Archive for Almost Yogurt

Insufficient squeeze

One of the nice things about this site is knowing that I have as much space as I want to do basically whatever I please. One thing that’s not so nice is the fact that having all that space and all that freedom doesn’t make me the slightest bit more creative:

Vine gives you six seconds, Instagram a square frame, Snapchat a fleeting window to make your point. And who could forget Twitter, a platform built on the idea that 140 characters is enough to say anything?

Every one of these services launched to a chorus of disdain. Famed linguist Noam Chomsky dismissed Twitter by declaring that it’s “not a medium of a serious interchange” (the vital role it played in historic events like the Arab Spring would suggest otherwise).

And I suspect that Chomsky was not pleased with Twitter’s seeming lack of a Formal Grammar.

Instagram was hounded by sneering comments about “showing people what you had for breakfast,” in spite of the proliferation of serious artists using it as a medium. And Snapchat still carries a reputation for being a naked selfie exchange program, despite only 2% of university students using it for sexting.

All of these services are now household names, the catalysts for an unprecedented amount of creativity — and in every case, that creativity is fuelled by the limitation the service imposes. Why?

Because it provides something to push against.

Blank verse seems much more “liberated” than, say, the sonnet, which has a fixed number of lines, a standard meter and a predictable rhyme scheme. Yet the sonnet, now nearly 800 years old, easily adapts to contemporary concerns.

Look at the golden years of Motown. Some of the greatest records of our time were made in an effort to satisfy Berry Gordy’s singular vision of The Sound of Young America, which called for high levels of tunefulness, speedy production, and fitting it into three minutes or less. (For instance: the mono and stereo edits of “Heat Wave” differ markedly, but both run about 2:40; I was startled to find out that the original master take ran to nearly four minutes, which Gordy wasn’t about to permit in those days.)

And truth be told, I’ve flourished on Twitter, if only because I am practiced in the art of the one-liner.

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Leeches want respect

“You can’t defend public libraries and oppose file-sharing,” says Rick Falkvinge.

Oh, yes I can, says Roger Green:

[H]e’s wrong, in three specific ways, one of philosophy, and two on the facts.

Falkvinge’s implication through the piece is that “efficiency” is an incontrovertible good; this is incorrect. Generally, checks and balances have an important place in processes, especially when it comes to government. The argument in favor of the renewal of aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act stems largely on the fact that it would be more “efficient” to have all that phone metadata, for which the government can select those presumed terrorist, rather than doing this process more on a case-by-case basis. I’m rooting for inefficiency, thank you.

As the young folks say, THIS. If the outcome involves something being done to me, I want it done as slowly and ineffectively as possible.

More to the point, though, Falkvinge doesn’t seem to understand how libraries work. Libraries BUY books — one of their primary expenditures — and then LOAN them to other people, exposing them to people who might not have been aware of them. Moreover, authors receive MONEY because libraries purchase works, and an individual copy is generally read, one person at a time (SO inefficient!), by many people.

Rare indeed, though not entirely nonexistent, is the file-sharer who goes primarily for things with which he’s not familiar; most of what’s pirated is the stuff that’s already selling well.

File sharing is essentially a manufacturing process, reproducing products that NO ONE is purchasing. NO money is going into the pockets of the creators. Borrowing from my friend Steve Bissette, file sharing “is thievery and impoverishes creators/authors by reproducing work sans payment. There is no ‘loan’ in file sharing: it is a transfer of property, in a material form (here, place this file on YOUR computer). It proliferates [and, I would add, encourages] copying sans payment — VERY different from public libraries.”

I am not here claiming that every last file I’ve ever had on a drive in the last thirty years was acquired with scrupulous attention to whatever EULA may obtain; but there’s a lot to be said for compensating the creators of stuff you actually use. I have stacks of stuff acquired through non-official means, and I’ve discovered that I don’t use any of it on a regular basis. Greater involvement as a result of having written a check? Maybe.

A Taylor Swift quote you’ve seen before:

Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.

And if they want to give it away, that’s fine too. Most of them, I suspect, don’t want to, except on special occasions.

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Max does not have PMS

There’s been some sparring in social media over the feminism, or lack thereof, that obtains in Mad Max: Fury Road, and since I have not yet seen the film, I’m going with the Friar’s assessment [possible spoilers]:

The he-man tough-guy warrior schtick of both Joe and the Humungus fall to a society that values both genders. That idea, by the way, seems to be the extent of the back-and-forth about Fury Road being a “feminist movie.” Pro- and anti-feminist blatherers made a lot about [George] Miller using playwright Eve Ensler as a coach to help the models playing Joe’s wives understand the mindset of someone basically held as a sex slave. That’s fine. My main worry was that he’d hired Ensler to write some of the movie; I’ve read The Vagina Monologues.

I’m still waiting for the inevitable sequel It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Max.

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Metered out over the years

There’s one distinguishing characteristic of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, says former US poet laureate Billy Collins:

“[Walt Whitman] was really the first poet in English to abandon both rhyme and regular meter. And for me and you, probably reading poetry in school, he became more popular because he was more radical in terms of form. But Emily Dickinson seems rather tame because she pretty much uses the same meter every time. It’s called ‘common meter.’ It’s a line of four beats that’s followed by a line of three beats. So a typical one would be: ‘Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me.’ And there’s actually a kind of pause at the end of the first line, a kind of fifth beat. This is the meter of a lot of ballads. It’s the meter of Protestant hymns. It’s the rhythm of many nursery rhymes. So you have a very conventional cadence in most of these poems. It’s widely known that almost every one of her poems can be sung whether you like it or not to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose Of Texas.'”

I am surprised she didn’t come up with this one herself:

Just sit right back — and you’ll hear a tale
A tale — of a fateful trip
That started from — this tropic port
Aboard — this tiny ship

(Via Barbara J. Taylor.)

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Commence this, pal

Okay, I’ll bite: what’s with the high-dollar commencement speakers these days?

Colleges use big-name speakers to help build brand identity, one theory goes, although it can backfire if the profile of the speaker is something that ticks off donating alums. It can also garner some negative publicity when the precious little snowflakes who make up the graduating class believe their graduation experience will be ruined because the speaker espouses causes in which they do not believe or otherwise fails to measure up to some arcane standard of university perfection. Of course, their employment experience after college will be ruined the first time they expect the world to conform to their standards, as employers frequently insist on things being the way they like them. This is if whatever micro-specialized subset of social theory in which they earned their degree allows them to secure employment, that is.

It would have been perfect, in other words, for someone like Kurt Vonnegut to come out and exhort a bunch of MIT grads to wear sunscreen — which, incidentally, he didn’t, which I know because I read the Mary Schmich essay that actually did contain such an exhortation, which somehow got attributed to Vonnegut. Baz Luhrmann, for his part, heard it as a spoken-word song:

That’s Australian voice actor Lee Perry actually speaking.

And that said, you really should wear sunscreen on certain days. If it ever stops raining for more than 48 hours this month, even I will.

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You didn’t teach that

And I reply, “Well, no, I assumed you would figure this out on your own.” And I was wrong:

Youth nowadays believe they don’t need to know anything, because they have what educational bureaucrats call “learning skills.” As long as they are capable of finding something with a Google search, what does it matter whether or not they ever actually do Google it? Their entire mental life is built around the idea expressed by every apathetic student taking a required course in college: “Is this going to be on the exam?”

So we have many millions of allegedly “educated” Americans, people with college degrees who haven’t opened a book since they received their diploma. They went to college in order to obtain a credential that would qualify them for an office job with a salary, benefits, paid vacation and everything else deemed necessary to middle-class life. Once they got the requisite credential, their interest in “education” ended, and so they spend their leisure watching Netflix or playing XBox or in some other amusement. Read a book? Why would anyone want to read a book?

Which explains why so many of them are upset at the fact that said credential hasn’t opened up the desired doors, leaving them, as the buzzword says, “underemployed,” serving up lattes and such to people they despise. It boils their fundaments that life might actually require work, and that their piece of sheepskin and their $73,000 in debt won’t magically produce a life of leisure.

I probably spent less time in a classroom than any post-adolescent you’re likely to meet. As a result, anything I’ve needed to know over the years, I’ve had to find out on my own. Fortunately, the one thing I did learn in those few classroom days is how to find things out. And if I’ve learned anything in non-classroom life, it’s that a test of some sort can come at any time, whether I’m prepared or not.

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Nice or else

America’s small towns, according to legend, are full of the sort of Nice People you just don’t see in the Gigametroplexes that dominate both discussion and Census figures. The legend, however, does not attempt to tell you why. Turns out, it’s a self-defense measure:

On a purely logical level, let’s say you do or say something mean to someone who you believe has wronged you in some way. It’s a guarantee that that person is somehow related, by birth or marriage, to EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON, in the county. And word gets around. You want to destroy your reputation really fast? Treat Cousin Matilda rudely in line at Wal-Mart. Your child’s math teacher is married to Matilda’s nephew. She may not take off points unnecessarily on the next math test, but you can guarantee that during the parent-teacher conference, she will regard you with suspicion.

You’ll likely never see anything like this in the expanses of BosWash.

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Cheapskin

You didn’t think that was your real diploma, did you?

[G]rades aren’t even due until Monday, and there might be some people not-actually graduating, and there’s not enough time to prepare the diplomas anyway. And this year everyone was all jumbled up — not in alphabetical order — so it would have been a nightmare to match the right diploma to the right student. The real ones are mailed in the summer.

Okay, if that wasn’t the actual diploma, what the heck was it?

The fake diploma is a photograph of the one fairly scenic building on campus (the library). I know I once opined that a picture of Rick Astley might also work, or maybe a mushroom-person saying, “Thank you, but your diploma is in another castle.” Then again, kids today might not get either of those jokes.

And there are parental units out there who would unwrap the document and promptly go ballistic. Not having to deal with them must be included among the goals of any self-respecting college.

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Fizziologically speaking

The marketing blunder to end all marketing blunders may end up on the big screen:

Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese, the scribes behind Zombieland and the X-Men spinoff Deadpool, next will craft a movie about the disastrous launch of New Coke, perhaps the worst product introduction since the Edsel. Last [month] marked the 30th anniversary of when Coca-Cola veered from the secret formula that had been around since the 1890s to unveil what the company hoped would be a new and improved drink for a younger generation. It went so flat it imperiled its venerable market-leading soft drink.

See if you can find a theater whose concession stand serves Pepsi.

(Via Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.)

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Meanwhile in Texas

James Lileks, on the Texas Cartoon Flap:

Today brought out the HATE in innumerable tweets about the Garland TX shooting, intent on letting everyone know that the authors weigh intentions over freedom when it comes to speech. The percentage that said “I am in favor of free speech BUT the event was provocative” exceeded the reverse formulation by 200%, it seemed, because A) the target was on the wrong side, and B) the victims — being the people who were offended — belong to a group that must be protected lest the roiling waters of hatred boil over had flood the land, which they’re due to do any time now. Shootings like this are inconvenient, inasmuch as they seem to conform to a general preconception about young men of a particular doctrine, and inasmuch as that idea interferes with the daily elevation of all the really important things we have to hate on cue, like Joss Whedon, it must be explained away.

The most pathetic excuse I keep reading attacks the event for being provocative. Not just because it turns the objects of its muted sympathy into bulls who cannot resist the fluttering flag, but because it pretends that the entire point of the last 100 years in art hasn’t been provocation. It’s been the safest kind, of course; the arts have been poking beehives for years with the confidence of someone who knows they are vacant or otherwise occupied. For decades a thing has been judged less on its artistic merits than its intention, and if its intention is pure — that is, a handful of mud in the face of those who use the word “pure” without the requisite ironic inflection — then its demerits are waved away in favor of an enthusiastic endorsement of its transgressive nature, or how much rubble of the old paradigm it produced.

Giving offense has been a badge of courage and truth since the frickin’ Yippies, and now I’m supposed to believe that comity is prized above the foundation of the Bill of Rights.

The answer to speech, as always, is More Speech. For instance:

By now we’ve had enough “transgessive” art to put almost anyone to sleep.

But some people will continue prattling on about “hate speech” and other arbitrary subsets of speech, because their values are sacred — and yours are not. Not that I have any particular desire to shoot them or anything.

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No, those aren’t Transformers

Joss Whedon departs Twitter in, well, not exactly a huff, but he does set up Robert Stacy McCain for a Future Film Projection:

The era of white cis male heteropatriarchal movie-making is over! Henceforth, every script will be created by a committee of Women’s Studies majors under the supervision of Judith Butler, Sally Kohn and Anita Sarkeesian, and all characters must be either lesbian, genderqueer or oppressed minorities from the Third World, preferably disabled or, at least, neuroatypical.

Your next super-hero blockbuster will be about an undocumented Guatemalan paraplegic bisexual with a harelip and chronic depression.

And the 12-year-olds are going to like it, or else.

What? He left out the Bechdel Test?

Actually, I could imagine a film about an undocumented Guatemalan paraplegic bisexual with a harelip and chronic depression; the poor shlub would have far more than usual difficulty breaching the porous-by-design border, and I’m pretty sure that had I all those obstacles in my path, I’d be pretty depressed too. What I can’t imagine is Michael Bay directing it.

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Insufficient flesh

Things have definitely changed since I was in school:

According to French media reports, a 15-year-old French Muslim girl was banned from her class twice for wearing a skirt that was too long, and therefore supposedly a conspicuous display of religion. France’s state secularism has led to very strict laws prohibiting students from wearing overtly religious symbols in institutions of education.

The student, identified as Sarah, already apparently removed her headscarf before entering the school, in accordance with French law. But her long skirt was deemed a “provocation,” and potential act of protest.

“The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit,” a local official in the northeastern French town of Charleville-Mezieres, near the border with Belgium, told the AFP.

A social-media response:

The hashtag translates to “I wear my skirt as I like.” And a petition is up on change.org.

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Where we’re coming from

The Z Man on immigration:

I kind of dig the fact that my country welcomes those who can’t seem to get along with the folks back in the old country. I love thinking about what the rest of the world thinks when all those mutts wrapped in Old Glory march into the Olympic stadium. You just know a lot of them are thinking, “I wish that was me.”

In my mind, I see that as a big old middle finger to the rest of the world. I get that from my grandfather … He came here, learned perfect English and made a life for himself as an American. As far as he was concerned, the folks back in the old country were losers.

This, incidentally, is the true source of American exceptionalism: not some appeal to $DEITY, who might well be neutral on such matters, but the idea that we’ve made this place special, whether we were here from the beginning or we just arrived.

And specialness is, after all, part of the plan:

That bit of sentimentality is not intended to get your patriotism up. I’m just stating my bias. I have an unreasonable bias toward immigrants, at least the ones trying to be Americans. But, that only works if citizenship has any value. If anyone can wander over the border and get all the same rights and privileges as me, the citizenship has no value.

It probably wouldn’t hurt if we made it a little bit easier for people to attain that citizenship; but erasing all the distinctions between citizens and noncitizens is the sign of a state that wishes to commit suicide, and I am generally not in favor of states committing suicide, though I can think of a few I would miss less than others.

On the other hand, if people acting, or acting like they’re acting, in the name of the state — you know who you are — should wish to terminate their pitiful existences because of some weird culturally implanted guilt, I know exactly where you can find cottonwood trees. And rope.

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Alone near the edge

Anyone who’s ever seen a bell curve knows what it means in terms of population distribution. We don’t, however, always consider the effects of that distribution:

Take, for example, a typical working class Irish guy from a Boston neighborhood. He will easily socialize with people in his neighborhood and other working class guys from other Boston neighborhoods. The further you get from his natural environment, however, the less he will have in common with people from other states, countries, etc. There comes a point where socializing becomes impossible. It’s why dropping Bantu warriors into Lewiston Maine is a very stupid idea.

In IQ, a similar relationship between distance and commonality exists. If you have a 100 IQ, you will be roughly as smart as 90% of the people you will encounter on a daily basis. That means you will be able to understand most of the same things and not understand most of the same things. That last bit is vital. Ignorance is bliss, especially when shared with friends.

The further you move to the right on the curve, the smaller the population pool of people in your intelligence range. That means most of the people you meet will not know what you know and will probably never know it. Worse yet, the vast majority don’t think like you think. That’s not always appreciated.

According to entirely too many tests taken in my younger days, I’m supposed to be way to the right of that particular curve. I do understand the distribution. However, I have always maintained that I’m not so damn smart, and I suspect that I would not be surrounded by people who are likely to agree with me even if I were sitting in the middle of that curve; whether I’m three or four (or more) standard deviations to the right really doesn’t make that much difference. And there are people ostensibly far smarter than I who have similar difficulties dealing with Joe and Susan Sixpack:

The two best examples of the latter are John Sununu and Chuck Schumer. Sununu tested into Mega Society and Schumer hit a perfect score on his SAT back in the 60s when it was still a real test. Sununu had some success in politics, but his prickly personality was a problem. Schumer, of course, is known as the most unpleasant human on earth.

I suppose, in the case of Schumer and Sununu, it can be argued that their unpleasant demeanor was overcome by their high IQs. Chuck Schumer’s position is entirely dependent on his ability to push through sophisticated legislation allowing the financial sector to loot the economy.

I did not, I hasten to note, hit a perfect score on my SAT back in the 60s when it was a real test. (I took it twice, in fact; I scored 34 points higher the second time, which was not the first thing I noticed.)

Anyway, this, to me at least, seems indisputable:

In some respects, a 1% IQ is like being seven feet tall. There’s some value at the fringes, but otherwise it has no value and can be a burden. There’s a low demand for seven footers and to most people it is a little weird being around a freakish giant. A 1% IQ is not in much demand and most people don’t like being around Wile E. Coyote for long, unless the genius is also blessed with a high agreeableness and extroversion.

Which I most certainly am not.

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The other side of the city limits

There are those of a certain philosophical bent who think that everyone should live as close to downtown, and as close to one another, as is inhumanly possible. (There are several pod persons on OKCTalk who call for the bloody dismemberment of this town, for its reduction to maybe half of its 621 square miles, all in the name of Holy Density. Fortunately, none of them live near me.) This isn’t happening here, and it’s not happening anywhere else either:

It’s still a bit disconcerting to see how far suburbs have spread across the landscape. It’s no wonder traffic has become so congested. I really think we could use a new model for suburban living, but as long as land on the outskirts of town is cheap, and people are willing to spend the necessary time in their cars I don’t see that things will change. Self-driving cars are going to insure that we continue on this same path. Replace your windshield with a big screen TV, talk out the front seats entirely, replace the rear seat with a lazy boy, and shoot, you wouldn’t even have to go home, you could just crawl around in traffic all night long. In the morning you could go back to work. So you smell a bit, your co-workers will just have to suck it up. Or get some of those smell blocking chemicals.

Of course, you must remember why people moved out to the ‘burbs in the first place:

The nicest thing about houses is that they are quiet, well, as quiet as your immediate family is. No neighbors walking across your ceiling, no hooligans blasting heavy metal till 3 in the morning. Dull, boring and comfortable.

What’s that worth to you? I know what it’s worth to me, and in a year’s time it’s a number in five figures.

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Saturday gets a little smaller

You can hear el Chacal de la Trompeta fading in the distance:

After more than 53 years, the popular Univision program Sábado Gigante will end on September 19, the Spanish-language broadcaster announced Friday.

The variety show, which stars Mario Kreutzberger (known on the show as Don Francisco), first launched in 1962 on Chile’s Channel 13 and has routinely been one of the most-watched show among Hispanics.

Which is not to say that Don Francisco, now 74, is retiring or anything:

Kreutzberger will continue contributing to the Univision Network with new projects and by hosting entertainment specials and campaigns such as TeletónUSA, which is held every year on behalf of disabled children. He will also take part in Univision’s ongoing efforts to look for and develop new on-air talent and professionals.

Actually, Kreutzburger’s first variety show of this sort was Gran Show Dominical, on Sundays; after a year or so it moved to Saturday.

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Whatever you font

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We are become a perennial herb

Submitting scientific papers now apparently requires a sixteen-digit number:

ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) is a nonproprietary alphanumeric code to uniquely identify scientific and other academic authors. This addresses the problem that a particular author’s contributions to the scientific literature or publications in the humanities can be hard to recognize as most personal names are not unique, they can change (such as with marriage), have cultural differences in name order, contain inconsistent use of first-name abbreviations and employ different writing systems. It provides a persistent identity for humans, similar to that created for content-related entities on digital networks by digital object identifiers (DOIs).

Is ORCID pronounced the way you might think? Wikipedia provides no help, so you’re on your own:

I was at first hearing it in my head as being like “orchid” but when I went back to the site, it was ORC (in one color) ID (in another), which looks more like ORC ID to me, like either the identification of an ORC (“Orcs, this line, prepare to present your I.D. cards”) or the id of an orc, which would be a Very Bad Thing indeed. (Orcs are probably ALL id, doesn’t seem to be a lot of super-ego going on there).

Given the nature of orcs — Tolkien once described them as “squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes” — well, short quasi-people got no reason to live.

Still, having an ORC ID perhaps confers some status, however infinitesimal:

I don’t expect fellow scientists to start shoving me around and going, “Oh, you think you’re a big shot, don’t you, with your ORCID number?”

I dunno. I assume that if they’re in the not unusual publish-or-perish environment, they’ll have their own numbers soon enough.

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Just like yesterday

That’s today, and tomorrow will be much the same, and what’s it to you?

I’m giving up feeling bad that I live in routines. I need routines; they give my life structure and they help me keep the illusion that the world isn’t sometimes a frighteningly random place where you have no control over things. So for me, doing the same thing for breaks, or stuff like food-jags (my standard lunch these days: a cup of plain Greek yogurt, a string cheese, a tangerine, a small thing of applesauce and some kind of a cereal or fruit bar) doesn’t bother me. I don’t always crave novelty. (I’m not QUITE to the point of “Four o’clock, time for Judge Wapner” but I do have my routines I like to stick to and I am open about the fact that I get unhappy when someone decides to mess with my schedule.)

Judge Wapner? Oh, my. You gotta be Rain Man to like this guy.

Still, I have to respect this position, since for the most part it’s my position: I figure, once things start working well, changes in those things I deem counterproductive until proven otherwise. I rotate through about eight basic menu items, though I tend to reset on Saturday, as it’s my grocery-shopping day. And as anyone who has watched my Twitter timeline already knows, I get seriously boxer-knotted if someone who’s supposed to get something to me by time T doesn’t deliver until T plus one day.

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Selfie indulgence

“Show business kids, making movies of themselves,” sneered Steely Dan, suggesting that said kids were indifferent to all other considerations. Pertinent observation, or just typical cross-class, and possibly cross-generational, abuse?

When I was a substitute teacher, during a poetry lesson, I read aloud “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou and asked the classes what they thought. Five classes of kids, and four of them would only talk about how cocky and full of herself the author was. They talked about her with disdain, sometimes outright shock. How dare she?

However, one class loved the poem. The kids in that class loved how she owned every wonderful aspect of herself, in spite of what society deems appropriate. They called her a “badass”, and asked me to read the poem again.

Incidentally, this class was also the so-called “remedial” class. It was full of kids who lived outside the box, who spent the majority of their time bombarded by low expectations. Those kids understood exactly what Maya Angelou was talking about.

We live in a world that actively PUNISHES confidence. We’re not allowed to think we’re attractive. We’re not allowed to agree with compliments. I have spent so much of my life minimizing my intelligence, my looks, and my accomplishments; because I was socialized to believe that owning your beauty, your intelligence, your hard won success, equals being “cocky” or “full of yourself”.

Now I’m not the one to argue against humility; I have much to be humble about. But if all you ever do is hide your light under a bushel, eventually something’s going to catch fire, and not in a good way either.

So I don’t sneer at selfies qua selfies; after all, they’re not being done to get attention from the likes of me. And besides:

I see people posting selfies all the time, and I never think they are being shallow or are too full of themselves. I think “That must be nice. To feel so good about yourself in that moment that you freeze it for all eternity and post it for the whole world to see.”

I’m sick and goddamned tired of living in a world where we are forced to minimize ourselves for the comfort of others. Where we have to actively neg ourselves so no one will feel threatened by our worth.

Incidentally, “Phenomenal Woman” dates back to 1978, but its descendants are everywhere. The opening lines:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.

Not so different, really, from these:

Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two
But I can shake it, shake it like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
All the right junk in all the right places

The true narcissist is not just a person who takes a selfie; it’s the person who takes a selfie because it matters to him and therefore it should matter to you.

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Support your local pony fan

Now here’s a perfectly reasonable question:

I can imagine a Brony scholarship … where maybe I get to give scholarships to the people who drew the cutest fanart or made the fan-drawn comic that made me laugh the hardest. Darn it, why isn’t that a thing?

Well, of course you can make it a thing. But you won’t be the first:

The Brony Thank You Fund is now raising funds to start a permanent animation scholarship to Calarts, the school where such people as Lauren Faust, Craig McCracken, and Tim Burton got their start, among many, many others.

It took a little over a year, but it happened:

Pony makes things happen.

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Truth in variety

Not approved by the Staff of Sameness:

[T]ry to remember that 99 percent of the people around you are just people trying to get by. They are like you: all the colors of dirt, from pale dry dust to red clay to dark loam and everything in between. They are gay and straight and not-all-that-interested, religious or atheistic or doubting; they are happy and sad, angry and calm, often opinionated; they are clever and dull, amusing or scary or pitiable. Each one of them has got the same one vote you do and there are no prizes to be won in this life or any other by treating any of them badly.

If all your friends think exactly the way you do, you’re due for some new friends, as Starlight Glimmer has not learned.

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Be sure to show your lack of work

Joseph Brean writes in the National Post:

Psychologists have a quip about IQ tests — the only thing they measure is your ability to do IQ tests. They are not, as they purport to be, an objective measure of intelligence, like the air temperature of a room. Rather, they are variable, and vulnerable to luck and circumstance, like the score of a hockey game.

Exams are the same. They are cruel in their way, in their pose as objective measures of a student’s worth.

If hockey were so dependent on luck and circumstance, surely the Maple Leafs would be better than 29-43-7, and a dismal 8-27-5 on the road.

But that’s not really the point. This is:

We show what we know when we can remember information when prompted. Writing essays and doing projects display communication skills and an understanding of concepts, but, without committing the content to memory, I’m not convinced we can say we’ve learned it. If you can’t tell me anything about WWI — when it happened, who was involved, worldwide implications… — without looking at your notes, then you don’t know anything about it. Then when you watch Downton Abbey, and a date flashes on the screen, “June 1914,” you have to look it up to grasp the significance. It’s useful to know things, and it’s useful to our society if everyone has a common knowledge of basic facts about history, geography, multiplication tables, the carbon cycle … Without a display of memory, we can’t assess learning. And a good test or exam can be a clear indicator of knowledge.

So why not just have tests without a final exam? The nice thing about exams is that kids do them. They don’t whine or try to bargain or chat or even think of taking out their phones during exams. Because exams are held up to a higher standard, and the whole school stops for a week for them to happen, and the kids only get one kick at the cat, students take exams more seriously than tests. I’ve had in-class tests with a third of the class AWOL then had to spend days tracking them and getting them to write a make-up. I once had a student take a make-up test home for three days to write it, and I was instructed that I had to count it because he showed he knew the content — ignoring the obvious fact that he had ample opportunity to Google the material. For exams, they all show up and do the work. Period.

Okay, sometimes they all show up and do the work.

Furthermore, while one should certainly be concerned with a student’s worth, I’d argue that one should be substantially less concerned with the student’s perception of her worth. There are those who think it’s the instructor’s job to cover the class with a shiny veneer of self-esteem, the way one might spritz PAM on a saucepan. Yes, exams are stressful. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be worth bothering with.

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Forward to the weakened

The life of a supermarket checker is not always a happy one, and while some grocery operations frown on this sort of thing, I’d much rather go someplace where the store staff don’t appear to be Animatronic.

Saturday I was doing my usual weekly run, and in between whisking things from conveyor belt to bags, checker (curvy black girl) and sacker (skinny white dude) were cracking wise on the misery of their lifestyles, albeit with just enough grin to remind themselves, if not necessarily the baffled customers, that this is done as a rhetorical exercise, not as a cry for help. At some point, they apparently lost track of what day it was — was it Friday? Saturday? Those of us in regular nine-to-five jobs don’t even have to think about such things.

Finally, they decided it was in fact Saturday, and I piped up: “And Sunday comes afterwards.”

The checker, who couldn’t have been much more than nineteen, gave me an “I can’t believe you actually said that” look, but she was smiling just the same.

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Not that I care

Who didn’t see this coming?

Apathy discussion marked by lack of interest

(Another joyous clipping from Bad Newspaper, found, from the looks of it, in the OU student paper. Oh, and that should be “fewer than 15 people.”)

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Creativity awakened the wrong way

Sir Ken Robinson, a couple of years ago, boiled down to a single paragraph:

Robinson has suggested that to engage and succeed, education has to develop on three fronts. First, that it should foster diversity by offering a broad curriculum and encourage individualisation of the learning process; secondly, it should foster curiosity through creative teaching, which depends on high quality teacher training and development; and finally, it should focus on awakening creativity through alternative didactic processes that put less emphasis on standardised testing, thereby giving the responsibility for defining the course of education to individual schools and teachers. He believes that much of the present education system in the United States fosters conformity, compliance and standardisation rather than creative approaches to learning. Robinson emphasises that we can only succeed if we recognise that education is an organic system, not a mechanical one. Successful school administration is a matter of fostering a helpful climate rather than “command and control.”

And presumably it would help if the youngsters got enough sleep. Sir Ken Robinson, last night:

The powers that be were profusely apologetic.

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Mayo presumably to be held

Because standing in the parking lot and taking a deep breath just isn’t enough:

For hamburger aficionados who can’t get enough of it, Burger King has an answer: a grilled burger-scented fragrance.

Burger King said Friday that the limited “Whopper” grilled beef burger-scented cologne will be sold only one day on April 1, and only in Japan.

And no, the date is not the joke. The King is serious enough about this to ask 5000 yen (forty bucks) for the bottle — with purchase of an actual Whopper.

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Goodness, me

There might be as many ways to answer this question as there are possible answerers:

Are you good at what you do? I’m pleased to hear it, but allow me to ask a question: How do you know?

Lots of possibilities there, as you can see.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you were to become determined to find out exactly how good you are at your trade. What metric would apply? Can you think of an absolute standard against which to measure yourself? I can’t. Among other things, most human qualities are immensurate. They simply can’t be expressed in numbers, and as Robert A. Heinlein has told us, if it cannot be expressed in figures, it’s merely someone’s opinion.

That throws us back to relative measures: “how good you are” as a ranking against others who do the same thing. How would you go about determining that?

About the only metric I have to go by is deadlines, of which I have an abundance. I’ve missed a few over the last quarter-century, but at most two were due to something I did, or to something I didn’t. (Being in the middle of the pipeline is hazardous to one’s sense of well-being.) How this compares to the competition is unclear, since there’s so little of it and no one has time for proper corporate espionage these days, but nothing I hear in industry scuttlebutt suggests to me that anyone is doing any better than I do. Then again, this is merely an opinion, and frankly I’m not one to think myself all that and a bag of organic sun-dried chips.

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It wasn’t part of the plan

The IMDb page for actor Gregory Walcott lists over a hundred credits, but there’s only one everyone seems to remember: Jeff Trent, the pilot in Plan 9 from Outer Space, the glorious mess created by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Even Walcott’s Wikipedia page has a picture of him as Jeff Trent.

From The Hollywood Reporter’s article on Walcott’s death last Friday at eighty-seven:

“I read the script, and it was gibberish. It made no sense, but I saw Ed Reynolds [J. Edward Reynolds, nominal head of the production company] as a naive, sweet man. I had done some pretty good things prior to that, so I thought I had a little credibility in Hollywood. I thought maybe my name would give the show some credibility… The film was made surreptitiously. My agent didn’t even know I did it.”

For years, Walcott sought to distance himself from Plan 9. But eventually he came to terms with Jeff Trent: he appeared in a brief role in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, playing a character not unlike Ed Reynolds. And he later conceded: “It’s better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don’t you think?”

Besides, as we learned from Mystery Science Theater 3000, there are plenty of films out there that made Plan 9 look like Citizen Kane.

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Quote of the week

The next bozo who goes on some ranty rant about “cultural authenticity” has earned a bitchslap from Jack Baruth:

Peter Green was a white Englishman who heard the Chicago blues on pirate radio and wanted to imitate it. Robert Cray grew up in a middle-class household and was performing for a living before he turned twenty. Even Albert King, who picked cotton on a plantation in his teens and then drove a bulldozer, was firmly into the pro-musician groove by his early twenties and could afford a Gibson Flying V. None of these guys ever shot anybody or went to prison or got poisoned by a woman or worked on a chain gang or plumbed the depths of human sorrow before they started making records. They didn’t live the blues — they played the blues.

Muddy Waters reportedly told Little Walter, “We don’t live the blues, we play it.” Miles Davis said something similar to his bandmates. I repeat: The best musicians to ever play the blues didn’t live the blues. You think that’s unique to the blues? Ask Dr. Dre how much crime he’s actually done in his life, how many people he’s shot. Rick Ross was a correctional officer, not a gangster. Ice-T was a gang member once — but he’s spent a much larger portion of his life playing a cop on television. Axl Rose wasn’t born in Los Angeles. Robert Plant wasn’t actually a character in a Tolkien book. Barry Manilow wrote a lot of songs but “I Write The Songs” wasn’t one of them.

Musicians are performers, assuming a character for the purpose of performing music. If you want authenticity in your life, you’d better look somewhere else besides music, maybe “upcycling” or “curating” or something like that.

And if you ever hear me claim this five-million-plus-word unauthorized autobiography to have been “curated,” you can slap me.

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