Imaginary Brazilian Revolution

Brazil is a state of carefree serenity. Brazil is attained by forsaking sanity.

Return . . . I will . . . to old . . . Brazil.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Supersize Me is Pointless . . .

. . . mostly.

The central stunt of the film is pointless. You know, the one where director Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonalds for 30 days? He can't ingest anything that he didn't buy at McDonalds and he has to eat every menu item at least once. As expected, he gains a lot of weight and feels like crap. Also, his liver shows signs of damage on par with a heavy drinking binge. I guess the conclusion we're supposed to come to is that McDonalds is evil. 'You already know that McDonalds food is not healthy, but look!' the film seems to be telling us, 'it's not just unhealthy, it's deadly poisonous. So the lawsuits filed against McDonalds by fat people should be decided in the plaintiffs' favor and McDonalds shouldn't be allowed to advertise to kids.'

Here's the problem: Spurlock doesn't just eat three daily meals at McDonalds. He seems to eat as much as he possibly can. He never reveals his daily menu or calorie count, I believe, because it would undermine his argument, such as it is. But it's clear from the footage that he not only eats Extra Value Meals, but he never seems to have a meal without a shake or sunday or some extra something. He could easily have done his experiment, eating only McDonalds menu items and having every menu item at least once and come in at around 2500 to 3000 calories per day average. If he had done this I guess he would've gained five pounds max and not had the liver damage or decreased sexual performance. So my point is this: I could do the exact same experiment that Spurlock does with McDonalds with grocery stores in an effort to condemn grocery stores and it would have the same value: none, except perhaps to illustrate the dangers of overeating in general. I could eat 5000 calories a day of food that I only buy at my local Superfresh and I would have the same problems as Spurlock had during his stunt. So is Superfresh evil? Should fat people be able to sue grocery stores for making them fat? No, obviously.

Another problem with the film: no argument is made to support the conclusion that the lawsuits against McDonalds have any validity, but we're apparently supposed to believe that they do anyway, something that, to me, is counterintuitive to say the least. Spurlock shows us that the lawsuits were dismissed because they couldn't show that McDonalds was responsible for the kids getting fat. He presents this as if it should be obvious to us that that was a bad decision. He doesn't tell us why the lawsuits have any validity or why they shouldn't have been dismissed. Demonstrating that McDonalds food is unhealthy does nothing to support this conclusion.

What did intrigue me about the film was Spurlock's research into lunch at public schools. Again, he doesn't really present any coherent argument that school lunch should be different, but just showing the junk that kids are being offered by the schools, or by the contractors that the schools hire, is shocking. And, now that I think about it, I could've had pizza for school lunch every day of the week in high school if I wanted to (more often, I had Burger King Whoppers off campus). It is disconcerting that our public schools are contributing to poor eating habits. I would like for school lunch to be an education in healthy eating habits. Kids should be taught how to put together a balanced, healthy meal. I could imagine a really great nationwide school lunch program that would teach health and nutrition to kids as they eat. That kind of thing might help stem the tide of weight problems that we're experiencing in this country.

Monday, July 10, 2006

My Poor Attention Span

One of the principal jobs I want music to do for me is to stave off boredom. The first thing an album needs to do in order to accomplish this for me is to keep my attention. If it doesn't do that, I end up bored but with noise. I don't have much of an attention span, so sometimes my music has to do some heavy lifting. I think this goes a ways toward explaining my affinity for dynamic, weird, and sometimes ugly music.

Music that is a lot like a lot of other music that I've already heard doesn't usually do a good job of capturing my attention. I think this is related to that one nervous system process that I can't remember the name of . . . maybe adaptation. It's where a sensation stimulus stops eliciting a nervous response after a little while and so persistent stimuli are ignored. The nervous system "adapts" to these stimuli. This helps prevent a sensory overload and allows us to focus our conscious senses on new stimuli. It's because of the adaptation response that we don't "feel" our clothes on us all day long or why we stop consciously smelling an air freshener while it's actually still emiting odorants. And maybe it's why I don't "hear" music that's not very original.

New and strange sounds arrest the hearing sense because they are new and strange. Sometimes new and strange is all it takes for me to really get into an album. Some music just grabs your attention and won't let go. Ugly or abrasive sounds also accomplish this. I don't know what makes ugly music enjoyable and some just ugly, but ugliness is often a virtue.

The thing is, though, that the nervous system adapts to strange, abrasive, or ugly sounds. Persistently abrasive music only captures my attention for a little while. If music doesn't change or do anything, it doesn't mater how strange or abrasive it is, it won't take long for my mind to wander. That's why dynamics are at a premium. Music has to move and change, both within songs and between songs.

I will complete this post, as all posts should be completed, with lists. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

sdrawkcab gnivil era ew

Imagine that all of your daydreams were ACTUALLY the future, and you were able to perceive it just through having lots and lots of hope. Therefore, you will do what it takes to center yourself on that ONE future, instead of the varied futures we sometimes mistakenly aim for, removing our eyes from the prize, so to speak. As we do this- believe in our dreams, I mean- we understand what it means to focus, to be aware of our surroundings, as all variables are crucial to the fruition of a successful future. Live your dreams backwards and they are sure to come true. Like a magnifying glass!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Quick Question

...that just might turn into our longest thread yet. Is it Christian to petition against gay marriage?

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Rant About Poetry, for Those Who Care

In every decade for the past two hundred years, every decade leading to this, there has been at least one poet to define the decade with simple, beautiful words. (Or in some cases, archaic, beautiful words.) The position of the poet in the world is to give some sort of definition to the general conciousness of the populace for their generation.

1900-1910- William Butler Yeats
1910-1920- Carl Sandburg
1920-1930- T.S. Eliot
1930-1940- Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas
1940-1950- William Carlos Williams
1950-1960- Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda
1960-1970- Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski
1970-1980- Seamus Heaney, Octavio Paz
1980-1990- John Berryman (yes, good poetry was written in the 80's.)
1990-2000- Robert Pinsky

Now we await the poet of our fading decade.Read more »


Every time I read from Kulturblog or IBR, I begin to contemplate our Bright Eyes/Sufjan Stevens/White Stripes conversation. I can't help it. Just now, in an attempt to understand the ground I stand upon, I went through my iTunes library and counted the artists with the most 5 star songs. It turned out to be a mostly accurate representation of the way I've come to feel. Check it out:

#1- Radiohead- 43 Songs (from 5 albums)
#2 Wilco- 40 Songs (from 6 albums)
#3 Elliott Smith- 36 Songs (from 4 albums)
#4 Bright Eyes- 33 Songs (from 6 albums)
#5 Pearl Jam- 32 Songs (from 8 albums)

I would say that Wilco and Radiohead have definite staying power at the top of my list of favorite bands. That's generally a given. I'm sure you feel the same way Tom. (How many 5 Star songs do Opeth have Suz?) Elliott is of course one of my favorites and belongs in the same sphere as Wilco and Radiohead, as does Bright Eyes IMHO. Pearl Jam is the one exception to the lists accuracy. They're not my favorite, but I've been listening to them for so long and they have so much music that, know how it is.


Bob Dylan- 30 Songs
Tom Waits- 30 Songs
Counting Crows- 26 Songs
Smashing Pumpkins- 24 Songs
Neil Young- 18 Songs
The White Stripes- 17 Songs
Sufjan Stevens- 12 Songs

There are many, many bands that I wish had more music. I think if Trail of Dead had more albums, they could definitely be among the favorites. Blind Melon was going very strong until Shannon died. Neutral Milk Hotel could've been one of the best. I adore Tilly and the Wall.

So much good music, so few days to live.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Will pronouncing report "repor" ever stop being funny?

I don't think so. I get a kick out of it every time Stephen Colbert says "Welcome to the Repor."

I also never get tired of his intro with the eagle flying around and him waving the flag, then him standing on a map of the U.S. while the camera circles around him and he follows it with his face but his feet stay in place, then the eagle screech. Why is that still funny?

Everything about that show has remained funny longer than I expected it too. I didn't think that that macho, self-certain, Bill O'Reilly persona that Colbert adopted would last long before it got old. But several months in I stll like it. And the interviews, while not always quite right, can still be great, especially if the guest is playing along and not doggedly trying to make any coherent arguments.

I think the best guest I've seen in terms of dishing it out and playing along, but in a subtle way, was the semi-anti-feminist author Caitlin Flanagan. I can't really remember the details of the interview but I remember that that vociferously liberal audience was thrown for a loop. They seemed really nervous, like they weren't sure that Colbert was winning (his way of winning is definitely unique, but like Jon Stewart, when he speaks with a conservative, he's out to win).

Another joke that I'm not sure will ever get old is at the end of every "Better Know a District" feature, he says, "Let's put it on the map," and you just see a tiny sparkle. I will always think that's funny.

I was thinking the other day that in twenty years or so I'll probably look back nostalgically at the days of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Jon Stewart will probably be doing lame jokes on the Late Show with Jon Stewart and I'll be lamenting the fact that he lost his personality when he left basic cable. Stephen Colbert will be doing lame comedy bits on the Late Show and I'll chuckle at the thought of him calling his old show the Repor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My Lyrical Ineptitude, or Stephin Merritt is Gay?

It should be obvious when a guy sings, "I thought you were my boyfriend," or, "I die when you walk by / so beautiful and strong," or
My evil twin would lie and steal
And he would stink of sex appeal
All men would writhe
Beneath his scythe
He’d send the pretty ones to me
And they would think that I was he
I’d hurt them and I’d go scot free
that he's gay. Not to me.

Last week Slate had an article about some silly music critics that were basically accusing Stephin Merritt of being racist because he doesn't like hip hop or Justin Timberlake. Here's how the Slate article starts:
Stephin Merritt is an unlikely cracker. The creative force behind the Magnetic Fields, Merritt is diminutive, gay, and painfully intellectual.
When I read that I was like, "Gay? Oh yeah--'I thought you were my boyfriend.' That makes sense." Point being, at the time I read that article I had listened to the Magnetic Fields album i half a dozen times or more. Not once when listening to those lyrics that I quote above did it cross my mind that this dude might be gay.

To my credit, I did notice that "I thought you were my boyfriend" isn't something that straight guys usually say, but I figured the "I" in the song was a fictional female character. As I listen to music, as often as not I figure that any given "I" is not the lyricist speaking for himself but speaking for a fictional someone else. I don't know how to tell the difference.

My ineptitude at understanding and interpreting lyrics extends beyond not noticing something as painfully obvious as Stephin Merritt's gayness. I had listened to an Elvis Costello best of album half a dozen times when I read somewhere that Costello was known for clever wordplay. The next time I listened to that album was the first time I recognized any clever wordplay. I probably have dozens of albums that I've listened to quite a lot about whose lyrical content I couldn't tell you the first thing.

There are a few reasons for this, I think. First: my life of school + married with children is such that I'm usually only able to listen to music while my mind is at least semi-occupied with something else. Very rarely can I just sit and relax and listen to an album and read the lyrics along with the music. Second: truth be told, I have a short attention span. Even when I try to listen attentively to the words I find my mind wandering. If an intro to a song is longer than ten seconds or so my mind becomes impatient and starts thinking about chromosome transmission, the pros and cons of feminism, or the qualities of a good hamburger. There have been so many times when halfway through a song I realize that I have no idea what it's about and I commit to really listening to the words. So I start it over and then about thirty seconds in I realize that my mind is wandering and I haven't heard a word. Then I start it over again. And again. And so on until I space for long enough to forget that I had committed to listening closely to the words. Third: I'm more of a music guy as opposed to a words guy. I usually need intriguing sounds and movement in the music to keep me interested. Now that I think about it, this second reason may be a byproduct of my lyrical slowness/short attention span rather than a cause. Either way, the music that really captivates me is dramatic, kinetic, dynamic, and sometimes ugly. I have a theory about why ugliness in music is often a virtue, but I've gone on long enough.