Jun 28, 2010

Best rock albums of the 2000's

Rock music has, quite frankly, been shit for the entire millenium. I can freely admit that this was the decade when I became old enough that the only music video channel I can bear to watch any more is VH1 Classic. A man can only endure so many 30 Seconds to Mars, Coldplay and Green Day videos before he despairs of life completely. More on this topic later. Don't even get me started on Finnish music either.

It wasn't all bad, though. In the insipid musical darkness of the past ten years there were some bright spots, and even some legitimately good stuff. As my next list of the decade, here are the three best rock albums of the 2000's.

3. Electric Six - Señor Smoke



This Detroit-based band burst onto the Internet scene with "Gay Bar" in 2003. What most people don't know is that the album, Fire, was pretty good in its own right. They followed it up in 2005 with their sophomore effort, Señor Smoke. I recall it got some bad press because there wasn't anything as obviously funny and meme-y as "Gay Bar" on it, but the fact is that it's a great rock album. Sure, there are a couple of sleepy tracks and a pointless Queen cover, but overall it's funny, it rocks, it will surprise you and it will delight you. Sadly, the follow-ups haven't been nearly as good, although they have some brilliant tracks as well. Given how little exposure this got, it's easily the most underrated rock album of the decade.

Check out: Jimmy Carter. A ballad about, well, everything from the title to the Backstreet Boys. You'll have to listen to it. Pure genius.

2. Bruce Springsteen - The Rising



What can I possibly say about this? The Boss is back. A thoroughly solid album that takes you to a lot of places before taking on the big one in the title song. Bruce Springsteen may be the only person who was capable of doing this song, and so he created the definitive musical expression of perhaps the most traumatic event in American history. It's so intense that I still can't listen to "The Rising" without feeling deeply moved. I'm not ashamed to say I cried the first time I heard it. Whatever your feelings on the subject matter, this album is the Boss at his very best, and music just doesn't get much better than that.

Check out: Worlds Apart. Slightly oddball on the album, but an excellent song.

1. The Killers - Sam's Town



At the end of the day, the reason I rank Sam's Town above The Rising is that the Boss is, well, the Boss. A great Bruce Springsteen record isn't exactly unheard of. On the other hand, with the exception of the superb Somebody Told Me, the Killers were forgettable before Sam's Town and have been completely rubbish since. Their "hits" sound like insipid parodies of themselves. It's a terrible shame, because unless you're insane, which I mean in the sense once excellently defined by Jeremy Clarkson as waking up in the morning and thinking that you are an onion, there's no question that they also produced one of the best rock albums of the 2000's. The fact that it was effectively a one-off makes it an exceptional album as well, and in my opinion, this combination makes it the best rock album of the entire decade. Sam's Town is innovative, energetic and very impressive.

Check out: Uncle Jonny. The singles are great in their own right, but this is my favorite song from the album.

Jun 25, 2010

Better parenting through lesbianism

Earlier this month, this study came out:

CNN: Kids of lesbians have fewer behavioral problems, study suggests
A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children's well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews.

Funding for the research came from several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association.

Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the author of the study, wrote that the "funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study."

"My personal investment is in doing reputable research," said Gartrell. "This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it."

Gay parenting remains a controversial issue, with debates about topics including the children's psychological adjustment, their parents' sexual orientation and adoption restrictions.

Hilariously, the conservatives are trying to discredit the study because of the funding it received from advocacy groups. While it's possible that Christian conservatives genuinely don't understand that a real scientific study can be peer-reviewed and controlled for bias, the allegations become totally ridiculous when one remembers that these same people have no problem touting the "results" of conservative think-tank papers as facts.

But anyway, lesbians make better parents than straight couples. Just thought I'd put that out there.

Jun 23, 2010

Sadomasochism on trial in Sweden

(via Tommi Paalanen)

thelocal.se: Swedish court considers sadomasochism case
A Swedish court is to consider the issue of how much sexual violence is legally permitted between two consenting partners in a case involving a 32-year-old man who came into contact with his 16-year-old sex partner via a sex website.

The teenager, on the instructions of the 32-year-old man, penned a letter declaring that she wanted to be "used, abused and thoroughly humiliated". When the pair met the girl was, among other things, locked into a cage and had clamps attached to her breasts, according to a TV4 Malmö news programme.

Police became involved after a relative of the girl noticed the bruises all over her body.

The prosecutor, Ulrika Rogland, has ruled out rape as the parties are accepted to have consented to their sexual liaison. But the court is set to rule on the issue of where the legal limits lie with regards to violence inflicted on another human being, even if they agree to it.

"What I want to establish is that even if they say they are in agreement over this then you not allowed to seriously assault someone. It is on this issue that the district court has to issue a ruling, is this aggravated assault and was she able to agree to it?" Rogland said to the local Sydsvenskan daily.

The man's lawyer has expressed surprise over the charges and an expert on sadomasochism is set to testify at the trial.

The issue has never before been considered in a Swedish court, according to Lena Holmqvist, an expert in criminal law at Uppsala University.

"Now we will really get the issue tried - to what extent can consent preclude the need for violent sex," she said.

What's at stake in the case is simple: do you have rights over your body? It's inevitable the discussion will get bogged down in the age difference and the nature of BDSM, but these are totally irrelevant. Does a person have a right to be assaulted if they want to be?

If they don't, does boxing become illegal? Or hockey? We'll see what folkhemmet decides.

Jun 21, 2010

The BBC: more neutral than you think

I was comment-spammed on Facebook recently by a school friend, who's very adamantly pro-Israel. She insists that the Arabs are engaged in some kind of global conspiracy to destroy the entire Western world or something like that. I like her, so I don't want to lambast her here. What I wanted to point out is that she firmly believes that the only reason we don't understand why Israel is the bulwark of civilization and a shining light of virtue is because we're been "brainwashed by the BBC".

Here's what I find slightly ironic:

Gaza aid ship protesters try to storm BBC Manchester
Protesters demonstrating against the Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship have attempted to storm the BBC in Manchester.

More than 800 people marched through the city centre and down Oxford Road, where the crowd surged at the BBC's entrance, smashing its front doors.

One man climbed to the top of the building to plant a Palestinian flag and there were at least three arrests.

Protesters said they were also angry about the BBC's coverage of Israel.

Police officers formed a chain across the BBC's Oxford Road entrance and surrounded the building with police vehicles and officers.

Protesters from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, who organised the demonstration, chanted slogans including: "BBC tell the truth."

From this, I'd like to propose two hypotheses.

First of all, if ever you can tell a situation has gotten out of hand, it's when both sides of the argument insist that the BBC is in cahoots with the opposite side.

Secondly, and most importantly for us as that first point is, in this context, a bit of a no-brainer, the BBC is far more neutral than you'd think. If both sides hate it, I guess they really must be pretty unbiased!

Jun 18, 2010

In orbit all the way

The downside to blogging about politics and other current issues is that it's, well, kind of sad and serious. So this is a happy post.

First of all, we're stoked that the Hawks won the Cup, and we're especially happy for Marian Hossa. He set an NHL record by appearing in three consecutive finals with three different teams, and the third time was the charm. It was a great series, and the better team won. Go Hawks!



Second, but not less by any means, we're thrilled that Germany won the Eurovision Song Contest. And not because they're probably the only country that can afford to host the contest next year, either.


Not only is Lena Meyer-Landrut the cutest Eurovision winner since Ruslana, but her song is simply the best Eurovision winner ever. Here it is. Enjoy.

Jun 16, 2010

German president resigns

This is a little late, but I thought I'd point it out anyway. On the 31st of May, German president Horst Köhler resigned over comments he'd made in a radio interview. Pundits called his resignation an overreaction, and in a way, I agree.

On the other hand, what he said was that in today's world, Germany will have to use military force to secure its economic interests. Now, although those comments were interpreted as pertaining to Afghanistan, he was actually talking about the operations against Somali pirates. In a sense, yes, that is a legitimate way in which Germany can and should use force to safeguard her economic interests.

On the other hand, when a German leader talks about something like that, what does it remind you of?



Yeah. So maybe it's just as well he did resign.

And yes. This entire post is just an excuse to post that picture in this context.

Jun 14, 2010

Poland approves castration of pedophiles

Reuters: Poland okays forcible castration for pedophiles
(Reuters) - Poland on Friday approved a law making chemical castration mandatory for pedophiles in some cases, sparking criticism from human rights groups.

Under the law, sponsored by Poland's center-right government, pedophiles convicted of raping children under the age of 15 years or a close relative would have to undergo chemical therapy on their release from prison.

"The purpose of this action is to improve the mental health of the convict, to lower his libido and thereby to reduce the risk of another crime being committed by the same person," the government said in a statement.

I bring this up mainly because several people I know support this. Also, when a Finnish tabloid broke the story over here and included an online poll, 95% of respondents supported the legistlation. I'd like to take a moment to address the ethics behind this idea. Unless otherwise noted, data is sourced from Wikipedia.

In practice, chemical castration means that the prisoners will be forcibly given drugs that reduce their sex drive. Technically, they're not being castrated in the proper wince-inducing sense of the word, as nothing is being cut off or even permanently disabled. However, their hormone production is lowered, leading to changes in both body and mind.

Several US states have passed similar laws; for example, in California a prisoner convicted for a second time of child molestation may be treated with MPA if they are on parole, regardless of their wishes. The ACLU, in opposing similar legistlation in Florida, called it a "return to the Dark Ages". Their paper can be read here.

I'm sure some people are aghast that the ACLU could oppose something like this. After all, it's for the children. It's worth looking at the core of the ACLU argument, because it puts my first point very concisely.

Sexual assault is not about sex - that is a myth. This law reinforces the stereotype that men are sex-crazed individuals and that child molesters and sexual predators need to be drugged to control sexual impulses. In reality, sexual assaults are about violence, power and the humiliation of a survivor or victim.

Eliminating sexual desire or a body part, for that matter seems like a quick fix. No more trying to squeeze extra convicts into already overcrowded jails. No more spending money to feed and clothe another felon sentenced to life. Just get rid of the testes. But this law avoids the real issues.

Firstly I should point out that pedophiles and child molesters are not the same thing. Having said that, sex crime against children does indeed happen for a variety of reasons. Most child molesters have many other psychopathological issues apart from a sexual attraction to children, and it has been argued that it's the other psychological issues they face, most especially sociopathy, that drive them to commit crimes, not their sex drive. As a matter of fact, studies have found that several convicted pedophiles already have low testosterone levels to begin with, strongly suggesting that it isn't their testosterone that makes them commit crime.

This is really the same argument as with any kind of rape. Men do not rape because of their sex drive. Men who rape do so because they have deep-seated psychological problems. Quite simply put, diminishing their sex drive does nothing to fix the underlying causes of their crimes. In a very real sense, chemical castration doesn't treat the problem at all because of this.

What I just said is highly relevant, because none of the drugs currently used for chemical castration have permanent effects. If the person being treated stops taking the drugs, their effects will subside. What this means is that the drugs will only work if the person being treated is willing to keep taking them.

In general, the best results have been gained from a combination of pharmacological and psychiatric treatment, and basically, drugs that control sex drive are no different from any other psychiatric medication. In conjunction with therapy, they can work. Without therapy, though, the medication doesn't address the underlying problems at all. In many cases, all it gets us is a former child molester who no longer has as much sex drive as before, but is still the kind of sociopath who is capable of sexually abusing children.

What's more, given that rape is not primarily an expression of sexuality but an expression of power and control, actual sexual functioning would seem to be secondary. And as I said, the drugs will need to be taken for the rest of the offender's life for them to stay effective. What if they just stop taking the drugs? You can't force anyone into therapy if they don't want it.

**

There are also some very real human rights issues involved. Sadly, "pedophiles" are such a good enemy that for a lot of people, they don't have any human rights at all. Here's how the Reuters article I started this post off with continues:

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said late last year he wanted obligatory castration for pedophiles, whom he branded 'degenerates'. Tusk said he did not believe "one can use the term 'human' for such individuals, such creatures."

"Therefore I don't think protection of human rights should refer to these kind of events," Tusk also said.

His remarks drew criticism from human rights groups but he never retracted them.

This is the kind of thing I expect from really bad novels, not actual politicians, but there you are, he said it. In Poland, pedophiles are not humans, and therefore they have no human rights.

Okay, so it's just the opinion of their prime minister. But it's a frightening one. In past times, chemical castration has been used in, for example, Britain, to treat homosexuality. Renowned computer scientist, cryptanalyst and mathematician Alan Turing agreed to undergo chemical castration to avoid being sent to prison for homosexuality. A few years later, he killed himself.

That brings me on to what I find most disturbing about this idea. The treatment will lower a patient's testosterone levels, which I pointed out are already low in some pedophiles. This means radically changing not only the person's sex drive but also their body and personality in general. If they're forced to take these drugs for a prolonged time, the "treatment" really means personality change.

Are we okay with the idea that the government can change your personality?

The treatment affects the offender's entire sex drive, at worst effectively denying them any kind of sex life. Pedophiles divide into exclusive and non-exclusive; the first kind are only sexually aroused by children, while the latter sort also have "normal" sexual impulses. Only roughly 7% of pedophiles are exclusive, so if a blanket chemical castration is applied, it means depriving 93% of the "patients" of a normal sex life. If that isn't cruel and unusual punishment, then I don't know what is.

The medical fact is that pedophiles are, by definition, mentally ill. Most child offenders are also mentally ill. What they need is treatment, not just for their sakes but for our sake as well. If people suffering from these mental disorders are going to rejoin society, they need to be treated for our safety as well as their health.

As it stands, the Polish scheme isn't going to prevent sex crime against children. Many sex offenders already undergo therapy without it being forced on them by the law. For the remainder, chemical castration won't be a treatment, it will be a punishment. And not only that, but a punishment that isn't effective at deterring the crime it's supposed to deter.

**

All in all, compulsory chemical castration is inhuman and ineffective. The only purpose it seems to have is to get politicians cheap votes from the moral panic on pedophilia. No matter how strongly we feel about any kind of crime, we can't just abandon our concepts of human rights to punish the offenders. It's even worse if we punish them in a way that doesn't even deter the crime.

Also, on a wider note, legislation like this can open doors to really scary places. As I said, are we comfortable with the idea of government-mandated personality change? In a way, that's what forcing you to take hormone-altering medication is. As psychiatric medicine advances, if we start passing laws like this, why not prescribe personality change as a punishment for other kinds of crime as well? I'm not seriously arguing that there's a direct and slippery slope from this law to a mind-control society, but it's worth thinking about. If only because the combination of moral panic, blatant disregard for human rights and enthusiasm about medical solutions sounds very scary indeed.

Jun 12, 2010

Game preview: England - USA

We're not going to write one; we'll let Conservapedia do it for us. This news item was on the "In the News" feed on their front page.

Ravaged by atheism, England cannot even field a decent soccer team anymore. They could struggle against the obscure American team in their big match on Saturday. [53] That is so pathetic!

The link is to a Seattle Times article that says the US "may have the edge in goal" in the upcoming game.

So remember: if England struggles against the US, it's because of atheism.

Atheism.

Jun 11, 2010

World soccer champs preview

First of all, it's properly called soccer because soccer is short for association football, as opposed to Rugby football. Rugby and its descendants are just as much football as soccer is. The etymology of the words is clear, so any suggestion that soccer is somehow "more football" than rugby or American football is an innovation. When it comes to language, we here at this blog don't take kindly to innovations.

As for the tournament, here's our official preview. Some people are going to kick a ball around, it's going to be boring as hell, and we don't care.

Jun 9, 2010

In Russia, the Internet searches you

Daily Mail: Every Google search to be logged and saved for two years under new Euro MP plan
Every Google web search could be stored for up to two years under a controversial new EU plan that has the backing of more than 300 Euro-MEPs.

'Written Declaration 29' is intended to be used as an early warning system to stop paedophiles by logging what they look for using search engines.

But civil liberty groups have hit out at the proposal which they say is a 'completely unjustifiable' intrusion into citizens' privacy.

And they claim that there is no evidence that it would even be effective in trapping paedophiles who would never use search engines like Google to look for child pornography.

The idea that "pedophiles" use Google to look for child porn is ridiculous, but what's even worse is that there are MEPs who are willing to sacrifice the privacy of everyone who uses a search engine in order to catch a pedophile who's too dumb to actually find kiddie porn is terrifying.

Is privacy a value at all for these people? Is pedophilia really such a terrible enemy that our decision-makers are willing to sacrifice all of our fundamental human rights to stop it?

This, along with the ongoing project to erect a Europe-wide version of Finland's failed Net censorship scheme make me very worried that as regards the freedom of the Internet, the EU is taking the high road to China.

Jun 7, 2010

Game 5 thoughts

(I'm gonna burn your soul into a black lump of rubber)

I'm gonna put on a striped shirt, and chase Satan off the ice
I'm gonna put on a striped shirt, and chase Satan off the ice
I'm gonna send him to the box, to take another look
I'm gonna send him to the box, to take another look

Pronger is an evilous man
And he can play like all night, man
So if I catch him with a puck in his hand
I'm gonna chase him from the ice

Jun 5, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals: Game 4 thoughts

Well, it's even now. It's fitting, as it's been a close series. Here's a few brief thoughts.

* the Canadian media is fawning over Chris Pronger like he's the Second Coming. If Philadelphia wins the Cup, he's a sure bet for the Conn Smythe. There's no way he's playing half as well as you'd think listening to, say, Hockey Night in Canada, and if he does get the Conn Smythe, I don't think he's going to deserve it. All this noise about how he's supposedly kept Chicago's top line off the scoresheet is just that, noise. Chicago's scoring troubles begin and end with their own game, not Pronger. It's beyond ridiculous to suggest that his 90's vintage crosschecks are the difference in this series.

* speaking of crosschecks, how's this for an uneven ice surface? Minor penalties are 19-12 to Philadelphia's advantage. Some of the calls being made, and not made, are ridiculous. Brent Seabrook's third period penalty was a great example, as was the interference call that got Game 4 started. They're not calling anything like that on Philadelphia. The crosscheck Seabrook was sent off for is one that every Flyers defenseman does on every shift. If they called Pronger for plays like that, he'd be in the box every shift. As it is, though, apparently Pronger can do anything on the ice.

* like I said in my preview, the goaltenders are coming back down to earth. Neither Niemi or Leighton is superhuman, and it's starting to show.

The biggest problem for Chicago right now is defensive play, and to a lesser extent they seem to have some kind of mental issue. When the top line really started playing, they were excellent. Especially Toews was awesome on the faceoffs. The trouble is, that only happened in the last ten minutes, and it was too little, too late. They have to get their defensive game and their heads in gear for Sunday.

If Chicago can solve their defensive problem and come out swinging on Sunday, this is looking like a seven-game series, and I'm sticking with my prediction. If not, it'll be 4-2 Flyers.

Jun 4, 2010

US: Israel is exempt from international law

FOX: Biden: Israel Has Right to Stop Gaza Ships
The U.S. has been careful in its response to the deadly raid and has not joined the international condemnation of Israel's use of force to stop the ships after its commandos were attacked as they rappelled down from helicopters.

"Israel has an absolute right to deal with its security interest," Biden said in an interview on PBS's "Charlie Rose" show, while reiterating the Obama administration's support for a transparent, impartial investigation of what happened.

(...)

A day earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did not question Israel's motives in trying to enforce its 3-year-old blockade of Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization.

Of course, it's hardly surprising the United States won't condemn an at best questionable blockade, as that might raise questions about some other blockades.

What is interesting is that as a spokesman for the US government, the vice-president seems to be endorsing the idea that Israel is not bound by international law. The legal case is fairly clear: Israel has no business attacking ships sailing under a foreign flag in international waters and murdering passengers on board those ships. What Israel did constitutes either piracy or an act of war against Turkey.

Except according to the White House, Israel doesn't seem to be subject to any kind of law. Again, it isn't that surprising that the United States don't want military actions to be put under too much juridical scrutiny, but still. If, say, an Arab state were to violate international law, you can be sure we'll never hear the end of it, not to mention how hideously awful it is when an organization like Hamas violates an international agreement. But strangely, when Israel does the same thing, it's defended.

It's depressing, but again, not surprising, to see that the Obama administration is equally in thrall to the Israel lobby as the previous administrations were. And it's even more depressing, and actively disgusting, to see Israel's useful idiots dress up an act of piracy in international waters as "self-defence".

Jun 1, 2010

I shot the relief worker

but I did not shoot the MEP.

BBC: Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship
After least nine people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says.

Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board.

It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in international waters.

Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting.

(...)

The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. (...) [Israel's deputy Foreign Minister] accused the convoy of a "premeditated and outrageous provocation", describing the flotilla as an "armada of hate".