Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Notes on the Music of Taylor Swift

If you ever drive from Los Angeles, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, via Dayton, Ohio, with a 14-year-old girl, be prepared to become quite familiar with the oeuvre of Taylor Swift. (I write as one with experience.) Here are some notes I've developed on Taylor's art.

  • In "Mean," it is easy to mishear the lyrics as "Someday I'll be living in a bagel city." And I guess her song "Welcome to New York" makes me wonder if that is indeed a mishearing.
  • Taylor seems like more of a gangster if you mishear the lyrics to "I Knew You Were Trouble" as "And now you're lying on the cold hard ground." She's not an emotional wreck: she's a cold-blooded killer!
  • You want gangster Taylor Swift? How about mishearing the line "wish I never hung up the phone like I did" from "I Wish You Would" as "wish I never held up a gun like I did"? Thug life, nephew!
  • It seems impossible to me that Taylor didn't follow the lines "I don't know about you / but I'm feeling 22 / ... / You don't know about me" with "but you're feeling 23." How, Taylor?! HOW?!?!?!
  • In "Blank Space" the line "don't say I didn't say I didn't warn ya" makes my head hurt. What am I not supposed to say she didn't do now? (Luckily Taylor's website gives the lyric with a comma after the first "didn't". I checked.)
  • We developed alternate titles for the first several songs on 1989. "Welcome to New York" can also be called "Promotional Consideration Paid by the New York Bureau of Tourism." "Blank Space" can also be called "I'm Crazy; Let's Date!" "Style" can also be called "Fashion-Conscious Woman Seeks Boyfriend." "Out of the Woods" can also be called "From the Little Red Riding Hood Soundtrack." "All You Had to Do Was Stay" can also be called "Dog Obedience School Drop-Out." "Shake It Off" can also be called "Accurate Self Assessment." "I Wish You Would" can also be called "Actually, It's Not All Good, Not At All; I'm Not Sure Why I Just Said It Was." "Bad Blood" can also be called "I Know Every Living Celebrity Under the Age of 30!" "Wildest Dreams" can also be called "I'm Riding a LION, People!" Then we ran out of steam.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Songs That Mention Songs

I'm intrigued by songs that mention songs, because I think they are doing it as a short-hand way of building on the meaning of the original song. Like how a book's epigram informs the way the author intends you to look at the story you're about to read. I mentioned to my wife once, "If I was getting a doctorate in music theory, I'd write about songs that mention songs, comparing the original to the referencing." My wife said, "I don't think you know what music theory is about."

Anyway, here's a small list that comes to me right now.

  • "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / hey, that's me and I want you only" sung in Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
  • "Elvis singing 'don't be cruel' and I wonder / if you feel it too, it's like we're going under" sung in The Killers' "The Way It Was."
  • The title of The Killers' "Deadlines and Commitments" is a line from the Bob Seger song "Against the Wind."

There are a lot more I've noticed lately, but I didn't write them down and I'm in a hurry now. Maybe I'll keep track of this in future blog posts, like how I have recurring posts about words with alternate pronunciations when they are different parts of speech ("I'll permit you to drive with your learner's permit because your dominate hand will dominate.").

Found Notes

My daughter found some notes I made in church several years ago. There are three of them.

  1. The Bible records the Hebrew names (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) and Babylonian names (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) for four people. So why do we use one Hebrew name and three Babylonian names to talk about them? That inconsistency bothers me.
  2. "Not run faster than [we] have strength" is too often taken to mean "run as fast as you want." It should mean "get strength."
  3. After hearing a very incredible--in the true sense of the word--story, I wrote, "That story sounds about negative ten percent believable. We need a Mormon Snopes." Then I listed possible website names: mormonsnopes.com, faithpromotingrumors.com, theworkandthestory.com, marvelousworkandablunder.com, or correlationmeeting.com. (Crazy Jane noted that Marvelous Work and a Blunder was her favorite.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

What Katy DIDN'T Do Was Make Her Books Easy to Get

Last summer I read this article about Jacqueline Wilson's new book Katy, an updated version of Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did with some significant changes. I thought reading both books and analyzing their differences and similarities would make a good school project for Crazy Jane, who was going into eighth grade. However, we were living in China, where books were more difficult and expensive for us to get. When it turned out we couldn't get an e-book of the Wilson volume (with this being 1986 and all, it's to be understood), we postponed the project to this year. While the material is below her grade level, I think the project will be a good fit, and perhaps it's best to learn more-difficult analysis with easier material.

To get things moving, we went to the library to check out the Coolidge book. But the library didn't have it, so we had to request it from elsewhere in the system. While we waited for it, my wife ordered the Wilson book online.

When the Wilson book arrived in the mail, it turned out to be a free sample of the first 50 pages, sold to us as the entire book. She wrote to the bookseller and they are supposedly mailing us a copy of the entire book now. Maybe someday in the next five years, we'll have copies of both books in the house and the comparative literature class can commence!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Insane Roommates

Remember when you had roommates? At least one was completely insane, right? Like, "lacking all ability of self-reflection" insane. This is what China is in the modern geopolitical landscape.

China does things like, oh, kidnap non-citizens abroad, and is bewildered that anyone could have a problem with it. Then when a Taiwanese pop star waives a Taiwanese flag, China craps itself in a fit of "hurt feelings."

I had high hopes for the continued maturation of China, but the current leadership has taken several great leaps backward. They are betting that the mythical Chinese middle class is such an orgasmic dream that everyone around the world will agree with anything necessary to access it. But western firms are increasingly realizing that doing business in China has enormous costs and paltry rewards. Chinese economic glasnost is ending because China has shown the world they are crazier than a crap-house rat, and who needs an insane roommate?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Like I'm Going to Ride to the Grocery Store on My $3,400 Bike!

I wanted a new bike, so I helped things along by giving my old bike to my son. My wife was a little miffed because I had given him an expensive bike. But like Gob Bluth with his suit, every time she mentioned the cost of the bike, it went up another fifty dollars. "I'm not sure why you gave him a $400 bike," became, "You should just take back your $450 bike," became, "He's just a kid; he doesn't need a $500 bike." Finally, when I was on a bike website looking at a $750 bike, my wife said, "That's what your old one cost."

Saturday when I was cleaning out a filing cabinet, I found the original receipt for my old bike: $330.

In my wife's defense, we were so poor that a $330 bike was an ENORMOUS purchase for us that required calling in early a bunch of Christmas and birthday money from our extended family.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Old Boys' Club

We've recently moved into a new ward. It seems we're the first new people in this ward in about 35 years.

If we checked the records we might see that's an exaggeration, but based on the way people behave in our ward, it's not much of one. They seem unable to realize that some people in the ward don't already have all the institutional knowledge available.

Our ward has a "linger longer" dinner periodically, but for some reason they call it "dinner on the grounds." Now, when you hear the words "dinner on the grounds," does it not imply that you will be eating outside, on the grounds, if not actually outside on the ground? Nope, this dinner is in the gym, just like any other Mormon ward dinner.

My wife reports that someone asked in Relief Society if they could use a more-apt name. This sister said, "I visit teach someone who isn't going to come because she thinks it's outside on the ground." Oh, how the ladies laughed at that! And then they kept right on calling it "dinner on the grounds."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Get the Memo

A few years ago, I applied to work at a place. They acknowledged my application and didn't select me to continue with the process. I e-mailed to ask why (in a polite, respectful "I'm trying to improve myself" way, not an "are you people insane or just idiotic?" way), and I got a response, and I sent a thank-you e-mail. Then a few months later they called me up to ask if I was still interested in the job. I went through the entire hiring process with them and ended up their Number Two choice. And now this week my wife saw online that they are hiring again.

One way of viewing this: I should totally apply, because if I was Number Two last time, there's a great chance I'll be Number One this time.


However, applying again would be like calling up an ex-girlfriend because you heard she'd broken up with her boyfriend, thus requiring her to say, "If I'd broken up with him because I wanted to be with YOU, I knew how to call you. But I didn't call you, did I?" I don't want to apply and get that acknowledgement-of-application-while-not-selecting-for-continuation e-mail. A reader might think, "You should have more confidence." But I know my life and I know what to expect: increasingly-embarrassing mortifications. There's a reason I came up with Fundamental Truth of Life #8; it's been my experience through many, many occasions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

R.E.M. Promised Me the End of the World As I Know It

When I was a kid, I was afraid of the end of the world. But now I realize this world sucks and I'm sort of looking forward to it being over. I'm not alone in this: Sweet Meteor of Death has a campaign website and has some good polling numbers.

Actually, part of why I'm not having a good day today was the realization that I had yesterday that we aren't as close to Ragnarök as I've been telling myself we are. But I hope I'm wrong in this fear. Here's hoping it's all wrapped up this Rosh Hashanah.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Economics of Emigration

People do a lot of research on the economics of immigration (i.e.: what made immigrants leave their homelands and the effect they have on their new countries), but I'm not sure I've seen much of anything on the result in the homeland of the emigration. I would expect that it's reinforcing of the initial decision.

Let's say Country A is of comparatively "low quality" in some way that makes citizens of Country A want to leave for Country B. But not all citizens feel this attraction equally. Those most likely to get "emigration fever" would be those who would expect to see the biggest gain from the change of regime. If Country A's institutional framework hold back productive citizens, it's productive citizens who want to leave. Country A loses its most-valuable resources, continuing their poor economic performance.

I thought of this while driving through the South. With the large-scale migration of rural southern blacks to industrialized northern cities in the early 1900s, those most eager to go would have been the productive and capable who were being held back most by the South's broken institutions. The southern economy suffers, producing a bigger difference with the North and thus attracting even more high-quality workers. (This works for all races, I think: the inefficient economy of the Jim Crow South would give high-productivity whites incentive to leave, as well.)

What you're left with are low-quality workers who won't see a boost to their earnings if they left, and high-racism workers who are willing to take lower wages to continue living in their Apartheid dreamworld. That doesn't sound like a pleasant place to live.

The lesson to learn is this: when high-quality workers start leaving an area, stampede for the door.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Saying the Opposite

I'm intrigued by songs where the impression I get upon listening is exactly the opposite of the meaning of the lyrics. For instance, in the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the line "from now on our troubles will be miles away" leaves me with the feeling that the narrator has a ton of troubles. In the Weezer song "Island in the Sun," the line "we'll never feel bad anymore" leaves me with the feeling that the narrator feels terrible.

Recently I've been hearing the Bastille song "Pompeii" (I know it's not new, but I was living abroad for two years, so cut me some slack) and it seems to me that it's another song like this. The line "if you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?" leaves me with the feeling that everything has changed for the narrator.

Bonus intrigue from Bastille: contemplate the line "where do we begin: the rubble or our sins?".

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Blood Sport Merit Badge Is A Required Merit Badge

I have an Eagle Scout belt buckle that I wear every day (except Sundays because I'm new in my ward and don't want to do anything that might result in a Scout calling). I walked into class yesterday and a student asked, "Are you an Eagle Scout, professor?"

I said, "Yes. Or else I killed one and took his belt buckle. Why the dichotomy? Both are true. That's actually how you become an Eagle Scout: the last requirement is to kill an existing Eagle Scout. Ask any Eagle; he'll back me up on this."

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Bahamian Dollar

Tuesday in class I sold 12-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola to teach students how to derive a demand curve make money. I spent $3.33 on an eight-pack and I made $6.25 from selling six of them (I drank the other two).

I didn't quite make back my costs (which included a bag of ice and a sketchy Styrofoam cooler). Part of that was because I drank 25% of my inventory, and part of it was because I limited the segment of the class that could participate in my first lecture so we didn't get bogged down counting students for 10 minutes (but in my second large lecture I found a way to open it to everyone while keeping things snappy, and as a result I achieved my highest price of the day: $1.75).

In my final class of the day, one of my students potential customers asked, "Will you accept Bahamian dollars?"

A RANDOM STRANGER: I'd have to look up the exchange rate.

STUDENT: It's one-to-one.

ARS: Then I'd need to reflect on the likelihood that I'll be going to the Bahamas soon.

S: Oh, you should go. It's great.

ARS: Oh, I'd like to go, but the problem is I have four kids and then they'd want to go.

S: You should take them. They'd love it.

ARS: I'm sure they would, but I'd want to go to the Bahamas with just my wife, not with my kids.

DIFFERENT STUDENT: Oh, you're one of those guys?

ARS: Of course I'm one of those guys. How do you think I got four kids?

(Everyone laughed, which, I think I've mentioned before, is my measure of whether I've done my job. Last week I said to my wife, "My top goal in class is to have everyone think I'm funny. Then, if there's time, I hope they learn some economics." That weekend we met two of my students. My wife brought to my attention that both of them told me, "You're funny!")

I told the student I would take Bahamian money if he would take change in Chinese or Canadian money, which I still had in my bag from the summer. He agreed. When I took his dollar I looked at the labeled picture of Sir Lynden O. Pindling on it and asked, "Who's he?" Another student said, "Oh, he's a good guy." I laughed and said in another voice, "My dad and him used to golf together." More laughter. I was an excellent teacher on Tuesday.