ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

June 2007


Musings24 Jun 2007

I happened to see a few minutes of a new game show on TV called “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?”. It’s a quiz show in which people who at least appear to be ordinary adult Americans try to answer questions typical of an elementary school test.

These contestants are paired with an actual 5th grader, and may elect to copy the 5th grader’s answer if they find the questions too difficult.

During the period I watched, the contestant, a 30-something guy with a university degree (in Business, naturally) attempted 3 questions.

He “guessed” that there were 2 i’s in “illiterate”.

He thought that California was farther west than Alaska. (“And Nevada is pretty far west too…”)

He had “no idea” of the name of the ocean that “covers the north pole”.

I remember reading once that “Who want to be a millionaire” was giving out too much prize money and was told to either get harder questions or dumber contestants, and they chose the latter, but wow, I didn’t realize it was possible to get people to come on TV and humiliate themselves to such a degree.

Except, our friend the contestant didn’t know that he should be humiliated. Lucky for him, the kids bailed him out twice, and when I last saw he’d won $25,000. 25 grand for not knowing the name of the Arctic Ocean (hint: it’s in the damn Arctic). Good work if you can get it, I suppose.

How do they screen their contestants? Do they make them take trivia tests and choose those with the lowest score? It seems a little bit of an easy target for someone with, I dunno, a 6th grade education to play dumb in order to sneak on and clean them out.

I wonder if I could get on that show…

Musings20 Jun 2007

Mrs. Clinton / Mr. Obama / Mr. Edwards / Mr. McCain / Mr. Giuliani / Mr. Romney / anyone else running for President of the United States,

In his book “The Assault on Reason” Al Gore say that President Bush has damaged the American democracy via a systematic consolidation of new powers in the hands of the White House, changing of the balance between the three branches of government, and disregarding the rule of law. Do you agree? If so, please say what you as President will do to weaken the powers of your office, and if you disagree, please explain why.

For extra credit, please explain the difference between a President and a King.

Links and Musings18 Jun 2007

(My title is also an indirect reference to Doctor Who. If you are one of those people who has a TV, I alert you to the fact that Doctor Who series 3 is starting on CBC this week.)

Perhaps you lived with me in university. If so, you were no doubt subjected to my Dan Bern obsession. Bern is kind of a younger Bob Dylan, complete with an abrasive voice and well-crafted idiosyncratic lyrics. I’ve been a fan since I heard his song “New American Language” on the radio a few years ago. I lately realized that for someone who styles himself a rabid Dan Bern fanatic, I haven’t really been keeping up with his music, so I picked up his newest album “Breathe”. It’s a little different than his earlier stuff, a bit less raw, a bit more understated, but still rooted in his trademark lyrical insight.

The trouble with Dan Bern is that he wrote his best song years ago: New American Language. It’s a meandering stream-of-consciousness soliloquy on the nature of Love and the Free World (but mostly about love), hitting subjects as diverse as Martin Luther King Jr. (the song’s refrain is “I have a dream… of a new American Language / One with a little bit more Spanish”) to the Chicago Bulls. He has a lot of other songs that I like, but none of them touch “New American Language” on power and sheer scope.

The title track of “Breathe” finally approaches “New American Language”. In general, Bern express “pessimism about the present but optimism for the future” very well (it’s a key component of “Language”) and “Breathe” does the same trick. It’s another one of his “Dan talks to God or claims to be the messiah” songs (see: “Jesus’s house” and “Jerusalem”, among others), falling into the latter category. Sample lyrics:

Now with just a couple Snickers and some corn meal mush
I fed six thousand at a time
I spoke in St. Louie, ya gotta play St. Louie
St. Louie, it’s a rule of some kind
The blind came to me and I made ‘em see
Got the deaf diggin’ hi-fidelity
Card tricks, I could do card tricks you wouldn’t believe

I still think “New American Language” is his best song, but “Breathe” reaches in my ear and pushes some of the same buttons. I get goosebumps in the last minute of the song, exactly like I do listening to his earlier masterpiece.

Presently, you can an mp3 of “Breath” from his website: click on “News” and scroll down a little.

Musings16 Jun 2007

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is to say ‘I don’t want to’”

My mother has the above, attributed to Lao Tzu, both on the wall of her office and on her fridge, and it rings true to me. I often use phrases like “I can’t talk now” or “I have to leave in a few minutes to get to my meeting”, and every time I do, I think of that quote.

Lately I’ve been toying with the idea of banishing phrases like “I have to go” from my vocabulary. No one, after all, is forcing me to make my meeting on time, or to catch my bus, etc. To say “I have to” or “I can’t” seems like a cop-out. Perhaps from now on I’ll say “I want to go” or “I don’t want to talk now” instead: it is more honest, and, I think, more empowering. Try it out: “I can’t talk because I have to go to a meeting” versus “I don’t want to talk now because I want to go to a meeting”. In the second case, the speaker is in control of his life; in the first, the speaker is a slave to circumstance.

My only worry is that other people might misunderstand. Very often we say “I can’t do X for you now” as a way of softening the let-down: “Gee, I’d love to help you out, but see, there’s something else I have to do.” If you truthfully say “I don’t want to help you now because there is something else I’d rather do,” your interlocutor will probably think you are rude and uncaring.

Music and Musings08 Jun 2007

I’ve written a complete draft of my thesis, thanks in large part to Beethoven and Artur Rubinstein.

It all started (as many things in my life seem to) with Battlestar Galactica. In an episode of Season 2 they used a Philip Glass minimalist piano piece called “Metamorphosis”. I thought it sounded pretty neat at the time, but forgot about it. I heard it again later, used as theme music on an episode of CBC’s Ideas, and tracked it down. I bought a Phillip Glass piano music album from iTunes and enjoy it a lot. If you’ve not heard “Metamorphosis” (and really, why would you have?), it is mainly deliberate arpeggios, gradual chord changes and bell-like treble notes. The whole thing is 30 minutes long. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Beethoven’s famous Moonlight Sonata. It also reminded me that I really like piano music.

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