January 20, 2007

Le monde est transformé   {Comments: 2}

After reading Will's post about Erin McKeown (in which he makes an odd sort of claim about poetic constraint and musical creativity, dicussed further in his comments) I immediately downloaded Sing You Sinners. And wow. I've loved some of her work in the past -- although I apparently missed We Will Become Like Boards (!) -- but her flair for these standards blew me away.

What's impresses me most about McKeown is her voice. It's not a particularly powerful or soulful voice, certainly not for today's pop, but she demonstrates more vocal control than any other pop singer I can think of. Her diction is outrageously precise, as is her timing. And if you listen closely you'll notice that she rarley sings a note without some kind of calculated slide in it. (Sometimes all the manipulated intonation reminds me a little of sprechstimme.) In the case of Sing You Sinners, she pushes hard on these abilities, using them in surprising and smart ways that really transform the standards she's chosen. It's good stuff.

You can stream a few of her songs at her website.

January 18, 2007

Origins   {Comments: 2}

1. From Wikipedia: "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'marmalade' appeared in English in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Portuguese marmelada. Originally, according to the root of the word, which is marmelo or quince, a preserve made from quinces was intended. There is no truth whatsoever to the folk etymology which states that the word derives from 'Marie malade' (French for 'ill Mary'), referring to Mary, Queen of Scots, because she used it as a medicine for a headache or upset stomach."

2. Also via Wikipedia, I recently learned that the Egg McMuffin was originally known as the Eggs Benedict sandwich, with american cheese selected as a stand-in for the less practical (!) hollandaise sauce.

3. And finally, here's the latest research on procrastination. As a chronic procrastinator, I already knew all this; I just hadn't gotten around to writing it up...

Barack the vote   {Comments: 6}

1. Seeing as how my post below is being taken as illustrative of the lack of energy with which Obama's announcement was received by lefty blogs, let me just clarify. I'm actually very excited about an Obama run; I certainly support him now over the alternatives, and there's a high probability I will end up supporting him through the process, as far as he takes it. I mentioned the comments of my in-the-know friend because I think the concerns he has are misguided given the level of political opportunity out there right now, particularly for a mold-breaking candidate like Obama should be.

2. I'm sufficiently impressed with him that I contacted the proto-campaign yesterday to see about volunteering. Even though I know this is a busy time for them, I'm a little disappointed that I haven't heard back yet, partly because there's been a lot of talk about netroots and emulating the Dean campaign, and partly because I tried to volunteer for Obama's senate campaign some years ago and was basically ignored. I hope they're more organized this time, and I hope that they manage to get netroots right -- particularly given the lukewarm response from lefty bloggers (my own post notwithstanding).

3. One other comment: as much as race is being downplayed in the discussions of Obama's political fortunes, I think it is going to be a treacherous issue for him. There's plenty of racism out there in 2007, regardless of the extent to which political correctness has sanitized public discourse, and in particular I think this will make it dangerous to trust polling data. And yes, I think this goes for the Democratic primaries as well as for the general election.

January 17, 2007

Nor their beautiful dogs   {Comments: 0}

1. Two quick hits. First, Zadie Smith's poweful and persuasive essay on writing fiction is here and has probably convinced me to finally read her novels, which have been sitting unread on my shelves for some time.

2. If I were a teacher of art or literature, I would probably use this vignette on the first day of class. (Make sure you read to the second page.) What a fascinating and bizarre exercize, especially given the fact that the directors don't consider themselves artists. There's another rather odd treatment here, but kudos to the Times for using that page turn so effectively.

January 16, 2007

Obama announces...   {Comments: 3}

...or at least, he announces that he's formed an exploratory committee. I'm all for him entering the race; I believe a window is opening in American politics, and that there's the possibility now, with a leader of sufficient proportion, that we'll see a transformation of the American political landscape. I don't know if Obama is that leader, but there's only one way for us (and him) to find out.

Recently a friend of mine, a staunch Obama supporter who claims to be well connected in Washington, intimated that Obama has lost his way a little bit as a result of all the Washington whisperers, claiming that he just doesn't have the experience to be making a run now. At this point I'm not sure Obama's own ambitions are even relevant, given the extent to which the media has hyped his expected candidacy and the resulting risk that Obama could look silly if he didn't run. But regardless of what his own ambitions or experience say to political handlers, it's the politcal opportunities -- and in particular whether he has something powerful to offer -- that should govern his decision.

UPDATE: More here.

January 12, 2007

Rhetorical escalation   {Comments: 2}

Glenn Greenwald speaks extensively here and here about the ominous mentions of Iran in Bush's speech the other day, and what the likelihood is that we'll be at war against that country soon. I don't have anything to add, but I certainly thing it's important to be monitoring.

It's so difficult to wade through all the commentating and figure out just what the administration's real ambitions are with respect to Iraq, Iran, etc. The David Brooks piece quoted down the page a bit here is troubling, and it makes me wonder if the whole escalation isn't all about finding a way to finesse blaming the Iraqis, which is grossly unfair given that we started this war. I myself am ambivalent about a pullout -- on the one hand, I'd favor a much larger escalation even now if I thought we were serious about bringing security to Iraq, but at the same time it's hard to imagine a situtaion in which I'd trust Bush with the task. Meanwhile the idea of political solution looks especially grim when you consider this account of what's going on at the State Department.

All about the implementation   {Comments: 1}

It isn't hard to spend all day reading about the newly announced iPhone, but Kottke's extensive roundup makes it even easier.

What's really kind of sad about the intensely exuberant reaction to the iPhone is that the situation with current mobile phones are so bad in the first place. It's not like we didn't see any of this coming or couldn't imagine the utility of the iPhone's features.
Obviously the feature set is incredible and has the potential to make this product very very popular, but of course this hinges on the simplicity and elegance of the interface.
January 10, 2007

Accounting for taste   {Comments: 1}

I have to say I'm a little shocked at Raffi Melkonian's nonchalant statement (compounded in the comments) that he can't tell the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke. The difference is huge, and I'd expect Raffi, who's enough of a foodie to have taken classes in Paris, to be able to quantify it. The one clearly attempts to approximate the flavor of Coke Classic in an artifically sweetened drink (and for the most part succeeds), while the other is its own animal.

Notwithstanding the fact that of course Raffi's right about C-2 being a monumental failure, the product was absolutely crucial to me as the crib I needed to get from Coke to Diet Coke. Now I'm not sure my current massive Diet Coke intake is a good thing -- I don't seem to have suffered any neurological damage yet, anyway -- but it's surely better than the same quanitity of HFCS-sweetened Coke I was drinking before. So publicity stunt or no, I'm appreciative.

January 5, 2007

Optimistic feelings   {Comments: 4}

1. Josh Marshall marvels at a CBS poll that shows Americans' top policy priorities for the new congress as follows: Iraq 45%; Economy/Jobs 7%; Health Care 7%. What's amazing, especially given the Democrats' legislative priorities, is that putting an end to corruption wasn't even mentioned. Could this be because it wasn't even mentioned in the poll question?

2. Wasn't David Petraeus expected to take Abizaid's job rather than Casey's? I can't find the article I read suggesting this last month, but it left enough of an impression on me that I read Petraeus's biography on Wikipedia, and now I find myself a little bit disappointed that they've chosen an admiral instead for the higher post. Petraeus's experience training Iraqi troops and his PhD dissertation on the "influence of Vietnam on military thinking regarding the use of force" would seem to qualify him especially for the situation in Iraq, so maybe the on-the-ground position does suit him more -- but the suggestion here that putting a naval commander in charge places "a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power" is a little frightening. UPDATE: More about Fallon, the aforementioned admiral, here.

3. And the New York Times has added permalinks, although it apparently happened a full month ago. It's not surprising that I missed the links, given that they're nested two clicks deep and at the very bottom of the menu system, but despite the discouraging design, this is a welcome development. (Note that it is not possible (at least for now) to reconfigure old URLs to obtain permalinks for articles which are now archived -- so four years worth of linked New York Times articles on this site are still essentially worthless.)

January 4, 2007

Your choice of a free license   {Comments: 2}

Prompted by some discussion here about stolen flickr content, I did a search the other day and discovered that a good selection of my photographs (most of them are food shots) appear on Wikipedia. I mentioned this before, the first time I learned that one of my shots appeared there, but I hadn't realized just how many shots were being used. They are all collected here, with links to the relevant articles on the individual photo pages. It's all very gratifying, and only possible thanks to Creative Commons.

I should say that I added a handful of those pictures to Wikipedia myself; I don't think I've mentioned yet here that I have been doing the Wikipedia thing pretty regularly for the past three or four months. I've mostly been doing maintenance rather than supplying new content.

January 3, 2007

And other venerable titles   {Comments: 4}

I'm not much of a library goer these days, but I was surprised to read via Tyler Cowen that some libraries are now pruning their collections based on circulation numbers. The fact that nobody has checked a book out in 24 months says nothing about the utility that last reader got out of reading it. And anyway, it seems to me the value of a collection might just as well be measured in terms of rarer and less popular items than whatever happens to be popular. This reminds me of the fact that some of the most recognizable words in English (and actually some of the first ones we teach our children) are used only relatively rarely -- the names of animals, or of musical instruments.

January 2, 2007

Compact fluorescence   {Comments: 4}

To all the haters out there: Wal-Mart really is doing something for the environment! Like the General, they're doing it their way, but the impact on Americans' energy use will be profound. It's especially encouraging to see this as an attempt to "burnish the company's bruised image" -- perhaps the market's ability to deal with public goods problems is greater than I usually give it credit for.

Thanks to Wal-Mart, after reading an article about this initiative I too began using compact fluorescent bulbs (no, I didn't buy them at Wal-Mart, but this has to do more with convenience than anything else) recently, and the results have been pretty good. The main problems so far have been that

  • my wife finds them too bright to look at, which means they can't be placed in fixtures where the bulbs are in direct view (my marriage trumps the environment);
  • they don't work well with dimmer switches; and
  • I've developed an embarassing laziness when it comes to turning them off that's easier to rationalize now.
Interestingly enough, the light temperature (for white balance purposes) seems to be similar to that of regular incandescent light bulbs. According to this, compact fluorescents can be tuned to a range of different colors, so maybe the color temperature varies by brand -- although of course there are probably marketing advantages to tuning them like incandescents.
A complex package   {Comments: 0}

Whenever Knight is in the news I'm inclined to defend him as at least a mixed bag, but there are plenty of people doing that today after he set the new win record, and in any case I find the achievement a little depressing. The (admittedly overstated) hypothetical in this ESPN piece gets at why. I've never judged Knight harshly for his failed public persona, but I think there's a strong case to be made that his locker room persona has either gotten out of hand or is simply no longer appropriate for college basketball. I was an undergrad at IU in 1994, when Andre Patterson, Charlie Miller, and Neil Reed were heralded as the most promising recruiting team in the country, and I watched as the three of them were systematically destroyed by Knight. The fact that this sort of thing has happened repeatedly in the latter half of Knight's career is a sure sign that something is wrong. So I suppose it's the disappointment over all that squandered potential that's got me a little depressed.