Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More on Marriage

Update: TNC has some typically astute thoughts about the whole thing:
Brooks is pulling a clever bait and switch. Sandra Bullock was married to a dude who, evidently, repeatedly cheated on her. Perhaps that's what Brooks considers a "happy marriage." I think a lot of people would beg to differ.

I also edited the below for clarity.
So the David Brooks article I pointed out yesterday has touched a lot of nerves.
Digby points out
Brooks' history of sexism and sez that he's insinuating that Sandra Bullock should have been working harder at her marriage rather than trying to get an Oscar:
these "values" conservatives never hesitate to inject themselves into the relationships of those to whom they feel superior and oddly enough, they tend to the same conclusion: the woman failed to keep her man happy.

That's not what I got out of the article, but the quotes she pulls from his other appearances are damning. (The real story to me seems to be that Bullock married an asshole.)
Along those lines, Matthew Yglesias points out that choosing career above your marriage or personal life isn't that clear cut:
that there’s more to life than being happy. There’s something to be said for extraordinary achievement as a goal apart from its hedonistic value, and there’s something a bit perverse about the idea of saying that Tolstoy shouldn’t have wasted so much time working on Anna Karenina because at the end of the day having a warm relationship with your kids is more conducive to happiness than producing a literary classic. Quality time with the family doesn’t meet the eternal recurrence test, achieving preeminence in your field perhaps does.

I'm ambivalent about this point. I understand that for some artists/politicians/businessmen, their success is due, in part, to the inattention to others. For example, if Picasso lived by the golden rule, we would have all those amazing paintings. But I think this obscures the fact that there just aren't that many Picassos! The myth of the artist as some kind of Nietzschian superman is persuasive enough that legions of young artists think they need to be jerks in order to achieve artistic heights. And perhaps some do! But this discounts the successes of normal folks - I'm thinking of Alice MonroeHaruki Murakami, etc. - who can achieve a balance between art and life.

An Accurate Prediction!

I actually correctly predicted in last night's Lost episode that the person Charles Whitmore brought with him as the weapon against "Locke" was Desmund, a bittersweet victory because I find Desmund to be extra annoying. (Has he ever worn a shirt that doesn't expose his chest?)
Flush with confidence, I'm going to say that the series will end with evil Locke on the island and Jack in place as the new Jacob. Having said that, I really have no clue; I'm just along for the ride.

It's the Infrastructure, Stupid!

Tom Philpott writes in Grist that the biggest problem of the Local Food movement is the lack of infrastructure:
When I helped start Maverick Farms in 2004 -- and immediately started trying to source local meat and dairy for our farm dinners -- it quickly became evident that the infrastructure needed to create an accessible, efficient, and profitable alternative food system in our area simply didn't exist. ...
It is the lens through which I view the related topic of corporate consolidation of the food system -- as large companies swallow up share of the food market, they shutter "inefficient" small processing plants and focus on operating ever fewer and ever larger facilities. The withering away of local-food infrastructure is a direct consequence of consolidation.

In other words, it's the direct result of the "Wal-Mart"ing of America. The shuttering of small and local businesses in favor of large national ones has effects far above and beyond saving a few cents in your trip to the store.

File Under Dumb

For the last few years, the Buffalo Bills have lost huge numbers of players to injury. Not being one to believe in curses, I suspected that the problem had something to do with how the players were being conditioned. And sure enough, as The Buffalo News' Bob DiCesare reports, that was indeed the case:
From what the players are saying, offseason workouts under [Dick] Jauron were akin to pulling up a stool in a sports bar. Twelve televisions adorned the walls in the fieldhouse training facility. Individuals were entrusted to perform their lifting and stretching but there was no real sense of accountability, no singleness of purpose. Some of the injuries that ravaged the Bills last season might be blamed on bad luck, but the extent of the decimation suggests a deficiency in offseason preparation.

If you're investing millions of dollars in a bunch of football players, wouldn't you want to ensure that they were in the best shape they could be in? It's amazing that this wasn't emphasized before.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not in my Post-op Plan...

Wet vac-ing the basement. Ugh. Nothing major, just a small surge. Caught it just in time!
To put this crazy rain in perspective, here's some facts from WHDH:
This is the wettest March ever in Boston and the second wettest March in Worcester. By the end of the storm tomorrow, we'll be close to the wettest month ever in Boston, 17.09" set in August, 1955!

A Good Marriage Makes You Happy

In the NYTimes this morning,
David Brooks writes
that your marriage is the most important factor influencing if you are happy or not:
Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This isn’t just sermonizing. This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. ... one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.

Andrew Sullivan points out that this fact makes gay marriage bans even more cruel:
Now imagine the government actively prevents you from marrying the one you love, and having the stability and support and love and friendship that make life worth living?

While we're at it, take a look at
Jonah Lehrer's explaination
of what makes a successful marriage:
...I'm mostly convinced that there's a fundamental mismatch between the emotional state we expect to feel for a potential spouse - we want to "fall wildly in love," experiencing that ecstatic stew of passion, desire, altruism, jealousy, etc - and the emotional state that actually determines a successful marriage over time.
Berscheid defines this more important emotion as "companionate love" or "the affection we feel for those with whom our lives are deeply intertwined." Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, compares this steady emotion which grows over time to its unsteady (but sexier and more cinematic) precursor: "If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, the metaphor for companionate love is vines growing, intertwining, and gradually binding two people together."

Why are Books so Long?

Charles Strauss has an explanation:
Put yourself in the position of a bored browser in front of a supermarket wire-rack, contemplating novels by two authors you've never read. They both cost the same, and you have enough pocket money to buy one. The year is 1980; LibraryThing or other internet resources aren't available. How do you make your mind up? Well, you remember what you've heard about the authors, and you look at the cover painting, and you read the back flap blurb. Assuming all of these are equal ... you probably buy on weight, because you subconsciously anticipate a longer reading experience and, all things considered, good experiences that last longer are better than short ones. Remember that the actual cost of the paper and ink is only a small component of the retail price of a book — around 10-15%. Increasing a book block's size from 150 pages to 180 pages is cheap. And so, from the 1960s to the 1990s, publishers unconsciously trained readers to expect longer novels.

What We Write When We Write About Talking About Writing

While I like DFW's writing, David Lipsky's book about a road trip he took with DFW seems like it's the kind of thing that's more interesting as an idea then an actual book, although this review sez the interaction between the two ambitious authors is fascinating. Feels a bit too meta to me, but I'm also someone who was impressed by Infinite Jest but just couldn't slog thru the whole thing.

Brick by Brick

Check out Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick, a show currently touring the U.S. He creates these suprisingly powerful figures out of LEGO® building blocks. Pretty cool. 
Bonus link: Some thoughts on the whole thing from Intelligent Life.

First Line of The Shadow of the Wind

A secret's worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón
. The Shadow of the Wind
Thanks Marisa!

Easy = True

Check out Kai Weber's interesting post about the effects of clear software documentation - or failing to produce it. As he puts it: 
According to psychologists, people are more likely to perceive something as true when it’s familiar and hence easy to think about. The underlying measure is called “cognitive fluency”. ...
‘Clear and easy’ documentation is seen as truthful, the product as reliable and the manufacturer as professional. The inverse seems true, too: As the medium is the message, readers struggling with obscure fonts “unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about.”

In my line of work, the editing and/or QA process is neglected in favor of speed or just "getting something out there." This attitude is frustrating on many levels, but the above is even more proof that with bad documentation you reap what you sow.

Quote of the Day

To whom does New York City belong? Not to schoolchildren. Not to the citizen shuffling cowed and amazed among marble floors in the Frick or Cooper-Hewitt, or paging bug-like through some tome under the green lampshades of the 42nd St. reading rooms. Money communes after hours in these places, after the turnstiles have been stilled. Money shows itself only when it cares to. Mostly it lurks instead in the high prosceniums and fitted-rosewood ceilings, the broad granite staircases, the fitted-veneer mosaic archways, and as well in the fitted tuxedos and fur coats slumbering in walk-in closets, the strings of pearls and antique diamond cuff links biding time in their felt-lined drawers. Then comes one morning in the mail the engraved invitation, the stamped reply card, with boxes to check, indicating numbers of seats at two thousand a pop, or the whole table at ten grand.
Jonathan Lethem. Chronic City. page 128

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's That Time of Year

Forgot to mention that last week I saw one of my favorite sights of spring: Robin Sex! Or at least Robin courting; it's often hard to tell if there's actual consummation. 
Watching the energy of the animal kingdom in spring is always inspiring and invigorating. Plus, bird sex always reminds me of
Walt Whitman's
great poem The Dalliance of the Eagles
Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)  
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,  
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,  
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,  
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,  
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,  
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,  
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,  
She hers, he his, pursuing.

Quote of the Day

Perkus Tooth's ethos: 
Don't rupture anothers illusion unless you're positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you're wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you're reaching to shatter?
Jonathan Lethem. Chronic City. Page 341

Video of the Day

An incredible time lapse picture video of night settling down over Mt. Washington. A more stunning vista I haven't yet experienced; everyone should make it up there at least once in their lives.

Success, from the Couch

Finally had my hernia repaired this morning. All went well. I've spent most of the day on the couch, head floating with painkillers, trying not to move my left leg. (Stillness is my friend.) already suffering from the recovery paradox: when finally presented with the free time to read/watch everything you've wanted to, you're incapable of concentrating. I've worked my way through hundreds of pages of Chronic City but it's like a pleasant dream.
Anyways, I'll be up and about in a few days, although my running regemin is over for the next month or so. Let this be the lesson: when lifting IKEA shelving, always make sure someone's there to help...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random Songs

Hunter loves to sing, and his little brain comes up with some great lyrics. Here are two from yesterday:
I sleep in your dryer/ and eat all your candles

If you get all sick/ then I'll roll on your pants

Video of the Day

A hysterical reenactment of "Willy Wonka" as if it would be portrayed by Christopher Walken and Jack Nicholson.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Luxury Train Travel

Pretty cool.

An Underrated Album

I didn't even realize that the Black Crowes had reunited until recently. Picked up their Before the Frost CD thru Swaptree and was very pleasantly surprised. We're talking first-class rock n'roll, folks. Chris' voice is in prime shape, and the songs are far removed from the awkward phrasings of their first few albums. A few of the songs were recorded live and the relaxed atmosphere shines through. Highlights include the pulsing rock of "Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)" and the pulsing "I Ain't Waiting" that includes a Some Girls-era disco beat and background vox (it's better then it sounds). It's been on heavy rotation for a few weeks now with no sign of letting up.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

I can't say that I have any clue where Chronic City is going, but man do I like reading it:   
These guessing words I find junked in my brain in deranged juxtaposition, like files randomly stuffed into cabinets by q dispirited secretary with  no notion of what, if anything, might ever be usefully retrieved. Often all language seems this way: a monstrous compendium of embedded histories I'm helpless to understand. I employ it the way a dog drives a car, without grasping how the car came to exist or what makes a combustion engine possible. That is, of course, if dogs drove cars. They don't. Yet I go around forming sentences.
Jonathan Lethem. Chronic City. page 125

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sounds Civilized to Me

From Crooks and Liars, a listing of the immediate benefits of the Health Care bill that Obama just signed:
Here are ten benefits which come online within six months of the President's signature on the health care bill:
1. Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday
2. Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions
3. No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage
4. Free preventative care for all
5. Adults with pre-existing conditions may buy into a national high-risk pool until the exchanges come online. While these will not be cheap, they’re still better than total exclusion and get some benefit from a wider pool of insureds.
6. Small businesses will be entitled to a tax credit for 2009 and 2010, which could be as much as 50% of what they pay for employees’ health insurance.
7. The “donut hole” closes for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.
8. Requirement that all insurers must post their balance sheets on the Internet and fully disclose administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments.
9. Authorizes early funding of community health centers in all 50 states (Bernie Sanders’ amendment). Community health centers provide primary, dental and vision services to people in the community, based on a sliding scale for payment according to ability to pay.
10. AND no more rescissions. Effective immediately, you can't lose your insurance because you get sick.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Congrats to Eric and Mo!

Eric and Mo were married this Saturday on a beautiful spring day. It was a very nice ceremony, and I had the honor of doing some readings at the event. Here's the text to my favorite one:

A Buddhist Homily
Nothing happens without a cause. The union of this man and this woman has not come about accidentally. This tie can therefore not be broken or dissolved. In the future, happy occasions will come as surely as the morning. Difficult times will come as surely as night. When things go joyously, meditate and think clearly. When things go badly, meditate and think clearly. Meditation on the applied wisdom of the sages leads to truths that will guide your life. To say the words ‘love and compassion’ is easy, but to accept that love and compassion are built upon patience and perseverance is not easy. Your marriage will be firm and lasting if you remember this.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's All About the Interest

Barry Ritholtz has put together one of the shortest, yet clearest, explainations of the cause of the financial crisis I've ever read. Check it out.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Normalizing the Police State

Scary stuff.

Be Alert, Be Aware!

Now's the time of year when Tree Frogs and Salamanders start working their way to Vernal Pools to do their spawning. Try not to hit them with your car!

Submitted without Comment

Just now on Fox News:
Kiss Leader Gene Simmons Talks about Health Care Reform

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy. They drop a fog over your entire life, rendering all that you see and feel a shade of gray. Off to the drug store tomorrow for stronger medication!

Everyone's a Critic...

The Church are soliciting comments and blurbs about their excellent Back with Two Beasts album for a program they're giving away for their 30th anniversary tour. The problem was that the album was so obscure upon its original release that no one ever listened to it, much less wrote up a review! For your pleasure, here's my submission:
The Church’s Back with Two Beasts is a guitar-lover’s dream. From the opening chiming chords of “Snowfaller” to the backwards clarion guitar licks of “I Don’t Know,” The Church make their guitars call, scream, sooth and rock, among other things. This wide range of sounds makes for an extremely eclectic album, one that includes highlights like the SciFi party song “Unreliable External”, the yearning “Anthem X” where Kilbey sings like Paul Westerberg over pulsing feedback, the ballad “Pearls” with a lovely aching chorus and excellent slide guitar, and the mellow groove of “Driving South”.

The story goes that these tight songs were supposedly (and surprisingly) intended as a jam disk. The only song that might fit that description is “Night Sequence”, a 20 minute beast that is less like a song than a continually changing exchange of musical ideas. It’s dynamic and alive, as the musicians play off each other, alternating leading and following each other through a musical journey of evolving, escalating tension.

While most albums these days contain at least one or two throwaway songs, this album is solid all the way through. Regardless if you listen to the songs in sequence or on shuffle, there’s not a bad tune in the bunch. I’ve always said that The Church are the kings of the perverse; the stuff that no one listens to is often their best music. Well, take note: the obscure Back with Two Beasts takes you to another place, one that I haven’t wanted to leave since I first started listening to it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where Does the Rain Go?

My son, looking out at the severe rains falling all weekend, asked me that question at one point. I gave him the usual stream to river to ocean explanation, but of course, the reality is much more complicated then that. Cities, especially, are dependent on sewers to move water from large sections of pavement which can't absorb it. However, as the NYTimes reports, a huge number of the sewers in the United States are dangerously old and were never designed to support the volumes of water that they are asked to transport today. The solution is simple: replace the pipes. But in our current political climate, where conservatives have convinced everyone that they need not pay taxes and that government is incapable of doing anything right, it seems unlikely that this will happen:
In the last year, federal lawmakers have allocated more than $10 billion for water infrastructure programs, one of the largest such commitments in history.
But Mr. Hawkins and others say that even those outlays are almost insignificant compared with the problems they are supposed to fix. An E.P.A. study last year estimated that $335 billion would be needed simply to maintain the nation’s tap water systems in coming decades. In states like New York, officials estimate that $36 billion is needed in the next 20 years just for municipal wastewater systems.

These are staggering numbers. It's a national disgrace that our national priorities are such that these domestic issues are so neglected.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Deep Thought

Lots of baby crying: it changes a man.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Note to Jonathan Lethem

Stories about dinner parties and how ironic and aloof the participants are from their decadent proceedings, are dull, dull, dull, regardless of how well they are written. And the prose in chapter two of Chronic City is excellent--it's fun, interesting, and insightful-- but it's still boring. I only hope it fits into place with the rest of the novel.

People Are Strange

...and fear manifests itself in odd ways.

Miss. school cancels prom because of a lesbian's date request

Thank god those poor kids are protected from the Gay.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts on Galactic Pot-healer

Philip K. Dick’s Galactic Pot-healer is not a good book. It is, however, an interesting one.
The main problem is that the book suffers from some of Dick's worst writing. Surviving on the strength of his ideas, Dick was never the best actual writer, but here his writing approaches a level of hackery not often seen in his mature novels.
GPH was published in 1969, 15 years after his first novel, and it includes some whoppers like these:
He snapped the book shut. "It's talking about itsself." Coming over to his chair, Mali bent to read the text."

Um, how can she read the book when Joe already shut it in the previous line?
At street level he straddled a cracked and unrepaired sidewalk, took a deep angry breath, and then, via his personal legs, started north.

"Personal legs?” As opposed to what, specifically?
This novel is filled with stuff like this. Dick wrote fast and furious and apparently didn't have much time for rewriting or editing... he needed the money and his ideas flew out of him as fast as his fingers could type. What’s amazing is that despite all of this, the ideas that Dick presents are fascinating, especially for his time. Here's two examples:
1. A “Padre booth” in which, for the price of a dime, you can consult with the deity of your choice. Pages 47-8
2. The SSA machine, which reads the minds of two people and then presents a picture of their potential future together. Pages 63-4

The other thing Dick's writing does is present you with deeper philosophical musings above and beyond the plot. In GPH, Jim spends a moment at the airport questioning why he's going off to another planet to help the Glimmung - a minor deity - raise an old church from the sea. But he does so by thinking:
A man is an angel that has become deranged... Once they--all of them--had been genuine angels, and at that time they had had a choice between good and evil, so it was easy, easy being an angel. And then something happened. Something went wrong or broke down or failed. And they had become faced with the necessity of choosing not good or evil but the lesser of two evils, and so that had unhinged them and now each was a man.

To me, the best parts of Dick’s writing are often not plot-oriented - and certainly isn't his prose - it's the extra things Dick comes up with as he’s telling his story.

The War on... What, Exactly?

The War on Drugs has been going on for so long, it's easy to forget it's still happening, which is why this article very helpfully brings us back to reality about not only the "war's" futility but also the corruption of the industries feeding of the war's funding along with the very real human costs.

... There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has 225,000 employees and a budget of $42 billion, part of which is aimed at making America safe from Mexico and Mexicans. Narcotics officers in the U.S. cost at least $40 billion a year. The world's largest prison industry would collapse without the intake of drug convicts, and, in recent years, of illegal Mexican migrants. And around the republic there are big new federal courthouses rising that would be cobwebbed without the steady flow from drug busts and the Mexican poor coming north.
The drug industry is the second-largest source of foreign currency in Mexico, just behind oil. It earns somewhere between $30 billion and $50 billion a year -- no one really knows, including the people in the industry. It also creates enormous numbers of jobs in the U.S.: We spend billions a year on narcs, maintain the world's largest prison industry, which is absolutely dependent on the intake of drug felons, and we have about 20,000 agents on the border who feed off drug importation.

Scary stuff. And it shows no sign of getting better.

Personal antidote: I remember drug news having much more immediacy when I was living in Albuquerque, three-hours from the Mexican border. And there's the second customs road stop on I-25 20 minutes north of Las Crusas, a good 60 miles north of the border. Can't imagine what the place looks like with the construction of the giant wall...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

First Lines of "Chronic City"

I first met Perkus Tooth in an office. Not an office where he worked, though I was confused about this at the time. (Which is itself hardly an uncommon situation, for me.)
- Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem.

I find Jonathan Lethem to be one of the most promising "newer" writers these days. His merging of genres provides an energy to his prose that is exciting, and his ideas are always top notch. As i've stated before, his novels to date have been a bit of a letdown in that they don't seem as committed to the bizarre as his short stories. The Fortress of Solitude was a fascinating premise, and it worked for a majority of the book, but I thought that the "growing up" portions of the book were a let down in that they were bland compared to the inventions and wildness of the earlier portions.

So far, Chronic City is building up a nice head of steam. I'll let you know if it makes it to the finish line this time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

When Did People Forget How To Chillaxe?

See, as the parent of two children, this story about NYC "peace officers" scares and infuriates me:
Just last month, a 12-year-old girl at a junior high school in Queens was arrested for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. She was paraded out of school in handcuffs and taken to a precinct stationhouse. She wept, too.
When asked about that case, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said “common sense should prevail” when decisions are made about whether to handcuff and arrest students. But common sense is frequently in short supply when the safety officers and the police are imposing their will on students who are not lawbreakers.
In January 2008, a 5-year-old kindergarten pupil became unruly at a public school in Queens. A public safety officer, seeing her duty, pounced. She handcuffed the boy who was then shipped off to a hospital psychiatric ward. A 5-year-old!

Don't know if this is "post-911" BS, but between this crap, anti-protest measures, and the police prediliction for tasers, I really don't like the direction in which this country is headed.

Sexy Xamie Superheroines

Jamie Hernandez draws beautiful women, and here's Xamie drawing some of the more famous super women.
Seeing these pictures, you realize how absurdly the women in most comix are drawn. Xamie's drawings are powerful because they're deceptively simple; it's the small things in his drawings that make them sexy. Or, put more bluntly, it's all about the curves, boys, not about the size!
NOTE: Updated for clarity when I was a bit more awake.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Dream Made Me Hungry and Thirsty

I never thought in a million years that when I had a second child, the main source of my sleep deprevation would be my older one. Hunter has given up any pretense of regular sleep patterns and fights going down for both naps and bedtime, often awakening after only a prefunctory rest. For example, last night he didn't fall asleep until ~9:00 PM after a 45 minute fight, and then he stormed into our room at 2:00 AM with stories of bad dreams that make him both hungry and thirsty. While he never went back to sleep after that, at least he's learned to stay in his room "quietly" playing while Kelly and I try to get some rest.

I know it's a phase. I know it will end soon (our peditracian predicts that it will all be over in a month or two.) But the constant battles and sleepless nights are frustrating and exhausting and I want it to end now.

Quote of the Day

Not a day goes by that a man doesn't have to choose
Between What he wants and what he's afraid to lose

- Robert Cray, Consequences

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Drawing Hellboy

The artwork on the Hellboy series has been taken over by Duncan Fegredo. Duncan’s an excellent artist (and artist he is: he does his own inks like the best of them) but his does not have the sublime, humble simplicity, of creator Mike Mignola’s work.

Put pretentiously, Duncan’s the moon shining off of Mignola’s earth: luminous in his own right but overshadowed by the complexity next to him.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Drum Machines Have No Soul

I'm driving to work the other day, and notice one of the cars in front of me driving into the corporate office park where I work has a bumper sticker: "Drum Machines Have No Soul".

Aside from the suprise that someone feels so strongly about other people's music that they have to announce this feeling to the world, I had to chuckle, because I had just spent the weekend up in Vermont listening to a friend of mine create music using nothing but a computer.

Any one with an open mind will tell you that using drum machines doesn't by default make soulless music. No, making music without soul - or as I prefer to call it: crappy music - is exclusive the fault of the person programming said drum machine. In fact, some of the best music I know relies exclusively on drum machines. Try listening to Aphex Twin with an open mind and then tell me that drum machines have no soul.

Now, having said that, I suspect what the driver of the car meant is that drum machines have no energy, or, utilized by someone with no skill, can be static at best. Two examples from two different genres:
1. Susumu Yokota. A lot of his music is fascinating, especially when he plays with reverb (see Sakura). However, many of his songs are marred by the fact that the sounds he's coaxing from his drum machines can't ebb and flow like his keyboards. Listen to "For the Other Self Who Is Far Away That I Can Not Reach" off the excellent Love or Die album and you'll see what I mean. The dynamic piano and singing guitar are marred by the dead drums, thudding along with no sense of interplay with the rest of the song. What is supposed to be a crescendo bridge in the song is rendered absurd by the drum machine at the 2:30 mark.
2. The Who. For a band known for their energtic drumming, the decision to use a drum machine when recording most of hteir Endless Wire album is mystifing. While never destined to be a masterpiece, promising songs like the magestic "Mirror Door", where the music soars and Roger roars like the Who of old, falls well flat of what it might have been due to the drum machine not able to change and play off of the song's energy.

So: to me, soul being a function of skill and passion, not insturmentation. Or put another way: Form not Function. Or put snarkily: Peter Cetera played with real drums: what's that tell ya?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reading to Learn How to Live

The Daily Dish points me to this gem, a reminder that "nothing lasts forever" really should be appended to "nothing lasts":
The question for me was not, then, how does one read to write, but how does one read to live? I conceived early on the conviction that one should lead one’s life as if one were the protagonist of an epic novel, with the outcome predetermined and chapter after chapter of edifying, traumatic and exhilarating events to be suffered through. Since the end is known in advance, one must try to experience as much as possible in the brief time allotted.

The protagonist of “The Death of Ivan Il’ich” died moaning, in agony, overcome with the realization that he had wasted his days on earth following social conventions. He lacked l’esprit frondeur, and he paid for it. Conventions now are hardly less pervasive than they were in Tolstoy’s day; we’re pressured to start a career, build our résumé, earn a certain amount of money, and so forth. But remember: None of us gets out of here alive. So don’t fear risks. Rebel. Be bold, try hard, and embrace adversity; let both success and failure provide you with unique material for your writing, let them give you a life different enough to be worth writing about.
- Jeffrey Tayler