Monthly Archives: February 2014

In Case You Were Wondering

Yes, I’m aware that the tone of this blog has changed significantly since the start of 2014. I felt like I was becoming a bit of a one-trick pony, poking at the horrors of the right wing and the utter lack of an effective opposition to them. Frankly, writing about ugly, negative stuff every day was starting to take it’s toll.

So, I’m spreading it out a little bit and trying out different things. Some entertainment (sports, music, movies), some philosophy, just whatever I feel the urge to write about on a given day. I don’t feel I’ve found my voice or my stride yet, but I’m working on it. I don’t want to be positive just for the sake of being positive, but there’s a lot of good out there. It’s just more difficult to write something interesting about good stuff, or at least it is for me.

What I’m really trying to avoid is the fisn-in-a-barrel snark. When Sarah Palin has a reality show for “real Americans,” sure, it’s worth of mockery, but it’s too easy. As fun as it is to mock her and especially her fans, I’m not really adding anything to the discussion. What more is there to say about Ted Nugent that he hasn’t already said himself? I can do better than that, even if it’s loads of fun to bag on the Nuge.

So, bear with me. I’m just branching out a little here, but it’s still good ol’ Uncle Pancakes at the typewriter keyboard.

 

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Love Letter To A Song

Are you familiar with Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way?” If not, give it a listen:

Actually, go ahead and enjoy it even if you’ve heard the song a zillion times. It’s a great tune and a great performance. But….have you ever noticed how intensely weird the rhythm is? The electric guitar and acoustic guitar start off playing neatly intersecting rhythms, but then the drums kick in and…wtf is going on there? Leaving aside the fact that this very straightforward pop song is dominated by Mick Fleetwood’s tom toms, it’s a really odd pattern. I’ve never heard anything remotely like it in popular music.

I’ve spent some time researching this. The guitar and vocal lines are clearly in good ol’ 4/4, but the drums seem to be on another plane. I’ve heard it described as “4/4 with very odd accents and an occasional 2/4 measure thrown in for giggles” and you that may, technically, be what’s going on. But when I count it out, it fits neatly into a 1-and-2-and-3-and-1-and-2-and-3-and with the lone snare falling on the 2. What I think is going on is that Mick’s playing the verse in 3 and then switching to a more conventional 4 in the chorus.

The vocals are exceptional, too. Lindsey Buckingham is not just a great vocal arranger (which is, as much as anything, his calling card), he’s a genuinely gifted vocalist. If you’ve never heard the isolated vocal track, here’s a treat for ya:

Buckingham throws in a rare guitar solo as well, giving the song a driving urgency which is sometimes missing in Fleetwood Mac music.His later solo work demonstrates his increasing deftness with the guitar, but he didn’t get to show off very often with the Mac.

It’s a terrific song. Even when stripped of all nuance and rhythmic strangeness, it remains a catchy tune. Check out this butchered version by NOFX featuring Brett and Greg from Bad Religion on backing vocals:

It still works, doesn’t it?

For me, the thing that elevates this song is the bizarre drumming. Buckingham and Fleetwood were just magical together. The drums on “Tusk” were another example of “stuff you’d never expect to hear on Top 40 radio” and Buckingham’s first solo hit, “Trouble,” was built entirely around a Fleetwood drum loop.

I have approximately zero sense of rhythm, so all of this seems like sorcery to me. I can at least understand a great melody and interesting chord changes. I would never, in a million years, come up with something as clever as the drum line for “Go Your Own Way.” I’m stunned that something so strange, so out there, would show up in the lead single on what was, at the time, the best selling rock record in history.

And yeah, I still grin every time I hear it.

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Handicapping the EPL Home Stretch

As of today, the Premiership field is effectively narrowed to four teams. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool are within four points of each other. Tottenham Hostpur, lost (deservedly) to Norwich today and now sit six points behind Liverpool. They may yet rally and finish in the top four, but their title challenge is over. It’s all down to the big four with eleven matches to play. Who’s going to win it? Let’s take a look!

Before we get started, I would like to state for the record that I’m a Leicester City supporter, so I don’t have any particular interest in who wins the EPL title. I normally don’t pay that much attention to the Premiership, but it’s a great race this year and my club are, barring a massive collapse, going to be in the top flight next year.  After all, I need to see who’ll be battling against us for the title* next year, right?

Here are the teams in order of current table position:

Chelsea

Position: 1st

Points: 60

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 28

Competitions: Champion’s League

Big Matches Remaining: Home to Arsenal (22 March), Away to Liverpool (26 April)

Why Chelsea will win it: They’re currently top of the table and they have their manager is the best single-match tactician in the Premier League. Chelsea have the best defense in the league and they play a very physical brand of intimidating football. They’re out of both domestic cups and have only Champion’s League football to distract them from their title challenge.

Why Chelsea won’t win it: Chelsea are an old team without a lot of depth and a suspect attack. They’re difficult to beat, but they drop points from time to time against mediocre competition because they lack the ability to break down determined defenses.

Arsenal

Position: 2nd

Points: 59

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 25

Competitions: Champion’s League, FA Cup

Big Matches Remaining: Away to Chelsea (22 March), Home to Manchester City (29 March)

Why Arsenal will win it: They’ve led most of the year and responded with big wins every time their season has been in jeopardy. Arsene Wenger is a cagey manager with a better eye for tactics than he’s given credit for. Olivier Giroud is one of the most ruthless finishers in England.

Why Arsenal won’t win it: They’re wafer-thin in attack and not exactly stocked at the other positions. They have the least-impressive goal differential of any of the contenders and Ozil’s form is dipping at exactly the wrong time.

Manchester City

Position: 3rd

Points: 57

Played: 26

Goal Differential: 42

Competitions: Champion’s League, FA Cup, League Cup

Big Matches Remaining: Away to Arsenal (29 March), Away to Liverpool (12 April)

Why Manchester City will win it: They have incredible depth at all positions. Manchester City reserves could probably finish in the top four. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They’re marvelous balanced with the second-best attack and second-best defense in the Premiership. If they win their game in hand, they’re top of the table.

Why Manchester City won’t win it: City are still active in both domestic cups and the Champion’s League. Sergio Aguero has been struggling with injuries all year. Their confidence seems to have taken a dip recently.

Liverpool

Position: 4th

Points: 56

Played: 27

Goal Differential: 35

Competitions: None

Big Games Remaining: Home to Manchester City (12 April), Home to Chelsea (26 April)

Why Liverpool will win it:  Even though Man City’s attack got most of the press, Liverpool have actually scored the most goals in the league. They have no other competitions to distract them and only home matches against the top clubs in the league.

Why Liverpool won’t win it: Their defense is merely average and manager Brendan Rodgers has yet to be tested at this level. Their schedule has more banana peels than that of the other leaders and, besides, they are currently in 4th. Making up four points is no big deal, but overtaking three teams is.

So there you have it. I think you can make an argument that any of them. I’m a big believer in goal differential as a measure of a team’s quality. It’s a better predictor of results than table position/points. It’s a myth that champions “win the close ones.” As a rule, great teams do slightly better than poor teams in close games, but the real advantage comes in blowouts. This is as true in football as in any other sport.

Manchester City have the best goal differential in the Premier League. They have the deepest squad, the best balanced team, and they’re a game in hand away from being top of the table. They have a lot of distractions, and they’re not playing at their best right now, but they’re the best team in the league. They’re my pick.

I love this Arsenal team but they have the weakest goal differential, the least depth, and they’re still active in two other competitions. I think they fade and finish fourth.

The tough call, for me, is “who finishes second?” Liverpool have played better, have the easier schedule, and have no distractions. Chelsea have the better defense, the better manager, and a four point edge. I want Liverpool to finish 2nd, but I think it’s probably going to be Chelsea.

Final Premiership Table

1. Manchester City

2. Chelsea

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

Any thoughts?

* And, by “title”, I mean “kicking our teeth in as we try to ensure our survival in the Premier League.” I’m a fan, but I’m not stupid.

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Public Service Announcement

Gather round, and let me tell you how it is. Uncle Pancakes is feeling pedantic!

smrt

There are certain things about which people-in-general are just plain wrong. Ok, that’s hardly news, so let me narrow it down a bit: Popular culture has taken to calling things by the wrong name and, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, it drives me absolutely buggy to hear these same mistakes over and over and over.

Let’s start with men’s shirts. Take a look at this:

shirt1

This is not a picture of a button down shirt. “Button down” does not, and never has, had anything to do with the fact that the shirt is not a pullover shirt. This is a button down shirt:

shirt2

See the difference? The collar buttons down to the front of the shirt. Personally, I’m not a fan of this type of shirt. My taste is likely influenced by the fact that I am frequently too lazy to unbutton the collar before I put the shirt in the wash, which produces a hideously twisted collar area that no amount of ironing will repair.

Let’s move on to facial hair. The man picture below has a decent amount of it. What he does not have, however, is a goatee.

beard1

This gentleman is sporting a goatee:

beard2

A goatee is just a chin beard because, you know, it looks kind of like something on a goat. If there’s a mustache as well, it’s a Van Dyke. If the mustache and the beard are joined, then congratulations! You’ve got a circle beard. There’s nothing wrong with that look, especially since it lets you grow out facial hair in all the worst places to shave, but it’s not a goatee.

The final entry is one that’s new to me, but now that my eyes have been opened, it irritates me more than any of the others. Check out this gent:

hat1

This stylish hat he is wearing is not a fedora; it’s a trilby. The thin brim and the upturned back are dead giveaways. This man is wearing a fedora:

hat2

You may notice that this hat seems a little more “manly.” There’s a good reason for that:

hat3

Yup, the trilby is a woman’s hat. That said, there’s nothing wrong with men wearing any article of women’s clothing, and certainly nothing wrong with wearing a trilby (Bing Crosby could rock them), but they are not to be confused with fedoras.

I hope you found this public service announcement helpful. Thank you for your time, and take care.

Love,

Uncle WTF

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Filed under Fashion, Other Stuff, Personal, Pop Culture

Working at Something You Love

This one’s a bit more like an old-school LJ post than the…well, whatever it is that this blog’s known for. Just wanted to warn you before we got started.

I’ve had the opportunity to make money in a field I loved three times so far in my life. I’ve worked, tangentially, in the music industry, in sport, and now in entertainment. My experience is that this is a mixed blessing at best. When what you love become your job, there’s not guarantee that the love will survive. Once you’re behind the scenes, you’re not really involved in the fun part of the business that drew you to it in the first place. You’re in an office, or working as a contractor, and the nature of the work isn’t hugely different than what you’d find in any other office.

Suddenly, what you love is now associated with all of the petty frustrations that come with working for a corporation. Working with spreadsheets is pretty much the same thing whether you’re looking at general ledger entries or basketball statistics. It’s easy to lose sight of what you love about what you’re doing. In fact, sometimes, it’s inevitable.

For me, the key to staying sane and avoiding the bitterness that comes with realizing that your dream job looks an awful lot like the job you just left is to step back from time to time and just experience the end product. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes, it can remind you that what you’re doing, which may not always be special in and of itself, is a part of something that is special.

Which is a long way of saying that I don’t quite think I could claim to love my job, but I can honestly say that I love the final product that my job is part of creating. Most days, that’s good enough.

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The Gini Coefficient is a Harsh Mistress

You know that guy? That guy who tells a joke, an inappropriate half-joke, a racist, or sexist, or something of that sort? After telling the joke, they look around in a furtive fashion, trying to read the reaction of the listeners. If the listeners are sympathetic, then go further: “All kidding aside, you know, they really are like that, am I right?”

Or, if the listeners look uncomfortable, they’ll try to play it off as just a joke. They didn’t mean it. Jeez, can’t you take a joke?

Do you know that guy? There are a lot of “that guy” out there.

Tom Perkins is one of “that guy.” A few weeks back, he compared the treatment of the super-wealthy in the U.S. to how the Nazis treated the Jews.* Having made the mistake of making this statement in public rather than to an audience of his peers, he later sort-of-backtracked on the statement, saying that the specific choice of words was wrong but the basic idea was accurate.

More recently, he mooted a novel modification of the old “one man, one vote” system: People should get one vote for every dollar of taxes paid, and if you don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote.** He plays it off as a joke…sort of…unless you think it’d be a good idea, ya know? He’s kidding, but he isn’t really kidding.

There must be something in the air. Perkins’ fellow so-wealthy-he-doesn’t-need-to-bother-with-empathy one-percenter Sam Zell’s explanation for the inequality of wealth in the U.S. is so profoundly special it bears repeating:

The one percent work harder, the one percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.

Yes, that’s it. The super-wealthy are rich because they work harder than the guy who works three manual labor jobs at minimum wage. The one percent are noted for their contributions to the arts, to math, to science, and to athletics…you know, “all forms of our society.” It’s a statement that’s so patently absurd that it ought to be met with universal ridicule. He should be ashamed for saying something so stupid. His teachers and parents should apologize for being such miserable failures.

The sad thing is that you see a lot of this sort of self-serving nonsense from the super-wealthy. It’s all about trying to justify their position at the head of the table: They’ve earned their unimaginable riches through hard work, superior intellect, and just being “better.” In order for this to be true, the poor must be lazy, stupid, and inferior. It’s supremely important in this mythology that factors of luck and privilege are never, ever considered. If these godlike captains of industry were even a little bit fortunate, or had any advantage due to birth or other circumstances beyond their control, well, they’d might have to question their right to rule. We can’t have that, can we?

America’s aristocratic super-wealthy are so out of touch it beggars belief. They already have almost everything, but so long as poor people still have some wealth and some political clout, they’re going to see themselves as the victims. That’s a mistake. Mr. Perkins may not know what real persecution of the rich, but the Gini coefficient suggest he may find out sooner rather than later.

* It’s worth noting that this new holocaust he’s bemoaning is a return to Reagan-era income tax rates. Oh, curse that socialist swine Reagan!

** Actually, if you think about it, this isn’t too far off from the original system in the U.S. constitution. Only wealthy white men could vote, which would is what Perkins’ system would effectively produce. So, for all you constitutional originalists out there, you may have found a new champion!

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Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

…and happy birthday to any of you who share a birthday with him since you’re considerably more likely to receive these birthday wishes.

In some ways, I think Darwin’s place in the history of science is a little over-stated. There’s no question that he was (jointly) responsible for a tremendous leap in the theoretical model of how species emerge and change and that his ideas were initially extremely controversial. The concept of evolution was, however, obviously an idea whose time had come. Advances in other sciences ensured that someone, or more likely, someones would put the pieces together and work it out. Darwin and Wallace were the first to put pen to paper and publish the ideas, but the fact that two independent researchers came up with essentially the same idea at the same time suggests that, if not them, than someone else soon after.

There’s also the fact that Darwin’s theory was incomplete and not wholly accurate. Criticisms of “Darwinism” often refer back to Darwin’s original work as if there had been no progress made in the last almost two hundred years. Darwin made a conceptual leap, but he didn’t magically grasp the whole process through observation and intuition. He was, in short, wrong about many things. That’s how science works. As new evidence emerges, new theories or, at least, revisions to old theories, are required.

Frankly, it’s a little bit wacky to assume that a man born over two hundred years ago would be the ultimate authority on any scientific matter. We’ve made progress, we’ve learned more, we have better tools with which to study the evidence. To suggest that we don’t know any more about the world than we did when Darwin published Origin of Species is not only inaccurate, it’s unscientific and kind of insulting.

Happy birthday, Mr. Darwin. Thank you for taking those first steps towards better understanding how the world works and pointing us in what still appears to be the right direction.

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Coda: “Why I Love Twitter”, featuring Tara Busch and Clint Mansell

Remember when I was saying that the most delightful aspect of Twitter is seeing people you follow interact with each other?  No?  Go back and read it here. Not now, though. Now, I’m asking you to stick around and check this out. It’s a new Tara Busch track featuring Clint Mansell. Yes, that Clint Mansell.

Death, She Said

You with me now?  Cool. This is not a song I’d want playing on my car stereo driving down an unlit road late at night in unfamiliar territory.

Anyway, it’s a little thrill to see the two of ’em working together. Hope you enjoy it.

Cheers,

WTF

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A Proposal For a 13-Month Calendar

Alrighty, I have an idea I’d like to share with you both all, and I think it’s a good one. Here’s the pitch:

A 13-month calendar is, for many reasons, a much better thing than a 12-month calendar. It makes so man things easier when every month is the same length. You just tack a day on to the end of every year that exists outside the regular calendar and you not only get identical months, you also get days and dates to line up every year. The 1st is a Monday, the 2nd is a Tuesday, etc. It’s not quite the metric system for calendars, but it’s so much neater, I think most people would agree that this would be a clear improvement.

Most people, but not all people, and particularly, not all Americans. There’s a contingent in the U.S.A. that is pro-tradition to a fault, and they would likely be strongly against this proposal. They have lots of money and lots of influence. Guns, too, but I don’t think it’ll come to that, because here’s where the genius part of the plan comes in to play.

Name the new, 13th month “Reagan.”

The crowd that would likely resist adding a new month to the calendar is also, by coincidence, the crowd that would like to see Ronald Reagan’s face added to Mt. Rushmore. Naming a month for him and giving him the stature of Roman emperors would be touch to resist. America is not the world, of course, so I’m not going to argue that everyone wins, but I think, just maybe, this could work.
What do you think? Am I on to something?
P.S. Literally everyone I’ve pitched this to in person has come up with the same name for the day that exists outside the regular calendar: “Colbert.” I like it.

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Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge

(thanks to Albert Einstein for that lovely insight, even though I ganked it from Suw”s post, linked below)
My absolute favorite thing about social media has nothing to do with the people I know “in real life*” The thing which really tickles my fancy is getting to see people I’m interested in interact with each other, particularly when there’s no obvious relationship between them. Watching the Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer romance bleed over into twitter was a delight. Seeing Michael Ian Black, A.C. Newman, and John Scalzi riff on the #SadToys @Midnight thread was a hoot. These things happen all the time in social media. These weird little connections you might not have expected pop up like a new synapse firing in your brain and you can’t help but grin. Or, at least, I can’t.
Today’s example takes place in the long-form blogsphere. Chuck Wendig wrote a compelling case for doing something about the pile of crap self-publishing has created. Chuck is a working professional writer so he’s in a good position to see the damage an unchecked spew of self-published garbage can do to the landscape. I strongly suggest anyone interested in earning a check from writing take a good, long look at his post. Even for people like me who harbor no illusions of professionalism, it’s a worthwhile read.
Wendig lays out of list of potential solutions, but I don’t have great confidence that any, let alone all, of them will do anything to stem the tide of self-published crud. Suw Charman-Anderson wrote a thoughtful post which I urge you to read in its entirety. I could sum it up as “bad writers think they’re good writers and there’s no way to deny them the means to self-publish,” but there’s quite a bit more to it than that and she’s a better writer than I am and considerably more authoritative about the subject than I am.
However, I have seen this sort of thing before. This democratization of distribution hit the music business hard and they’re still trying to figure it out. The signal-to-noise ratio is bad and only getting worse. Search on YouTube for a “cover” of a song you like and there will be someone who flat-out can’t sing trying to sing along with the original version in front of a tiny condenser mic. That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in action.  There is suddenly no necessary gap between “creating your work” and “making it available to all the world.” You don’t even have to spell-check, let alone make sure what you’ve written actually makes sense.
It used to be that you could expect at least a minimal level of competence when you purchased music. This was not because people who couldn’t play didn’t try to make music; it was because recording an album and distributing it were extremely expensive and the only way an artist could do it was to convince someone else their music was worthy of the investment. In addition, these investors tended to insist on things like “professional recording studios” and “professional sound engineers and producers” to hedge their bet. This seems to my outsider’s eye to be very similar to how publishing worked for a very long time.
In both industries, it’s now possible for the creator to eliminate all of the middle steps traditionally involved with producing music or novels. In almost all cases, this is a terrible idea. The very best in both businesses continue to use editors and producers and proof readers and engineers to ensure their work is as good as it can be. If absolutely brilliant writers use editors, how on earth do I expect to succeed without one? The answer, frankly, is “I can’t.” My use of grammar is, at best, “non-traditional,” my punctuation is iffy, and I tend to ramble and wander away from my central point.
Case in point, right?
Anyway, it’s an interesting problem and I’m not sure there’s an answer, at least, not one which won’t grow semi-organically from the sludge that’s out there now. We all have sources we trust. We have the ability to connect with those sources more than ever before. I love reading what Joe Hill writes. I can go on Twitter and see what he’s reading, who he’s interacting with, or even just see a list of the people he follows on Twitter. To me, that’s a much more interesting way to find someone new to read than reading reviews, or back cover blurbs, or just looking at book covers.
As a writer, I’m not worried about all the chaff out their because I’m not a professional writer** and I’m not ever likely to be one. As a reader, I’m still not concerned because having more writers out there is inherently better than having fewer, even if it means having to search a little harder to find the ones I like. It does, however, make me glad that I’m not a publisher or an editor.
EDIT: Kristin Skarie’s take on self-publishing just popped up on my feed and it belongs in this discussion.
* If this distinction hasn’t been retired yet, it really ought to be.
** I did some work for a few magazines some twenty years ago. I was, in fact, paid for it, but I’m not going to put “writer” on my business card. I’m a little less concerned with my online profile’s accuracy.***
*** For example, my profile picture is far more attractive than I really am.

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