Lady Posing Naked Behind a Guitar

The Guardian justifiably criticizes Avril Lavigne’s promo shot for her new album (while linking out to other pictures of attractive women hiding behind musical instruments). As the writer, Leonie Cooper, says:

So what does this particular pose mean? A number of things, actually, none of them particularly heartening.

I read an interview with a female classical trumpeter who disliked the princess getup she was photographed in for her CD cover. She said she had fought so many battles with the label to record the music she wanted, that she compromised on the outfit and photo. I’ve not seen Lavigne’s side of the story; it would be interesting to know her take on it.

Dangerous Songs?

Pete Seeger wrote the liner notes to his 1966 release Dangerous Songs?, a collection rather loosely grouped under that theme.

Any work of art, from a Michelangelo painting to a Beethoven symphony to a play by Shaw, has a point to make. If we disagree with its point, we call the art “propaganda.”

A lullaby is a propaganda song, in the opinion of the three-year-old who doesn’t want to be put to sleep.

A hymn is a controversial song. Try singing one in the wrong church.

Even the singer of bawdy songs is protesting — sanctimoniousness.

The author of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams and Dream Your Troubles Away” penned the most common propaganda of all.

His final paragraph:

You’ll have to decide for yourself about all these songs: who they are dangerous to, and what for, and whether they are dangerous to you. We all know there are two sides to every question. There are two sides to a piece of flypaper, too, but it makes a great difference to the fly which side he lands on.

Yours stickily,

Pete Seeger

I quibble with some of this — not every work of art has a “point”, not all questions have only two sides — but there may be more in common between 1966 and 2019 than I’d like to acknowledge.

The Vinyl Digitizing Project: The First Cull

As part of my winter project to cull/digitize our combined vinyl collection, I’m now handling records I’ve not touched since we moved here 25+ years ago. I’ve learned quite a bit via my experiments and will likely document them here.

It would be crazy-making to digitize everything or to meticulously categorize the records ahead of digitizing. Also, this is meant to be a fun little project not a crazy-making one. So I’m sweeping through our records in waves.

Here’s the first pass:

  1. Take a handful of albums from the shelf.

  2. For each album:

    1. Is it Liz’s? Her albums go to the right of the shelf. She’ll review them and let me know if she wants them digitized or donated. If it’s not Liz’s, it’s mine.

    2. I can usually tell right away if the record is one I want to get rid of: I may have a CD of it already or I’m just not interested in it anymore. Into the donate box it goes.

    3. If there’s the least glimmer of interest — I may just want to listen to the record out of curiosity — I put the record back on the shelf (lean it away from Liz’s records!)

My goal is to record one album a day, edit the recording, import it into iTunes, and then put the album in the donate box. I’m not interested at this point in keeping any albums as artifacts, or maybe a few: the Sgt. Pepper’s album and Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (more on Matching Tie) come to mind.

After I put an album in the donate box, I pick the first one on my side of the shelf and put it on top of the turntable lid. That’s the next one I work with.

And then, yes, another process kicks in. More on that later.

Learning from Flawed Teachers

Austin Kleon remembers great advice from Jeffrey Tambor (“Worrying is not preparation”) and wonders what we can learn from people we used to admire:

It’s like they say in A.A. and Levon sang in The Band: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

The need I will take is the teaching. The rest I will leave is the teacher.

In the meantime, I will keep looking for and learning from better men, or better yet, better women.

(Take time to read Austin’s sketchnotes from Tambor’s talks. They’re good.)

Doug Toft, in writing about the possibilities and limits of enlightenment, includes a depressingly long list of spiritual teachers whose destructive behavior wrecked their students’ lives.

Harlan Ellison often cited a quote: “Never meet an artist whose work you admire. The artist is always so much less than the art.” (Ellison is a person whose spirit and work ethic I always admired from my teens to adulthood, but whose work and personality I left behind. As Kleon notes, we’re infatuated by our ideas of the images these people project, but we’re also infatuated by our ideas of who we think these people are.)

I believe that teachers, artists, and those public personalities we admire share with us the best part of themselves. That’s what touches us and that’s what we latch on to. Separate the teaching from the teacher and the art from the artist — the good art and teachings will stand on their own.

Lawns Are an Ecological Disaster

I’ve always hated cutting grass, from my teenage years when it was my only source of income to being a homeowner. And of course, they’re biological and chemical nightmares:

“I’ve heard lawns compared to a biological desert … That’s really unfair, because deserts can be very diverse places.”

Many years ago, I attended an exhibit on American lawns. A few squibs I remember:

  • Lawns are status symbols. A large expanse of lawn shows you’re rich enough to own such a large property and to tend it.

  • Lawns are security buffers. A large expanse of lawn, sans trees or bushes, means no one can sneak up on you without being seen. High-security institutions have big open fields around them.

I cannot wait for the day when I can sell off my lawn mower and never walk behind one of those damned things again.

See also

The American Obsession with Lawns - Scientific American Blog Network

Reading for Information vs Transformation vs ...?

Steve Edwards reads a lot into his bookstore visits:

In my twenties the question was never “What do I want to read?” but rather “Who do I want to be?”—and bookstores were shrines I pilgrimaged to for answers … Now when I wander the aisles, it’s not just some future self I imagine but a past one. There aren’t just books to read but books I’ve already read. Lives I’ve lived. Hopes abandoned. Dreams deferred. The bookstore is still a shrine but more and more what I find aren’t answers to questions but my own unwritten histories.

Later on, he discovers folks in the bookstore who do not seem buffeted by these gales of self-interrogation:

They scan titles and pull books from the shelf and study dust-jackets in deep concentration: older folks in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. People with far more stories than my meager few. Lifelong readers. Book addicts. I watch them sometimes and wonder what drives their choices. How does reading evolve? Are books to us as leaves are to trees, feeding us while we hold them, then decomposing and feeding us again after we’ve let them go? I’m heartened by my elders. Humbled. I wonder if instead of asking “Who do I want to be?” they ask themselves, “What do I want to read?”

If I read PG Wodehouse to answer the question “Who do I want to be?” then I was definitely asking the wrong question. But I think I was still reading the right book — for me, on that day, at that time.

At 57, my advice to Steve would be to follow Randell Jarrell’s imperative: “Read at whim! read at whim!” And relax, for God’s sake.

And Yet It Fools Everybody

Callow American reporter — and skeptic — Jack Walser ponders “half-woman, half-swan” Sophie Fevvers’ trapeze act and remembers ancient tricks he saw performed when he traveled the world:

In Kathmandu, he saw the fakir on a bed of nails, all complete, soar up until he was level with the painted demons on the eaves of the wooden houses; what, said the old man, heavily bribed, would be the point of the illusion if it looked like an illusion? For, opined the old charlatan to Walser with po-faced solemnity, is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984) (Penguin reissue, 1993)

Tech Ailments in America

ImagineMD:

Just what tech-induced ailments do we suffer from, and how do we describe them? To answer this question, we conducted an extensive analysis of Google search trends and traditional media to identify how people talk about their conditions and how they search for relief.

A very clean set of infographics and analysis breaking down the search terms related to the most searched-for ailments of the (from most- to least-searched) thumbs, elbows, neck, eyes, and shoulders. Plus, which states searched the most on which type of ailments. North Carolina appears to be all thumbs, which is no surprise if you know our State Legislature.

Honorable mentions: nomophobia, phantom vibration syndrome, and smartphone pinky.

Batched Delivery of Gmails to my Inbox

I am always and forever tweaking how I use Gmail.

I wrote about a script to send an email on a schedule, but I abandoned that. It was too much trouble to use and I found that I had no real need for it. I can use Spark if I really want to schedule the delivery of an email.

I evaluated Boomerang for this option but Boomerang added too much overhead and clutter to my Gmail experience. However, Boomerang had a couple of neat options I’d not run across before: it could pause delivery of email to the inbox for a specified period of time (for when you really don’t want to be bothered by email) and it could deliver batches of email to the inbox at intervals defined by the user.

I’m the classic inbox-checking personality type, so withholding email from me so that I checked it less gave me a nice break.

Search on “pause gmail” and you’ll find a couple of paid options and a couple of free Chrome extensions that can handle that task for you.

I didn’t know about those options before implementing the following free, though techy, approach to roughly the same thing. MIT student Kenneth Friedman wrote a few lines of Google Scripts code that diverts incoming email from the inbox to a new label then, at a specified interval, moves the emails in a batch to the inbox.

Friedman’s code relies on Google Developer Code for the timing trigger, which is not as fine-grained or customizable as the commercial options. The commercial options let you specify specific times of day when email will be moved to the inbox (every 10am and 2pm, for example) and can make it easier to let emails from specific senders slip through the filter.

The Google Developer Code is not that flexible. I need to tweak the Gmail filters myself if I want to be sure to receive emails from specific people. And although timing intervals can vary (by seconds, minutes, hours, and so on), Friedman recommends selecting an interval of every 4 hours. Intervals of 2, 6, 8, 10, and 12 hours could be selected instead; finding the right interval is a personal call.

I chose an interval of every 6 hours; I think the 6-hour intervals began after I saved that choice, but I am not sure. In any case, my emails get delivered four times a day at roughly midnight, 6 am, 12pm, and 6pm. That’s a nice spread for me. (And if I really really need to check email urgently, it’s easy to just click on the All Mail label.)

If you’re not interested in technical challenges and mucking around in Google Scripts code, then don’t bother with Friedman’s process. Go for Boomerang or Inbox When Ready and pay $5/month; it’s easier, more precise, and a little less nerve-wracking.

Update, 2019-02-14: I’ve been involved in some intensive committee work that has been sending lots of emails my way and required me to check and answer my email more often. The way to cheat on this batching Gmail method is simply to view All Mail, which will display all the mail queued in the batch. I still like the system, though, so I’m changing the delivery time from 6 hours to 2 hours. This will allow me to respond in a decent amount of time without subverting the system. More later.