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March 31, 2008
Deep Value
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:00 PM * 444 comments

There is a view that modern technology leads to ever more complexity, to increasingly elaborate and advanced products, and furthermore, that this is a good thing. But sometimes, when regarding the creations of our technology, I get very uncomfortable. So many of them depend on the future looking like the present, only more so. Your Kindle can download your newspaper wirelessly and your iPhone geolocates you by cell phone towers because the infrastructure is there to do these things.

We don’t know what the future will look like. But the one thing we do know is it won’t look like the present. (Come to that, a whole lot of the present doesn’t even look like the present; try getting your Kindle to download a paper in London, or your iPhone to do much of anything in rural California.) So all these things we buy will become obsolete, and have to be recycled, or retrofitted, or put into some landfill site somewhere. And if we become attached to them beyond their fashionable lifespan, goodness knows where we’ll get spare parts.

All our shinies are only temporarily so.

Looking at a world where the economy is probably going to be tightening up for a while, I find myself drawn to things with deep value, things a little less dependent on the state of our technology and shipping infrastructure1 to build and repair. Living in a small country with a history of pollution problems, I want to own things I don’t have throw away after one use. And spending much of my time as a crafter, I am attracted to things that I can fix.

It seems to me that there are two classes of technology that fall into this category.

The first is obvious: old technology. A few examples:

Older cars
The first car I had regular use of was a 1966 VW microbus2, which I maintained myself (with tools and assistance from my mother, a skilled mechanic). It had an air-cooled engine and no catalytic converter, so there was—in theory—nothing I could not fix at home. An even better example is the Citroën 2CV, which was originally designed as a light-duty tractor that any French village blacksmith could repair.
Fountain pens
I’m still using the same fountain pen I bought in 1992. The guy sitting next to me isn’t even using the same ballpoint he had in January.
Hand-cranked or treadle-operated sewing machines
The first generation of American sewing machines predates the widespread household availability of electricity by over half a century. Many of those human-powered machines are probably still in use in the Third World. They don’t zig-zag, they don’t embroider, but they are immortal, and they break the dependence on the power grid. Rather a lot of the people in the world are wearing clothes made or repaired on these machines—even people in the First World3.
Basic one or three speed bicycles, built for durability rather than speed, are a staple of human transport from China to the Netherlands, from Africa to Guatemala. They double as harnesses of human muscle power—they can be hacked into water pumps and knife sharpeners, often without damaging their primary purpose. But even a super-modern 27-speed touring bike like mine is user maintainable, and can take me over surfaces and through spaces that a car simply cannot go4. Some of my bike’s utility is due to my geography—not everyone can do the grocery shopping, school run and daily commute on bicycle—but its value as a durable tool is indisputable.
Shopping bags
Grocery stores are beginning to charge for plastic shopping bags in the UK. It’s a nominal sum, but the intention is to get consumers to value their bags. Maybe then they won’t let so many of them blow away, get caught on trees, clutter the landscape, and strangle the wildlife. But a certain proportion of Brits are returning to the string bag and the canvas tote for their weekly shopping. I have even seen relatively young people with wheeled granny carts.

The second category, which interests me more, is technology that has gone through a disposable phase and come out the other side, to a different kind of deep value.

The mooncup and its ilk
These have been quietly adopted by the same demographic that first adopted tampons two generations earlier: university women. The only advertisements I’ve seen for them have been toilet flyers on campus, but the anecdotal evidence is that you can’t borrow a tampon in many dorms any more. Menstrual cups are a vastly improved return to truly reusable solutions5, but they could not have existed without the commercialization of feminine hygiene following the popularization of the pad and the tampon.
The Clockwork Radio
This is, to some extent, the proxy for a whole range of hand-crank technologies, from phone chargers to flashlights (more of which below). The genius of the clockwork radio is that it removes the critical dependence on batteries, which are both expensive to obtain (particularly in the isolated areas where they are most needed) and difficult to dispose of cleanly.
One can regard closed-source operating systems as being, effectively, as disposable as a Bic pen. You can patch and upgrade them so far, but then you need to toss them out and buy a new one. Open source software that can be repaired or upgraded by anyone with the skill is at least theoretically “refillable”.
Has anyone else noticed how many incandescent bulbs are being replaced by clusters of light emitting diodes lately? We have a hand-cranked flashlight that uses a cluster of LEDs. Traffic lights and brake lights are more and more clusters of bright dots rather than a single bulb. They make sense, with low power consumption, light shipping weights, and gradual failure modes (A stoplight with one failed LED can still signal with the others.)
Shopping bags, electric hand-cranked boogaloo
Supermarkets in the Netherlands also charge for shopping bags, but the price is higher and the bags better quality. They are the semi-durable containers of the household, strong enough for true re-use, wearing out after twenty or thirty trips to the supermarket. And then they’re recyclable.

Deep value isn’t everything; sometimes the downsides of these items outweigh their upsides. I prefer a sewing machine that zig-zags, so that I can make buttonholes. Older cars pollute more (my beloved VW took leaded gas…yum!); I drive a car I don’t maintain now. I don’t run Linux because it takes too much tinkering.

Still, given the choice, I like the things I can repair, reuse, and rely on. It feeds my sense of thrift.

  1. Not here is as bad as not anywhere. Will those spare parts manufactured in China be nearly as useful if it costs too much to get them to me?
  2. Shovels and rakes and implements of destruction optional
  3. I don’t know for certain that any of the garments Teresa describes were made on human powered machines, but I wouldn’t bet against it
  4. The Netherlands is one large building site cleverly disguised as a country, but most of the road diversions are effectively optional for cyclists
  5. The Victorian rag clout was reusable. Smelly, unpleasant to launder and activity-restricting, but reusable.
March 30, 2008
The photograph that terrorized London
Posted by Patrick at 05:52 PM * 211 comments

Taken at Spitalfields Market, 9:20 AM, Sunday, March 30, 2008. I liked the cartoony cloud-trail decorations seemingly supporting the left side of the ceiling, and the fact that the spire of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields was so dramatically framed in the transparent roof.

Right after I took the shot, though, a large security guard walked directly up to me. “We don’t take pictures in here.” “Oh?” I said. “Yes,” he replied, reaching for my camera. “We’ll have to delete that.”

“No you don’t, and I’m leaving the market right now,” I said, walking away briskly. And as I did so, I swear to God, I heard him get out his walkie-talkie and radio for backup. You can’t be too careful with these terrorist photographers.

Out on Brushfield Street, wondering if I was about to be wrestled to the ground by Spitalfield commandos, I phoned the people I’d come to the market to meet for breakfast in the first place. “Hey, Cory,” I said. “You’re not going to believe this, but…”

We tried, we really did. We walked back into the market brandishing the camera high, Cory Doctorow, Alice Taylor, and their celebrated offspring, four humanoids’ worth of concentrated well-informed civil liberties savvy, inviting, nay daring, my security-guard friend to come back and try to arrest my photograph. “It’s total nonsense,” Cory said. “Even assuming they have a posted policy, which they have to do—and they don’t—they certainly aren’t entitled to demand to delete your property.” (And indeed, some individual market stalls have “no photographs” placards on display, which does tend to suggest that this is hardly the default for the entire market.) To no avail. My uniformed security guard had evidently found even more pressing issues to deal with, possibly terroristic squirrels, or people removing mattress tags.

The whole War On Photography is of course puzzling. Leaving aside the obvious hypocrisy of putting a “No Photography” sign on your stall which happens to be devoted to selling framed photographs of Banksy graffiti (yes), it’s simply hard to imagine the thought processes that go into such a decision. Let’s see, we have a stall in a famous London market, selling vintage clothes or organic cookies or African wind instruments. And people want to take snapshots of our stall and put them on their Flickr page or share them with their friends and relatives back in Stevenage or St. Louis or Kyrgyzstan, because they had a good time visiting Spitalfields market and they think your stuff is neat. Logically, the correct thing for us to do is prohibit them from doing so, since we wouldn’t want to actually have any customers or anything.

What is wrong with these people’s brains? Show your work.

March 28, 2008
Open thread 104
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 08:12 PM *

China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh (Zhang Zhong Shan speaking):

“We’re using mathematics as metaphors,” I explain. “Science filters into the general public as metaphors that describe our world, our history. For Marx, there were only two possibilities, that history was either predictable or it was random. If it was random, then it should have behaved in a random fashion, but Newton had described the universe as governed by natural laws. Marx’s genius was in determining that social history was also governed by recognizable factors. He set out to systematically define those factors—the basic ones economic—and then, once he thought he had, he did for society what Newton’s system did for planetary motion, he predicted the future.”

Peter Quince at the Clavier, Wallace Stevens:

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music too.

Music is feeling then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,

Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
Is music.

A security review of the human heart

Quantum kitten has become entangled.

Heisenberg in Love

We are sexy, sexy Von Neumann machines

Divided by common errors
Posted by Avram Grumer at 04:24 PM * 34 comments

From The Economist, a survey of British and American opinions that shows both similarities and differences between the two nations (results in a chart with tiny print, for your squinting pleasure). It also shows that whoever wrote the survey doesn’t know what the Theory of Evolution is:

Question on evolution

Of those three answers, The Bible is actually the best, since the Bible does provide an explanation, albeit a weak one. The theory of evolution doesn’t address the origins of the Earth, and “Intelligent Design” theory doesn’t explain anything at all, being just an attempt to undermine belief in evolution.

And here are two more terrible questions:

Question on government spending

What about those of us who, for example, would like to see the US government spend more on health care, but less on market-distorting agricultural subsidies, police state security theater, and killing people overseas? (The military’s a government-provided service, right?)

Question on free trade

How about option three: It would be nice? Or does the US government really need to be managing Bolivian coca farmers?

I know, I know, I’m wasting my time. The point of a survey like this isn’t to discover minority opinions held by people who’ve thought about the issues. It’s to discover which way people twitch when you shout a buzz-phrase at them. This one winced when we said “free trade”, put him in the “leftist” column. But wouldn’t we have a better news media if they didn’t try to shoehorn everything into their existing story templates?

(And it looks like they forgot to color in the Britain dot in the Climate Change section.)

March 20, 2008
Going to need a bigger laser
Posted by Avram Grumer at 07:37 PM * 180 comments

Next time anyone needs a great example of lasersharking, I can just point to the first half of this Paul Ford post.

(Also, at some I’ll actually have to get around to watching The Wire. Maybe after we finish Deadwood. And Paranoia Agent.)

(And I was sore tempted to use this video for the Deadwood link.)

March 18, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008
Posted by Patrick at 09:08 PM * 180 comments

I’ve just got off the phone with NPR’s Morning Edition. I suppose I’ll find out tomorrow if I made any sense.

Things I tried to say:

He was the last, really the last, of the heroic age of twentieth-century science fiction writers. Everyone knows the trinity: Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke.

Despite polio, and post-polio syndrome, and an increasing number of infirmities late in his very long life, he seems to have managed to live very much on his own terms. He had a reputation for self-regard—his nickname in 1930s and ’40s London-area SF fandom was “Ego” Clarke—and on the one occasion when I met him, his method of making conversation was to take Tom Doherty and me on a tour of his file of recent press clips. But good grief. He was Arthur C. Clarke. He invented the geosynchronous satellite and wrote Against the Fall of Night. He wrote 2001 in the Chelsea Hotel and co-broadcasted moon landings with Walter Cronkite. A tenth of his achievements would justify a healthy pride.

Like Heinlein, and unlike Asimov, in Clarke a practical science-and-engineering outlook coexisted with a mystical streak a mile wide. Indeed, much of his work establishes the basic template for one of modern science fiction’s most evergreen effects: the numinous explosion of mystical awe that’s carefully built up to, step by rational step. So much of Clarke’s best work is about that moment when the universe reveals its true vastness to human observers. And unlike many other writers who’ve wrestled with that wrenching frame shift, for Clarke it was rarely terrifying, rarely an engine of alienation and despair. He was all about the transformational reframe, the cosmic perspective, that step off into the great shining dark. He believed it would improve us. He rejoiced to live in a gigantic universe of unencompassable scale, and he thought the rest of us should rejoice, too.

UPDATE: NPR has the Morning Edition segment here. It’s at the top of the page, above the big boxed All Things Considered segment.

March 16, 2008
Just do it
Posted by Patrick at 10:05 PM *

Sometimes there’s a good reason that everyone’s linking to something. Match It for Pratchett.

Literary Divination, A Parlour Game
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:12 AM *

It’s raining here in Amsterdam, the popcorn is popped and the fire is burning, and it’s time for a game. I suggest we play Literary Divination, loosely based on a New York Times article back in December, describing each Presidential candidate of the time in terms of two science fiction books (Thanks for the reference, Paul A).

My challenge to you, dear friends: deal out a Tarot reading, using books (or films, or any other work) as cards. You can use the Celtic Cross, or any other format, doing a full layout or part of one. Your querent may be real or imaginary, your books from any genre or style. You can examine any aspect of your querent. There are no rules, except one.

Don’t be boring.

Here are two examples to get you started.

the young Luke Skywalker

  1. This covers him, defining the problem space: The Once and Future King, by TH White (an examination of the role of the knight in a changing world)
  2. This crosses him, showing the nature of his challenge: The Odyssey, by Homer (a journey from destruction, through peril, to rejoin his family)
  3. This crowns him, representing the best possible outcome: The Aeneid, by Virgil (the journey ends with the establishment of a new order from the ruins of the old, the melding of a new family with the survivors of his past)
  4. This is beneath him, the foundation of the matter: Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens (the struggles of an orphan to find his identity)
  5. This is behind him, where he has been: Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (a rural, isolated upbringing)
  6. This is before him, where he is going: Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles (the troubled encounters with his father, and a misplaced love)
  7. The Significator, defining the Querent: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling (a man of power at the beginning of his training)
  8. His environment: Stagecoach, starring John Wayne (the wild and lawless frontier)
  9. His fears: Paradise Lost, by John Milton (the fall from grace, the temptations of evil)
  10. Culmination, how it all comes out: Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (a long journey, with accompanying rogues and adventures, leading nowhere much except to adulthood)

Hillary Clinton, as seen from the perspective of her gender

  1. This covers her: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K Le Guin (issues of gender in fraught political times)
  2. This crosses her: How it Works
  3. This crowns her: The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley (the despised woman who saves the country)
  4. This is beneath her: The Incredibles (the role of mother and hero politician at once)
  5. This is behind her: Ender’s Shadow, by Orson Scott Card (supporting another, primary character)
  6. This is before her: Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne (a most improbable race)
  7. The Significator: The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle (a completely different animal)
  8. Her Environment: Dune, by Frank Herbert (politics, the crowning of a new emperor, conflicting economic interests)
  9. Her Hopes: Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold (the power of a woman as an alternative to masculine politics)
  10. Culmination: ?

March 13, 2008
Open thread 103
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:13 PM *

Written in 1976, by an author outwith the fannish community:

But nothing defines an historical period like its vision of the future, and Flash Gordon, with its thick hero, mad villains, cheap props and clumsy innocence, remains a useful pointer to how simple the world must have seemed in 1936. Switch to Dr Who (BBC1) and you can’t tell the heroes from the heavies, it’s all so sophisticated. “You’ve reached the point where your tissues are so massively hybridised that the next metabolic change could be the final one,” Dr Who tells his friend. Imagine getting Buster Crabbe to deliver a line like that. It would have taken a week.
Similarly the technology has made giant strides towards authenticity. When Flash’s pal Dr Zarkov talked nonsense, it sounded like nonsense. When Dr Who talks nonsense, it sounds like Science. “He’s been infected with anti-matter. His brain cells have been destroyed. He’ll descend to the level of a brute!” Dr Zarkov wouldn’t have known anti-matter from his elbow: he just concentrated on running up a “new ray” out of old torch batteries so that Flash could blast the Lion Men’s Gyro-ship out of the sky and rescue Dale.

March 11, 2008
Phase one: collect underpants
Posted by Patrick at 12:33 AM *

Yes, we’re building a new web site, separate from our perfectly good corporate site. “We,” in that sentence, being Tor Books, publishers of the largest line of hardcover and paperback science fiction and fantasy in the English-speaking world. Where I work as manager of the science fiction line, and Teresa is an occasional consulting editor, yes, even now, even in these palmy days of Federated Media and Boing Boing. (As you know, Bob. I trust all of you appreciate the subtle, professionally-handled incluing going on here. Quality craftsmanship like this doesn’t come easy, you understand.) What’s going on? How’s this new site going to work?

Well, as I told at least one web reporter, if we knew exactly how it’s going to work, we’d be done. We don’t, entirely, so we’re not, entirely.

But we know several things. We know that the site will use a blog-like architecture to present an ongoing stream of news, opinion, and observation from various Tor people, myself included, about the SF and fantasy events of the day—and about perhaps less-current things that are nonetheless of interest to SF and fantasy readers, such as medieval siege engines, the Van Allen Belt, hoisin sauce, XKCD, and the novels of Georgette Heyer. We know that there will be non-Tor bloggers also posting to the “front page”; in fact we’ve already recruited several in order to ensure coverage of particular niche areas. (Some of these individuals will be familiar to Making Light readers—wave hello, Bruce Baugh—and we haven’t finished recruiting, either.) We know that the site will also feature new original fiction on a regular basis, illustrated under the supervision of art director Irene Gallo, and that these original stories—free of DRM, offered as part of the blog feed and also Available For Your Convenience in a variety of other formats—will have their own associated open comment threads, just like everything else on the blog. We know that there will be lightweight “social networking” features for registered users, including the ability to form mutual-interest groups through tagging and the ability to create journals and/or discussions of their own. Most of all, we know that the real point of the exercise isn’t to create yet another blog, but rather, a place and a context for the lively, ongoing, wide-ranging, and profoundly self-organizing discussions that have characterized the science fiction subculture since its earliest days. In other words, it’ll be a lot like Making Light, except with original fiction and art, more front-page bloggers, a more direct connection to SF and fantasy, and run out of the middle of Tor Books.

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So this is, like, a big Tor promotional exercise, right?

PNH: Only in the sense that Tor is a pretty good brand to put on something associated with science fiction. In fact we mean to cover everything that seems interesting. Entertainment Weekly reviews movies and books and music produced by entities unconnected with Time Warner.

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So what about the free e-books?

PNH: I’m glad I made you up so that you could ask that question! As you know, Bob, since you already clicked on the very first link in this post, we’ve got a little “holding page” currently at the URL, where we’re urging people to sign up as preregistered users. In exchange for their advance support (and their permission to email them our newsletters) we are, For A Limited Time, sending them links through which they can download free, un-DRMed digital editions of various recent Tor books in a variety of formats. For instance, if you sign up now, you can download The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory; in a few days, that will go away but you’ll be given the opportunity to download Farthing by Jo Walton. Since we’re rotating books in and out of the program at a fair clip, the earlier you sign up, the more free books you’ll score.

However, the munificence of this offer (Slashdotted twice on its first weekend), combined with our vagueness in describing the actual site for which the offer is merely a build-up, has caused a lot of people to jump to the conclusion that the new site will be all about selling and/or giving away digital books. This isn’t the case, although Tor does have a bunch of future plans for the selling and/or giving away of book-length digital works, some of which plans may even involve this particular project. But the actual point of this site—

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: —Is to be a Focal Point Fanzine, meyer.

PNH: So very busted.

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: We thought so. We recognized the signs. The sensitive fannish faces. The faint but unmistakable aroma of mimeo ink. Exactly whose idea was this?

PNH: Well, er, Fritz Foy, former Holtzbrinck CTO and incorrigible ubergeek…and the aforementioned Irene Gallo…and, er, well yes, both Nielsen Haydens. Not long after the project’s initial phase, Teresa was promoted to the Vingean Beyond, from whence she sends occasional messages of encouragement to those of us back in the Slow Zone where FTL and true AI are impossible. But we’ve been joined by luminaries such as Tor editor Liz Gorinsky, and Gina Gagliano of graphic-novel imprint First Second, both of whom will be helping us find and develop original sequential-art material to add to the site’s mix. And of course we’d be nowhere without the energy, enthusiasm, focus, and endless Outlook-calendar meeting notices of professional Web producer Larry Hewitt, hired by our corporate management to turn our gauzy ideas into a properly flowcharted plan. (Look! He has a plan! We must eat his brain!) We cope.

THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So when do you launch? Do you have a beta phase? Are you looking for early volunteers?

PNH: Again you anticipate me with the slan-like acuteness of your fine minds! We hope to launch in May. We hope to have a beta-testing phase beginning in early April. SPECIAL, HEART-POUNDINGLY EXCLUSIVE OFFER AVAILABLE ONLY TO READERS OF MAKING LIGHT: Send us email at “” and we’ll set you up as beta testers, able to wander around, sneer at the unfinished wiring, write rude villanelles on the exposed sheetrock, tell us what does and doesn’t work, and otherwise carry on. Act now! Act without thinking! WORK LIKE YOU WERE LIVING IN THE EARLY DAYS OF A BETTER NATION. Anyway, that’s our plan.

March 04, 2008
Greyhawk’s flags at half-staff
Posted by Avram Grumer at 08:39 PM * 254 comments

From numerous sources, we have the sad news that E Gary Gygax has died.

It’s hard to estimate the effect that Dungeons & Dragons has had on nerd culture — and by extension, the general culture. Like science fiction fandom before it, D&D provided a forum for imaginative play, and fostered an international social network for bright, quirky kids where they could find praise (and even get paid work) for their wit and creative work at an age when adults were more likely to ignore them or treat them as threats.

D&D is also a forerunner of the modern mashup-and-share approach to pop culture. You can find clear influences from JRR Tolkien, Friz Leiber, Jack Vance, Michhael Moorcock, Avram Davidson, and RA Lafferty in Gygax’s D&D writing. D&D eagerly adapted and combined the works of other authors, and shared them with each other through APAs and letters and early computer networks. It wasn’t uncommon, in a D&D game, to see a Norse viking hunting a minotaur, or even a Tolkienesque elf warrior fighting alongside one of Larry Niven’s kzinti against HR Giger’s alien. Role-playing games in general are great promoters of the make-your-own-fun habit I wrote about a couple of months back.

Gygax had his own quirks (ask me sometime about Lee Gold’s phone conversation with him), but I’m pleased to hear that, despite his health problems, he was still hosting weekly D&D games as recently as January.

March 03, 2008
Can you read this?
Posted by Teresa at 09:51 PM *

It’s the niftiest puzzle I’ve seen in an age. If you don’t want to decrypt it using normal methods, you can do the whole thing on patterns.

For instance, gur svefg yvar bs gur svefg fgnamn fgnegf jvgu n fubeg punenpgre fgevat gung ercrngf guerr gvzrf. So does gur frpbaq yvar bs gur frpbaq fgnamn, ohg vg’f n qvssrerag punenpgre fgevat.

Also, yvarf 2 naq 4 va gur svefg fgnamn ner vqragvpny. They repeat va gur fnzr cbfvgvbaf va gur guveq naq svsgu fgnamn, and gur svsgu fgnamn pbafvfgf fbyryl bs gubfr ercrngrq yvarf cyhf bar bgure flyynoyr.

All come singing
Posted by Teresa at 11:47 AM *

I love watching what people do with YouTube. Throughout this campaign season, private citizens have been making political statements by posting music videos. This isn’t the first time that’s been done, and US voters aren’t the only ones doing it, but we seem to have hit some kind of a moment, because political music videos are popping up all over the place.

Maybe it’s the equipment, not the moment. As I keep reminding myself, this Mac laptop I’m working on has as much video processing power as a TV studio did a few elections back. On the other hand, since the Obama campaign has the best videos, it may be the example set by doing the extraordinarily popular Yes We Can. It’s beautiful. If you haven’t watched it, you should. got a bunch of professionals to join the project, which is no end of help when you’re making an amateur video. and friends went on to make We Are the Ones, demonstrating that a video in which a bunch of actors and musicians voice their own opinions does not have quite the same impact as one in which they give voice to the words of a speech by Barack Obama.

YouTube is a conversation. Posted in reply to “Yes We Can” is Fired Up, Ready to Go, which is lively and impressive, but a tad too self-conscious for my taste. IMO, the best thing about it was that it inspired a further reply that’s a must-listen. As it says on the lyrics page (you’ll want to get a look at it), “The Mighty Sparrow, calypso king of the world, endorses Obama.” The calypso itself is called Barack the Magnificent:

The Foreign Relations Committee,
Can attest to his tenacity,
For homeland and job security.

He stood his ground
When the war was a conception,
Said it was wrong,
So he didn’t go along,
Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton
They said of Barack’s opinion,
“He’s a man of resplendent vision!”

“We Are the Ones” got its own odd little reply, done in the Makossa style, which is indigenous to Cameroon: Ready to Go (Makossa), reprised as Obama drives America crazy/L’Amérique folle d’Obama. I’d never heard of Makossa before. I had to look it up on Wikipedia.

The Latino community’s music videos kick ass. If you want to hear four of the best on a single link, try Latinos por Obama’s greatest hits: “Viva Obama,” “La Caminata,” “Si Se Puede Cambiar,” and “Obama Si (Ya Basta lo Mismo).”

To take them separately:

Viva Obama is a stylish corrido performed with considerable panache by a Texas mariachi group. I already posted the lyrics here.

La Caminata is a reggaeton, which is Spanish hiphop or rap—I am hopelessly, hopelessly gapped on the subject. Its repeating line, “Como se dice / Como se llama / — Obama / — Obama” is a serious earworm. It also appears on YouTube with different visuals as The Obama Song: Spanish Reggaeton and Latinos for Barack Obama. And, because the spirit is with the Obama campaign at this mortal moment, three middle-school white kids dressed up—two as rappers, one in a sombrero—to record their own version: Como Se dice Como Se llama Obama. Good on ‘em.

Si Se Puede Cambiar by Andres Useche is a simple, heartfelt, lyrical song full of blunt questions. Its basic version has English subtitles, but you can also get it subtitled in Vietnamese and Korean.

Ya basta lo mismo means “Enough already of the same old thing,” and the liner notes on Obama Si — Tejas! say “Ya Basta Lo Mismo! No Mas Clinton, No Mas Bush, No Mas De Lo Mismo! Se Puede Cambiar…Si Se Puede, Tejas!” I can’t make out all the lyrics, but I’d know this one has teeth even if it didn’t mention the CIA and Cointelpro.

Two more in Spanish. I really like Vote Obama (VO-tay oh-BAH-ma), a filk of “La Bamba” by Austin band Cerronato. It features the mighty Clemencia Zapata on percussion and vocals, helping keep rock and roll safe for middle-aged women.

Finally, one I can’t puzzle out, possibly because it’s not the variety of Spanish I learned in my youth, back when I could hear: Colombian “Barack Obama” singin’ reggaeton. On the screen are the words ME FALLA / JUANCHO STYLE. Gapped again!

Reverting to English now, three rap-style songs: Open Letter to Barack Obama by Jin, a young Asian-American; New Barack Obama Song 2007 (Representin’ Obama), a rap by some kids who are ticked at Bill Maher for saying young people don’t vote; and Ba Rock, the Home Cut pt. 1. We await further installments.

He’s the Man for Me, recorded at a New York Women 4 Obama rally, gets some mileage out of subverting romance tropes. Tank Talk’s Obama Love Song is a vaudeville-style number by a young man who’s surprised to find himself planning to vote for a Democrat. Obama Song by Brian Larkin is another amateur video by professionals. It’s a nice song, and in previous election years would have been a standout. Stem the Rising Tide is dedicated to Barack Obama, and keeps turning up as an Obama-related video, but it’s just too diffuse for me. You Rock, Barack, on the other hand, has true idiosyncratic citizen weirdness:

Obama, we’re tired of all the drama
Bush is a joke we’re at the end of our rope
You’re the one who dares to hope

Obama, your mama is just like my mama
‘Cept my mama didn’t name me Barack
End the war in Iraq
Bring our brothers and sisters back …

If you think this song ain’t too pretty
That’s cause we wrote it by committee.

The New Bbama Song, a filk of “The Llama Song,” is very silly. It would be just the thing to play for the kid in I’m an Obama Baby.

“But surely,” you must be asking, “other candidates’ supporters also make music videos?” The answer is that not all candidates’ supporters feel inspired to express their feelings in song. Unfortunately, some of these uninspired supporters make music videos anyway, like the otherwise very nice family that made Texas for Hillary Go Go Go. No va. If you must have a Hillary Clinton music video, there’s always Oye Hillary: A Song Written for Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign. It’s described as “A volunteer effort by a multi-cultural team supporting the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign,” which pretty much says it all.

One likeable older guy who obviously has a solid grounding in nineteenth-century music came up with Lead the Way, a song for John McCain. When the election is over, I hope he adapts the music to some other use. Other than that, what McCain seems to inspire are parodies like No, You Can’t and, plus a bunch of riffs on McCain singing Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Anne.”

Most Ron Paul videos consist of a lone Ron Paul supporter inexpertly strumming an acoustic guitar and singing about how Ron Paul never lies, will abolish the income tax, and won’t tell them what to do. The most prominent of these is the unfortunately titled Ron Paul Is a Virus. The two exceptions are JamieR2006’s Ron Paul 2008 - The Music Video and NewYorkViolets’ The Ron Paul Song, both of which could conceivably be danced to.

Mike Huckabee gets the weirdest range. A lot of them, you could have predicted. There’s the Huckabee Catchy Jingle Song, which isn’t, and Huckabee: The Snoopy Candidate, whose creator feels that Huckabee shares many worthy characteristics with Snoopy from “Peanuts”, and Stuck on Huck, which is trying way too hard to be cool, and Because of You (Huckabee’s Song), for hardcore fans of Christian soft rock, and Duane Schwingel’s I Like Mike, which is just as nice as nice can be, and The Huckabee Song, whose creator also likes Mike Huckabee (it’s pretty basic).

Less predictably, there’s Mike Huckabee: One Who Will Lift Us Up, which is a decent little bluegrass number—piano, violin, and vocal harmony—by a bunch of old-time religion types. And then there’s Headbangers for Huckabee: Minister & The Pine Barrens Metal Ensemble doing Huck ‘Em All. That one originally appeared at World Metal Alliance, which is headbangers central, and it’s not a parody. (Note: the video’s been removed from YouTube, so I replaced the URL with the one from the WMA site.)

I love my country.

Note: Patrick thinks the title of this post ought to be “Hooray, hooray, the country’s risin’, for Henry Clay and Frelinghuysen,” in token of these music videos being part of a great American campaign tradition. I agree with his point; I just don’t want to use the title. Still, lest we forget the Polk vs. Clay race of 1844: Clay and Frelinghuysen, The First Polk Song, The Vermonter’s Song at Baltimore, Kilkenny Cats, and The Blue Hen’s Chickens.


Chris Quinones, Eine Kleine Barackmusik and Superdelegate by Roy Zimmerman.

March 01, 2008
Department of Who’s Surprised?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:53 AM * 96 comments

Attorney general declines to investigate Bush advisers

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey Friday said he will not ask a federal grand jury to investigate whether two top Bush administration officials should be prosecuted for contempt of Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday asked Mukasey to look into whether White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers committed contempt of Congress in the investigation of the 2006 firings of several U.S. attorneys.

Pelosi said the two were unresponsive to Congress’ inquiry, while the White House argues that contempt laws don’t apply to the president or any of his staffers who invoke executive privilege.

Mukasey, a Bush appointee, agreed.

“The department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime,” Mukasey wrote in a letter to Pelosi.

“Therefore the department will not bring the congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute Mr. Bolten or Ms. Miers.”

What options does that leave? Other than impeaching Mr. Mukasey, that is.

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