Mental detritus

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Mental detritus – Stuff going on in my head since earlier today, aided by some online interaction. I may elaborate on some of these points in later articles, but don’t hold your breath.

I.  The world consists of piano players and those who are played. Be the player.

II. I did a lookup of the most commonly used letters in the English language, and they are in fact, in order from most frequent: e, a, r, i, o, t, n, s, l. The website I looked at (citing the Concise Oxford) listed all 26 letters, but I stopped here, since I noticed that the 5 most frequent consonants here are: r, t, n, s, and l. The most frequent vowel is: e (and is the most frequent letter altogether). RSTLNE are the 6 allowable letters in the television game show Wheel of Fortune for the final grand prize round. The contestant is allowed to pick any three additional letters to help them solve the puzzle.

An example of a slightly lengthy Spelling Bee puzzle. This one has one pangram of the 46 words; and 204 points if you find all the words.

III. I am among those who are fans of the New York Times “Spelling Bee” puzzle. They offer you seven letters arranged in a honeycomb, called a “hive”. Out of those letters, a puzzle solver must spell as many words as they can with only those letters. The central letter in that honeycomb (surrounded by the other 6) is a letter that must be included in every word that is allowable. So, you can’t just spell any word with the 7 letters. Your words have  to include the central letter. Words must be at least 4 letters long, and can include the same letter more than once. There is a website people frequent to obtain hints with the daily Spelling Bee, and that is Shunn.net. A term that comes up in the Bee are “pangrams”. A word is a pangram if it makes use of all seven letters in the hive. Most hives have at least one pangram, and as many as 3 or 4 in rarer instances. The Times publishes a hive every day including Sundays.

IV. I entered rstlne/A into the Shunn site as a fictitious Spelling Bee puzzle to see the stats it generated. 1,038 words and 35 pangrams. You would need to come up with an average of 1 word every two minutes over a 24 hour period without sleeping, meal or bathroom breaks to get to Genius (the highest) level. And even then you only came up with 70% of the 6,803 points, and by extension, roughly 70% of the words. Getting all of the words would take you the better part of the second day without breaks and solving at the same rate. So if you want a hive with only easy letters, be careful what you pray for.

V. “Rock became a corporate classification, just like the blues. They took off its sexual organs. Some people got paid a lot of money to bottle the rebellion of the ’60s, and that’s when it started to mean zero to me.” — Van Dyke Parks, 1973. This quote came up in Wikipedia when I was researching the artist Van Dyke Parks for a recording that was on sale at the Omnivore Records website. Remarkably, he is still alive and still making music these days. He shouldn’t have turned down membership in CSN&Y and The Byrds. I think he needed to surround himself by good musicians to turn his ideas into something more of hit quality. The 1973 quote has not aged a day over the decades.

VI. In a few days, December 5 to be exact, my New York Times subscription will lapse. It is an expensive publication, and it is mostly American news. Cancelling it is a way of recouping 240 bucks ahead of Christmas. I mostly read it for the Spelling Bee anyway, so the NYT is too expensive for just puzzles. That said, that also means I will have to say farewell to my Spelling Bee chums on Facebook, which I have had fun making comments in over the past year or so; and also had fun reading of other’s wit, folly and love of words and wordplay. It didn’t take long to find an app for my Android phone that has Spelling Bee on it. And no ads!

Teenage fashion, as promoted by the New York Times

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High school fashion: A still from the trailer for the rebooted series “Gossip Girl.”

Today, I read an article in the New York Times, where a teenager has a crisis over what to include in her wardrobe. Obviously a person of some privelege, many words and electrons were filled over what to do about this young girl’s fashion crisis.

The above picture was the picture shown with this article entitled “I Want to Invest In My Wardrobe! Help!” by Vanessa Friedman in the Times from May 28, a publicity photo from Gossip Girl, which sets the tone for the kind of “fashion crisis” under discussion. I have never seen the series, but from the photo, the girls – they are supposed to be high school age – seem to dress as if the parents never existed. It doesn’t appear that they do. The girls show lots of bare skin and high heels, as if they were at a singles’ bar and hard-up. The guys dress to impress as well, but both sexes seem to convey the impression that appearance counts for more than character in their families. The caption below the photo read “High School Fashion”. Nope. Not in any high school I ever worked at.

Adolescents are constantly focused on their appearance by nature, and good parents find it a constant battle to get them to develop social skills such as empathy and integrity, since they run counter to the egotism, pettiness and cruelty that adolescents can be capable of if unchecked. Did Ms. Friedman tell the young girl that in addition to clothes making an impression, that you also have to work on your character as well? No. She talked about clothes. Clothes, over the human life cycle. Clothes, as if the young daughter’s budget were limiteless. Clothes, without any regard for the 90 per cent of readers who will find none of the advice actionable at any age, but were seduced into reading it by a photographic depiction of high-class jailbait. Clothes, to remind the rest of us ordinary folk that the barrier to entry of “making an impression” is not for the hoi polloi.

The shrinking family

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Shrkinking families have a long history. The terminology of “the nuclear family” is long gone, but ever more present. “Nuclear families” were referred to as families consisting only of parents and children living in the same dwelling. This was in contrast to “extended families”, once called “families” in an earlier time, which consisted of children, parents, and grandparents living in the same dwelling. The now-universal expectation that adult children must leave their families and seek their own independent living has only become the norm since World War II, after we have all experienced great increases in living standards since then, and could afford to move out.

The prosperity came at a price, not measured in dollars. I think that with the shrinking family, there was also a shrinking in our connectedness as a society in general. The term “atomization” in reference to the separation of individuals from each other became a popular term, popularized by Emile Durkheim near the end of the 19th century, has now become the cornerstone of sociology. In addition to atomie, he also coined “anomie”, which is the opposite where you blend in so much with society that you lose your individuality. Both extremes can be bad for us and our mental and social health. But our close association with each other, when it is healthy, is self-affirming and life-affirming in no way that a motivational poster or book ever could be.

The main force in today’s culture are clearly the ones driving us apart. This time, not just from our families, but from each other. Atomization has been raised an order of magnitude in our culture. Along with that, we have become easier targets for society’s more totalitarian forces. The internet is one medium that separates us, and it is common these days to see a couple enter a restaurant, be shown to their seats, given their menus, order, and then promptly get on their cell phones to check their messages, remaining that way until the food arrives, and even beyond that. You start to think what the point is in dating anymore, when one or both people are not speaking to each other, opting instead to check their facebook accounts for lolcat videos instead.

OK, so it may not be lolcat videos — perhaps it is something of greater import, such as messages from your boss. Whatever it is, it can wait. I believe at that moment, no matter who or where you are, the most important thing at that moment should be chatting with your date, and being attentive to the person in front of you. This inattentiveness adds up over time in lost connections with actual human beings whom you see face-to-face, and relationships don’t strengthen, and feelings of alientation become stronger. The greatest beneficiaries of social media use are the social media companies.

I digress. But text messages from your boss that “can’t wait” is a recent phenomenon which has extended the workplace’s control over the worker to hours outside of work. This segues into another atomizing force: extended work hours, which have become commonplace in society.

This last atomizing force, in my opinion, makes it more difficult for individuals to consider families as an option, let alone marriage. The importance of career over marriage, once an individual decision not chosen by many individuals, appears to be largely an employer-driven decision and a means of worker enslavement. The cost of this was to make employment, even self-employment all-encompassing, making families less and less of an attractive option to the point where we live in an urbanized culture with a significant increase in single person dwellings, increasing with each generation. That means for most of us, the single driving force in shaping our social perceptions becomes less to do with neighbours and family and more to do with media, especially corporate media.

And the best way out of atomization are social contact, discussing your concerns and feelings with others, and in forming social groups, visiting relatives, parents, sisters and brothers. The only group that becomes stronger are the corporate structures that rely on increased atomization to keep us from forming groups and — God forbid — making demands.

It is understood immediately how capitalism pollutes the natural environment around us, and our world has been replete with examples of polluted rivers and lakes over several decades, with new issues piling up with each year. Now, it is becoming clear that capitalism also pollutes the human condition, our psyches. They drive us from our natural, social selves, to alone, lonely, and confused people who are easier to control and scare into obedience.

Coverage by the failing New York Times (and nearly everyone else)

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While I sip on my Covfefe, I find that the New York Times has already declared that Trump will lose the 2020 race. To be sure, Trump’s popularity is tanking, but that’s also what the press said before the 2016 race. I don’t consider this fake news, just premature news.

Like in the 2016 election, I wonder if this prognostication of Trump’s 2020 demise, albeit based on very real unpopularity, is still premature. I notice that there are not a whole lot of Republican opportunists sensing a vacuum and denouncing Trump to take the leadership for themselves. Why is that happening? I am sensing that Republicans, despite some rumblings, are getting a different message, and are still throwing their support behind Trump despite, as the Times reports, the lowest polling for a sitting president in 70 years or so.

Also, why aren’t more notable opponents running for the leadership of the Democrats?

A whole lot of the media coverage smells funny surrounding Trump, according to an analysis by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). For example, has anyone read any media reports as to why the figure $5.7 billion is touted as being needed to build the wall/slats/barrier/whatchamacallit along the Tex-Mex border? Why that amount? How are they spending it? Where did that number come from, outside of Trump’s declaration-by-fiat that that is what it will cost? Why was that figure unchanged after Trump changed the material from concrete to steel slats? The media appears silent on all of this. These are not minor questions, these are at the heart of the reason for the longest government shutdown in American history.

For those of us who read this news, it would be a good question to ponder: how does this premature prognostication help the far right?

Exactly how valuable to the Republicans is this “base” they like to appeal to so much? Why is this “base” not being abandoned without a second thought?

Computers in education

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Children enjoying some time reading at their desktops.
The debate over computers in the schools has finally come  around to giving naysayers equal time. There was an article in the Sunday New York Times regarding a school in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley that teaches math, music, and other standard elementary school subjects in a computer-free environment.Computers are touted as an enhancer for learning in education. However, data is unclear as to whether they do anything at all. There appear to do some things better, such as helping us to visualise certain concepts such as transformations in graphs in math. But it doesn’t help matters if by grade 10 a student is still lunging for his or her calculator to figure out 7×6.

A famous american president, reading at his desktop.
The Waldorf school in the article appeared to have caught on to the idea that in order to learn something, your brain should be doing the work. A machine shouldn’t be doing the work for you. Otherwise, you are accepting your own obsolescence, and admitting to the world that you are replaceable by a machine.There is no substitute for a live, human teacher or the child’s own parent in helping a child learn. The Waldorf school bans computers up to at least grade 8, afterward allowing limited access to computer technology. Most user interfaces are braindead simple these days anyway. It takes you minutes to learn how to use your iTouch device. These days, if you have to read a manual to learn the operation of a new computer gizmo, the designers have failed. Windows and OSX are designed that way too. The learning of how to use a computer is easier than it has ever been, and students lose nothing by delaying their exposure to computers to a later age.

Crappy Album Covers #63 — The Search for Inner Peace

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Announcement: This series of Crappy Album Covers will be sent out every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from now on, and it will be roughly at 6 PM, EDT/EST. Just so everyone knows what is going on. For reference, I left a permanent note on the “About” page.

album-cover-crap-79_ppot_com1 Yes. Nothing says “I love my life” more than being dunked in a pool of water and looking like a drowned rat. Jim Post’s 1978 folk recording appears to be his third album from a recording career that began in 1973.Jim has played Mark Twain a number of times for various plays, recordings, and videos, and has done children’s albums. He has also been written up in The Smithsonian.
album-cover-crap-82_vinylcoversfreefr_00237 I’m OK, You’re OK; I’m alright; you’re alright. We are at one with the world. This 1982 British single from Young Steve and The Afternoon Boys is the only single I know of whose flip side is music from a different artist: “Oh Damien” by a group called Damien And The Social Workers.The Single Covers Archive (UK) lists this record as “novelty”. In ’82, this single reached as high as #40 on the singles chart.
album-cover-crap-80_normal_vinylcoversfreefr_00251 If you think Gary Wilson looks like a dork with those dark glasses, then it is because you don’t really know him. For awhile during the early disco era, Wilson led a band called “Gary Wilson and the Blind Dates”.

“You Think You Really Know Me” is a 2002 re-release recorded in Wilson’s basement on a TEAC 2340 4-track 7″ reel-to-reel prior to its initial release in 1977. There was some effort trying to find him to give the go-ahead to re-release the LP throughout the ’90s and into the early part of the 00’s. This is because there is indeed a cult following of fans that are quite fascinated by Wilson’s music. He also was once written up in the New York Times.

For those interested in Gary Wilson and want to have some idea of the cult following he had, below is a video, with links to a variety of others:

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