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March 27, 2015

"Here’s How Scott Walker Should’ve Handled The Evolution Gotcha Question"

I would pay cash money to see Scott Walker do Colonel Jessup.

"The dude map: How Americans refer to their bros"

Usage of "bro" in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana surprises me. But I haven't been to those places in a very long time.

A problem I didn't know we had

"Guardian Column: Straight Women in Baggy Clothes Are Appropriating Lesbian Culture".

“What was once a queer-owned style has shifted to the mainstream, being appropriated by straight women to the point that it’s now impossible to infer a sexual orientation from the way a woman dresses,” Wilkinson writes in a piece titled “Butch chic: how the gender-neutral trend has ruined my wardrobe.”

March 26, 2015

"Beans Do Not Belong in Chili"

So there!

(Read the comment by Stephen Winick if you want to learn how noted car designer Carroll Shelby played a part in the story.)

The inimitable Lewis Black . . .

. . . slams the NCAA. With a shot at UNC-Chapel Hill, too. 

"What would have been the greatest event in history, but barely failed?"

Interesting answer: the voyages of Zheng He.

"Drones and satellites spot lost civilizations in unlikely places"

"What do the Sahara desert and the Amazon rainforest have in common?"

"Making Sense of Serving Sizes"

Some help for people without ready access to a scale who are trying to estimate how much they're eating.

March 25, 2015

More on Billy Joel's songs

Regarding a recent post on the "Ranking All 121 Billy Joel Songs," longtime reader Michael Greenspan offers the following comments:

Eight Tracks by Billy Joel That Vulture Underrated

Many thanks to Craig for this chance to praise a few tracks by one of my favorite artists.

What prompted this post is an article that Craig linked, in which Christopher Bonanos at Vulture ranked 121 tracks by Billy Joel—virtually Joel's entire catalog of original solo material.

I'm limiting myself to discussing eight tracks, each meeting three criteria:

Not a hit
Bonanos ranked below the top 50
Belongs in the top 50

Bonanos generally uses the term "song" rather than "track," but "track" is more accurate. A song is chords, melody, lyrics and feel ("Mambo, 135 bpm"). A track is the recording of the song.

"Where's the Orchestra?" from The Nylon Curtain

(Bonanos ranks it #53: "a little low-energy, but" with "interesting lyrics.")

Very pretty song, closer to musical theater than to pop. Inventive chord progression, complex melody. Among rock songwriters, only Joel and Paul McCartney have composed music this lovely in this way.

There's no percussion and no guitars. More than usual, Joel's voice is the focus, and he gives a terrific understated performance.

The lyrics are more cryptic than in almost any other song of Joel’s. I think he’s using theater as a metaphor for life: the narrator, initially bewildered by the show he’s watching, grows gradually wiser. The final verse is especially good:

And after the closing lines
And after the curtain calls
The curtain falls
On empty chairs
Where’s the orchestra?

If you listen to it, notice how gracefully he rhymes "calls"/"falls" and "chairs"/"Where’s." Another skill rare in rock.

As Bonanos notes, the melody of “Allentown” appears toward the end, a touch I find haunting; not sure why. 

"Souvenir" from Streetlife Serenade

(Bonanos ranks it #63: "Nice little prelude to ... something.")

Another lovely song, this one just piano and vocal. Pace Bonanos, it sounds like an epilogue rather than a prelude; Joel used to close concerts with it. (He’d then advise the crowd, "Don’t take any sh-t from anybody.")

The chord progression shows Joel’s classical influences, with the melody flowing easily above it. He makes that kind of writing seem effortless, and it really, really isn’t.

The lyrics are less strong; I wish he’d saved "away" for the final line—it's in "File away"—and “But that’s the price you pay” sounds fine but doesn’t make sense. (Pay for what?)

Still, a good song, effectively wistful.

A subtle pleasure in "Souvenir" is that the lyrics and melody line up exactly. By which I mean that the first and sixth lines ("A picture postcard," "And your mementos"), sung over the same melody, have the same stresses and number of syllables; similarly for the second and seventh lines, the third and eighth, and the fourth and ninth. (The fifth and tenth lines follow different bits of melody.) That level of craft has almost vanished from rock, and Joel achieved it often.  

Continue reading "More on Billy Joel's songs" »

Good news for rats: they're probably off the hook

Rats probably weren't the transmission vector of bubonic plague. Gerbils probably were.

It’s always the cute ones you have to watch out for, isn’t it?

"I’ve said it a hundred times: To be a fan of big-time college sports is to be in love with a hooker."

That's the Boston Globe's inimitable Bob Ryan.

I’ve been following it for 50 years. I know what goes on. I can’t change it.

Problem is, I love the games and the competition, and it’s pretty clear I’m not alone. We’re Americans; it’s what we do.

"Review: Is Google Fiber Worth the Hype?"

Since Google Fiber is coming to Raleigh I found this review interesting.

March 24, 2015

"How This Mother Of Seven Children Does It"

Terrific piece. I don't think I could have coped with seven, but I salute those who do.

"Practical Thoughts on Immigration"

Heather MacDonald:

The lesson from the last 20 years of immigration policy is that lawlessness breeds more lawlessness. Once a people or a government decides to normalize one form of lawbreaking, other forms of lawlessness will follow until finally the rule of law itself is in profound jeopardy. Today, we have a constitutional crisis on our hands. President Obama has decided that because Congress has not granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living in the U.S., he will do so himself. Let us ponder for a moment just how shameless this assertion of power is.

"Meet Hillary’s Welfare Queens"

Nicely done.

Sixty companies that lobbied the State Department between 2009 and 2013, while Hillary was secretary of state, donated more than $26 million to the Clinton Foundation over that time period. At least 44 of the 60 participated in $3.2 billion worth of philanthropy projects by the Clinton Global Initiative, while at least 15 were part of Clinton-created public-private partnerships. . . .

The new welfare queens include General Electric, General Motors, Exxon-Mobil and Boeing.

"The Nonprofit Behind Billions in Mortgage Aid Is a Mess"

Link courtesy of reader Kevin T. who notes, like much other government spending Liberals like, this is "Yet another example of the things we do together . . ."

"Hail EPA! Hail Caesar! When You’ve Lost Larry Tribe …"

. . . your policy is too darn Liberal.

March 23, 2015

Two views on wage stagnation

The Liberal story: Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute and co-chairman of Americans for Tax Fairness, "Even Better Than a Tax Cut".

The much more accurate story: Benjamin Domenech, publisher of the Federalist, "The Truth About ‘Wage Stagnation’".

For conservatives, this should suggest an opening. But it is also an indication that the pro-growth policy path is not necessarily the old-school supply-side path of individual tax-rate cuts. Instead, the real path toward the kind of growth that will benefit American workers ought to focus more on regulatory and general government reform. The economic problem the nation faces today is an economy increasingly warped by government.

"The Economics of the California Water Shortage"

Alex Tabarrok explains the problem in a single sentence: "California has plenty of water…just not enough to satisfy every possible use of water that people can imagine when the price is close to zero."

See also Victor Davis Hanson's cri de coeur, "The Scorching of California: How Green extremists made a bad drought worse". (Link courtesy of Jorod.)

Related: "19 Reasons California’s Drought Isn’t A Big Deal". (Irony alert.)

Also related: "No, California won't run out of water in a year". (Non-ironic.)

"The Main Challenge Facing the Middle Class"

Robert Samuelson:

What this history teaches is that we have less control over our economic destiny than is often assumed. At every juncture in the chronology, people - including "experts" - did not foresee the next major change. In the early 1960s, they didn't anticipate high inflation; in the late 1970s, they didn't expect its demise. In this respect, the surprise 2008-2009 financial crisis was typical.

The same ignorance inhibits what we can do for the middle class. Government - a.k.a., politicians - can address some middle-class wants by redistributing income from the rich through tax breaks and subsidies. But this approach has limits and not merely because the rich will resist.

"The Privilege of Checking White Privilege"

John McWhorter:

. . . it’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in there being adequate public transportation from their neighborhood to where they need to work than that white people attend encounter group sessions where they learn how lucky they are to have cars. It’s a safe bet that most black people are more interested in whether their kids learn anything at their school than whether white people are reminded that their kids probably go to a better school. Given that there is no evidence that White Privilege sessions are a necessary first step to change (see above), why shunt energy from genuine activism into—I’m sorry—a kind of performance art?

"Is time travel allowed?"

Kip Thorne:

In brief: The laws of physics allow members of an exceedingly advanced civilisation to travel forward in time as fast as they might wish. Backward time travel is another matter; we do not know whether it is allowed by the laws of physics, and the answer is likely controlled by a set of physical laws that we do not yet understand at all well: the laws of quantum gravity

"A federal agency’s laundromat worker belongs to the 1 percent"

The title seems to be wrong. But some of the substance of the article remains.

Laundry operations services worker Joseph Bryant topped the list for 2010 through 2013 (the data’s available from 2010 to 2014), pulling in $115,443 from the Veterans Health Administration in Los Angeles in 2013.  But Bryant isn’t alone as a federal employee laundering his way into the upper middle class.   Across a variety of agencies and locations, and multiple job titles, cleaning fabrics can produce above-average income across the country.

March 22, 2015

"The swagger Of UConn"

I'm certainly rooting for Geno and his team. They play beautiful basketball.

"How your posh silverware makes food taste bad"

Eating off gold-plated is better. (Well, sure.)

March 21, 2015

Leo!

Gary Lineker: "Messi is indisputably the greatest player ever to don a pair of football boots. Don't even attempt to argue the point."

Graham Hunter: "When football is played with this verve, technique and creative intensity, it's just a joy."

"Top 10 Buzzer-Beaters in NCAA Tournament"

This is a tough list to crack. Danny Ainge against Notre Dame doesn't make the list and Bryce Drew is only fifth.

March 20, 2015

"6 Hit Songs You Won't Believe Are Insulting Celebrities"

I didn't know "Like a Rolling Stone" was about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.

(Though there are at least a few who dispute this. And the timing seems a little off, but I think people are upset with this interpretation because with it, the lyrics are not as grand.)

"Are These the 10 Most Talented Women in Rock ‘n’ Roll History?"

Grace Slick should have been included and, of course, Joni Mitchell, but it's a good start.

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