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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,

*   *   *

Your donations to this blog help out more than you think. Thank you!

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)
11 Apr 19:47

April, 11th


Seems like someone is Star Warsing.

April, 11th

13 Apr 22:38

Why Everyone's Saying 'YAAAAAASSSSSS' Now


Mother. Fucking. Bread crumbs.

Why Everyone's Saying 'YAAAAAASSSSSS' Now:
From “yeah” to “yaaaaas” to “yiss,” we’re rejecting the clinical “yes” and finding more nuanced ways to give our approval—and to hedge our bets.

Aw Yiss, my friends.

aw yiss.

Thanks for the shout out, the Atlantic!

15 Apr 05:59

coelasquid: tastefullyoffensive: by AxbyMag This was a wild...



by AxbyMag

This was a wild ride

17 Apr 00:00

Code Quality


And this is why no one wants to join your software movement.

I honestly didn't think you could even USE emoji in variable names. Or that there were so many different crying ones.
15 Apr 16:30

OP Wonders About the Poor and Gets Told. This is Why We CAN Have Nice Things.


Sometimes, tumblr is very useful. via Arnvidr

14 Apr 20:25

Let’s Build a Field Kit

by Mike Bell

paging bl00. Via Lev.

piano rebuilding toolboxThe Twin Cities metro area, my home for the past 20 years, is also home to the worst racial disparities in the nation – not only in unemployment, but also in health, education, and criminal justice.

If my life as a middle-class white male had rolled out differently – if I’d had different parents or friends or other role models, lived elsewhere or moved less, gone to different schools, been somewhat less introspective or shy, read different books, held different jobs, developed a different sense of my place in the universe – I can imagine being a person who never quite gets around to thinking much about Racial Disparity in the Metropolitan Region, let alone feeling my place in it or trying to do much of anything in response to it.

As it is, Racial Disparity in the Metropolitan Region seems like a problem.

A problem that seems worth responding to, in fact.

A problem that I’ve started to think that ordinary people like you and me can actually respond to – directly, right now, in a host of ways that are not only interesting and challenging and useful and collaborative and fear-squashing and life-changing, but might even possibly be sort of fun, in fact.

Or at least, that assumption is the price of admission for this blog.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in.

Fortunately, there are more than a few other people who have already devoted a great deal of time and thought and money and energy responding to this problem. Many of these people have been in the trenches on this issue longer than I’ve been a resident here – long before the Economic Policy Institute held up this stark mirror for our examination, and even before the goal of their work was commonly known as Social Equity. Many of these people are in government and the nonprofit sector; some are formal members of community associations or faith-based organizations; many are educators and student activists; a precious handful are business owners; most have at least some knowledge of the wealth of online references such as this one and this one that can help them in their work, as well as the support of other Actively Engaged Persons in their network; all have had whatever combination of role models, education, life experiences, confidence, grit, gumption, brains, humility, and luck was necessary to move them along the rugged trail to action in the first place.

And, I am willing to bet that for every one of these Actively Engaged Persons, there are a hundred more – all very well-meaning, highly effective people with nearly identical qualities and experiences and relative fortunes – who are somehow just under the threshold of putting their book learnin’ and their well-meaning concerns to work – or who want to do more but are not sure where to start, or what to do, or where to turn for support when they screw up or run into dead ends or feel stupid or defensive or overwhelmed or otherwise on the verge of checking out and doing other, much easier things instead.

Rocket science, for example.a-7-rocket-engine

And here’s the thing: If the Twin Cities is going to become a more equitable place for everyone to live, it is indeed going to take policy changes and school reform and vocational training of various sorts and a host of other critical investments in our equity infrastructure at the systems level – AND it’s going to take something much simpler and more complicated than all of that, too.

It is going to take ordinary people, including those currently just under the threshold of walking the equity talk, to examine and update a habit or two.

And by ordinary people, I mean all of us: You and me, whoever we are, and everyone we know, whoever they are, and everyone else we decide to go out and meet, today and tomorrow and the next day, whoever they are, and so on and so forth.

What’s more, it’s going to take all of us whether or not we know what to do – which of course nobody does until they’ve up and jumped in and started to do the hard work of figuring it out for themselves, on the ground, in the real world of their own life.

That’s what I’ve decided it’s time to get serious about doing, at least.


Anyway: A few weeks ago I quit my job at a local workforce development nonprofit to focus full-time on reading, writing, and talking with as many people as I can, including those already in the Equity trenches, about how ordinary people outside the Policy and Planning communities can help to make the Twin Cities a better place for everyone to live.

Lab EquipmentAnd, out of necessity, I’m starting with myself. My goal is to put together a Field Kit of applied theory and a set of practical Field Experiments that I can use to work through a host of my own assumptions and privileges and blindspots, gradually push several boundaries, increase self-confidence and awareness and empathy, reduce defensiveness, expand my capacity to be Productively Uncomfortable in charged social situations, and change my own self-talk and other habits around race in ways that lead to more and better cross-racial relationships, a deeper sense of who I am, and a truer expression of my beliefs and values.

So basically, I want to confront my deepest fears about myself and others and become the person I truly want to be.

I expect this might take a couple weeks.

So why have I decided to do a part of this very difficult and humbling and potentially embarrassing work publicly?

Because: If my efforts are going to amount to anything of any worth to myself or others, I am going to need a thousand perspectives and a ton of help.

AND because: If my efforts DO end up amounting to anything of any worth to myself or others, then I want to share what there is to share.

So that’s the work at hand.

Sound like a good time?

Want to come along?

What do you think?

16 Apr 04:05

Torpor Not Trust Iron Tony's Tiny Reddit Beard


Torpor is pretty great.

sleep is dumb

Tonight’s comic is about Torpor's favorite Avenger.

14 Apr 15:17

Awesome Words You Didn’t Know You Needed

by Strange Beaver

Amusin. via A.Kachmar

UrbanDictionary is packed full of words for today’s slang, but it also has a ton of hidden gems like these. Some of these are so perfect they need to be more commonly used

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

Funny words that you should use more often

13 Apr 17:57

Milling Time: Testing the Roland MDX-540 4-Axis CNC

by Ben Light

Super hot.

Previously, I've talked about testing the Othermill--an out-of-the-box work horse--and the Shapeoko 2--a CNC kit ripe for re-invention. Today, I'm going to talk about a big boy, examining a CNC mill that's bigger, pricier, and commands a steeper learning curve. That's because we're adding another axis!

This is the MDX-540 with a rotary axis made by the Roland DGA Corporation. A 4-axis mill can do everything an X, Y, Z machine can do, but it can also rotate the cutting material around an 'A' axis. Essentially, this mill combines the functionality of a typical CNC and a lathe. With that additional axis, you're able to create complex double-sided objects and components with undercuts.

Three cork "bottles" milled using different settings.

I'm fortunate enough to work at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program , where we have a bunch of incredible tools and machines. The MDX-540 is our latest addition to the shop and we're just beginning to experiment with it.

For all of my testing I mounted material in the rotary axis exclusively.


The Roland has an extensive list of material pre-sets to choose from, for my testing I stuck to primarily walnut, Delrin, and aluminum (my favorites). But what was new for me is how the material is secured to the mill.

Wooden dowel secured to the rotary axis.

When using the rotary axis, material is mounted in a way that is very similar to a lathe. One side is clamped down at the motorized end, the other is secured by a live center--a free spinning support. The material can be rotated while a spinning end mill cuts from above.

Flat stock secured in the rotary axis.
Double side walnut part with tabs

The other novel thing for me, you can use either flat or round (dowel) stock.

Double sided parts--any object that has a detailed top and bottom or an in and outside--can be milled from flat stock. All of the roughing and finishing is done to one surface, the stock is rotated 180 degrees, and then the other side is roughed and finished. Oh the possibilities, I forsee a lot of custom project enclosures in my future.

Tabs remain to secure the part to the remaining material and there is a faint seam line left after machining, but the surface finish is phenomenal. Post milling work will be necessary to remove any trace of the tabs, but no sanding needed for the rest of it.

Cutting an aluminum rod.

Round stock mounts in a similar fashion, but the material is rotated for each pass and the part is milled all the way around. Want to make lightsabers, anyone?

Precision and Finish

As I mentioned, the surface finish of wooden pieces is incredible--it's incredibly precise to a point that there's no sanding needed for some materials. Delrin parts looked like they were cast or even injection molded. I didn't have as much luck with the finish on aluminum. There was a little chatter during milling and I don't think I was using the most ideal tool paths. I think with a little more CAM finagling I can get the results I want.

We needed some new Delrin foosball players, CAD model by David Rios.

Setting Origin

There is no other way to say it: the process of setting origin on this machine is nuts. The Roland comes with a calibration bar that you secure in the rotary axis and an electrode is plugged in. A calibration pin is chucked into the cutting spindle, and then the calibration cycle is run. At a very fast pace, the pin moves towards the bar (I think it's going to destroy itself everytime), right before a collision it slows to just barely make contact, and an electrical connection is made. The pin then moves to a number of other key locations along the bar, repeating the process. And all of this is just to set the origin of the Y axis!

Calibration Bar in place on the rotary axis.

This process is very well documented in the Roland manuals, it's just an involved process and nerve racking every time. Luckily, the mill "remembers" origin (even after powering down) and this makes running a job a little less terrifying.


Simple 3D CAD Model in Vectorworks

This is the first mill I've covered that uses 3D models exclusively. Any CAD software that outputs to an .igs or .stl file can be used. I've had a lot of luck with Vectorworks.


The Roland comes with its own CAM software, the SRP Player, a wizard that takes you step by step through the process. Asking simple questions like material size and type, round vs flat stock, tabs/no tabs, bit selection, etc. This software makes what would typically be very difficult toolpaths easy to understand and execute.

Model in SRP Player to be cut from flat stock with tabs.

Time to Mill

These jobs take a long time, hours, lots and lots of hours. We have a policy in our shop of never leaving a running CNC unattended. For one or two hour jobs, this isbearable, but I've seen some jobs estimated at 20-plus hours. Maybe I'll start reading Game of Thrones.

Noise and Mess

The noise the mill makes isn't bad at all, when cutting aluminum I didn't even need ear protection. Technically, the MDX-540 could sit on a desktop (overall dimensions 29.3" x 37.6" x 33.8"), but due to the uncontained mess, this is a shop only tool. I don't think anyone would be happy running this in an office.

Walnut parts with milled plastic inserts.

So who's this for?

Someone with deep pockets to start. With a starting price of $20,000, I can't imagine the typical maker buying one of these for their home shop. This would most likely be in a school, a design company's prototyping shop, or a well-equipped makerspace.

That said, the Roland 4-axis CNC mill works incredibly well and is fairly easy to use. Now that I have the 4th axis, I'm creating parts I never dreamed I could produce. It's the kind of machine you definitely want to try at your local makerspace or tech shop.

Photos by Ben Light. Find more of Ben's projectson his website.

10 Apr 17:00

Tiny bee loses her pollen

by Rusty

Really great picture.

You think pollen collecting is simple, right? But no, like everything else in life it has discouraging moments. Here a little Lasioglossum bee decides to take a rest. She alights on a flat leaf and promptly loses her load. Bummer. Apparently, collecting pollen from a slippery leaf isn’t as easy as rubbing it from a […]
11 Apr 23:39

Are we raising extra-large mason bees?

by Rusty

Very interesting. I look forward to seeing the results of Rusty's experiment. I should also find a place to set up something along these lines.

Except for natural bamboo tubes, it seems that most commercial tunnels sold for pollinator housing have an inside diameter of about 7 to 8 mm for orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria), 6 mm for blueberry bees (Osmia ribifloris), and 5 mm for both alfalfa leafcutting bees (Megachile rotundata) and raspberry bees (Osmia aglaia). I don’t […]
14 Apr 22:09


The power of this show knows no bounds.

11 Apr 21:52

We’re no better than a lettuce.

We’re no better than a lettuce.

13 Apr 18:01

Gendering Nemo.

by Peter Watts
Hey, at least I'm among really good company...

Hey, at least I’m in really good company…

With Special Opening Act, Tony Smith!

What do Dune, The Road, Blindsight, Anathem, and I Am Legend all have in common? Together, they comprise The Five Worst SF Books EVER, as compiled by my buddy, Tony Smith over at Starship Sofa. Of course, this is hardly the first time Blindsight has been so honored— but when a winner of both the Hugo and whatever award is represented by that weird forties-era-Popular-Mechanics-airplane-thingy-in-front-of-his-fridge-at-the-lower-left-there weighs in, well, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice.

Thanks a lot, Tony. You owe me a brewery.



The BUG and I were hanging out the other day with a friend I’ve known for thirty years. Debbie and I attended grad school together; but while I devolved into an SF writer, Debbie jumped onto the tenure track and rode it to the University of Toronto, where she’s been doing odd things with fish for a couple of decades now. One thing I always take away from my time with her is a harsh reminder of how far past my best-before date I am, as any kind of biologist (she pointed out a couple of pretty significant flaws in that genetic-recoding paper I was salivating over a while back, for example).

So Friday. Over wine and cheese and salmon (and a horde of cats who’d once again hit the jackpot), the subject turned to this nifty little piece of research in which an anatomically-female rat was reprogrammed into behaving like a male, thanks to the injection of a certain hormone. (This is unlikely to come as welcome news to those on the whole defense-of-traditional-binary-marriage side of things, but that’s reality’s well-known leftist bias for you.) It was Debbie, typically, who saw the immediate potential for kids’ movies.

“There’s this question I put on my exams,” she said. “I ask my students what would have really happened in Finding Nemo, after Nemo’s mom got eaten by the barracuda.”

Let me just take a moment here to admit how much I loved Finding Nemo. I think I saw it at least three times in the theater— years before I even had step-pones as an excuse— once with an honest-to-God rocket scientist who also loved it. (I belted out “The Zones of the Sea” in the shower for weeks afterward.) Plus I used to be an actual marine biologist. And yet it wasn’t until Debbie brought up her question that the obvious answer hit me in the nose:



Nemo’s dad would’ve turned female.

That’s what clownfish do, after all. (Also wrasses. Also a bunch of others I’ve forgotten.) When the dominant female disappears from the scene, the next male in line switches sexes and fills the vacancy, becoming a fully reproductive female in her own right. So Marlin would’ve become Marlene— and while that might mean no more than a couple of bonus points to some UT undergrad (you can see why Debbie has a fistful of teaching awards), the ramifications reach all the way down to Hollywood.

We live in an age of reboots and sequels, you see. And In A World where even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers get a dark and gritty (albeit unauthorized) update, what possible excuse could there be for not slipping a little real-world biology into a Nemo reboot? You wouldn’t even have to change the story significantly (although you’d need a new voice actor for Marlene— I nominate Amy Poehler). And talk about a positive sympathetic role model for transgender kids! Aren’t we long overdue for one of those? (Can’t you just imagine the drives home after Sunday school? “But Dad, if Marlin can change…”)

You listening, Disney?

14 Apr 02:41

Fartbarf - Master Of The Five Count (Redwood Bar, Los Angeles CA 1/2/15)


FartBarf describes themselves thusly: "A mere handful of ape-like orderlies resisting a touchscreen future. Give us knobs or give us death!"

Enjoy and Subscribe! Please contact if any any questions or video needs to be removed. Thanks! Fartbarf - Master Of The Five Count (Redw...