Out to pasture

Maggie Gyllenhaal wore this Dolce & Gabbana gown to the 2014 Tonys:

Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 2014 Tonys in Dolce & Gabbana

Perhaps not the most flattering look for her. Let’s try something a little less formal:

Maggie Gyllenhaal in a 2014 photoshoot

Now this is the point at which things get weird:

Maggie Gyllenhaal, an Oscar nominee getting Emmy buzz for her work on the Sundance miniseries The Honourable Woman, revealed that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man.

No kidding.

“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said during an interview for an upcoming issue of The Wrap Magazine. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”

As a man who was 55 seven years ago, I think this is ridiculous.

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Yowusupwidat by cc:DivaThis album came out twenty-seven years ago, and about every 27 months or so I remember that I have it and give it a spin. Nobody I know seems to have heard a note of it, which seems to justify giving it some space here, especially since it’s not entirely unknown on YouTube.

First, to explain “cc”: it apparently stands for “coat check,” a job once held by singer Natalie Bonelli; she and multi-instrumentalist NAYAN (officially styled in all caps) were the two members of the group, and they cut yowusupwidat? in 1988 for EMI-Manhattan. The leadoff track actually has a video:

EMI put out four singles by Natalie and NAYAN, including the one cover song on the album: a version of “Grazing in the Grass” which seems actually even more upbeat and cheerful than the Friends of Distinction’s big hit or even Hugh Masekela’s trumpet instrumental. (Philemon Hou, I am told, devised the melody while hearing an early Masekela backing track; Friend of Distinction Harry Elston wrote the words.)

And after that, cc:Diva vanished. NAYAN’s name appears as a credit on a couple of latter-day Tiffany tracks; Bonelli contributed “Letting Go” to the soundtrack album from the TV series Dawson’s Creek, sung by Kim Sozzi, and released a solo album, Natalie Bonelli, this year, which includes her own recording of “Letting Go.”


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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The real Central Scrutinizer

In my semiannual review of my auto-insurance bill, I have occasionally evoked Frank Zappa’s Central Scrutinizer, ubiquitous yet inaccessible, a decent metaphor for the industry as I’ve seen it.

And, if I may say so myself, a predictive one:

Got a letter from State Farm Insurance yesterday offering me a discount. All I have to do is give up any thought of ever having any privacy. Like I have any privacy in my current digital lifestyle. They call it in-drive, it plugs into the diagnostic port on your car, the same port that DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) uses to see if your car is still spewing the recommended daily allowance of carcinogens. I think I’ll pass. I have enough entangling alliances as it is, I don’t need any more.

State Farm is hardly the only firm offering such a scheme. Still, it seems awfully Zappa-esque:

This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER … it is my responsibility to enforce all the laws that haven’t been passed yet. It is also my responsibility to alert each and every one of you to the potential consequences of various ordinary everyday activities you might be performing which could eventually lead to The Death Penalty (or affect your parents’ credit rating). Our criminal institutions are full of little creeps like you who do wrong things.

We are so screwed.


Follow the bouncing lyric sheet

One might say that most popular music is not exactly cerebral. (Rush fans, please wait until we’re done.) But how much is “not exactly”? Well, not very much:

According to Andrew Powell-Morse at Seatsmart, the reading level of the top-selling chart hits has been getting lower and lower for the past 10 years. The average reading level for the lyrics of a chartbuster in 2005 was between the third and fourth grade. The average level last year was between the second and third grade, and a number of the major hits are well below that.

The reading level algorithm takes into account sentence length, word length, number of syllables and so on. This right away can show what one of the problems might be in assessing whether or not a song is really dumb. A song that repeated the word “Mississippi,” for example, could score higher than a song that repeated “Utah” just as often. The two would be equally meaningless, though, and could be described fairly as equally stupid.

Then again, one could argue that lyrics have been getting dumber ever since Cole Porter died. That was 15 October 1964; what was the #1 song in Billboard the following week? This was:

“Subdivisions,” it ain’t.


A lead-pipe cinch

Of course, they don’t use lead pipes anymore, but it’s hard to see how this can miss:

You’ll note that the record is only 0.77 inch away. We’ve averaged about two-thirds of an inch per day this month, and as of 1 pm we had just about half of that 0.77 inch in hand, or on ground anyway.

And Monday’s only the 26th: there will be five days left in May, and no one’s predicted any sunshine for any of them yet.


Quote of the week

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, on where science is going wrong these days [pdf]:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals. Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. National assessment procedures, such as the Research Excellence Framework, incentivise bad practices. And individual scientists, including their most senior leaders, do little to alter a research culture that occasionally veers close to misconduct.

Horton mentions no specific areas of inquiry in this paragraph — feel free to read the whole thing — and I’m not pointing any fingers myself. Then again, perhaps I don’t have to; anyone who digs into the unofficial channels can find scores of stories in a short time.

(Via Roger Pielke, Jr.)

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Packets gone awry

The cable company has been pushing me to dump my old DOCSIS 2.0 modem, and by “pushing” I mean “opening a window in the goddamn browser.” Okay, fine. But I’m not buying theirs: I’ll find one — on their approved list, of course — and go through whatever digital equivalent of the Bataan Death March it takes to get it installed.

Now “installed,” in the hardware sense, took all of two minutes Wednesday evening. Getting the company to talk to it took twenty more, and getting it to talk to them took half an hour. Not all of this time was eaten up by the robovoice, either: I got it to hand me off to an actual person fairly early in the proceedings. But for some reason, it took several attempts to get everything changed over from old box to new. Speed difference is about 30 percent; it’s noticeable, but not eye-poppingly so.

Then Thursday it failed to respond at the initial bootup, but came around after a reset. More annoying was the “This site is blocked” screen at OpenDNS, on such anodyne sites as Bing. Something about filtering in use, or some such foolishness. This was easier to deal with: delete their IP addresses from the router and reboot. (In this household, I do the damn filtering.)

If things become sporadic over the weekend, you may presume that I’m being paid back for my wrath.

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You misspelled “schmuck”

This showed up in the mail yesterday, ostensibly from Dropbox:

– This mail is in HTML. Some elements may be ommited in plain text. –

Hello chaz@dustbury.com
A PDF file classified as important has been sent to you.

From: J.M. Smucker Co.
Major Product Areas
website; www.smucker.com

Um, no. One of the things that’s “ommited” in plain text is a Sneaky Link, which does not, I assure you, go back to Smucker’s: it’s pointed toward a subdirectory on a hijacked WordPress site.

And regarding the post title, Nancy Friedman reminds me:

The sch- spelling … is German rather than Yiddish.

Just to make sure that’s on the record, you know.


One does not simply slide into two-doors

Doug DeMuro argues that there should be sporty coupes, but no other coupes:

Examples of the sporty coupe include the Porsche 911, the Ford Mustang, the Subaru BRZ, and — if you ask the Germans — the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, though the rest of us just consider that to be an overpriced sedan.

And then you have the other type of coupe. The non-sporty coupe. This is a car that was a sedan, until some auto industry geniuses got ahold of it and decided they could create an entirely new segment by just throwing on a new, two-door body and marketing it as “sporty.” Examples include the Honda Civic, the Honda Accord, and, well, that’s about it.

So Honda’s built a sandbox that no one else wants to play in. How is this a problem? This way, says DeMuro:

[B]asically, the “non sporty coupe” is just a sedan with less practicality. Same Accord styling. Same Accord engines. Same Accord equipment, and platform, and suspension, and brakes. The only difference: in the regular Accord, you can get out of the back seat without making the front passenger get up and exit the vehicle first.

I think I’ve had back-seat passengers four times in the last decade.

I’ve talked to a few people who own these vehicles, and I’ve come to learn they actually believe these are sports cars. “Well,” they say. “I couldn’t afford a 370Z. So I decided to get an Accord Coupe.” As if the two are equals. This would be like saying that you couldn’t afford a place overlooking Central Park, so you instead decided to get a studio apartment in downtown Newark.

A Nissan Z overlooks Central Park like any living Democrat resembles Adlai Stevenson: “You wish.”

But the proper response came from Bark M.:

Here’s a gauntlet throwdown for Doug:

Pick any track east of the Mississippi. I will show up with a V6 Accord coupe. You show up with a BRZ or V6 Mustang/Camaro. I will challenge you to a time trial.


I would kill, or at least injure badly, to see that.


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.


A winning formula in many sports

Sports broadcasts these days contain all manner of statistics, as though they had any actual predictive value.

Then again, this one apparently does:

I’d say that’s downright indisputable.

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Dintier than thou

Hormel’s Dinty Moore beef stew was long ago made available in a plastic microwavable tub: cut a slit in the cover, nuke for 90 seconds, and there you have it. I pick up one of these now and then just to break up the cycle of frozen stuff (usually Stouffer’s or Boston Market, occasionally Healthy Choice if I’m not paying attention), and besides, they spend less time in the reactor: like it says, a mere 90 seconds.

Until, apparently, now. I snagged one of them and another Hormel variety last weekend, and now they’re claiming 60 seconds, even merer than before. I wondered: did Hormel do something different, or is this simply a reflection of the fact that contemporary microwaves are a bit stronger than they used to be? (I’m on my third: the first two were rated at a meager 650 watts, the latest 900, and I’m seeing 1100 on newer models.)

A look at Hormel’s Brand Wall may, or may not, have given me a clue. The package portrayed that’s closest to the one I have on hand is marked 10 oz/255 g; however, the one I have is marked 9 oz — but still 255 g. (Nine ounces is indeed about 255 grams.) All the other nutrition information is the same.

Historical note: Dinty Moore, as a brand name, goes back to 1935; I’m guessing it had something to do with Dinty Moore, the character in the comic strip Bringing Up Father, which seems less unlikely than the Dinty Moore sandwich (corned beef layered with lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing) from Detroit. Hormel was clearly on a roll in those days, though: in the next two years, they introduced both their famous chili and the legendary Spam.

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One analyst swears that Twitter is about to de-smutify itself:

According to SunTrust Robinson Humphrey tech analyst Robert Peck, Twitter is preparing to purge an estimated 10 million porn-posting users. Ditching such a large chunk of users sounds drastic until you do the math: Twitter claims to have 302 million monthly users, so getting rid of the explicit posters will only account for about 3 percent of its total—although that’s just counting the users and not their followers.

Why would they do such a thing? Perhaps because of this incident:

Nielsen, the television and digital measurement company, was forced to halt one of its paid-for Promoted Tweets campaigns this week after its ads were served against profile pages dedicated to pornography, according to Adweek.

The Nielsen paid-for tweet, reading “Am I getting the most value from my media buy? Learn what other questions you should ask in our webinar recording,” appeared on the “Homemade Porn” and “Daily Dick Pictures” profile pages, Adweek reports. The trade magazine says ads from other brands including Duane Reade, NBCUniversal, and Gatorade also showed up in feeds next to pornographic images and videos. The problem appears to be tied to a new ad format “Suggested by Twitter,” which only first rolled out in March.

Which suggests that this is indeed a bug and not a feature.

And there’s always the problem of defining porn beyond “I know it when I see it,” because, well, you probably don’t, and I can’t imagine how you’d automate Miller v. California.

Just for the record, I follow three individuals with porn, or at least porn-y backgrounds: one current performer, one retired, and one who possibly aspires to stardom. The retired one posts nothing questionable at all. Then again, I am not one to look down my nose at sex workers, who in some ways could be considered, um, manual labor.

I also follow a handful of naturists, most of whom post nothing untoward, though I’ve seen some, um, odd retweets pop into my timeline. (Last night presented a fairly unique experience: how do you compliment someone on her new dress when you’ve hardly ever seen her in any kind of dress at all?)

Twitter’s media policy is simultaneously clear and murky:

If you upload media that might be considered sensitive content such as nudity, violence, or medical procedures, you should consider applying the account setting “Mark my media as containing sensitive content.” We do not mediate content. All content should be marked appropriately as per our guidelines.

After all, “should” is a long way from “must,” and there are an awful lot of people out there who, if asked, would come down on the side of “must.”

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Porcine on the dotted line

Sy Montgomery writes in The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood:

I never met a pig I didn’t like. All pigs are intelligent, emotional, and sensitive souls. They all love company. They all crave contact and comfort. Pigs have a delightful sense of mischief; most of them seem to enjoy a good joke and appreciate music. And that is something you would certainly never suspect from your relationship with a pork chop.

And contrary to auto-journalist mythology, they do not understeer.

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Freshly scrutinized

The new auto-insurance policy has arrived, and it’s $24.20 pricier than the previous one, broken down as follows:

  • Liability (injury): up $3.10.
  • Liability (property): up $16.20.
  • Uninsured motorists: no change.
  • Comprehensive: up $3.30.
  • Collision: up $1.70.
  • Road service: up $0.90.
  • Rental reimbursement: no change.

Not quite offsetting this is an extra buck worth of discounts. As before, uninsured-motorist coverage is the single largest expense on the bill, though property liability, which took a big jump, is coming close.

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