Plus and minus

April 30, 2008
  • On the minus side, they were out of Haribo Goldbären when I had a hankering for gummi bears, so I had to settle for some Happy Cola instead.
  • On the plus side, there was a stray bear in the bag of cola bottles! Hooray for assembly-line screwups.
  • On the minus side, Olsson’s was all out of Boulez and Stockhausen recordings yesterday, when I was eager to buy some at Maurizio Pollini’s recommendation.
  • On the plus side, I got my hands on some fine Chopin works I’d been meaning to buy—and it just so happened that the Ben & Jerry’s across the street from Olsson’s was handing out ice cream cones for free.
  • On the minus side, I am getting an officemate soon, so my time alone in this room is coming to an end.
  • On the plus side, I moved some stuff around and snagged an extra bookcase that was lying around, so now I’m basically walled off in a little cave.

Son cheval est son partenaire

January 25, 2008
  • White Russian milkshakes are the best thing ever. Especially when they’re made with [redacted], which I suppose would make the drink some kind of “beige” or “taupe” Russian.
  • Chai, on the other hand, is gross.
  • Bubble tea, on the gripping hand, is merely OK. The tapioca ‘pearls’ can be a bit much.
  • You have to eat the fortune cookie if you want the fortune to apply. Does anybody seriously dispute that?
  • There was a story in last week’s Washington Post magazine about a woman who had a shoelace break. She decided to replace the shoelace instead of throwing the shoes in the garbage, and that decision was apparently worth writing a page-long story about. Is that what American consumer culture has become? Is it that noteworthy when somebody puts forth minimal effort to repair something rather than discarding it and buying a new one? For fuck’s sake.
  • This whole ‘subprime’ fiasco, which would more accurately (in my decidedly non-expert opinion) be considered a ‘collateralized debt’ fiasco, reminds me of the following joke:

    Q. What do you get when you stir a spoonful of shit into a gallon of ice cream?
    A. A gallon of shit.

    (Apparently a lot of expert financiers thought the answer was “AAA-rated bonds”.)

  • This whole ‘subprime’ fiasco also reminds me of the lesson I learned from the S&L fiasco of the 80s, which I was far too young to understand at the time but read all about in Inside Job (which I highly recommend); a lesson that was reinforced by the Enron fiasco some years back. That lesson, of course, is that novel accounting practices are Bad News. Obviously that’s an oversimplification, but should you really be able to treat hypothetical money you might get in the future as a current asset? It’s like that other joke: If you owe the bank $100K, you’re in trouble. But if you owe the bank $100M, the bank is in trouble.

Songs of the Moment: «Nouveau Western» — MC Solaar; «Bonnie & Clyde» — Serge Gainsbourg

Random thoughts

January 8, 2008

  • How can Coca-Cola justify and/or get away with asserting that they use the “original formula” for Coke, when the current formula has only been in use since 1984? That’s when they changed sweeteners from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, which strikes me as a rather substantive, if straightforward, change. Funny, though, that Mexico still has “the real thing” while those of us in the land where Coke was born have to make do with a compromised version made necessary by the combination of ridiculous import tariffs on sugar and downright grotesque subsidies to corn growers.
  • When I first tried contact lenses, it was such an amazing and wonderful experience that I couldn’t believe it. For one thing, I could see clearly—that was quite nice, but I could achieve the same result with glasses, and had been doing so since I was 8 or 9 years old. The difference with contacts was that I could see without distortion.

    Glasses, especially ones as strong as mine, introduce a good deal of distortion. Objects appear smaller, for one thing, and straight lines become curved, especially if they’re far from the optical center of the lens. And, of course, your peripheral vision is shot to hell, since you have what amounts to a patch of clarity floating in a sea of blur. No matter how big your glasses, they simply can’t correct your vision in every possible direction you can look. Even lens materials introduce their own issues. Go with a fancy lightweight plastic, and you have to put up with frankly sickening amounts of chromatic aberration. (The first time I tried plastic lenses, I had to return them to the store an hour later because the fringing literally made me sick to my stomach.) Glass is much better in that regard, and is a good deal more scratch-proof to boot, but weighs a ton, especially when your prescription is as strong as mine.

    I’d internalized all of those flaws during my ten years of wearing ever-thicker glasses, to the point that I didn’t even notice them anymore. It was, I understood, the price to be paid for being able to see things more than a few inches from my face. So it was that, upon being fitted with contacts, I felt like I’d had my eyes opened for the first time. All that shit was gone, and I didn’t have to subconsciously compensate for any of it, or worry about them falling off or slipping down my nose, or anything. I vowed never to go back to glasses, because contacts, after all, gave me a more correct view of things.

    It was years before I even got a pair of glasses at an updated prescription, because I was so averse to the glasses paradigm. Now, though, I split my time pretty evenly between contacts and glasses. I still am grateful for contact lenses for the same reasons as before, but I now appreciate glasses for their own reasons. They’re more convenient, in that you don’t need to wash your hands before manipulating them, but that’s merely an ancillary benefit. No, I now appreciate glasses exactly because of their flaws and distortions. They serve as a reminder that everything I ‘see’, my vision of the world around me, is inherently a construct of my own mind, an inference pieced together from some sensory perceptions and tinted by my own biases, assumptions and preconceptions. Glasses reinforce the fact that experience is subjective.

  • Does nobody at the New York Times read Bob the Angry Flower? I mean, jeez:

    So it came as little surprise that Diebold, a company once known primarily for making safes and A.T.M.’s, [sic] …

  • Soon I will find out whether 94.85% is sufficiently close to 95%. Fingers crossed. I could have just taken an extra hour of leave to bump myself up slightly, and in fact my supervisor just told me, “That’s how the game is played,” but evidently I like cutting things close.
  • Speaking of cutting things close, there’s a lot of other shit I need to get done yesterday, that I’ve been putting off for months. We’ll see how that all goes.
  • In other news, pictures from Yosemite are coming, just as soon as I stop being extremely lazy.

Song of the Moment: «Soul Finger» — The Bar-Kays

Mad about saffron

December 4, 2007
  • Some people go to the bathroom after lunch and rinse their mouths out with Listerine™ brand antiseptic solution or some sort of generic equivalent. Good for them; I could probably stand to do the same. Some people bring a toothbrush and toothpaste for a more thorough cleaning. More power to them. But I just saw a guy lug an enormous electric toothbrush into the bathroom, complete with base, charger and accessories. Doesn’t there come a point when the convenience is outweighed by the hassle of carrying all that stuff back and forth? I mean, at the very least he could just leave the charger in his office and only bring the toothbrush to the bathroom, right? Or am I missing something here?
  • Winter must be on its way, since my knuckles are chapped already. I guess I’m happy it doesn’t happen to my lips or something, but knuckles? How the hell does that happen? And why did it only start last year? Next time I see someone break out some ChapStick™ brand medicated lip balm or some sort of generic equivalent, I’ll be sorely tempted to borrow it from them and then rub it all over the backs of my hands. That’s bound to end well.
  • I never would have imagined how alive pre-beer looks. (Or how opaque!) It’s rather fascinating to see a liquid almost violently churning for days on end, with no obvious source of movement. Those little yeast cells sure know how to live it up. It’s a shame they’ll soon drown in their own liquid waste. Delicious, delicious, hoppy liquid waste. I can’t wait to drink it.

Going to a party party

November 28, 2007

On the bright side, I suppose I can rent a car now if I ever need to.

To make myself feel like a complete and utter failure (moreso than already—thanks, Celia ;) ), here is an idiotlist:

  • Orson Welles was my age when he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely and correctly considered the best film ever. (It’s Terrific!)
  • Paul McCartney was my age when he wrote “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and he and his mates recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, about which more need not be said.
  • Albert Einstein was my age, and had my job, when he had his Annus Mirabilis, for which he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize and repeatedly referenced on The Simpsons.
  • Neil Young was my age when he released a solo album and an album with Crosby, Stills and Nash, in addition to touring with Crazy Horse (now available as an album as well).
  • Ian Anderson was my age when J-Tull made Thick as a Brick.
  • David Gilmour was my age when P-Floyd made Meddle.
  • Georges-Pierre Seurat was my age when he began work on Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte).
  • Leandro Barbosa was my age (happy birthday, Leandro!) when he was the reigning holder of the NBA 6th Man Award, and a key player on the most exciting team in the league.
  • Need I continue?

For the sake of fairness, however, here is a counterexamplelist:

  • Eric Blair was my age when he was broke and unemployed, on the brink of eviction and starvation. He considered himself lucky to find a job washing dishes 80 hours a week, as he later described under an assumed name in Down and Out in Paris and London.
  • Little help?

Not so quick on the uptake

November 27, 2007
  • I’m rather ashamed that it took this long for it to finally dawn on me that the design on the carpets by the elevator banks enables you to orient yourself with respect to the building. I mean, I remember noticing the symmetry in the carpet even when I showed up for my interview, let alone when I began coming here and walking on it five times a week. And every now and then, I’d forget which elevator bank I’d gone into, and thus which way I needed to turn when I got out. The solution was literally staring me in the face for over a year and I didn’t notice it. Pathetic, isn’t it?
  • So far the most positive thing I can say about Guitar Hero 3 is that I am glad it reminded me how good “Raining Blood” (and Reign in Blood as a whole) are.
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is, without a doubt, one of my two favorite recent books written from the point of view of an autistic boy inspired by father-related issues to go on a grand quest. Though I still like Curious Incident better.

Song of the Moment: «Car Thief» — Beastie Boys

Telling tellers tell me

November 13, 2007

A not-so-recent-anymore article includes the following:

Music sales have slumped in recent years as more people have turned to file-sharing. The Recording Industry Association of America, which is not a party to the lawsuit, says record companies have brought more than 26,000 actions against people alleging they shared files in violation of copyrights.

I’m not going to address the merit of this lawsuit in particular, or the approach in general. There’s enough of that all over the internet already. Nor will I point out that, during the “recent years”, while “[m]usic sales have slumped”, DVD sales have exploded and RIAA labels have released fewer and arguably worse albums. There’s gotta be enough of that all over the internet as well.

No, my point is illustrated by this list of the past 10 or so albums I’ve purchased, along with the record label (if any) for each one:

  • Elliott Brood — Tin Type (Weewerk)
  • Holy Fuck — LP (XL Recordings)
  • Husky Rescue — Ghost is Not Real (Catskills)
  • Junior Senior — Hey Hey My My Yo Yo (Rykodisc)
  • Manu Chao — La Radiolina (Nacional Records)
  • Maserati — Inventions for the New Season (Temporary Residence)
  • Menomena — Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
  • Portugal. The Man — Church Mouth (Fearless Records)
  • Radiohead — In Rainbows (?)
  • Spoon — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge Records)
  • UNKLE — War Stories (Surrender All)

Green indicates an album is non-RIAA, red RIAA (post-purchase, I looked them up here). As you can see, that means one of the past ten CDs I’ve bought (or one of the past eleven albums I’ve bought) has been a release from an RIAA-affiliated label. I guess that means I’m so indie it hurts [1], but it also illustrates that, without even trying, you can nearly eliminate your support for the RIAA and still buy as many CDs as you did before. So while I don’t necessarily doubt that music sales in general have fallen, I have to wonder whether the fall is as big as it’s been made out to be. Articles tend to parrot RIAA talking points, and it’s not clear where they’re getting their numbers from. If their sales figures are only based on the sales figures from their member labels, then the vast majority of my purchases don’t count, and I know there are lots of people out there with tastes like mine (or, God forbid, even indier).

Incidentally, if not for downloads, I wouldn’t have spent actual money on any of those albums.

* * *

[1] Adam, if you’re reading this, you can consider this post an explicit recommendation to listen to all those albums listed above. Sorry this still isn’t a proper mp3blog, but at least it’s trending in that direction. In any case, all of those albums qualify as ‘best of new music’ in my book; other than the Elliott Brood, which came out in 2004; and the Junior Senior, which came out in 2005 but wasn’t released Stateside until this year. Though the US release of the Junior Senior album does come with an EP of all-new material—which is the entire reason I bought it, since I already had a copy that I got in Denmark this spring.

I’ll Be Around

November 1, 2007

Time for an idiotlist.

  • I need to get some earplugs. It was a great show, but my ears still haven’t recovered from it. My high-frequency hearing, in particular, is markedly worse than it was this time yesterday.
  • If your band is called the Young Criminals’ Starvation League, it’s incredibly appropriate (and hilarious) when you and the drummer come out with stockings pulled over your heads. It’s also quite impressive that when you sing four songs through the stocking before finally getting sick of it.
  • Speaking of costumes, and Halloween, seeing the keyboard player wearing a cardboard Washington monument was great on its own—but when he briefly played “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” between songs at one point, it was magnificent.
  • I ordered the same drink three times, and was served by a different bartender each time (all of them at the stage-right bar). The first time it cost $5, the second time it cost $7, and the third time it cost $10. The third one was the best value of the bunch.
  • Strange, but perhaps not unexpected, that I do better and feel better after going out and getting home late and tipsy than I do after a restful evening and a full night’s rest. No use in fighting it, I suppose.

Better late than never

September 20, 2007

Title refers, at the very least, to the following:

  • my sudden awareness of just how good an album Beautiful Freak really is.
  • my plan for dealing with all the stuff I should have gotten done earlier in the quarter and fiscal year that are about to end.
  • my tentative baby-steps towards figuring out what it is I actually want.

Vendredi

August 17, 2007
  1. The Stooges — “Gimme Danger”
    I can’t help thinking how hard this song would be to do well as karaoke. Over the course of the song, Iggy goes from ‘regular’ singing (as regular as he gets, anyway) to a full-bodied howl, to gentle crooning just above a whisper. (Of course, I also can’t help thinking I’d really like to see the karaoke parlor that has this song as a selection.) The beginning is dark, but still almost mellow, since the acoustic guitar is so prominent. You know where it’s going, but it’s not there yet. As soon as the electric kicks in after the first verse, though, it brings with it a tremendous sense of inevitability—you know it’s just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose.
  2. The Traveling Wilburys — “Handle With Care”
    It’s hard to imagine a collaboration between George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty (I know I’m forgetting someone…) being any less amazing than this. I assume they each had a hook or a verse or whatever lying around unused, and they decided just to toss ’em all together and see what came out. And thank god they did so. Unfortunately the George parts are a bit flat compared to the rest, but the bridges (both of them, but especially Roy’s) are just sublime.
  3. Sublime — “Caress Me Down”
    For years, this song’s lyrics constituted the bulk of my Spanish-language vocabulary. (Nowadays I have some Manu Chao lyrics as well.)
  4. Hawksley Workman — “Dirty and True”
    This is the point where Hawksley goes from ‘charming’ to ‘excessive’. The constant changes in the song are less ‘clever’ than ‘jarring’, and the extended spoken passage in radio-announcer-voice just sounds ‘trite’.
  5. Beethoven — Piano Sonata No. 15, 2nd Movement ‘Andante’
    I can’t say enough good things about this piece—it (and to a lesser extent, the 2nd movement of his sonata no. 13) is the composition I’d consider selling my soul to be able to play. I love the minor-key opening, and the steady and staccato left-hand part that makes it feel almost like a march. I love the upbeat, major-key interlude, happy and free, with the quiet-quiet-LOUD dynamic reminiscent of Haydn’s ‘Surprise Symphony’, and the floating and lyrical right-hand part that sounds as gay and unburdened as laughter on a summer afternoon. And above all, I love the return to the minor key, and the way the ‘laughter’ motif returns, recast in a decidedly more sinister tone.
  6. Teppo & Kõrre — Garmoshka popurii
    Whoever came up with the idea of combining Russian and Latin-American songs into the same medley was a goddamn genius.
  7. The Beatles — “I Want to Tell You”
    As with essentially every Beatles song, it’s absolutely unfair how good this is. Of course, it’s hard to tell how much of that is a result of the songwriting itself, and how much is due to having John and Paul on backup vocals and magnificent production values. After all George, despite his many talents, was never the greatest of melodists (cf. “Handle With Care” above). Compare, for example, the next track on Revolver, “Got to Get You Into My Life”. Both songs have similar vibes, similar tempos, but Paul can get away with nothing more than [double-tracked] lead vocals, since the melody is so much stronger. That’s not to say one song is better than the other, just pointing out a difference in songwriting styles. In any case, though, whoever is responsible for the piano part in “I Want to Tell You” deserves a goddamn gold medal.
  8. Giant Robot — “Petro’s Bells”
    It’s only a minute long, a throwaway track between ‘actual’ songs, but it almost sounds like it could have been the basis for a Flaming Lips song.
  9. The Rolling Stones — “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (live,
    Flashpoint)”

    They sound like they’re playing for a bunch of housewives, and it’s because they are.
  10. Dire Straits — “Setting Me Up”
    This song doesn’t seem to do anything all that original—and I’m convinced there’s a crank somewhere on Mark Knopfler that you turn if you want a solo—but Dire Straits are masters of this form.
  11. Robert Johnson — “Malted Milk”
    It really is impressive just how different from one another he could make his various songs.
  12. CMX — “Kuolemattomuuden ääni”
    Don’t get me wrong, I like their early stuff fine, but CMX got a lot better when they moved away from hardcore, if for no other reason than that A.W. Yrjänä sings a lot better than he growls.

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