Making Ends Meet

Just read a good article in the October 4th edition of the New Yorker about John Cage. There’s a brief discussion of a period of great austerity– he rented a small cottage for years and lived barely above the poverty line– which the composer finally emerges from not thanks to music but rather because he had become one of the world’s foremost experts on… mushrooms, of all things. There was even a series of appearances on an Italian TV quiz show that culminated in Cage listing sixty-four specific types of mushrooms in precise alphabetical order to win prize money that allowed him to buy a van. (For a glimpse of Cage’s TV persona, see this clip of him on the American show I’ve Got A Secret. No mushrooms, but interesting banter and a great performance of Water Walk).

Cage’s mycology doubtlessly belongs in the shortlist of great unlikely jobs taken on by creative geniuses in order to make ends meet. My favorite such example  is David Lynch: approaching 30 years of age and struggling to finish Eraserhead, the director supports himself and his family by working a paper route at nights. The example that’s always made me feel the worst is Nick Drake‘s sad notion towards the end of his life that he’s going to study computer programming. The idea of someone with Drake’s clueless sensitivity developing such a misguided idea about how to make his way always strikes me as an example of how cruel the world can be. I think I’d hire one of the Amish to program mainframe computers in 1972 before I would hire Drake, if forced to choose.

Tough Choices

  • It also kind of looks like a martini.
  • This question had been haunting me for years– thanks, Internet.

  • Amidst all the proposals being floated around to balance the budget and save the US from crippling long-term debt (i.e. raising the retirement age and so forth), what about simply abolishing the Postal Service? It wouldn’t solve the problem by itself, but it is poised to lose 238 billion over the next decade.  There would still need to be some kind of parcel service, but just about every piece of mail could be delivered electronically if we put our minds to it.
  • I’m sure everyone has ‘friends’ on Facebook that stretch the traditionally-understood definition of friendship– i.e. people you hardly know (or maybe don’t know at all) and have little interaction with. I was considering which of my Facebook ‘friendships’ is the most tenuous and decided it’s a tie between (a) a former student of mine who unfortunately is deceased (her profile remains active as a sort of memorial) and (b) a guy I’ve never met but whose bed I’ve slept in at least three times. It would be more appropriate if I was friends with the bed.

Mistake, or Blunder?

As Krafty intimated in his Attacking and Defending post, he and I have nerding out and playing a lot of chess online in recent months. I’ve also been playing against his father, who employs a two-pronged approach of (1) being very good and (2) taking FOREVER between moves, such that its very hard to feel that you’re ever making any progress against him. Some easier pickins finally came along in the person of my friend Ryan, who mentioned having played against various math experts (or something like this), but  turned out to be not very good and relatively easy to subdue.

Any you finish a match on, a button appears that invites you to click it to receive ‘Computer analysis’… but every time I’ve done this, I’ve simply gotten a message asking me to wait a very long time, after which nothing happens. For whatever reason, when Ryan clicked the after our match, he actually got a report that included the following taxonomically-curious information:

  • Inaccuracies: 6 = 31.6% of moves
  • Mistakes: 3 = 15.8% of moves
  • Blunders: 4 = 21.1% of moves

Now, inaccuracies I suppose just refers to any move you make that’s different (and, therefore, less accurate) than the one the computer would have made. Maybe. But I’m dying to know the difference between mistakes and blunders. Does the percentage of blunders include the number of mistakes, or are they counted separately? (If separately, that would mean that the computer is essentially telling Ryan that a full two-thirds of his moves were bad). Is there a level worse than blunders? Oafish calamities?

The whole thing reminds me of the mysterious classifications that used to lurk at the bottom of the IQ scale (before they cleaned up the terminology to use less pejorative terms):

  • 50-69: Moron
  • 20-49: Imbecile
  • below 20: Idiot

This is weird, I think, because most people would probably think of these terms as synonyms, not as a hierarchy of mental capability.

In any case, I think the chess analyses would be much better if assigned some final judgement like this at the end.

Tajikistan Calling…

Today’s add-your-own-caption contest comes from far-flung Tajikistan:

My friend recently ventured there with this girlfriend (who is studying Central Asian languages) and snapped these photos for me from a book he found somewhere along the way. It’s impossible to imagine what’s supposed to be happening here, but as you look through more of the images, a vague plot-line begins to emerge that combines elements of Columbo, National Geographic, Iron Chef and a James Bond movie:

But then — as if just to throw you off the scent — there are also generic shots of harmless frolicking locals:


Hey, remember Barf laundry detergent? My friend also brought me back a sample box of this. The packaging is most excellent, as it depicts a model family smiling up in appreciative wonderment at the technicolor Barf masthead:

So many boxes of this stuff must be carried off to the West as souvenirs that they could include some little caption on the side, like ‘My friend went to Tajikistan and all I got was this vomitous packaging concept.’

See also: previous add-your own caption contests, San Francisco and Berlin versions

The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile

My friend Mike returned from vacation in Corfu last week to a spate of bad news:

  1. A lawsuit involving his dog knocking over an elderly lady in park had somehow gotten revived long after he had deemed it over and done with. Over the years, the plaintiff’s allegations have gotten trumped up and dramatized to the point that they now include Mike standing over the victim and laughing evilly while she writhes around in pain. So, needless to say, it’s shaping up as quite a courtroom drama.
  2. The same dog– now years older and much calmer since the park incident described above– nevertheless terrorized his dog sitter while Mike was in Corfu such that the sitter no longer has any interest in looking after the dog.
  3. Most hurtful of all, Mike returned to find that he had been ousted from his role as Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix tribute band he plays in and replaced by… a chick!

Now, performing in a tribute band is such a farcical and inauthentic experience to begin with that it would be easy to poke fun at someone’s feelings of betrayal at being kicked out of a fake Hendrix band to which they felt a sense of ‘belonging’. But, note a few disturbing facets of this: first, the fact that the band has removed a mild-mannered, male, native English-speaking drummer from the Mitchell role in favor of a Czech woman clearly indicates that it is taking its one big craven shot at ‘the big time’ and has abandoned any sense of fidelity that it once had to emulating the real Hendrix Experience. Unless you’re going to replace every member of the group with a woman, this expedient mixing-and-matching of personnel clearly violates the unspoken ethical/aesthetic code of the tribute band.

Next, in the long tradition of Rock Bands Not Handling Things Professionally, no one actually directly informed Mike of the palace coup. Instead, he found out from the band’s facebook page, where its Iago-like manager had posted a concert notice inviting followers to ‘guess who our new drummer will be!’ (A strange and unanswerable question to pose, by the way… what should one guess, Kofi Annan?)

When Mike told me about all this, I was reassured by the fact that he had already assembled a bunch of half-baked ideas for  how to wreak revenge on his former band, as this — i.e., obscure vengeance plots– seems like the normal and healthy response of a bruised creative ego. One idea was to make a somewhat condescending documentary about a tribute band who arrives in the Czech Republic from the US and whose personal identities become totally eclipsed by their assumed Hendrix Experience identities. I endorsed this and vigorously recommended the Chuck Klosterman essay where he follows the Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band around as background reading. My only other suggestion was that he form a rival Hendrix band that specifically emulates Jimi’s Band of Gypsies phase, and thereby re-ignites the whole debate about whether he was better when he was playing with British white guys or American black guys.

For old times’ sake, here’s a clip of the The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile from the Trutnov Music Fest back when Mike was still manning the drums:

See also: The Seven Types of Stories, in which I go to see the Stone Free Experience play, but wind up writing mainly about the Led Zep cover band that follows them.

This Week In Sports

1) I can never pass up a good defenestration story: it seems that an NFL player was hanging out with his girlfriend, a 19-year old cheerleader for his team, when things went somewhat awry.  Given that she was only 19, it’s not all that surprising that the two of them were in the TV room of her parents’ house — but what is surprising is that one of her jilted admirers broke into the house with a plastic bag over his head and started chasing them around the room and pistol-whipping them, yelling things like, “I can’t believe you’re with that guy” and even some witty action-movie repartee.  The NFL player escaped out the second-story window, suffering minor bruises, while the girl ran downstairs, got a gun, and exchanged fire with the intruder!  Fortunately, neither of them had very good aim.

Here’s a link to the full story, with some other details such as that the intruder also took a few swipes at the family dog, and that the team in question — the Jacksonville Jaguars — refuses to admit or deny whether the girl is actually their cheerleader (although she plainly is, or at least was).  As always, you can count on Florida to provide the weirdest stories.

2) For those who don’t know him already, Chad Ochocinco is a very talented NFL wide receiver.  He is also extremely outspoken, may have a personality disorder, and is famous for getting fined for his over-the-top celebrations after scoring a touchdown.  His name used to be Chad Johnson, but he went by the name “Ochocinco” because his jersey number is 85 (I know, I know, that’s not even how you say 85 in Spanish), and when the NFL wouldn’t let him put “Ochocinco” on his jersey , he legally changed his last name to Ochocinco!  That is dedication.

Anyhow, Chad appears in this edition of “This Week in Sports” because of an unfortunate mishap with a new line of cereal he is promoting for charity called, natch, “Ochocincos.”  Take it away,

“Charity-minded callers are getting intercepted by a sex phone line because of a misprint on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco‘s namesake cereal boxes.  The phone number is supposed to connect callers to Feed the Children, which benefits from sales of ‘Ochocinco’s.’ But because the box has the wrong toll-free prefix, they get a seductive-sounding woman who makes risque suggestions and then asks for a credit card number.”

The lucky sleaze merchant whose earnings just went up ten-fold had better make a big donation to Feed the Children.

3)  Finally — yet another Tour De France winner tests positive for a banned substance, leading to the inevitable question, “What is the point of a sporting event if the winner cheats every single year?”  This year’s cheater gets style points for his creative explanation: the “false” positive was due to some contaminated meat that he ate.