Friday, May 16, 2008

Yes We Can

I just checked out Obama - The WorldBeat Album (this link includes the videos for each song). It is awesome to see so much support for Obama from such a wide variety of people. Most of these songs add lyrics concerning Barack to familiar sounding songs and beats. Some, such as Barack the Magnificent, are done well and others are too familiar to really be effective. The album also includes Yes We Can by This song has taken the web by storm since February. and a slew of musicians and celebrities repeat or sing phrases from the concession speech Obama gave after the New Hampshire primary to Obama's utterance of the same phrases. Here's the video, which was directed by Jesse Dylan. (The Wikipedia entry lists all those who appear and the time they do so.)

We Are the Ones also is excellent; after the original, Zoe Kravitz's version plays. Can you stop playing these videos? Obama's the man.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Climate Change: Some Issues

The amount of rhetoric on climate change has grown considerably as of late and the issues have become somewhat muddled. Here are some points to bear in mind.

a) Bio-fuels are not all bad. First, those produced from cooking oil and similar wastes have a net gain; that is, very little energy is required to convert them into bio-diesel and waste is consumed rather than disposed of. Second, each vegetable has a different input/output ratio. Much of the discussion on bio-fuel has revolved around corn, especially the high food prices (and resultant reduction in total aid). However, corn ethanol is not economically viable and never has been. (It takes 1 unit of fossil-fuel energy to produce a potential 1.3 units). To understand the reason corn why corn-ethanol is produced, one must examine the power of the corn lobby and Mexico's willful, but avoidable (under NAFTA), importation of America's subsidized corn. Sugar cane, on the other hand, has an energy ratio of 1 to 8 (1 in 8 out). The real potential (and future) of bio-fuels rests on cellulosic ethanols; with advancements in technology grasses, stalks from harvested plants, or algae could have ratios as high as 1 to 36. National Graphic has published an informative article on the topic of bio-fuels and has summarized the information here.

b) Advances in technology do offer hope, but there is no magic bullet. Solutions can be offered but they must be implemented and accepted. Here, regulation and mind-sets often stunts the profitable distribution of products, e.g., the ZENN cannot be driven in Canada and the Tata OneCat pneumatic car will probably never hit North America. In the Cold North I still hear people lament over the cost of heat-pumps, despite the break-even point of seven to ten years and low emissions.

c) Despite a growing selection of green products, which I support, it is not possible for us to buy our way out of the growing crisis. The reason is that most people in the West consume and pollute much more than the earth can support. You can test this assertion by calculating your global footprint (the number of earths that would be required if everyone on earth had the same standard of living). So far, our demand has been sustained by other countries with a lower standard of living (and demand on the earth). Now that many countries are becoming developed there's less to go around; as a result, reduction, not consumption, is the key. Nevertheless, when you do purchase items it is important to do so responsibly. To examine the possibilities of responsible living check out Dockside Green. Purchasing a hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicle has an added benefit: they do not idle. In Victoria an idling ban is being proposed to reduce air pollution; however, these cars offer the better solution (the best though is walking, cycling, or taking the bus).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bello Brio

Last year, I read that Cafe Brio had installed a charcuterie room, and have been eager to try their new offerings since. On Friday, I finally had the chance. I was impressed with Brio from the start. My wife and I had decided to go out at the last minute and had phoned a couple of restaurants for a reservation late in the evening. This turned out to be a frustrating experience, until I phoned Brio. The amicable maitre d' was on top of his game and told me right away when we would be able to get a table. He gave us a warm welcome when we arrived and seated us in one of the restaurant's semi-private alcoves. Although we had glanced at the menu online, it still took us a while to make some choices given the number of offerings. In the end, we ordered a wide variety of foods starting with the charcuterie. Although the Lomo and Pork and Foie Gras Paté failed to really impress, the Duck Prosciutto reached the stars. The smooth textured duck-meat and supple layers of fat melted in my mouth and released a harmony of flavours: the curing process had diminished any overt gaminess without obstructing the meat's richness. The Lomo on the other hand was burdened by brine and the fennel hardly noticeable, although some essence of pork did linger on the palate. In the paté also, any distinct meat flavour was relegated to a faint cognisance.

Then the stodgy, but efficient, waiter brought the next course. My wife's Potato Leek Soup met the high standard set by the duck. The truffle oil petite frites burst with flavour and heightened the vegetables' flavour. My Warm Goat Cheese and Guanciale was satisfactory and would have been greatly improved if the endives were fresher and the goat cheese richer (the bread coating rendered the cheese nondescript). Despite the bland endives and goat cheese, the dark honey, pears, and salad made a winning combination that I'll be trying out at home. My wife's Dungeness Crab Frittata was a nice take on the traditional crab cake.

Next came the pasta. My wife's Game Bird Ravioli was outstanding. She had ordered it in hopes of re-experiencing the exquisite chicken liver pates we'd discovered on our trips to Italy, and was not disappointed. I was delighted with my Beet and Ricotta Canneloni, but the dish was a little weighty, so a half-order would have been better. We also shared the Asparagus Fritters; these were battered in tempura and fried. Delicious! On the whole the wine pairings were good and we generally followed the recommendations; however, when I did ask some questions I felt my waiter to be less knowledgeable than I would have generally expected (perhaps, he was a little too dependent on the sommelier's printed recommendations). By this time the kids were expected to be getting back home, so we headed off. Much is left for us to discover on future visits, such as the Lamb Proscuitto, Cured Marinated Sardines and the Grana Padano Crusted Rockfish. Cafe Brio is not perfect, but it is enjoyable. On each of our visits we have always left with at least one indelible memory; many years ago it was the horseradish encrusted halibut, but this time it's the duck proscuitto. Bon appétit.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Current Political Landscape

Well it looks like the tide has finally turned and Hilary may even abandon her attempts at fratricide earlier than the Democratic convention. For a cool perspective of the election results check out this site and look at the number of states Obama has won. Obama clearly has a broader appeal: he has won 27 states compared to Hilary's 18. Furthermore, when Obama loses he does so by a narrower margins than Hilary. For example, Obama has lost only 8 states/territories by more than 10 percent while Hilary has lost 27 (and had some spectacular blowouts). They are also pretty even when it comes to super delegates and most of Hilary's must eventually recognize his broader appeal. With the ridiculous fiasco concerning Wright over (see The Guardian), Obama has shown he can weather the storms and prevail. Furthermore, his foreign policy aims offer some hope to the world; they are based on the precept that not only should the war be ended but also the mind-set that started it. He offers the "most sweeping liberal foreign policy critique ... in decades" and given the diverse background of his advisers (no neo-con hawks) there is a good chance it will be more than rhetoric.

There is no question that the loss of life from Cyclone Nargis could have been greatly reduced if early warnings were relayed more effectively and aid offers were not rejected by the military junta. Nevertheless, the selective amnesia of the media which decries Burma's response is irritating. Doesn't this situation sound familiar? Isn't this what happened with Katrina? My favourite story on the disaster involves three bowling pins which were sent as an aid package. How useless is that? Almost as useless as handing contracts to limousine and cruise ship companies. Maybe if "Al Qaeda blew up the levees ... New Orleans [would] have been safer that way." Sure put pressure on Burma, but don't present America as squeaky clean.

Miscellaneous Delights

As spring arrives, the beauty of the world is revealed. Peace is easy to find: a birdsong beckons me to the forest and the tranquil trickle of a spring lulls my soul. Rays of warmth disrupt the dampness. The moss makes an inviting bed, but sleep does not come. It seems a part of me suspects this unfamiliar peace. Eventually sleep does come providing a rest thrice fulfilling than the time warranted. After a siesta the long days and pleasant temperatures cause me to dine out of doors. The food keeps well in the slight cool and no wasps or mosquitoes diminish the enjoyment of my meal.

Dwelling on spring reminds me of the goodness of the Earth and why I purchase organic products whenever I can afford it. Over the years I have purchased a number of organic wines, but besides the relatively expensive Bonterra wines, I have not been overly impressed. Terra Sana (in the Flash window, click Wines & Vineyards, then France, then Terra Sana) makes a very pleasant crisp white and a decent red, but it wasn't until I tasted Villa Teresa's 2007 Merlot that I was overcome. The Merlot is light in colour and weight and provides a semi-sweet fruity flavour reminiscent of a Beaujolais Nouvea. It makes a very nice aperitif or companion to a light meal, such as a lightly dressed salad or a pork loin roast. (Its subtleties would be overpowered by the rich flavours of fish or a strip loin).

Prior to subscribing to the Best of You Tube Podcast a year and a half ago, I really had no idea of the number of people with astonishing ideas and skills. Some of them are quirky and mildly entertaining, but some are well worth watching. For a sampling, check out 323 (Grand Central Freeze), 306 (Juggling with Hammers), 280 (Backflip on slackline), 129 (Ball Skills), 104 (Pool Trick Shots).

Victor Wooten

Some musicians truly transcend their instruments and Victor Wooten is a case in point. He views the bass as means for communicating his musical creativity, takes chances with the instrument, and draws inspiration from a number of sources. For example, he suggests giving a bass guitar to musicians of other instruments who have never played the bass and seeing what they do with it. His transcendence is no plainer than at his live shows. A popular clip is his performance of Amazing Grace from Live at the Quick. Although this clip and Norwegian Wood display his command of the bass around a popular melody, they do not reveal the full extent of his magic. The following video does not have the best recording, but it shows what I mean:

The highlight though is when he de-tunes and re-tunes his bass while he jams. I had a hard time finding a good video of it and this is the best I could get (turn down your volume before you play):

He also makes a loop and solos around it. All of his albums are worth getting, though not all of Live in America appealed to me. Lastly here is a cool re-edit of Bonham alongside Wooten (there are only a few images on the video, but the track is done well):

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

Béla Fleck has been a favourite artist of mine for a number of years; the variety of his releases (from Tales of the Acoustic Planet to Perpetual Motion) is staggering, as is the extent of his collaborations (from Dave Matthews to Chick Corea). His work with the Flecktones is no less outstanding. Seeing Victor Wooten live is an amazing experience: he can de-tune and re-tune his bass while playing it. Futureman holds his own in innovations and Jeff Coffin continues the legacy of Roland Kirk. Béla and the Flecktones have always been at the forefront of technology (DVD Audio on Tales of the Acoustic Planet 2 and DualDisc of Hidden Land ) and the breadth of their collaborations and styles of play can easily be grasped in Little Worlds and Live at the Quick. Live at the Quick remains one of my favourite concert DVDs and features a number of guest musicians of whom Kongar-ol Ondar is the most notable.

Béla's new project is a film on his journey to Africa, the birth-place of the banjo (of course, jamming with the locals). It looks to be a promising film and has already picked up awards. The cool graphics of the website is really worth checking out. Here's the preview of Throw Down Your Heart:


Reverb plug-in