Friday, January 30, 2009

Adventures in Questionable Music

A couple of days ago Timothy McNulty on the Post-Gazette's Steelers blog passed along an old video that an AdWeek blogger called, aptly enough, "the most awful Super Bowl video in history". In it, the employees of one Southern Food Brokerage Corporation pay homage to the 1985 Bears' already pretty grim Super Bowl Shuffle, with squirm-inducing results:

Stray blog and YouTube comments suggest that a lot of viewers didn't make it much past the one minute mark, which is fair. But I like the broker-rappers' somewhat MF DOOM-like disassociation from the underlying beat, their commitment to moving their favored grocery products, and (for whatever reason) the missing quotation mark at the bottom of the title screen. I also like to imagine this being recorded a decade or so later, after the ascension of gangsta rap, as the product pitches would involve a lot more sexual boasting and the guy with the Planters peanuts would have been shot to death outside a nightclub by a Sysco sales rep shortly before the video's release.

The AdFreak post above also knocks a recent commercial spot for Microsoft Songsmith, which apparently can automatically compose music around a solo vocal or instrumental line that you can sing or play into your computer's microphone. It's a really neat concept and in my mind the level of sophistication required to do that at all shouldn't be taken for granted but, based on the evidence I've heard, John Henry can still beat this particular steam hammer. As in the music isn't very good at all.

"The evidence I've heard" refers to a few amusing projects here (via Amanda Marcotte, who embeds a couple of additional selections) where folks have extracted the vocal tracks from well-known songs, fed them through Songsmith, and re-synced the results to the original music video. The first thirty seconds of any of these are mesmerizing and/or hilarious but my indisputable favorite is this rendition of Crazy Train (the genre selected by, I think, the program's user becomes pretty clear eight seconds in):

To me this sounds as though somebody uploaded a low-fidelity copy of "Weird Al" Yankovic's brain onto their old Dell Inspiron, fed it some peyote through the CD drive, and let it loose; your listener-response criticism mileage may vary. On some meta level the funniest part to me -- and the most telling indicator of the gap that remains between human creativity and our increasingly sophisticated artistic tools -- is the big swath of autogenerated nothing-in-particular starting at about 2:45 where Randy Rhoads' towering guitar solo used to be.

(Given that my actual music listening today consisted solely of various tracks from the abortive, David Byrne-produced B-52's album "Mesopotamia" and Styx's "Renegade", perhaps I'm not entrenched deeply enough on the musical high ground to make too much fun of all of this.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On Footbull, Etc.

In these heady days leading up to the Super Bowl between the Steelers and Cardinals, I've been steadily consuming Steelers-related web content in a state of mind flipping arbitrarily back and forth between giddy fandom and mirthless compulsion. Some nuggets are truly worth looking at: for instance, via the Post-Gazette's Blog 'n' Gold (which is a good frontend for this sort of behavior) here's a truly awesome cell phone video of Troy Polamalu's epic interception return against Baltimore two Sundays ago, and if you go here you can click through to a prospective NFL commercial in which former Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El spends about half of his minute-long spot talking smack on former Colts cornerback Nick Harper (whom he mistakenly calls "Hayden" more than once) for getting tackled by Ben Roethlisberger during his critical fumble return in the 2006 playoffs.

In the most hyped-up week for a sport with an already dangerously high commentary-to-actual-game-time ratio, though, most of what's available is fluff and filler, so I'd like to comment briefly on two pieces of writing that have a lot to do with how I think about football coverage, both pre- and postgame.

The first is Harry Frankfurt's popular philosophical essay, On Bullshit. In it Frankfurt wittily but earnestly builds up a definition of bullshit as a statement made without regard for its truth value: The claim may be true or false but the bullshitter's only intent is to shape his audience's idea about what kind of person he is. (Frankfurt's concluding point, that because of our limited self knowledge sincerity itself may be a form of bullshit, is my favorite consequence of this line of thought.) I think we see this kind of bullshit in its purest form in political commentary but it's certainly recognizable (usually cut with lazy reasoning or shoddy statistical analysis) in all manner of published sports analysis and opinion pieces; most football-related barroom conversation; and pretty much every game prediction ever made by anyone. A little while ago Jack posted some words about a Cold Hard Football Facts piece that fits the bill. The high bullshit quotient in NFL commentary (professional or amateur) is easy to pick up on without reading Frankfurt's essay, of course, and I don't feel like I'm making some penetrating point about the nature of sports coverage here, but I do like that On Bullshit gives me a more specific framework for rejecting most of the content of the neverending football-related blather stream.

Keep in mind that Frankfurt's definition does not cover all recognizable forms of bullshit. For example, the fact that Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison can be held on every damn play and draw just two or three flags all year for offensive holding? That's totally bullshit.

The second piece, which bears more on my thinking about actual game outcomes, is Douglas Hofstadter's seminal work of popular computer science writing, Goedel, Escher, Bach, specifically the "Contrafactus" section. To crib a bit from an email I sent to Jack and Pete during the Steelers' last Super Bowl run, prior to the existence of this humble blog:

ESPN has this somewhat self-conscious story about how the Super Bowl matchup isn't very good, and makes the somewhat less defensible sub-point that neither the Seahawks nor the Steelers would have made it there without a variety of events related to them or to other teams ( i.e. "Would the Steelers have been able to win in Foxborough if the Broncos hadn't upset the Patriots the week before in Denver? Highly doubtful.") It mainly interests me because it reminds me of Douglas Hofstadter writing (I think in the "Contrafactus" in Goedel, Escher, Bach) about counterfactual situations and how some changes strike us as somehow more plausible than others, using American football as a domain for his examples. For instance, it seems reasonable to conceptualize an alternative outcome if the weather was different or if your team was playing a different opponent, but not if the ball were round instead of prolate or if the teams were playing ice hockey instead of football. Hofstadter's point being that there is some mechanism, maybe imperfect, by which we determine what parameters are likely to vary in situations we'll encounter. My point, in contrast, being only that it's about as meaningful to wonder about where the Seahawks would be now based on entirely different competitive landscapes in the NFC East and South divisions as it is to wonder whether Shaun Alexander would be as dominant a running back with twelve fingers and toes instead of ten.

Here's a fuller excerpt from the Skip Bayless Page 2 story linked above that rankled me:

The Steelers, the first sixth seed to make it to the Super Bowl, barely made the playoffs thanks to a fairly easy closing schedule. They beat Kyle Orton's Bears in a snowstorm in Pittsburgh, then took care of Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit.

But would they have won their first playoff game, in Cincinnati, if Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer hadn't been hurt on his second play? Doubtful. Would they have finished off the season's most shocking upset, in Indianapolis, if Colts cornerback Nick Harper hadn't weaved back into a sprawling ankle tackle by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? No. Would the Steelers have been able to win in Foxborough if the Broncos hadn't upset the Patriots the week before in Denver? Highly doubtful. Would the Steelers have won in Denver if an early poor pass by Roethlisberger had been picked off in the flat by Champ Bailey and returned for a stadium-rocking touchdown? Probably not.

Big streams of "if, if, if" or "would, would, would" in such a piece tend to signal a bunch of counterfactual thinking -- if such-and-such didn't happen, what would have happened then -- which tends to be pretty uninteresting if you just use that as a device for reasserting some previous conventional wisdom that didn't play out in the actual event. So I like to jump off from Hofstadter's line of thinking and consider his more interesting question of why we believe certain aspects of an event "could have" turned out differently and how they differ from the aspects we tend not to change in our mental replays. If nothing else, when somebody says "Seattle might have held off Pittsburgh if that Ben Roethlisberger goal-line scramble on third down hadn't been ruled a touchdown," you can counter with something like, "Yeah, but if college football administrators hadn't introduced the forward pass in the early 20th century to decrease the number of student athlete fatalities per year then the Steelers probably would have beaten Seattle with their superior ground game."

Writing Style Questions Asked Of Jack!

Jack's previous post is most useful! I submit the following writing style questions of my own.

1. When using "en dash" as a noun adjunct should one place an en dash between the "en" and the "dash"? For example, assuming (only within the context of this example) that this is the correct usage, should the en dash between "en" and "dash" in "en-dash" be called an "en-dash en dash" or an "en dash en dash"?

2. As the length of text replaced by an ellipsis increases, is it preferable to use an increasing number of dots or to use three dots separated by an increasing amount of whitespace?

3. At what point in typographical history did the semicolon mutate off from the regular colon?

4. If an author wishes to slip a French phrase into his writing to lend it a certain forme de poire but does not actually understand any French whatsoever, is it the copy editor's job to correct this?

5. When writing out a question, is it okay to not use a question mark if you want to sound like a sarcastic slacker teenager who doesn't really care what the answer is.

6. Why is the apostrophe?

7. Does the Chicago Manual of Style provide a formal grammar over any alphabet that defines the statements understandable by any speaker of English who has ever lived and, if so, does it offer any ethical standards for the practical application of that grammar?

In exchange I'm willing to answer any questions about any of my alleged areas of expertise, such as computer programming or being a huge wiseass.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ask Jack Writing Style Questions!

Yesterday, Pete asked:
Incidentally, Jack, I've gotten into the habit recently of setting off my "that is," statements from what precedes it with a semicolon; is that correct?
No, that is not correct. Your statement should read:
Incidentally, Jack, I've gotten into the habit recently of setting off my "that is" statements from what precedes them with semicolons.
In other editing news, the first book that I copyedited is actually in the warehouse now, which feels a little anticlimactic, since my work was finished months ago. Still, I can now say I'm a Published Copyeditor, except no one says that, and I should probably check again whether "copyeditor" is really a closed compound before I embarrass myself.

Also, Pete, "that is" statements often will be set off with a semicolon, just since they start a second thought and you don't want run-on sentences. If it's not a full clause (that is, something that'd be an incomplete sentence on its own, like this) you can use parentheses (like that) or just commas, if it's clear enough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who was the Pinball Wizard that Came up with That One?

To get back towards some sort of more biographically-oriented blogging (given that the only even vaguely substantive contribution I've made to the blog recently is my (rather spot-on, if I do say so myself) Heidegger parody), I'll mention that this semester I'm taking three literature courses which, although they do nothing to raise my estimation of the quality of the non-MFA aspects of my University, do require quite a bit of reading--this is the first semester where my coursework actually feels like a full time job (I have no less than 40 hours of reading to do a week). That being said, I've also been determined to not give up on my "free" reading, since giving way to something like coursework would bring to bear a sense of professionalism which is for me untenable (except for the occasions wherein being a grad student in something like writing poetry feels to be an utter scam (this co-exists with the feeling I was describing to several people on my holiday travels as needing to believe that I and my closest friends are all brilliant and the future of forward-looking American letters))--in fact, it is this very sense of professionalism which makes these literature classes somewhat draining for me; they're taught with the utmost sense of utility, whereas writing poetry allows for more free-play of critical ideas (I often refer to one of my main motivations for writing poetry is to have it as a way to both maintain my own intellectual agenda but also keep that agenda focused towards some notion of output).

I was thinking for a little while that I might keep a list of all the books I'm reading, in order to publish a list after three months that would balance the famous bars-I-went-to-in-Portland list. There's some chance the number of titles would surpass the number of bars (no easy feat), but I've subsequently decided against, partly because I also read quite a few books while I lived-worked-and-went-to-bars in Portland (most notably (at least in my memory), I read Pynchon's Against the Day and Hofstadter's I Am a Strange Loop in Portland), and partly because I don't necessarily like to brag about my specific reading--I mention stuff occasionally when I really like it (we had, for instance, a hearty number of posts here on the blog about Strange Loop), but, since my own attitude towards my reading is that I accomplish the volume through brute force (the analogy being with computerized probably solving); that is (incidentally, Jack, I've gotten into the habit recently of setting off my "that is," statements from what precedes it with a semicolon; is that correct?), I read not particularly fast but dedicate an inordinate amount of my time to reading.

I also keep time to watch a lot of movies, and here get to the actual part of the post which I was intending to write when I started it: So, I was watching Truffaut's The 400 Blows last night, which is a wonderful film, and if you're at all cynical towards the French New Wave cinema, this is a good one to watch to realize how vitalizing the movement was. A lot of the cinematography is joyful and energetic in way that seems unfamiliar to movies being made in the '50s. Watching one of the sequence where the main character and his friend have cut school and are wandering around the streets, I was thinking to myself that if I were a filmmaker, I would totally rip off the way they are shot. Of course, just as I was finishing this thought to myself came a shot which Wes Anderson totally ripped off for a scene in Bottle Rocket (where one character is playing pinball and the other standing next to the machine). So there you go, good taste is good taste.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Steelers Profiles Increasingly Obscure

Yes, so the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a profile of #6 cornerback Fernando Bryant, who played in two games and made three tackles this year, and who is very likely to remain inactive for the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the New York Times has a very interesting piece up about defensive line coach John Mitchell, who I have not heard of before. The Times' profile of Mike Tomlin (getting back to the less obscure) is very good too.

Even in the lowest ebb of Super Bowl chatter, all of this saves us from depending on the Pirates for exciting January sports news.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Eating Something with Protein in it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I started skimming the news headlines ( (I know I know its more swill-ish corporate news, but, you know, they will have the "big" headlines) just to make sure nothing important happened while I was asleep (this is generally my approach to news these days; not too concerned with what's going on, just wanna make sure nothing catastrophic has gone down), and I happened to come across this story, about a big recall of peanut butter. As it turns out, just last night, I ate a CLIF bar which happens to be on the list of recalled products. I mean, I didn't check the expiration date on the thing, so there's some chance that it wasn't involved in the recall. And I feel fine as of yet. I think my system is generally quite robust. But it's kind of a bummer knowing that there's some chance that my weekend could be ruined.

But--and this is the part of the post which is in the model of that Simpsons episode where Marge, back in high school, reads a women's lib magazine and then stands out in front of the school saying "and another thing I read..." (so in fact, I'll probably nip that impulse in the bud and keep this a short post)--I've been reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dillema and, damn if it isn't getting me all riled up. And now that I potentially just ate a tainted food product that is surely the fault of the industrialized food system, I'm just angrier and angrier. Though, I'm only halfway through the book, so maybe Pollan will get around to explaining how we might find solutions to the rampant problems with the way we make and get our food, but until then, I'm feeling similarly powerless to how I always feel. And if there's one thing that I have strongest doubt's about, I can't imagine that Obama would do anything to go against the Big Corn lobbies. They're probably already in his back pocket.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

On the Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Footballogy

The "truth" of football dwells on the field, which the house of the Being of Football. Those that speak of the footballness of Football without recognizing it's in-dwelling on the ground of the field do not know what they are doing. The field is the ground-giving unity whereupon footballology can make its claims. In that Football, and especially playoff-Football (and here, as the culmination of the playoffs, the Super Bowl is the Highest Ground--the realm of the holy--of football) is "what it's all about" Football is the very "what it is" of football. This being-football is always-already a being-there that dwells on the field (the house of Football), and there dwells ineffably in the far-nearness of being-Football. Hence all claims of footballology are onto-football0-logic; they think the very origins of the Being-Football (which always "is" in the "there" of the ground of the field).

The foot-ball as such is the being-towards of the being-football; to characterize the foot-ball as merely the embodiment of it's potential for point-value is to subjectively objectify the being-football of the foot-ball. The foot-ball is the throwing-forward of the Destiny of Being-Football. It "is" towards its own Destiny, the "end-zone". The foot-ball in the end-zone dwells in nearness to Being-Football. Here, both celebration (of the holiness of the end-zone-approaching of the being-toward of the foot-ball) and mourning (of the unholiness of the toward-coming of the foot-ball to the inevitable antithesis of the holy end) are revealed to exist only after the being-there of Being-Football in the end-zone of its own Destiny. In that the historical claims about the holiness or unholiness of this nearness to Being-Football are assigned to an equally holy order--the triumphant football-beings exalt in their "knowledge" that the "Lord" is "good" while the mourners descry their "God" has "forgotten them." This footballogy has no vested interest in the "Lord" or "God," in that it thinks the essence of football, which has been shown to dwell in the ground of the field, and not in the holy orders which are mere recognitions of being-near the Nearest. The being-football of Being-Football preconditions the theological aspirations of historical footballogy; in this way, still, though, this thinking of the Thought of the Essence of the Being of Football (in that Football "is" what "it 'is' about" it is in unity with its Being); this onto-footballo-logic condition is at once also, then, then theo-footballo-logic. This onto-theo-logic consitution of Football (and thereby, of footballogy) cannot be explained by either ontology or theology, as it is one at once with the other.

This thinking is in no way "finished," but it does think the thoughts which precondition the being-there and the being-towards of football. There is much more thinking in this direction to be thought.

A Brief Word On Theofootballology

It should be assumed this week and next that I and, I think, at least some of my brothers are compulsively consuming any Internet content related to the Steelers' upcoming Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals. Happily most of our immediate comments on this stuff are being vented into email correspondence, sparing this humble blog a lot of entries like "Wow I sure hope Hines Ward un-sprains his knee in time for the Big Game go Steelers wooooo."

But I'd like to comment that of the material I've browsed, I find nothing so oddly mesmerizing as this video clip of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner drawing God. (Via Jesse Taylor at Pandagon.)

Attentive followers of the Steelers will recall that Ben Roethlisberger Plays For Jesus too, as he noted by writing "PFJ" on his cleats before the NFL told him not to. So now the question becomes, as suggested by the perhaps slightly batty commentator linked above, who will God favor come Super Sunday -- and which football team, to borrow former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt's phrasing, will the Lord forget about?

I leave this question open to no doubt vigorous theological debate. But I submit that both teams should have a backup plan for the possibility that the ancient Greeks had it right all along -- for if so, mighty Zeus will not look kindly upon their lack of favor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Repairing the Things in Need of Repair

On account of my workplace being filled with historically mindful liberal people, we had a break in the middle of the day to gather together and watch the inaugural proceedings projected onto a big screen. Said big screen was set up in the manuscript library, where gatherings generally occur, it being not just the most pleasant space in the office but the only one big enough to hold everyone at once.

This allowed me twenty minutes of continued work at my desk while my colleagues filled up the place and chattered, while whatever the hell Chris Matthews was going on about killed some TV time while the inauguration caught up to its schedule. I hope they don't take me for some kind of conservative, I thought, I just need to tune out the news broadcast. Also, okay, I can be kind of a hermit about workplace socializing. And look, these page proofs had corrections within maps and in foreign-alphabet quotations, and just a little bit more attention would finally get them off my desk.

Anyway, I did get to watch the main portion of the inaugural goings on. Some thoughts:
1. Dick Cheney is temporarily in a wheelchair. He pulled something in his back. When he first appeared on screen about eight different people in the room all suggested "Hey, Dr. Strangelove" at the same time. It is true, he's about one mechanical arm shy of it. (Although I think Ken Jennings is probably correct that Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life" is the most uncanny resemblance.)

2. I still can't get exercised about the whole Rick Warren thing, even if I got a taste of the mini-disgusted feeling that public prayers usually leave me with.

3. Obama kind of flubbed a couple of lines while being sworn in. Obviously, along with his secret Indonesian citizenship it proves that he has no intention of upholding the office whatsoever.

4. Speechwise, it continues to amaze me how good Obama is at public speaking.

5. Props to whoever it was in the crowd on the Mall who'd made a big sign saying BUSH! GET DA HELL OUT!!

6. I was glad to see classical music made part of the occasion, although I don't overestimate the tangible importance of its presence either. The five-minute movement John Williams wrote for it -- Air and Simple Gifts -- has a really marvelous Air and a disappointing mishmash of Simple Gifts. (YouTube.) Going back to the tune is just fine, even if it'll always belong to Copland; but basically everything Williams does to it is a cheap knockoff of Appalachian Spring, too. (Incidentally, the quartet-for-the-end-of-time instrumentation gets very close to an actual Copland piece, his vivacious 1930s-vintage "Sextet," which would have been a superb substitute if America had ten extra minutes and a greater appetite for spiky mixed-meter melodies.)

7. Aretha Franklin's rendition of America threw off the right sparks, I thought, even if she doesn't have the pipes she used to.

8. On the other hand, Elizabeth Alexander's poem, excepting a couple of apt phrases, struck me as utterly boring: bland imagery, slack rhythms.
And then we all had lunch from one of New Haven's excellent B-list pizza establishments, and then we all got back to work. New president! Wooo.

This Week in Creativity

You can watch a "video preview" of a comic compilation mini-mag that includes a comic strip I wrote and was drawn by my good friend Nick on youtube. It's a little twelve panel diddy, which you can see there briefly about halfway through the video. You can also order the mag itself at

This magazine also features my best bio blurb to date:

Pete B[---] spends most of his year between Miami, New York and Berlin, but manages to find time in his life as an international playboy and jet-setter to write music and comics with Nick Marino.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Brutality Bowl

The AFC Championship delivered pretty much exactly what everyone was expecting -- Tampa-bound Steelers included -- but to watch it in real time was more draining and thrilling than I could think to imagine beforehand. What a meat grinder of a game.

And what an interception runback by Troy Polamalu.

Basically just inchoate happy thoughts, otherwise. Hell of a season. Picture is from the Post Gazette.

[Update on Monday morning]
Video recap of the game is on the NFL site. Also, another excellent Post-Gazette Polamalu picture.

Goings On About the Baltic Region

Paul Hillier, famed British choral guy, was in town to conduct the Yale Schola Cantorum last night in an all-contemporary, all-Baltic program (Hillier spent much of this decade conducting the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir). The chorus is, as you can pretty much bank on around here, an excellent student ensemble, and they delivered on a selection of variously resonant works. It's a fun sound-world to hang around in for an evening -- modern choral music tends to highlight subtle contrasts in textures and complexly consonant harmonies.

The first item was a Veljo Tormis setting from the Finnish Kalevala that Hillier, intriguingly, had refitted with text from Longfellow's Hiawatha. Hillier noted in the program that he believed the text needed to be comprehensible both for choir and audience for the music to have full power. The gambit worked, both in substance and sensibility: Tormis (who's Estonian) dwells a lot on folk materials from near-disappeared cultures, so the Native American milieu (even via Longfellow) is a natural fit. (Curiously modal folk-like music tends to transpose well enough, too, if you're not holding it up for authenticity.) The work begins by establishing a repeating, rhythmic background, then overlays a narrative ribbon of melody traded off between two female soloists; later on, as the work peaks, a chorale-like element joins in, and gradually the work winds back down.

Arvo Pärt's 1989 Magnificat closed the concert, lucid and appealing. The man can thread together delicate lines incredibly well, but I do miss his familiar bell-like textures in this piece.

The real discovery was a Lux Aeterna from 2004 by a Lithuanian composer, Vaclovas Augustinas, a slow, liquid piece (must have been about 12 minutes long) drawing from minimalist pools of muted major-key harmony. If you can imagine a temperamental mixture of the slow parts of Adams's Harmonium and contemporary early-music-throwbacks, that might get you part of the way there. Suffice it to say it was beautiful throughout and I immediately wanted to hear it again, although that does not seem like an immediately likely prospect.

Hillier recorded a three-CD series of Baltic repertoire with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for the Harmonia Mundi label; I haven't heard these but I'm very curious about them now.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Brief Word on Footballnomics

A website called Cold, Hard Football Facts (presented by Sports Illustrated as well) criticizes the NFL playoff system using the power of the social sciences:
The current system offers what economists and sociologists might call moral hazard: It alternately rewards inferior teams, such as the 8-8 Chargers or 9-7 Cardinals, simply because they were better than three rivals in a weak division, or punishes superior teams, such as the 12-4 Colts, 11-5 Patriots or 9-6-1 Eagles, who had to fight through brutal regular seasons in tougher divisions. That's not a very good system.
Take the argument as you will, but that's not even close to what moral hazard actually means. Moral hazard would look more like a football team having a perverse incentive to pursue a worse record than it's capable of. Like if the Cardinals went out at the beginning of the season and said, "Hey, we're in a crappy division! May as well just phone it in and coast into a home playoff game, just because we can."

It seems funny to me to take a completely arbitrary competitive framework (like the NFL regular season and playoffs) and then pick specific qualities around its margins to complain about. If job one is winning the division in the regular season, even if you're in a tough division, all the better: you want that to count for something, right?

No, what I'm more worried about is the prospect of the NFL expanding its regular season. One thing not to lose in the Steelers/Ravens hubbub is that we'd be looking at a better game if the Ravens weren't so ground down by injuries. (Not that they can't win anyway, obviously.) To say nothing of the actual physical punishment to the players, you want your system to make it as unlikely as possible for your championship teams to be fighting off significant injuries.

Granted, of course, that the Steelers' health advantage springs from the playoff seeding and, in turn, that 92-yard touchdown drive in December.

Friday, January 16, 2009

RIP Patrick McGoohan

It's not the week's biggest news (or for that matter its biggest artist obituary) but actor Patrick McGoohan has died.

Except for his rather rigid, villainous turn in Braveheart, I only know his work as the creator and star of the 1960s TV series "The Prisoner". I like that show a lot for its sublime/ridiculous mix of satire, deconstructed secret agent stories, non-deconstructed secret agent stories, and obscure symbolism -- It's hit or miss but I like that McGoohan's vision for his project, sharp edges and rough spots alike, doesn't seem to have been smoothed over by a roomful of writers. In fact it's all the more endearing to me that the show's goings-on can equally end up brilliant or corny, or as some heady mix of the two. Just today in an email to my brothers, before I read McGoohan's obit, I was comparing "The Prisoner" favorably to the much glossier allegory-by-committee of ABC's "Lost". I don't believe they make TV programs like they used to...

Speaking of the Steelers

I can't help but think that this was designed by the Post-Gazette ad-wizards to attract attention from people that are, in a manner similar to myself, amused by the spectacular lameness of the above drawing (not that I'm trumping up my ability to notice that I am in the demographic of something which has been designed towards my demographic), but there it is. Check it out. Go Steelers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steelerball in January

So then, how did you all enjoy the Steelers/Chargers last weekend? Beyond the obvious good signs about Willie Parker (not pictured) running full-steam again, I'm just glad that the commanding win will keep me from spending all week nervously fretting. I suspect there will still be some time for that before Sunday evening; nonetheless, before the emotional imbalance and hand-wringing set in I'd like to call it Steelers 16, Ravens 13.

Even if it's hard to see Parker getting even half as much yardage, with the advantage of home turf and health you've got to like the Steelers' chances, of course while saying that if either team makes so much as one big mistake at the wrong time then that will be that. Steelers are taking on the Sports Illustrated cover curse pretty much head-on at this point, too: and the new one is lovely to look at but that question has been answered before. Woodley & crew had better step it up and defend last month's cover, though, lest it be remembered merely as a token of irony.

I had last Sunday, and will have this Sunday, a few people over at my apartment for the festivities. My own costly mental error involved putting off the beer run until the package stores had closed Saturday night (before 9:30?! I never tested this before, but I just assumed they'd be open till a rational hour) and, dontcha know, Connecticut might let you get gay married but you still can't purchase alcohol on the Christian God's holy day. So I made mulled spiced cider, which was pretty good. And dip! The secret ingredient is not a secret, and it's cream cheese.

Our high school friend Doug drove down from Rhode Island for the game, and he seems to be doing well, by the way. Haven't seen him for I think a full decade previously. Go Facebook go.

I rather like this Ryan Clark quote about the Ravens:
They're a punch-in-your-mouth type of group, and we are a not-going-to-let-you-punch-us-in-the-mouth type of group.
That would logically imply some degree of conflict, yes. Speaking of Clark, how about an illuminating breakdown of last Sunday's failed fake punt.

Pictured above: Santonio Holmes gets high while driving toward the end zone. via Post-Gazette.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bird Bowlin'

The Steelers' postseason begins in just a few minutes here so I am all enthused. Just like Dan Kreider, the former blocking fullback whose replica jersey I am wearing, I will be watching the game at home.

In keeping with the theme of an earlier, sprawlier post about the NFL, I'd like to note that with this weekend's victories by the Ravens, Cardinals, and Eagles that the fan base is assured of a Super Bowl with at least one bird-themed team in it. Will the winner of the imminent Steelers/Chargers game go on to represent, respectively, blue-collar laborers or, um, horses-slash-pure-energy in the championship? Only these two teams can prevent the Super Bowl from, as I feel almost morally obligated to put it, "going to the birds"! Also I would like it very much if Ben Roethlisberger throws fewer than three interceptions today! Go football!!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wordly Uh-Oh

I realized today that I've been misusing the word "sanguine" for years. It means "heartily cheerful" and not "admirably level-headed and calm," like I thought it did. I've been conflating it with "sangfroid."

The temperamental word that comes closest to what I meant is "phlegmatic," which has obviously unappealing secondary connotations. So essentially there's no adjective that I can substitute for the word I thought was "sanguine." This is even worse than the time with "nonplussed," or with "bemused."

I guess I could just say "calm," but that's no fun. Maybe "sangfroidish," like sang-FWAHD-ish.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Szymanowski & Shortcomings

I was in NYC on Saturday so I stuck around through the evening to hear the Philharmonic, with Maazel on the podium and Emanuel Ax playing piano. The big draw for me was a rare-ish performance of Karol Szymanowski's Symphonie Concertante (aka Symphony no. 4) for piano and orchestra, so its decidedly lackluster performance was a disappointment. It's not all that strange to hear a major orchestra phone in the accompaniment to a concerto, but the Szymanowski has a harder-than-average orchestra part and a piano line that's not wildly entertaining by itself, so if the thing doesn't gel you're not left with a lot. It's a shame, since I've liked the piece on CD for a while. What came off best was the quiet opening thumps of the piece (bass drum and pizzicato bass), sounding unobtrusive and inscrutable, like the composer is tapping his fingers on a table and stalling for time before coming up with the first theme. The slow movement, come to think of it, had a decent atmosphere to it.

Ax also played Richard Strauss's early single-movement "Burleske," which doesn't show Strauss in fully mature competence yet but does have some fine moments, particularly a dreamy- or distracted-sounding waltz section towards the end, with the piano pirouetting in its own zone while the strings hang some moderately tuneful stuff around it, following a rhythmic pattern glancingly similar to Bernstein's "Somewhere." I think it was a waltz, anyway, but I wasn't counting beats. Some theorist I turned out to be. Bach's second Brandenburg, beforehand, was nice and smooth-textured.

I left, after some deliberation, at intermission, tired and looking forward more to getting on the train than to hearing Maazel conduct "Pictures at an Exhibition," which I figured could be good or bad but less memorable anyway than Salonen laying it down two Februaries ago.

In my continuing quest to more particularly understand the acoustics at Avery Fisher Hall, I can report with confidence that you should not sit on the edge of the orchestra level underneath the first balcony, where the sound is bland and waxy.

Let's Start with the Easy Resolutions

I made two resolutions today. (I had intended to write these down on the train from Pittsburgh on Friday, but I forgot to. Resolutions! Love 'em.) First when my friend Al called to talk for a while, because he's just moved to Salt Lake City and wants me to come out for a week in the spring (tbd) and go hiking, which is a fantastic idea. So I am resolving to do that. Second when I listened through last week's Selected Shorts episode online (my friend Stu does the sound engineering for this series), because I had not actually listened to the show yet and it struck me immediately that I've been missing out. So I am resolving to listen to more radio; let's say, to be tangible, at least one piece of programming per week. After all, I should be taking advantage of the peppy and variegated local musical options on WNHU, and consuming more NPR, and listening to classical shows for reference purposes if nothing else.

If you are reading this post before 9 pm (Eastern) on Monday 1/5, you should download that most recent Selected Shorts episode and listen to Stephen Colbert read this coldly hilarious piece by T. Coraghessan Boyle, whose name I haven't come across before. (This all comes my way naturally via Stu.) Tragicomic workplace undertows are best experienced vicariously, I would suspect.

I didn't write down any resolutions in 2008 but about two thirds of the ones from 2007 are still, ahm, "actionable" (let's euphemize) so, in a way, I've got a leg up on making a good list of these for 2009. Ahead of the curve again!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Rolling and Tumbling / Gender Addendum

I hadn't expected to start blogging again until after I left my stint home for the holidays, but during my vacation reading, I came across the following bit that immediately made me recall back to my post earlier in the Fall about gendered pronouns, and figured I'd better write about it now, rather than put it off, since there'd be a good chance I'd never actually follow up on it.

I've been reading Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life for the past couple of days (I'd read several of his collections of articles and a couple of his other book-length offerings as well, but never gotten around to this book until now, for whatever reason). Turns out to be a great read, and very interesting and full of new-and-important-to-me kind of bits of information. However, Gould, though he never engages with the matter in any kind of preface (which was the tie that bound the examples I used in the above-linked prior post), agregiously (albeit consistently, which according to Dawkins is standard practice) prefers the male pronoun in his writing (this book was published in '89, FYI).

However, given the whole Dawkins v. Gould thing that happened once upon a time (I use the past tense here since Gould is dead and there is some amount of actually-written and archived documents re: "neo-darwinism" versus "puncuated equilibrium" (I was going to hyperlink in a link or two there, but google autofills "dawkins versus" to "dawkins versus gould" so I reckon enough people are doing this search in the first place that if another handful of you decide to look into it you can do the googling yourself (and any hyperlinking would be superficial, since it's damn late and I have no intention to do any further web-reading on the topic myself, so couldn't put any kind of seal-of-approval on whatever I would've linked to))), there's a particularly interesting passage in Wonderful Life--the one that succesfully diverted my attention from reading in the middle of the night to writing this post in the middle of the night--(though it should be remember that Dawkins too is guilty of being gender-biased), wherein, not only does Gould go along with the standard literary trope of imagining a Creator even though there isn't one, which Dawkins certainly doesn't do (and I agree with him, you can make good science writing without resorting to religionist cliches), but Gould also defaults to masculine pronouns in describing his creator:
The story is old, and canonical. The youthful firebrand ["The Great Token-Stringer"] has become the apostle of good sense and stable design. Yet the former spark is not entirely extinct. Something truly new slips by now and then within the boundaries of strict inheritance. Perhaps his natural vanity finally got the better of him. Perhaps he couldn't bear the thought of running such an exquisite play for so long, and having no chronicler to admite the work. So he let the token for more brain tumble from compartment 1 of the primate bag--and assembled a species that could paint the caves of Lascaux, frame the glass of Chartres, and finally decipher the story of the Burgess Shale.
I suppose the above passage is intended to inspire readers, especially those readers that aren't as rigorously agnostic as the average Dawkins fan, but it strikes me as rather base pandering, as well as a betrayal of Gould's larger thesis (which I won't get into--read the book, it's really good, despite the above paragraph). At any rate, definitely two big party fouls there, Gouldy, in both bothering to imagine, however literarily, any kind of Creator, and then presuming your Creator to be a man.