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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time to Get Ill 

I have to give a big public thanks to Colleen Butler, who linked me to Ill Doctrine, a superb video blog run by a guy named Jay Smooth. He's smart, he's good at making his point, and he knows his hip-hop. Check out this video from September 2008, called "Economics and Annoying Smart Guys".

The next one is the clip Colleen linked me to, called "How To Tell People They Sound Racist".

Unfortunately, some of the clips don't work for embedding here for some reason. So you'll have to go to his site to see the one about Bill O'Reilly. Glorious!

Hip Hop Lovers Only

The next clips will probably only appeal to people who love hip-hop. Not like "I think The Roots are cool sometimes" or maybe you have one De La Soul album, but actual love, deep in the soul.

Definitely check out Yes, Hip Hop is Dead (For You), which you have to watch on his site. Also check out the clip about Russell Simmons. Money!

Here are a couple I can embed. The first is about Beef, and a rapper (who I had never heard of) who surprised everybody.

This other one is about Mike Jones and his stolen gold chain.

And finally, here's one about the stupid song Ludicrous made about Obama. Jay Smooth is right on here, once again.

So yeah. Subscribe. Good stuff.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Watch the Poo 

When my blogroll backs up for more than a couple of days, I quickly amass 200+ items waiting to be read. Usually I can't be bothered to view all of these, so I have to make choices. In addition to certain comics, I always read the items from friends — Amy and Jesse because their kids are very cute; Garrett because I feed on foul-mouthed ranting; and Lawrence because he has funny footnotes and he's training to break a world record.

But I feel the need to praise another friend's blog in particular, for two reasons. One reason is because I gave him crap in my last post. (What I said was true — and he often admits that it's true — but it's not a big deal or else I'd try to get my stuff back.) But the other reason is more important.

Madsimian has a very good signal/noise internet filter, so I know that everything he posts is worth a look. The best part is that he often posts animations, videos, and images that are often humorous and always thought-provoking. Examples follow.

Is this not the coolest image ever?

Here's an animated retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, using technical diagrams and very smooth artwork.

And here's the piece that inspired me to write this shout-out: An animated analysis of what it really means to have an open mind, and why belief in ghosts and crystal healing is not proof of an open mind.

So yeah. Thanks, monkeydude, for all the great stuff. Keep it coming! (The rest of you: If you haven't subscribed to the Madsimian feed, do it now!)


Oh, you want more? Here's a little something from the archives: A guy named Dan Hanna put together daily photos of himself every day for seventeen years. The dedication is pretty remarkable, as is the movie.

Today I'm listening to: The Ricky Gervais Guide to Philosophy!

And when I was looking for that link, I found this: Ricky Gervais on Sesame Street.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Video Games, Violence, and Virtualpolitik 

In the first chapter of the new book Virtualpolitik: An Electronic History of Government Media-Making in a Time of War, Scandal, Disaster, Miscommunication, and Mistakes, author Elizabeth Losh discusses an open hearing held in May 2006 by the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence entitled "Terrorist Use of the Internet". Of primary interest was a video posted online of footage from a video game, created by someone calling himself "SonicJihad". It shows Muslim terrorists destroying the tanks and helicopters of "infidels", yelling "Allah Akbar!", and raising a green-and-white flag emblazoned with the Star and Crescent. The video was condemned as an atrocious example of terrorist groups recruiting young people through interactive entertainment. Reuters ran a news story headlined: "Islamists using US video games in youth appeal".

There was one little problem with the committee's target: It wasn't created by al Qaeda, or anyone associated with any Muslim terrorist organization. It was a fan video, put together by a hospital administrator from Holland who just wanted to show off clips of him playing his favorite video game, Battlefield 2. Although some witnesses at the hearing insisted that the game had been modded to provide Islamic terrorist clothing and symbols, even this was wrong: nothing had been modded. The game's official Special Forces Expansion Pack made all of the al Qaeda lookalikes possible. As for the "Allah Akbar!"s, SonicJihad just swiped samples from the Anthony Quinn movie Lion of the Desert, and punctuated it with clips from (I swear to Allah I'm not making this up) Team America: World Police. The following speech, for example, is heard at the start of the video, during images of US choppers and tanks rolling into town:
I was just a boy when the infidels came to my village in their Blackhawk helicopters. The infidels fired at the oil fields and they lit up like the eyes of Allah. Burning oil rained down from the sky and cooked everything it touched. I could only hide myself and cry as my goats were consumed by the fiery black liquid death. In the midst of the chaos, I could swear that I heard my goats screaming for help. As quickly as they had come, the infidels were gone. It was on that day I put a jihad on them.
Leaving aside my sadness that, apparently, no one on the committee had seen Team America, isn't it bizarre that no one laughed at that ridiculous line about goats screaming?

What I Think

A number of things interest me about this incident. First of all, the guy (whose real name is Samir) chose the moniker "SonicJihad" after an album by the Oakland rapper Paris. (I should point out right now that I despise the cover of that album, and disagree strongly with his claim — from which the cover originates — that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Bush administration, part of the whole silly "9/11 Truth" movement stuff.) Conspiracy disagreements aside, I really like Paris' music, and I was amused to see a reference to what is, overall, a good album. (One track, "Sheep to the Slaughter", protests the discrepancy between those who stress the need for war — usually rich politicians and pundits — and those who fight wars — usually poor folks, often ethnic "minorities".)

I'm also intrigued by the use of Battlefield 2, a game which I love dearly. (I would point out that I only ever played the console versions, which were smaller but basically the same.) Samir/SonicJihad was quite right when he pointed out in a 2006 interview that BF2 makes no sense as a terrorist recruiting tool, because its morality is completely ambiguous:
I personally think it's a shame that BF 2 is put in a bad spotlight. I think whats wonderful about this game is that there are no politics at all. There is no good or bad, there are no evildoers. You can chose each side you want and enjoy the game.
On the other hand (as he points out), there is a video game specifically designed to recruit young people into an official, organized fighting force. It's called America's Army, and it was developed with US tax dollars. (Therefore, I believe that every US taxpayer who wants one should get a free copy — but that's a debate for another time.) Without wanting to get into the legitimacy of recruiting kids to join the military through video games, I do feel that it's incredibly hypocritical to condemn others for such a thing while our government does the same thing.

The SonicJihad montage is, of course, available online. I'm including it below mostly as a token of curiosity. (The editing is decent, but the repetition is a bit much in spots.) Mostly, I just get weepy with nostalgia about how great Battlefield 2 is. (What a shame that no one plays it online anymore and the EA servers are all crap.) Also, Battlefield: Bad Company sucks noodles, and I'm reserving judgment on the forthcoming Bad Company 2 until it comes out.

The Dense Prose at MIT Press

Virtualpolitik is published by MIT Press, the same folks who brought us Manuel de Landa's brilliant book War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, as well as the anthology Incorporations. (Jon Broad "borrowed" my copy of that book many years ago, and — just like the Katamari Damcy game I lent him last year — it disappeared into the void that is Jon Broad.)

I sometimes wonder if MIT Press employs a team of editors whose job it is to make simple, easily-understood writing dense and obtuse. To wit, from the introduction of Virtualpolitik, referring to the city of Santa Monica's PEN system: "Although some have pointed out how the unstable power dynamic of this electronic community reflected the contingent character of its participatory homeostasis, none have looked closely—in rhetorical terms—at the implied struggle over the very definition of "e-government" among participants." Yeah, I'm always seeing people point out how the PEN system reflected the contingent character of its participatory homeostasis. In fact, if I hear one more comment about participatory homeostasis, I'm going to scream! ("Participatory Homeostasis" would be a good name for a band, wouldn't it?) Ironically enough, however, she later points out that "blog" is short for "web log". Hey, Losh: You can be insanely inaccessible, or patronizingly simple, but not both!

Like most books I read from MIT Press and people like Donna Haraway, the book contains some very good points, featuring intriguing analysis of complex and interdisciplinary topics — wrapped in thick layers of academia horsecrap. I bought in hardcover, because I'm very eager to see how she dissects the new tropes of rhetoric in the age of MySpace and Twitter. (Sorry, "tropes" really is the only word that works there.) But my BS sensors are on high alert, especially when she switches in the course of a page (and without the necessary transitions) from discussing the stars used for bullet points on a Congressman's website to "the social backgrounds of the individuals who might be manufacturing objectionable digital texts".

By the way, did you like the double entendre in the section title? "Prose" and "Pros"? Pretty clever, eh? No, you sound Indian!


As promised, here's the SonicJihad video.

Today I'm listening to: Jack Dangers!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues 

Last night at the Wisconsin Film Festival, we saw a superb animated movie called Sita Sings the Blues. It's a retelling of the Ramayana, done through blues music and magnificent imagery (as well as some funky trip-hop). Check out the trailer:

Now for the best part: It's been released as CC-SA! That's right, it's free. You can download it, copy it, share it, whatever. Check it out here, and be sure to make a donation if you haven't paid to see it.