Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time for Some Metal Storytelling

I came over this piece where Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth and Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater tell the story of how each of them got into Metallica. Quite interesting, I'm closer to Akerfeldt's experience, me too I was first attracted by Metallica after having listened songs from "Master of Puppets" and "Ride the Lighting" - on a poorly recorded tape of a live concert - but it was "...And Justice for All" that dragged me into the whole Metallica thing. Only later I truly abused my cassette player with "Ride the Lightning" and afterwards with "Kill'em All" and "Master of Puppets".

Therefore allow me to indulge in some memory backtracking about how I got into Metallica. I was about 12 or 13 years old and just coming out of a long period of Depeche Mode after a short period of Roxette:) Yes, this Metalhead was into that kind of stuff in his early childhood and still loves some old school Depeche Mode, not so Metal, but it definitely grabbed me irreversibly:) We had an excellent music teacher in our school that really made me love classical music and most importantly taught us to seek the story behind the music; a music so rich and diverse in sounds that it actually filled the whole listening space. And what I remember very well from that age were the live performances of our town's philharmonic orchestra of Brahms, Beethoven and Stravinsky. Sadly I'm much less into classical music now than at that time, but one day I'll fill the gap. So the story goes that one day I went alone to buy my first Metal tape - which was a huge thing back then - and since Metallica was all I knew about Metal I went for "... And Justice for All", the only one from the band that was on sale. I had a very nice Walkman back then so I put it to good use on my first walk with Metallica banging in my ears. And then it struck me : that incredible sound filled the whole listening space just like Beethoven and Brahms did, except it was faster but still complex enough, had highly appealing lyrics and gave me power like no other music I heard before. It wasn't a question of aggressiveness or rebelliousness - I wasn't that kind of a child - it simply was that fuckin' huge sound the size of a symphony coming from the hands of four guys playing straightforward Metal.

Now I'm asking myself about "Master of Puppets" being "Metal's quintessential masterpiece", what Mike Portnoy calls it. I've seen other people calling it a perfect album, some kind of a peak in Metal music which has never been reached since. The thing is I don't exactly know what a quintessential masterpiece means, how it can be defined. The best definition I can come with is a standard by which one judges the quality of the music he listens to from that moment on, but this is also quite weak and confusing. First of all it's highly subjective, therefore everyone has it's own standard and I bet that in the Metal world "Master of Puppets" is far from making the unanimity of a standard, just try asking people about Black Sabbath, Dio, Motörhead, Napalm Death, Slayer or Iron Maiden and suddenly things get much more complicated. Second, Metal is so diverse that "Master of Puppets" would make a very poor standard, how the heck one can compare it to "Symbolic" from Death or "Focus" from Cynic, they are both masterpieces and standards in Death Metal respectively Progressive (Death) Metal. Symbolic is THE album through which I judge much of the Death Metal I listen, but even in this particular niche I wouldn't dare compare it to Cryptopsy's "None So Vile", it simply is something else. Third, standards change over time, just check out the influences of the new Metal bands, how these evolved from the 80's until now, Metallica is loosing ground, all the bands from the 80's are losing ground, Metal musicians our days grew up with Napalm Death, Slayer or Blind Guardian. Nevertheless it is a masterpiece, but not THE masterpiece of Metal, that's absurd. One cannot look at Metal and single out "Master of Puppets" as the ultimate, most accomplished, the greatest Metal album ever, it's simply pretentiously stupid or just a subjective opinion not worth of much attention.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Transylvanian Hunger

Cluj 2 - 1 Roma on the opening day of UEFA Champions League. Cluj is a town in Transylvania and it happens to be this Metalhead's hometown. And this post is also a nice little reference to a nice Black Metal tune from Darkthrone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Metallica Thumbs Session

  • Thumb up for two songs on from "Death Magnetic" : "That Was Just Your Life" and "My Apocalypse". Old school Thrash Metal, something that has been missing from the Metallica catalogue for many years. Overall the album deserves 6 out of 10 which is a big improvement compared to "Load", "Reload" and "St. Anger".
  • Thumb down for Lars Ulrich for  imagining that people expect Metallica to save Metal. Gimme a break:) A) Metal is alive and kicking wildlier than ever, so thinking that it needs being saved is simply arrogant. B) A whole bunch of fresh new bands are carrying the flag forward with exceptional vigour - and first on my list would be Decrepit Birth. C) Old timers are doing an excellent job of sticking to their guns and delivering quality Metal without the large scale marketing Metallica benefits from : hail to Kreator, Iron Maiden, Cynic, Sodom, Slayer, Obituary and the list could go on.
  • Thumb up for the marketing campaign for "Death Magnetic" centered around creating the buzz and steadily building up to the grand finale. Internet was perfectly used for what it best serves at, propagating information.
  • Thumb down again for Lars Ulrich for having stated in the "Some Kind of Monster" documentary that classic Metal soloing is outdated. What better proof that he's fundamentally worong than Kirk Hammet delivering some of his best solos on "Death Magnetic" in the 3 songs I already mentioned. Simply pathetic.
  • Thumb up of for me making peace with Metallica. I would have been really sad if they went down with "St. Anger", instead I'm comfortable with having two or three fresh Metallica tunes I can headbang on. I flash them the devil horns for that. Maybe that's their secret, driving the expectations sow low that any new song with fast riffing where James doesn't try to sing and Kirk's solos have a decent space sounds great. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Dawn of an Era of Bullshit

You might say that it's quite pretentious for a title and you might be right. The thing is that studies like this one are supposed to be revelatory for the wider public, while for me they are a confirmation of a multitude of observations which I still consider biased until they are not backed by enough scientific proof. In spite of that I consider myself on the right track while trying to keep as much rational distance I am capable of. So, science dipped again it's fingers into the Metalheads phenomenon - quite unintentionally I guess - and it came up with the following:

Unlikely as it may seem, fans of heavy metal and classical music have much more in common than most people would imagine, according to a new study. Researchers found fans of the music styles shared "virtually identical" personality traits, such as being creative and at ease with themselves.

The finding was revealed in a major study into the link between people's musical tastes and their personalities. Professor Adrian North, of Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, said the survey of more than 36,000 people from all over the world is by far the biggest study of its kind ever undertaken.

"I was struck by how similar fans of heavy metal and classical music really are," he said. "Apart from the age differences, they were virtually identical. Both were more creative than other people, both were not terribly outgoing and they were also quite at ease."

He speculated that both types of music have a sense of theatricality about them which may appeal to similar types of people.

I will let the scientists question the method and the interpretation of the study and I would be very interested by such a debate of course. But let's focus on the layman interpretation. I'm not that much into the comparison between fans of Heavy Metal and of Classical music. I don't find it very convincing and too relevant at this stage. What I find really interesting are exactly the personality traits outlined by the study : creativity, "not terribly outgoing" and at ease with themselves. That's where they hit the right spot. So I guess I won't go out tonight on a killing spree on the soundtrack of the latest Slipknot album, I'm not that outgoing tonight. And I'm so at ease with myself that I'll stick to Raining Blood from my speakers:)

This being said, I wish you all an excellent in-between time after the morning coffee and before the teeth brushing or vice versa.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

My Deathbed Metal Song

What song I would like to be played at my funeral? I amused myself with this exercise a few months ago after reading that AC/DC's Highway To Hell is at the top of the list of funeral songs in Adelaide, Australia. So I immediately started compiling my own list curious to see what comes at the top. I patched up a few criteria which seemed obvious : a) the central theme of the song must be about death, dying or the afterlife (or whatever you want to call it) ; b) I don't want people attending the funeral to walk away with a sad face - I would very much like to see them with a Tom Araya wicked kind of smile actually and c) it must be a damn good quality Metal song because I don't want to be remembered as an average Metal listener, only the best is suited on such an occasion. There I was cracking my scull open to find the best of the best suited songs for such a bizarre soundtrack - I quickly realized one song wouldn't be enough - and I came up with the following :

  • Slayer - Raining Blood and/or Hell Awaits. I simply can't pick only one from Slayer, both of them have crushing riffs, devastating intros and direct punch lines, plus they come along with the wicked smile of Tom Araya of a long bearded Yeti with the face of a child, just beautiful:)
  • Death - Pull the Plug, how could I leave out Chuck from the guests list. And I want the 1988 live version of this one, nothing less, it's the one that survived the best the test of time.
  • Paradise Lost - As I Die. This is the mellow depressing moment, time for respiro, time to listen to the grass growing. Since I believe there won't be many happy faces showing up at the funeral, bombarding people only with anthems is not a 100% good idea, therefore this should be the central piece to help every body gather their thoughts after Hell unleashed and before the upcoming climax.
  • Gamma Ray - Hell is Thy Home. Time to cheer up and bring bombastic melodic speed into the event :  "Taken where the thunder roars into the blazing light / The hand of fate is crushing down before me / The eyes of god have turned away, no angels are in sight / As I face the final chapter of our story". Remember, I will go down all guns blazing, so you need crescendo to build up to the final moment.
  • Iron Maiden - Hallowed Be Thy Name. Epic, melodic, fast, insightful, the perfect song for a perfect death. " Somebody please tell me that I'm dreaming / It's not so easy to stop from screaming / But words escape me when I try to speak / Tears they flow but why am I crying / After all I am not afraid of dying / Don't believe that there is never an end". Scream for me!
Of course, since Metal is growing bigger and better every day I still have plenty of time to update this:)

This being said, I wish you all an excellent in-between time after the morning coffee and before the teeth brushing or vice versa.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Faster Harder Louder. Metal Links and Being a Fan.

  • I am a Metalhead but at the core I am a Huge Metal Fan. A fan that instantly clicked on the link to the new Blabbermouth news about the album cover of the new Cynic album, "Traced in Air". And felt overwhelmed while reading the following : "CYNIC will be direct support slot on the OPETH European trek in November/December". I hope they keep their slot until December the 3rd when Opeth will be playing in Lyon. Needless to say the tickets are already bought:)
  • Therefore I get it how it feels to be a Metallica fan anxious to get your hands on "Death Magnetic" and simply just having to wake up to read fresh news about it. Except that Metallica news flows like tap water every single day on every single channel like the whole world will stop spinning on September 12th, the release date. Godspeed Newton! The apple might not fall on that day, but Metallica will remain solidly anchored. That's called gravity boots in our days. Great marketing nevetheless. Anyways, to say something good about them, I will actully listen to Bruce Dickinson's radio show on the 19th of September which will have Metallica as guests. I've listened to Bruce's shows in the past but they were featuring mainly young bands and the guy proved to be a very good public for new Metal music and an insightful but in the meatime a highly entertaining interviewer. There is also a very good interview he did with Lemmy from Motörhead, these two guys display excellent chemistry together - both being British must help. I really don't see the relaxed and wicked Bruce Dickison hitting it off with the Metallica MTV stars - especially Lars Ulrich - but I might be wrong.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Faster Harder Louder. Metal Links

  • Metallica. They made it into the New York Times on the occasion of their European tour and the upcoming album entitled "Death Magnetic". Such a waste of print space, it almost hurts. Like the documentary "Some Kind of Monster" showed, endulging into following the creative process of this band nowdays is like taking a ten days walk in the desert after a fight with your long faithful camel. Briefly put, the two song from the new album published on the Internet make me at least skeptic : the solos and the Metal riffing are back but the drums still sound like and empty can of beans and I see no coherence throughout the songs, it sounds like good riffs artificially patched together just to put out a new album; worst of all, James actually sings... But the guys are the best in the business, that's for sure. There is so much buzz on the Internet about their newcoming album that no day passes by without Blabbermouth or Metal Hammer mentioning something about it and making news from anything. The stardom is not my dominion, under certain circumstances it's just crap and you know very well it's not a substitute for quality. But it pays in the short run.
  • Reviewing the classics part one. Exodus really kicks ass. If you didn't know, Kirk Hammet was part of this band back in 1983 before joining Metallica and their 1985 Bonded by Blood is a landmark album in Thrash Metal. My first Exodus listening was at this year's Wacken Open Air. Strong band, shitty motivational speech : "We come from the United States to teach you motherfuckers a Lesson in Violence". "Well, I come from Transylvania to feel good, have fun and listen to your music and most of all not be called a motherfucker. As far as violence is concerned, Kreator can teach you a lesson or two about Raising the Flag of Hate without insulting people". But they're good, old-school like good, Blacklist is one of my favourites and I recommend it.
  • Reviewing the classics part two. Immortal. After a 6 years hiatus a new album might be on the way, at least according to Wikipedia. I don't necessarily need a new Immortal album to complete my Yeti mongering personality, but it would be so much fun, so adrenaline intensive. Grasping Immortal is quite interesting, either you love them from the first riff either you make fun of them because of their looks; in my case the corpse painted Abbath stirrs apocalyptic images of an evil bunny rabbit while daydreaming but once I hit the play button on Solarfall I transgress life and human existence, or whatever you want to call it, into eternal permafrost. Or the alternative beer with friends.
This being said, I wish you all an excellent in-between time after the morning coffee and before the teeth brushing or vice versa.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Mea Culpa Attempt

I wasn't entirely fair when writing about Metallica's set list of their European tour back in May. Well, maybe except about digging a whole in the ground, I think I got that one right.

One cannot judge the quality of a band solely by looking at the set list of one of their live concerts; it is not completely honest even if in Metallica's case the songs they play live are a perfect proxy for their decrepit songwriting abilities in these modern times. But more explaining is needed for the shortcut I've made to be entirely comprehended. So let's look at another mythical band, Iron Maiden, and the set list of their "Somewhere back in time" 2008 world tour which ended somwhere in Poland after making a stop in the Metal Town of Wacken. To play for the cheerfull guests gathered there of course. The most recent song Maiden played is from the 1992 album "Fear of the Dark" and they enchanted the audience with 17 songs. They put up an excellent show both visually and musically and they rock stronger than ever. Since I never saw Metallica live I cannot make any comparison on these premises, but nevertheless you should all know that Maiden still kicks ass in their fifties. But where the comparison can be made is between the albums Metallica and Iron Maiden put out during the last 10 years. Both bands are uncontested Metal giants, but while the last 3 Metallica albums - Load, Reload and St. Anger - are barely listenable for an old school fan Iron Maiden has continued steadily on the road they paved back in the 80's with good albums - Brave New World, Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death - with 2 or 3 songs on each of them worthy successors of the 80's classics. Now it's easy to understand why Metallica playing Master of Puppets in 2008 after many years of crappy songwriting leaves a bad taste in your mouth while watching Bruce Dickinson wave the British flag during The Trooper (1983) makes me want to scream until my chest explodes. It's the difference between slowly sinking into oblivion while still trying to grasp at the last floating lifeboat and gloriously bringing the past into the present and making it sound better than ever. Iron Maiden is not the only example, Kreator is another one, although they play much more songs from their recent albums - Violent Revolution and Enemy of God - in their live shows while blasting the audience with classics on steroids like Extreme Agression, Flag of Hate and Tormetor. Thrash Metal has never sounded this good. To close the argument, all the difference between these two bands comes from the musicians which are the heart of the songwriting : Metallica's Clif Burton passed back away in 1986 while Iron Maiden's Steve Harris was always there and the band rebuilt itself during the late 90's with the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith; similarly Kreator's Mille Petrozza has been the core of the band since the beginning and the guy knows how to pick his fellow musicians. Just like Chuck.

Before ending here's a live recording of Metallica's Fade to Black with Cliff Burton handling the bass duties. That should put a smile back on your face.

This being said, I wish you all an excellent in-between time after the morning coffee and before the teeth brushing or vice versa. And watch Heaven and Hell. Because everything pales in front of such magnificence.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Faster Harder Louder. Metal links.

I'll do this with dots since concocting articulate phrases starts to be a long lost skill in my arsenal of expression.

  • The first and only ten points out of ten go to the Wacken Open Air festival. If I ever regain my writing skills I will enchant you with a few impressions at a later moment. But it really was faster, harder and louder. Good thing I didn't forget my ear plugs.
  • Decrepit Birth. Possibly the best sound in Technical/Progressive Death Metal ever to emerge from the American scene since Death and Cynic. Unfortunately for them... (but I'll leave this for the next two dots). "Diminishing Between Worlds" and "The Enigmatic Form" available on their Myspace page are highly recommended. The sound is an excellent blend of Death's Symbolic and Cynic's Focus, less fine tuned than the former and less jazzy than the latter but there is still space for improvement.
  • As I was saying, competition is tough because after 14 years of absence, Cynic is preparing a new album scheduled for this autumn (October 28th actually). I had the enormous pleasure and honor of listening to the guys playing live at this year's Wacken festival at the beginning of August and it's only growing bigger and bigger as the days pass by. As an appetizer to the upcoming album I have the pleasure of pointing you - Metal fans or not - to the superb Evolutionary Sleeper.
  • I could keep going on and on about Cynic but I cannot help quoting Lee Steadham's review of "Focus" on the "Satan Stole my Teddybear" zine : "To call this act 'technical' would be a cruel understatement; Focus sounds like three Dream Theater discs playing simultaneously, if John Petrucci had six arms and a four-neck guitar (okay that's not entirely fair - Cynic have TWO guitars). There are polyrhythms and time-changes shooting about everywhere, stabilized by a healthy jazz/fusion influence and an obvious understanding on how to blend these clashing styles into a coherent intellectual trip even the musical layman can appreciate". Economics morituri salute Michael Phelps, Metal morituri salute Cynic:)
  • If you ever wondered where the intro passage of Marduk's With Satan and Victorious Weapons" comes from, I now have the answer. You know it : "Because you were inspired by the Devil? Yes. That's it. I was inspired by the Devil! I am... inspired by the DEVVVVILLL! Lucifer! I summon you!". Well, it's a sequence from The Name of the Rose, part of the dialogue between Bernardo Gui and Remigion da Varagine during the latter's trial for heresy. A nice exchange and an even nicer Black Metal tune prefferably to be played between the two key moments of the day, brushing your teeth and preparing the first coffee.
  • And yes, I almost forgot. It looks like science confirmed it :"A little prayer does no good and may make things worse. Much prayer helps a lot". I don't know if this really proves that saints are listening - under certain circumstances of course, it's not like going to Walmart - instead there is factual proof that God listens... to SLAYER!
This being said, I wish you all an excellent in-between time after the morning coffee and before the teeth brushing or vice versa.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Metal Reflection of the Evening

Upon listening to Pyramaze's latest offering, Immortal, a one time collaboration of the Danes with American singer Matt Barlow, more than one thought crossed my mind with the finesse and sharpness of a bullet shot with surgical precision. The least rewarding one was that Iced Earth main man Jon Schaffer - who currently enjoys once again the exceptional vocal services of MattBarlow - is in no way comparable in creativeness and melody as a songwriter to those Danes. This is not meant to undermine in any way what Iced Earth has already provided to Metal - there are loads of classic Metal tunes that came out of Schaffer's guitar in combination with Barlow's voice - but after more than a dozen spins given to "Immortal" it is almost impossible not to feel the slightest regret that Matt Barlow's collaboration with Pyramaze didn't extend beyond a single recorded album. Like Cynic's Focus it's a one time gem, a singularity - we'll see about the "landmark album" thing but I'm rather confident about this given it's intelligent blend of Epic/Power, Progressive and classical Heavy Metal - and it's up to the fans to hope now to see them reunited once again in one form or another. Given Cynic's history which found them reunited 13 years after releasing "Focus" - at the 2008 Wacken Open Air for example - there is no reason to be pessimistic... in the long run of course , but just before we're all Grateful Dead.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Death of Guitar Solo? Think Again

Peter Aspden - FT's arts writer - deplores the death of the guitar solo in rock music in the article Slow death of the axeman after reading Rolling Stone magazine's recently published list of 100 greatest guitar songs of all time. No wonder, given the current creative desert which is the mainstream rock music.

What amazes me is the incredible largesse with which the author dismisses completely another musical genre close to the rock music, Heavy Metal and it's multitude of sub genres, in which excellence in handling the guitar plays a fundamental role. And what better place to look for a guitar virtuoso than in the "heavy metal attacks" and "murderous riffing" - terms that I would rather take as a compliment as a Metalhead in spite of being uttered disrespectfully by Mr. Aspden at the end of hi article. And even if I don't see a lot of Metal musicians in the Wikipedia list of Fender Stratocaster players, there is one from this infamous musical landscape who followed Mr. Aspden' advice, Yngwie Malmsteen, but judging by the FT columnist's standard he didn't exactly mange to make it sing because... he plays Metal. How unfortunate.

So if you want to see what top notch musicianship in Metal can provide I strongly encourage you to lend an ear to Machine Head's Aesthetics of Hate which is packed with great guitar solos.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Being French en Français

A rapid summary in French about the French identity from Econoclaste. If you're confused after reading this it's normal:)

Que signifie pour vous être français ? What do you think is unique or distinctive about the French ?

Au cœur de l'identité française, on trouve de nombreuses contradictions. Un État corporatiste pesant, joint à une méfiance généralisée vis à vis du pouvoir; des spécificités innombrables, grandes et petites, jointes à l'idée selon laquelle la France a une vocation universelle; un goût prononcé pour l'égalité, joint à la multiplication des privilèges; une large ouverture au monde extérieur et à la nouveauté, joint à une grande méfiance de tout ce qui vient de l'étranger et un fort conservatisme. Et par dessus tout, la peur du déclin, de cesser d'être "exceptionnel" sous l'effet homogénéisateur du monde extérieur, de cesser d'être prospère lorsque les autres le deviendront, l'idée que l'avenir sera immanquablement négatif : soit il faudra "changer" pour se sauver, et au passage devenir comme les autres et perdre son identité; ou alors, conserver son identité et être voué au déclin. L'étatisme est source d'angoisse, en créant l'illusion, immanquablement déçue, de pouvoir maîtriser le cours des évènements. Les français souffrent de l'impression que leurs spécificités sont des handicaps. Il n'y a pas de raison, pourtant, de le penser.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Euro 2008 and Politics

FT's Gideon Rachman offers five reasons for considering the Euro 2008 soccer championship a political game. My favorites : "you can mention the war" and "Spanish self-loathing".

"Some Spanish soccer analysts think that the national team’s lack of success may have something to do with the strength of regional identities in the country and the difficulty of moulding a successful team made up of players from Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque country. Interesting theory: but what then accounts for England’s lack of success? We’ve got rid of the Scots, Welsh and Irish and haven’t even qualified."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Nuclear Blast of Goodies

  • Bleed from Meshuggah. Try headbanging on this one if you ever catch the rhythm:) Yes, it's less groovy than their previous productions, instead you're facing a wall of sound which will ineluctably crush you with a mathematical precision.
  • We are the Nightmare from Arsis. Technical Death Metal at it's best, just try to count the changes in the riffing. Melody finds it's own way in the whole madness.
  • Taking the World by Storm from Kataklysm. This one is taken from their recently released new album and is a classic Death Metal tune from one of Canada's finest.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

What Music Embraces me this Evening

First comes Faith No More's superbly crafted Evidence. A carefully tuned sound at every level, what else could be expected from Mike Patton. A soft landing in my ears, just perfect for a chill out session with a good drink before the grand journey Heading Northe with StormWarrior.

Why Parents Lie to their Children

A reflection provoked by an interesting post on the Cafe Hayek blog, The Virtues of Innocence. I see this issue of parents "lying" to their children from a different perspective than the one presented in the article.

I think this is the basic learning process. Think of any subject taught in school. What you learn first is a simplified theoretical model which basically never applies at 100% in the real life, except maybe in rare situations. While your knowledge in that field increases you come to see all the nuances that drive the real life situation away from the theoretical model. Lying to children - meaning presenting them real life facts in a simplified manner which can match their understanding level - works very much the same way, parents provide them with a framework for understanding the surroundings. And the personal development provides the necessary nuances to dissociate framework models from real life examples. Of course, children's future development is very much dependent upon the kind of framework their parents provide them, but that is a different discussion.

Sexy Capitalism

From Bryan Caplan. Joliment dit.

"For most of the 20th-century, socialists had hyper-confident advocates, but they lost anyway - in large part because capitalism is simply better-looking. I say the same thing will happen in the 21st-century competition between traditional Islam and Western culture. Islamists have an army of fiery spokesmen. But the West has Paris."
... and Paris has Bertrand Delanoé, one of the main candidates for the succession of Bilbo Baggins at the head of the French Socialist Party:)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Metallica Setlist

Metal Hammer announces Metallica's setlist on the opening night of the new European Tour. The year is 2008.

My reading :

  • Total songs : 18
  • Cliff Burton era songs (until 1986) : 8
  • Pre Black Album songs (until 1988) : 11
  • Pre Load songs (until 1991) : 15
My friendly advice. Find a hole in the ground, dig even deeper and either :
  1. You find Cliff Burton. Then reanimate him because you might actually be able to put out a decent album.
  2. Or if you don't, just hide there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Take my Hat off to the Finns

To quote the guy from Metalreviews, "in the vast wasteland of pop music known as the Eurovision Song Contest" Finns are a welcomed singularity. After Lordi in 2006, this year it's the second time Finland has sent a Metal band in the contest, Teräsbetoni, a band playing a very straightforward Heavy Metal in the vein of Manowar but blessed with more of a second degré sense of humor than their American counterpart. Unlike Lordi, who managed to fetch the big prise, Teräsbetoni ("Reinforced concrete" in English") finished only 22nd out of 24. They had everything Lordi lacked, some truly chest exploding riffing enhanced by powerful melodic vocals and they lacked everything Lordi displayed, the mind blowing visuals.

On the overall there is little to be proud of as a Metalhead. After all, what is the point in participating in a musical wasteland contest in the first place and even if you do, what is the point of participating in a contest at all without going there to win, one might ask. Well, the point here is different and there is reason to be proud. The audacity of the Finns deserves big respect (be they the voting public or a selected voting committee). By sending a Metal band in an European music contest they proved they value their Metal artists and Finland - along with Germany, Norway and Sweden - is among the leading European countries in producing worthy Metal acts with worldwide impact on a regular basis (think Children of Bodom, Finntroll, Nightwish, Amorphis, Stratovarius and Apocalyptica just to name a few). Another big step is that - at least in France - upon seeing Teräsbetoni performing live, TV commentators restrained themselves from uttering insulting comments of the like of which Lordi was greeted with two years ago, a sign that even people with stereotyped - not to say adverse - conceptions about Metal can learn to shut up when they have nothing useful to say. Not a very dignifying general observation, but that's the world we live in:)

So without much further ado, enjoy Missä miehet ratsastaa ("Where Men Ride") from Teräsbetoni.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Japanese Movies

I am a big fan of Japanese movies while I'm aware that there are some gems of Japanese cinematography I still have to check out. This being said, Battle Royale and Zatôichi are on the top of my list while Takeshi Kitano is by far my favorite Japanese director.

So now I'm puzzled. While humbly admitting my own ignorance in the field of philosophy, I see that Tyler Cowen qualifies Battle Royale as an Hobbesian movie. This means that I really have to get into this Hobbesian side of the movie to see what it's all about, just because I'm purely intrigued by this comparison:)

PS : With a little help from my friends I finally got it:)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Inflation in Zimbabwe

Last year inflation was declared illegal in Zimbabwe after reaching 1000% per year. Today we have a spectacular example of the velocity of the increase :

"During the meal, one of my mates was drinking beer — 750ml bottles of Castle Lager (fondly called bombers). He ordered a fifth one, was advised that the price, which when he ordered his first, second, third and fourth ones was 160 million per bottle, had gone up to 340 million per bottle.

That's right — during lunch there was a price increase…"(via)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

McCain and US Foreign Policy

An extensive an interesting article in the New York Times on The McCain Doctrines, an analysis of the future Republican candidate's views on America's military role on the international scene. His support for the war in Iraq is and will continue to be a difficult thing to defend for John McCain throughout the entire campaign, but nevertheless he says that he learned the lesson :

“I think we’ve learned some lessons,” McCain told me. “One is that the American people have to be willing to support it. But two, we need to work more in an international way to try to beneficially affect the situation. And you have to convince America and the world that every single avenue has been exhausted before we go in militarily. And we better think not a day later or a week later, but a year and 5 years and 10 years later. Because the attention span, unfortunately, of the American people, although pretty remarkable in some ways, is not inexhaustible.”
I'm eager to read a similar material about the future Democrat candidate.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dave Grohl to Metallica

Blabbermouth published Dave Grohl's letter to Metallica, an open statement of credit for their forthcoming album from a longstanding fan. Nice, Metallica still benefits of massive credit from their old fans, whatever the quality of their releases. Perverse as it may sound, we all hope Metallica will once be able equal their performance from the beginning 80's and therefore are ready to listen at least once to whatever (garbage) comes out of their instruments. But I do not think that in the current formation Metallica would ever be able to do better than The Black Album (1991) - not to mention Master of Puppets or Ride the Lightning because then I really get depressed - and this is because it's been more than 20 years that they no longer have bass player Cliff Burton on their squad. Sad but True.

PS : If you're and old Metallica fan you might want to check out Testament's latest release, The Formation of Damnation, also available in free streaming on their MySpace page.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Bringing down the 35 hour workweek. Howto.

If the French government has big difficulties - or lacks the necessary will and skills - in reforming the 35 hour workweek law, then we can count on our national industry champions to find a workaround. Peugeot Motorcycles has recently made a bold move in this direction; either the French unions accept the renegotiation of the 35 hours or the production line of the latest scooter goes away to Taiwan and the French jobs in Mandeure (Doubs) et Dannemarie (Haut-Rhin) will go away too. And not all the unions are reluctant to this, CFE-CGC having voted in favor while CGT against. Peugeot Motorcycles even warned that they were ready to shortcut the unions going directly for a referendum among the employees. The irony is that, in the meanwhile, the government through the voice of labor minister Xavier Bertrand is worried of this becoming a blackmailing precedent. I think the minister's stand is part of a strategy to raise the abysmally low approval rate of our beloved Speedy Gonzales, rather than being the result of the government's economic policy. Either way, they did well by staying out of it and they should continue to do the same.

Bucati de istorie la 90 de ani

Traian Vuia a a avut si el un rol in unirea de la 1918 in calitate de preşedinte al Consiliu Naţional al Românilor din Transilvania şi Bucovina înfiinţat la Paris pe 24 August 1918. Mi-e neclara inca natura acţiunii acestui consiliu, dar o scrisoare trimisa de Traian Vuia pe 11 aprilie 1922 lui George Dobrin, întâiul prefect al Lugojului după unire, arunca o lumina interesanta asupra felului in care s-a realizat unirea Transilvaniei cu vechiul regat. Scrisoarea are un ton dur fata de liderii politici ai românilor transilvăneni si fata de politicienii din Regat, reprezintă punctul de vedere personal al inventatorului ca si participant direct la evenimente si trebuie pusă in contextul vremii.

Redau in continuare câteva fragmente din scrisoarea publicată parţial în revista Provincia :

"Au fost douã momente istorice cînd trebuiau discutate conditiunile Unirei. 1. Înainte de intrarea României în rãzboiul european, cînd România cu concursul mandatarului Partidului National Român a stabilit frontierele României Mari, cari au servit de bazã guvernului român în tratativele sale cu aliaţii. Era momentul cel mai favorabil pentru fixarea conditiunilor noastre. 2. Dupã armistitiu, la Alba Iulia, sau mai bine zis înainte cu ceva. Aici au lucrat oamenii nostri în mod copilãresc. S-au fãcut declaratiuni platonice, cari angajează mai mult pe aceia cari le-au fãcut, decît pe guvernul român. Unirei trebuia sã precedereze un pact bilateral între guvernul român si mandatarii poporului nostru întrunit la Alba Iulia si ratificat apoi printr-o Constituantã. Toatã Unirea s-a redus la un gest pur teatral, pe care ciocoii din Vechiul Regat l-au primit cu zîmbet si au zis cã suntem naivi cã n-au avut nevoie decît de a deschide usa casei în care noi am intrat de voie.
Cînd doi indivizi se asociazã, cînd douã societati fuzioneazã, se face un contract, un pact."

"Cînd în 1917 si 1918 prin forta împrejurãrilor si neîmpins de nici o ambitiune personalã am fost silit sã mã ocup de prepararea Unirei noastre a trebuit sã vãd vîrful urechilor lor (ale politicienilor din Vechiul Regat, n. H. M. ). Ei nu admiteau nici mãcar termenul „unire”. Baza anexãrei dupã dînsii trebuia sã fie sacrificiul adus de Vechiul Regat prin participarea lui în rãzboiul european. Rationamentul lor ducea drept la acea ce dreptul internaţional numeste „droit de conquète” . Si într-adevăr, Unirea s-a fãcut pe aceastã bazã."

"În 1918 am atras atentiunea dlor. Sever Bocu, Octavian Goga si Vasile Lucaciu asupra chestiunei Unirei, le-am expus cã Unirei trebuie sã-i dãm o bază juridicã si conformã dreptului international. Am vãzut însã imediat cã mã aflu în prezenta unor ignoranti, fãrã nici o pregãtire serioasă, hableuri. N-am fost înteles si am fost suspitionat, cã voiesc independenta Transilvaniei. Dar pentru ca sã ne putem uni cu Regatul Român, trebuia mai întîi sã rupem cu Ungaria, adicã sã ne declarãm
independenţi si apoi ca popor liber, printr-un act bilateral, luînd angajamente reciproce, sã ne unim cu Vechiul Regat spre a forma Noua Românie. Cînd am vãzut în ce mîini necompetente, pesti politici ai fanariotilor, este depusã soarta poporului român aici, m-am retras scîrbit. Bãrbatii nostri cred cã marile probleme politice se rezolvã prin discursuri frumoase, fraze alese, alegorii patriotice si ditirambe poetice."
Update : acest post a fost publicat si pe Phoenix Transylvania.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Charlton Heston Obituary

Another great obituary from the one an only Steven Colbert (here's the one dedicated to Gary Gygax). This time it's Charlton Heston's turn to get the Repor's RIP :

"They did not even need a camera to make those movies. They would just hold
up a film canister and his performance would stick to it."


And Ted Turner thinks we will soon become cannibals.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Presedintele Basescu si Educatia

Acest articol de pe site-ul BBC despre cel mai recent discurs al preşedintelui Traian Basescu despre sistemul de învăţământul preuniversitar din Romania (discursul integral pe site-ul presedentiei) îmi provoacă câteva reacţii inevitabile. Sa luam pe rând :

Discriminarea pe piaţa de munca

Calitatea învăţământului calificată drept slabă de către preşedinte va conduce la o discriminare pe piaţa de muncă europeană a romanilor formaţi in sistemul educaţional romanesc. O piaţa a muncii concurenţială nu discrimineaza la angajare in funcţie de nivelul de educaţie. Obiectivul angajatorului de a-si maximiza profitul îl conduce automat pe acesta către recrutarea persoanelor cu productivitate ridicata, ceea ce poate fi rezultatul unui nivel de studii mai avansat - sau invers, nivelul avansat de studii al unui individ este un semnal al capacităţii acestuia de a fi mai productiv. Preocuparea pieţei de munca nu este de a discrimina ci de a selecţiona in funcţie de productivitate, iar faptul ca exista diferenţe de productivitate legate de nivelul sau calitatea studiilor depinde exclusiv de furnizorul serviciilor educaţionale respective. In România acesta este in mare măsura sistemul de învăţământul public.

Copiii maghiari si limba româna

Preşedintele afirma ca "separarea copiilor români de copiii maghiari în judeţe cu populaţie romă şi maghiară a creat un handicap uriaş pentru copiii maghiari", aceasta separare conducând la o mai proastă cunoaştere a limbii romane de către copiii maghiari, ceea ce ulterior le oferă mai puţine şanse pe piaţa de munca din România. Cum spuneam in urma cu un an, problema cunoaşterii limbii romane de către maghiari în România nu are nimic de-a face cu mixitatea şcolilor - ea este asigurata si exista cam peste tot - ci mai degrabă cu metoda de predare a limbii si civilizaţiei romane, la fel cum bias-urile romanilor legate de maghiari sunt legate in mare parte de lipsa totala a predării limbii si civilizaţiei maghiare in şcolile româneşti. Il mai citez inca o data pe Frunda György : "Orice maghiar care are putina minte si vrea sa se afirme e conştient ca nu poate face nimic fără sa vorbească bine romana."

Copiii romi si şcoala


Poziţia preşedintelui in ceea ce priveşte nivelul şcolarizării in rândurile populaţiei rome :

"Problema trebuie căutată la părinţi în primul rând, acolo unde, din punct de vedere cultural, mersul la şcoală nu este o prioritate. Sigur, nu trebuie să generalizăm pentru toate familiile de romi".
Cam acelaşi discurs exista si in Franţa in privinţa copiilor provenind din familiile magrebiene in contextul revoltelor din periferiile marilor oraşe de acum 3 ani - si dezbaterea s-a terminat in coada de peste. Acesta este probabil punctul cel mai delicat pentru ca este cel mai dificil de abordat. Întrebările principale sunt 1) cum aduci un copil dintr-o familie roma la scoală si 2) cum îl faci sa rămână in sistemul educaţional astfel încât sa ii permită sa se dezvolte si sa evolueze. Aceasta in cazul in care într-adevăr sistemul educaţional ii poate oferi copilului provenit dintr-o familie roma o perspectiva de succes personal mai solida decât ceea ce i se oferă in propria comunitate. Aici mă hazardez necunoscând extrem de bine subiectul, dar am tendinţa sa cred ca nu e atât de mult o chestiune de cultura - roma in acest caz, deşi contra exemple exista, rămâne totuşi de cuantificat exact partea de influenta a culturii - ci mai degrabă una de statut social. Unui copil rom dintr-o familie săracă, integrarea in sistemul educaţional îi poate oferi perspective mai bune decât ceea ce i s-ar fi oferit in cadrul familiei, unui copil rom dintr-o familie deja înstărită probabil ca nu. E o chestiune de target probabil.

Orarul elevilor, orarul profesorilor

In final ajung la poziţia dlui. Basescu fata de orarul profesorilor vs. orarul elevilor :
"dumneavoastră, în condiţiile în care ştiu că trebuie să vă pregătiţi acasă lecţiile pentru o bună calitate a predării, deci mai aveţi nişte ore acasă, dar, totuşi, aveţi 16 - 18 ore de muncă pe săptămână. Câte ore au copiii? Şase ori cinci? Treizeci. Deci, hai să fim cinstiţi! De ce un copil poate fi ţinut în bancă şase ore pe zi, în timp ce un dascăl nu poate să predea mai mult de patru ore pe zi, dar două ore pe zi? Dar copilul poate sta şase ore, îi dăm şi teme pentru a doua zi."
E absolut justificata preocuparea pentru felul in care copiii sunt solicitaţi de sistemul de învăţământ actual, dar felul in care este pusă in lumina, in opoziţie cu numărul de ore de clasa ale unui profesor e denudeaza de orice conţinut si o transforma in demagogie curata. Probabil ca numărul de ore predate de către un profesor in învăţământul preuniversitar pe săptămâna este inferior fata de numărul de ore de curs la care asista un elev in aceeaşi perioada de timp, dar la ce concluzii exact conduce aceasta constatare? Părerea mea este ca la nu prea multe. Cu tot efortul dlui. preşedinte de a admite orele de pregătire necontabilizate ale profesorilor, tot ajunge sa îi stigmatizeze pe aceştia pentru numărul redus de ore predate pe săptămâna, 16 - 18, ceea înseamnă 3 - 4 ore pe zi. Daca luam exemple concrete, acele 3 - 4 ore sunt disparate intre ora 8 si 14, deci cu câteva ore de pauza, ferestre in care profesorii îşi ocupa timpul cum pot, probabil unii merg la shopping, la centrul de înfrumuseţare sau la respirat aer curat in sânul naturii, probabil unii le folosesc pentru a corecta extemporale, sau a se ocupa de treburi administrative legate de funcţia lor in scoală sau activităţi extra curiculare, alţii le folosesc probabil pentru a-si pregăti ora ce urmează. Alţii sunt probabil atât de prinşi de treburile scolii/clasei la care sunt diriginte încât ajung sa corecteze extemporale si sa pregătească lecţiile de a doua zi seara acasă, alţii corectează extemporale in timpul orelor de curs. Concluzia e simpla : în loc de a stigmatiza profesorii într-un mod simplist pentru numărul de ore de curs pe care le au e absolut necesara includerea activităţilor profesionale (pregatire, corectare de extemporale etc.) realizate de catre profesori inafara orelor de curs in timpul contabilizat drept timp de lucru. Abia atunci vom avea o viziune corecta asupra timpului total alocat profesiei sale de către un profesor si in final al costului sau orar, altfel e demagogie. Alt subiect foarte interesant, cum calculam timpul necesar pe care un elev trebuie sa îl dedice scolii in învăţământul preuniversitar, care e numărul de ore optimal si cum trebuie împărţit el intre cursuri si teme? In alte sisteme de învăţământ copiii rămân la şcoală mai târziu decât in Romania, pana la 16:00 sau 17:00, dar in acest timp intra si temele pentru a doua zi, iar rămânând in cadrul scolii pot fi ajutaţi de profesori.

Si profesorii...

Ca si bilanţ de final, ar mai fi o multitudine de lucruri de spus, dar vad un lucru care lipseşte cu desăvârşire din discursul preşedintelui, preocuparea fata de profesori. Si mă gândesc in primul rand la incentives-uri, nu transpare deloc din discursul sau felul in care profesorii vor fi stimulaţi (si nu in ultimul rand financiar) înspre a forma elevi cu rezultate mai bune. Vorbeşte despre o educaţie naţională orientata către atingerea unor obiective de performanta, nu vorbeşte in schimb despre cum vor fi determinate si calculate aceste obiective, felul in care profesorii vor fi stimulaţi in atingerea acestor obiective si modalităţile de control care vor fi impuse pentru a se asigura respectarea regulilor pentru atingerea obiectivelor. Nu am văzut nici un cuvânt despre ameliorarea procesului de formare a profesorilor pentru învăţământul preuniversitar si deocamdată marii furnizori de profesori sunt universităţile de stat, deci ele ar trebui sa fie primele care sa răspundă exigentelor de calitate impuse educaţiei naţionale, de unde si întrebare ce stimuli au ele pentru a forma profesori competenţi? Un alt subiect neabordat de preşedinte, învăţământul privat.

Colaterale

Il vad pe Cristian Banu vorbind despre orarul profesorilor si cel al elevilor. La fel si preşedintele. Poate eşti citit de consilierii prezidenţiali, Cristian:) Poate nu. Oricare ar fi răspunsul, de ce ramai la o abordare atât de superficiala, simplista si contraproductiva? Pana la urma chiar si Traian Basescu a afirmat ca problema n-ar fi cele 6 ore pe care le petrec copiii la scoală, ci felul in care le utilizează.

Ultima remarca : se vede ca in România nu preşedintele dicteaza politica publica ci guvernul, iar din toată dezbaterea pe marginea invatamatului public reiese clar ca lipseşte o autoritate care sa se angajeze într-o reforma cu obligativitatea unui rezultat si sa si-l asume. Iar de aceasta data deduc din discursul preşedintelui ca problema nu pare sa fie finanţarea ci absenta creierelor competente care sa folosească banii eficient.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What I've been watching lately

  • The Corporation. I've actually seen only half of it this evening and decided to leave the other half for later. The first half is widely unbalanced towards "the evil that corporations do", mostly exclusively emphasizing the negative externalities and making CEO's explanations of the rationale behind a corporation's activity sound like a lunatic madman's assault on the welfare of the world. I don't find any incentive to watch the second half but just for the sake of having a complete overview of their standpoint I'll do it.
  • The Trap : What Happened to our Freedom, a BBC documentary series. If you are in search for a more balanced approach of the 20th century macroeconomics I advise you to skip to the next paragraph. Although this documentary features some very interesting interviews with scientists from different fields (economics, anthropology, psychology etc.) - my favorite one was with John Nash - discussing different factors that modeled - and sometimes altered - the perception of individual liberty in modern society, I definitely hate filmed material that uses irrational stimulus mechanisms - like emotionally engaging music and images - to propagate the idea that we are all living in a trap that limits our individual freedom based on a model that some powerful politicians try to impose us. As rational beings we should be capable to judge by ourselves to which extent the system limits our freedom.
  • Commanding Heights : The Battle for the World Economy, a PBS documentary in 3 parts, of which the first part is my favorite one, describing the battle of ideas between the economic currents inspired by economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek during the first half of the 20th century. The second part and the third one describe how economic policies in different countries throughout the world have been shaped during the entire 20th century by these two currents of thought. As in any filmed material, the power of the image is channeled to push through a central idea while omitting to give an honest account of the opposite points of view, but compared to the previous two documentaries I find this one to be the most balanced one.

Some Optimism for Italy

Given Silvio Berlusconi's record during his two mandates as Italy's prime minister, hearing that he has just been elected for a third non consecutive one gives little reason to hope that anything will be fixed in that country in the short term. Therefore the words of Domenico Siniscalco - former minister of finance under Mr Berlusconi in 2004 and currently vice-chairman of Morgan Stanley Europe - about Italy's future in an interview given to The Economist's Certain Ideas of Europe blog are of a surprising but welcomed optimism. He basically asserts that Italy has hit rock bottom - or at least is very close to reaching it - so reform is inevitable and will be done, whatever the government.

The big question remains whether Mr. Berlusconi will be the man leading the much needed reform, whether he'll use wisely the "état de grace" following his election as prime minister, something our favorite MiB failed to do. Big, very big question and judging by his first initiative as prime minister to favor Aeroflot over Air France KLM in acquiring Alitalia, the long term answer is very unlikely to be a favorable one. But this leads me to another troubling question, are we here in France waiting to hit rock bottom also in order to actually do something? Fortunately I'd say that I see more initiative towards reform but Speedy Gonzales is far from being that speedy - speedy, not hasty.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Good Night and Good Luck

An intellectually elegant stand of Milton Friedman on limited government on Google Video.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Viva la revolucion

"Even when you spend your whole life combating the forces of capitalism, you still might wind up on a t-shirt sold in a store owned by the Gap." (details here)

A Nice Reminder

A note on pessimistic bias :

"Problems come; problems are solved. Inability to see the details of the future scare many people; this inability doesn't scare me. As long as individuals have a sufficient quantum of freedom, their self-interest and creativity and inevitable competition will "solve" almost any problem over the long-haul.
[...]
Being optimistic doesn't mean being blindly insistent that the future will always be better than today. Take away enough freedom and, kaboom!, the economy implodes. (Or should I instead say "moobak!"?) Fortunately, though, the capitalist economy is so remarkably robust that it can take lots of beatings -- lots of interventions -- lots of unnecessary taxation -- lots of foolish dissing -- and keep on keeping on at raising living standards."
Mrs. Pelosi, come on, it's counter productive!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Links for Today

  • No more gifts for Czech doctors, an interesting post on Certain ideas of Europe. It speaks about a recent measure adopted by the Czech government which consists of charging patients with a small sum, roughly 1 euro, for visits to publicly funded doctors. This is aimed at discouraging people from "bothering the GP" with every tiny health problem they may encounter, which might be easily solved with a quick visit to the local drugstore. Ultimately this leads to lower costs for the national health care system. But it is the final part of the comment that made me relate to the current situation in the health care system in Romania, where small gifts to doctors are still a current practice for assuring the quality of the treatment. Interesting thoughts.
"One unexpected effect has been a sudden collapse in the tradition of bringing a small gift —some food or drink, often—to the doctor, as a sort of unspoken micro-bribe to ensure good care. Now, it seems, patients feel that as they are paying a fee, service should be included, as it were."
"Now notice the final two. 'Governments are stupid' and 'governments aren't that stupid' follow immediately from principle 5 and it's translation, 'trade can make everyone better off, why the heck do we need government for?'. But if 'trade can make everyone worse off' we'd better have a government to stop people from trading."
  • A short but comprehensive review of French football manager Arsene Wenger's 10 years at Arsenal F.C. published in 2006 by BBC Sport. One thing strikes me as obvious, unlike Italy (Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello, Marcelo Lippi) , France (Arsene Wenger, Raymond Domenech, Aimé Jacquet) or Germany (Franz Beckenbauer, Otto Rehhagel, Ottmar Hitzfeld), England doesn't have world class football managers, even though it has world class players - of which my favorite is Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard. One should try to correlate this with the poor performances of the English national soccer team, I think I'm not that far from the answer. Lately even Portugal did much better than England in the international competitions and they have the infamous Jose Murinho on their record:)
  • I found a wallpaper for my Windows desktop at work. I don't really like having a beautiful and worthy to watch wallpaper because after I put it on, it's only a matter of hours until my desktop becomes overcrowded with very important and urgent to handle files, folders, shortcuts, stickies and anything else you can imagine, so you can't see shit. But this time I found THE wallpaper which will keep my desktop clean, Chuck Schuldiner's superbly crafted guitar from the very nice Chuck Schuldiner tribute website by B. C. Rich. RIP Chuck and take care of my desktop:)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Of Countdown Timers at Traffic Lights. Of Cluj and Taiwan.

Via the Freakonomics blog, some interesting results about the impact that countdown timers installed at traffic lights in intersections in Taiwan have upon the number of accidents and injuries :

"A research institute within Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation released a report showing that at 187 intersections which had the timers installed, those that counted down the remaining time on green lights saw a doubling in the number of reported accidents, with a 33 percent increase in the number of injuries, while those that counted down until a red light turned green saw a halving in both the number of reported accidents and injuries. Intersection that had both red and green light timers saw a 19 percent increase in reported accidents and a 23 percent increase in injuries."
My thoughts went instantly to the identical timers installed in intersections in my hometown of Cluj, Transylvania, a city with an unadapted infrastructure to the daily hellish car traffic. I always thought that these timers have a positive impact by reducing the drivers' frustration and in a sense regulating traffic discipline. The traffic still sucks but at least you know how much you have to wait at the traffic light. On the other hand some people might take it as a 100% guarantee that when the counter is down to zero the road is clear and they can push the accelerator pedal down to the floor. I don't know of similar studies in Cluj - I think they're badly needed - but the results from Taiwan should be looked into by my hometown's municipality. One thing is sure, regulating traffic in intersections is far from being a global solution to improving traffic conditions in overcrowded cities - taxing inner city access might also work provided the adequate infrastructure to avoid it exists - but it seems to have it's own benefits in certain conditions.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bring Back the 80's Speed Metal

A link I received today from a friend. Metallic, funny and a bit nostalgic. Just brilliant!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Barack Obama on Race in the U.S.

The speech on racial issues in the United States that Barack Obama gave yesterday in Philadelphia is definitely one for the history books. You can watch the video feed accompanied by the animated transcript on the New York Times website.

As an external viewer unable to grasp the entire complexity of the racial issue in the United States I don't really see exactly to how much extent - if any at all - Mr. Obama played the racial card just to make believe he was not doing it at all. Maybe not that much. Also the repeated anti profit-driven-corporate-America message underlying the union of the races raises some serious doubts about Mr. Obama's actions in the case he wins the presidential race.

This being said - and again, as an external viewer - I am left with the feeling that Mr. Obama's view of race related difficulties people encounter in their everyday life is a complete and honest one. He doesn't leave anybody behind - be they blacks, whites or browns - and emphasizes better education as a means to overcoming racial bias. He is also a breathtaking speaker, your critical spirit as a listener is being constantly challenged by his capacity of embarking you on the Obama flow at any time (not a small temptation at all). I think this speech is a decisively winning one for him in the perspective of the Democrat primaries in Philadelphia next month, but on a national level it remains to be seen. It's not yet clear for me whether the racial issue in the U.S. still has the anvergure that Mr. Obama gave to it in his speech, but he definitely scored some major points with yesterday's speech.

Barack Obama's approach on race and ethnic diversity is not an exclusively American one, it can easily be applied - if correctly adjusted - to the French society. We just need politicians with more guts and and a less socialist mind frame. Is MiB one of them? Sadly not, at least not for now.

Atheist Clubs. Thanks But No Thanks.

I have just discovered that a fellow blogger included Buffer Overflow on a "Promoters of Reason" - also called "Brother at Arms" - list of blogs promoting atheism if my understanding is correct. Another fellow blogger included Buffer Overflow on a similar list of blogs which if you visit you commit a capital sin - put in an ironic and cynical way, of course. And all this because of this post I recently wrote on what I called an embryonic form of intelligent atheism in the Romanian blogosphere.

As much as I appreciate readers finding topics worthy of their interest on my blog, I must kindly decline the offer of joining the kind of pro-atheist clubs as the ones I found my blog included into without my consent and I gently ask their promoters to remove me from them. And this for multiple reasons. The first one is that religion - and religious people - bashing is not on the menu here, it doesn't require a great effort of reading to realize that this blog doesn't promote anti-theism or militant atheism. The second reason is that I don't particularly endorse the breed of militant atheism I stumble upon in many productions of the Romanian blogosphere fueled by the legitimate rejection of the religious conservatism that is increasingly manifesting itself in Romanian society. At this point of it's evolution I don't really see it as a rational process, hence the word "embryonic" I used to qualify a rather singular moderate and rational view of things. The third reason is that when I pick up a fight I pick it by myself on what I consider as a strong basis, hence it is not necessary for others to do it for me. And definitely this is not the kind of fight I'm interested in:) Therefore thanks but no thanks. Cheers!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Singularity in Metal

That's exactly what the next Pyramaze album entitled "Immortal" will be. It is a one time collaboration of the Danish band with singer Matthew Barlow which also marks his comeback into Metal after a long hiatus. Given the quality of the short lived ensemble the expectations are high and I can now peacefully say that the long expectation was well worth it. "Now" means after a fourth listening of the two excerpts from Immortal published today on the Pyramaze website, "Year of the Phoenix" and "Caramon's Poem". Great stuff, cannot wait for the entire album.

And a quick review. The instrumental part is flawless as usual, the Danes set high standards with their two previous albums - "Melancholy Beast" and "Legend of the Bone Carver" - and they deliver bigtime, their brand of exquisite epic power prog gets better and better with every note. The vocals. The first spin was a little frustrating because it was only then that I realized what a heavy mark Lance King has left on the Pyramaze sound. Quite strange, isn't it? But as with every new Pyramaze song, you don't really get right the first time so you need to try harder. And after a while it hit me how well Matt Barlow fits in. His voice simply flows along with the music in a much lower tone than Lance King's performance transforming the elvish-like storytelling into a much heavier, powerful and emotional experience, the ultimate Barlow trademark. So go for it... as soon as it comes out:)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two Links About Children

A deliriously funny spoof news report on outsourcing child care overseas:

"The system is not without it's problems, however. In June, Patricia Nattings of Omaha, Nebraska, incorrectly wrote her ZIP code causing little Kimberly Nattings to spend nearly three weeks lost in the mail."
(via Greg Mankiw)

Another funny one comes from an article in the New Yourk Times on the never ending subject of naming children :
"But even if a bad name doesn’t doom a child, why would any parent christen an infant Ogre? Mr. Sherrod found several of them, along with children named Ghoul, Gorgon, Medusa, Hades, Lucifer and every deadly sin except Gluttony (his favorite was Wrath Gordon).

You can sort of understand parents’ affection for the sound of Chimera Griffin, but Monster Moor and Goblin Fester? Or Cheese Ceaser and Leper Priest? What provokes current celebrities to name their children Sage Moonblood Stallone and Speck Wildhorse Mellencamp?"
(via Tyler Cowen)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Toata lumea vorbeste despre CFR Cluj

Toată lumea fiind Stefan Beldie într-o analiza foarte buna despre starea echipei in contextul campionatului de fotbal din Romania si Andy H care aduce culoarea regionala specifica lui.

Mai rămân 12 meciuri in campionat si orice se poate întâmpla, dar CFR Cluj rămâne deocamdată cea mai serioasă pretendenta pentru titlul de campioana echivalent cu o calificare directa in grupele UEFA Champions League din sezonul următor. Preocupările mele sunt altele. Care vor fi obiectivele CFR-ului in sezonul următor? Calificarea in optimile Champions League este foarte improbabila, in schimb calificarea in Cupa UEFA si realizarea unui bun parcurs in aceasta competiţie pare un obiectiv mult mai realist. Ce se va alege de pe urma tinerei echipe a CFR-ului construita in acest sezon la finalul sezonului următor? Daca rezultatele vor fi bune, multi dintre actualii jucători vor fi probabil tentaţi sa plece in cluburi europene mai puternice cu un beneficiu financiar net atât de partea lor cat si de partea CFR-ului, plecări in urma cărora clubul va fi nevoit sa se reconstruiască si aceasta va însemna probabil achiziţionarea altor jucători cu eforturi financiare importante. Strategia lui Paszkany Arpad nu merge deocamdată in direcţia construirii unui centru de formare puternic la Cluj, investiţie costisitoare dar care ar asigura un pool de jucători tineri si buni indispensabil performantei sportive pe termen lung. Dar deocamdată strategia lui da rezultate mai mult decât satisfăcătoare, dovada ca este bine gandita si bine pusă in practică. Rămâne de văzut ce se va întâmpla de acum încolo.

Perla zilei

Semnata Sorin Ionita in Evenimentul Zilei.

"Nu-mi fac, de asemenea, iluzia că publicul majoritar ar putea înţelege principiul economic elementar, dar contraintuitiv, că preţul final pe piaţa concurenţială nu e decis de producători şi costurile lor, ci de puterea de cumpărare a consumatorilor. Dacă noi am fi dispuşi să plătim mai mult, de mâine preţurile ar sălta instantaneu, în ciuda lacrimilor de crocodil vărsate în conferinţe de presă."
Sorin Ionita nu vede decât jumătate din realitate, cea in care deplasarea curbei cererii in sensul in care consumatorii ar fi dispuşi sa plătească mai mult pentru aceeaşi cantitate, preturile ar creste. Dar nu doar preturile ar creste ci atât producţia cat si cantitatea vândută, ceea creează beneficiu atât producătorilor cat si consumatorilor. Rămâne de văzut daca o astfel de schimbare ar fi punctuala sau de lunga durata, de ce ar fi ea determinata si la ce produse se aplica. In schimb cealaltă jumătate ignorata de Sorin Ionita s-ar putea exprima astfel : daca condiţiile de producţie ar evolua in sensul in care producătorii ar fi dispuşi sa producă mai mult la acelaşi preţ atunci cantitatea vândută ar creste si preţul ar scădea, chiar daca unii producători ar ieşi din business, activitatea devenindu-le nerentabila. Deci cererea si oferta stabilesc împreuna preţul pieţei maximizând surplusul total, cel al producătorilor si consumatorilor luat împreuna. Daca cineva s-ar obosi sa explice corect si pedagogic publicului majoritar mecanismul cererii si ofertei atunci fenomenul nu ar mai parea atât de contraintuitiv.

Următoarea oprire, dezbaterea despre preţul alimentelor care ii are in centru pe producători, procesatori si vânzători. Cred ca un rol important îl are starea precara a agriculturii româneşti care face ca multi dintre producători sa nu poate produce suficient de mult astfel încât sa fie rentabili la preţul actual al pieţei. Scăderea protecţionismului odată cu intrarea in Uniunea Europeana are si partea sa de influenta, deşi probabil tocmai agricultorii ar trebui sa fie primii beneficiari de pe urma aderării si implicit a Politicii Agricole Comune.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Embryonic Form of Intellingent Atheism in Romania

Among the various manifestations of atheism I came across in Romania, the one expressed by Costi Rogozanu - journalist and literary critic - is one of the most reasonable and articulate ones. He quotes English novelist Ian McEwan in an interview to The New Republic :

"I think it is important that people with no religious beliefs speak up and speak for what they value. It is a bit of a problem, the title "Atheist"--no one really wants to be defined by what they do not believe in. We haven't yet settled on a name, but you wouldn't expect a Baptist minister to go around calling himself an "aDarwinist". But it is crucial that people who do not have a sky god and don't have a set of supernatural beliefs assert their belief in moral values and in love and in the transcendence that they might experience in landscape or art or music or sculpture or whatever. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, it makes them give more valence to life itself."
to sum up his view in the following phrase :
"it is not the anti-God attitude which fundamentally characterizes an atheist (that is if he is a rational individual), but rather the decision to dedicate himself to the immediate palpable values, to analyzing himself and the others"
A very elegant argument by McEwan and a nice conclusion by Rogozanu. "Atheist" is an unfitted word to describe such a person, "humanist" would be much more accurate. Indeed, if one's goal were to narrow one's artistic spectrum only to productions without religious connotation, then he would miss a big part of what human nature is all about, which is not a true humanist's approach.

Side note : As you all know, my favorite form of atheism - for now I have to use this unfortunate word since "humanism" hasn't yet gained enough momentum during the last 5 minutes - is satanism which basically is atheism with a dark sense of humor (in the words of Akercocke).

Whose Voters are More Rational

I guess Mrs. Clinton's, the "beer-track" Democrats as they are portrayed in this week's issue of The Economist magazine in the Lexington column, Obamaworld versus Hillaryland. Unlike the unselfish supporters of Mr. Obama, the "wine-track" Democrats, Hillary Clinton's followers seem more inclined to follow their own interest when they cast their vote.

Gary Gygax Obituary

A nice RIP to Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, from the one and only Steven Colbert :

"May you prismatic spray always bypass your target's reflex saving throw."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Manchester United - Olympique Lyonnais

At halftime Manchester United leads 1 - 0 in today's match against Olympique Lyonnais. My usual reaction in moments like these is to quote Winston Churchill and as an immediate consequence to think to Iron Maiden's Aces High. Except that right now I'm not doing any of these since I'm blogging:)

" We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender."
Update : Nothing changed during the second half. Anybody knows a victory song for when you lose?:)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Links for Today

  • Buffer Overflow has been elected on a shortlist along with 78 other blogs to compete in the Best Romanian Blog section of RoBlogFest 2008 awards. Unlike in the similar section which is open to public voting, the winner in this one will be elected by a jury. This is a decisive step forward in turning RoBlogFest into something more than a popularity contest with the remark that there is a lack of visibility over the jury's evaluation criteria. Thanks a bunch for the nomination and good luck to me:)
  • Via Greg Mankiw, a very interesting article in the New York Times about the mechanism of informational cascades which contributed to the housing bubble and led experts into failing to anticipate it - although I cannot imagine experts being completely unaware of the phenomenon.
  • Senator John McCain scores some good points on NAFTA (check out this video on YouTube recorded before the Iowa primaries) unlike Barack Obama. At least the guy is trying to be reasonable, some loose their jobs because of free trade but the overall benefits of buying foreign-made goods at a lower price is much more important and the loss of jobs can be balanced through training and education for the local needs. He also found a new line of attack on Obama which links NAFTA to Canada's military support in Afghanistan, very nice move Mr. McCain (via Greg Mankiw).
  • Transylvanian Black Metal will be represented at this year's Wacken Open Air festival by Negura Bunget from Timisoara. They will also be playing at the Summer Breeze festival which I attended last year. Kudos guys, very nice achievement. Although I'm not exactly up to date with their latest albums - from 2000 onwards - I am still seduced by their first release in 1996 under the name of Negura Bunget, Zîrnindu-să. It was mind blowing! I remember I was like "Where do these guys come from?" the first time I listened to the tape. The album is a masterpiece of classic Black Metal, fast paced drumming, raw guitars, foggy corpse painted figures roaming on the misty hill tops of Transylvania, barely listenable poor production and on top of that cryptic lyrics written in a difficultly comprehensible form of old (maybe middle-aged) Romanian language. As a kid the overall feeling I got from listening to this album was the revival of a long lost form of Romanian pagan culture which once extended beyond the grim boundaries of those years' nationalistic and religious orthodox exuberance. I guess it's not that far from the excitement of a Norwegian kid when listening for the first time to Darkthrone or Mayhem, but my gateway into Black Metal was Negura Bunget. Today Negura Bunget's artistic expression has evolved into a much more articulate form of esoteric mysticism which makes them far less appealing even if their music still preserves some raw Black Metal elements. When people take these things too seriously they suddenly loose all their fun. Nonetheless, Zîrnindu-să remains a landmark album in the Romanian Black Metal scene, so I encourage you to listen the keyboard enhanced version of Dupre Reci Imbre on the band's MySpace page. I'm anxious to seeing them at Wacken.
  • Another excellent news coming from the 2008 Wacken Open Air festival is the participation of the godfathers of Progressive (Death) Metal, Cynic. There's no better review than that on Satan Stole My Teddybear which reflects what the band's only album, Focus (1993), stands for in the Metal world : "To call this act 'technical' would be a cruel understatement; Focus sounds like three Dream Theater discs playing simultaneously, if John Petrucci had six arms and a four-neck guitar (okay that's not entirely fair - Cynic have TWO guitars). There are polyrhythms and time-changes shooting about everywhere, stabilized by a healthy jazz/fusion influence and an obvious understanding on how to blend these clashing styles into a coherent intellectual trip even the musical layman can appreciate". So here is the Cynic classic How Could I from a live performance from 2007 (in front of a rather small crowd) and also the brand new Evolutionary Sleeper which has the full potential of turning the Metal world upside down once again. Kudos to Paul Masvidal on guitars and Sean Reinert on drums. Update : This is the brutal one, Uroboric Forms, and the intricate one, Textures.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Single-Sex Public Education

An excellent and quite extensive piece on single-sex education in public schools in the U.S. in the New York Times newspaper. While there is a lack of scientific support to generalize single-sex education in the public school system, it seems like it works quite well in particular social environments. What is less clear is the extent to which neurological gender differences support it. Personally - read "based on purely subjective observations" - I think that in the particular cases where single-sex education has better academic outcomes that coed education, it seems to apply more to pupils in their early age and that with the coming of age coed education is far more preferable. Another observation I would like to make is that the article doesn't speak that much - rather not at all - about the possible downsides of single-sex education.

One thing that struck me in the article was the American public education system. While far from being a fully functional one, this particular example of single-sex education proves that in certain aspects the U.S. public education system offers enough space for experimentation in teaching models. This is a rare quality among public policies which must be safeguarded from any legislator's enthusiasm to impose a supposedly uniformly applicable model.

In the end I quote one of the final paragraphs of the article as it's final conclusion. But the seven previous pages definitely worth 30 minutes of your spare tame (or less if you're a fast reader, unlike me).

"That certainly appears to be the case for single-sex schools. The data do not suggest that they’re clearly better for all kids. Nor do they suggest that they’re worse. The most concrete findings from the research on single-sex schools come from studies of Catholic schools, which have a long history of single-sex education, and suggest that while single-sex schools may not have much of an impact on the educational achievement of white, middle-class boys, they do measurably benefit poor and minority students. According to Riordan, disadvantaged students at single-sex schools have higher scores on standardized math, reading, science and civics tests than their counterparts in coed schools. There are two prevailing theories to explain this: one is that single-sex schools are indeed better at providing kids with a positive sense of themselves as students, to compete with the antiacademic influences of youth culture; the other is that in order to end up in a single-sex classroom, you need to have a parent who has made what educators call “a pro-academic choice.” You need a parent who at least cares enough to read the notices sent home and go through the process of making a choice — any choice."