28 September 2006

Knowledge vs. Power

A recent concern of my wife's has sparked a series of conversations and investigations that are noteworthy. Our first two children (we have 3) are small in stature and quite thin. They have always been on the bottom rung of the growth curve, although their growth rates have been constant and otherwise healthy. Several pediatricians have explained to us that this is quite consistent with our height and weight and as long as they don't decline in their growth rates, there is nothing to worry about.

Unconvinced, my wife has recently begun seeking other culprits and solutions. She came to settle on the fact that because I am vegetarian we eat no red meat in the house, and relatively little chicken and fish. Otherwise their diet is well-balanced with lots of green leafies, whole grains, fresh fruit, nuts, a decent amount of carbohydrates and relatively low sugar intake.

In her quest to understand the issue better, she has asked a couple of well-known nutritionists and doctors about this matter, and according to her, they have all answered that children must eat red meat and drink cow milk in ever greater portions to grow normally, be strong and healthy. The other day we were at a social gathering with an otherwise well-informed and experienced homeopathic/acupuncture doctor, who promptly responded in this same vein. I politely asked if he was a nutritionist or had any studies in nutrition to back-up such a claim to which he retorted that this is common knowledge.

Sensing no room for discussion, I refrained from answering and tactfully changed the subject. My very well-intentioned wife is now properly armed for her meat and dairy campaign and I am beside myself with wonder at the facility with which our health authorities proclaim ideas about which they are essentially ignorant.

In fact, I am thoroughly convinced that recognized authorities in nearly every field of human endeavor are responsible for cultivating cultural norms that sustain the status quo. Health authorities prescribe reactive chemical medicine that usually creates more imbalance in the body than already existed; religious authorities resort to antiquated dogmas, meaningless rituals and fear tactics to appease seeker's desire for truth; educators force feed culturally dominant ideas in an environment of "child-centered discovery"; farmers and ranchers spray and inject chemicals and hormones that seep into and disrupt our bodies; development and economic experts convert human fulfillment into inaccessible and brainless formulas; and hold me back from articulating what way too many politicians do.

We the people, then, hold much responsibility. Primarily, our responsibility is to educate ourselves and empower others to search for truth, although this carries with it a corollary responsibility: to accept truth when it is found. Seeking truth is common to most everybody, even to all of the leaders mentioned above, but detaching oneself from material and ideological comforts to live by the truth one finds is where most fail.

My attempts to commit to this principle have caused me many apparently significant difficulties, but none as big as feeding my kids liver and milk to help them grow. In this lies our other great responsibility: to understand the process through which humanity, and each human being, matures, accept it, gently and knowledgeably prod it along and most importantly, get a good laugh out of it.

Mark Prindle's Rock and Roll Review Site

What follows is my review of Mark's Record Reviews which is to be found HERE.

If you love reading rock and roll record reviews like I do, you have surely surfed the web to find the best sites for this. To begin, let me acknowledge that this is unequivocally the best rock and roll review site there is, hands down. Other sites may review more cd's, have more variety and have more catchy designs, but nobody satisfies like Mark. You go to the site and you see like 500 interviews you can look at and enjoy, none of them with people you have ever heard of before, but hey, somebody has to have heard of these people. I actually found someone from a band I recognize the other day and the interview enlightened me about that band, and motivated me to hear more of it’s music.

Then, scrolling down, you see all of the bands reviewed, and clicking on any one will reveal their catalogue. This is one of the best features of the site, you can see the entire list of cd's made by the band and can thus choose which one you want to hear, which, if I understand correctly, is one of the main objectives of the site in the first place: help the reader to decide where to begin with a band. Another excellent feature, that I haven’t seen anywhere else, is how Mark allows all kinds of reader feedback on his review for each cd. As you can imagine, many of the reader comments are stupid and deserve to be burned, but the majority are great compliments to the review, you can see what popular reaction is to Mark’s opinion. Most people agree in general with the rating and review, but have a bone to pick or want to indicate something that Mark left out or went overboard on. Several people who regularly contributed to Mark’s site went on to form their own record review sites and Mark kindly puts their links on the page and encourages readers to visit them as well.

The best feature of all, of course, are the reviews themselves. Entertaining, funny, in-depth and importantly, analyzed from a musician’s point of view, they ring true. This is my main complaint about other review sites: they are wrong! You find what they categorize as a great cd and you listen to it and it just isn’t. What good does that do anybody? Mark, with few exceptions (although substantial exceptions like Who’s Next and U2’s Actung Baby), hits the nail on the head; you can trust the review. What I like about the reviews is that they focus on musical creativity, inventiveness and not on how catchy or popular anything is. He is quite adamant about this, even giving a relatively low score to Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde because it breaks no creative ground! You will be constantly surprised by his ratings and reviews as most of us are used to liking music that just sounds cool or nice, but looking at it from a musically creative point of view, is pretty lipid. So, many disks that are widely given credit as an artist’s best, are demoted here to their proper place. Many mainstreamish bands aren’t given a space on the site for this reason.

One last cool thing about the site is that I am always discovering bands that are great. Favorite bands that I have discovered here are Minus the Bear, The Thinking Fellers, Unrest, Yo La Tengo, Slint, The New Pornographers, Fugazi, Flaming Lips among others.

So, why do I give this site 4 stars instead of 5? Well, life isn’t always as one would have it. First, to help people decide where to start (I guess) he has decided to give 10 stars (or whatever those things are) to only one disk per band. So, Mark, what happens when a band has more than one 10 star disk? Hmmmmm? Does it make sense to give a 10 star disk a 9 just because you decided to award only 1 per band? That only tricks the reader into thinking that it is equal to other 9 star disks. What’s wrong with a band having more than 1 perfect disk, and letting the reader decide which one to get first? Really obvious examples of this start with the Beatles and the Stones, and go on and on.

A related shortcoming is that Mark reviews disks relative to other disks. In other words, he doesn’t have established criteria to award a disk a specific mark. So, you get a bunch of really inconsistent ratings like for example when readers go berserk over the 8 given to Who’s Next and justifiably complain that he gave equal marks to far inferior disks like Pink Floyd’s Animals, Yes’ Relayer, Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, etc… although this complaint comes up in other reviews as well.

Also, for some totally unknowable, unguesable and unforeseeable reason, Mark excludes any and all music with soul from his site, except stabs at a rap band or two and Miles Davis. I know that most bands with soul don’t exactly play rock and roll, the object of review on the site, but much of this type of music is the source of all rock, it’s the foundation from which rock springs and to which it owes it’s very existence. It is not useful to make such rigid distinctions between genres when great, great music is out there to be discovered. So, Mark, diversify, yeah, go ahead.

My main complaint, and really the reason for giving the site 4 stars out of 5, is the inexplicable dependency on, the constant disgusting references to and way out of line obscenity. I don’t mean the use of swear words, that I could handle. No, he goes way overboard, going off on revolting tangents that leave your face all scrunched up and making your skip to the actual review. What’s weird is that he doesn’t use obscenity as a linguistic crutch, because the first reviews put up on the site are very clear and well written. They are not as funny and entertaining as the later entries, but at least you don’t finish them feeling like you have been subjected to seeing something that, give a choice, you would elect to avoid. The other day my Mom encouraged me to listen to the new Neil Young disk, so I naturally go to Mark’s site and copy the review to my Mom only to realize later that it is littered with outlandish obscenities, making me not happy that I sent it to my mom. So, here is my challenge to you Mark, use your amazing wordsmithing to write with decency; make me laugh at clean things. Your site would be so much more accessible and would improve vastly.

During my teen years I read Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone’s Record Review, first edition. He cannot be beaten for dead on reviews. Mark’s a lot funnier, though. So, go to Mark’s site! Yes, enjoy it and get into a whole bunch of cool new bands, they are out there waiting for you!

Bird Flu, Mad Cow, etc...

Remember mad cow disease? It is still around. And look at the following quote and report from the Global Development Briefing, November 2005 about bird flu. The opening quote sums up perfectly my thoughts on the problems with the way animals are treated and why these strange diseases keep cropping up in them. In the name of increasing production, people treat animals as products that require human manipulation to be fit for our use. These weird diseases are the logical consequence.

"We are wasting valuable time pointing fingers at wild birds when we should be focusing on dealing with the root causes of this epidemic spread which are clearly to be found in rural poultry practices, the movement of domestic poultry, and farming methods which crowd huge numbers of animals into small spaces."

-- William Karesh, an observer with the Task Force convened by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and director of Field Veterinary Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, on efforts to combat the deadly avian flu. Ever since the first human case of bird flu, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January last year, UN health officials have warned that the avian flu, otherwise known as the H5N1 virus, could evolve into a global influenza pandemic if it mutates into a form which could be transmitted easily between people. The UN will launch an appeal later this week for at least $50 million to improve animal surveillance in the fight against bird flu, said Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Changes in Policy or Lifestyle?

I found what follows in the latest Global Development Briefing report. I paste it here because this guy is right, no efforts are ever made to change things by encouraging people to review their diet or lifestyle. Every effort to avoid asking people to do this is made. Really, people don't want to be told what to do with their lives, nor do they want to make changes in their lifestyle or diet, even when other's welfare is at stake. Take a look and see what you think:

"If there is a choice between an entrecote or a chicken filet or a fish -- which requires almost no water because it lives in the water anyway -- then you could make a more enlightened choice."
-- Anders Berntell, head of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), speaking to Reuters on the margins of the World Water Week conference, noting that most efforts to curb water use tend to focus on more efficient irrigation, which takes about three quarters of all water used by humans, rather than on ways to encourage consumers to review their diets and lifestyles. He suggested that labeling foods ranging from spaghetti to meat to show how much water is used in their production could help combat mounting pressure on the world's water supplies. A calorie of food typically demands a liter of water to produce, according to UN estimates, but a kilo of industrially produced meat needs 10,000 liters, while a kilo of grain requires just 500-4,000 liters.
A third of the world's population is suffering from a shortage of water, raising the prospect of water crises in countries such as China, India and the US. Scientists had forecast in 2000 that one in three would face water shortages by 2025, but water experts have been shocked to find that this threshold has already been crossed. The findings come from a report compiled by 700 experts over five years, the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture from the International Water Management Institute, presented Aug. 21 at World Water Week in Stockholm. About a quarter of the world's population lives in areas of 'physical water shortage,' where natural forces, over-use and poor agricultural practices have led to falling groundwater levels and rivers drying up, it said. But a further one billion people face "economic water shortages," because they lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers.