Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Around the Sonnets: Bad Jokes, Rudimentary Rhymes, and Semi-Obscure References with Explanatory Links

By CL * Other CL Posts

I've been remiss; neglecting blogging time,
Don't have so many worthwhile thoughts it seems,
So now I will express myself in rhyme,
Like N-Dub-A but more focused on memes

Less blogger, now more of a sonneteer,
With world events and maybe book reviews
They won't be good; hi, econ major here
This is my first; I hope I find my muse.

I will put up some normal posts as well
But these are quick and also pretty short
Aim low, my standard's Romeo Crennel
With practice, closer to A Girl In Port.

So now you've read it, sonnet one is done
This may flame out or I could have some fun.


So...in case the above didn't make this clear, I've decided to start regularly posting sonnets. I wanted to post more often than I have been but I was having trouble finding the time and inspiration to come up with much to write. This is about the third non-prose piece I've written in my life, so I decided to go with a fairly rigid structure - standard Shakespearean, iambic pentameter, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme. I plan on putting them up once a week or every other week, and they'll deal with current events or whatever happens to pop into my head.

If this lasts beyond late April, I'll be impressed.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Twitter-eee, Twitter-dumb

By Fidel Martinez * Other Fidel Martinez Posts

The future is here! 140 characters at a time, but still, it is here! What am I talking about, you ask? Well, Twitter of course! I have seen the future and it's micro-blogging! Twitter's rise to prominence has been meteoric and has yet to reach its apex.

In fact, it was reported that the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has used this new form of social media to complain about poor officiating. That's quite an endorsement! You want Mark Cuban on your side and using your product to do what he does best. Other notable sports figures are embracing Twitter. Fellow Austinite Lance Armstrong let all of his fans know that he had broken his collar bone by uploading a picture of him on his twitter feed. That's devotion! No amount of pain or lack of testicle will prevent him from letting his twitter followers know what happens to him or his body. But neither Texan compares to Milwaukee Bucks's Charlie Villanueva. He truly takes the cake. Villanueva got himself in a bit of a tiff two weeks ago when he took a moment during half time to post the following 'tweet':

"In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt. We're playing the Celtics, tie ball game at da half. Coach wants more toughness. I gotta step up."
He was twittering in the middle of the game! That is HUGE! Do you realize what this means? In the near future, the winning dunk at the NBA slam dunk contest will be Nate Robinson dressed in kryptonite green jumping over a cape-clad Dwight Howard while twittering! Oh he so twittered all over him!

Be careful, though. Not everything is gravy with the Twitter train. Not everyone is embracing this life-altering technology. I'm talking about Jennifer Aniston, of course. She recently broke up with John Mayer because he spent too much time twittering instead of returning her phone calls. Now listen, Jen. You can't blame a guy for wanting to share what he had for lunch with his followers. If you can't understand that, then I guess your body isn't such a wonderland.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get away from this bloggity blog blog and reconvene with my family. It's my parents' 25th wedding anniversary and someone just handed me a gin and tonic. I shouldn't be spending my time on THIS. I'll just tweet about it. You can follow me at twitter.com/fidmart85.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Perfect Seat

By ned * Other ned Posts

Although the physiological mechanics are not well understood, different psychological models exist to understand the process of creating memories. Short-term memory is generally made up of data captured acoustically and lasts shorter than the life of a fruit fly. Its duration is longer than that of sensory memory which only persists for fractions of a second after an item is perceived. However, both of these are contrasted with long-term memory, whose creation is more complex.

From focusing on simple rehearsal to the Baddeley and Hitch “Working Memory Model,” a myriad of means and processes are theorized as being behind long-term memories. Generally, complexity and poignancy are at play along with repetition. For instance, in one study participants were provided paragraphs describing a fictitious nation: some were simple, some had a few descriptive sentence added. Those who read the more complex paragraphs tended to retain a higher percentage of information.

Despite this sophisticated machinery, long-term memories are often made of the mundane. Perhaps this is because sensory flash cards – the smells, sights, and sounds – of what we define as uniquely familiar hit us the most frequently. For instance, there are many things I remember about my Grandmother, Ma. One of simpler images though is that of her basketball-dotted white turtleneck.

Possibly from a degree in “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk,” my dad’s Kansas raised parents have been followers of college basketball for as long as I can remember. The cheery, orange polka dotted turtleneck was just an expression of this hobby; its red highlights also made it a perfectly appropriate top in St. John Arena for Ohio State Basketball games. When my grandparents moved from a distant suburb of Columbus, Ohio to the one where my immediately family resided, my father initially assumed they wanted to be closer to us. Ma corrected him. Their new address afforded an easy commute to Buckeye basketball games.

When Ma passed on, the season tickets to basketball games continued. Given my age, sports interests, availability, and school’s proximity to games, I was gladly tapped as my grandfather’s hoops sidekick. Each evening had with it a certain degree of ritual. Arriving at the balcony, I would oblige to my grandfather’s offer for a Coke served in a souvenir cup*. We would arrive at our regular seats and chat with the usher who had probably escorted my grandparents since before I could make memories. After a singing of the national anthem that Pa felt had too many modular embellishments, the game would begin.

My participation in chants and open displays of joy and frustration were contrasted with the calm focus of my neighbor. This is not to say that Pa’s passion was not present. But it was a more mature expression of how to be a fan. He had a look of quiet interest and attention that was all too familiar; that expression could be seen from the sidelines of my soccer games, tennis matches, and other youthful pursuits.

If the team was not doing well on a given day, the seats themselves were certainly of no concern. After moving throughout the arena, my grandparents had settled on what they declared to be the best of the reasonably priced seats: mid-court, front balcony but not the first row across from the team benches. About every other game, Pa would point out to me the different seats he had through the years. This task was made simpler by the binoculars he had packed with seat cushions, daily sports section and any thing else that might be needed during the game.

If memories like ones I have shared are an internal phenomenon, another branch of psychological deals with how our external surroundings and people impact our behavior, Social Psychology. One phenomenon under this study is that of conformity. Unintentionally, we tend to behave in a manner similar to those around us. They help defines rules of acceptable behavior – both good and bad. For instance, in a series of studies children were more prone to act aggressively after watching violent images.

From a personal standpoint, how do we determine the impact of what we have encountered on our own behavior? To that end, memories are just about the only tool at our disposal. A link to grappling with how our environment shaped us, how we conformed to the behavior of the people around us.

What I feel is appropriate sports ritual decorum has evolved over the years – and much of that evolution probably stems from evenings with my Grandfather. I find that I enjoy more the study of the game as opposed to it moments of jubilation. When in attendance, one must pack for any situation that may come up. Lastly, no day at the arena is complete unless you take home a souvenir cup.

This time of year reminds me of many things. I remember where I was when Christian Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky. One of my life long dreams remains to win my father’s former law firm’s office pool. But, my love of this time of year likely stems from winter evenings I spent with Pa in the rafters of St. John’s.

Through my grandparents I developed my own love of basketball and need for sports paraphernalia – although not turtlenecks. I also absorbed focus, paternal care and a discipline for finding the best seat in the house from a kind and dear role model. Those are the lessons that have impact well beyond the confines of the court. Oh, forgive me. Would you like a Coke?

* For those who have never had the pleasure of owning grey Ohio State plastic cups, they quite possibly have some of the most varied uses known to man. From soccer cones to dog chew toys to penholders, no household should be without one or fifteen of these versatile artifacts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ask An English 100 Instructor Who is Getting Tired of Grading Portfolios

By Standard * Other Standard Posts

Dear English 100 Instructor,

I have been married for five years, and until about a year ago I thought I was part of a happy couple. Then I began to suspect that something was wrong: my wife started working late several nights a week, she received numerous "work-related" phone calls and text messages at all hours, and she would leave for days at a time (usually on the weekends) for "business trips." She became very defensive when I asked her where she was going or pointed out that she was unemployed. Lately things have gotten worse. She moved out of our bedroom because my snoring kept her up at night, and then she moved all of her belongings to my friend Larry's house because she "needed space." She comes home for food once or twice a week, but she refuses to let me touch her; she says I "disgust [her]," that I "can't please [her] like Larry does," and that she is "definitely having an affair with Larry." I'm beginning to suspect that she is cheating on me. What should I do?

- Concerned About my Wife

Dear CAW,

This is a great letter. You've done a really nice job responding to my feedback on your first draft, especially in terms of your overall organization. In this draft you've given a nice sense of chronology so that you really build to your conclusion, rather than just listing information in an unstructured manner.

I am particularly impressed by the richness and variety of details that you include in this piece. You do a great job of showing me something about your wife instead of just telling me that she's cheating on you. Think about how these details give your piece a sense of what types of things upset her. That's fantastic.

For your next piece, I want you to think more carefully about your paragraph structure. Would you really say that you have a topic sentence here? What does that leave out for your reader? Might you be better off with two paragraphs instead of one? Furthermore, even though you include a great deal of evidence, you are leaving a significant burden on your reader to perform the analytical work. It's your job, not theirs (or mine) to draw conclusions from your evidence, and to demonstrate how the evidence supports the claim you are making in your topic sentence.

Finally, be sure to cite your sources. There are a number of unattributed quotations in your letter - I assume that it is your wife speaking, but I may only know that through our conferences and from previous drafts. You'll also want to include a Works Cited List (but we'll talk more about that in Sequence 2).

* * *
Dear English 100 Instructor,

I lost my job last month, but I can't bring myself to tell my family. My savings have all but evaporated in the stock market, and yesterday my wife surprised me by buying plane tickets to Hawaii for a "second honeymoon." She was shocked when I burst into tears, but I managed to tell her it was because I had always wanted to go to Hawaii, and not because I am about to default on my second mortgage. I know I can no longer afford the Metro tickets I buy every morning when I pretend to go into the office; I know I am going to have to sell my house and move in with my parents; I know I am probably going to have to see my children to the Chinese. I have already sold one of my kidneys on the black market, but my cash is running out and my bookie has become more and more persistent that I pay my outstanding debts (I never should have bet $100K on the Cardinals). Still I can't bring myself to tell my wife. What should I do?

- Down on My Luck

Dear DOML,

This is a solid letter, but I'm not sure you've done a good enough job responding to some of the comments I have made on your previous draft. Although you include enough details to convince your reader of the seriousness of your situation, there is absolutely no sense of organization in this letter. The end of your letter repeats information from the beginning, and there's no reason that you couldn't share the information about your bookie before you told the story about the plane tickets to Hawaii.

Furthermore, you have not provided nearly enough background information here. How did you lose your job? What type of job did you have? What kind of salary did you make? Why will it be necessary to sell your children, and how much do you expect to make?
Your writing is certainly better than it has been in the past, and I applaud the work have done to fix all of your comma splices. Still, though, I think you tend to use one sentence where three would do. How many semicolons have you used here? Might it be better to divide up those unbearably long phrases to give your reader a rest? Look back, specifically, at your third sentence, which has three separate independent clauses. That's the type of thing I expect you to clean up when revising your work.

Ultimately, I don't think you have done a good enough job responding to the question I posed to you at the end of your first draft: so what? Why should I care about any of this?

* * *
Dear English 100 Instructor,

The recent news story about the chimpanzee who mauled his owner's friend has really affected my relationship with my own chimpanzee. I've had Zeke for 8 years, and he's never hurt a fly, but I worry that he too will "go ape s###". I think he can sense that there's something wrong, but I don't want to get rid of him. What should I do?

- Worried About My Monkey

Dear WAMM,

You clearly have not put enough effort into revising this piece. Even if you have a number of good ideas, you don't do enough to flesh them out. You do not even consider some of the most basic questions your reader might ask of you: How can you tell that your chimpanzee can sense that something is wrong? Why don't you want to get rid of him? What would that entail? What would the consequences be? Why do you own a chimpanzee named Zeke in the first place?

You still have not met the length requirement, which is spelled out on the assignment sheet. You have not even addressed any of the typographical errors I pointed out. How many times do I have to tell you to put the period INSIDE the quotation marks? How many times to I have to tell you to spell out "eight"? I can't fix these things for you.

* * *
Dear English 100 Instructor,

I have been accused of a serious crime (which I cannot discuss in this context). The incident in question occurred when I was intoxicated, and I have no memory of it - but I know I am innocent, because I would never do anything like that. The trial is about to begin, and I suspect that my lawyer thinks I'm guilty. What should I do?

- Defendant in Trouble

Dear DIT,

Fine. Keep up the good work.

Accidental Albums

By je * Other je Posts

People have long talked of the end of the Album as a musical form. In the iTunes age, the Single will come to dominate traditional recorded music sales and the new channels (video, internet, game) will render the album an archaic and unprofitable vehicle of musical expression.

The long-form, where musical ideas, motifs and themes are allowed a little more room to stew, has forever been my preferred serving size. The Album's length provides the forum for a deeper conversation with the artist than the often over-produced and apochrophal radio Single.

In that light, I guess it's only natural for a bias towards the more creative, but in these "tough economic times," one can only assume that the music industry is in dire straits and will look to rally behind what makes the greatest financial sense.

So as a pre-emptive eulogy to the dying form, i wanted to place a spotlight on a few CDs that i fell into accidentally--je's classics that I'll probably enjoy for the rest of my days. I think I've got fairly eclectic taste in music and I've aurally ingested quite a bit over the years. I have particularly enjoyed the handful of sonic surprises along the way.

Here goes.


Album: Dreams (2006)

Artist: The Whitest Boy Alive

Discovered: Heard "Figures" on a friend's Muxtape. So funky, I needed more..

The first time I listened to Dreams, I was totally blown away by how much I enjoyed Norweigian-born Erlend Øye's minimalist stripped-down approach to rock music. Backing the honest and vulnerable beta-male vocals are drums, bass, rhodes organ, and guitar completely free of layering and effects—as if these guys decided to have an (almost) unplugged dance party in their bathroom on a whim. The sound is a great example of retronovation: the conscious process of mining the past to produce methods, ideas, or products which seem novel to the modern mind.

Building on a digital aesthetic from Øye's electronic past, Dreams is an album of simple melodies, melancholy lyrics, and cold rhythms. The bass groove on "Done with You" is reminiscent of something out of the Jefferson Airplane or early Santana, and the rest of the rhythm section through out the CD has sort of a geeked-up Cure-meets-Clash feel.

I've seen a few videos on the youtube of these guys live, but I can't say they measure up to how moved I feel when I listen to them. This studio album has been in heavy rotation for the last year now with "Burning" and "Firework" in the Top 25 Played out of my 12000 song library.

Stand-out tracks: "Burning," "Fireworks," "Done with You"


Album: Based on a True Story (2006)

Artist: Fat Freddy's Drop

Discovered: Passed along by a friend with different tastes in music

At my previous job, I was fortunate enough to share an office with a good friend of mine for a while. We often shared music, but never really enjoyed the same things: his stuff was usually really far out there IMHO. So I didn't have high expectations when he handed me Based on a True Story. On the first listen, the New Zealand group floored me..

Artfully mixing intricate textures, Fat Freddy's Drop makes full use of their 7-piece membership. Nearly every song on Based on a True Story is a sonic journey, sending the listener sauntering on a path that arrives in a totally different as the instrumentation and styles (mostly Reggae, Dub, Jazz) osmose into each other. Joe Dukie voice is paired beautifully with the band's rhythm and horns section.

Fat Freddy aren't afraid to sit on the groove, with the 7-minute opener "Ernie" slowly building on a beat for 2 minutes before Dukie makes his vocal entry.

"Ray Ray" wins (imaginary) Grammy for Soul Shit of the Decade.

Stand-out tracks: "This Room," "Ray Ray"


Album: CéU (2007)

Artist: CéU

Discovered: Starbucks Coffee

Yea I know it's lame that I copped it at Starbucks, but I was waiting in line to order an Americano and the Brazilian singer-songwriter was on the cover, just staring me in the face (how could I say no?). This CD is so smooth, they should sell it in the pharmacy as a laxative. I mean that in the most loving way possible.

I absolutely love this album. Part cool jazz, part afro beat, CéU shows such maturity, avoiding cliched vocal ornamentation and showing her skill both in when she choses to sing and when to just let the beat build. Powerful music never has to shout.

The pacing on this album is simply wonderful, with CéU delivering such elegant passion with her vocal instrument over rich grooves. The hip-hop influence is palpable particularly on "Malemolência"—a down-tempo track that slowly seeps into your soul like the condensation on a later summer's caipirinha glass.

I will not pretend that I have any idea what any of the songs may be about (aside from the cover of Bob Marley's classic: "Concrete Jungle"), but Portugese is such a beautiful sounding language when wielded by the 28 year old chanteuse that I'd be enthralled if she sang me the ingredients of Spam. I wonder if she's single..

Stand-out tracks: "Malemolência," "Mais Um Lamento"


Album: The Richest Man in Babylon (2002)

Artist: Thievery Corporation

Discovered: Bookstore Sound system

I was working on a paper—probably on something ridiculous like the similarities between the Ivan Reitman film Twins (starring a pre-political Schwarzenegger) and the Billy Shakespeare play 12th Night, when "All that We Perceive" came on the Barnes & Noble stereo system. When I work, I usually turn on my own music and crank that shit up to 11, but whatever song I was listening to just ended and something totally seductively alien happened to waft in past my ear buds during the few brief moments of anticipatory silence. Just like that, I was hooked.

Richest Man is the third album by Thievery Corporation, the Washington D.C.-based lounge/dub DJ duo known for their international melanges. For me, Richest Man was my first exposure to chilled out music. The sound I heard that November morning wasn't just a rap instrumental, but music made for people like me who just want to daydream or enjoy some conversation over drinks. I'd always loved world music; put to a beat, I was in heaven.

This is my second favorite Thievery album, with the compilation Babylon Rewound (2004) sashaying into first. Rewound actually features several dubbed out cuts from The Richest Man in Babylon, which happen to cater a bit towards my general music tastes, so the comparison may be a bit unfair. Nevertheless, I would have never given it a spin if I didn't fall in love with Richest Man.

Stand-out tracks: "Une Simple Histoire (A Simple Story)," "State of the Union," "Resolution"


I hope to have a few more accidents before Apple and Amazon kill off the album.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pittsnogle, Run

By Mike Corey * Other Mike Corey Posts

In honor of the recent passing of John Updike, and in honor of the time of year that honors the sport he loved so dearly, I begin with one of his poems, “Ex-Basketball Player.”


Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,

At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty

In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,

Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.

His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.

Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.

Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers

Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.


Updike, along with his contemporary all-star author Philip Roth, have written extensively about small town high school athletes, and the decidedly different paths their lives took after exiting the stage of amateur sport. Of the many intentional and unintentional points to be drawn from their writings, I take this one away: the curtain never closes on those performers, even as their careers veer off course from the one they might have imagined. Some get up and out, of course—-East Bank’s Jerry West, French Lick’s Larry Bird, Wilmington’s Michael Jordan-—but the overwhelming majority do not, mired in memories. That tale, more than any in sport, epitomizes the ravished story of Jefferson’s old dream about an agrarian America.

Youth is defined by uncertainty and uniqueness. No two days are alike. For many Americans, the world after schooling is anything but, one day largely indistinguishable from the next. The awareness of this fact makes it all the more maddening still, a Sisyphean struggle against that which we know is coming, that which we can’t avoid. Our innate need to provide and survive compels us to plug along. It makes looking back and living through others all the more compelling, all the more necessary.

So we turn to that which is the same and different all at once: the games we play, the games we watch. And we turn to one particular game, basketball, every March. In it we see what we once experienced, what we once witnessed, what we can no longer hope to achieve: a spry body, a carelessness, a spirit, and an audience.

How soon we forget those that once captured our attention. There he was, Kevin Pittsnogle, the hometown hero from Martinsburg, West Virginia, clawing against the winds of inevitable change in the New York Times a few months ago.
There is a middle school up the hill from the McDonald’s here, and behind it are several classroom trailers, the type that are added when space gets tight and are never taken away.

Inside one of the trailers last Friday stood a tall man with a familiar face. He wore a Bugs Bunny tie and a gray dress shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows. Tattoos spilled to his wrists. He spoke kindly to two of his special education students, who called him Mr. Pittsnogle.

On the inside of the door was a sign: “You are who you choose to be.”

For now, this is who Kevin Pittsnogle chooses to be.
In those same pages a few years before, he was its Rockwellian hero in leading the Mountaineers to an improbable NCAA run.
Last year the Mountaineers reached the Round of Eight before losing to Louisville in overtime. They did it with a homegrown player, Kevin Pittsnogle, whose homespun details have been well catalogued -- tattoos, trailer park childhood, bowling, early marriage, lanky 6-11 guy with tea-cup ears tossing jumpers from beyond the 3-point line.

It would sound romantic to describe Pittsnogle as representing the ancestry of the state, but he backs off any talk of a mission.

''I didn't really know too much about the basketball legacy, nothing like that,'' Pittsnogle said yesterday, adding, ''I wanted to go somewhere I could play and have fun and somewhere close where my parents would be.''

Pittsnogle displays the same quirky independence that drew people up into the Appalachians in the first place, escaping the rules and regimentation of the cities. He wanted to stay home. Nothing complicated about that. (As a news reporter in the Appalachia coal fields back in the early 70's, I learned the lesson fast. If I knocked on somebody's front door and he told me to get off his property, it was a good idea not to stand around and discuss it. Just go.) Home was special. The renaissance of West Virginia basketball has been a revelation to the players wearing the uniforms. ''We have got a lot of fan mail, a lot of people come up to us and thank us for just coming to school there,'' Pittsnogle said yesterday.
Several years ago, a survey of former Division I college athletes found that they were more likely than their traditional college peers to become obese later in life. The anecdotal answer that was provided by so many of those studied was simple: they had lost their competitiveness in the fires of the games they had once played and could not regain it in the seemingly mundane tasks of typical American life.

The games they had played drive typical America forward through the monotony of work. And yet those games claim the lives of too many of those athletes, too soon, leaving them with hands unfit for the tools they wield away from the court.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Letting My Geek Flag Fly

By ned * Other ned Posts

When needing to create an on-demand poem, part of the allure of using the haiku form is a western affinity for the mystical arts of the east. Another attraction is a desire to let your geek flag fly as the band Tally Hall does in the song titled “Haiku” where all the lyrics are themselves haikus. Likely the biggest draw is the form’s rather brief 5-7-5 syllable structure, which appeases our need to be lazy. To truly make a haiku, though, your first two lines need to consist of two seemingly separate thoughts with the last line tying the ideas together. The delight is in juxtaposition. (5)

* * *

Generating a hate/mildly-loathe relationship with the framework – most have struggled with composition, paragraph flow, and thesis and closings statements of the essay. Beating out caffeine, fried food from the JE Buttery, and my ability to procrastinate, essays are the number one reason for my college all-nighters. Unlike the lines and cadence of a poem, the essay is structurally defined by how you order paragraphs and sentences. The “five-paragraph essay” and its thesis statement, a rite of passage for every grade schooler, demonstrate how the paragraph and sentence are core to the form. The word “essay” derives from the French word meaning “to attempt.” This strikes me as appropriate. Perhaps not as elegant as a line of poetry, the paragraph and sentences allow for mental meandering – even when constrained by a strict structure. (7)

* * *

Seeing Girl Talk sweat over his PC on stage, you realize that sampling music is no easy task – even if it pushes the boundaries of free speech. Danger Mouse’s "Grey Album" exemplifies this method by craftily combining the songs of Jay-Z’s “Black Album” and the Beatles “White Album.” The “mashup” assembles hooks, beats, and phonics from different songs to create “new” music. This genre is a product of the digital age because of both the equipment and the access to information it requires. Just as mixing rap and rock in music has proven successful, perhaps the mash-up thought process of combining seemingly different forms could be applied to other artistic disciplines. (5)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A "Punk In Drublic" By Any Other Name

By CL * Other CL Posts

Two posts in to my blogging career, and I'm already falling back on a music post. It was sparked by my big musical discovery of the week: Get Yr Blood Sucked Out by Viva Voce. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, since apparently the album came out in 2006. I don't know how long it will be in heavy rotation for me, but I'm liking it so far. They're one of those bands whose songs go from quiet intros to soaring crescendoes (with the occasional hand-clapping jaunt thrown in), and it may be the case that I haven't listened to it enough to get tired of all of their songs sort of sounding the same.

Here's how I discovered it. While wading through my usual morass of music blogs (how else am I going to get through a 2-hour Evidence class followed immediately by a 2-hour Private Investment Funds class?), I tend to download the sample songs that fall into one of these categories: 1) bands I already know; 2) bands whose names I keep seeing everywhere, and need to see what all the fuss is about; 3) bands that receive enthusiastic praise from one or two sources; and 4) bands or songs with names I find amusing.

Surprisingly enough, I am rarely disappointed by songs in category 4. I'm often disappointed in the songs I download because one blog described them in glowing terms (category 3) - they tend to be too idiosyncratic. Songs in category 2 are usually there for a reason, and category 1 needs no explanation.

So what did Viva Voce do to catch my eye? They had a song called "We Do Not Fuck Around," with a chorus of "Hey y'all! We do not fuck around!" Obviously, they couldn't get away with this without having good music to back it up, and they do. But that's my point: somehow, the music I download based solely on the name ends up being consistently good.

Other recent examples include Kittens Ablaze, Air France ("Collapsing At Your Doorstep"), Black Milk, Ida Maria ("I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked"), Kid Cudi (the whole Man in the Moon mixtape, but "Embrace the Martian" first caught my eye), Los Campesinos! ("This Is How You Spell 'HAHAHA, I've Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux Romantics,'" among other titles), and Throw Me The Statue. The first band I ever discovered on the internet - The Mountain Goats - was a product of the same process, though I don't remember which song it was in particular (my money's on No Children, for the record). And of course NOFX, as referenced in the title of this post, would be included, though my love of them predates the internet.

This doesn't apply to all my music discoveries. Some last year's best (Charles Hamilton, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Wale) have names that didn't do much for me; if the "good name = good song" thing held, Fall Out Boy would be my favorite band of all time.

But there are two lessons here. One is that my musical tastes may be a bit shallow, possibly because I'm usually doing something else while I listen to music. Or maybe I like the generally playful nature of bands willing to put such titles on their songs and albums. On a related note, I like bad puns.

The other lesson is a bit more profound, and goes beyond "bands should try to give their songs interesting titles." The whole Long Tail phenomenon has been discussed ad infinitum (and this point has probably been made elsewhere), but the point to me is that even if there are bands (authors, educators, preachers, lifestyle gurus) that appeal to every taste, they must be found by their consumers. This can happen through better searching on the part of the consumer (be it through a more extensive search or a more efficient search), or by better advertising on the part of the product, including through naming choices. The only side of that that's controlled by the artist/producer is the naming choice, so they should really put a little more effort into it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

You Kant Do That on a Blog, Part I of III

By Observation Deck * Other Observation Desk Posts

Caveat emptor: the topic for the post below takes a while to flush out; so accordingly, this post will be the first of a series. If you are not interested in philosophy, feel free to read the other good commentators on this blog.

Josh Lyman: That’s Immanuel Kant. Every year a million freshman philosophy students read that sentence…
Donna Moss: And change their major?
- “Red Mass,” The West Wing

Of all the philosophers I read in college, I think the most enigmatic and the most rewarding would probably have to be Immanuel Kant. I found his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals to be particularly interesting and got almost immediately hooked on his ideas about morality being a categorical imperative. (To read more detail about the Categorical Imperative try here and here.)

If you don’t feel like reading either of these treatises, I don’t blame you. So at the risk of sounding like Teddy Tomba, I’ll very quickly summarize the salient details:

Kant’s moral philosophy is based on the belief that morality is completely detached from beliefs, facts, environments, causes, cost-benefit analyses, utility, and any other inherently conditional or subjective factors. For Kant, true moral action is entirely independent of consequences – the action is moral not because it is the means to a good end, it is good because it IS the end. Morality is that which is required by a free will – a will that is truly free from all external considerations and chooses of its own accord. Therefore, moral action is what the free will demands – it is a duty, an obligation, a commandment – that which Kant called the categorical imperative.

Are you ready to change your major yet? No?

So what is a categorical imperative? Kant is glad you asked.

He defines the categorical imperative as a series of three maxims (all of them are just different ways of saying the same thing):

Maxim 1: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
Translation: Moral actions must be applicable universally for all person in all situations without leading to internal contradictions or rational inconsistencies.

Maxim 2: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end.
Translation: Moral actions must always treat other human beings as ends in themselves and never as a means to an end.

Maxim 3: Act as if you were always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.
Translation: Although seemingly obtuse, I think this is also the most interesting of the three maxims. I believe what Kant is doing with this third maxim is actually closing a potential loophole – what if two people can rationally disagree on whether a particular course of action is moral or not? This would clearly create a huge problem for Kant because it would turn morality into something subjective, something dependent on something else – namely the intuitive belief system of an individual. Since Kant’s whole point is that morality is objective and independent of anything else, this is a major loophole he needs to plug. He does so (and beautifully, in my opinion) by formulating the third maxim to define moral actions as only those that people cannot truly rationally disagree on.

Are you still with me? Are you drooling on the keyboard because you’ve fallen asleep from boredom?

Still here eh? Perhaps whatever you are procrastinating doing is even more horrific than Kant (something pretty Kafka-esque I bet).

Alright, how about some examples? Kant gives a few in Groundwork, including the following two: lying and murder.

Using Kant’s logic, both of these would be immoral. Both cannot be rationally universalized.

If everybody lied, no one would believe anyone else. Would any person ever rational will such an outcome? Clearly not. Lying, therefore, violates the first maxim and is immoral.

Now, let’s look at murder. If everyone murdered, then everyone would kill everyone else. Once again, would any person ever rational will such an outcome? Clearly not. Murder, therefore, violates the first maxim and is immoral.

So far so good. Kant 1, Haters 0.

But not so fast; the haters are not done. What if, they ask, a murderer asks you for the whereabouts for his/her next victim? Is it morally justified to lie to him/her to save the victim (knowing that if you told the murderer, the victim would undoubtedly be dead)?

A real dilemma and one that I’ll tackle in the next episode…You Kant Do That on a Blog, Part II.