The Beatles

The movie “Yesterday” – a romantic comedy featuring the music of the Beatles as a core mechanic – is a great watch, but something about it got me thinking about my love of the Beatles as a band.

I find that I separate the Beatles’ music into four groupings, in order from least awesome to … not least awesome.

The Crap Anyone Could Have Come Up With

This is where a surprising number of their songs end up, when I look over their catalog. I mean, let’s be real: the songs are all done fantastically well, especially for their time, and they hold up even today (although the stereo separation of the time was laughably primitive by today’s standards).

But at the same time, there’re a lot of songs that are intriguing solely because it’s the Beatles that did them. They’re written well enough, they’re performed well, they sound awesome, I guess, but they’re still… just… songs.

The Good Songs That You Still Like Today

This is where most of their early output goes for me.

“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…. yeah.”

Um, yeah.

I like these songs, don’t get me wrong! I get the nostalgias when they come up on my playlists, and they’re definitely there. But this is where the Beatles’ promise showed through… as promise.

The songs seem to hold together well (better than the first group). These songs just have an “it factor” that separate them from a well-produced set of songs that anyone else could have written.

The Great Songs

Here we find the songs that make The Beatles … The Beatles.

These songs are nearly all transcendent in some way. If other bands had one or two of these, that band’s going to have had a great career. Bands that can compete with the Beatles with these songs… they’re rare. Really rare. And truthfully, I don’t think any band has ever managed to actually stand toe-to-toe with the Beatles.

They have an incredible list of transcendent songs, really, and it gets worse: these songs aren’t their best!

Dear Prudence, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, Back in the USSR, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Dah, Drive My Car, Tax-Man, Paperback Writer, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, When I’m 64, With a Little Help from my Friends… Blackbird.

The list goes on and on and on. And then goes further.

And we haven’t hit the real gold yet.

The End of the Road

There are some songs, though, that are in the conversations for the greatest songs ever. What’s amazing is that it’s not just “the Beatles’ entry for the greatest song” but that the Beatles have a bunch of songs that can legitimately be considered for the “greatest song.”

Even here, there are tiers for me: I find that McCartney’s songs are excellent and introspective and tend to evoke nostalgia really well, and Lennon’s where you get the true peaks.

But in typical Beatles fashion, they break the mold here too: while I feel that Lennon was generally more transcendent than McCartney, McCartney actually has what I consider to be the most transcendent song in their catalog… and Harrison was no slouch here, either, with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Songs in this group include, well, “Weeps,” along with “Strawberry Fields,” “Penny Lane,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “I Am The Walrus” – right now my favorite Beatles song, which is saying something – and, at the top of the heap for me, “Hey Jude.”

I’m always amazed at what the Beatles were able to accomplish.

Rating Movies

My youngest son and I watched “Godzilla” last night. As a movie, it was a fun experience, I guess – giant monsters! Destruction! Catchy one-liners! Woo! – but I struggled to watch the movie.

I struggled because there were things that just didn’t make sense, even in the context of the movie itself. There’s an … apex vegetarian. How does that work?

I think what we need is another way to measure movies. We already have the “thumbs up/thumbs down” method – Star Wars gets a thumbs up, Jurassic Park II gets a thumbs down – and we add to that by adding another thumb (“Siskel likes it, Ebert doesn’t”) or by going to a number of stars. (“Raiders of the Lost Ark gets four stars, Transformers gets negative two stars.”)

But that’s really an indicator of how fun the movie is to watch. Godzilla was fun to watch. If I was giving it stars, where you had zero stars to four stars, I’d probably give it at least a three. I’d really want ten stars to work with, where I’d probably give it seven stars. It was probably 63-ish percent fun to watch!

But I want another scale: a “suspension of disbelief” scale. It should measure how many times I have to decide to suspend disbelief as I watch a movie. Lower is better.

The thing is: this score should represent internal coherency. Godzilla is a show about giant monsters; Transformers is a terrible movie (and is also about giant sentient robots). You can’t enjoy those movies without suspending disbelief.

I’m okay with saying “look, I’m going to accept the premise of this movie as a whole, because I’m dropping cash on it and I don’t want to waste my ten bucks.”

Godzilla is a movie about giant monsters – I’m going to assume, for the sake of my ticket price, that they’re able to move without their hearts exploding or their bodies combusting from the heat generated by their own muscles, and I’m going to assume they can move all of that body mass fast enough to see them moving.

At the very least, I’m going to try, because otherwise my brain will reject every scene in which the main attractions appear. Every scene would be a giant “… nope,” even though logically and realistically every scene should be a giant “nope.”

But … even given the suspension of disbelief required to accept giant monsters, things have to make sense. Godzilla’s a giant walking… lizard-thing. He can’t fly. There are no wings, and there is no supposition of magic in the movie.

So if Godzilla suddenly leaps in the air and all the dumb humans within visual range shriek, “Er! Ma! Gerd! He can FLY!” then… there’s a break with internal consistency.

(For the record: Godzilla does not fly in this movie.)

Movies that break with their own internal consistency get higher “suspension” scores. Higher numbers are bad.

I don’t know how to measure the numbers yet; if I was rating Godzilla, I’d give it seven stars and a nine on the suspension scale. Fun to watch, but broke its own logical sense many, many, many times.

For the record, a preview actually got a higher suspension scale: the Hobbs and Shaw trailer has a clip where … someone, either Hobbs or Shaw, I presume, is holding on to a utility vehicle, a truck of some kind, and also a chain connected to a helicopter, dragging the helicopter down. I’m sorry, but … no. Never. Maybe if he was a superhero in a Marvel movie, but… I don’t recall the Fast and Furious series doing that sort of thing.

That preview was an example of the suspension scale going off the charts. As a preview, it’s hard to gauge how fun to watch the movie might be, but the high suspension score works against it.

What do you think?

Doug Wyatt Guitars, from a few years ago

A while back, on a trip to Gatlinburg with my family, I came across a music shop called “Doug Wyatt Guitars.” As an avid guitarist who can’t, like, JUST PASS A GUITAR STORE BY LIKE MY WIFE WANTED ME TO, I stopped in – and was rewarded greatly.

For lo, not only was yon proprietor an actual luthier – yes, he makes guitars – but he had a collection of synthesizers just … not just on the wall, but EVERYWHERE. Stacked on top of each other. Synths I’d played and wanted back in the day, sure, but also synths I’d heard of… and here they were, in the flesh, either being restored or in working condition.

Doug and I talked for a while, and it turns out we shared musical tastes in a lot of ways. He was awesome – and apparently thought enough of me to let me play around with some of the gear, including some really expensive stuff that was way out of my league. Here’re some photos!

Doug Wyatt, showing his mad Rush cred
What madness is all THIS?
Note the WORKING Odyssey….
I don’t even know what some of these ARE!
Not enough room to actually mount all the history…

Facts are more important than opinions.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez catapulted herself into the limelight by being a firebrand, a torch-carrier for Democratic Socialism (which, I’m informed, is different than “Socialism,” and is definitely different than National Socialism), and an interview in which she offered this gem:

I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.

CBS News, interview with Anderson Cooper, 2019/Jan/6

Now, let’s be straight up here: there’s more context to this quote than just the quote itself. She actually said that facts were important, and she acknowledged that she’s fuzzy on a few numbers here and there – apparently by orders of magnitude, but that’s okay.

After all: what’s the US national budget? I can manufacture a number in my head offhand that sounds vaguely right, but it turns out that I was wrong by a … few trillion as well. So never mind that she said that the Pentagon spent more than sixteen trillion more than the actual national budget as a whole – the idea is that there are really big numbers involved, and perhaps we should be thinking about that instead of fretting over whether a junior Representative knows everything right off the bat.

However, it does speak to her character that she’s willing to claim things without, like, knowing them; for example, I just tested myself in the previous paragraph, by asking myself: “What is the national budget?” and coming up with an answer… and then, you know, looking it up. I didn’t write my answer down, because that’s a truth claim, and I don’t like making truth claims without data.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez apparently has no such qualms, even when she has actual agency in the government of the United States.

Pardon me, but yikes.

Facts are wayyyyy more important than opinions, because facts give us the basis upon which to form those opinions. Facts should be able to change our opinions.

The idea that being “morally right” is more important than “precisely right” is… terrifying. How do you know if you’re morally right without reality backing you up? If reality disagrees with you, are you going to choose your morality over, like, what’s real?

That’s living in a fantasy land, where one branch of government spends more than six times what our actual government takes in every year. Where unicorns sprout elves made of gold. Where what would help one borough in one city will help every person in every village in a country that consists of more than 3.5 million square miles – projecting the needs of roughly 1.3% of a population across the remaining 98.7% of it.

I respect Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ chutzpah. I admire her fire. As a person, I’m sure she’s admirable – we need people willing to stand for moral positions, even if we disagree with them.But it’s important that morality is based on facts, absolutely and irrevocably. If the facts are wrong, point that out… with other facts. Correct the perceptions. Adjust the positions accordingly.

Don’t make up stuff to justify yourself. It’s one thing to be wrong, but another thing to stick to your guns despite your data being wrong.

In the real world, we call that “lying.” Representative Ocasio-Cortez can accuse President Trump all she likes – but unless her positions change as her knowledge of actual, precise, correct facts change, she’s lying too.

I’ve been thinking about a business idea

I’ve been thinking about creating a service offering for people writing about programming on the web: editorial services.

I’m not sure how it’d work yet, but here’s what I’m thinking as of right now:

What most authors need is someone to give their writing a once-over, a sanity check… someone who can say “I don’t know what you’re trying to say here,” or even “this isn’t clear enough to be effective.” Maybe the person reviewing it could even offer advice, like “you need to make your point earlier in the text, because most readers won’t get far enough along to benefit from what you’re saying.”

Sometimes writers need copy editing – fixes for grammar and spelling – and sometimes they need technical review – someone to actually validate that what they’re saying is even valid.

I was thinking of offering my services mostly for that first type of editorial service: someone who reads the content, and actually considers what kind of response the text creates.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t offer copy corrections (“You are, using too, many, commas, in, your, text”) or that I wouldn’t point out programmatic errors where I have knowledge and experience…. but the primary point would be to offer advice on flow and effective prose.

I’d have to be able to refuse some content: if someone says something factually incorrect or misleading and insists on it, well… I’m not willing to associate my name with something that lies to its audience. I’ve never been willing to do that before, and I’m not willing to do that now.

I don’t know yet how I’d negotiate with content authors, nor am I sure what pay scale would be involved.

What do you think? Would this be something you’d be interested in exploiting as a service, and if so, what kind of price point would you like to see?

Deliver what you promise when you write

I’ve gone on a number of (hopefully mild) rants about clickbait in writing: “Seven Reasons Your Wife Will Leave You!”, “Trump’s Bat-Baby!”, and so forth.

Today I read with great interest an article on CNN entitled “Why Trump wants you to be afraid of high speed trains.” It’s… an interesting article, but I came away wondering why Trump wanted me to be afraid of high speed trains.

It wasn’t actually poorly written as an article – surprising given CNN’s Trump derangement – but I kept waiting for the delivery. The main takeaway I got was that California’s failure to deliver high speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco was a political football for Trump.

The whole point of the article seemed to culminate in this line for me:

But that wasn’t the only time the President dunked on rail this week.

… oh no! The President “dunked on” rail multiple times this week! Given rail’s centrality in the “Green New Deal,” is this surprising?

I wanted to read why Trump actually wanted me to be afraid of rail. I think rail’s a great idea for the urban areas – I can think of five or six regions offhand that would benefit greatly from more civic railways (centered in a metropolis, like a subway system) and they’d benefit from being tied together by rail, too.

That’d play fantastically in the densely populated areas that voted heavily Democratic in the last Presidential election… and be pointless for the wide swaths of United States geography that voted for Trump.

Here’s a map, based on geography, from the University of Michigan:

The primary beneficiaries of a heightened (and important) rail system are some of those regions of blue: high concentrated population centers, interconnected.

All that red? Left in the cold. They still get to drive their own cars, consume their own gasoline, and provide food for all the blue areas.

So why, then, is Trump wanting us afraid of rail?

I can still think of a few reasons, some actually reasonable from his point of view.

One reason he might be want us afraid of rail is because it cements beneficiaries of rail against “his party.” (This makes little sense, realistically; the GOP is not “Trump’s party,” for one thing, and for another, those areas voted against him anyway. They weren’t his votes to preserve.)

Another reason is that he didn’t come up with the idea – except he apparently did have an infrastructure plan (as published on CNN, and cited in the article about why he’s afraid of rail!) – so the high speed rail he wants us to be afraid of was actually something he’s wanted to create. As with the prior point, this makes little sense, if any, to me.

In both of these cases Trump needs to act like he’s completely unaware of self – which isn’t a stretch, given his history – and the worst thing about all of this is that CNN expects us to be unaware, too.

As usual: stop it, CNN. You have editors; use them, please.

Newsblur; Fricassee; old friends – 14/Feb/2019

Things I’m thinking about:

RSS Feeds

I’ve started using Newsblur again. I shut off Facebook a while back for various reasons (nothing drastic, just… tired, mostly), so my news has been supplied by a fairly limited set of channels.

Newsblur fixes that. It’s not just Newsblur, of course; you can use any of a number of feed readers, but Newsblur is the one that works best for me.

I’m enjoying it so far.

With that said: if you know of any sites that are new, flashy, interesting, relevant for … well, news, visual arts, philosophy, creating music, Python or Java programming, let me know! I may already have them in my feed, but I might not, and I want to grow my list of sources if I can.

Fricassee!

I looked up what a fricassee was, because I used it as a sort of joke dish. However, my use was copied from, like, Bugs Bunny back in the 1970s; I had no idea what a fricassee actually is.

Now I do:

A dish of stewed or fried pieces of meat served in a thick white sauce.

We learn together! (Unless, of course, you already knew what a fricassee was.)

Old Friends

I have no intention of living in the past – the “good old days” were the “bad old days” too – but I miss those friends with whom I’ve lost communication.

Social networking helps in a few cases, but it’s also so…ephemeral that it doesn’t really establish the connections that made us friends in the first place.

C’est la vie – a phrase I use far too often, I think.

The Grammy Awards ignored Rock and Metal!, Gordon Ramsey, Larry Hogan on CNN

Things I’m thinking about:

The Grammies

An article in “Ultimate Classic Rock” was entitled “How the 2019 Grammy Awards Basically Ignored Rock and Metal“.

I’m… a little bit surprised, considering how rap and hip-hop (are those different?) have been ignored by the Grammy Awards ever since they became significant art forms, and rock – historically – has not especially been ignored. Sure, it’s been ridiculous sometimes – I’m not really a super-duper Metallica fan but Jethro Tull’s Crest of a Knave should never have gotten the nod over ..and Justice for All.

But the Grammies at least have had rock and metal winners, regardless of how insincere those wins might have been. So… okay, 2018’s awards were not rock- or metal- focused, let’s wait 30 years and then complain, okay?

I’m not even really a rap fan, but the lack of rap artists winning Grammy awards is ridiculous to me.

Gordon Ramsey

I’m a big fan of Gordon Ramsey (and cooking shows in general, really) despite not being able to cook worth a flip.

I like Ramsey even though I find his confrontational style unnecessary in a lot of cases – because by golly I think he knows what he’s doing and I think he means well

“A Dose of Reality” by Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland

Governor Larry Hogan, of Maryland, posted a really nice article on CNN, well worth reading: “A dose of reality for Trump, Pelosi and Schumer.”

Worth reading not only by the principals named, but by everyone. if I had any advice for the American populace, it might very well include “… everyone just calm down. Truth will be known, and God doesn’t care if your side wins.”

Blackface, Journalists not being “Journalists”, AI Title Generator – 2019/Feb/11

Things I’m thinking about lately

Blackface

This thing about blackface among Virginia political leaders is.. interesting and frustrating.

Look: blackface is problematic. At some point, the culture matters, but it’s always been about poking fun of African-American people – it’s never been good. Ever.

But now we’re seeing another witchhunt, and some of it has implications beyond what its natural purview should be.

Remember a few years ago, when a girl wore a Chinese dress and was slammed for “cultural appropriation”? We’re looking at that being the natural extension here, again.

We’re looking at something that says that a little girl who dresses up as Serena Williams – the tennis star – is crippling her future, by opening herself up for an accusation of “blackface.”

That’s not even silly. Some of the accusations going around in Virginia center around a dance contest where someone dressed up as Michael Jackson, makeup included.

That’s homage, not insult.

I’ve no interest in defending someone being racist, but we need to remember that the absolutes here are disastrous.

The Media Screwed Up – Color Me Surprised

Catlin Flanagan published “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story” in The Atlantic. It’s brutal, vicious, and right on point. Included are these two absolute smashing quotes:

By Saturday, the story had become so hot, and the appetite for it so deep, that some news outlets felt compelled to do some actual reporting.

…and this overlong paragraph, that would be devastating to any journalist who had the guts to read it …

How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.

Journalism has been absolutely wrecked by outlets screeching for clicks instead of keeping to their purpose of informing the public. It’s what got Trump elected. It’s amplifying hatred of the other – when “the other” is the fellow who doesn’t agree with everything you say politically.

I hope journalists are paying attention.

Speaking of paying attention…

AI Article Title Generator

BJ Campbell wrote a paywalled article on Medium, called “AI Article Title Generator.” In it, he suggests a business whose sole goal is to optimize titles for clicks, with said articles only having to be tangentially related to the titles. It’s sarcastic… but right on. I’ve thought of similar things, sadly, but not enunciated them… and had I said them, I wouldn’t have said them as eloquently as BJ did.

I write terrible titles, because I’m not trying to maximize traffic through clicks. I’m trying to write information, so I try to write titles that say what the article in question is actually about.

Since I tend to write composite editorials – like this one – that means my titles tend to be really boring. C’est la vie.