Saturday Music


Midori Takada’s highly coveted Through The Looking Glass finally reissued on vinyl

As minimalism and ambient music grew and developed from the subtle piano of Erik Satie to the more avant garde work of Terry Riley and John Cage, moving from the fringes to mainstream respectability or at least airport lounges, the best known names have been mostly male, and mainly from the west.

Midori Takada, a composer and percussionist in Japan who released a string of mindblowing records beginning in the 1980s, challenges that order. Many call her work minimalism; her interlocking patterns bring to mind Steve Reich, in particular. Her layers of rich textures and atmospheres are sometimes reminiscent of Brian Eno’s classic ambient work. Through it all, she created a sound that is uniquely her own.

Takada was part of the Mkwaju Ensemble, a short-lived Japanese group comprised of Takada and fellow Japanese musicians Joe Hisaishi, Yoji Sadanari, Junko Arase and Hideki Matsutake, which released two dynamite records, Mkwaju and Ki-Motion, on the Better Days label in Japan in 1981. Their hypnotic music feels inspired by Reich and Terry Riley, and by various forms of African drumming (the word “mkwaju” comes from Swahili). At times, their music sounds like early techno, possibly due to the involvement of Matsutake, better known for his work in Logic System and as a “secret member” of Yellow Magic Orchestra. (The first Mkwaju Ensemble album would not be out of place mixed into a DJ set today.)

@ TG

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FRIday FuNNies



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Tractor Tales Thursday


To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America’s heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that’s cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform “unauthorized” repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

“When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don’t have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it,” Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. “Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].”

The nightmare scenario, and a fear I heard expressed over and over again in talking with farmers, is that John Deere could remotely shut down a tractor and there wouldn’t be anything a farmer could do about it.


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Wednesday Underground


My fascination with underground homes began around the time the Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone movie Blast From the Past hit theaters. It was 1999, a time when underground homes were a relic from a bygone era when Americans had feared and prepared for the worst. In the ’90s, we were no longer worried about this, living in what would, in retrospect, be an all too brief reprieve from the fear of a nuclear blast. During that window when the fear faded, these underground homes were just kitschy time capsules.

Years ago, a very intriguing rumor spread that the underground home exhibit set up for the World’s Fair of 1964-65—between the Hall of Science and Terrace on the Park—was never removed from beneath the fair’s site. Could there be a 1960s underground home in Flushing Meadows Corona Park right now? A few have asked, but only uncertainty has been uncovered each time. Recently I became determined to find out once and for all—I reached out to the Parks Department, a professor at the University of Central Florida who previously proposed an excavation of the site, and a television producer who recreated the home for an episode of CSI: NY. Eventually, I discovered the answer buried not in Queens, but in the depths of the New York Public Library.


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Twisted Logic Tuesday


The political theater that passes for serious policy debate is about to run into an unfortunate reality as Donald Trump’s budget plan comes face to face with its arch-nemesis: arithmetic.

It’s impossible to cut taxes, increase spending, and balance the budget. That’s not political bluster. That’s math.

Throughout the campaign and since, Trump promised to invest in infrastructure, pass an enormous tax cut, boost military spending, cut “waste, fraud, and abuse,” and protect Social Security and Medicare — and, of course, balance the budget.

This rhetoric has been remarkably effective, the presidential equivalent of offering free ponies for everyone — but even less practical.

Working in Trump’s favor, however, is that many Americans believe things about the federal budget that are simply not true. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.
According to public opinion polls, Americans believe nearly a third of the budget goes to international aid. In reality, it’s less than 1 percent.

A survey of Fox News viewers from 2013 showed nearly half believed most federal debt could be eliminated by “cutting waste and fraud.” It can’t.

@ The Institute for Policy Studies

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Where’s Bernie Monday


If you look at the numbers, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America – and it’s not even close. Yet bizarrely, the Democratic party – out of power across the country and increasingly irrelevant – still refuses to embrace him and his message. It’s increasingly clear they do so at their own peril.

A new Fox News poll out this week shows Sanders has a +28 net favorability rating among the US population, dwarfing all other elected politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. And he’s even more popular among the vaunted “independents”, where he is at a mind boggling +41.

This poll is not just an aberration. Look at this Huffington Post chart that has tracked Sanders’ favorability rating over time, ever since he gained national prominence in 2015 when he started running for the Democratic nomination. The more people got to know him, they more they liked him – the exact opposite of what his critics said would happen when he was running against Clinton.

One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now. Yet instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don’t have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swaths of the country.

@ TG

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Self Censorship Sunday


Climate change has a long list of known human health consequences, not the least of which is a set of adverse impacts on mental health. As more and more people are directly affected by destructive floods, heat waves, drought, deadly storms and other extreme weather events – all worsened by increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide – experts predict a steep rise in mental and social disorders: anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, increased suicide rates, and outbreaks of violence. Hardest hit will be children, the poor, the elderly, and those with existing mental health problems: collectively, this amounts to about half the US population! Worse, the consensus seems to be that the mental health profession is unprepared to handle these challenges.

Just three days after the presidential inauguration, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced in a terse email that it was cancelling a three-day conference, the “Climate and Health Summit,” that was to take place in Atlanta from February 14-16. With the “translation of science to practice” as the planned theme, scientists were to present their most recent research on the physical and mental health effects of climate change, and conferees were to explore ways to improve interagency cooperation and stakeholder engagement. Though no official reason was given, it quickly became evident that the CDC had engaged in self-censorship. President Trump has alleged that global warming is a notion invented by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing noncompetitive and, more recently, that climate change is a hoax. This “strategic retreat,” as one scheduled speaker characterized it, was the result of a fear-based decision to shut down the event preemptively, before the new administration had a chance to shut it down for them, absent any foreknowledge or hint that they would.


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