Good Stuff of the Week #1

California“, by Betcha (the song, but not the vid) — Schopenhauer said that “music is pure spirit“ and that it “pictures the will itself“. Good music has a Platonic-heavenly quality to it. It doesn’t seem like a fake, or an attempt at anything. It just feels right, like the thing in itself. The way musicians feel when we write or play something and get it right where we want it has to be something like the feelings mathematicians have when they land on an expression that’s so symmetrical and clean that it seems it must be true just because it’s so elegant. This song is a good example of a piece of pop rock that gets its form exactly right. It’s structured perfectly, the choices about where to insert stops, vocal effects, changes in meter, etc. all conform to the demands of the genre, so that it feels familiar and natural. But within that genre framework, the song displays a lot of character, dynamics, and emotion that it doesn’t feel like genre exercise, but something alive and moving and sincere. (Even though, as the genre usually does, the engineers compressed everything into a pretty narrow dynamic range.) Too bad these guys only have three songs out…

A fascinating piece in National Geographic on how elephants, as a biological species, are responding to poaching with an evolutionary adaptation: they’re giving up their tusks.

One of my new favorite Tumblr blogs, Tales From Weird Land, features a delightfully bizarre collection of obsessions: retro sci-fi art, panels from 50s/60s comics (hilariously) taken out of context, and…photos of Marilyn Monroe and Bridgette Bardot.

Stradovarius violins are some of the most expensive and coveted intstruments in the world. But the Stradivari family made a small handful of other instruments too, including guitars (perhaps as few as forty, compared to almost 1,000 violins). There’s only one playable Stradivarius guitar left, and here’s a video of guitarist Rolf Lislevand playing it. The song is Santiago de Murcia’s “Tarantela”. Two perplexing things though: Why didn’t they take the time to record this in a better acoustic setting, with close mics, etc? And why didn’t the guy bother to take is metal jewelry off when playing a priceless instrument?

There’s a new book, Trip: Psychadelics, Alienation, and Change by Tao Lin, about how his experiences on psychedelics have changed his life and the way he sees the world. A point in this review really stuck out to me, where Lin recalls Terence McKenna (ethnobotanist and psychedelic advocate) telling him that his most important realization, and the thing that he wanted others to realize, was “that we’re all imprisoned in some kind of work of art.” What a frightening and beautiful thought. I hope it’s true.

Harper’s Magazine doesn’t get enough credit. It’s consistently excellent, and gets my vote for best publication of longform journalism in English. This 2016 piece by Dan Baum, on America’s war on drugs is killer. Here’s a tiny taste: John Ehrlichman, legal counsel and Assistant on Domestic Affairs to President Nixon, has the following to say about how the Nixon administration targeted drug use and anti-war sentiments with a single approach:

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.” (1994)

Yet again, a new scientific study provides solid evidence for something we already knew: being good in the sack involves being a generally conscientious person.

In news from the future history of the coming dystopia: an anonymous group of machine learning engineers has published the conclusions of a research project on how to train a machine to give blowjobs. The project involved having a group of volunteers watch 100+ hours of blowjob videos, and meticulously transcribe the mouth movements involved. Putting on my ethicist hat for a moment, I think this is a net loss, and not just because it threatens to put your mother out of a job. It’s bad for humanity in general because mechanizing an activity like oral sex reduces it to just the physical motions, and what makes sexual activities so valuable is all the things that accompany those physical motions, things a machine simply can’t replicate (at this point at least). I think of this sort of work as a long, tedious exercise in using quantitative methods to completely misunderstand the very thing they’re studying.

Wait But Why is a decent email newsletter for pretty much anyone interested in productivity, creativity, etc. This piece, “11 Awkward Things About Email” is funny and accurate, and does a good job of characterizing challenges that we all face but probably haven’t clearly identified in the way done here. I wish it gave some advice for how to tackle these challenges, though. Even so, I’m still sending it to all my students.

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Michael Glawson

Ethics, policy, & ideas geek. Alt-Ac Ph.D. Épater la bourgeoisie. ⛎

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