Shared posts

05 May 13:36

Comic: Getting to know your 12-inch Retina MacBook [@imore]


Yeah. I continue to dislike Apple.


I think Universal Serial Gus is my best name since Indie Rock Pete or Gary. Read on at iMore!

05 May 04:54

Aesop Rock - The Blob


"You cannot fuck the future sir, the future fucks you."

The Blob - FREE DOWNLOAD HERE: "The Blob is 32 minutes of beats & sounds that have otherwise been orphaned by their hell-bound father...
04 May 20:29

No Justice No Peace?

by Brad

Mr. Warner remains not the most focused of bloggers, but some interesting pieces in here.


The author in Tokyo’s Harajuku district mid-1990’s.

We are still having trouble with the blog. I can post again, but when you (or I, or anyone else) try to log in to comment it doesn’t work. We’re getting that fixed. For now, I decided it’s better to start posting again than to keep waiting. If you want to comment on this, you can follow my author page on Facebook and post your comments there. You can find it at:

My friend Jayce Renner and my first Zen teacher Tim McCarthy back in Ohio have signed an Open Letter Seeking Peace to the Cleveland Police Department. You can read the text yourself by following the link. The basic gist is that the cops need to stop doing bad things.

Like a lot of people, I was pretty horrified to see the rioting going on in Baltimore last week over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. It’s a familiar story we’ve seen in Ferguson, Missouri, in Los Angeles when Rodney King was beaten by the cops and elsewhere. Cleveland cops killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in a park for playing with a toy gun. Clevelanders reacted with remarkable and surprising restraint.

And today is May 4th. On this day in 1970 at Kent State University, where I did most of my Bachelor’s Degree, four students were shot to death by the Ohio National Guard. The security forces who were supposed to defend citizens were instead turned against them.

When I was researching my forthcoming book about Dogen (to be released later this year) I came across a statement in one of the works I consulted that took me aback. The author mentioned that in the era and place Dogen lived, 13th century Japan, there was no police force. I thought about that for a while because it had never really occurred to me. There was a government in Japan in those days and something we could call a military, but there were no cops.

In those days, if somebody robbed you or raped you or broke into your house, you couldn’t call 9-1-1. You couldn’t even flag down a passing officer of the law to help. If you wanted justice you could try petitioning the local government, but you weren’t likely to get any help very soon. The best you could do was to make friends with a samurai clan who might be able to avenge you. But even that was a long shot because they might already be pals with whoever wronged you.

Nowadays there are police forces pretty much everywhere. Some are far better than others. But for the most part it’s a system that works. And by that I don’t mean it’s perfect. Not at all. But it’s a better system than roaming samurai who work for the highest bidder.

Which is not to say that the cops don’t often do that too. But the important difference is that they are not supposed to. That is significant. The samurai had no reason even to try and pretend they were working for the good of all citizens.

We have cops now because we understand their necessity. I live in Los Angeles in a neighborhood where street gangs are still active. I am glad that there are police around.

Back in the Zero Defex days we sang a song called Go Blue Go Die about the abuse of police power (the link is to the version by Agitated who also did the song). The ending refrain is “Serve and protect? Bullshit! Bullshit!” But when our band was attacked by rednecks at a gig in Dover, Ohio, we called the cops and they kept us from being killed.

When police abuse their authority, everyone suffers, including the police. Their ability to exercise authority is eroded when people begin to doubt that the cops are really on the side of justice.

But there’s no reason for me to write yet another article that says the same things you can find all over the Internet. The more interesting question for me is; What can I do?

I’m a white male in America, part of the privileged classes. That has not always been the case for me. In Japan, being white meant that you were viewed as a potential threat. As a foreigner I did not have the same rights as most people around me. I never had a run-in with the police over there. But I knew very well that if I did, it would go much harder on me than it would on a person of the dominant race and culture. I was aware of the same thing when I lived in Kenya, that I was a member of a minority and that, as such, I was not accorded the same protection of the law as most of the people around me.

Those of us in the privileged classes need to be aware that things aren’t always the way we see them.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to the question of what to do about police injustice. Some people misunderstand the Buddhist idea of acceptance as a call for complacency. It is not. At the same time, the idea I’ve encountered that Buddhists must be politically engaged in a very specific way is not an idea I can agree with either.

I think we engage with the world in many ways we don’t usually acknowledge. It’s not all about mass gatherings and protests. The way you conduct yourself on a moment-by-moment basis is a far more powerful thing. You make a difference in society when you treat the people you encounter with respect and dignity. You make a difference when you recognize your own biases and refuse to act on them. You don’t have to post any hashtags at all.

If you have something to contribute to the discussion, contribute it. Sign that letter or compose your own. But more importantly than that, be a real human being. Then do it again and again and again.


Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,



July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

* * *


Your donations to this blog mean a lot. Thank you!



04 May 05:01


by Ian

I worry about this, sometimes.


29 Apr 18:24

April, 29th


Eat us, probably.

April, 29th

29 Apr 18:04

A commission for the fabulous Seanan McGuire, author of the...

A commission for the fabulous Seanan McGuire, author of the excellent novel “Sparrow Hill Road” about the grim misadventures of a hitchhiking teenage prom date ghost. 

Rose has been hitching rides for decades, ever since she was murdered on her prom night. She borrows coats from truckers in order to become physically substantial for long enough to eat a hot meal. 

Rose has long since adapted to her shadowy existence, but her killer is still out there, still claiming new victims, stalking the ghost roads that lie below the living world’s highways…

29 Apr 22:26

jakewyattriot: NecropolisChapter OnePage One-Jake


I dunno what's going on here, but it looks promising.



Chapter One

Page One


24 Apr 13:00

Detail from page 368 of Family Man, now online!{patreon}

Detail from page 368 of Family Man, now online!


25 Apr 05:09

Beyond The Barrage: Einstürzende Neubauten's Lament Live


I would love to have seen this live, as I don't think the entire thing translates very well into album format. But this is very true:

"Seeing Einstürzende Neubauten live is a visceral, gob-smacking reminder of the distinctive value that materiality, presence, and the history of objects have in three dimensions."

Most bands write an album, then record it, then tour to support it. Einstürzende Neubauten, needless to say, are not most bands. Their latest effort, Lament is a pre-emptive documentation of a performance that hadn't yet taken place, but which was conceived first and foremost as a live show. The band was commissioned by the Belgian region of Flanders to create a themed site-specific performance commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. As founder and lyricist Blixa Bargeld stresses in an interview that appears in the program for the concert, "The whole album is conceived as a performance…It has been written as a performance. It's a piece of theatre."

The band debut their new long-form composition in the town of Diksmuide, the site of a battle in which Belgian forces turned nature itself into an implement of war and flooded the region to prevent the advance of German forces. In an odd but oddly apt twist, the Belgians commemorated this event by inviting a German band who first made their reputation harnessing chaos out of fire and metal. And now I'm standing in front of a stage laden with strange and familiar implements, wondering how this relentlessly exploratory band would bring history to life.

Einstürzende Neubauten are known for their unusual instrumentation. Though percussionist Andrew Unruh has stated repeatedly that he sold his drum kit and replaced it with metal and bricks because he was broke and needed the money, the concrete-ness of their musique quickly became both defining characteristic and guiding ethos, with the band embarking on a relentless quest to explore the sonic potential hidden in the scraps and shrapnel of Cold War Berlin, quickly adding metal, water, concrete, fire, found recordings, sand, bamboo, meat, and plastic to their auditory repertoire. Using power tools to hammer and scrape at steel springs and gears, they were the most industrial of nominally industrial bands by virtue not of an assembly-line ethos but by the nature of their materials. In keeping with this, the set-up for a live EN show will include any number of unusual implements. The set-up varies from tour to tour and often contains tour-specific elements that are never repeated; the set-up is also intimately linked to the setlist, because the instrumentation for a particular song must be available for that song to be performed.

The band take the stage along with a string quartet and the show begins with clinking chains and metal scraping against metal in a low squeal that might be grating if it didn't feel like coming home. As the droning strings grow more frantic, Jochen Arbeit's e-bowed guitar grows louder as layer upon layer of scrapes and groans are fused into a vivid cacophony of sound, reminiscent of such peak Neubauten moments as 'Der Tod ist ein Dandy' (1985) and 'Prolog' (1989), a frenzied assault on metal of the kind for which the EN were once notorious but which they've rarely exhibit in recent years. This track is 'Kriegsmachinerie' (war machine or apparatus of war), the opening number of the performance and of the album. As the noise grows and shimmers, Unruh and bassist Alexander Hacke pull together the old implements at the front of the stage, including the tanks and the angel wings and chains, and pile, slide, and screw them together into a strange assemblage; these metallic objects, already relics repurposed into instruments, now found themselves instruments repurposed to create a sculptural performance. This is more or less the essence of the evening, both in theme and in practice: old fragments, worn with age but still potent, revived and rendered worthy of rapt attention by recontextualisation and reorganisation.

Lament is, as noted, centrally preoccupied with the First World War. The product not just of a themed commission but of extensive archival research (as many cultural productions seem to be now that the historical turn has spread beyond the humanities and into the performing arts), the materials built into it include telegrams between the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar on the eve of the war, two war poems in Flemish by a forgotten Dutch poet, the haunted and haunting voices of Allied soldiers in POW camps recorded onto wax cylinders by German linguists, and two cover versions by the obscure proto-jazz band The Harlem Hellfighters, a group whose active performances in Europe during the war included, Bargeld gleefully informs the audience, the legendary Mr. Bojangles as a dancer. The resulting product is not quite a narrative, not quite a concept album, and not quite performance art but a theatrical mélange of the three, filtered through Neubauten's distinctive sensibility, which has always occupied a rarified sphere at the threshold of the punningly abstract and the absurdly literal (see, for example, the page-turning machine Unruh constructed for a staging of Faust by Werner Schwab). Thus the new instrumentation constructed for Lament include a "harp" of barbed wire and amplified crutches on which Alex Hacke laboriously thuds across the stage, deceptively nonchalant slapstick in perfect time. Hacke also takes over more vocal duties than he ever has before, duetting with Bargeld as the voice of the last Russian Tsar, "Nicki" (Nikolas I) on 'The Willy-Nicki Telegrams' and alternating with the rest of the band in chorus on the Hellfighters' 'On Patrol In No Man's Land', a growly turn through Americana that is unusual but not unprecedented in the German band's back catalog, which includes covers of Lee Hazelwood and Tim Rose as well as the loping Tex-motorik thump of 'What Love Does To Me' (1999).

The performance is well-paced and well-rehearsed; a few brief squeals of feedback in the encores are the only noticeable technical difficulties. The found material folds harmoniously and effortlessly into the band's own compositions and sonic twists to create an experiential trajectory that is coherent and affecting without being directly narrative, and, more importantly, without ever sinking into the kind of pathos or melodrama which a less masterful group of artists might deploy in dealing with this kind of material or with this kind of commission. The live show's setlist is largely similar to the recorded album, slightly changing the order in a couple of places and adding two older songs in the encores ('Let's Do It A Dada' and 'Ich Gehe Jetzt' as the final number). Moments of thudding intensity alternate with fragile silences and passages of haunting minimalism, as has long been Neubauten's habit, but even the most delicate moments aren't precious or naïve, mostly because the band have always leavened their intensity with a healthy dose of wry humour, even if, like Kafka and Nietzsche, Einstürzende Neubauten have frequently suffered the unfortunate fate of having their humour lost in translation to the Anglo-American sphere. So if it's hard to imagine a commemoration of European war without reference to European nationalism, Neubauten avoid the treacle-y allure of patriotism by turning the second number, 'Hymnen', into a mashup of pre-WWI national anthems, exposing in tandem the joint melodic source of English, German, and French national pride and the fundamental irony of a pride in national individuation. And when Bargeld comes out to sing Marlene Dietrich's German version of Pete Seeger's 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone', he does so wrapped in a deconstructed paper recreation of Dietrich's white feather dress.

This isn't Dietrich's first appearance in Neubauten's mythography. She also haunts the lyrics of 'Die Befindlichkeit des Landes', (2000) in which Bargeld marks the ironic fact that the shiny new plaza at the center of the Potsdamer Platz shopping area was named "Marlene-Dietrich-Platz," when native Berliners protested Dietrich's internment in Berlin after her death with cries of "Marlene go home!" due to her staunch anti-fascist stance during World War II. Bargeld's deft imagery blurs Dietrich's ghost with Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, who in a famous essay stands facing the future with the past piling up behind her. The song makes clear Bargeld's opinion of those who paper over the unpleasant details of history in the interest of producing a happy unified façade. Neubauten themselves, on the other hand, have always been keenly attuned to the vicissitudes and complications of German and European cultural history, down to their very name (Neubauten or "new buildings" is a legal term in Germany which refers to buildings constructed after the end of World War II); they have always insistently put the grim reality of this history front and center in their work, and constructed their instrumentation out of its gritty residue. The same historicizing consciousness which has been the source of their sonic palette has been the source of their resolute anti-fascism (in their chaotic individuation as band members no less than in songs like 'Die Genaue Zeit', 'Kein Bestandteil Sein', and 'Headcleaner', down to their refusal to use Neumann microphones, an industry standard which also happens to have been beloved of Third Reich propagandists).

If Einstürzende Neubauten disdain those who paper over the unpleasant details of history in the interest of producing a happy unified façade, it is because they have always done exactly the opposite. In the face of a cultural ideology which encourages us to sweep aside the broken and old in favor of the shiny and new, Neubauten have made a career out of collecting and repurposing the fragments and shards of history and constructing from them a cacophonous and absolutely distinctive bricolage. If Lament, as Bargeld suggested in a recent interview, is less a radical departure than a performative deployment of familiar strategies, this is because both thematically and technically, it represents an entirely logical next step for a band that has always been obsessed with history no less than with found materials. In their choice of material – both thematically and physically – EN have always been about diving back into the rubble of the past to discover something new and beautiful. Lament, both album and performance, is no exception.

What is less evident, perhaps, is the degree to which the past they mine for resources is not only European and German history in general but their own history as a band. This is clear in the sculptural reconstruction to which their old implements are subjected during 'Kriegsmachinerie', but also more subtly present elsewhere. As Bargeld insists, Lament is more about repurposing than about radical reinvention, and this refers not only to the band's constructed instruments but to their techniques and distinctive auditory repertoire. Over the three-and-a-half decades of their existence, Neubauten have not only accumulated an arsenal of unusual materials but also developed array of distinctive techniques for working with those materials and turning their sonic potential into music. While a casual listener might find these techniques entirely new on first exposure, an experienced eye can spot in Lament a number of what are essentially musical self-quotations.

Take the chorus of looped wordless vocals that forms the reverb-drenched sonic bed of the album's three-part title track. Bargeld has been using looping pedals for his vocals for years; they are the only implement on-stage during his solo performance series Rede/Speech. But here that looping practice is extended to the entire band, each member humming in his microphone while long-time accomplice and front-of-house engineer Boris Wilsdorf loops and meshes the sounds into a deep web of vocal drones; the technique is deployed in 'Lament' in a virtually identical manner to the way it was used in 2005's epic, 25-minute composition 'Grundstueck'. Another example are the air compressors and grey plastic pipes used at multiple points in the show. The air compressor first appeared in 1997, in the intro to the title track from Ende Neu, and in 2003, during studio sessions for what would become Supporter Album No. 1, the air compressors multiplied and were blown by hand down long grey pipes, turning them into a crude horizontal pipe organ, displayed to greatest effect on that album's opener, 'Ich Gehe Jetzt', which reappears on the Lament tour as the closing song, after nearly a decade off the Neubauten setlist. Meanwhile on Lament's 'Achterland', a row of nozzles hiss out compressed air to conjure the gas with which soldiers were sprayed to de-louse them during the war. On Lament's longest and most conceptually elaborate track, the 13-minute 'The 1st World War (Percussion Version)', Moser, Hacke, and Unruh all pound out a complex and hypnotic polyrhythm on not four but 12 grey pipes, each beat of the 4/4 meter representing a single day in the war and each one of the pipes representing one of the major players in the conflagration. It's not just that Neubauten quote themselves; it's that the band has their own special sonic vocabulary, in which individual elements, once they enter the language, become available for geometrically-expanding new iterations of form and meaning.

There are hints of this process throughout Lament and the accompanying live show, but it's not until the vibrant climax of the main set's final number that this self-referentiality bursts to the forefront. 'How Did I Die?' begins with a stately, precise march, Unruh keeping time with the pipes and the air compressors as Bargeld intones the title's question. Alternately in English, French, and German, he describes what might be a post-mortem effort at remembering by the ghost of a fallen soldier ("I fell into a ditch…How did I die? Or didn't I die at all?"). But as the tremulous strings grow in volume and the languid pace turns into an exquisitely growing tension, the lyrics shift unexpectedly from singular to plural and the subject could just as easily be Neubauten themselves: "We didn't die! We didn't die! We are back with a different song...ein anderer Wind, ein neues Lied [another wind, a new song]."

In 1996, Einstürzende Neubauten nearly broke up permanently when two founding members left, Marc Chung just prior to and F.M. Einheit during the recording of their seventh studio album. That album became 1997's Ende Neu, a change of direction and a new beginning for the band. Bargeld's lyrics have always been intensely self-reflexive, and often focused on the band's creative integrity and their relation to the world of consumer culture, but this reflection took on a new urgency and insistent vigor in the lyrics of Ende Neu's title track, in which he references the phoenix, self-immolating as the condition of its own rebirth, and sings "Close the door, we'll keep on dancing." All the albums since then have included intense meditations on the nature of the past and its relation to the present as it unfolds into the future, whether 'Die Befindlichkeit des Landes' on Silence Is Sexy, 'Dead Friends (Around the Corner)' on Perpetuum Mobile, or the haunting 'Susej' from 2008's Alles Wieder Offen, in which, over a low-fi sample of Bargeld playing the guitar in his early 20s, rescued from an EN rehearsal tape predating their first album, he imagines a dialogue between his current self and his former self ("My old self and my young self, or my old self and my new self," as he was fond of prefacing the song during live performances of it in 2008 and 2010). The phrase "ein neues Lied," meanwhile, "a new song," appears in the refrain from 2004's 'Ein Seltener Vogel', the centerpiece of Perpetuum Mobile, which imagines a flood wiping out all species of bird but one, a "rare bird" which flies to the top of the Biblical Mount Ararat and returns with "a new song" in its beak.

This particular form of inventive self-quotation has long been a hallmark of Neubauten's performance strategy and a central aspect of the band's compositional approach. The thing is, Einstürzende Neubauten have always been first and foremost a live band. This might seem an odd statement to make about a band that tours so sporadically, and whose recorded body of work consists of elaborate, meticulously crafted and often highly conceptual albums composed with densely multi-tracked vocals and such sounds as fire, sliding gravel, and the sampled hum of 40,000-volt electric cables. But it is nonetheless a true statement, as anyone will affirm who has witnessed them at any point in its now-34-year career trajectory. The albums are incredible, ground-breaking, complex; live, that meticulous complexity becomes an incendiary, transcendent experience. Seeing Einstürzende Neubauten live is a visceral, gob-smacking reminder of the distinctive value that materiality, presence, and the history of objects have in three dimensions.

Neubauten's history is not a history of discrete events and clearly marked boundaries, it's a history of continuous, endless iterative processes, ruptures, and punctuated equilibrium that alternates quiet with crisis. During Lament's opening number, as the rest of the band create a growing wall of sound and build the war-machine sculpture at the front of the stage, Bargeld doesn't speak or sing but rather walks around the stage holding a series of placards above his head. "War does not break out, it is never caught or chained" reads the first one; "building itself up slowly, in movements believed forgotten," reads another; and "it regains its old strengths from debilitating disappointments." Find/replace war with "Neubauten's music" and you effectively have not just a nutshell of the band's biography but a précis of their working methods, as well. Lament, for all its distinctive origin and thematic quirks, is on closer reflection entirely of a piece with EN's remarkable canon of relentless and relentlessly historicizing recreation, an ongoing musical saga whose reach continues to extend both further and further into the past and increasingly far into the future.

25 Apr 05:11

Komitas Vardapet: Armenian Divine Liturgy


100 years.

Կոմիտաս: Սուրբ Պատարագ Sona Hovhannisyan, Hover Chamber Choir
24 Apr 01:18

Just my cup of tea – Somali shaah redolent with spices

There is a fine tradition in Somali society known as casariya, a word that is loosely translated to mean afternoon tea. Wonderfully spiced tea called shaah in Somali is often served with various types of sweet or savoury treats. And you never, ever have shaah without sheeko (stories)!

If you get invited to a Somali household for casariya beware that you won’t get asked how you like your tea. You will be served tea just the way Somalis like – full of spices and sugar! Cardamom is usually the strongest scent in Somali shaah. Somalis will often ask for tea that has so much cardamom that it should make the person sneeze!

Tea with milk is called shaah cadays, however, it is customary to serve black tea called shaah bigays after a heavy meal.

This recipe is from Nadia Faragaab aka the ‘Shaah Queen of Melbourne’. Nadia makes exceptional Somali shaah and always has a good sheeko or two up her sleeve!

Nadia started making shaah when she was about 10 years. “My family decided that as the tomboy in the family I should learn to make shaah. It was a way of inducting me into housework,” she jokingly says.

“I was also taught how to make canjeero (a Somali sourdough pancake) for breakfast, but I quickly realised that waking up at the crack of dawn wasn’t quite my thing. Making shaah wasn’t dependent on an early morning wake-up call so it became my thing,” adds Nadia.

According to Nadia, the interesting thing about making shaah is that somehow each cook’s tea tastes different. “It is almost as if they’ve added a bit of themselves to the tea,” she says.

Well, without much ado, here is Nadia’s shaah recipe. Make it your own! This recipe makes four cups of tea.


Somali Shaah

Recipe by:

Nadia Faragaab


• 14 green cardamom pods, ground finely
• 10 cloves whole
• 2 quills of cinnamon, broken into small pieces
• 1 teaspoon ground dry ginger
• 1 teaspoon of black tea leaves
• 4 ½ cups of water
• Sugar to taste


  1. Step 1: Bring all the spices to boil in the water, adding sugar to taste.
  2. Step 2: Add the tea leaves and simmer on low heat for a few minutes or until the tea turns amber in colour.
  3. Step 3: Sieve the tea into cups and serve with your favourite snack.

Prep time:

Cook time:

Total time:

Serves: 4 - 5 people

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24 Apr 01:18

Chai (Spice Tea)


I had Somali tea at a very, very authentic Somali place in Tukwila, and it was AMAZING. So, need to try to make it myself.

It is amazing to see how international the humble cup of chai tea has become. Once common only in homely kitchens, it is now increasingly a popular drink of choice for the latte-sipping trendy folk.  We think they are onto a good thing, but we’ve been in the know for a longer time!  Here is our recipe for making a great tasting cup of home-made chai or shaah cadeys as we call it in Somali.

You can change the spices to suit your taste. Add sugar or honey if you prefer. Or just have your chai without any sweetener. Some people like their chai without milk, so you can omit the milk if you wish, but use less tea leaves for a less stronger brew.

We love to have our chai for casariya (afternoon tea) with mahamri or samosa.

If you’ve read this far then you should keep in touch! Like The Somali Kitchen on Facebook. Add me to your Google+ circle, follow on Twitter, like on Instagram or pin on Pinterest.

Recipe by:

Abderazzaq Noor


2 cups of water
1 cup of milk
2 teaspoons of tea leaves (use a strong tea like Kenyan)
6 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon of ground ginger (you can use minced fresh ginger)
4 black peppercorns
2 cloves
Sugar to taste


1. Grind all the spices
2. Place the water and spices in a saucepan
3. Add the tea leaves and bring to boil
4. Add the milk and heat through for two to three minutes
5. Sieve the tea into a pot and serve hot.

Prep time:

Cook time:

Total time:

Serves: 3 - 4 people

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01 Nov 03:53

by yasmine

Happy Halloween!

08 Apr 12:21

amusingabe: Aziz…Light! ▪ The @janellemonae in...



The @janellemonae in progress

#SketchingSeason #sketch #beauty #janellemonae #drawing #realism #sketchbook #portait #illustration #study

23 Apr 07:24

Hey, wanna be depressed? (via NOAA NCDC)

Hey, wanna be depressed? 


23 Apr 01:22

An Intelligence Vet Explains ISIS, Yemen, and "the Dick Cheney of Iraq"


Pretty grim assessment, but a lot of it seems pretty on point.

An Intelligence Vet Explains ISIS, Yemen, and "the Dick Cheney of Iraq"

Today marks the beginning of what I hope will be many opportunities to introduce true practitioners in the world of spying and killing to Phase Zero readers. Our first guest is Malcolm Nance, a 34-year veteran intelligence officer who has worked the Iraq mission since 1987, fighting in all of our Middle East wars since 1983. He has lived in and out of Iraq since 2003.

The death of former Saddam General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri last week provides an opportunity to ask Nance about who the insurgent commander was, how he evaded capture or death for so many years, and what the hell is really going on in Iraq. In addition to his time on the ground, Nance has written defense intelligence textbooks on the subject—books that are occasionally dense but “are exhaustively detailed for a reason,” he says. “I am not here to entertain, but to share hard intelligence, won by the blood of dead soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and intelligence officers and explain the deep history of these groups which leads you to ISIS.”

He is not shy about the why of knowing: So that “we kill the right people with what we learned.” Nance runs his own analytical organization, TAPSTRI, the Terror Asymmetrics Project and is author of, most recently, The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency, 2003-2014.

Nance will be in comments—his actual, swear-to-god Kinja user name is “kingpindaddyhoho”—at noon eastern to answer your questions.

On Friday, Iraqi television announced that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was killed in Iraq. A blip in the news, but obviously a man who you think was a shadow leader of ISIL. Who was he?

General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was the Dick Cheney of Iraq. He was a close personal confidant of Saddam Hussein and blood member of the Saddam clan by marrying his daughter to Saddam’s son, Uday. He was a powerbroker in the Iraqi Baath party during Saddam’s rule and commanded all Iraq forces in northern Iraq, where ISIS would later invade so successfully. In the 1960s, he worked alongside Saddam when the Baath were underground, and he planned the details of the 1968 coup d’état that brought Saddam to power. He was one of the key decision-makers to plan and wage war against Iran, and he led the Revolutionary Command Council in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. After Desert Storm, he led the cleansing of the southern Iraq marsh Arabs. His strategy was simply to kill most of them, drain the marshes, and thereby wipe the rebellion out.

During the Anfal campaign of genocide in northern Iraq, he killed and displaced tens of thousands more Kurds. With such a stellar record of mass murder, he was the one to order his cousin Al-Hassan al-Majid—a.k.a. “Chemical Ali”—to use Mustard, VX, and Sarin nerve gas to kill over 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabjah.

This man, designated the “King of Clubs” by U.S. intelligence, was arguably the most sinister of the entire pack of trading card characters. Being naturally red-headed and freckled, a childhood of teasing may have led him to be as ruthless as he was easy to identify.

One thing about al-Douri that was important—crucial—is that he was a devout Muslim in the Sufi Naqishbandi sect. He even formed his own insurgent group called the Men of the Naqishbandi Army (Jaysh al-Rijjal al-Naqishbandi, or JRTN). This is interesting because al-Qaeda and ISIS loathe these Sufi Muslim sects.

How the fuck did he evade capture or being killed from March 2003 to the present? Where was he during the U.S. occupation?

One of the enduring myths of the 2003 Iraq war was that we were fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and a few ex-Baathist Former Regime loyalists (FRLs). The opposite was true. We were fighting the entire ex-Baath infrastructure. I was there when Paul Bremer disbanded the army, and it was clear to everyone that many of these 500,000 functionaries and soldiers were going to go into the insurgency; as many as 88,000 did so.

What we didn’t know until 2006 was that Saddam knew he would be defeated and used al-Douri to organize an armed insurgency led by the Saddam Fedayeen to recreate the Great Arab Revolution of 1920, where the British were kicked out of southern Iraq after a multi-year insurgency.

Al-Douri and the Revolutionary Command Council also had deep relations with Hafez al-Assad and the Syrian Baath party. At al-Douri’s urging, Saddam opened oil pipelines to Syria and built a cash relationship with the al-Assad family.

In the run-up to the U.S. invasion in 2003, Saddam and al-Douri “Islamicised” the coming insurgency, allowing foreign terrorists into the country. Syria became the pipeline for al-Qaeda foreign fighters and al-Assad happily let them cross the border, using his intelligence agencies to distribute weapons and facilitate travel.

One key group to arrive was that of Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his men of Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War). They hated the Baathists but could not move freely through Iraq without their assistance. A partnership was formed, and they worked symbiotically. Soon afterwards, Zarqawi’s group became al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Meanwhile, al-Douri and the Revolutionary Command Council set up an intelligence command center in Damascus and called it the National Command of the Islamic Resistance (NCIR). By 2006, the AQI leadership shifted from foreign fighter commanders (Zarqawi) to a joint Iraqi-Foreign command (Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Umar al-Baghdadi) with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq. That then transformed into an Iraqi-only command (under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) with the Syrian civil war offering a secure base.

However, this entire time, the 88,000 Iraqi Sunni ex-Baathist insurgents were integrating with ISIS via various joint command like the Unified Mujahideen Command (2003), the General Command of the Islamic Resistance of Iraq (2004), the Mujahideen Shura Council (2005), and the Coalition of Nobility (2006). The Islamic Emirate of Iraq (IEI) (2005) and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) (2006) became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS (2011).

Pretty much from 2003-2008, from inside Syria, al-Douri and NCIR coordinated all major combat activities, including supporting all Iraqi and foreign resistance groups with targets, intelligence, and access to weapons caches and technical support. AQI from 2003-2005 received hundreds of suicide car bombs built by the ex-Baaathists, and were given the choice targets. Al-Douri enjoyed living in Syria. In 2013 he released a video of him with the NCIR commanders in Baath party military uniforms from Damascus. He appears to have returned to Tikrit in 2014, thinking that his Men of the Naqshbandi had an understanding with ISIS (and they most likely did). As long as he was alive, the ex-Baathists would support ISIS. That’s how fast the North and West of Iraq fell—the Baathists coopted the Sunnah community for them, ISIS just drove through and raised flags.

Got any thoughts why, if the United States knew that he and other Saddam big-wigs were in Syria, that drone strikes were never used to kill them? I mean didn’t the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) spend four years going after the likes of Zarqawi, working with and crossing the border into Jordan?

These guys lived in Syria proper. No one was going to run a strike in Damascus. They ran around in public and enjoyed support of al-Assad. JSOC did not do deep penetration missions further than Dayr al-Zawr. There were border raids. The entire Syrian regime was in their faces and had to be considered. I suspect we thought history would get al-Douri, but he was a slick old bastard and a survivor. In the end, history did catch up with him.

Ansar al Sunnah, AQI, ISIL, ISIS: can you explain the differences here?

The Iraq insurgency had 3 wings:

  • FRLs: Former Regime Loyalists, the ex-Baath party and intelligence apparatus. They formed the Jaysh al-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed) and later merged with Ansar al-Sunnah.
  • IREs: Iraqi Religious Extremists, these were al-Qaeda inspired Iraqis who fought in the name of God. These included both Sunni (AAS and Islamic Army in Iraq, IAI) and Shiite (Jaysh al-Mahdi) groups. The largest of these was the Ansar al-Sunnah. They were taken over by the FRL Jaysh al-Muhammed in 2005-2006.
  • AQI: Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the official branch of al-Qaeda and were neo-Salafist extremists who were fighting to establish a Caliphate in Iraq, bring about a clash of civilizations which would in turn bring the return of the Mahdi, the End of Times and the Prophet Jesus to defeat the Anti-Christ. AQI lived by the ideology created by Osama Bin laden in 1988. AQI merged dozens of small IREs into their fold. By 2009 most groups that did not join the so-called “Anbar Awakening” merged with AQI, now called ISI. ISI, in 2011, deployed a brigade of Syrian and foreign fighters to Syria. They called them the Jebhat al-Nusra (JAN-The Victorious Front). That group’s leader became so popular that they received separate al-Qaeda authority to branch off into a Syrian-only organization. The leader of ISI, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, became enraged and tried to kill the group off. He then declared that ISI would include Syria and changed the name to ISIS and fight apart from JAN. He also declared that Al-Qaeda central, under Zawahiri, could not order him to do anything. Although he broke from AQ command he still carries out Bin Laden’s ideology. So to say ISIS is no longer Al-Qaeda really means in name only and not in philosophy. ISIL is just the literal translation of ISIS—Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (includes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine) instead of “Iraq and al-Sham/Syria”. They are also called by the Arabic initials Daesh.

Bottom line: The ex-Baath veterans under al-Douri started the insurgency in 2003, many stopped fighting with the Anbar Awakening in 2007 and then all wings of the insurgency joined ISIS in 2011, all the while covertly steering it towards Iraqi-only leadership that invaded both Syria and Iraq in 2014. So ISIS is all three wings of the insurgency combined into one lethal AQ-inspired ideology, with an Iraqi ex-Baathist chain of command.

Got any thoughts on how we could have spent gazillions on training and arming the Iraqi Army (and the Kurdish Peshmerga) and they have been so incompetent in defending their own country, even their own interests? Does that mean that ISIL is as powerful as the U.S. government says?

Good Question. Last year I told Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo the following: The Kurdish Peshmerga were always considered great fighters, but that was based principally on a myth of invincibility that arose during the 1991-2003 American no-fly zone operations. U.S. airpower combined with a unified Kurdish population, mountainous terrain and a very cautious Saddam Hussein led repeated defeat of Iraqi forces sent to the north. The assumed fighting prowess of the Peshmerga was also bolstered in 2003 when Army Rangers and the 173rd airborne troops parachuted into Kurdistan and linked up with special operations/CIA-backed Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Popular Union of Kurdistan (PUK). This was Operation Viking Hammer, which quickly defeated the Kurdish Islamic extremist group the Supporters of Islam Ansar al-Islam (AAI) in the mountains near Biyarah and Halabja. The fact that they fought well, knew the terrain, and did not run at the first shot was enough to seal the belief that they were fierce fighters. Which they were, when the Americans had their back. But it’s also important to note that the AAI had defeated both the KDP and PUK militia groups in major clashes the year before the American invasion.

Why is ISIS so successful? Simply put, they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers: suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you, and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends, and countrymen. TSV for ISIS is the belief that they will blow themselves up, they will capture and decapitate you and desecrate your body because they are invincible with what the Pakistanis call Jusbah E Jihad—“Blood Lust for Jihad”.

You have some criticism of other books on the subject (e.g., Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan’s ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, and Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger’s ISIS: State of Terror). What’s wrong with them?

They are good mass-market books, but the whole concept that an expert (Jessica Stein and Hassan Hassan) can’t publish a book without a journalist (Michael Weiss, J.M. Berger) tells a lot about the state of publishing. My book is an intelligence practitioner’s history. It was published months before ISIS: State of Terror and ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Great names! I take the strategic view, and lay out the data (which is called intelligence) down to the nuts and bolts, revealing the thought, movement, and lethality behind each strategy, each tactic, and each personality.

In my opinion, both books are great reads but have short memories. I do like that Hassan Hassan, who lived a few blocks from me in Abu Dhabi, interviewed ISIS members. But street level intelligence he collected is not the plan, it’s regurgitation of daily briefings as understood by the fighters. My organization TAPSTRI has hundreds, if not a thousand, videos from 2003-2014 where the same proclamations are said over and over. One doesn’t have to interview ISIS to learn what it wants, just watch their videos and consequent actions.

However, Weiss and Hassan are just plain wrong about what they think are the origins of ISIS. Both books lack all memory of how and why Abu Mussab al Zarqawi became an AQI leader. Al-Zarqawi did not create ISIS’s brutal ideology based on reading a manual called Management of Savagery. Also, the claim that al-Qaeda and ISIS are two distinctly separate entities both organizationally and ideologically—that’s ludicrous. All of these groups, no matter what the name, follow the same ideology that crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and blew up subways and tried to blow up 12 airliners over the Pacific. Everything about ISIS starts in Peshawar 1988 with bin Laden’s ideology at the inauguration of Al-Qaeda. You can see it everywhere: It’s the global jihad movement. ISIS is but a player in that stage, reading from the same script.

An Islamic Caliphate led by ISIS, really?

It is unrealistic to think that this will survive past it symbolic period, mostly because they evoke so much regional hatred that they will eventually be destroyed. How is the big question. The Islamic caliphate from Morocco to the Philippines was part of a strategic plan designed by Osama Bin laden himself back in 1988. He developed the global jihad movement to create mini-ISISes everywhere. This was successful, as you have AQAP (Yemen), Boko Haram (Nigeria), al-Shabaab (Somalia), AQIM (Libya), the Taliban, and dozens of other small groups across the globe. They all believe this bin Laden ideology. I have written in my second book, An End to al-Qaeda, that it’s a cult. A Cult of Jihad.

However, the regional and tribal areas in Iraq are led by ex-Baathists. It always was and always will be. ISIS is not stupid. I told Newsweek last year that 2014 was Year Zero for all of these old ex-Baathists. They will need to be eliminated, and it appears many of the oldest ones who could form a resistance have been. But many others just folded quietly into ISIS. The Caliphate will fall apart as they lose land. It’s already happening. The question is who will clear Syria.

Do you have a bias against Islam? Against the 2003 U.S. war and subsequent occupation? Against the U.S. withdrawal? Against current U.S. strategy?

I come from an African-American family that is predominantly Muslim. I have had to covertly operate in parts of the Middle East and Africa. I’ve lived a Muslim life and prayed in Mosques, Husseiniyahs and shrines where needed. One must respect Islam to understand Islam. I’ve read the Quran through and through a half dozen times. I am forced to consult it almost daily as part of my counterideology work. As a professional Arabist, if I have a bias, it is in the other direction. I have read everything from Sir Richard Burton, T.E. Lawrence to Sheik Zayed al-Nahyan, Rumi and Sayyed Qutb.

The 2003 war in Iraq may be considered the greatest error in American policy since the Civil War. Its ramifications are earth-shattering and will impact us and our safety for generations. It may completely unravel the entire Middle East forever. Depose Saddam perhaps, but after 2003, the Iraqis did not want us there. They had sectarian grudges to settle and even if we had begged, we would still have been embroiled in heavy combat and with well over 10,000 dead soldiers and Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. Current strategy is too timid, especially with regards to synthesizing a global campaign. We are at heart in a war with an ideology. A cult ideology, and tactical moves cannot address it. We need a global ideological war. We ceded the battlefield of the mind 26 years ago and no one wants to take on the jihadi belief system, directly. It’s an astounding miscalculation of biblical import.

What should we do? Precisely.

1. Launch an integrated global counterideology war against ISIS/Al-Qaeda: I call it Counter Ideology Operations and Warfare (CIDOW). We need to confront the belief system head on. The global jihad movement ideology is a destructive religious cult. It is so un-Islamic that it is virtually anti-Islamic. Soon enough, ISIS will do something that enrages the entire Muslim world and it will force them to act. Burning the Jordanian pilot came close, but we shall see what lifts the veil from their eyes.

2. In Iraq, Go Commando: We are relying too much on massed army units in Iraq to bring overwhelming power to defeat small units. ISIS won by using 20 guys in Toyotas and taking key points. The Iraqis should be using small units with high mobility to get all over the ISIS rear and U.S. airpower to kill anyone that comes near them.

3. The Gulf Cooperation Council needs to invade Yemen with ground forces, like, yesterday: The Saudis are fighting the wrong war right now with the Houthis in Yemen. They are allowing AQAP to take South Yemen and all of their weapons. So we now have a well-armed and funded al-Qaeda caliphate rising on the Arabian Peninsula, thanks to the Saudi Iranian obsession. They view the Iranians as a sabre at arm’s length, and it makes them blind to the ISIS/AQ dagger at their throat. Solve it all by coming down through Oman, land troops in Aden and take control of the country. Someone has to, and soon.

4. The Pan-Arab war to Stop ISIS/AQ is coming: The Jordanians, Saudis, and Turks must invade Syria. Soon enough, ISIS will kill someone prominent in the Muslim world or carry out an act so barbarous (like in Mecca or Istanbul) that Riyadh or Ankara will be forced to do something.

5. Encourage Syrian army units to defect and make Assad leave power with assurances that Alawites, Christians, and Druze will be protected. This will wedge ISIS from North, South and East and it will be defeated. It’s a bloody option but it is their problem in the end.

6. Egypt will eventually have to invade Libya. The country is essentially Beirut 1982 with competing factions. The Benghazi government with General Heftar in command is trying to bring unity, but now ISIS-Libya has appeared and the vacuum requires a major force to fill it. After massacring the Egyptian workers in Libya, the Egyptians have cause and should back up a Libyan spearhead. Establish a proper army, pay off the tribes, eliminate ISIS and then leave.

7. Israel should focus on preventing ISIS, not screwing around with Hamas. Israel will need Hamas soon enough if the ISIS/AQ ideological virus infects Palestine. The Israelis won’t have to worry about hundreds of rockets they will have to worry about thousands of suicide bombers. They’ll be getting attacked like the Jerusalem scene from World War Z.

8. Conclude the Iran Nuclear Weapons Deal: Iran wants BMWs, Red Bull, and Gucci. There are no military options for Iran. Attack them and they will destroy the Gulf States oil industries, rain hundreds of missiles onto Israel, close the Arabian Gulf, and shoot oil prices to $300 per barrel, which could cause our own economic downfall. I have fought Iran twice in the Persian Gulf, they are not the Iran of 1988. They are the global terror A-Team and now they want peace. Give it to them.

9. Enjoy the end of Boko Haram in Nigeria: That group will cease to exist in less than a month. The Nigerian, Chadian, Burkina-French coalition just finally did to Boko what the Arabs need to do to ISIS. Full court press, all sides and eliminate them. I will be glad to see the end of this group and their leader Abu Bakr Shakau. They truly are cult monsters. Kenya and Ethiopia may have to take note.

None of my recommendations are optimal, and each is fraught with possible failure, but right now doing nothing is failing spectacularly. But the Muslim world needs to tackle the ISIS/AQ problem, because if they don’t, the existential threat to both Israel and Arab World won’t be Iran.

Nance’s most recent book can be purchased here.

[Photo and book cover courtesy of author. Art by Jim Cooke.]

19 Apr 09:44

April, 19th


So close, but no cigar.

April, 19th

22 Apr 01:14

Living with Photography: Adobe Lightroom 6 Review

by Norman Chan

I really miss having photoshop. Might have to spring for Lightroom, because I have yet to find something that doesn't suck balls for processing RAW files.

The image management and editing options for enthusiast and professional photographers is fairly limited. There are a few really good open-source applications for processing RAW photos, but with the demise of Apples Aperture, Adobe's Lightroom is the most popular choice. It's become the go-to program for photographers to need process the hundreds or even thousands of photos from day and event shoots, and it's what I've been using for all of my photo work since I got my DSLR. I've said it before: post-processing is an essential half of the photography equation that completes the picture. And for new photographers, it shouldn't be a daunting process--smartphones and apps like Instragram have trained a generation of young shooters the basic language of post-processing.

Photoshop may have better name recognition and be more powerful as an image-editor, but Lightroom is my preferred app because it puts the editing tools in the context of a photography workflow. It streamlines the digital photo development process to quickly turn the photos you take into the images you want to keep or publish. And with the latest release of Lightroom, Adobe is putting more of those tools you'd typically have to run in Photoshop and incorporating them into the Lightroom workflow.

The last major release of Lightroom was version 5 back in 2013. That release brought two features that have been essential to the way I use the program: Smart Previews and radial gradients. I've written about how the former allowed me to use Lightroom across multiple computers, and the latter for compensating for fill lighting on location shoots without the use of a flash. Last year's Lightroom update was less impressive, emphasizing camera compatibility, the launch of mobile apps, and the Lightroom website. It honestly felt more of a push for the Creative Cloud subscription services than traditional "box" features.

This latest release doesn't feel as significant as 2013, and is a mix of new photo editing tools and mobile/service enhancements. The biggest difference for my workflow so far are the performance boosts in editing and exporting--it's genuinely speedy. I've been running Lightroom 6 (or CC 2015, if you're a Creative Cloud subscriber) for the past week on both my MacBook Air and desktop PC--here's what I think of its new features.

First, a quick note about upgrading to Lightroom 6. Adobe CC subscribers get the update for free, but may want to hold off if they have their Smart Preview library saved in a cloud syncing service like Dropbox. Lightroom 6 migrates your preview files into a new file structure when it updates your Catalog file. It's not a hassle, but made me re-sync 85GB of Smart Previews across all of my machines.

Performance Improvements

As I mentioned, the biggest improvement I noticed to Lightroom was editing performance. Lightroom is actually speedier in three distinct places: the Grid view of your library, which helps when you're scrolling through tens of thousands of photos at once, the Develop module, which is the heart of the program, and image exporting. Library and Develop module enhancements are credited to GPU acceleration, if your computer supports it. You'll need at least 1GB of VRAM and OpenGL 3.3 compatibility, which Adobe says the majority of computers built in the last 2-3 years can support--there's no definitive compatibility list of working GPUs. But it's easy to see in the preferences menu whether GPU is activated and running without error for your machine. And if it is, here's Adobe's claims of rendering speed improvements:

Library Grid enhancements are perhaps the least noticeable, and affect the fewest photographers. I rarely browse through the "All Photographs" view in the Library, and scrolling through a few hundred photos in any particular Collection was never sluggish.

In the Develop module, the speed improvements are immediately noticeable in full-size image panning. I was shocked by how smoothly I was able to drag radial filter gradients--one of my go-to tools--across a photo. This is something I use very frequently in Lightroom, and it's really a night and day difference in speed. Adjusting exposure also also got a boost, but wasn't very noticeable (it was never very taxing before). I did notice that image cropping and straightening was faster, but with the tradeoff of the tool taking a fraction of a second longer to load. In Lightroom 5, clicking the crop and align tool immediately brought up the cropping grid overlay--now there's a slight lag. This could be tied to how Lightroom takes advantage of the GPU and loads the image into video memory.

The final speed improvement came in image exporting. As someone who has to semi-regularly export hundreds of photos at a time (eg. cosplay at conventions), I was very excited to see a significant reduction in export rendering time. In one test, exporting a hundred high-resolution photos (each heavily-processed) took 11% less time in Lightroom 6 than 5.7. Exports are a CPU-bound task, and Windows Task Manager showed that Lightroom 6 utilized all 16 of my CPU threads to their fullest, as you can see in this comparison:

Performance improvements of course will scale based on your system, and it looks like Lightroom 6 is also more of a memory hog than the previous version. On my PC, it was consuming a full GB more of RAM (2.5GB vs 3.5GB) just when idling and image-browsing. At load, Lightroom made use of another 2GB of RAM.

Photo Merge: HDR and Panoramas

Another marquee feature of Lightroom 6 is the ability to combine multiple photos at once to generate HDR photos of panoramas. This is something I would previously have taken into Photoshop or used a specialty application to do.

With both of these tools, the process of merging photos is simple--you just select as many as you want in the Develop module's image strip, right-click, and choose Merge. I tested with groups of three and five images shot on my DSLR, each one-stop apart. In HDR, Lightroom auto-aligns and blends the images, as well as gives you the option to add "deghosting" to better blend inconsistencies between your photos, like moving people. The result is a single HDR image that doesn't replace the source photos, and is still in a RAW DNG format that you can develop and tune. It's a very straightforward tool, and relies more on your ability to source good photos of the right scene to make the most out of it.

To be honest, shooting in RAW goes a long way to bring out the shadows and reduce the highlights that an HDR composite produces. But anyone who's reduced highlights of a glare-filled photo knows the telltale signs of that process--an almost ghostly rendition of what was hiding in the light. HDR fills out those places, but it's not a magical tool. You get what you put into it. What I like is that now I can take bracketed RAW photos in sequence for HDR time-lapses and generate them right in Lightroom.

Panoramas are merged the same way that HDR composites are created, but I didn't have an opportunity to thoroughly test it yet to gauge its effectiveness. What's promising is that the panorama tool allows you tell Lightroom whether your took your sequence of images in a spherical, cylindrical, or flat panning perspective. That way, the stitched images look different depending on whether you spun your camera around a tripod head or panned across a scene as if on a dolly.

Facial Recognition

Probably the feature I'm least excited about, since I do a good job of sorting my photos by collection and meta-data after every import. But face recognition is something that competing products (ie. Apple's Photos app) have had for a while, so it makes sense that Adobe would give us the option to automatically tag faces. Indexing your library with face detection takes a long time (best done overnight), and you still have to go through the fairly laborious process of labelling faces and approving or denying questionable matches. In my experience so far, it's far from 100% accurate:

Filter Brushes

I didn't give enough credit to the Radial filter tool when it debuted in Lightroom 5, but it's now my favorite Develop tool. That gets me excited for the new gradient filter brushes, which allow you to tweak the gradient masks in both the Radial and linear Graduated filter tools. After creating a Radial or Graduated mask, you can paint part of it away or more of it into your scene. It's not something I immediately know exactly how to take advantage of, so I'm excited to learn how to incorporate it into photos where it may be appropriate. And that's part of the fun (and maybe scary part) of post-processing. You have to tinker with these image editing tools to figure out your own style and what makes a photo work for you.

Mobile Lightroom

Finally, Adobe has released mobile versions of Lightroom for smartphones and tablets on both the iOS and Android platforms (Android tablets was the last to come). I still don't feel comfortable editing RAW Smart Previews on mobile, because it's a workflow that requires uploading to Lightroom on desktop first and then syncing to their cloud server. It's not how I import and ingest images. But for users who carry tablets instead of laptops on flights and want to make tweaks or at least sort and rate their photos, Lightroom for mobile is a really useful collection management tool.

Unfortunately, there's still not real parity between features on iOS and Android, for some reason. For example, the iOS version of Lightroom mobile can now copy and paste image editing settings between photos--the most-requested feature--but that's not available on Android. iOS also gets better crop and straightening tools. On Android, Lightroom mobile has a features where exclusivity make more sense, like the ability to access photos from microSD storage and edit RAW photos taken from a Lollipop device (depending if the phone manufacturer has enabled DNG photo capture).

Those are the standout features of Lightroom 6, but there are actually plenty of minor changes too, like the ability to import photos directly into collections, and scale UI text in Windows for touch PCs and high-resolution displays. I love that I can finally scale the UI to 150% for my 4K monitor and have to rely on Windows' native resolution scaling. Adobe outlines these other features in a nice Youtube video.

The upshot is that Lightroom 6 is primarily a performance release with a few neat features here and there that photographers will appreciate. There's still room for improvement, and not everyone will be completely satisfied (I would love the omitted changes pitched here). Creative Cloud subscribers get the update for free, so the question is really for people who either aren't on board with Lightroom already or are running a previous stand-alone version of the software. If you're not into all the cloud services or mobile benefits, Adobe is still selling Lightroom by itself for $150. And give the cadence of these updates, that should last you two years before needing to upgrade. But I think that new users should seriously consider subscribing to the Photographer plan at $10 a month. That's a very fair price for both Photoshop and Lightroom (which you can register on two computers), and being able to sync and utilize the mobile app is just gravy. If you bought a standalone version of Lightroom 5 last year, it's worth upgrading if you work in the quantity of photos so that the speed improvements will be measurably meaningful.

21 Apr 14:26

‘Free-range’ kids and our parenting police state


This shit is so absurd. via C.Corax

They were coming home from a park, on this gorgeous, blossoming weekend, after playing.

And for this, a 10-year-old and his 6-year-old sister ended up in the back of a squad car. Again. For hours this time.

In the bizarre, nationwide culture war over how much freedom children should have to play outside alone, the youngest combatants — Rafi and Dvora Meitiv — are the ones being damaged the most.

This is all getting pretty ridiculous. Somehow, we’ve morphed from being a village that helps raise children to a parenting police state.

[‘Free-range children’ taken into custody again in Maryland ]

Danielle Meitiv waits with her son Rafi Meitiv, 10, for Danielle's daughter, Dvora Meitiv, 6, to be dropped off at the neighborhood school bus stop in Silver Spring earlier this year. (Sammy Dallal/For the Washington Post)

The Silver Spring siblings were about 2 1/2 blocks from their home Sunday when Montgomery County police got a call reporting them — gasp — playing alone.

“The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car and kept them trapped there for three hours, without notifying us, before bringing them to the Crisis Center, and holding them there without dinner for another two and a half hours,” their mom, Danielle Meitiv, said to her Facebook friends. “We finally got home at 11 pm and the kids slept in our room because we were all exhausted and terrified.”

What a pathetic way to fight about parenting styles. Because the kids are the biggest victims in all this.

Imagine the cops telling two young children to get into the car as they argue that they know their way home, they know where they are going and that their dad said they could walk home. This is what happened in December. And Rafi and Dvora had nightmares about police snatching them that time, their mom told me.

Mom and Dad were dragged into court for that incident, and the nation debated whether they are good or bad parents. Montgomery County ruled that they were guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect. Which means no one could decide who was right.

[Why are we criminalizing childhood independence?]

This time, police were called again by an adult worried about these kids playing outside alone.

Legal age restrictions for children left at home alone. Some are guidelines and some states may have more definitive laws than others.

Capt. Paul Starks, the county police spokesman, told The Washington Post that the children were taken into custody at a county park about 5 p.m. and turned over to Child Protective Services. They were released to their parents at 10:30 p.m., said Starks, who added that the matter remains under investigation.

Danielle Meitiv, a climate-science consultant, offered a scarier account of what happened to her children. “The cops said they would drive them home, then kept the kids in the patrol car for three hours,” she told me on Monday. “Wouldn’t even let them out to use the bathroom.”

Imagine the message our society is sending the Meitiv kids by holding them in the back of a squad car and in a crisis center for nearly six hours because they were playing alone outside. And if what Danielle said is true — that police initially told the kids they were going to just drive them home — how is this not a kidnapping?

It’s outrageous, really.

If that adult who called police was worried about the kids, why not talk to them? Ask them where their parents were? Walk them home?

Or maybe it was someone who recognized the Meitiv kids, hated their parents’ very public free-range advocacy campaign — multiple television appearances included — and decided to get back at them.

If this is how we respond to children playing alone, my kids and I would’ve been locked up multiple times. Walking the dog around the block? Call the Capitol Police! Getting a popsicle at the corner store? Alert the social workers! Getting me the cheese I ran out of while making dinner? Book ’em!

We need to get a grip. I get that it’s a scary thing to let kids go. But it is absolutely necessary for them to become normal, functioning adults.

My kids play basketball and lacrockey (a made-up hockey/lacrosse thing) in our alley on Capitol Hill. It’s not a suburban cul-de-sac, believe me. The other day, a motorcycle cop rode up to them and asked if they had seen a man running past them.

This was the search that ended on H Street in Northeast Washington, with the capture of a man suspected of killing a security guard at the U.S. Census Bureau.

Did I let them play in the alley again the next day? You bet.

Because when I drove past the fatal accident on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway earlier this year, I did not stop driving, either. There are risks in living, no matter what.

Our rapid march toward police-state parenting has got to end.

Today, when you look at the readiness checklists for first grade, you’ll find that we are concerned only with their academic performance, being able to “expand sight words” or “read a graph” or “locate the seven continents and four oceans.” Really.

But take a look at the first-grade readiness checklist from a 1979 book, “Your Six-Year-Old — Loving and Defiant.”

Back then, your child was ready for first grade if he or she had two to five permanent teeth, were at least 6 years and 6 months old and these:

● Can your child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or police where he lives?

● Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

● Can he be away from you all day without being upset?

Yeah. Life skills, social development. Becoming actual people, not just little graph readers. We’ve kind of forgotten about that, haven’t we?

21 Apr 01:16

3.46-Billion-Year-Old 'Fossils' Were Not Created By Life Forms

by Soulskill
sciencehabit writes: What are the oldest fossils on Earth? For a long time, a 3.46-billion-year-old rock from Western Australia seemed to hold the record. A 1993 Science paper (abstract) suggested that the Apex chert contained tiny, wormy structures that could have been fossilized cell walls of some of the world's first cyanobacteria. But now there is more evidence that these structures have nothing to do with life. The elongated filaments were instead created by minerals forming in hydrothermal systems, researchers report (abstract). After the minerals were formed, carbon glommed on to the edges, leaving behind an organic signature that looked suspiciously like cell walls.

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19 Apr 15:32

amusingabe: Homogeneity series closeups.T.S Abe


Homogeneity series closeups.

T.S Abe

20 Apr 17:50

Leda and Zeus, redrawn for the bookgoogle image those two names...

Leda and Zeus, redrawn for the book

google image those two names IF YOU DARE (it’s hella raunch)


20 Apr 18:56

Person of No Rank

by Brad

What does being equal really mean?

rank comicOne day Zen Master Rinzai (Ch. Lin-chi) said, “There is a true man of no rank (無位眞人) in the mass of naked flesh , who goes in and out from your facial features. Those who have not yet testified, look, look!”

A monk came forward and said, “Who is this true man of no rank?”

Master Rinzai came down from his seat, grabbed the monk by the throat and said, “Speak! Speak!”

The monk hesitated.

Master Rinzai let go and said, “What a worthless shit-stick this true man of no rank is!”

I first started to grasp the idea of the person of no rank (the above is a standard translation in which the genderless word 人 — pronounced “hito” or “nin” in Japanese — has been translated as “man”) when I was in a Tokyo park watching some pigeons.

As I watched those birds gather around my bench hoping I’d drop some rice from my onigiri I noticed that the differences between me and those birds were fairly superficial. Up until then I hadn’t thought much about my rank in relation to birds. If anyone had asked, I imagine I would have said that I was superior to birds in terms of intelligence and and inferior in terms of flying abilities.

More significantly, I would have assumed that my internal experience was more sophisticated and nuanced than that of a bird, since, for example, I can name the entire cast of Gilligan’s Island whereas a bird couldn’t be expected to do much more than whistle the theme song with no real understanding of the story the lyrics tell.

That day I noticed with a very sharp clarity that there really is no big difference between the various internal experiences of any being in the universe. Any rank I could assign to another person or creature was imaginary. This, when I was working in the extraordinarily rank-conscious world of Japanese business.

That doesn’t mean everybody is equal in every way. Some people really are experts at certain things and we can learn a lot from them about the areas that they have studied and practiced. But that’s not quite the same as the idea of rank.

To have no rank means you not only don’t regard anyone as your superior, but you don’t regard anyone as your inferior either. It’s easy not to regard anyone as your superior. I used to do that so much I got to be an expert. I was superior to everybody. Including you! So there!

That’s just arrogance and defensiveness. It’s a coping strategy and it can work pretty well in lots of situations — again I can attest to its efficacy from lots of experience.

It was an eye-opener to see that while no one was my superior, no one was my inferior either. Little children, dogs, pigeons, hateful religious fanatics, rich dipshits in stupidly expensive cars who cut you off on the freeway, both of the guys from Hanson… none of them are in any way inferior to me or to you.

Take note. Although I described those guys in stupidly expensive cars as dipshits, this does not mean I am superior to them, nor does it mean they aren’t still dipshits or that the excessive money they spent on their cars is any less stupid.

What I mean is that I can still have an opinion. So can you. More important I still do have an opinion and so do you.

A lot of times people hear stuff about being a person with no rank and try to envision what that would mean, then they train to themselves to act like the person-of-no-rank character they’ve created. What sort of dialogue would you write for your person-of-no-rank? Well, he has no rank, right? So he would simply looooooove everybody regardless of what they did or said. He would be just the fluffiest, most cuddly thing ever! He would only say lovey things and never call anyone a “dipshit” or, indeed, have any opinion about anyone anywhere ever!

I’ve run into a lot of people who strive for this and they are annoying as… hell, I don’t know. Something really, super annoying. Is that the way Master Rinzai behaves in the example?

Having no rank doesn’t mean having no opinion, no personality, no position on anything. It’s more of an understanding of how things actually work.

This is not an easy understanding to come to or accept. Last Saturday I watched a movie called ROAR! It’s an insane film about a family who try to share their home with dozens of gigantic killer lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs and other big cats. The family is portrayed by a group of actors — including Melanie Griffith — actually sharing a real house in California with dozens of huge, un-tamed killer cats. It’s the most amazingly deranged movie you will ever see.

Anyway, one of the plot lines in the film involves a struggle for dominance by two large male lions. Animal trainers warned the director that you could never use two male lions in a film because they’d spend the whole time trying to kill each other. This movie features something like seven male lions living in a house together. And they fight constantly.

The point is, our tendency to try to figure out where we rank in terms of others is not something that we invented when we started to form armies and assign some people to be sergeants and others to be corporals. It goes way back to our prehuman ancestors. It’s not something you can think your way out of. This is because it’s an inclination that operates at a much more basic level than that of thought. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re better than the other guy or not. By the time it has reached the level wherein you can think consciously about it, it’s already established.

What you can learn to do, though, is to notice what’s happening. Watch yourself slip into ranking mode. Don’t try to stop it because by the time you’ve consciously noticed it, you’re already doing it. Just recognize that it’s meaningless the same way you recognize that just because that itch on the back of your head feels like there’s a tarantula under your bonnet does not mean there really is a tarantula under your bonnet.

When you have no rank at all, you are free from comparison.

GarfieldThis is not a once-and-forever deal. It’s not like you realize this once and then, forever after you are free from rank. In fact it’s quite the opposite. You notice that the tendency to accord a rank to yourself and others is always there and always will be there. You notice that this is something you will always have to remind yourself about.

It’s not necessary to play the person-of-no-rank role straight out of Central Casting either. In the moment that you need to modify your relationship to the ranks you assign to self and others, you’ll see what you need to do. It won’t always be what you want to do. You may, in fact, choose not to do what you clearly see you ought to. You’ll also see what happens when you do that.



TONIGHT, just like every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info! YOU ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER! DO IT!!


April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT


July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER

August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany LECTURE

September 5, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT


Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

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17 Apr 17:16

The Kanna Finish: How to Get Glass-Smooth Surfaces in Wood Without Sandpaper or Varnish


tool porn via A. Kachmar

Sandpaper has to be the number one consumable in the modern-day furniture shop. But a subset of craftspeople, like Toshio Tokunaga and his four apprentices, don't use any of the stuff—yet are still able to achieve a glass-like finish on their furniture pieces, even absent varnish.

Anti-sandpaper furniture builders achieve this with handplanes and spokeshaves, or what are collectively called kanna in Japanese. While Western planes are made with cast-iron or bronze bodies, kanna are made with wooden bodies supporting the iron cutter.

While sandpaper and kanna might seem to produce the same results to the untrained eye—or hand rubbing the surface—it's simply not true, particularly when seen at a microscopic level, or touched with sensitive fingertips.

As you can see, blades cut. Sandpaper tears. Thus, as Tokunaga Furniture Studio explains,

We use no sandpaper at all when crafting our furniture. Sandpaper rubs away the natural pattern of the wood, leaving behind a smoothness that is artificial and which obscures the tree's innate characteristics. In contrast to this, the kanna cuts away successive layers of wood in a way that preserves the wood's natural appearance.

Tokunaga, by the way, makes his own kanna, from the ones that do the roughing work to the ones that take the final fine shavings.

As you can see, he's designed a staggering range of shapes. Collectively these tools can cope with every type of contour required in his work, whether flat, concave or convex.

Here's the team putting in the elbow grease:

And here's Tokunaga discussing the benefits of the kanna finish:

The blades of course require regular maintenance. Here an apprentice sharpens an iron on a waterstone.

Speaking of the irons, take a closer look:

Those look store-bought to you? Nope, Tokunaga has them made locally. And while I hate to write this hacky, clickbaitey sentence, you really won't believe where they came from! Stay tuned.

20 Apr 05:01

Real Estate

by Ian


Real Estate

19 Apr 19:55

Bread and Roses


more subtle now, but still true

An internet rabbithole, as they go.

Not long ago I watched the film Pride (set largely in 1984 Wales), and there was a scene where the community hall broke into the song Bread and Roses.  I was on a plane, otherwise I’d probably have googled it.

I was looking at some labor history links today after looking at some titles on Scribd and came across this by the Labor Education Service from the University of Minnesota: there again, Bread and Roses (1912, far from Wales).

So now, reading the lyrics and looking up the strike and the song both, this is how we get the name Rose Schneiderman - who coined the phrase that was turned into a slogan, poem and song.

All of this to say that I was moved by a speech from Rose herself, in the wake of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  Thank you wikipedia for that.  And now perhaps I ought to find more to read of hers, but that is the beauty of internet rabbitholes, there is always more to read:

“I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

—Rose Schneiderman
17 Apr 18:44

How and Why of Aluminum Cans

by Will Smith

This is pretty damn good.

18 Apr 23:31

(Im)mortal Men: Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, And The Pimping of Butterflies


Finally made the time to listen to this record with minimal distraction. It is so brilliant, so sharp.

Dissecting the Tupac Shakur allusions in Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly."

"I want to be somewhat of an ambassador, internationally, for my generation. Not just for young black males, but for my generation as a whole." - Tupac Shakur

Few Hip Hop artists have aspired to be the kind of spokesman Tupac Shakur was becoming when he was murdered in September 1996. It is easy to understand why. The ambitions and adversities of millions are a heavy burden for anyone to carry, let alone someone as young as the typical rap superstar. For nearly 20 years, listeners have waited in vain for someone to pick up the baton Tupac left behind in Las Vegas. On March 15, 2015, one member of Hip Hop’s vanguard not only grabbed that baton, he took off running with it when he released what may become the most important rap album of this decade. The artist? Kendrick Lamar. The album? To Pimp a Butterfly.

As fans and journalists have discovered in the days following its release, To Pimp a Butterfly is an emotionally exhausting and thought-provoking concept album that only reveals itself fully after detailed and repeated listening sessions. Its structure is complex and is founded upon three sources. The first is a story entitled “Another Nigga” which is told, one new line at a time, over the course of the album and sets forth Kendrick’s post-fame transformation from disillusioned star to self-assured messenger. The second source is a poem, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which tells a similar tale but does so in metaphorical, rather than literal, fashion. The third source ends the album and is an interview focused on the future. This interview’s prophetical bent is ironic because the person being questioned by Kendrick is none other than Tupac Shakur, who, as most are now willing to admit, has been dead for almost nineteen years.

Tupac As Hip Hop's Patron Saint

Why would Kendrick Lamar choose Tupac of all rap legends to converse with at the end of this masterpiece? The reasons are numerous. Tupac was the type of artist who naturally combined the most important elements of Hip Hop, indeed of life itself. His music could be celebratory, depressing, personal, political, hard, sensitive, or insightful, often all at the same time. As Public Enemy’s Chuck D recently told Rolling Stone, Tupac “was able to touch souls like no other MC.” He was a provocateur both inside and outside the recording booth: Always in the mix, inflaming the media, and expounding on issues that were important to his community. Just days before being murdered, Tupac was at a rally in Los Angeles, speaking out against a California proposition intended to prohibit affirmative action. Tupac was dangerous to the establishment because he used the power of his voice, both on wax and in reality, to fight the injustices he observed around him. As Kendrick opines at the album’s conclusion, Tupac could therefore “relate to” Butterfly’s underlying story.

The use of Tupac’s disembodied voice at the conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly was also dictated by reasons personal to Kendrick, who has been inspired by Tupac since he was a child. When Kendrick was just eight years old, he and his father saw Tupac and Dr. Dre filming the “California Love (Remix)” music video at the Compton Fashion Center (where Kendrick recently shot a video for “King Kunta”). At that shoot, a motorcycle officer nearly struck Tupac’s black Rolls-Royce Corniche, leading Tupac to lash out, “Yo, what is you doing? This is a $100,000 car. You in front of my people.” Tupac’s confidence made a powerful impression on Kendrick. It was then that Kendrick decided he too wanted to be an artist. Tupac’s guidance did not cease upon his death. Years later, on the night after Kendrick’s mother told him that his and Tupac’s birthdays were days apart, Tupac appeared to Kendrick in a dream, commanding Kendrick to keep his music alive. Shortly thereafter, Kendrick recorded Section.80, his most socially conscious album until To Pimp a Butterfly.

One year after Section.80, Kendrick released his critically-acclaimed major label debut, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. An Illmatic for the millennial generation, Good Kid is a birds-eye view of Kendrick’s adolescence on the streets of Compton. In contrast to Tupac’s seminal albums, Good Kid casts Kendrick more as an observer than as a protagonist. Like Nas, Kendrick paints a beautifully detailed portrait of life in his hood. After eleven tracks of masterful emceeing, Good Kid ends with “Compton,” an ode to the Hub City, the birthplace of N.W.A, DJ Quik, et al. On that song, Kendrick enters the world stage alongside his musical mentor, Dr. Dre, as a talk box harkens back to Roger Troutman’s timeless contribution to “California Love,” the song which began Kendrick’s musical journey.

To Pimp a Butterfly opens three years later with “Wesley’s Theory,” a track that once again features Dr. Dre, who brings along George Clinton, the g-funk era’s greatest influence. Kendrick is a different person at the opening of Butterfly than he was at the end of Good Kid. He is a caterpillar: Consuming everything in sight, egocentric enough to compare himself to Alex Haley’s Kunta Kinte, and destined to bring the West Coast back to Hip Hop prominence. Fortune and fame are not all that they are cracked up to be, however. On the album’s opening tracks, Kendrick sounds lost, beset on all sides by the evils of Uncle Sam and Lucifer: Drugs, alcohol, empty sex, depression, and self-doubt (all of which are common themes running through Tupac’s catalogue). Kendrick hits bottom on “u,” one of the most emotionally naked songs heard in Hip Hop since the release of “Dear Mama” twenty years ago.

After "U" And Moving Toward The Light

Kendrick begins following his path toward enlightenment on the Pharrell Williams and Sounwave produced song, “Alright.” Though tempted by Satan, he learns to “keep [his] head up high” and realizes he needs to “write ‘til I’m right with God.” He refuses to sell his soul and understands that he must heed the advice his mother gave him on the Good Kid song, “Real,” by returning home to Compton (the chrysalis).

Kendrick’s arrival brings a shift in perspective. While the tracks in this section of the album (“Momma” through “i”) evidence much self-discovery, Kendrick’s subject matter is more worldly than it is on the rest of To Pimp a Butterfly. He promises “to advocate for” a youth he meets on “Momma,” navigates “Hood Politics,” receives advice from Tupac through his mother (“You ain’t gotta lie to kick it”), and turns a symbol of oppression into a symbol of beauty on “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” (“I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you,” reminding Tupac fans of “the rose that grew through a crack in the concrete”). Kendrick also confronts an accusation frequently tossed at Tupac during his lifetime, the charge of hypocrisy, on the fiery “The Blacker the Berry” (track 13, a number that is meaningful to the abolition of slavery and Tupac lore). He even travels thousands of miles and into the past, a la Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, to Africa, the home of Nelson Mandela and the original home of African-American (and human) ancestry.

It is not until the penultimate song that Kendrick actualizes all that he has learned over the course of the album and realizes that the butterfly he has become and the caterpillar he once was are one and the same being. A live version of “i” replaces the studio single, permitting a riveting conclusion where Kendrick uses the power of the spoken word to quell a fight brewing in the audience. Kendrick stops the music and asks the crowd, “how many niggas we done lost?” before imploring the people to stop being victims and make time rather than waste time. He also substitutes the word Negus (a word used to describe royalty in Ethiopia) for nigga, taking Tupac’s Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished definition of “N.I.G.G.A.” a step further.

To Pimp a Butterfly concludes with “Mortal Man,” a contemplative track reminiscent of “Testify,” a Nas song off of the similarly themed Untitled album (which was released shortly before Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election and closes with a song that samples Tupac’s oft-quoted bars, “and though it seems heaven sent / we ain’t ready, to have a black President”). After “Mortal Man” fades away, Kendrick finishes reading “Another Nigga” and it is revealed that he has been speaking to his musical father, the ghost of Tupac Shakur, all along. At that point, Kendrick reprises his Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City role of a Hip Hop journalist, probing Tupac for a glimpse into America’s future. “The poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people ‘cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetizing... there might be some cannibalism out this mutha,” Tupac explains. Their conversation returns to various themes Kendrick illustrates throughout the album: The importance of honesty, the need to resist oppression, and, finally, a warning from Tupac that “it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831, up in this motherfucker” if African-American lives are not respected. Finally, Kendrick reads the “Butterfly” poem to Tupac and seeks his perspective. Tupac does not respond, cannot respond. He is gone; the album ends with Kendrick calling out, “‘Pac. ‘Pac. ‘Pac.” Kendrick is on his own.

What is next for Kendrick Lamar? Will he remain introverted and revert back to the chrysalis? Or will he fly further than his peers, baton firmly grasped in hand, and become the ambassador Tupac envisioned so long ago? Such questions, like the last Kendrick posed to Tupac, remain unanswered. One thing is certain: Kendrick Lamar is one of, if not the, most important artists working in Hip Hop music today.

Michael Namikas is a writer and longtime Hip Hop listener who practiced law in a past life and is currently writing a listener’s guide devoted to the music of Tupac Shakur, the first volume of which will be published in the first quarter of 2016. He frequently posts on Reddit as /u/Mikeaveli2682 and can be followed on Twitter @Mikeaveli2682.

18 Apr 15:30

Bee-u-tify flower seeds for bees

by Rusty

I should look around for these.

Here in Washington State, the Noxious Weed Control Board is distributing packets of non-invasive flower seeds for bees and butterflies. The program is co-sponsored by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Washington Invasive Species Council, and Lincoln, Skamania, Pierce, and Thurston counties. Landowners are being encouraged to eradicate invasive weeds and replace them with […]
18 Apr 02:18

"If he messes this up we get to call the dude JarJar Abrams for the rest of his life."


Share this far and wide.

““If he messes this up we get to call the dude JarJar Abrams for the rest of his life.””

- someone on facebook discussing the new Star Wars trailer (via dbvictoria)