plus a lot of interesting things happen in Canada, believe it or not. A few sites worth checking:

Toronto Globe & Mail
National Post
Vancouver Sun
Montreal Gazette
Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg Sun

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Walmart doesn't take NYT's nonsense lying down

The New York Times has been called out on shoddy, biased reporting once again. I'm glad whenever a target of the far left stands up and fights back. The Times is, of course, a far left media company that routinely ignores facts and reality as long as it properly pushes socialism on a deeply uneducated public.

This time Walmart was the target of the smear, and here's Walmart's response. Fantastic.

The last time the socialist paper of record was smacked down was when they did bad reporting on Tesla. More info here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

EgyptAir 990 investigation

Longform linked to an interesting story (Atlantic story here) about the loss of a 767 and the investigation that followed. I don't really know what to say about it, except that it's a fascinating read, and it's also a window onto why poor countries are poor.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Turing test passed, Skynet coming to kill us all

The Turing Test has been passed for the first time. Does this mean anything? Nobody knows. The test claims that AI exists when a text-based exchange with a computer is thought to be human for 1/3 of people talking to the computer. And that is the clumsiest sentence I've ever written. Hah. That finally happened with a piece of Russian software. Interestingly, an earlier version of the AI program is online for anyone to use. Reddit crashed the site, but it will be back soon.

Of course, Russians and computer honesty are estranged items. Undoubtedly a Russian midget was jammed into a PC console to answer the questions. Every answer was, "Putin is Lord. Your Crimeas are belong to us."

The king of vaporware, and publishing a book

Two great reads, both via longform. The first is an entertaining tale about Xanadu, a piece of software (really a large network) dreamed up by the man who coined the term "hypertext". The story is from 1995, Wired mag. The second is about publishing a fiction novel -- the ins, the outs, the whathaveyous. The story of getting a book published is sometimes as good as the story in the book. Book article is at Vanity Fair.

More on Xanadu: the project began in 1960, and it was released a few weeks ago (that's April 2014). Here's a Guardian story on the release. Amazing -- 54 years and it's finally ready! Ted Nelson is the guy who dreamed it up, and coined hypertext. The 1995 Wired article came out when the WWW was taking off, and my first impression was that the WWW was Xanadu, and it certainly is similar. When Nelson was asked about the web, his reply was, "Nice try."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Diary of a madman -- Rodgers, not Ozzy

I've made a habit of reading manifestos of madmen. Heh. I read Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler, and I highly recommend Das Kapital and Mein Kampf. I also read the Unabomber's diatribe, which is another must-read. I'm half way through Rodgers' 124-page "manifesto", which is really an autobiography, and I recommend this as well. Honestly, the kid was a good writer. I haven't gotten to the angry part yet. The basic writing style is just that, basic, but he has the essential skill -- he could write something that's readable. I planned on skipping to the end, but I've found myself reading every word. It's a fascinating and warped look at a troubled young man. I think a lot of people are just like him, but crossing the line to mass murder is something I can't understand. He blamed others for his own problems, which is something all too common in today's American society.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wikipedia outed again

I'm stunned with the rise of Wikipedia, although I shouldn't be. The Great Unwashed got that nickname for a reason. People generally don't understand why an encyclopedia "anyone can edit" is a terrible idea. I've discussed this before here.

The latest, from the BBC, says that 90% of Wikipedia's medical articles contain information inconsistent with the latest research. Also, around 70% of doctors and med students use Wikipedia. Good luck with that.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why I'm a misanthrope

See this vid:

And these are the good ones. At least you know what they are before wasting any time with them. What, exactly, humans are has been well understood for a very long time. Here's what Cicero said in a letter to a friend in the 1st century BC:

"Everyone's real character is covered by many wrappings of pretense and is concealed by a kind of veil: face, eyes, expression often lie, speech most often of all."

Robins nesting on a satellite dish

Somebody uploaded a pic of a robin family nesting on their satellite dish. Hmmmm.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Led Zeppelin sued again (and copyright law, Tolkien and elves)

Note 1: I didn't proofread, edit, or spellcheck this. This is the web, FTLOG. Let the errors go.

Note 2: Applicable videos are below, after the text.

There's a detailed story in Businessweek about the latest copyright infringement lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands. I've read most of the biographies and sagas about LZ, plus I have all their music and videos. With that level of interest, I've followed the lawsuits. The suits ask interesting questions of us: what is a "basic" sound that simply exists for anyone to create a variation of, what is a song that loosely inspired another, and when is borrowing considered copying (or stealing) under the law? I feel bad for judges and juries who have to sort these things out, because it's an example of human culture being shoved into a rectangular box, and it can't possibly fit. That's probably why most of these lawsuits are settled prior to an official ruling.

These kinds of lawsuits exist in nearly all aspects of life: technology -- hardware and software, books and other writing, cars, etc. I once read that 99% of all cell phones sold in the world yield some of the profits to Microsoft because the company owns so many technology patents. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and countless others, often buy companies not for their products or services, but to acquire the patent portfolio. It's complicated and fascinating.

The latest lawsuit against LZ involves Stairway to Heaven, which sounds a lot like a song called Taurus, by the band Spirit. Does that mean it's copyright infringement? Hard to say. Many people have tried to say LZ's song White Summer (sometimes called Black Mountainside or White Summer / Black Mountain Side) is theft of a Bert Jansch song. To make things more interesting, Jimmy Page started doing the song with The Yardbirds, before LZ was formed.

Jansch is (was) a British folk guitarist and singer who did his own version of the song, which he called Black Waterside. Turns out, Jansch's song is similar to a song called Mustapha, by Davy Graham, which came out a couple of years before Jancsh released his own version. Jansh's song is also similar to Graham's guitar version of She Moved Through the Fair. Some say LZ should credit and pay Jansch and Graham. However, Black Mountainside is a British (or maybe Scottish, I can't remember) folk song dating back hundreds of years. This makes it fair game for anyone to use for inspiration, and is likely the reason LZ hasn't been sued over their version.

Another area of creativity I've enjoyed, and one that intersects with Led Zeppelin, is fantasy novels -- although not for many years. There just isn't enough good fantasy out there to get fired up (with a few notable exceptions). Tolkien is, of course, the Founding Father, and has never been bettered. When I plowed through The Lord of the Rings as a kid, I thought it was the most creative thing anybody had ever produced. I found out it's not nearly as creative as I thought, starting with elves.

Elves existed in popular culture in Celtic and Dark Age Britain, and probably most Celtic areas, at least a thousand years before Tolkien came along. They were thought to exist in a parallel universe, traveling back and forth between their own world and ours through known gateways. The Isle of Avalon in Arthurian mythology is the most famous of these gateways. Myrlin the magician, of Arthurian mythology, could travel freely between both worlds, and he is rendered as Gandalf in LOTR. The elven folklore was so powerful that England's first king, Alfred, is associated with elves. Alfred, btw, was spelled Aelfred at the time, with the A and E combined in the Old English ash character. Today's "alf" could just as easily have been rendered "elf". The name means, literally, "elf councillor".  One had to be very important to give advice to the elves, as the people of the time believed, because the race was considered wise and mysterious. In LOTR, Frodo was formally named Elf Friend by the elves. It was a high honor, borrowed by Tolkien wholly from real folklore that existed for thousands of years.

To this day, there is some debate about whether "Alfred" was the name of the king, or his title, or both. The way people thought in the 9th century was so different from our own, we may never know. My opinion is that if a royal family in 9th century Anglo-Saxon / Danish England named a second or third son, as Alfred was, A Councillor to Elves, they would have been viewed as incredibly arrogant. Others probably gave him the title, and it was assumed as his name. This was fairly common at the time -- choosing, or adopting a name chosen by others, after attaining a high office. Midieval kings did this as a matter of routine. This ancient history can be seen today in the way Popes change their name upon attaining the office.

As for Tolkien, his major works were loosely designed to provide a creation myth for Great Britain, so they needed to feel like they originated in the Dark Ages or earlier -- hence the similarities to the folklore and literature of the period.

If you read the Niebelungenlied (sp?) and the Kalevala (sp?) and Arthurian literature and some other Dark Age stories, you quickly discover that Tolkien is not nearly as creative as most people seem to believe. He had some novelties, and was a great writer, and crafted a heavyweight story on things that mostly existed earlier. He plagiarized nothing, yet invented little. His greatness was the story and the writing. Magic rings? Like elves, commonplace for the era, and not invented by Tolkien. Today we see an echo of this ancient history whenever a wedding ring is placed on a finger.

Tolkien was influenced by many sources, and he in turn was a major influence on Robert Plant, the primary lyricist for Led Zeppelin. Many LZ songs contain references to LOTR. And, just like Tolkien's writings, many LZ songs can be traced back to older sources -- other rock songs or earlier blues songs, but that doesn't necessarily mean theft. If it was that easy, Robert Jordan would have been sued by Tolkien's estate for the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels. Tennyson's estate, if it still existed, would sue both, except that copyrights expire after awhile. The descendants of Beowulf's author would sue everyone. Tolkien was, after all, an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) scholar and considered one of the best translators of Beowulf. (update: May 19 was announced Tolkien's translation is being published.)

A recent lawsuit was that of Dan Brown over his authorship of The Da Vinci Code. The authors of a non-fiction (although highly speculative) book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Brown because, they said, Brown fictionalized their book. I don't believe Brown denied this, and after reading both of those books, I can say he would have been foolish to deny it -- they're nearly identical at the idea level. Brown won because, as the British court said, an idea can't be copyrighted. The main idea in both books is the Holy Grail, a powerful motif of Arthurian mythology, which greatly influenced Tolkien, who greatly influenced Robert Plant. This why I wrote this long-winded post -- so many parallels, so many connections, so much gray area, and occasionally a court of law has to sort out the meaning of it all and how the law applies. Ridiculous and fascinating. Oh, I also wrote this because I love LZ and Tolkien, and also because I believe law must exist, and because it's a mostly rational concept that deals with irrational human beings, it will never function well.

So, what's the dividing line between an idea and an original work of creativity, protected by copyright laws? LZ will win the new lawsuit if they can demonstrate that the song Taurus had nothing to do with Stairway to Heaven or that Taurus was merely the idea that prompted an original work. The Businessweek article shines a light on this: "Ultimately, the legal test isn’t what experts say. Under U.S. law, the standard a jury or judge would apply is whether the song in question sounds like a copy to an ordinary lay listener." Tolkien's estate will never have to deal with these types of lawsuits because the copyright on Dark Age literature is long expired, and also because the exact authorship of many of the works is impossible to prove, but these are the only reasons.

I've read most of the source material that influenced Tolkien, such as the Arthurian stuff, the Kalevala, the Norse sagas, the Niebelungenleid, Beowulf, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Taleisin, Aneirin, etc. I've also listened to most LZ music, as well as the source material. The parallels are uncanny. If LZ stole Taurus and re-worked it as Stairway to Heaven, then Tolkien stole Gandalf from Old Welsh writers. I don't hold it against Tolkien -- I don't consider him a thief -- and I don't consider LZ a thief over Taurus. The inspiration seems clear, but I think it stops well short of copyright infringement.

I'd give you 10:1 the suit is settled out of court with a small monetary payout and a new credit appearing on future releases of Stairway to Heaven.

1. Spirit's Taurus

2. Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven

3. LZ White Summer

4. Bert Jansch's Black Waterside

5. Davy Graham's Mustapha

6. Davy Graham's She Moved Through the Fair

7. LZ plagiarism claims: