Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

Our housemate sessions produced a song about one Memorial Day. Here it is as composed and performed by Housemate D

And here's another, sort of a gritty ballad

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Friday, May 22, 2009

My Torture Memo

I once worked on a video about an elderly woman known for her civil rights activism. Her husband had been a town mayor and also an activist, but she said that his head was in it more than his heart. He was more of a pragmatist striving for even-handed governance and justice rather than a crusader for a moral cause.

I won't claim to be any kind of effective activist or pragmatist, but I do at least share with the woman's husband a desire to be pragmatic. So, with respect to torture, I'm less interested in the moral issues than the question of whether it gains us more usable information than non-tortuous techniques.

All I can do is stack up the case made by one camp against the case made by the other. There is the claim by Marc Thiessen, for instance, that the plot to attack the Library Tower in Los Angeles was foiled because of information gained through torture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But this article by Timothy Noah cites a fact sheet provided by the Bush White House in 2002 saying the Library Tower plot had been discovered and broken up, and this was before KSM's capture in March of 2003.

Thiessen and Dick Cheney (for example, in his speech yesterday) say the recently released torture memos only tell part of the story, that they don't tell of the useful information that was gained form torture. Maybe, in time, more information shedding light on this will be declassified. But until then, we are lacking specifics.

Meanwhile, there is this detailed account of how Zubaidah gave little information . . . until he was tortured, at which point he provided awealth of information that sent CIA agents scrambling all over the globe spending millions of dollars chasing false leads. And there is this account by Ali Soufan stating that much useful information was gained by traditional interrogations of Zubaidah, while the torture used later backfired in events that are still part of that still classified information Cheney is referring to. Soufan also cites a chronological problem with a torture-defenders' argument: that torture of Zubaidah lead to the capture of Jose Padilla. And yet, Padilla was captured before the torture was approved in August of 2002.

Can the torture defenders make arguments that are not so easily debunked?

Consider also, besides Zubaidah's, the false leads produced by torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Torture of al-Libi yielded much valuable information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. al-Libi's testimony was inserted into Colin Powell's fateful speech by al-Libby, and the U.S. saddled itself with a six-year-and-counting insurgency consisting of Iraqis who had not been our enemies before that invasion.

So, really, Dick Cheney? Torture has saved hundreds of thousands of lives?

To really determine whether torture works, we would need to see all information gained from torture and determine what percentage was helpful; and compare this to all the information gained from non-torturous techniques and the percentage of that which was helpful. I doubt we'll ever have access to all that information.

With the evidence we do have tilted toward showing torture does not work, why not then err on the side of morality and forbid torture?

5/24 Update: What is a Mancow anyway . . . a giant man-boob? Apparently so. Also, the results of Zubaidah's torture interrogations are more clear than I had thought. Here is Marcy Wheeler explaining what the 9/11 Commission reported of information gained by Zubaidah's torture. In summary, 10 pieces of not-very-useful information were learned from 83 sessions of waterboarding.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I just saw Meghan McCain on Colbert . . .

. . . and did so many spit takes I drank my chocolate milk twice. I have decided that she, rather than her sister Bridget, would have been a better subject of that year 2000 smear campaign before the South Carolina primary, for the purpose of denying McCain Republican votes.

I think of the prudish Republicans I know, and I'm sure they're about to bust a gasket over the Republican being the "Party of the Pro-Sex Woman." With such talk coming from a candidate's daughter, there is no need to invent a story about his siring illegitimate black children.

McCain's campaign manager from 2000, Richard Davis, in the above article, says there is no response to a personal smear campaign like that. To respond is to be defeated, he says. However, I believe I have just thought of a suitable response: "Sure I sired illegitimate black children. It makes me more Jeffersonian!" Turn the issue right back on those Constitution beaters.

Incidentally, that link about Jefferson having Black descendants is to a book written by a TV producer I worked for on this project about a local architect.

But, getting back to the Pro-Sex Party with it's allegiance to the founding fathers. If Jefferson was so busy siring children by his slave(s), then would he say the government needs to uphold the sanctity of marriage? Or would he be more open to variants on the institution, such as gay marriage?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Housemate Sessions Vol. II

You might recall from a previous post that Housemate D effing rocks. Now I bring you the results of our second session, held a year and a half after that first one.

This time, instead of the dining room, it was in Elrond Hubbard World Headquarters (i.e. my bedroom); instead of being spontaneous, we had a few weeks of yelling back and forth through the house, "When you wanna do this recording / I don't know, maybe next Tuesday . . ." which afforded some time for practice and planning; and instead of using rented equipment home for just one night before doing this shoot the following day, it was my own equipment, purchased in February and still hardly used because this year has been so slow.

Though April was moderately busy -- with a shoot for the crime show, a week doing promos for a local TV station, two days doing interviews for John Deere, and a day each on an instructional video, a testimonial from this Olympic athlete, a conference hosted by this local think tank -- mostly I used the gear owned by the people hiring me. But that athlete testimonial did use my gear, and the tiny Countryman mic performed beautifully. It even sounded better on the indoor interview than the Sanken CS-3e mini shotgun boom mic. This boom mic is supposed to handle reverberating interiors better than a Sennheiser 416, but it did pick up some funny reverb in that little room in the track building. This reverb I didn't even notice until I got home and played back some of the backup recordings. It's a hazard of listening to one mic in each ear on set. You don't necessarily hear either one in much detail.

Speaking of reverb, I with I could add a little to the voice in these recordings. My free software, Audacity, is pretty cool, but has no reverb effect. When I get real audio software someday, I will go back and add reverb to the voice.

For making backup recordings on set, I have a Zaxcom ZFR100. It is small and seems very durable, and it can jam timecode from cameras and other recorders. Its connectors are positioned in a weird way on it though, so despite being small, it is very awkward in the bag.

I used the Zaxcom for backing up these recordings, but for the primary recording I used my Sound Devices USBPre. I recommend this for anyone who wants to record just 1 or 2 tracks of audio in the computer. It is a wonderful analog/digital converter. When I play CD's in the computer and run the audio through it, it sounds better than my expensive stereo system purchased 20 years ago.

For the instrumental recordings you are hearing, I put two mics on the guitar: the Sanken CS-3e, and my Sanken CS-1, a secret weapon purchased on ebay for indoor booming when there's time to switch out from the CS-3e mini shotgun. Using the two mics gives sort of a fake stereo effect.

But when there's singing, I had to put the CS-3e on the voice, while leaving the CS-1 on the guitar. This rendered two fairly flat sounding mono tracks. However, what you are hearing is a little more lively than two mono tracks. Getting this slight liveliness into the recording took lots of experimenting. Much of the past few weeks of sitting at home not working has been spent fussing with equalization and compression (both of which I don't know much about but I'm learning), going on the theory that if I could make the guitar and voice sound a little different in each ear, then overall it would sound sort of stereo-ish.

In fact, here's what a portion of the next clip sounds like as recorded, with each mic relegated just to one speaker.

And here it is with the fake stereo treatment I finally settled on. Can you guess what the treatment is?

I love how Housemate D just jumps into improvisations like the instrumentals on here. I swear, all but one of these recordings is the first and only take. Only this song you just heard required several takes; and at that, what you hear is a single take, not something edited together. He just sits in his room and plays these things, but he doesn't practice much -- maybe just 15 minutes here and there before heading out to the library. He doesn't have time for serious guitar playing and he has nearly no formal training. He was a star law student and argued a case before Justice Anton Scalia in a mock court a few months ago, for chrissakes. And yet, listen to how he varies his chords and uses inner (instrumental) voices on all these songs. This is not your average strum-and-humdrum at the local cafe. This is more like Strum und Drang.

I knew the instrumentals were improvised, but in the midst of making these recordings I asked where he had gotten the songs. "I just made them up," he said.

When? I had never heard these songs coming from his room. But when the mics were on, he had them ready, enough to fill an audio CD. And then, two weeks after that, we did another session where he laid down a whole nother CD's worth. I have not started editing them yet. That is my next task, and there is some more seriously interesting stuff there.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Coming Around on the Carbon Regulation Thing

Just as Mowgli was raised by wolves, I was raised by Republicans, and the vestiges of their teachings still resound within my pained and indecisive heart. So, despite my well documented love of algae farming as a prospective alternative oil source, I've been filled with enough free-market claptrap to have my doubts about carbon caps, credits, and regulations. I have stated that I fear the creation of a new market overlaying the existing one -- that such an artificial construct will not last.

But it has come to me like this. Any time a lobbyist has influence in government, this is also not a free market force . . . correct? So there goes Exxon spending 9.32 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009 in attempts to get its way with environmental regulations, drilling rights (on federal land), and tax breaks.

And there went the corn ethanol lobby trying to prevent Schwarzenegger from passing California's plan to cut carbon emissions by gas and Diesel producers by 15% over the next 11 years.. The lobbyists were worried that the corn ethanol industry would be harmed. But their very existence seems to me the result of governmental forces in the form of subsidies. From 2006 to 2011, the corn ethanol industry will receive 5.7 billion in federal tax cuts. Who knows where these large corporate bastions of capitalism would be if they really had to compete in a truly free market, without government intervention?

So given that so much non-market governmental influence has steered the course of our private sector anyway, I've decided I will no longer express doubts about reasonable and gradual enforced reductions in carbon emissions, or about carbon caps and trading. It seems to me to amount to the government helping one industry or another, but not necessarily an overall increase in government influence.

California passed that regulation. This has eliminated that state as a market for corn ethanol. Obama wants to set similar regulations to a national level. I say, bring it. And if this helps the algae to flow as a very low carbon-footprint product, then that's all the better.

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