8-30-14 Hodgepodge

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Editor's Note: I am taking time off to be with family over the next week. Posting will resume on September 9 at the latest and comment moderation may be delayed more than usual until then. Have a great Labor Day!

Exactly How Dangerous Is Ebola?

Scott Holleran interviews Amesh Adalja of the Center for Health Security of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on the subject of the threat to Americans posed by the Ebola virus:

I have very little concern that Ebola will be able to spread in a modern, industrial country like the U.S. chiefly because of the way it spreads. You really have to work to become infected--it's not like measles--and you have to be in very close contact while not wearing personal, protective equipment like gowns, gloves and masks. In a U.S. setting, a patient with Ebola would be placed under protection and we wouldn't expect it to spread. We've had eight importations, such as lassa fever, another viral hemorrhagic fever spread in the same manner as Ebola, and the Marburg [virus] is in the same family as Ebola--and we've had no secondary spread. [bold added]
Read the whole thing.

Weekend Reading

"[F]or most people, fear of flying raises issues of control." -- Michael Hurd, in "Let Go and Live" at The Delaware Wave

"Notice I'm not saying that you shouldn't control other people. I'm saying that you can't." -- Michael Hurd , in "The Joys and Hazards of a Love Relationship" at The Delaware Coast Press

"Is it better for doctors to ask your permission first -- or seek your relatives' forgiveness afterwards?" -- Paul Hsieh, in "UK To Experiment on Cardiac Arrest Patients Without Their Consent" at Forbes

My Two Cents

The Hsieh article is particularly disturbing, given that some "libertarian paternalists" have already floated the very similar idea of making such things as organ donation "opt-out" in America.

The Infernal Midnight of the Cluttered Mind


Weird Al Yankovic does a great send-up of mindless jargon.

--CAV

13 comments:

Steve D said...

Weird Al is beyond help; overall the most talented musician (if not person) alive today and there is nothing he can do about it.
There may be others like Elton John who can sing better but Weird Al does everything well. That’s something my son, my wife and I can agree on.

Gus Van Horn said...

Agreed. He also had some valuable comments on creativity that I blogged some time ago. Alas, the interview I got them from seems to have disappeared into the ether.

Steve D said...

Well the Lady Gaga song mentioned in your link is just begging to be parodied and it has been several times. My son likes the game Minecraft, so he hums along but with these words when listening to Weird Al's parody.

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=the+blocks+form+this+way

As if, he’s parodying a parody. I like this concept; though perhaps the Minecraft version isn’t a true parody.

In some cases, I prefer Weird Al’s parodies to the original.

What I found interesting in the interview was Weird Al’s comment that you can’t force creativity but you can improve your chances (using techniques such as immersing oneself in popular culture). It reminded me of the adage about making your own luck. There are lessons for fiction and nonfiction writers in this interview and perhaps lessons for those who work at home as well.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. I wish I could have found the whole interview again. It was quite good.

Snedcat said...

Steve D writes, “Weird Al is beyond help; overall the most talented musician (if not person) alive today and there is nothing he can do about it.” I’m not sure I’d go all the way there (being an old longhair jazzbo skahead myself), but the most talented musician in pop music? Yes, I fully agree. And another thing to think about is that his career is remarkably long-lived. Here’s his first TV appearance, from I think 1981. He had decent talent then and has only improved since--who else can you say that about? If you’d told me in high school that that funny guy with the accordion I liked listening to so much on the Dr. Demento Show would be cracking the charts in 2014, I’d have laughed in your face.

“As if, he’s parodying a parody. I like this concept; though perhaps the Minecraft version isn’t a true parody.” Then there are his “style parodies,” in which he parodies a band or a style as a whole (like his parodies of Cake, Devo, and, to an extent, Bob Dylan). More than that, many of his original songs are among my favorites: I always get a lift out of ”Hardware Store” and a bundle of laughs out of ”Wanna B Ur Lover.” (One of my friends is a very hot woman who told me that, sleazy as that song sounds, it’s still cleverer than anything she’s been told in a bar.)

“In some cases, I prefer Weird Al’s parodies to the original.” Me too, and I can think of at least one instance where Gus does as well. For his birthday one year I gave Gus a copy of the album with his parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that he happens to dislike intensely. (I dislike it rather less than he does; if memory serves, Gus’s reaction to the song is due to its perfectly capturing the nihilist mood of the lyrics. I admire it for much the same reason, but then I have a higher tolerance for sheer grittiness than Gus does, so long as it’s done well--it’s a way of experiencing an aspect of life I don’t experience otherwise. Don’t think from that that I’m any sort of Nirvana fan though!) Weird Al’s version is better. I also prefer ”Canadian Idiot” to Green Day’s “American Idiot,” partly because it takes the few genuinely funny parts of Michael Moore’s Canadian Bacon and makes them much funnier, and I consider ”White and Nerdy” at least on par with the original. --And for that matter, I prefer ”Tacky” to “Happy.” (Interesting bit about the video--even when she’s dressed up tackier than my more distant relatives, Aisha Tyler is very attractive.)

“What I found interesting in the interview was Weird Al’s comment that you can’t force creativity but you can improve your chances...” There’s another aspect to it, I think, in his focus on parodies. At first glance you’d think that bespeaks a lack of creativity, and in the case of many parodies it does, but with Weird Al it’s as if the constraint of matching the original acts like, say, a poetic form to encourage his creativity. (At his best, anyway.)

Gus Van Horn said...

Snedcat,

I was hoping you'd chime in. Your memory is correct: I HATED Nirvana back in its heyday, but then I was less aware of/prone to actively seek out alternatives to pop cultural phenomena than I am now. These days, I'd just find something better and probably not spend enough time on something like that to hate it. (Radio has (Had? I rarely use radio for music any more.) a way of overexposing popular bands that can make even something decent seem banal.)

In any event, I think you're right about the similarity in terms of artistic constraint between the original act and a poetic form in Weird Al's work.

Gus

Snedcat said...

Well, Gus, I see my links came out just lousy. In any case, these are the names of the songs you can't get from the text of my comment: The Cake style parody is "Close but no Cigar," the Devo parody is "Dare to be Stupid," and the Bob Dylan parody is "Bob," though I suspect the name was the trigger for the style and the humor has another source. (I won't spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn't heard it.) His first TV appearance was on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show playing "Another One Rides the Bus," and his parody of Nirvana is "Smells Like Nirvana."

"I HATED Nirvana back in its heyday, but then I was less aware of/prone to actively seek out alternatives to pop cultural phenomena than I am now. These days, I'd just find something better and probably not spend enough time on something like that to hate it." Yeah, now that you mention it, that's probably another reason I never actively hated Nirvana--I haven't regularly listened to the radio since about 1990 apart from the occasional work situation: classical and jazz at times at a used bookstore and early morning black dance music when I worked food service.

Interesting note: Oddly enough, I came away from four years of the latter with the taste for a number of singers and groups I still like--Mariah Carey, Amber, Real McCoy, En Vogue, La Bouche, and the occasional hip hop group, De La Soul especially. In a way I guess you could count them part of my aural preparation for falling in love with ska when I discovered it.

And in the same line, I remember the summer I studied in Korea, I was in an international program with a lot of obnoxious Europeans and Aussies who fell apart into two major factions (the French and Bulgarians versus the Dutch, Australians, and Japanese) who hated each other and most of the rest of us, especially a poor Polish girl they almost got kicked out of the program and the only member from either American continent, me. As part of their effort to blacken my reputation (as it were, or perhaps whitewash would be a more ironic term) among the neutral Europeans, the Dutch-Aussie contingent spread the rumor that I had said Mariah Carey was a black woman, with the implication that that made her unsuited to being considered a true singer or a good American or something; what had happened in reality was that one of them asked me if she was considered black, and I said something like, "Well, yeah, she sings black music, so she's considered a black singer," in which "black singer" of course refers to a style, not a racial characteristic. (If there had been an honest conversation based on real curiosity, I'd have added I liked her voice a lot, despite her irritating tendency to ridiculous melisma, but to show that it's just a style I'd have pointed out that my favorite singer of "black dance music," Amber, is a blonde Dutch woman.) Man, that bunch was a dysfunctional group.

But that's okay, I hung out with the Brits, Russians, and the Danish woman and got drunk in the evenings on mixtures of soju (rice liquor) and demisoda (half fruit soda, half fruit juice) with decent company...plus, we sang better than the Dutch-Aussies too. Amber might sing well enough, but I can name at least two blonde Dutch women who torture animals when they sing. --The lesson to be drawn from that is, yes, American views of race are pretty weird to foreigners, but they're rather subtler and weirder in different ways than most of them realize.

Mind you, that style of dance music is not my favorite overall; heck, for black dance music I love soukous and other African pop styles much more. More than that, a large steady diet of Mariah Carey and company palls very quickly, but sometimes it's just what I'm in the mood for.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, to continue, you write, "Radio has (Had? I rarely use radio for music any more.) a way of overexposing popular bands that can make even something decent seem banal." That's very true--Gus and I occasionally inflict emotional pain on each other by naming songs and singers from the 70s that were abominable anyway but were so overplayed in our childhoods (when there were no alternatives in the car, moreover) that they trigger trauma. (I'm not sure the battles have ever escalated to the all-out nuclear level of "Copa Cabana," though I have actually been cursed by a couple of friends for merely saying the name of the song and triggering the Ear Worm of Cognitive Death.) For instance, I consider Barry Manilow, B.J. Thomas, and Neil Diamond the Unholy Trinity; enough time and blessed silence has passed that I am able to admit that Neil Diamond was a competent songwriter and can be listenable in the hands of other singers (UB40, for example, or Johnny Cash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ir5Ud_shp8 ), though his own versions tend to be sapped out to a fare-thee-well. On the other hand, Manilow is unlistenable, unforgivable, and unsalvageable. (There are other vomitous songs from the decade, of course, but the Unholy Trinity is what I consider category mistakes rather than one-off gag-inducers.)

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, here's an amusing example of how much I missed on the radio after about 1990. Donna Lewis's "I Love You Always Forever" was, I gather,a big hit back in 1996--hit Nos. 1 or 2 on several US charts. Believe it or not, I had never heard the song when I stated dating my wife--it's one of her favorites, and is pretty much one-half of the pair of "our songs." (And because I hadn't heard it to exhaustion, I like it quite fine now.) In case you're curious, the other half of the pair is this song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiXciujGGSI

Gus Van Horn said...

Snedcat,

"Ear Worm of Cognitive Death" is a great term, and the phenomenon you describe keeps me away from radio most of the time, and on hair-trigger alert to change channels the rest of the time.

Gus

Steve D said...

The key to excellent comedy whether by Robin Williams, Bill Cosby or Weird Al in my opinion is that (unlike most of my jokes), it’s funny the second time over and the third…Honestly, I can’t drill down to the particular features that separates the one-timers from the timeless. Let’s just say Weird Al has it, most of the time. Which is one reason for his long career; his appeal crosses generations.

Snedcat, I agree with your list of songs though I have to say that making a list would be hard for me since there are very few Weird Al pieces that I don’t like. That’s another key, BTW.

‘I’m not sure I’d go all the way’ True, in fact what I should have said is something like ‘…he’s the most talented person I know who is also a musician’… you have the comedy, songwriting, impersonation, voice mimicking, composition (not all of his songs are parodies – some are his own, just because he can I suppose), singing, dancing, acting (heck do I even need the etcetera here?). Does he juggle?

‘…with Weird Al it’s as if the constraint of matching the original acts like, say, a poetic form to encourage his creativity…’

This is a serious constraint which I suspect most people don’t truly understand. Matching and integrating different art forms requires an all together different type of creativity than simply composing or writing. It reminds me of a friend of mine who writes movie reviews on his blog. One day he decided he would write one as a poem (to reflect the particular film, I guess). The problem was he had to integrate three things; information, opinion and poetry (e.g. sometimes he could find no word or phrase in English which could convey the correct meaning and have the correct meter or rhyme so he would have to change what he wanted to say to reflect that). One aspect or the other would always (often?) take precedence in his mind to the detriment of the other. I remember at one point asking; “Do you really want to say that” and getting an answer like “Just made it rhyme, Dagnabbit.”

‘Manilow is unlistenable, unforgivable, and unsalvageable.’ To me Manilow is just boring. I’ve never really thought about or listened to Neil Diamond and would have a hard time naming more than one or two of his songs. From what you are saying, it sounds like that’s a good thing.

Gus Van Horn said...

Steve,

I agree that really good humor is funny multiple times. For sustained pieces like songs, or television shows, or books, I think much of it arises from the amount of integration required to produce the work. Humor often depends on context, which the artist has to supply. Looking back on humorous things I have enjoyed multiple times, I see that at least one source of enjoyment arises from finding afresh some element of integration I hadn't noticed before.

Gus

Snedcat said...

Steve D writes, "The key to excellent comedy whether by Robin Williams, Bill Cosby or Weird Al in my opinion is that (unlike most of my jokes), it’s funny the second time over and the third." Yes, that's essential. I think of it this way: Humor arises from a mismatch between expectations and results, and what a skilled funny parody needs is a continual mismatch. (It should also be a skilled series of mismatches, each one clever in its own way but integrated well with the others.) This might be by an escalating series of mismatches or by two well-integrated levels that have mismatches at many corresponding places.

When I look at it that way, it shows that while Weird Al is not just a parodist, it's his peculiar strength. His original songs show he has a fine sense of humor and the skills to express it, but they're not the main reason people listen to him. You can see this best, I think, if you compare him to the funny Canadian group The Arrogant Worms, who have a fine sense of humor and the skills to make their songs work as songs, such as these three:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_RPp4dbam8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boenbohMSa8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQHiozSk_Pk

However, they only rarely do more focused parodies, and of these only two come to mind, Celine Dion and Boy Band, and while they're quite good, neither is as focused a parody as Weird Al routinely managed; they're more like his style parodies. They stand up as well to repeat listening as Weird Al's songs, but they're a different sort of beast.

Or for that matter, check out (or not) the lame parodies everywhere on YouTube attributed to Weird Al. They're lightning bugs to lightning, you might say.

"This is a serious constraint which I suspect most people don’t truly understand. Matching and integrating different art forms requires an all together different type of creativity than simply composing or writing."

An example from my own experience of the latter: For a satirical novel I wrote, I found it necessary to match up "Jingle Bells" and the fourth part of Poe's "The Bells"--not an exact setting of the latter to the former, but something that immediately and obviously evokes both pieces. It's not a tour de force (farce) on the level of Weird Al, but it succeeded well. It was hard at first, but after saturating myself with the two the parody started falling into place, and as each piece fell into a fitting place on both levels it made it pretty clear how to go on to the next line, though I did go beyond the remit I set myself and dragged in echoes of the Lykewake Dirge for the entertainment of them reading as know it, as well as a little vampirical lore. Best of all, you can sing it to the original song without any problem, though a friend suggested it should be sung three octaves lower and one-fourth the usual speed to get the full effect.