Fark blurb of the week

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Still so unusual

Today Cyndi Lauper is sixty, which means — well, nothing really, except that she’s toned down the Rainbow Dash-styled hair since the last time you paid attention to her. Oh, and she had a hit blues album in 2010, and the musical Kinky Boots, book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi, opened in Chicago in 2012, opened on Broadway in 2013, won six Tonys, and will hit the road next year.

Which is not to say she’s going to be in Brooks Brothers grey:

Cyndi Lauper 2012

And considering the fact that in 1977 she was told by a phalanx of doctors that she’d blown out her voice and would never sing again — well, you can imagine what she thought about that.

From 1994, here’s Cyndi doing “I’m Gonna Be Strong,” a Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil number, histrionic and then some, which became a fair-sized hit for Gene Pitney in 1964.

This was Cyndi’s second version of this song; the first was in 1980, as a member of the garage-y/rockabilly band Blue Angel.

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Rock out with your cochlea out

Over the years I have tried to explain my seemingly inexplicable musical tastes in terms of everything from childhood exposure to polymorphous perversity. But it never occurred to this all-American bullet-headed non-Saxon mother’s son to blame the shape of his skull:

In addition to the obvious social and cultural influences on musical preference, there are also a myriad of little physical quirks of the body that affect the way we hear and process sound, particularly music.

A new study presented at the 165th Acoustical Society of America Meeting in Montreal last week added another quirk to the list: skull resonance. It turns out that the unique shape and resonance of a person’s skull could have a subtle impact on the way that she hears different keys of music, and how much she likes it.

Okay, I’m with you so far.

The cochlea itself is embedded deep within the temporal bone of the skull. This extremely dense bone sets the tone for the way the skull resonates sound and influences how sounds are amplified, diminished and ultimately heard.

Since no two skulls are exactly alike, no two temporal bones or the resonating structures they create are identical, or will resonate the same way. So, researchers at William Paterson University wanted to see exactly how much skull shape and resonance affects what kind of music a person prefers.

Or, as it happens, doesn’t prefer:

Across the panel of participants, skull frequency varied between 35 and 65 hertz. Incidentally, the female participants had slightly smaller skulls and a higher fundamental skull frequency than the male participants.

The researchers found that the resonance of the skull did not seem to have a strong influence on the keys of music the participants preferred, but it did moderately predict the kind of music that the participants disliked.

Which seems more logical than my previous hypothesis, to the effect that there is a distinct anti-Nickelback gene.

(Via this Jennifer Ouellette tweet.)

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We put the “suc” in “sucrose”

Sugar prices are “historically low” this year, and the USDA simply will not stand for that:

The federal government will intervene in the sugar market for the first time in more than a decade, spending up to $38 million in an effort to forestall a later bailout of sugar producers in Minnesota and elsewhere that could cost more than $300 million.

Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest beet sugar industry, which is protected by import tariffs and supported by loan guarantees.

This intervention smacks (but not Sugar Smacks) of Rube Goldberg:

The USDA market intervention involves buying sugar from domestic producers, then swapping it for import credits allotted to coastal U.S. sugar refineries under a “re-export” program. The coastal refineries get a credit for the imports, but must then export the finished product so as not to compete with domestic sugar suppliers.

This is consistent with other current government programs intended to save everyone’s job but yours.

(Via Amy Alkon.)

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Walk duly being walked

One of the great mysteries of contemporary commerce is why Yahoo! peeled off a billion in small bills for blog site Tumblr.

This much we know: they moved the Yahoo! Answers blog to Tumblr. Now if they move Ball Don’t Lie over there, I’ll believe they’re serious (not to be confused with Yahoo Serious).

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Friday’s child

I note in passing that Rebecca Black is sweet sixteen today, and is, as of the last time I looked, the youngest person listed by Wikipedia as having been born on the 21st of June, which, in 1997, was not at all a Wednesday. (Obligatory fanboy reference: They list her as “singer, dancer, actress.”)

And there’s this:

Other noteworthy summer debuts: Jane Russell (1921), Mariette Hartley (1940), Berke Breathed (1957), and Edward Snowden (1983).

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Quote of the week

A picture, we are told, is worth a thousand words. This one might exceed the quota:

This is the one thing Amazon can’t do. (Or can they?)

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The urge to concierge

Each issue of The Atlantic ends with a Big Question of varying import, posed to several individuals presumably known to subscribers. The answers are usually predictable — the only thing I really need to hear from Bill McKibben, for instance, is the answer to “What’s your thermostat setting?” — but sometimes inscrutable. An example of the latter, from Sandra Tsing Loh, in the current (July/August) issue, in which the question is “How and when will the world end?”

The world — or at least my sense of an outside world — will end next year, when Barbara Walters finally goes off the air. I’m just old and cranky enough to not want to deal with any of it anymore when the great diva is no longer around to soothingly concierge my news, or newslike substances.

Being older and crankier than Loh, I’ll happily concede the utility of “newslike substances,” but “concierge” as a verb? Merriam-Webster, at least, is not on board with this particular weirding of the language — yet. (Note that I did not complain that Loh split an infinitive.)

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The ZIP code in which I live covers an area of 7.7 square miles; more than 20,000 people live here. The Shell station where I usually go requests the five-digit code as a security measure, presumably on the off-chance that I might be carrying a stolen credit card.

Or maybe there’s something else motivating them:

In one of their brochures, direct marketing services company Harte-Hanks describes the GeoCapture service they offer retail businesses as follows: “Users simply capture name from the credit card swipe and request a customer’s ZIP code during the transaction. GeoCapture matches the collected information to a comprehensive consumer database to return an address.” In a promotional brochure [pdf], they claim accuracy rates as high as 100%.

Harte-Hanks used to be in, um, other businesses: they owned several newspapers, the biggest of which was the San Antonio Express-News, which they eventually sold to Rupert Murdoch. (Hearst, which owned the rival Light, subsequently executed the same maneuver they did in San Francisco; they bought the bigger paper and disposed of the old one.) H-H also owned a handful of broadcast stations. No more: about two decades ago, they decided that marketing was the future, and sold off all that Old Media stuff.

There are at least half a dozen guys in town with the same name. How many of them live in this same ZIP code? Right. Maybe I should start buying my gas somewhere else. (Think of it as speaking truth to V-Power.)

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Grid lark

I refuse to take this measure seriously:

Amid growing fears of a massive electromagnetic pulse hit from either a solar flare or a terrorist nuclear bomb, House Republicans … unveiled a plan to save the nation’s electric grid from an attack that could mean lights out for 300 million Americans.

The reason is right there in the title:

Dubbed the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act, the legislation would push the federal government to install grid-saving devices such as surge protectors to protect against an attack.

SHIELD Act? What would Nick Fury say?

Has there ever been a worthwhile law with a cutesy acronym?

(Via Bill Quick, who expects that nothing good will come of it.)

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Anybody, with the possible exception of yours truly, can write a book, or so it seems; we keep hearing these wondrous tales of prodigious success by authors who’ve never been mentioned in The New York Times.

But I remember my bell curves, and for every book that sells gazillions, there are probably several more like this one, which, says the author, has sold zero copies in two years.

This situation also prevails on the musical side: for example, in 2007 there were 13 million downloadable music tracks, and 10 million of them didn’t sell so much as a single copy.

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When it blows

I have generally been a backer of wind power, mostly because I live in a place where there’s a hell of a lot of wind. Not that the 300-mph stuff in an EF5 tornado is of much use, exactly, but average winds in this part of the world are comfortably, or sometimes, yes, uncomfortably, in excess of the minimum required to turn one, or several, of those massive turbines.

Which is not to say that this is the case everywhere:

If there is a God, then He can surely be seen in Devon’s rolling patchwork of fields and flowering hedgerows. It’s a landscape that stirs a pride of country as great as that evoked by our cultural and scientific achievements. As my grandfather would have said, it’s the view that won us the war.

While I admired this magnificent scenery, at no point did I think that it would benefit from the addition of a few 300-foot wind turbines. Yet, there are people living among us who would disagree; people who would like to carpet our countryside with these monstrosities; people who even claim to find them beautiful — a sentiment I find as credible as a Soviet peasant admiring the Tiger tank that had just squashed his grandmother.

Even I am not so easily deluded.

But, as always, there’s subtext, and even sub-subtext:

Wind turbines serve an additional purpose for the Left, similar to that performed by the tower blocks Ceauşescu built in the middle of farmland, or the factories found on the horizon of Soviet rural scenes: they are statements of power. These steel sentinels remind country-dwellers that they are within the gravitational pull of the capital’s dark star, and that if they believe they are free to reject the beliefs of the metropolitan elite, they can think again.

The countryside has long been an object of suspicion for liberal townies, who consider it a viper’s nest of erroneous thought, inhabited by toffs, retired colonels, golf-playing Rotarians and other conservative bogeymen. The propensity of country folk to choose their own values, to observe age-old traditions and to rely on each other to get by puts them in conflict with everything the Left stands for. In the liberal worldview, you’re either one of them, one of their flock, or an enemy of the people whose way of life must be destroyed.

Then again, there aren’t enough dyed-in-the-scratchiest-possible-wool leftists around here to be much of a factor: wind power exists in this neck of the woods because it stands a chance of turning a buck even when the government subsidy, as it eventually must be, is killed off. And besides, I know all about the visual impact of those big nasty Cuisinarts in the sky.

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Perhaps once is not enough

This goes without saying:

Just the same, it was said.

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Unhashed but tagged

“Now Just $1 a day for a 25k Life-Policy,” said the subject line.

Then followed this inexplicable barrel of blather:

I’ll always remember the night you swept me off e654339265b51 fc872b75502d5945d95 my feet. You didn’t have to flaunt what you’ve got by being surrounded by limos and flashing lights, nor did you have to whisper sweet nothings in my ear and make false promises of how great you are, like other restaurants. No, instead you were just you, the definition of New York City sophistication — sleek, refined, and confident. The second I walked inside, I knew I was in love with you. Your spacious, chic atmosphere made me feel elegant (in no way out of place in my fancy black dress) yet comfortable at the same time. And, as soon as our waitress opened with “I think [same damned 32-digit number] champagne is the best way to start almost any occasion — a dinner, a night out, breakfast,” I knew I was in for a great night. Actually, I offered up the breakfast comment, but she laughed and agreed, which made me feel more relaxed than that first glass of [sd32n] champagne. I could go on and on like [sd32n] Shakespeare and count the ways I love you, but really when it comes down to it, there is one thing that absolutely stole my heart — the food. It is rare that I can say this, but every single one of the 8 dishes of the CHEFS TASTING MENU blew me out of the water, not only in terms of presentation, which was the finest presentation I’ve ever laid eyes on, but also in your choice [sd32n] and quality of ingredients (managing to keep things somewhat seasonal, yet metropolitan at the same time), the combination of flavors, and finally, your execution. Of note, the FOIE GRAS with bing [sd32n] cherry chutney, almond, purslane, and celery was smooth, creamy, and rich enough to leave me satisfied with my portion without wanting more. The RED KING SALMON with citrus cured sorrel, olive oil confit with smoked caviar and a Meyer lemon coulis was deliciously light and refreshing. The BABY SQUID made me feel good about eating infants, as it was perfectly cooked [sd32n] and paired with Mediterranean ingredients which complimented the chewy texture of the squid. Finally, and most importantly, the LIBERTY FARMS DUCK BREAST was the best duck I’ve ever tasted — perfectly crisped skin, tender, moist, with a roasted plum to bring out its natural sweetness and a [sd32n] rich reduction that didn’t overshadow the rest of the plate. Daniel, to put it simply, you [sd32n] had me at “hello.” No really, you did, literally, as I actually got the opportunity to say “hello” to Daniel Boulud himself and have a lively 15 minute conversation (in French!) with the celebrity chef after most of the other diners had cleared the restaurant. It was at that moment, at the end of the night, when I knew this had been one of the best dining experiences of my life, rivaled only by the French Laundry. Daniel, how can I ever forget you? My only hope is that I have the opportunity to see you again next year. Until then, you’ll [sd32n] be in my thoughts.

Quite apart from the fact that I never, ever get email that contains the phrase “I love you” and presumably never will, I can’t fathom what that ridiculous 32-digit number is for; I suppose it’s a hash of some sort, but what’s the point of sending me a hash?

And weirder yet, following that block of text is a block starting with <style> and consisting of several hundred presumed tags, but tags that don’t exist in HTML: among them are <Trieste>, <Woonsocket> and <Nerf>. Perhaps they work in NSA’s custom browser.

Daniel Boulud, however, is a real celebrity chef. He would not have been amused by my chicken-strip salad dinner last night.

Disclosure: This is not exactly the 32-digit number that was sent. No sense giving them — whoever “they” are — the idea that they accomplished something.

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From a small room

Last night we checked in with Celine, the Shoe Girl, and she was quite enthusiastic about her new Prada wedges: “Love the shit outta them,” she said.

She apparently wasn’t kidding:

Prada wedge

I won’t even ask who took this shot.

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A life of danger

Dave Schuler has a nice little remembrance of Johnny Rivers, now 70, whom he elevates to the Pantheon:

For my money Rivers is one of the greatest of all rock performers and one of the finest of all rock guitarists, right up there with Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton. Few people today seem to know his name. That’s ironic because so many of them are familiar with his music. Frequently, when they think of a Chuck Berry tune, they’re actually thinking of Johnny Rivers’s rendition of it.

Especially if it’s “Maybellene” or “Memphis,” both of which were big hits for Rivers.

I’ve always wondered if it was Rivers or Chuck Day who did that blistering solo on “Secret Agent Man”; I tend to lean toward Day, who apparently conjured up the riff, but either way, it was a fabulous record, and an obvious inspiration for this celebrated TV theme:

Obligatory pony content: Tara Strong, the voice of Raven on Teen Titans, is the speaking (but not singing) voice of Twilight Sparkle on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

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