Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Word Or Two on the Intentional Fallacy; or, Feel Free to Skip This Post

Since it is still my plan, at some point in the rapidly-approaching future-year of 2011, to read all of Shakespeare's plays and then blog about each as I finish it, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the Intentional Fallacy, a concept I have invoked on more than one occasion on this very blog and in the blogs I had before this one, which, as you all by now know, some n*ts@ck-fondling fucktard deleted. The Intentional Fallacy is a relatively straightforward lit-crit concept and if you click through to the Wikipedia1 article I link to above, the two- or three-paragraph definition available there is as accurate, and pithy, as any you're likely to find on these here Intertubes.

In essence, the Intentional Fallacy holds that an author's intent in writing a work of literary art is irrelevant to any endeavor to understand or interpret that work. The work itself — what literary critics who buy into this view tend, somewhat irritatingly, to refer to as "the text"2 — is all that matters.

This makes perfect sense to me. I buy entirely into the viewpoint embodied in the Intentional Fallacy. For we can't always know what an author intended. We, for example, have no idea what Shakespeare allegedly intended when he wrote his plays because if he ever said anything about his intents or wrote about what they were, those thoughts and documents have not survived. In all likelihood, he never did: His plays and poems speak for themselves, as should all works of art, not just literature.

But even if we did know what Shakespeare claimed to be his intent, who cares? Authors tend to be horrible literary critics in general3, but are especially bad when it comes to trying to interpret their own works, either because they lack the ability to distance themselves from their works or because the skills that makes one a great creator of art are, if not incompatible with the skills that make one a good critic of literary art, then at least are not part and parcel of whatever talent it is that makes one creative. (Among other possible explanations, of course.) One can be a creative genius but just a horrendous critic; and one can be a tremendous critic or interpreter of art but categorically inept at anything creative. To wit: Allegedly, a student in one of William Faulkner's classes at the U. of VA once asked Faulkner what he meant by his obvious attempt to make Benjy Compson, in The Sound and the Fury, a Christ Figure, what with, you know, Benjy's being born on Christmas and the novel's ending 33 years later on Easter with Benjy in torment. To which Faulkner's response was: "It does?" — Faulkner implying, perhaps mendaciously, that that was not his conscious intent4.

I don't think author pronouncements are entirely out-of-bounds when it comes to trying to elucidate their works; but it should all be grounded in the text. If an author says his work is about gophers and you, as interpreter, try to sell this view that his work is about gophers, you had fucking well better be able to point at some actual gophers in the author's work; because if all you have is the author's claim, you have exactly nothing. You have the non-privileged view (because the author's view of his own work is not inherently any better than anyone else's) of a poor interpreter, of an inferior critic.

All this being said, you will find (and if you go back into the archives of this blog, you'll see you already have found) me saying things such as, "Shakespeare believes x" or "In this scene, Shakespeare intentionally does y" — but this is mere shorthand. I find writing that says "the text does x" or "the text suggests y" to be off-putting and antiseptic and ugly. I also don't totally buy into the whole death-of-the-author thing. There was a Shakespeare and he wrote those plays and so it's okay for me to attribute the lines in those play to Shakespeare because "the text" is not god, it is not self-caused, it didn't write itself, for the love of Sweet Baby Jebus!

So don't call "Bullshit!" on me when I invoke "what Shakespeare does in this play"; call "Bullshit!" when I don't back it up with textual evidence.
This post is long and boring and ponderous and sophomoric and self-indulgent and for those reasons I'm pretty sure that virtually no one will read it all the way through or even past the first footnote which, let's face it, is a trial in-and-of itself. And that's kinda sad because that means no one will ever read this:

Which is that yesterday, Teh 'Bride tells me, "Next time you update your blog, be sure to tell everyone that" — and this is a direct quote from Teh 'Bride — "we are officially the laziest effin pussies in the world because we're letting our leaves be raked up by a 90-year-old man and we're not even paying him5."

And it's true, but here's how that happened.

This old guy, Mr. Y., just loves sweeping up the whole street and you can find him doing it just about every single day. It seems he also just can't get enough of raking come autumn and the leaves on his own lawn just aren't enough for him. And Ian also loves raking leaves and he was outside raking ours yesterday and Ian and Mr. Y. get along great because they have this shared love of lawn-care. And so the next thing we know, Ian and Mr. Y. are raking our leaves together and using a tarp to drag them out to the curb where Vacuum Vic, the leaf-eating truck, will suck them all up on Monday (that's what she said!).

And so Teh 'Bride is all, "I should really get Mr. Y. something for doing this but I don't know what he likes." And I'm all, "Well, seemingly he likes raking so why not get him a rake? Plus, it looks as though he could use a new one because I see he missed a few leaves out there. Hey! Mr. Y.! Try to be a bit more efficient when you rake my lawn for free, would ya! Because you missed at least five leaves! Please don't make me hafta be the first 50-year-old to tell a 90-year-old: Get offa my lawn!1!"

Teh 'Bride didn't think that last part was too funny.
Okay so yesterday I went for a 7.79-mile run, at the end of which I decided, for some reason, to run up Teh Schmatterhorne for the first time in years. I nearly made it running, but I had to stop and walk for about a minute. Despite that, I managed a 9:35 pace, which doesn't quite suck, considering.

That meant that if I wanted to make it to 100 miles for the month, I had to run just over 2.7 miles today. And so today I went out and ran 5.79 miles in 52:40, which is a 9:05 pace. And so here are the October Numbers:

Running miles: 103.08
Walking miles: 35.92
Biking miles: 0 (because Morrissey, my pussy-@$$ recumbent exercise bike, is still broken and we have to take him to Art's welding next weekend because we forgot again this weekend)
Total miles: 139
Yearly Running total: 903.11
1 I should say, "much-maligned Wikipedia", because in my work as a librarian, I see and hear Wikipedia being condemned as inferior and untrustworthy just all of the time and I really don't understand why that should be the case, other than a knee-jerk prejudice among teachers, librarians and other information professionals in favor of supposed "authoritative" writing. The only semi-methodical study of Wikipedia's accuracy that I am aware of (there are probably others by now, I know) is one that was conducted by the journal Nature back in 2005 that stacked Wikipedia up against the Encyclopedia Britannica1a; Wikipedia held its own in this competition.

This was unsurprising, to me at least, because I had always found Wikipedia to be generally reliable and far more so than many of the Intertubal sites people depend on for information. On the issue of political accuracy, Wikipedia would beat the fucking pants off of, say, Faux News. That's not surprising. But it would probably be more accurate than CNN, too.

And yet when I'm on QandA-NJ answering homework questions, if I send the kid a Wikipedia article, I will almost invariably hear back, "My teacher says I can't use Wikipedia." (In these cases, I usually just send the kid one of the links that the Wikipedia article (Wikipedia is pretty scrupulous about citing sources by name, which is more than can be said for, say, the NYT) cites as a source for its entry on the topic the kid is doing his report on; which source site invariably turns out to be acceptable to the kid's teacher.)

Still, virtually every time I go to a QandA-NJ Project Managers' Meeting, I hear a couple of the other PMs just bashing Wikipedia, and then turning around and citing today's New York Times as a credible source. This would be the same Times that assured us that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was actively seeking uranium yellow cake from Niger — and one of the Times' main sources for this claim?

The trustworthy and unimpeachable Dick Cheney.

Yet if you were to say that the Times is generally an unreliable source of information for students (or anyone else), you'd probably be looked at as a kook by anyone other than Dr. Nic and the Teabaggers1b.

When I was in library school, one of my assignments for some course or other was to pick a subject that was covered in both the 1889 Encyclopaedia Britannica and this 1971 edition of some 4 volume encyclopedia whose name escapes me and evaluate how each dealt with the topic. I picked "Satire"; and the entry for "Satire" in the 1889 EB was about as horrendous as you might expect it to be, the author of the entry keeping the topic at arm's length, as though it had just suffered a highly contagious irruption of syphilitic sores to which the author felt he had to avoid any physical propinquity lest he himself become infected; the author viewing satire as the lowest form of writing, barely worthy of the designation "literary", and, okay, there was Jonathan Swift, the author'd concede that Swift was a force to be reckoned with, but other than that? Satire was the playhouse of scoundrels and blackguards, essentially, and you got the feeling that the author of this entry probably boiled both his pen and his hand in water to cleanse them after they were forced to write about that lowest of literary forms, Satire.

But the 1971 Encyclopedia's entry on "Satire", while far more fair and appreciative of the art of good satire, was itself infused with, to put it mildly, some dubious attitudes of the time and circumstances in in which it was written; because the dude who wrote it was a Yale prof (whose name escapes me) and he states as fact something along the lines of (what follows is a paraphrasing): "Satire, while embodying a challenge to authority, always basically stops short of trying to undermine it, because the great practitioners of this art knew that authority is necessary and they, in the end, respected Authority and worked to sustain the Status Quo and to affirm human endeavors in general." And I'm thinking, Spoken like a true authority figure there, Mr. Yale English Professor. Because circa-1971 was a time when many students were first questioning, and actively trying to undermine, the authority of their leaders — political, cultural and educational; they did not assume that just because you had power, you deserved it and were necessarily working toward the Overall Good. And so here, in this 1971 Encyclopedia, we have an entry for "Satire" written by a prof evidently on the run from this youthquake that he doesn't quite trust or understand because it is questioning the authority of people like, well ... him, and his mistrust of those who question authority spills over into his definition of Satire; because where in the works of, say, Swift do you find this alleged faith in the Essential Goodness of Our Leaders (or people in general) or this belief in the Sanctity of the Status Quo? Short answer: You don't, unless you project your own prejudices on to Swift's works.

At the end of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver expresses his utter contempt for the "yahoos", whose very smell he can no longer abide, and asks that they — "they" being all human beings — stay far, far away from him:
I began last week to permit my wife to sit at dinner with me, at the farthest end of a long table; and to answer (but with the utmost brevity) the few questions I asked her.  Yet, the smell of a Yahoo continuing very offensive, I always keep my nose well stopped with rue, lavender, or tobacco leaves.  And, although it be hard for a man late in life to remove old habits, I am not altogether out of hopes, in some time, to suffer a neighbour Yahoo in my company, without the apprehensions I am yet under of his teeth or his claws.
My reconcilement to the Yahoo kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies only which nature has entitled them to.  I am not in the least provoked at the sight of a lawyer, a pickpocket, a colonel, a fool, a lord, a gamester, a politician, a whoremonger, a physician, an evidence, a suborner, an attorney, a traitor, or the like; this is all according to the due course of things: but when I behold a lump of deformity and diseases, both in body and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all the measures of my patience; neither shall I be ever able to comprehend how such an animal, and such a vice, could tally together.  The wise and virtuous Houyhnhnms, who abound in all excellences that can adorn a rational creature, have no name for this vice in their language, which has no terms to express any thing that is evil, except those whereby they describe the detestable qualities of their Yahoos, among which they were not able to distinguish this of pride, for want of thoroughly understanding human nature, as it shows itself in other countries where that animal presides.  But I, who had more experience, could plainly observe some rudiments of it among the wild Yahoos.
But the Houyhnhnms, who live under the government of reason, are no more proud of the good qualities they possess, than I should be for not wanting a leg or an arm; which no man in his wits would boast of, although he must be miserable without them.  I dwell the longer upon this subject from the desire I have to make the society of an English Yahoo by any means not insupportable; and therefore I here entreat those who have any tincture of this absurd vice, that they will not presume to come in my sight.
Gulliver would rather be back in the land of the Houyhnhnms, the rational horses. That's how much he hates humanity.

My point here is not to contend that Wikipedia is better than these other reference resources; but rather to stress that sometimes the irrational search for some kind of Unquestionably Trustworthy Authority leads even very intelligent and normally skeptical-minded people to trust — or, as the case may be, mistrust — sources for no really good or defensible reason.

1a N.B.: The study compared the two resources on the issue of accuracy with regard to "a broad swath of the scientific spectrum" only, i.e., on a bunch of science topics.

1b Who, by the way, had a regional (Mid-Western states) #1 hit with their country-flavored song "Mainstream Media? Lamestream Media!"

Sample lyric:

New York Times we hates yer 'news'
(And not just cos you're run by Jews
We're not some stupid heartland saps
Some of our best friends wear skully caps)
The reason we're against ya wailin'
Has more to do with Sarah Palin
You wonder "Are we out to getcha?"
To quote S. Palin: "O, you betcha!"

It's kinda catchy. You won't be able to keep yourself from tapping the butt of your AK-47 on the ground to its funky whiteboy beat. (<-- NOT a slur! Some of my best friends are whiteboys. Um, in fact? They all are. Hmmm ... ZOMG!1! Does that make me a teabagger?)

O, Dr. Nic! Is it my fault that the Good Lord made you so easily and so eminently kertwangable? I'd apologize, but if you think about it, I'm really just doing His work.

On second thought, let Him do His own work!

I apologize, Dr. Nic, which is way easier to do since I know you'll never read this. No one will! Hahahahahahahaha!

2 Full disclosure: I myself do this and you are quite free to feel irritated or alienated by it when I do. It sound pretentious and precious but it's not meant to. Or, to put it another way: Fuck you.

3 But of course not always. Henry James, for example, wrote extensively on Nathaniel Hawthorne and others and his criticisms and interpretations tended to be very illuminating.

4 Keep in mind that Faulkner used to call himself "a fictioneer, which is to say, a congenital liar" and so there's no reason to believe that Bill F. was actually unaware of when Benjy was born or what day TSatF ends on. It may have been an act. It sounds like utter bullshit to me that he didn't realize this, but Faulkner, like many authors, was perverse and derived enjoyment from playing the country rube-savant, as it were4a. But this anecdote touches on one of the possible reasons that authors tend to be such bad interpreters of their own works, which is they are sometimes intentionally disingenuous about their supposed intent or, years later, they actually do forget what their intent was; and in the latter case, they sometimes even try to supply a latter-day "intent" that just could not possibly have been the original one and is often manifestly incompatible with a competent reading of the text. You have the famous instance of Robert Browning's being asked by a female admirer exactly what he'd meant by a particular line of his poetry, a line he'd penned years earlier. "Madame," Browning replied (probably truthfully), "when I wrote that line, God and I knew what I meant. Now ... only God knows." Browning, at least, was honest enough to answer that he no longer knew. Some authors claim, years after the fact, that they remember what their original intent was, when it's clear they are either lying or winging it or just plain deluded.

And so an author's intent, it should now be clear, is a very thorny issue and entirely unreliable as a key to unlocking a work's "meaning", however you want to define that word, because his alleged intent is frequently at odds with the far more palpable solidity and stubbornness of — sorry! — the text of the work itself; and when it is, the text should win, should be what you trust. Not to mention that, over the years, the same author will give wildly divergent explanations of just what his "intent" was in writing a specific literary piece. Some authors will even try to re-interpret their earlier writings in light of their present beliefs, instead of the beliefs they held at the time that they wrote the earlier pieces, as John Dos Passos — a young leftist firebrand in his early career who became increasingly conservative as he grew older, to the point that, at the end of his life, he went so far as to opine that the shooting of unarmed students at Kent State was justified — tried to do with his USA Trilogy.

Authors can be shockingly inept interpreters of their own works; and that is not the paradox that it may at first blush appear to be.

4a It is also worth noting here what Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
This is, without a doubt, extremely inspiring and uplifting rhetoric. And these words perfectly capture a view of humanity that you most assuredly do not get from any of Faulkner's novels. I went through a prolonged Faulkner period and read just about all of his Yoknapatawpha County novels — many of them multiple times —and the best you get from Faulkner is that someone might endure. There simply is no "prevail" in a typical Faulkner novel, and if Faulkner himself thought he'd imbued his works with a sense of The Triumph of Human Spirit, he was sadly deluded in that belief, because you just don't get that anywhere. That's why The Sound and The Fury is the perfect title for Faulkner's (arguably) greatest novel, because it comes from the famous MacBeth speech:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Because there's just a ton of sound and fury seemingly signifying nothing in Faulkner, but virtually no prevailing of the human spirit. Don't misunderstand me: These are absolutely great, albeit despairing, novels, and William Faulkner is one of my favorite novelists of all time precisely because of his fearlessness in this regard. But his novels do not chronicle The Triumph of the Human Spirit — far from it.

5 (Don't bother calling ICE, Dr, Nic: He's not an illegal.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

She's A F*ck-Up

Yesterday, I ended up writing about what I called the "charming fuck-ups" in certain Beatles songs1. As is the case with most of my posts, that is not exactly what I intended to discuss when I first sat down to type. I had intended to talk about "She's a Woman" — specifically about how it's a great song despite its truly embarrassingly bad lyrics. So it's a charming fuck-up of a song, but I somehow ended up not even including it in yesterday's litany of charming Beatles fuck-ups.

Maybe that's because the lyrics, technically speaking, aren't a fuck-up (at least, not in the "mistake" sense of "fuck-up"), but they are fucked up. I remember years ago, Teh 'Bro's saying to me, "I was listening to an early Beatles album this morning and there was this song that came on — a really great one — and it just hit me for the first time how truly awful the lyrics were. But now I can't remember what song it was."

"'She a Woman'?" I ventured.

"That's the one!" he said.

Just as we all should be glad that John prevailed upon Paul to keep that "the movement you need is on your shoulder" lyric for "Hey Jude" (see FN1, below), I think it is also reasonable for us to lament the fact that he (or someone) didn't prevail upon Paul to change the opening lines of "She's a Woman", which are:

My love don't give me presents
I know that she's no peasant

It's difficult to overstate just how risibly awful these lyrics are.

"Here ya go, $ir Paul, I bought you this here present!"

"What are you? Some kind of fucking peasant?!1?!1! You should insist I reimburse you!1! Away with you!1!"

What's worse, this "peasant" verse is repeated no less than three times during the course of the song. Massive. Lyric. FAIL.

Fellas, I cannot stress this too much: When you're trying to seduce yer sweetie, I advise you not to whisper "O, baby, I know that you're no peasant!" in her ear2.

To do Paul justice, however, this song was in large part written in the recording studio on the day it was recorded. The Beatles' touring schedule in the early daze was just insane but they were still expected to release two full albums per year and original singles every few months; by mid-1964, they were mostly recording material they had written themselves, and so when they came into the studio in October of 1964 to record their latest single, John already had "I Feel Fine" (which became the A-side of the single) written and ready to record, but Paul had only a partially-finished "She's a Woman" for the B-side. And in tapes of the "I Feel Fine" session, you can even hear George, in between takes, trying to perfect the lead solo he plays on "SaW". (An excellent solo, by the way.)

Considering the circumstances under which "She's a Woman" was written and recorded, the amazing thing is not that it contains these stupid lyrics, but rather that it somehow manages to be such a great song despite them and despite the time constraints surrounding its genesis.

There is certainly little original to the song's underpinnings: It's a basic A7-D7-E7 chord progression, with the chorus adding a C#m and F#7, but the chorus's chords are the only variation from the basic Chuck-Berry/Little Richard structure.

John's syncopated rhythm guitar is the driving force of this song, and it's in his playing that the actual fuck-up can be found; because at the 1:24 mark, just after the first chorus, John, for some reason, misses a strum and there's like this dead air feel for like a half a second, but John never loses the beat; he just picks it right up on the next strum; and Paul remains unfazed by the mistake and sings the next line of the song right on cue ... which line just happens to be ... "I know that she's no peasant".

We — I — talk about John songs and Paul songs and George songs3, but I think the tapes of this recording session really reveal how deceptive those supposed distinctions are; because George came up with the lead and John plays the distinctive riff, and it's Ringo's beat that drives each note, so the collaboration of the four is what truly makes the song what it is. It's mostly Paul, but not just, and it's a mistake to think otherwise.

Later on, Paul would become much more insistent that the others do things exactly as he wanted them to on his songs. In the film Let It Be, you can see Paul lecturing George on how to play a certain lead guitar part, and George exasperatedly say, "I'll play it however you want. Or I won't play at all, if you don't want me to. Whatever pleases you, Paul." Paul could play guitar, bass, piano, drums and a number of other instruments, and was quite accomplished on each, and so he knew how he wanted each to sound. A lot of people don't realize that the first Beatle to quit the group was not John or Paul, but Ringo, during the 1968 White Album sessions; and he quit, in part, over Paul's relentless criticism of his drum-playing. (He returned two weeks later to find his drum kit smothered in flowers — Paul's way of apologizing.)

Incidentally, the Beatles didn't stop recording during Ringo's two-week absence: That's Paul you hear playing drums on "Back in the U.S.S.R."

But you won't hear any fuck-ups in his playing.

1 For those of you who decided to play along yesterday, the "O, fucking hell!" in "Hey, Jude" can he heard at approximately the 2:56 mark, and was evidently uttered by either John or Paul when one of them hit the wrong chord; just before the "O, fucking hell!", someone sez: "Hit the wrong chord." I didn't mention the latter buried-in-the-mix chatter because you won't be able to hear that without headphones; whereas the "O!" in "O, fucking hell!" is hard to miss, because it's almost sung — "Ohhhhh!" — and could easily be mistaken for someone emoting to the song in the background, as the Beatles often did, throwing in moans and screams and Little Richard-esque "Wooooo!"s (Paul's specialty). But the "O!" is immediately followed by the "fucking hell!", which, though less distinct than the "O!", is easily discernible without the aid of headphones.

It was, legend has it, John who convinced Paul they should leave that in; it's the kind of random thing that John would want left in, just as he wanted that accidental snatch of dialogue1a from the BBC Radio performance of King Lear left in "I Am the Walrus".

"HJ" is almost exclusively a Paul song but John played a significant role in shaping it in small ways that mattered. The line "The movement you need is on your shoulder" was intended as a placeholder lyric; when Paul demoed the song for John and the others, he sang that line then immediately said, "Don't worry; I intend to fix that," to which John responded, "No you won't! It's the best line in the song!" Paul appreciated this vote of confidence and has always mentioned how grateful he was to John for this type of help because he has come to see that John was right about that lyric and it would have been a goner had John not spoken up and stayed the axe. (Paul tended to be a little lacking in confidence when it came to his lyric-composition.)

"HJ", incidentally, was originally called "Hey Jules" and was written with John Lennon's son Julian in mind. John had just abandoned Cynthia and Julian for Yoko at this point (mid-1968) and Paul was driving out to Cynthia's house to cheer them up and this song came to Paul on the drive out.

John, typically, thought it was about him:
He said it was written about Julian. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian then. He was driving to see Julian to say hello. He had been like an uncle. And he came up with 'Hey Jude.' But I always heard it as a song to me. Now I'm sounding like one of those fans reading things into it... Think about it: Yoko had just come into the picture. He is saying. 'Hey, Jude' — 'Hey, John.' Subconsciously, he was saying, 'Go ahead, leave me.' On a conscious level, he didn't want me to go ahead. The angel in him was saying, 'Bless you.' The devil in him didn't like it at all, because he didn't want to lose his partner.

Of course, it was also around this time that John — who liked him some "substances" — was informing his fellow Beatles that he thought he was Jesus Christ and that Apple Corp should do a Press Release announcing this (Derek Taylor, the Beatles' Public Relations guy, wisely ignored this instruction), so it makes sense he'd think everything was about him.

1a I have chosen this phrase carefully, because it actually was the dialogue's vagina.

Incidentally? King Lear shaves his dialogue to make himself look younger.


2 Also inadvisable: "I know that you're no whoo-wer." Which is only slightly better than: "I know that, deep down, you're a whoo-wer, so please please me, O yeah, like I please you, YOU WHOO-WER!1!"

3 Um, yeah, Ringo wrote a few, too, but nobody really talks about them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Charming F*ck-Ups

If you thought based on the title of this post that it was going to be about me, the joke's on you because I'm not charming!


No, it's gonna be about the Beatles, of course.

You1 can't call the Beatles "fuck-ups" in general2 because they rarely fucked up, releasing great song after great song, and great album after great album. But within those songs and albums, you can hear little screw-3ups, mostly stemming from the state of recording in those days, when fixing a minor, barely noticeable error meant essentially having to re-record the whole song or at least a whole instrumental or vocal track.

For a  record from a pop group whose shelf-life was being measured in months, as the Beatles' was when they first started out4, this was, quite simply, considered not to be worth the time or expense.

And so you find these little gems, these charming fuck-ups, in Beatles songs right from the very beginning of their recording career. Here are some of my favorites:

"Please Please Me":

John was notorious for not being able to remember lyrics correctly, even his own. Verses one and three of "Please Please Me" are the same, or are supposed to be: "Last night I said these words to my girl/ I know you never even try girl" ... except, in verse three, you can clearly hear John sing, at the 1:27 mark, "Why do I never even ..."etc. You can then hear him almost laugh during the first "Come on!"

Despite the "fuck-up", this was the Beatles' first #1 in Britain (it was only their second single) and, while it appears to be pretty tame, lyrically, it actually embodies certain implications that are possibly a little more risque than you1 might think at first blush: What, exactly, is it that "my girl" is not doing quite right and is thereby failing to please her man?

Possibly she just has braces on her teeth and is being a bit tentative.

John's inspiration for this song was some Bing Crosby song that contained the line "Please listen to my pleas", which John, ever the punner and word-player, found interesting; and so he set about writing a song containing the word "please" twice, each time with a different meaning, though; and he ended up putting the two "pleases" right next to each other, which is kinda nice.

A few months later, John would write "It Won't Be Long", which contained the lyrics: "It won't be long yeah (yeah)/ Till I belong to you" — the exact same lyrical hook he used in "PPM", this time with possibly a bit more sophistication.

But John was an Equal Opportunity Fuck-Up, not limiting his mistakes to his own songs or the lead vocals: He was just as capable of messing up on the background vocals of a Paul song, as he does here:

"What You're Doing":

During the verses, John basically screams the first word of each line along with Paul, for emphasis; in verse two, the second line, at 1:08, is "YOU! Got me cryin' girl", but you can clearly hear John scream "I'm!" instead of "YOU!"

I am just unreasonably fond of this little-known jewel of a song. I love the opening tympani and Ringo's drumming in it in general and I like George's lead guitar and the shouted harmony vocals are, to me, just brilliant. The song starts out with that emphatic tympani beat and I just think it's clever the way the vocals pick that up BOOM-bom-bom beat during the verses.

George Martin did an excellent mash-up of this song, "Drive My Car" and "The Word" for the Love album — three great Beatles songs in the key of D. (Paul's "Taxman" lead guitar is in there, too — another marvelous key-of-D song, this time by George.)

This next one technically isn't a fuck-up, because the fuck-up, while accidental, was noticed but deliberately left in:

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da":

The lyrics to the third verse are: 

Happy ever after in the market place
Desmond lets the children lend a hand

Molly stay at home and does her pretty face 
And in the evening she still sings it with the band

These lyrics were supposed to be repeated in the final verse, but Paul, apparently without realizing it, fucked up and sang:

Happy ever after in the market place
Molly lets the children lend a hand

Desmond stay at home and does his pretty face 
And in the evening she's a singer with the band

Paul noticed this afterward — how could he not? — but liked it so he left it that way5, and that's why there is this tranny reference in "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and that's also why it is, I assume, RBR's favorite Beatles song6.

I had intended to write about at least three more fuck-ups, but this post is already kinda long7, do that's a fuck-up on my part.

But if you're looking for more, here's one you can try to find on your own: See if you can hear the "O, fucking hell!" in "Hey Jude".
1 Or, as One SteveQ would say, "One".

The Other SteveQ would say, "I", just to be perverse.

2 Because I say so, is why. Also because ... well, finish reading the sentence, above.

3 Or "fuck-".

4 When Beatlemania first took hold (in 1963 in Britain; and 1964 in the US), the Beatles were constantly being asked how long they thought they would last. That they wouldn't last was an a priori assumption that was basically universally accepted. And in retrospect it's kinda amazing that the Beatles themselves evidently did not find this question insulting or condescending4a and would seriously consider and answer it, Paul, for example, saying that he and John could see themselves continuing their careers as kinda Tin Pan Alley hit-song writers or in some other marginal way, maybe writing songs for musical comedies. But by about 1965, this assumption that the Beatles were destined for a very short career indeed was pretty much dead, the a posteriori fact of their (so far) three-year-long career having finally driven a stake through the heart of the a priori assumption that they wouldn't last 18 months. In fact, this you-won't-last assumption was openly mocked in the Beatles' 1965 film, Help! when the Beatles go to Scotland Yard for help in trying to stop the cult that is attempting to kill Ringo4b:
Superintendent: So this is the famous ring?
Ringo: I'm in fear of me life, you know!
Superintendent: And these are the famous Beatles?
John: So this is the famous Scotland Yard, eh?
Superintendent: And how long do you think you'll last?
John: Can't say fairer than that. The Great Train Robbery, eh? How's that going?
4a Although who knows? Maybe they did or very quickly began to or, not wanting to rock the boat when they were just getting popular, decided to hide their resentment at this assumption that they were a flash-in-the-pan. John is on record, much later, as having resented this. But then John is on record, passim, as having resented pert-near everything during the Beatles' reign, so it's hard to know what he actually thought at the time; because he had this habit of injecting his current attitude into the past (see footnote 5, below, for John's resentment of how George Martin recorded "SFF", which, at the time, John was mightily pleased with).

4b Long story. Just watch the movie if you haven't already, because it's pretty funny still; and if you liked The Monkees TV show, you'll like this movie, because the TV show was an admitted direct rip-off of the movie.

5 Actually, I never quite bought the "accident" explanation for this fuck-up because it just seems too deliberate. (By 1968, when the Beatles recorded "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" for the White Album, they were spending literally months at a time in the studio recording songs and albums, so they certainly could have "fixed" this song, if they had wanted.) In any case, it's probably just as well, if it were an accident, that Paul decided to leave it be because John just detested "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and was very resentful that so much time was lavished on it in the studio; and he probably would have throttled Paul if Paul'd made them record it yet again because there were numerous completed takes of this song that Paul signed off on; but then he'd come into the studio next day and say, "You know, I want to re-do 'Ob-La-Di' because I thought of a better arrangement ..." And John was so fed up with this that at one point he came into the studio either drunk or stoned out of his mind and said, "I have the perfect opening for this fucking song" and played those crashing piano chords that open the song. And they ended up using them on the finished track (obviously).

It's said that Paul could be a bit of a "perfectionist" in the studio, especially when it came to his own songs, and that this drove the other Beatles nuts. But Paul was often a bit more than a perfectionist, that epithet being a bit too polite to describe how unreasonable Paul could sometimes be. For example, when the Beatles had recorded "Penny Lane", Paul, having heard a unique-sounding instrument called a piccolo trumpet on a TV program, decided he had to have it for the instrumental break of "PL". But that's not the unreasonable part, because the Beatles, at this point (late 1966), could easily afford the time and money it took to get David Mason, the very instrumentalist Paul had heard, into the studio. Paul was controlling enough that he hummed the notes he wanted played to George Martin, who transcribed them for trumpet; but even that is not the unreasonable part.

This is the unreasonable part:

Mason came in and nailed his solo on the first take; it's just flawless playing. But Paul, in the control room, gets on the intercom and sez: "That was great. Can we have another take then?"

George Martin had to gently take Paul aside and explain to him the miraculous nature of what they had just been witness to and that there just was no way to improve on the performance they had just heard and that to even imply that there might be was an insult to Mason and his flawless performance.

John, ever resentful of the time lavished on Paul's songs, would frequently claim, after the Beatles broke up, that his songs were given short shrift, which is utter nonsense, because there is no single song in the Beatles oeuvre that had more takes and iterations and variations than John's own "Strawberry Fields Forever". And the final product is a marvel of technical wizardry, because it is two separate takes melded together. John liked the first part of one take and the second part of another. Nothing particularly earth-shattering about splicing something like that together. Except, as George Martin pointed out to John at the time, the two takes were in different keys and at different tempos. John said, "You'll figured something out" and left it in Martin's hands.

Martin, to his credit, came up with the idea of using a vari-speed tape player to speed the one take up a bit and slow the other down a bit until their tempos nearly matched and the one take, in the key of B, met the other, in the key of A, somewhere around Bb. (You can hear the splice on the word "going" here, at roughly the 1:00 mark.)

Later, after the Beatles broke up, John would complain in interviews that George Martin totally fucked up "SFF" and that he'd like to re-record it to "do it right".

John could be a bit of an asshole at times.

6 Followed closely by "Get Back" because:

Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman
But she was another man.

Paul was really into this tranny phase in late '68, early '69.

7 That's what she said!1!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ELECT WOMBAT!1! Plus? A Pic of a Dork

Wow. The unexpected good runs just keep on a-comin'.

This morning's: 6.98 miles in 1:02:40 which is a 9:00 minute pace and a 6.7 mph average, which may not sound like much, but for me is pretty excellent.
I think I may have mentioned before, on this very blog, that Teh 'Bride's brother - whose real name is Christopher but whom Teh 'Bride, sensitive older sister that she be, always called "Wombat"1 - is running for Senate. 

Now before you get too excited2, I should tell you he's running for state senate. But wait, it gets even more anti-climactic ... because the state in question is Delaware, and yes, Delaware is still a state, smart-@$$.

And so if you live in Delaware - and let's be honest: Why the fuck would you?3 - you could maybe VOTE WOMBAT!1!

Because look:

He'll fight to bring JOBS back to Delaware!1! Whereas his stupid-@$$ opponent is the person who told Steve Jobs he had till sundown to get out of Delaware in the first place!

Hahahahaha! Just kidding. But his opponent's billboard - no lie - say that he, Wombat's opponent, will fight to send JOBS out of Delaware and then build a border fence to KEEP THEM OUT!1!

So the choice is clear, even if spurious: VOTE WOMBAT!1!

Hmmm ... looking at that billboard again, I'm not sure why there's a dude behind Chris's head wearing what looks to be crisscrossed bandoleers on his chest ... could it be Chris is actually a Teabagger candidate? If so, should you still vote for him?

You betcha!
I Am A Dork
No, really, I'm not kidding. Because a couple of weeks ago, I met my buddy Greg in Princeton because I was up there for a QandA-NJ meeting and he can always be easily lured there because of Teh Princeton Record Exchange and so I called him that morning and said, "Yo, Greg, why don't we meet for lunch at Triumph BrewPub?" Because he could spend the morning buying records and cds and then I could drink my lunch and so it's win-win.

And the reason I thought of Greg is, that very morning, he sent me an e-mail with a link to the video I uploaded to this post. And in that post, I promised to explain why I had featured the video later. 

And I never did, because I was waiting for Greg to send me the picture he took of me at Triumph, because he showed it to me, and, on his camera, at least, I didn't look hideous, which amazed me. And I was going to feature that picture in my explanation because I wanted to show a certain someone who always takes good pictures that I, too, could be purdy.

And so, after a bit more prodding, Greg finally sends me the picture this morning and I realize, now, how drunk I must've been at lunch because I was evidently eying myself through beer-goggles because here's that "great" and "flattering" picture:

Be truthful Ladies: You wouldn't even sympathy-f*ck this man, would you?

Hahahahahaha! Learn to love me for my mind, ladies, because I swear to god, this is what I actually look like! ZOMG, it's funny because I'm ugly!1!

Anyroad, the short version of why I uploaded that Revolution Take 20 video is Greg e-mailed it to me because he wanted it and I was totally amazed that there existed a version of a Beatles song that he didn't already own4.So it must be pretty rare. Because if the Beatles ever even farted on tape, Greg has a bootleg copy of it.

And by now, two weeks later? I'm pretty sure Greg has tracked down this version and owns multiple copies.
1 Yeah, and when he came back from college? We found out his friends were calling him "Toph" or "Topher". Or maybe it was "Tofu", because he is running as a Democrat and all, so he probably eats that and all kinds of other Terrorist-coddling food.

2 Slowly ... slowly, now ... put the lube away ...

3 HAR!1! Delaware-bashing! Anyone can do it! (Except you, Rhode Islanders! You're smaller and you're not even a fucking island!)

4 This is essentially the same take (minus over-dubs) of the "Revolution #1" version that appears on the White Album, except it goes on waaaaaaaay longer and the waaaaaaaay longer part is what John later used as the underpinning for "Revolution #9", also on the White Album and, frankly, barely worth listening to.

John wanted this slow version to be the single, but George and Paul insisted it needed to be sped up to be more commercial and so the Beatles recorded this version, both sped up and transposed into the key of B ("Rev. 1" is in A), which I think was a good decision even if John L. did not.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Am a TOTAL Girl

Well, not today, but more like yesterday; so I'm not a girl anymore, but I was. And even though I was a total girl, it was only in a very specific way, as described below1.

Because there are different ways of being a total girl. There's the Do these jeans make my @$$ look fat? way, which is not my way, because I can never ask that question because, with me, it always comes out as "Do these jeans make my @$$ look flat?" to which the answer is always, "Yes, but don't blame the jeans; blame your Irish genes because your @$$ is flat, so much so that you can write on it like a chalkboard."

And there's the other total girl thing where the guy goes:

Guy: What's wrong?

Girl: Hmmmmph!

Guy: Really, I can't read your mind. If I did something to piss you off, you have to tell me.

Girl: Well if you don't already know, I'm not telling you!

Guy [sotto voce]: Fat-@$$!

Girl [sotto voce]: Flat-@$$!

Um ... Teh 'Bride would probably tell you that I can be this type of girl, but since she doesn't read this blog anymore, I'm going with: I Am Never This Type of Girl. And nobody2 can prove otherwise.

But here's the type of girl I was yesterday:

I got back from my wonderful 11-mile run and immediately blogged about it which was probably a mistake because Ian had a game and so that didn't leave me much time to eat before the game. And so instead of making real food, I rummaged around in the pantry for ready-to-eat "food" instead of preparing actual food (no quotation marks).

And one of the things I found was one of Teh 'Bride's girl "fiber" bars which I usually don't eat because if you look at the ingredients it's like peanuts and caramel and ... essentially, it's a generic Snickers bar is what I'm saying. And there's too much fat in those for me what with my fat eyes and all.

But I was in a hurry and I was hungry and I'd had a great run and I deserved something nice (eyes getting all red and puffy and I'm starting to feel really unattractive now and why won't somebody hug me and tell me I'm pretty?) and so I'm going to have one and then another and if I want to eat all the Ben & Jerry's right out of the carton, too, dammit! (foot stomp, here) I WILL!1!

And I had always made fun of Teh 'Bride because she would tell me about how she'd eaten one of these bars for a snack on her night at the Library and had nearly had to come home because of the gastric distress all that "fiber" had her in. And I'm like, "O, that's too bad. You poor baby!" but secretly I'm thinking, Pffftt! What a GIRL!1! A granola candy bar nearly takes her out?

But here's the thing: I'm sorry, 'Bride, because I ate a couple of those things and drank a whole lot of water, too, which Teh 'Bride later told me was a BIG mistake (NOW she tells me), and after a couple of innings at Ian's game I'm walking around thinking:

Sweet baby Jebus! I know we adopted Ian, and all, but that adoption agency still should have insisted we take Lamaze classes because then at least I'd have a clue about how to breathe my way through this distress I'm feeling because I feel as though I'm about to give birth down there and whatever needs to come out of me feels like it's about 11 lbs six oz and it's a breech birth and I wonder if I can get an epidural here because I think my water just broke and, no, wait, actually I peed myself a little ...

And so yeah, I was that kinda total girl, yesterday.

You'll be happy to know the problem ... um ... "worked itself out".

And today?

I'm all man again.
1 And you're thinking, Whoa, hold on, now, wait just a minute, there, G! Because you're either a total girl or you're not, because we're pretty much in the realm of excluded middles, here.

But that, dear Reader, is where you're wrong. Because it is an Article of Faith of mine that there are degrees of totality and some totals are bigger than others; and the reason I believe this is because of an Introduction to Logic course I took as an undergraduate way back in the 1980s with Aristotle himself Dr. Wisdom at Temple University and yes, that was his real name, and Temple had another Philosophy prof at the time whose name was Dr. Vision (you can look this shit up; I am not lying), though I never took a Vision course which probably explains why I need to wear these glasses.

Anyroad, I was friendly with a Philosophy grad student who was trying to convince me I should switch majors to philosophy, but I was all, "Philosophy?Pffffttt! Fuck that! I'm staying where the money and job opportunities are: English Literature."

But she convinced me to take this logic course with Wisdom because she loved logic and she said it would be fun; and all the other philosophy courses she recommended were great and so I took the logic course.

And after the first week I went back to her and informed her that I wanted to kill her because this so-called "philosophy" course was in reality more like math and didn't she ever notice that every time Sam Cooke sang "Wonderful World"  and he came to the lines "Don't know much about algebra/ Don't know what a slide rule is for" he always looked directly at me1a?

So anyroad, I stuck with the course and one of the things that got me through it was that Wisdom was very funny because he knew logic was tough and off-puttingly technical so he did all he could to make it enjoyable. Which included bringing his banjo to class and spending the first few minutes serenading us with original songs of his, my favorite of which was the song he wrote about herpes — which he evidently suffered from — the chorus to which was:

I have been frequently sore, Lord,
I have been frequently sore.
Since herpes got into my system, Lord,
I have been frequently etc.


The reason I think there are degrees of totality is that Wisdom taught me there are degrees of infinity, which I thought impossible, but he proved it, thus:

Let's say you have a motel with infinitely many rooms. And infinitely many banjo-pickers come to town needing digs. Well, no problem. There are infinitely many of them and you have an infinite number of rooms, so one to each room. Simple.

But then one more banjo-picker arrives. Can you accommodate him?

Seemingly not, but in fact, you can. Just get on your infinitely powerful PA system and tell everyone to move down one room. This opens up room one, and in goes the new banjo-picker.

And that's an infinity that is one larger than the first one.

Which blew my mind.

But it gets better.

Because suppose after the first infinite group of banjo-pickers comes in, a second, also infinite, group of banjo-pickers arrives? Can you accommodate them?

Turns out, you can. Just get back on your infinitely powerful PA system and tell everyone to go outside his room, look at the number on his door, double it, then move to that room. When you double any whole number you end up with an even number (duh). This opens up the infinite number of odd-numbered rooms you have and the new infinite group of banjo-pickers can just go to those odd numbered rooms.

This blew my mind a second time because I was young in those days and I recovered quickly from mind-blowings and I was ready to have it blown again in like five minutes and I probably could have even had it blown one more time after that, but then I'd need to roll over and sleep a while because, hey, I'm good but I'm not a machine. Sometimes I just want to cuddle after some really mind-blowing philosophy because I'm not a whoo-wer1b.

And so that's why I think some totals can be bigger than others.

Did I just blow your mind? If so, does that make me gay?

1a And so did Peter Noone when Herman's Hermit's covered this song and completely bleached the black out of it. Point is, black or white, everyone knows that Math and I Are Not Friends, and No, RBR, "Math" is not short for "Matthew" aka Matty my downlow "friend with benefits".

1b Hahahahahahaha! Just kidding! Yes I am!1! Keep those mind-blowings coming (so to speak)!

2 ... who currently reads this blog ...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Don't Understand Me

You would think that I, as a geezer, would have some sort of intuitive understanding of, like, geezer physiology or metabolism or some other science-y words that make sense only to the Certifiably Insane and the Recently Transgendered Bi-Curious Cross-Dressers. But if you think that then you're a fucking idiot because I don't understand squat about how I myself, A Genuine Geezer, tick.

Because last night I stayed up till after Midnight watching the Phillies lose to the San Francisco Trannies Giants and I was drinking beer the whole time which is why there were so many misspellings in my post and comments last night and I think I may have even ordered a Russian Bride online last night but I can't be sure but I'll let you know in six-to-eight weeks and then I stumbled to bed at like 12:30 a.m. and I vaguely remember getting up to pee at like 2:00 a.m. and then halfway through the peeing remembering it'd probably be a good idea if I aimed the stream at the toilet and then I got up at like 8:30 a.m. and decided to go for a run and for some reason thought I might try a long run because I haven't done one in ages and you would think — wouldn't you? — that after a night like that, a long run for a geezer would be like out of the question.

But again, if you think that, you're a fucking moron because I managed to run 11.06 miles in 1:47:00 which is a 9:41 pace and a 6.2 mph average and I've had six-mile runs that have been slower than that lately and so I'm actually relatively happy with this run, especially since it gets me up (O, yeah, in both senses) to 77.19 miles for the month and I thought I had no chance of getting to 100 for the month, but now I do.

This makes no sense to me and it never will because the only people I'm telling about it is you all and, as I made clear twice in this post, I obviously think you're fucking idiots because of all the wrong-headed beliefs I've arbitrarily attributed to you.

But I'm a fucking idiot, too, because I don't understand this. How did I have such a good run after a night like that? I don't know, because I'm a fucking idiot.

Also? I'm a bit of a douche-nozzle. You know, for calling you all those names and all. There are actually very few of you about whom I feel that way.


No, wait, you probably don't because you're fucking idiots.

So if you think you're not one of the people about whom I feel this way, you probably are one of the people about whom I feel this way.

Did I just blow your mind? Relax. There are way worse things I could blow.

But only on your birthday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Give It Up!

For the SF Giants!

They beat the best team in the NL (my Phillies!), and I wish them good luck!

BUT ..

I am rooting for the Texas Rangers! I love the underdog and I still love me some Cliff Lee!

Criff Ree!

Thanks to my Phils for yet another great and enjoyable year!

I Am Living With Chase Utley ...

... and the sex is GREAT!1!

Hahahahaha! Just kidding! He's a horrible lay!

No, really. I wasn't able to get to Ian's game today until like the third inning (Teh 'Bride1 took him) and he'd sat out the first inning anyway, so I didn't miss much.

Well, except 9 runs, because Ian's team was ahead 7-2 by then.

So I was in time to see Ian's second at bat2 and he got a good piece of the ball but he popped it up to short and was out.

But in the field?

There was a grounder hit to Ian in the fourth that was rather routine and he fielded it and threw the guy out. I was proud that he didn't boot it but to anyone else? Ho-hum. Still, for a kid who's in his first year of organized league baseball ...

You see, when I get home from work, Ian always wants to go up to the park and play some ball. I pitch to him and I hit him grounders and pop-ups, and tell him to get his body in front of the ball, etc., but that is the extent of his "formal" training. And this year is the first year he's done this because before this year? Yeah, the only thing he cared about was fishing3.

So whatever he knows about baseball, he's essentially learned on his own by watching his heroes on TV. And one thing he learned from watching them is that you spit constantly, which he does and it drives Teh 'Bride just absolutely nuts. Because it's like step-spit-step-spit with Ian all day long and Teh 'Bride's all, "Ian, STOP SPITTING, it's GROSS!1!"

And the other thing he learned is you don't just take the ball out of your glove when you field a grounder. No. Because Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter and a whole bunch of other pro players kinda hop it from glove to hand and so Ian picked up this bad habit from them and the coaches on his team are forever telling him not to do that.

But I used to call Ian "Victorino" because, like Phils center fielder Shane Victorino, Ian just seems to love diving catches. And when I hit him pop-ups, he always says, "Make me hafta dive, Dad," which I do. And when I hit him grounders, he sez, "Hit it way over there, Dad, so I hafta dive," and I do.

And I'm no Ryan Howard, but I really slam these grounders, and he always gets to them, at least, and usually he fields them cleanly. He just has a knack.

So in the fifth inning of Ian's 6-inning game, the other team has tied it, 7-7, and there are two outs and there's a guy on third and some kid hits a really hot grounder in the hole between second and first and it looks as though it's going through for a single.

But Ian dives and fields it cleanly. And my heart swells with pride because even though there's no way he'd throwing this kid out (Ian's prone on the ground at this point), he still made a great play.

But then Ian jumps up. Plants his feet. Fires a bullet to first, right on target. And gets the kid by a step!

I was utterly (or maybe Utley) amazed.

And I just scream, "Way to go, Ian!" He kept the go-ahead run from scoring!

And when he gets to the dugout, I run over and say, "High-five, Utley!" And I'm gushing about the play and he says, "Dad, I'm really hungry. Can you buy me a hot dog?" Which I do.

Then, as he eats it, I can't stop talking about his great play and he says, "I'm still hungry. Can I have fries?"

All he wants to talk about is food.

And so I had to leave the game before it was over to visit with Teh 'Dad, and didn't get to see the last inning, but Teh 'Dad and I called and talked to Chase Utley, Jr., and he told us his game ended in a tie.

One of these guys is Phillies All Star 2nd Baseman Chase Utley. The other is my boy Ian. Can you tell which is which? Neither can I anymore.
So Ian made me take him to the field when I got home from my visit with Teh 'Dad and we played ball for another hour.  Lately, Dad's been listening to With The Beatles in the car and right now Ian is upstairs doing his rendition of this gem:
1 Teh 'Bride took him and she wore my Phillies hat to keep her unruly curls at bay. They were unruly because she'd just got back from the health club and Ian wouldn't let her shower before they left because he said he'd miss batting practice so she went all stinky (but that's girl-stinky, so not very) and when she got there people thought she knew something about the Phillies because of the hat and they asked her questions and she got every single one wrong; viz., "When do they play again?" "Um, I think they have today off but then the next two games are in San Francisco ...?"

In fact. the Phils play tonight and tonight's game and tomorrow's (if there has to be one) are in Philadelphia.

Nice try, 'Bride.

And she only wore the Phillies hat because the only other baseball cap she has is a CWA one and we live in a very red area of NJ and Teh 'Bride was afraid she'd be confronted by militant union-hating teabag fucktards and she just didn't want to have to deal with that at her son's baseball game. "But at least union questions you could have answered correctly," I reminded Teh shop steward 'Bride. "True enough," she conceded.

2 Me: Did Ian get up yet?

Teh 'Bride: I think so.

Me: How'd he do?

TB: Um ... I don't know. I videoed it. I think he got on first home.

Me: First base. How'd he get on first base?

TB: I don't know. I think he hit the ball. Or the referee just told him to go to first home for some reason.

Me: Umpire. First base. I'll wait and ask Ian how he got on.

3 Well ... and hunting, but we don't let him hunt.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Part Teh Second: Hamlet Versus The Logical Positivists: Doubt

I'm re-reading my post of yestermorn (which is how Shakespeare would say it, I guess) and I can't believe how thoroughly I fucked myself1. Logical What-The-Fucks? Guh? And I promised to make all of that shit relevant to Hamlet somehow. Man! What was I smoking2?

Plus, at some point after I uploaded that post, I took another look at this:
3 In the same way that, in math, "2+2=43a" [...]
3a Assuming Base 10, here, of course.
and was in mortal fear that someone would call me out on my error of omission, here, because footnote 3a should read "Assuming Base 5 or better, here, of course" because 2 plus two equals 4 in bases 5, 6, 7 etc. Not just base 10. And I gave a lot of thought to fixing it3, but then I thought, "You know, maybe I should just leave it there and see if a mathematical equivalent of Militant Grammarian (and Itinerant Dildo Connoisseur) sea legs girl comes along and corrects my math."

But none of you did, not even slg, presumably because she's ... uh ... "busy" with her latest purchase, probably running around the house going, "What the HELL happened to our emergency reserve of batteries!??1!? I need some NOW!1! Because I used up all the others in my new ... uh .. flashlight ... yeah, that's it ... flashlight ..."

So eff all ya'll! Woo-Hoo! I got away with yet another factual error, only the ninth one ever to appear on the Intertubes, seven of which are mine.
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, we have a really good example of the marvel of ambiguity that is the English language. Whereas the logical positivists yearned to purge natural languages of ambiguity, and thus turn them into artificial languages - lacking nuance, incapable of reflecting the variety of human experience of, and interaction with, the world - Shakespeare, on the other hand, celebrates this aspect of the language he spoke and wrote: the English language. Shakespeare knew, intuitively, that much of life is messy and ambiguous and difficult to describe and can't be reduced to true-or-false statements.And what can't be reduced to a series of true or false statements is most definitely not "meaningless", in any sense of that word.

The best answer I ever heard to the oft-asked question, Is Hamlet, in Shakespeare's play, really mad or is he faking it? was "Yes". Because you can make a convincing case either way based on solid textual evidence.

And so doubt is at the center of the play, just as it is in real life. That's one of the reasons I ended yesterday's post promising that the theme of today's post would be: Doubt; or, By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!

The other reason is this, which is just a marvelous, shining instance of the way Shakespeare used language to reflect the essential dubiety of human epistemological pursuits:

Hamlet's Mom and his Uncle the king are trying to figure out what it is that has lil Hammy in such a funk; and Polonius says he knows what it is: Hamlet is lovesick over Ophelia, Polonius's own daughter. Polonius thinks he knows this because Hamlet gave O. a letter that includes this poem:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

Which, on the face of it, seems to be an overt profession of love. But is it? Or, to put the question in such a form that it can be truthfully answered with a "yes": Is this a profession of love or the very opposite?

Because here's the great thing about language. It evolves. "Doubt", today, basically means "to be skeptical of", which it also meant in Shxpr's day, which is obvious from its usage in the poem above, to cite but one example. (Of course other examples abound.) But the word "doubt" comes from the Latin dubita, which meant, yeah, "doubt"; but it also meant "consider; think".

It retained that second meaning in Shakespeare's time (but has since shed it). Look again at Hamlet's poem to see an example of "doubt" being used to mean "think". The third line (and the poem as a whole) make sense only if the "doubt" in line 3 is being employed as a synonym for "think" or "consider":

Be skeptical of the the fact that the stars are fire; be skeptical of the the fact that the sun moves ... but ...

Be skeptical of truth to be a liar?

No. It has to be Consider truth to be a liar. Think it a liar. Has to be. Just to make any sense.

But then, of course, the issue becomes ... which meaning of "doubt" does Hamlet intend in the fourth line?

Never be skeptical I love?

Or ... Never think I love?

So, the poem: Profession of love or profession of anti-love?

Answer: Yes.

Because we can't possibly know, and if we think we do it's because of whatever prejudice we already have about Hamlet. "Hamlet must intend doubt to mean 'doubt' here because Hamlet loves Ophelia."

And how do I know Hamlet loves Ophelia?

Because Hamlet loves Ophelia.

Very convincing.
When Hamlet first sees the ghost of his father, the ghost beckons Hamlet to go off with him; which Hamlet agrees to do. But his fearful buddies grab him and try to prevent him from going off with this possibly infernal apparition. Hmlet responds to their attempts to restrain him with the lines:
Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me! 
"Lets" is another one of those weird words, like "doubt" that mean both something and its opposite. In Elizabethan times, "let" meant both "allow", as it does today, but also "prevent", and it is in the latter sense that Hamlet is using it above.

Again, this kind of ambiguity - which would have driven the positivists insane - is precisely what makes Hamlet a great play. Meaning is expanded, not constricted, by this linguistic flexibility, and the linguistic flexibility and ambiguity mirrors the ambiguity of the world we live in. Hamlet is all about perceiving things and thinking you know what they mean only to find out ... well ... not so much.

One such instance of this is at the heart of the play. It's the play within the play itself.

Hamlet reckons he can expose the king's wrong-doing by staging a reenactment of the king's crime ("the play's the thing/ Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king"), which he needs proof of because the only evidence he has is ... well ... there was this ghost, you see ... and he told me that ... etc.

So Hamlet goes to all this trouble of re-staging the king's alleged crime to "prove" the king's guilt, but manages to do it in such a way that the play (within-the-play) is different enough from the real world (of the play Hamlet) that it proves nothing, even though Hamlet fools himself into thinking it proves the king guilty beyond a doubt.

Because look what Hamlet does with the play-within-the-play. He partially re-writes the drama that the players are going to perform ("Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines") so that it mirrors the circumstances of his father's murder. If the king reacts to this Denmark's Most Wanted reenactment, it could only mean one thing, right? That the king has a guilty conscience.

Well, uh, not so fast. Because as the play is unfolding, what does Hamlet say about the play's evil murderer as he enters the stage?

"This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king"

Nephew to the king. Claudius, the current king, is Hamlet's father's brother. Hamlet wants the play-within-the-play to pull double duty, as both reenactment of his father's murder and as threat to Claudius: I'm a-gonna do you in the same wise you done mah daddy!

Okay. So when the king reacts - and he does react - what is he reacting to? The reenactment of his crime? Or the clearly implied threat to his person? Thanks to Hamlet's muddying of the water, the is no way to tell4.

Think about it: Hamlet is walking around all broody and dressed in black, like a Danish goth, and he's slightly pissed that he's not king because his uncle not only "hath kill'd my king and whored my mother" but  "Popp'd in between the election and my hopes" and now all of a sudden he wants his uncle to watch this play ... a play in which a king is murdered by his nephew.

And it gets kinda weird here because Hamlet specifically asks his buddy, Horatio, to back him up on his interpretation of what went down, which is pretty much Horatio's whole role in this play - verifier of Hamlet's views, because no one else, including Hamlet's mother, seems particularly upset at the death of Hamlet's dad - and what does Horatio say?

O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a
thousand pound. Didst perceive?
Very well, my lord.
Upon the talk of the poisoning?
I did very well note him.

Yo, Ho-dawg, didja catch that.


When they talked 'bout cappin' his @$$?

Yep. I saw that, yo.

And that's it. Not, "Yeah, dude, you're sooo right! I mean, if that wasn't an admission of guilt then I don't know my Rosencrantz from  my Guildenstern!"

None of that. Just, "Yeah. I saw it."

And Hamlet is just full of ambiguous weirdnesses like that.

But aren't they what make the play more rather than less meaningful?

Not to the logical positivists!
1 Not literally, obviously, but I totally could if I wanted because, yeah, it's that big.

Plus I'm not saying I have, but I will say this:

LuMu, I really don't know what it is you see in anal. Because ouch.

2 Yesterday was Thursday, so most likely it was some Maui Wowie. Which explains why I can't remember it.

3 No I didn't.

4 We in the audience know what Claudius is reacting to (it is, indeed, the reenactment of his regicide/fratricide), but that is only because we are privy to his thoughts; i.e., to information that Hamlet does not have. My point isn't that Claudius didn't kill Hamlet Senior, because he did; it's that Hamlet hasn't actually proved what he thinks he's proved with the play.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hamlet Versus The Logical Positivists, Part 1

In the early 20th century, a new school of philosophy, Logical Positivism, came into being in Europe — originating in Austria and Germany — and became very influential; becoming, in fact, the leading modern philosophical school of thought for a few decades.

The logical positivists were greatly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus — it's probably not overstating the case to say the Tractatus was their Bible1 — even though Ludwig W., while not unsympathetic to the positivist school, was not himself a logical positivist.

Essentially, the positivists were deeply opposed to a philosophical outlook that values metaphysics of any kind. They considered metaphysical statements to be not wrong, but rather, to use their own condescending epithet, "meaningless", and therefore useless and to be banished from any reputable philosophy2.

In one way, it makes perfect sense that this school of thought should have gotten traction because scientific empiricism and mathematical rigor were all the rage in the early 20th century and the positivists kinda wanted philosophy to be viewed in the same vein as those disciplines — kinda, "Hey, guys, we can be all fact-based and logical, too." But in another, more important way, the fact that this school of thought managed to get any traction is to my mind kinda inexplicable and fucktarded because metaphysics, which is precisely the philosophical discipline that the positivists wanted to purge, had been the centerpiece of Western Philosophy for millennia; and one of the things that makes Philosophy not only interesting, but necessary, is that  it is not science or math or anything else: It's philosophy, with all that entails, including metaphysical speculation.

And so trying to be more empirical and "logical" caused the positivists no end of problems because it eventually obliged them to kinda purge language itself, to try to replace the everyday language that we all use to express ourselves with a more "precise" version that is less ambiguous and less susceptible to inadvertent  metaphysical propositions. There are numerous problems with this approach, not the least of which being its Orwellian Newspeak vibe, which is problematic itself since it is essentially an attempt to make metaphysics and metaphysical expression a form of thoughtcrime, which, I dunno about you, but I consider kinda chilling and massively Fucked Up. Not to mention impossible.

Because it evidently never even occurred to the positivists that the "connection" between any physical object and the language we use to describe or denote it is essentially the result of a metaphysical leap of faith, an instance of epistemological fiat. There is no empirical connection between a table and the word "table" other than what we arbitrarily say exists. Because we can say things about a table that can be shown to be either true or false — it has a flat top; it has four legs — but we can also say things that are true about the word "table" that are plainly false about tables or even any particular table; e.g., it is indisputably true that "tables" has six letters but tables don't; "tables" has two syllables, but tables don't; etc.

Thus, the positivists' stated goal of accepting as "meaningful" and "non-metaphysical" only those statements that "are true in all possible worlds3" proved to be their downfall; because it is glaringly obvious (to all except the positivists, it seems) that, due to the nature of language and the fact that things and the words we use to denote them are not one and the same thing, one can easily find statements that are true in this world but would be false in some easily-imaginable and distinctly possible alternate world: "Most hands have five fingers" would be false in a very possible alternate world in which the word "finger" has, for some reason, evolved to mean not the digits on our hands, but rather, say, the left @$$-cheek. And it's simply not true — it is, in fact, demonstrably false — that "Most hands have five left @$$-cheeks." I think I could easily prove empirically that most hands have zero left @$$-cheeks.

Natural languages routinely evolve in the way adumbrated above. The positivists made their school of thought's survival dependent upon bringing about a possible (I guess) world in which natural language itself would be forbidden to do that.

One of the most wonderful features of any natural language, though, is this very ability to evolve as needed to accommodate the linguistic needs of the speakers and users of that language.

That's why Shakespeare's Hamlet is so useful in demonstrating the paucity of the positivists' unthinking view of natural language.

Coming in Part 2: Doubt; or, By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me4!
1 Um, well, it might be overstating the case. More accurately: If we analogize1a the positivists to Christians, then the Tractatus would be their Old Testament, while they themselves were in the process of writing their own New Testament.

I like comparing the positivists to religious sects because the positivists themselves would have considered any religious tenets to be "metaphysical" in nature and therefore meaningless.

I also enjoy pointing out that the famous first line of LW's Tractatus — i.e., "The World is All That is the Case" — is itself a blatant metaphysical statement that is both kinda obvious — I mean, Duh, Luddy! Could you please be a bit more vague? — and also kinda meaningless because what exactly we're talking about when we talk about "The World" is precisely the question that is at issue. I mean, if someone asks you, "What does 'supercilious' mean?" are you really being helpful if you answer: "It means 'supercilious'"?

Saying,"behaving or looking as though one thinks one is superior to others" — now you're being helpful.

Also helpful, though slightly less so: "Have you ever read a logical positivist on the issue of the value of metaphysics? You know that tone they get? That's supercilious."

1a Of course, "analogize" has an entirely different meaning in the LuMu household, where it refers to LuMu's favorite sex act, which is still technically illegal in all of Our Great Southern States as well as Metropolitan Frostburgg.

2 If you read any of the Major Logical Positivist Tracts — and I am strongly recommending that you not do so because they are so tedious and dry and humorless and infuriatingly, stereotypically Teutonic in the worst sense of that word that you'll end up feeling as though you've been violently "analogized" in the LuMu sense of the word ... and without the benefit of any lube whatsoever (which is a bit beyond the pale even for LuMu herself) — you will run across truly obnoxious statements about what "metaphysical statements" are good for; statements of the These are the types of speculations best left to poets and "artists" and other social fucktards who lack even a semblance of the sort of rigor-of-thought that is required for philosophy type. To be fair, the logical positivists didn't hate poetry; they in essence didn't get it — a failing they attributed to the poets and the poetry rather than to themselves. Hence, they kinda looked upon art in general as harmless but meaningless, and they encouraged all metaphysicians to accept their generous offer of exile to Poets' Island because they — those who dabble in the witchcraft of Metaphysics — were no longer welcome on the Mainland of Teh United States of Empiricism.

3 In the same way that, in math, "2+2=43a" is (arguably3b) True In All Possible Worlds. If it is, it is because the language of mathematics — numbers — is an "artificial" language with set rules that doesn't so much evolve as get added to and altered by a select group of experts who use that language for a specific and limited purpose.

3a Assuming Base 10, here, of course.

3b Arguable because the "truth" of the language of math is, itself, based on nothing that can be proved empirically. Again, it is a leap of faith, but one that has obviously proved itself useful. Which itself proves that metaphysical statements are not only useful, but necessary to make sense of this world or any other.

4 Part 1, admittedly, makes it hard4a to see what-all this has to do with Shxpr, but that will hopefully become clearer in part two. And then I'll feel no need to apologize for my posts because I fucking warned you awhile ago that these Shakespeare posts were coming4a, but who said anything about logical positivism? Well IN YER FACE because this post isn't really about the Log. Pos.'s!1! It's about Shakespeare. Which will become clearer in the next post.

4a That's What She Said!1!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Read Teh Tag (Because It Should Be This Post's Title)

So I checked the Pretzel City site today to see if the official results for yesterday's 5k race were up, and they were. I was interested mainly because I had no idea how many people raced it because Ian made me leave as soon as I crossed the Finish Line1. Turns out there were 122. I was 29th, so that means I was in the top quarter. Sweet.

Also, turns out my actual time was 24:22, which is three seconds faster than I thought2.

Also: Turns out I'd have been first3 in my (penile4) age group - if they'd done age groups. Which they did not. Suck @$$!
So last week Ian and I were watching the last game of the Rangers-Rays series, with Cliff Lee pitching (excellently, of course) for the Rangers and The Phils had Cliff for half a season last year and he compiled a 7-4 record but went 4wins, NO losses in the post season, including the only two wins we got against the Yankees in last year's World Series.

And while Ian and I are watching the game, Teh 'Bride is also sitting there on the sofa reading magazines. And Lee had made one of his great pitches and Ian and I were like, "Yeah! CLIFF LEE!1!" and Teh 'Bride looks up and asks, "That's Cliff Lee? I thought he was Asian?"

No, 'Bride. That would be his half-brother, Criff Ree.

Hahahahahahahaha! It's funny cos it's borderline racist!

Seriously. The guy was with us for a half a season last year, nearly wins the WS for us single-handedly, and Teh 'Bride never noticed he was Caucasian? Truly, we live in a post-racial world.

Or Teh 'Bride does, anyway.

Hahahahahahaha! "Criff Ree!" I just got that one.
I just today received my Kanadian Chastity Belt (aka, SpiBelt) from Barefoot Neil Z. It looks like this:

But that fat B*TCH can't do it justice so tomorrow I'll upload a provocative picture of me wearing nothing but my SpiBelt and my sexiest smile.

Yeah, full-frontal and -dorsal. Wait'll you get a load of my vestigial tail.

1 Right next to the Sweddish1a Border.

1a Yeah, it should be one "d" if I were actually referring to the country, but I'm not; it's a pun, to match the word "Finish" above, which is "missing" an "n" if it's supposed to refer to the country, but it's not. It's a pun, too. But inevitably someone1a1 would come along and tell me I misspelt "Swedish" if I didn't footnote that footnote above.

1a1 Most likely a Swedde.

2 But still slow.

Fuck you, RBR.

3 Or possibly second, because a runner named Tim Carman beat me by a second and Tim Carman's age is listed as "?" and his/her gender is listed as "Tranny" "RBRish" "?", too. But Tim Carman seemed male to me and seemed to be possibly about the same age as I.

So let's just say I was second.

For all the good it did me.

4 The fastest 50-59-year-old in the race was actually a Vagino-American named Cheryl Maccarone, and with a last name like that it's no wonder she can run fast. Hahahahahahahaha! I'm SUCH a DICK!1 I mean with the caustic ridicule and all.

But that's what she gets for being like a minute-and-a-half faster than I. FEAR MY RHETORICAL WRATH, SPEEDY SKIRTS!1!