Friday Random Ten for Dec 22

Dec 22 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

1. **Lunasa, "Feabhra"**: My favorite traditional Irish band. These guys are *really* traditional
instrumental Irish - Uillean pipes, flute, guitar, bodhran, and bass. The pipe player is
without doubt one of the best, if not *the* best in the world. I thought that I hated all kinds
of bagpipes until I saw Cillian Vallely performing live (before he joined Lunasa).
2. **Darol Angers Republic of Strings, "Bluebird"**: A track from Darol Angers latest project. Pretty much anything Darol does is gold; this isn't one of my favorite tracks, because I don't
like the singer, but it's got red-hot fiddling holding it all together, which makes up for it.
3. **Tortoise, "Unknown"**: Tortoise is another post-rock ensemble; one of the earliest ones. They're good, but not great.
4. **Bach, "Mer Sprach: Gehet Hin" from St. Matthews Passion**: Bach is the greatest composer
who ever lived; and I think that St. Matthews Passion is his finest work. A little slice
of perfection.
5. **Harry Bradley, "Dave Maguires/Gary Hastings Reels"**: very minimal traditional Irish fluting by a master. Harry is a brilliant flautist - he knows how to play with *enough* ornamentation to really punch the rhythm, but he never plays a single note more than he needs to. These reels feature him playing with nothing but a bouzouki and a trace of bohdran backing him. And it doesn't need any more. It's got amazing bounce and spirit to it, played by Harry at his reedy-sounding best.
6. **Rachel's, "4 or 5 Trees"**. One of my favorite post-rock ensembles. Rachel's is a very
classical-leaning PRE, and everything they do is brilliant.
7. **ProjeKct Two, "Escape from Sagittarius A"**: free improv by one of the trios that made up the last incarnation of King Crimson: Trey Gunn on bass/stick, Fripp on Guitar, and Adrian Belew playing a drum synth. Wierd, but good. It's great to hear Fripp when he's getting way
out there; he's often so disciplined that he holds back, so it's amazing to hear him really
kick loose. Sure, some of it isn't great - but some of it has a brilliance that can only come
from spontanaeity.
8. **Mogwai, "I Chose Horses"**: yet another post-rock ensemble, this one from the more rock-oriented end of the genre. This is a mellowish track from them, with a very distinctively Mogwai sound to it.
9. **Miles Davis, "How Deep is the Ocean"**. Miles Davis. What more need be said?
10. **Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "Sleep: They Don't Sleep Anymore On The Beach/Monheim/Broken Windows, Locks Of Love Part III"**. Godspeed is the absolute unquestionably greatest of the rock-leaning post-rock ensembles. This track is very typical.

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Tangled Bank #58

Jul 19 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

Issue number 58 of [the Tangled Bank][tb] is now live at Salto Sobrius. Head on over, take a look, and plan to spend some time reading some of the net's best science blogging from the last two weeks.
[tb]: http://saltosobrius.blogspot.com/2006/07/tangled-bank-58.html

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Friday Random Ten, June 23

Jun 23 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

  1. Dirty Three, "Some Summers they Drop Like Flies". I've mentioned the Dirty Three before. Just go get their CDs and listen. Amazing stuff.
  2. Broadside Electric, "The Gardener". Broadside is a local electric fold band. Great music, really nice people.
  3. Tony Trischka Band, "Feed the Horse". The first album by Tony's current band. A very cool song actually, although the lyrics are utterly incoherent.
  4. Thinking Plague, "Consolamentum". Thinking Plague is, well, just plain weird. I'd probably put them into the same category as groups like the Dirty Three and the Clogs, but TP is a lot less approachable. Think of an often atonal ensemble of people trained in Robert Fripp's guitar craft program.
  5. ProjeKct Two, "Laura in Space". From Fripp acolytes to Fripp himself. ProjeKct two is a sort of free-jazzish improv by Fripp, Adrian Belew, and Trey Gunn.
  6. Kaipa, "Otherworldly Brights". Kaipa's a scandinavian prog-rock band; the first serious band played in by Roine Stolte of the Flower Kings.
  7. Moxy Fruvous, "Gulf War Song". A depressing song, especially in light of the events of the last few years. This was written by MF during the first gulf war, about the way that people in favor of that war and people against it couldn't speak to each other without getting into fights; looking back at the first gulf war, it seems like the disagreements concerning the war were remarkably civil in comparison to now. I don't recall having major public or political figures call me a traitor, or talk about how I should be killed for treason for disagreeing with their support for the first gulf war; this time around, that seems downright routine.
  8. Solas, "On the Sea of Fleur De Lis". Beautiful Irish song.
  9. Marillion, "An Accidental Man". Bit of a poppy track by my favorite british neo-prog band. Great song, even if it is a bit on the overly peppy side.
  10. Transatlantic, "Mystery Train". Transatlantic is quite an interesting band. Take Roine Stolte of the Flower Kings, Pete Trevawas of Marillion, Neil Morse of Spock's Beard, and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, and throw them into the studio together. Usually when you do that, you got one of those typical "superband" monstrosities, where a bunch of guys with big egos whip something together, and it sounds like a patchwork mess. This sounds like a band that's been writing songs together for years: polished, exciting, complex stuff, with an incredible chemistry between the musicians. The strangest thing about it is that listening to it, it doesn't sound much like any of their normal bands; the closest comparison I can come up with is oldish Yes. But none of their normal bands sound particularly Yes-ish to me.

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My first "Ask a science blogger" answer: Is there a brain drain?

Jun 05 2006 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the things I get to do now as a member of the scienceblogs gang is answer these weekly "Ask a science blogger" questions. This weeks is actually really quite appropriate for me given stuff going on this week at home.
The question: "Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?"
My answer? For me, I'd have to say that there is absolutely no question that there is a dramatic change. The main cause isn't dislike of the US or of Americans; it's caused by the way that the current immigration and visa related policies of our government have a completely unpredictable and harshly negative impact on people who would otherwise be very favorably inclined towards us.
For a few examples that I've seen just in the last month or two:

  1. My wife is a program chair of a conference in NYC this week, and she's had two authors cancel their presentations because they couldn't get visas.
  2. I know of at least a half-dozen students who were supposed to start at US grad schools last fall, but couldn't, because of visa problems.
  3. A coworker went home to have her visa renewed, and is unable to return to her job in the US because, as someone with an arab-sounding last name, they flagged her as a risk, and it'll take at least six months for her to get a new visa. (Seriously, we're refusing to allow people who went to school in the US, and have permanent jobs in the US to re-enter the country!)
  4. Another coworker went home to visit family, and got harassed by the immigration official at the airport.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg.
    Every time something like that happens, in addition to the damage that we do to the specific people affected, we also influence others to not waste their time in even trying to come here.
    As for whether this will have an effect on the US? Again, absolutely. I know the faculty at my alma mater; and I know faculty at many other schools. In CS, at least half the faculty is foreign born. Same for math. People like them aren't going to keep coming to the US when they're going to be at risk for harassment, for losing jobs and homes over arbitrary nonsense from petty officials.
    It's already visible if you're looking for it. People that I know, who five years ago would have been taking jobs in the US are taking jobs in Canada, in Germany, in England. Because they don't want to face the risks of coming here.
    What to do about it? It's also an easy answer. We need to get our government, and the people working for it to stop acting like assholes. We need to make some effort to recognize the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of people are not terrorists, and to incorporate that fact into our policies. We need to stop stalling people for no reason; and remove the element of capriciousness from the whole process of entering the country.
    A person who has a paper in a technical conference in the US, visiting on a short term visa, is not a huge security risk. Top students coming from foreign schools to get educated in americac are not huge security risks. Not every person with an arab-sounding last name is a terrorist. A person with a job in america who hasn't done anything wrong, who would never be considered for being charged with an expulsion-level crime, should not be punished for going home to visit. None of these things make sense. None of these things improved our security. All they accomplish is to harrass, intimidate, and frighten innocent people, and drive them away from doing things that would be significant positive contributions to american society and the american economy. Quite simply, we need to stop doing that. We are making a deliberate policy of making lives miserable for foreigners who want to contribute to our society. That needs to stop.

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