Category Archives: meta

If you’re happy and you know it…

well-beingThe Chicago Tribune posted an article on their website about the ’10 happiest states’ based on a Gallup poll.

The Tribune article lacks any nuance, and reflects the lazy journalist’s unquestioning faith in surveys and statistics. Maybe it should be excused because it’s in the travel section, but still…

After reading the original Gallup article I noticed one glaring problem with this whole idea. The ‘Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index’ — note that it’s ‘Well-Being’ not happiness — is a zero to 100 score.

Zero isn’t actually defined, though presumably it means “everyone is dead or dying in a blasted, toxic landscape” and 100 means “ideal well-being.” The whole-country index is 66.2, and has oscillated around an average of about 66.5 for the past 5 years.

The highest-scoring state scored 70.4 and the lowest 61.4, meaning to me that the best and worst are actually very close together. Where ‘close’ means the two numbers are close numerically, in a system where the meaning of distance is entirely undefined.

What does this actually mean? You tell me! Would I notice the difference of 2/10th of a something-or-other if I went from Iowa (68.2) to Massachusetts (68.0)? Probably not.

North Dakota’s winning score comes substantially from the increase in jobs and wages due to the boom in the petroleum industry. Just the other day I was reading about the problems arising from the influx of out-of-state workers, rising housing costs, increases in pollution that are happening there. So are they really… err… being weller, or are they just momentarily glad more people have jobs, and in a bit they’ll realize their rural paradise is going to be ruined by high-impact resource extraction?

Bottom line, the happiest people involved in this whole business are Gallup and Healthways, both of whom have something to sell. And, of course, the Tribune, who suckered people into giving page views to a story with exactly zero relevant information.

What I write when I’m not posting here.

I didn’t post very often in the past month on this blog. As it happens, most of my writerly energies were being devoted to the Little Village Magazine blog and magazine. I wrote a couple of lengthy (for me) posts there that some who read this blog might find interesting:

I rant about recent changes to Iowa City
A multimedia extravaganza with sound and pictures of a show by some of my local favorite bands.
Grupo Fantasma show report, with audio of their complete set.
My review of the heartbreakingly adorable Tin Kite
My chin-stroker essay on the two classic 1970 Grateful Dead albums

I’ve done a bunch of other writing — some reviews, some A&E event previews — but those are the articles I’ve put the most work into lately…

Subway says Pepperoni Makes You Gay

The fuck? Watching this commercial makes my brain hurt:

If I understand the scenario, two guys are eating sandwiches at a Subway restaurant. They enthuse about the flavor-enhancing qualities of adding pepperoni to a sandwich. They are then launched into a shared hallucination where they’re being poled along a canal in Venice by a gondolier. Someone (not the gondolier, though by tradition, they sing for tips) sings a song about Pepperoni to the tune of “O Solo Mio.” Their eyes lock, the spell is broken, and they awkwardly make small talk about sports.

The point is that in their fantasy, the sandwiches and the gondola ride awakens homoerotic feelings in them. What I don’t get is how this in any way is supposed to sell sandwiches. It’s like that insane Quizno’s advert where it’s implied that the sandwich chef has burned his dick sticking it in a gay sandwich oven.

What’s especially disturbing about this is it enacts the specious narrative that it’s possible to Catch The Gay. If you’re not vigilant, deviant desires might catch you unawares and turn you into one of those butt-sex-loving nancy boys. The absurdity of this is premise is rivaled only by its durability in the American imagination. Even if it is possible (and every variation of human behavior is possible!), why would two men discovering they desire each other be such a horrible thing? And why are they using it to sell crappy sandwiches?

Up until a few years ago advertisements seemed to follow a recognizable narrative with an obvious subtext. You could deconstruct them, and even if they were dishonest or sexist or whatever, they made some sort of objective sense. They sought to awaken or create a desire in the viewer, that can only be satisfied by the product being advertised. The moral implications of that aside, at least you knew where you stood.

Now it seems like they’ve added a new rhetorical strategy to the field: arguing from the premise of what the fuck? In other words, come up with something implausible, maybe a little risque, that in no way makes any sense. Then you remember the product because you think “what the fuck was that about?” I guess it works, since I bothered to write about it.

So resist. Don’t buy Subway — their sandwiches taste like newspaper anyway. And if you can’t resist or have no choice, do not add pepperoni to your order. Pepperoni adds nothing but nitrites, salt, and saturated fat to the meal.

Of course, this ad fits perfectly with my theory that nothing advertised on television is good for you. The healthiest diet available to an American is the one where if it’s advertised on television, you don’t eat it. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for kale? Or brown rice?* The whole basis of the corporate food business is Added Value: You take foodstuffs, bought as cheaply as possible, adulterate it with salt, sugar, and fat, package it, and advertise it. Then you profit when people sicken themselves by eating it.

*and here’s another constantly reinforced trope of mass media — if it’s good for you it must taste like crap. How many times have you seen a sitcom where the joke is that people get stuck in a ‘healthy’ restaurant and the joke is ‘the food is good for you but it’s disgusting!” Haha very funny. Fact is, if you stop eating bad food and start eating healthy things, your palate changes and the healthy stuff tastes better.

Time for a Buzz Kill — I’m killing Buzz

So in the last year I count Google at two strikes. First off Wave is… pretty useless, as it turns out. The one place it would be great — collaboration and ad hoc interest groups — don’t really work so well, primarily for performance reasons. Try loading a wave with 300 entries sometimes. It’s im-fucking-possiblly slow.

Google Buzz is another whiff. I don’t really care about the privacy issues, because I don’t regard GMail as being private. Like any other part of society outside of sitting in the dark in a Faraday cage, it isn’t private unless no one cares.

What bothers me about it is that it looks clumsy. It tells me I have new stuff and if I look at the buzz list, I can’t actually see what’s new. It also tries to aggregate things like Twitter and Google Reader, but provides a vastly inferior presentation. So I end up going back to Twitter or Google Reader to see what’s up. Which means Buzz is just redundant.

At this point, Google has a significant percentage of the smartest programmers and designers on the planet working for them, and lately they’ve been turning out clumsy crap. What’s up with that? I’m so into GMail and Google Reader to organize my online life — they’re pretty much exactly what I need and nothing more. Google Docs means I don’t even have to screw with installing a word processor on my machines.

But when Google fucks up, they put both feet in. Remember before Google Personalized Home Pages started to suck? I’d give them my constructive feedback and criticism, but I’ve never gotten any acknowledgement from them when I’ve tried to contact them about anything, so they might as well be inside a black hole. A black hole that spews internet applications.

The Internets: #squarespace & amiestreet.com

OK, now I get it, though since I don’t give a toss about Squarespace or iPhones, I was just annoyed and baffled by all the #squarespace tweets.

While we’re on the subject, Squarespace seems to be appealing to some people. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me — $8/month for hosting, and I think if you want to point your own domain at your site, you pay more. My current plan at Midphase is $6.95/month if you prepay for 3 years, and you get unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth. Sure, Squarespace does more handholding, and I guess that’s worth something, but the economics of it don’t add up.

On another note Amie Street is an interesting MP3 sale site. They don’t have everything — and I can’t figure out what determines what they get and what they don’t — but they have a crazy pricing structure, that starts out at free and tops out at $.98/song. Basically the more popular something is, the more it costs. That’s great for me because I’m not that interested in what’s popuar most of the time.

The other cool thing about Amie Street is that you can pre-pay and get a discount — e.g. I pre-paid $40 and had $50 to spend. Like I said, they aren’t Amazon, and crowdsourcing their editorial content is hit or miss, but they are cheap, and I found some stuff cheap that I really liked.

Surfing the Nuum

Clankys Noom
Clanky's Noom
As has been pondered lately, here and elsewhere, the loftily titled Breakbeat Continuum is every bit as baffling and recombinantly bizarre and wonderful and horrible as ever. I think part of the reason very few US artists have made a serious mark in any of the UK-originated break styles is that by the time people here have heard it and given it a go they’re 6 months or a year behind the curve. Broken-Beat was over before we even really got a proper listen.

At any rate I’ve given some time to exploring what I can over the past week or so. I spent my time at the gym with The Roots of El-B. I ordered the CD from the UK because Burial rated him highly in interviews, and my listening is shaped by his comments. I can get lost contemplating the way El-B pushes the sequencer swing and makes it work. Anyone who’s made beats and tried going down that path knows you can go mad trying to achieve that perfect groove. El-B kills it, so much so that anyone else sounds fake by comparison. And Burial’s template is present in near-complete form in the El-B track “Buck N Bury”:

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And then there’s Seiji, a member of Bugz In The Attic, who’s putting up free tracks and mixes on his blog. I rate “Raving A” very high — it’s got everything — Breakbeats, chunky Detroit Pianos, 303, even a guest appearance by the might Hoover bass.

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At the other end of the spectrum… well, I’m always a little baffled by what constitutes a hit in the UK and the EU. On the one hand, they’ll go crazy for stuff that would be way too weird for American radio. On the other hand, they’ve never met a track too cheesy or disposable. This track (“Head Shoulders Knees And Toes”) is apparently big, and annoying as fuck. Nursery Rhyme Hook? Check! Cheap Baile Funk beat? Check! I can see how this could be fun — for about 30 seconds.

Rolling Stone Prejudice Against Anything Un-Rawkish Abides

Rolling Stone still thinks Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music is Controversial?

Really? Hasn’t it always been blindingly obvious that “Metal Machine Music” is not intended as listening music for general audiences? I thought this was all settled canon law a long time ago.

I am especially puzzled by all the people showing up and then leaving. Did they think he was going to play them lullabies?

There is an audience for noise music. Not a huge audience, but a genuine, enthusiastic audience. One that responds viscerally and emotionally to the music, in addition to the people who have intellectual, academic reasons for why it’s valid. The point is, there are many writers Rolling Stone could have sent to the MMM show that would have brought some sympathy and understanding to the event. Instead, they sent someone, apparently, who just got done sucking Fall Out Boy dick or something.

If you ever wanted to know why Lou Reed is so rude to US music journalists, this review is exhibit A. They aren’t even fucking pretending to try.

Is Boomkat’s “Also bought” Algorithm a bit too on the nose?

I spend more time than is probably healthy (financially or otherwise) exploring new music on Boomkat. They seem to have fairly no-bullshit reviews for music, and they seem intent on hyping things they actually like, for actual musical reasons. As opposed to a site like Beatport, who seem to hype stuff based on who has the best cocaine this week.

I know, totally unfair dig, but a visit to Beatport conjures visions of Guidos in fake Hermes sunglasses bro-hugging each other in the DJ booth at WMC, and a visit to Boomkat makes you feel like you’ve been cornered by a scruffy British college student chain-smoking rollies, drinking tea out of a paper cup, telling you how mental the latest Pinch dub plate is in a thick Mancunian drawl.

But the recommendations they make based on the release you’re currently looking at seem a bit weird. I mean if I look at Appleblim and Peverelist “Over here” remixes, the “also bought” column contains 12 releases out of 21 that I’ve bought myself. And looking through the ones I’ve not bought, at least 5 or 6 others I’d probably buy if money was no object.

This seems strange to me — could there be some grouping of Boomkat customers out there whose taste is that closely aligned with my own? Or is Boomkat’s algorithm somehow just reflecting back to me what I’ve already bought, along with a bunch of roughly similar releases?

I’d like to think that I’m genuinely part of some phantom cohort of people who really like dub techno, house music, and dubstep without the wibby-wubby basslines. I’d like to meet up with them, preferably at a club with a good sound system in Brixton.

Martyn: Tall, Dutch, & Dubsteppy

A Critique Of Pure Jargon

As regards My post about Micachu, a friend wrote to me:

not intended to be sarcastic at your expense. I went through your review and xxxed out all words that either conveyed nothing to me (in my ignorance; like i know who matthew herbert is but not what that implies abotu how the album would sound) or that seemed to me to be content-free (eg “embrace the chaos”) and got the following dada-esque review:
‘xxx is a sort of next big thing-esque young woman from xxx, whose debut album about to be release was produced by veteran xxx xxx xxx. The songs on the myspace page remind me of xxx from xxx, having some of that xxx xxx xxx, though xxx seems to xxx xxx xxx a bit more than that duo. xxx xxx’s album “xxx xxx” is perhaps the high water mark of musical xxx, kind of like the first xxx record as heard by someone on a xxx xxx xxx.
xxx isn’t as deliberately xxx as that, but she’s not afraid to xxx the xxx, as she does on this “mix tape” which features some of her xxx xxx xxx on the xxx tip, with occasional vocal interjections from xxx, mashed together voices, and musique concrète.’

Fair enough I guess. I was depending on readers knowing things I can’t know they’ll know, to understand what I was on about.  On the other hand, I don’t try and live up to the same standards in blog posts that I follow when I write reviews for publication.  A big part of my review-writing narrative is the assumption that many readers aren’t going to be aware of everything I might bring to listening to a piece of Music. I’m someone who spends a large portion of their waking hours listening to, making, or thinking about music, so I have a domain-specific knowlege set a casual reader would not.

When I write on my blog, I don’t feel the same responsibility to explain, or to judge what needs explaining.  First, it’s a more personal forum, and until the big bucks start rolling in for my blogging expertise, I’m not going to waste time worrying about whether people can follow what I’m saying.  Second, with two examples of Micachu’s music included in the post, one can presumably gloss over the stuff in my post you don’t get, and judge the music independent of anything I might have to say.

Third, I think my friend goes a bit far, x-ing out some things that aren’t arcane references or untethered metaphor.  I’d think ‘obtuse’ would be part of most people’s vocabulary, and the meaning of an ‘obtuse’ composer or musician shouldn’t require a  lot of sweat to understand.