Archive for February, 2012

Happy Edge Case Awareness Day!

Once every four years, we programmers celebrate an obscure but important day of awareness and solemn reflection. And by that I mean we eagerly cruise the web looking for other programmers’ Date/Time fuckups whilst hoping that we haven’t committed any of our own in the four years. Here’s a couple good examples, courtesy of the always excellent Daily WTF.

“When they come to murder me / well I’m already gone bye bye”

Black Francis: criminally underrated or just extremely underrated?

Art Carden: Economics on One Foot

“A reminder of tonight’s main salacious gossip”

Josef Škvorecký on Totalitarian “Science”

Then there is ‘class’ science, or the ‘class approach’ to science–the tragic and grotesque inheritance of Lenin. There is no doubt that Lenin was a genius of political organization, of subversion, of manipulation. But perhaps the essential part of his bequest–unwitting, maybe–is the unacknowledged(at times–at other times fully acknowledged) Führerprinzip that permeates the entire structure of the Party and eventually of society. Power in such a structure emanates from the führer, the leader, el lider, duce, chairman, whatever his title may be. It willy-nilly begets lesser führers, not only in the political sphere but in all branches and walks of life. Participating in the power from above, most of them succumb to the illusion that the source of power is also the source of infallible wisdom–scientifically infallible wisdom–and that they participate in this wisdom as well. And so it happens that the führer likes a charlatan dabbler in genetics who dislikes the founder of genetics, ergo the founder could not have been a scientist, ergo the science based on his theories is a nonscience: a bourgeois science. Or the führer is not fond of syncopation, ergo the only good jazz is one without syncopes.

In essence, this is a vulgarized form of the scholastic method of referring to the auctoritates. In the Middle Ages it produced such curious situations as the mandatory belief in the horses’ heart being in its right side, contrary to the evidence of the battlefield, because Aristotle taught so. Its Soviet form, as Starr notes, leads often to devising elaborate arguments intended to prove that the führer’s dislike of an instrument’s timbre is a scientific assessment of that timbre’s decadent nature directly attributable to the disintegration of the outdated bourgeois Weltanschauung. The history of Soviet jazz is, therefore, also the story of incredible, of absurd meanderings of the ideologue’s ‘scientific’ false consciousness.

Josef Škvorecký, “Talkin’ Moscow Blues”, as reprinted in the collection of the same name.

Proof that such “science” occurs, indeed could only occur, in benighted Soviet Republics et al. is left as an exercise to the reader.

“Shake it like a ladder to the sun”

The “Idiocy of Rural Life”

Patrick Hayes, writing for Spiked Online, brings to my attention the fact that last month marked the first time when more than half the Chinese population lived in cities. An analogous milestone was reached a few years ago for the global population, so it’s gratifying to see that China isn’t too far behind the curve. This especially incredible to see, since as late as 1980, less than 20% of China’s people lived in cities. As is almost always the case with urbanization, this trend has been paired with the usual increases in longevity, prosperity, and security.

What’s not as often recognized is that such incredible urbanization is most likely to be better not only for the people who participate in it, but the environment as well. In an interview with The European, economist Edward Glaeser reiterates many of the benefits of cities, including their positive environmental impacts. In short, city dwellers use less energy and produce less pollution than do rural folks. They also tend to use land and other resources more efficiently.

But what I really like about Glaeser’s interview, and what I wish he’d spent more time on, are the less tangible human benefits to urbanization. He has a great line that cities are making us “more human”, a sentiment with which I whole-heartedly agree, and helping us foster greater creativity, closer relationships, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world.

So welcome, China, to the majority-urban world. Now let’s see about getting the other 50% to join us.

“I mean to quit stealing as soon as I steal for the last time”

Tangentially related to my last post (John Roderick and Sean Nelson are long-time collaborators), here’s John Roderick talking about the provenance of his song “Carparts” and playing an awesome acoustic version of it:

John Roderick – Carparts from Adam Pranica on Vimeo.

“You got me so so wrong / so what / so long, don’t be a stranger”

“Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes, but no one ever does”

Of all the great bands that ended their careers, declared an end to their discography, and went their separate ways, I think that the one I miss the most is Harvey Danger. They were criminally underrated during their career, and while they did get some good measure of popularity with “Flagpole Sitta”, they never got recognized for what they truly were: one of the cleverest and most artful bands of the past 20 years. They were a unique voice in American music and it’s sad that that voice never got the broad audience it deserved.

“I think I get it.”

For me, the sound of Harvey Danger will always be a comfort, a relief, and an invigorating thrill. Their whole discography feels like a great inside joke, all the more hilarious because I feel like the only ones who get it are me and my stereo. Of course, as someone (I honestly don’t recall who), said, the problem with singers is that they say that to all the girls. And so it’s not really my inside joke; it belongs to anyone who cares to listen.

But Nelson’s wry lyrics embedded in the band’s flawless, hooky compositions make make it feel listening to the rantings of a dear and clever friend.

“Edith cannot fix another engine”

Listen to the shuffling snares, the building composition, and then pay special attention to guitarist Jeff Lin’s guitar solo, leading right up into one of my favorite lines in any song ever: “Give it a rest / a give it a rest / a give it a bad night’s sleep”

But also just watch the video. Nelson and co. are artists of the first degree, and I think that’s genuinely reflected in the video. I know Sean Nelson is an actor and cinemaphile, and I think his eye is displayed well in the way the band are passively involved in mini psychodrama of a woman’s unfulfilled aspirations. If it weren’t a music video, one might be almost tempted to think that it were real, proper, capital-A-Art.

But of course it is. And that’s the real tragedy here. Here’s some real art that evokes universal, existential, human pains and does it with consummate craft. But most folks only know the band as “those guys who did ‘I’m Not Sick, But I’m Not Well’ or whatever it’s called.”

“I am a rrrazor, please cut your wrrrists with me”

I sometimes wonder what to make of the correlation that some of my favorite bands and most personally influential bands started with people with little to no musical experience. After all, Evan Sult and Sean Nelson supposedly had no musical experience when they joined up with Jeff Lin and Aaron Huffman. The Germs had no songs prepared and could barely play their instruments when they did their first live show at the Orpheum. Supposedly, they were unceremoniously thrown off the stage after five minutes, but not before Darby Crash stuck the mic in a jar of peanut butter.

Of course the tempting stock answer is to say that great music is born out of a desire to make music first, and letting technical skills come later. But that answer’s pretty unsatisfying. After all, we never get to hear the bands of the make-music-first sorts who fail. And there’s a lot of people out there with spotless technical pedigrees who make great music.

So if it’s not a question of authenticity, then maybe the bands that had the disadvantage of musical inexperience had to survive on something else until their technical skills developed. Harvey Danger had passion, good humor, and one of the best lyricists in modern music. The Germs were well versed in starting riots.

“I figured wrong, with a capital R”

Of course the simplest explanation is that there’s really no correlation at all. Josef Skvorecky said that “Art is art because nobody has yet quite grasped the art of doing it.” So it is with music. There’s no sure formula for music that sets the soul alight, either in the general case or for a particular audience or listener. Despite the best efforts of the music labels from the 50s through the late 90s, one cannot repeatably create good music with fixed curricula.

And so good music comes from the technically proficient and well-schooled, but it also comes from the college kids saying, “hey, let’s buy some instruments and start a band.”

But no matter the roots of the band, they all come to an end eventually. The author John Green said that all relationships end in break up, divorce, or death. The same is true for bands, except that the divorces are called “solo careers”.

So in the end, the show must eventually not go on.

Some Notes in Passing

I have a back log of stuff I’ve been meaning to post about and probably would have last week if I hadn’t been lying blissfully semi-comatose on a beech.

So here is that backlog:

Go Go Gadget Bulleted List!

  • The British Government, after torturing Alan Turing to the point where he took his own life, has now decided not to issue him a pardon. I don’t think I can accurately describe the rage this engenders in me as a programmer, a libertarian, and a person with even a passing sense of justice.
  • My friend Jonathan, over at his excellent Trade Diversion blog, has a fantastic post on globalization and local prices. It is title, appropriately, Don’t go to Shanghai for your Big Mac
  • I’ve been meaning to post for awhile about the minor kerfuffle over President Obama signing statement calling out a measure that would restrict the government from using certain funds to advocate for gun control. Now I love the Pro-2A camp and I think we do a lot of good work. But the backlash against Obama was, in this case, wrong. Now take as read that I think signing statements are several varieties of bullshit. And I definitely don’t think that the government shouldn’t be advocating for more gun control. But in this case, Obama is accurately pointing out that the text, as written, could potentially impinge on his job as written in the constitution. To whit, Obama’s constitutional authority to suggest to congress whatever measures he finds necessary and expedient. So Obama is, in this exceedingly rare instance, actually protecting the Constitution. And the Pro-2A camp attacked him for it. *Headdesk*
  • What SHOULD the libertarian and pro-2A camps be worried about and about which I’ve heard barely a peep? Meretricious, mendacious fuckwittery like this. Alan Gura, one of the best friends Lady Liberty has in this country at the moment, got shat on by a bunch of beauracrats who are paid on the taxpayers dime because, in these trying economic times, we must be careful with the taxpayer’s money. So apparently it’s okay for DC politicos to impinge the rights of the taxpayer on the taxpayer’s dime, but when it comes time to pay the man who put them in their place, well, then we have to be tight with the purse strings.
  • Finally, on a lighter note, I present the latest from comedic genius Tim Minchin:
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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.