Monthly Archives: November 2012

On The Money; Soaring Over the Fiscal Cliff

On The Money;

Economics for the 99%

Soaring Over the Fiscal Cliff

Here we go again. Last year we hit “the debt ceiling” this year we go over “the fiscal cliff”. It’s like Congress has devolved into a game of Super Mario Cart, and any minute we’re going to slip on that banana peel called “entitlement reform” and go careening out-of-control. It’s ridiculous. There’s no cliff, there’s no ceiling and there’s no such thing as “the debt crisis”.

Don’t get me wrong. We have crisis. We have plenty of real crises that demand our immediate attention. Here’s a short list:

Global Climate Change

Global Ecosystem collapse

Human Overpopulation

Loss of Biological Diversity

Loss of Cultural Diversity

Nuclear Proliferation/Waste

Homelessness/Poverty

Out-of-Control Health Care Costs

Call me when you get a handle on those, will ya. I mean, if you got nothing better to do, put your attention where it might do some good.

Seriously folks, we didn’t mind sailing right past the tipping point on global warming. We barely blinked when human population surpassed 7 billion, and over a hundred species of living creature disappear off of the face of the Earth every single day without any acknowledgment whatsoever.

It’s not like these crises don’t have real implications for us, our future, and our kids future. Life will get harder. The crises they face will be greater. Their standard of living will suffer and we will leave them a much less beautiful and more poisonous world.

And it’s not like things are so much better for us because we ignore these real crisis. Wages continue to decline, housing costs continue to rise, and health-care costs go through the roof because how we live makes us sick. We’re already killing ourselves, to kill the planet to make the greediest one-tenth of 1% of our population even more obscenely rich, but that doesn’t bother us. No, the real crisis, they expect us to believe, is that someday… someday, China might not loan the Federal Government enough money to fight another stupidly adventurous, unpopular foreign war, unless we chop what’s left of our social safety net, to bits, now. Either that, or we could tax the rich, but that seems to be a non-starter, unless we cut the safety net too.

Either way, Congress set a deadline, and unless we meet that deadline, a lot of people will lose their jobs, a lot of people will lose their benefits, and everyone else’s taxes will go up, and since none of those people are congress-people, there’s not much chance that Congress will meet that deadline.

Unless…

Obama can put together a “Grand Bargain”. Watch out for this “Grand Bargain”, where the rich pay a little bit more in taxes, they stick an apple in the mouth of the middle-class, and the poor and the young take a spit up the ass.

It’ll be just like Obamacare. It’ll take a complete ripoff, and make it mandatory. Obamacare didn’t reign in health-care costs, Obamacare just fed the healthy and the young to the insurance industry sharks. When politicians talk about serving the American people, that’s what they mean. Politicians serve us to the 1% for dinner, and that’s what this imaginary “fiscal cliff” is all about.

So forget about it. Forget about the “fiscal cliff”. Do you own any Treasury bonds? Then what are you worried about. If someone is buying you drinks, what do you care about their credit rating, and if they’re not buying you drinks, why hang out with them. If government isn’t doing anything good, why throw good money after bad.

Don’t worry about burdening your kids with a huge national debt. You’ve already stuck them with enough real problems, and sold them so far down the river that you’d better hope they grow up as stupid and gullible as their parents, or else you are going to have a lot of explaining to do. There’s a view of the “fiscal cliff” that’s On The Money.


The Limits of Objective Science

The Limits of Objective Science

The show happened a few months ago on KMUD, although it probably never should have happened at all. Really Eric, if you can’t be bothered to prepare a show, let someone else tickle the ether. Eric Kirk showed his respect for all of the grassroots organizers who did the work to put Proposition 37, the label GMOs proposition, on the ballot, not by inviting any of them onto his monthly talk show, not by bothering to research the issue himself, but instead, by asking listeners to call in with, and I quote “…the objective science that proves that genetically modified crops are safe.”

As you can imagine, the entire show was beneath contempt, and a tragic waste of the community’s airwaves, money, and time. Of course the election is long past, and Prop. 37 failed, but that insidious quote deserves closer scrutiny and discussion. Let’s look at it again:

…the objective science that proves that genetically modified crops are safe.”

As if one phone call from Eric Kirk to Monsanto’s Public Relations Department wouldn’t have yielded a Phd guest for his show, if he could have been bothered, but that’s not my point here. While a PR Phd from Monsanto full of BS about GMOs on KMUD might have made for better radio, even Monsanto’s Phd would be hard pressed to find objective science that proves that GMOs are safe… extremely hard pressed.

I’m sure Monsanto’s PR flack would blather on about this or that study, and about his credentials. He’d have piles of evidence, and a good story to go along with it, but he couldn’t prove that GMOs are safe with objective science. Really, Monsato’s PR guy could hardly have done better than Eric Kirk, who simply insinuated that such a thing existed, but even if GMOs were actually safe, you couldn’t prove it with objective science, because organisms are not objects.

We really like this word “objective”, especially in front of the word “science”. By God “objective science” is the only science we trust, and we trust “objective science” precisely because it is so… objective. I give credit where credit is due. Objective science told us that the Earth revolves around the sun. Objective science gave us the atom bomb, and objective science helped us put a man on the moon. All impressive feats, I completely agree, and I can understand why people might put a lot of stock in “objective science”, but it has limits.

Objective science leaves many important questions unanswered. For instance, objective science told us how much rocket fuel we would need, and when we would have to launch the rocket, in order to put a man on the moon, but objective science could not tell us if space travel was safe for humans. We still don’t know if space travel is safe for humans, and we certainly don’t have objective science that proves it. So far, space travel seems safe enough, for very healthy people, for limited amounts of time, but we really don’t know enough about human physiology to say with certainty that space travel has no long term deleterious effects.

On the other hand, any 12 year old has enough experience with objects that they have a pretty solid working understanding of physics. By the time a child turns twelve, he/she has dropped thing, thrown things, launched water rockets, exploded firecrackers and spun a bucket of water around upside down without spilling it. By age twelve, most children have such a solid understanding of physics that they can play baseball, ride a bicycle, jump rope or play jacks, and they rely on this understanding instinctively for the rest of their lives. Only later, when they go to school, do they learn that there’s math involved.

Even though most people have a pretty good working understanding of physics, all of that math discourages many people from studying theoretical physics, at least past high school. Yet, a statistically significant number of people do pursue their interest in theoretical physics, and these people do a hell of a lot of math.

In fact, theoretical physicists have found applications in real life for damn near every kind of math that mathematicians can dream up. Physics is like that. It’s very mathematical and precise. You do a few experiments, figure out a few equations, and Boom, you can use those equations to predict the motions of objects all over the universe. We can predict how fast an object will fall on any planet anywhere in the universe, how much force it will exert when it hits the ground, and how much force it will take to throw it across the room etc etc.

As a species, we demonstrate an extremely accurate, working understanding of physics, one that allows us to, for instance, throw a spear accurately enough to hit a moving animal, conceive and build a bow and arrow, or atlatl, and to use them effectively. We find this working understanding of physics very satisfying, and even though we no longer hunt wild game for sustenance, in leisure activities like golf, bowling, surfing and in all ball sports, the pleasure of learning to manipulate objects in space and time more accurately, makes these activities fun and enjoyable.

We really like theoretical physics too. It makes us feel powerful to know so much about how objects move in space and time, and we’ve learned to do some pretty impressive tricks. Using theoretical physics, NASA was able to send a rocket-ship all the way to the moon, and back, on the first try. That’s a pretty good stunt, even I admit. Our working understanding of physics, which has since become our theoretical understanding of physics has served us well in so many ways throughout our history.

From helping us develop the tools and skills necessary to hunt mastodons, to helping us develop the tools and skills necessary to launch thermonuclear Armageddon, it’s our understanding of how objects move in space and time that makes us a successful species on this green Earth. As long as we’re talking about objects in space and time, be they baseballs, rocket-ships, or Higgs-Boson particles, we can thank “objective science” for enlightening us, with such astounding accuracy, about how they behave. That’s why we call it “objective” science. Objective science is the science of objects, and objects reside in space and time. Now you know why we call objective science, “objective”.

Fortunately, I think, for all of us, organisms are not objects. Organisms do not behave like objects. Organisms do not function like objects, and organisms do not give up their secrets easily to objective science. That is why, when it comes to medicine, biology, sociology, economics, or psychology, all of the sciences that study organisms, objectively, you’ll find them doing lots, and lots of experiments, and no matter how much math they use, their predictions remain woefully imprecise.

While we may calculate with accuracy the age and origin of the universe in space and time, life remains mostly a mystery. Sure, biologist, biochemists, and doctors now understand, on some level, the mechanics and the chemistry of some biological systems, but they do this by objectifying the organism. In other words, they kill it, and look at it under a microscope.

Organisms become objects to us, when they are dead. For most of our history, that was the whole point of understanding physics. We used physics to kill. We used it to hunt wild animals to feed ourselves. Our understanding of physics fed us, kept us dry and warm, but it didn’t tell us much about ourselves, except the limits of our own strength, and it still doesn’t.

Unfortunately, objective science doesn’t tell us much about ourselves, or any of the other organisms with which we share this planet. While physicists can tell us, with great confidence, about the origins of the universe, and routinely put machines on distant planets that send us pictures at the speed of light, medicine has wiped out what? One, almost two, diseases, mainly on a lucky shot.

If objective science is so great, why aren’t doctors explaining their grand theory of life, explaining its origin, and predicting its future, while they hunt down cures for the last few rare diseases. Really, we spend way, way, way, more money on medical research than we do unlocking the riddles of the cosmos. After all, people’s lives are at stake. Alas, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, autism and a host of other diseases continue to afflict people around the world. Even the commonest of diseases, the common cold, continues to mock all of our best efforts to tame its virulence.

No, organisms are not objects. Organisms are a different animal all together, and objective science really doesn’t tell us much about them. The organism keeps its secrets and life remains mysterious. Still, we’re so impressed with atom bombs, moonwalks and microcomputers that we’d like to believe that objective science can cure cancer, or open a window into the world of autism, but really, we’re out of luck.

Maybe a genetically modified organism looks like an impressive feat of objective science to you, but it’s not really. At best, a GMO represents a feat of objectified science. Geneticists have isolated a particular mechanism of life, and learned how to manipulate it, to produce modified organisms that lawyers can patent, and capitalists can then legally exploit.

Objective science tells us a lot about objects in space and time, but objectifying organisms does not enlighten us much at all, because organisms do not live in space and time. Space and time only exists within organisms. This is the crux of Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s also the crux of Emmanuel Kant’s, The Critique of Pure Reason, written about a century and a half before Einstein.

As incomprehensible as it seems, space and time only exist within organisms (or, perhaps more accurately, within an organism). In fact, as incomprehensible as it is, this is the only thing that objective science has ever proven about organisms. Think about this for a while. Objective science helps us survive in this beautiful world, not understand it. Not only are we far, far, far away from unlocking the secrets of life, we’re not even capable of comprehending them. That’s what objective science has proven.

So, when someone in a white lab coat tells you that “objective science has proven its safe”, while they try to sell you some new technology, don’t buy it, figuratively, or literally. Whether it’s GMOs, wireless smart meters, cell phone towers, food additives, flame retardants, vaccines, or TV, objective science can help us develop these things, but it doesn’t tell us much about how or if they effect us, because we are not objects. That is the limit of objective science.

If Eric wanted to do a good show about how “safe” GMOs are, he could have interviewed a corporate attorney who knew something about product liability law. They could have talked about what exactly constitutes a “safe” product, from a legal perspective. I would find it interesting to hear two lawyers explain how corporations can produce inherently dangerous products, like automobiles, motorcycles, firearms, addictive psychoactive drugs, and thousands of other products that kill people directly, sicken and kill others through pollution or contamination, and also contribute to global climate change, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, problems that negatively effect everyone, and yet avoid liability for any of the damage these products cause. I think Eric could do a good job with that topic, because he knows the law. On the other hand, Eric doesn’t know enough about science to fill a gnats navel, and he should shut up about it.


The Most Important Holiday Blog Post in the World

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the abundance that I have enjoyed this past year, but I am aware that many in this world go without. Thanksgiving also harkens in the Christmas shopping season, and many of you will spend a lot of money on stupid gifts no one really wants or needs. This Thanksgiving, I’m asking my readers to cut me a slice of that pie by supporting this important cause.

The Most Important Holiday Blog Post in the World

 

With the holidays rapidly approaching, a lot of us will be looking for gifts for people we don’t really like that much. If you’ve managed to avoid them all year, a gift is the perfect way to say, “Even though I hate your guts, I really can’t afford to have you talking shit about me.” This Holiday season, I offer you the perfect gift for people who you’d like to think well of you, but whom you don’t really know or like well enough to actually get them anything.

For these special people, a gift card from Helper International tells the recipient that you care more about some random, anonymous kids than you do about them. Helper makes sure that your money only helps cute, happy looking, photogenic kids, and we use the money you donate to give them cute, photogenic animals.

Your chosen recipient will receive a card with a beautiful color photograph so packed with cuteness and “Awwww”, that they will hate themselves, for being pissed that you didn’t really get them anything. Really, isn’t that what giving is all about, the feelings it inspires?

Sure, its awfully expensive for a greeting card, but you and your recipient will both know, that the kid in the picture really got to keep that cute little animal, gave it a name, took care of it, and bonded with it emotionally, before his parents slaughtered it and served it for dinner. That’s the kind of emotional enigma that makes the holidays so special.

Here at Helper International, our mission is simple, we use your donations to give highly prolific, and nutritious, live snails, to exceptionally cute children. Then we photograph the happy kids with their snails, print the photos on gift cards and send the cards to your specified recipient. That’s all there is to it.

Does it help? Sure it does. It helps us unload a bunch of snails, and puts money in our pockets. I can’t think of a more important cause than that, can you? You, and your chosen recipient get to share that “awwww” moment during the holidays, and some kid gets a snail. It’s a win win win deal for everybody.

So, please, give them the most important gift you can give. Give the gift of Escargot this holiday season. Help Helper International make the snail shepherding dreams of adorable children everywhere a reality. Only you can make make this miracle happen. No child should ever be denied the this exquisite delicacy and every child should have the opportunity to get to know the delightful little creatures that produce it in abundance.

Send your generous donations to Helper International, P.O. Box 2301, Redway, CA 95560 and make checks payable to John Hardin.  You’ll be glad you did, and so will I.  Thank you, for you support!


What I Bent Over My Summer Vacation

What I Bent Over My Summer Vacation

circuit-bent synthesizer array

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll remember that I went kind of gonzo about circuit-bending this past Spring. After about half a dozen posts, I realized that not many of my readers could relate to my interest in rewiring children’s electronic toys. So, I dumbed down my posts to encourage the idiots among you to keep reading, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve lost interest in making music with creatively modified, cast-off electronic toys.

Quite the contrary, over the summer I created a number of circuit-bent instruments from electronic toys I found in our local thrift stores. While not every toy I bent, worked out as well as I hoped, enough of them survived surgery that I now have an array of amusing looking, capable, and unique sounding of synthesizers at my disposal.

While most electronic toys designed for children are nearly bullet-proof, they all share one weakness. One substance has probably stopped more electronic toys from ever working again than any other. This substance corrupts them from the inside, like kryptonite does to Superman. That substance is pee.

According to my extensive research, fully half of all electronic toys found in thrift stores, contain pee. Sure, they’ve cleaned the toy off. You can’t see any pee on it, but set it down in front of your dog or cat. They’ll let you know. Of course, when you open the toy, you’ll find it. Usually, it leaks through the keyboard, or the buttons, and directly onto the little membrane switches beneath them. This causes keys not to play, and functions not to work. Sometimes you can fix these problems with a thorough cleaning, sometimes not.

The worst case pee scenario happens when pee gets all over the main circuit board. Such was the case with my beloved Bratz drum bra. The cups of the bra channeled cat pee directly onto the main circuit board where it dried to an oily, foul smelling film and proceeded to corrode everything. Despite that, the device continued to work, at least long enough for me to add a pitch bend control and a line out, which actually made it into a great sounding instrument. Since then, however, it works only intermittently.

Now that the sun has disappeared behind the hillside, leaving my photovoltaic panels unkissed by sunlight until next March, and thus bringing my summer soldering season to an end, I’ve begun exploring the musical potential I’ve unleashed in these newly altered devices. Allow me to introduce you to a couple of them:

Introducing; My Circuit-Bent Casio ML1

 

This amazing little instrument pleases me greatly. Stock, it actually makes some pretty good sounds, including a decent imitation of a piano, and it still works as originally intended. However I’ve added a matrix of touch sensors which allow me to directly stimulate the electronic “brain” of the ML1, releasing its previously untapped potential for composing original music of apparently infinite variety. I enjoy collaborating with the ML1, a relatively young composer, and very much a product of the digital age. As a composer, the ML1 speaks to the age in which we live.

I titled our first collaboration 13 Minutes at the End of Time. The modified ML1 generated every note, phrase, rhythm and noise heard in this piece. My input came only in the form of touching the sensors that I added. Touching any two of these sensors at the same time, creates a new connection within the ML1’s electronic “brain”, causing it to “think outside the box” with surprising originality.

Like many young composers, the modified ML1 favors quick tempos and complex poly-rhythms, but it balances them with subtle textures and sustained notes that float serenely over the fray. I think this piece reflects the relentless sensory overload and chaos of our wired lifestyle. At 13 minutes, it runs a little longer than the typical modern attention span, but some of us still know how to listen. 13 Minutes at the End of Time also provides the perfect ambiance to induce stress into any situation.

Pretty in Pink

 

I found this pink “girly” toy keyboard at a thrift store around here. Although it had a few splashes of pee inside it, it cleaned up easily with no damage to the electronics. This toy says “Starring Me” on the front, but it looks identical to this “Barbie” toy keyboard bent by Bogus Noise UK, and immortalized in this video. I presume I have the generic version of the same toy.

I took a different approach to this toy than did the braceletted British bender who bent the bejeezus out of that Barbie brand Bontempi. I started with the ubiquitous pitch-bend mod. This is one of the easiest, and most universal bends that you can make on an electronic toy, especially the cheap ones.

Almost all of theses little noise-making electronic toys, use a single resistor to set the speed of the central processor. If you change the resistance of that resistor, you can make the whole machine operate faster or slower, which in turn, raises or lowers the pitch of all the noises it makes. You will usually find this resistor located right next to the black blob in the center of the circuit board, often labeled “R1”.

If you touch this resistor at both ends, the toy will usually go up or down in pitch dramatically, or stop working all together. If you replace that resistor with a potentiometer, you can use that potentiometer to sweep the pitch of the sounds up or down. This opens up a lot of new potential sounds for you to exploit.

In this pink girly keyboard, I used one of the purple ornamental flowers as the knob to adjust the pitch. The three switches on the lower left, allow me to switch even more resistance into the circuit, which allows me to play the keyboard in four distinct registers, with the pitch-bend knob active in all of them. This four-speed pitch-bend mod extends the toys range by nearly an octave above, and several octaves below, it’s original voice.

I made one other major modification to the sound of this pink girly keyboard. I added a passive ring modulator. A passive ring modulator adds a very weird kind of distortion, and it allows you to use another signal to change the harmonic profile of that distortion in very strange ways. Q Reed Ghazala shared this schematic of a passive ring modulator on his Anti-Theory website.

It looked pretty simple to me, consisting of two transformers and four diodes. Even I could handle that. For the secondary, or “Y” signal, (that modifies the original or “X” signal) I built an analog square-wave oscillator from an 8-pin “555” chip, relying on the instructions I found in the Crème DeMentia “Bending Buddy” comic book. Everyone interested in circuit-bending should check out the Crème Dementia kits and comics.

Both circuits fit easily on a 2” square piece of circuit-board, and inside the toy. The “Y” oscillator has an independent on/off switch with an indicator LED, and a pitch control knob. Another knob blends the “Y” oscillator with the “X” signal. You can see the switch and indicator light between the two purple flowers on the upper right, and the control knobs located to the immediate right of the keyboard.

I displaced one of the ornamental purple flowers to make space for a quarter inch phone jack that serves as a line-level output, but I re-purposed the flower as the pitch-control knob. I added three tiny LEDs to the handle, to make my new instrument extra pretty, an amber one in the center, flanked by two red ones, because I had them lying around. The red ones came out of a small power inverter that burned out, and the amber one came from a disposable led tea light, with a dead battery.

How does it sound? Th passive ring modulator give this toy a very biting and aggressive sound, reminiscent of a an old Farfisa organ through a fuzz box. The analog oscillator feeding the “Y” oscillator dramatically alters the harmonic character of the sound in real time, with a twist of a knob, not unlike an analog synthesizer, and imparts an authentically analog Theremin-like sound on it’s own.

I composed this rather abstract, obtuse, but somehow endearing piece entirely with the newly modified pink girly toy keyboard. It reminds me of some of the electronic music popular in sci-fi movies of the sixties.

As you can see my enthusiasm for circuit-bending has not waned.  I hope at least a few of you enjoyed this look at a couple of my new instruments. I built these instruments to force me to think about music in different ways, and I hope this approach will lead to some interesting and hopefully compelling music in the coming months.  Stay tuned.


Oh Joy, Another F*cking Election

Oh Joy, Another F*cking Election

 

Thus far, I haven’t said anything about this upcoming presidential election, and frankly, I don’t see much point, …of the election, or of commenting about it. I did actually cast a ballot, primarily to honor the hard work of grassroots organizers who put Prop. 37 on the ballot. I think that one deserves to pass, so I voted for it.

As far as the presidential race goes, I cast my vote for Roseanne Barre, not that I think she has a chance, or that she would do any good even if she somehow managed to win. I voted for Roseanne because she’s funny. Funny counts in my book! Don’t tell me about your leadership, your grand plan, your first 100 days or any of that BS. If you expect me to listen to you, you’d better make it funny.

If you can make it funny, I don’t even care if you lie to me, just don’t expect me believe you when you tell me that a strong third party, or anything else for that matter, will save democracy, and turn this country around. Not Jill Stein, not Rocky Anderson, not Roseanne Barre, no one is going to turn this country around. Putting a new captain on the Titanic will not help it change course. We’ve already hit the iceberg, and this nation is headed straight for the bottom of the ocean.

The longer we pretend that we can solve real problems with elections, the worse all of those problems become. Most of the real problems we face as a nation, stem from, and would not exist without, the centralized national government. We wouldn’t have a massive military, which would severely limit the expansion of global capital which would in turn, reign in environmental degradation, inequality, homelessness and poverty. Our nation exists to create, maintain and exacerbate those problems, and to prevent anyone from taking effective action to stop them. So, stop pretending that we can turn this killing machine into something good, just by casting a ballot.

Of course, it might take a while to hit bottom, mainly because so many people continue to invest in “the system”. I have a hard time respecting anyone born after WWII who invests in “the system”. We grew up knowing about DDT and Silent Spring. We saw photographs of the Earth from space. We saw the “Crying Indian Commercial”.

We remember Vietnam, the King/X/Kennedy assassinations, Wounded Knee, Kent State and Watergate. We dropped acid. We heard Timothy Leary tell us to “turn on, tune in, and drop out” and for a brief moment, we understood what he meant, and knew he was right.

All of that happened before we turned 21, and most of it happened before we were 12. Today, no one in the entire work force, from the President of the U.S. on down, has any excuse for believing in the system. We knew about the corruption, lies and propaganda. We knew it killed innocent people indiscriminately, and we saw how it treated the planet. We knew. We knew what we were getting into. We didn’t know better, I’ll grant you that, but we knew. We knew that what we knew, was rotten to the core.

Anyone of average intelligence or above should have put two and two together by the time they reached the age that they started making their own decisions. If you were too dimwitted, to figure it out, or too deep in denial to face it, you have a pitiable brain dysfunction. These feeble-minded people are not really capable of making decisions for themselves, let alone the rest of us.

Others however, saw the corruption, the oppression, the violence and the destruction, held their nose, and dove in, feeding the system with their efforts, talent and time. They indulge themselves in consumer goods, and fill their lives with shiny hi-tech distractions. These people suck!

It’s these people, these cynical cowards who know that “the system” is killing the planet, but hope it lasts long enough to indulge their pathetic middle-class expectations, who pretend that voting matters. They make-believe that things will get better if they just vote for the right person. Then, they get right back to work building attack helicopters, mining uranium, or selling us crap we don’t need. Speaking of crap we don’t need, lets add democracy, the federal government, and the cynical cowards who still pretend that democracy might work someday, to the list.


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