Category Archives: offhand

Francis Galton could be kind of a jerk

As here (from Hereditary Genius, p. 21)

Every tutor knows how difficult it is to drive abstract conceptions, even of the simplest kind, into the brains of most people—how feeble and hesitating is their mental grasp—how easily their brains are mazed—how incapable they are of precision and soundness of knowledge. It often occurs to persons familiar with some scientific subject to hear men and women of mediocre gifts relate to one another what they have picked up about it from some lecture—say at the Royal Institution, where they have sat for an hour listening with delighted attention to an admirably lucid account, illustrated by experiments of the most perfect and beautiful character, in all of which they expressed themselves intensely gratified and highly instructed. It is positively painful to hear what they say. Their recollections seem to be a mere chaos of mist and misapprehension, to which some sort of shape and organization has been given by the action of their own pure fancy, altogether alien to what the lecturer intended to convey. The average mental grasp even of what is called a well-educated audience, will be found to be ludicrously small when rigorously tested.

 

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That Jeff Koons feeling

Jed Perl opposes Jeff Koons:

The sculptures and paintings of this fifty-nine-year-old artist are so meticulously, mechanically polished and groomed that they rebuff any attempt to look at them, much less feel anything about them.

But four paragraphs later:

Koons knows how to capitalize on the guilty pleasure that the museumgoing public takes in all his mixed messages. He knows how to leave people feeling simultaneously ironical, erudite, silly, sophisticated, and bemused.

Does Koons make people feel things, or does he not?  Or are irony, erudition, silliness, sophistication, and bemusement feelings that don’t count as feelings?

Jed Perl writes well but I find his judgment strange.  About Jeff Koons I have no opinion.  But I remember his name because of the piece he wrote about Francis Bacon, which seems to suggest that people like Bacon not because of anything in the paintings, but because the artist sports a biography and attitude that appeals to mushy-minded would-be avant-gardists.  “The Bacon mystique,” Perl writes, “is not grounded in his paintings so much as in a glamorous list of extenuating circumstances.”

To me this makes no sense.  I went to a small museum which was showing some of Bacon’s paintings and I was knocked over by them.  Whoa, what is that?  I had no idea who he was, or whether he was glamorous, or whether it was cool to like him.

I think it’s OK to say (as Perl also does, later in that piece) that Bacon is a stupid painter and only people who are stupid about painting like his paintings.  But it’s crazy to deny that people actually do like Bacon’s paintings, as such, not just the idea of Bacon’s paintings, or the idea of being the kind of person who likes Bacon’s paintings.

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The 1979 Houston Astros hit only 49 home runs

49 home runs! That’s nuts. They hit more triples than home runs. Their home run leader was Jose Cruz, who hit 9. In September they went 20 straight games without hitting a home run, the longest such streak in modern baseball. And that was after they went 15 games without hitting a rome run in July!

Must have been a pretty bad team, right? But no! They won 89 games and finished second, just a game and a half behind the Reds. That 15 game homerless streak in July? They went 11-4 in those games.

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Subnostalgia

For some reason I was thinking about pieces of culture that have departed from the world but which somehow didn’t “stick” well enough to persist even in the sphere of nostalgia.  Like when people think about the early 1990s, the years when I was in college, they might well say “oh yeah, grunge” or “oh yeah, wearing used gas station T-shirts with a name stitched on” or “oh yeah, Twin Peaks” or “oh yeah, OK Soda” or whatever.

But no one says “oh yeah, Fido Dido.”  So here I am doing it.

It is inherently hard to try to list things you’ve forgotten about.  My list right now consists of

  • Fido Dido
  • Saying “bite me”
  • Smartfood
  • Devil sticks (from Jason Starr)

That’s it.  What have you got?

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Cool song, bro

I was in Barriques and “Bra,” by Cymande came on, and I was like, cool song, cool of Barriques to be playing this song that I’m cool for knowing about, maybe I should go say something to show everyone that I already know this cool song, and then I thought, why do I know about this song anyway? and I remembered that it was because sometime last year it was playing in Barriques and I was like, what is this song, it’s cool? and I Shazammed it.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m probably going to the right coffee shop.  Also, this song is cool.  I’m sort of fascinated by the long instrumental break that starts around 2:50.  It doesn’t seem like very much is happening; why is it so captivating?  I think my confusion on this point has something to do with my lack of understanding of drums.

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How do you share your New York Times?

My op/ed about math teaching and Little League coaching is the most emailed article in the New York Times today.  Very cool!

But here’s something interesting; it’s only the 14th most viewed article, the 6th most tweeted, and the 6th most shared on Facebook.  On the other hand, this article about child refugees from Honduras is

#14 most emailed

#1 most viewed

#1 most shared on Facebook

#1 most tweeted

while Paul Krugman’s column about California is

#4 most emailed

#3 most viewed

#4 most shared on Facebook

#7 most tweeted.

Why are some articles, like mine, much more emailed than tweeted, while others, like the one about refugees, much more tweeted than emailed, and others still, like Krugman’s, come out about even?  Is it always the case that views track tweets, not emails?  Not necessarily; an article about the commercial success and legal woes of conservative poo-stirrer Dinesh D’Souza is #3 most viewed, but only #13 in tweets (and #9 in emails.)  Today’s Gaza story has lots of tweets and views but not so many emails, like the Honduras piece, so maybe this is a pattern for international news?  Presumably people inside newspapers actually study stuff like this; is any of that research public?  Now I’m curious.

 

 

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The Amanda Palmer TED talk

They showed it during TEDxMadison.  Here’s what struck me.  She talked a lot about art, a lot about selflessness, a lot about performance.  Many forceful moments.  But there was only one point at the talk where the audience stopped her with a wave of applause, and that was when she put up a slide referring to a large sum of money.

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Many Words, by Little Red Wolf

One of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard lately.  Came over the PA in Froth House.  What th– what is this thing, I must have it!  You know the drill.

This is by Little Red Wolf, a Madison band, who have a great new record, Junk Sparrow, recorded by Brian Liston at Clutch Sound, the same guy who did my audiobook.  Range!

Of course the strange piano note, the one that kind of insists despite everything that it’s the right note and thereby colors the whole song with its weirdness and stubbornness, is sort of the same one that Weezer uses to devastating effect in “The Sweater Song.”   And yet the two songs are completely different.  Though the latter is also very, very beautiful.  And now that I listen to both again there’s also something in common about the way the wordless aah-ahh’s are deployed, but it might just be that everybody in the world, whether AOR-indie or alt-country, loves Doolittle.

Wait, are there readers of this blog so young as not to have heard “The Sweater Song?”  Very likely.  So OK:

 

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Reader survey: how do you say “asked”?

One more note on the subject of “Do I actually speak English?” I learned from reading How Not To Be Wrong aloud that, even when I’m speaking slowly and carefully, I pronounce the word “asked” as “ast.”  (At least, that’s my preferred transcription; I concede that “assed” might be more faithful.)  Is that what all native English speakers do, or is it a regionalism?

Hmm, this post from the invaluable englishforums.com has a description that matches what I do very closely:

“asked” is not pronounced /ast/, although it may seem that the ‘k’ is missing when you hear it.
By placing your jaw, teeth, tongue, etc. in the proper position for saying the ‘k’ you can create a sort of pause at the point where the ‘k’ occurs. This makes it sound different from /ast/, even if the ‘k’ is only present in a sort of hidden way (no release or aspiration of the ‘k’). Pronounce /ask/, stopping in the ‘ready-position’ for saying the ‘k’. But then, instead of finishing the ‘k’ sound, say a ‘t’ at the end!

See also.

And here’s a discussion in which the characters on How I Met Your Mother are separated into those who pronounce the k in “asked” and those who don’t.  (Only one does.)

How do you say “asked”?

 

 

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Almost human intelligence

We do not expect our Presidents to be literary men and are correspondingly gratified when any of them shows signs of almost human intelligence in spheres outside of politics.

(Henry A. Beers, “Roosevelt as Man of Letters,” 1919.)

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