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Archive for August, 2011

The way this story about school lunch fraud is written, you would think that school officials labeled their children as requiring free or reduced lunch in order to score the lunches themselves.

High-poverty schools have the ability to receive Title I funds from the Department of Education, generally defined by the states or local districts through a formula that relies heavily on the percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch. This statistic is generally used as a shorthand for the school’s poverty level because it is easier to collect than family income alone and because it represents paperwork that most families are willing to fill out.

Although I believe that it’s entirely possible that these administrators’ children were fraudulently enrolled in the school lunch program to get free lunches. (But having eaten many of these free lunches at a high-poverty school, I doubt it.)

More likely, they are gaming the numbers to increase their percentage of free or reduced-lunch students, and thereby increase their funding. I bet a systematic audit of any major urban district would reveal similar fraud.

At the same time, the pursuit of these kinds of fraud is targeting the wrong places for graft. The cost of such an audit would far outweigh any monetary benefit that any individual school is currently receiving, and might find as much underreporting as overreporting.

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With Watch the Throne now out, I think it’s safe to say that despite critical accolades, the album is kind of awful. As a fan of both Jay and ‘Ye, it feels strange that their album is such a letdown for me. It ends up being 70-30 Kanye-Jay, and the bombast and mutual verbal masturbation just wears on me after a full listen. They got great samples and wasted them on weird numbers like “Otis,” which is the creepiest duet with a dead guy this side of “Unforgettable.” Blugh. Somehow, they seem to work better when they have more restrictions.

In the world of supergroups, though, the Jay/Ye supergroup is probably in the top 10 percent. Which tells you something about how supergroups typically go.

As I’ve asked myself (and others) recently, what are some supergroups that weren’t terrible (I’m looking at you, Traveling Wilburys)?

First the criteria:

  • At least 2 members must have been recognized as stars in their own right (sorry New Pornos and Broken Social Scene)
  • Stardom must have come before joining the supergroup (reverse supergroups like the Beatles or NWA don’t count)
  • Simply reconstituting your old group with a couple new members is a no-go (e.g., Journey)
  • No one-off concert supergroups (Booker T and the Drive-By Truckers, The Dirty Mac, etc.)
  • No rap posses (Ruff Ryders, G-Unit, etc.)

The Gold Standard

Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) — Yes, they only produced one album as a foursome, but it’s a doozy. Their failure to stick together, though, highlights the biggest problem with supergroups: ego. Once you’re used to doing things your own way, you’re only willing to deal with equal collaborators for so long. Still, CSN has done solid work without Young, and they’re the first thing I think of when I consider a functional supergroup.

Derek and the Dominos — This band only counts because Duane Allman, though not nominally a member, laid down tracks for Layla. Again, a one-album wonder, though.

The Decent Side Project

Blind Faith — Again, a one-album wonder, and not a fantastic album at that. Still, Winwood and Clapton work well together, and I imagine they were greater live than they were on the album.

Hindu Love Gods — Warren Zevon and R.E.M. playing old blues, folk, and rock’n’roll covers? How could it possibly go wrong? Well, they were all pretty drunk and the playing is ragged, but this is more like a sign of what might have been than a great group in its own right.

Them Crooked Vultures — Again, the problem here seems to be that the album is fun, but not that good. It’s like watching the 2004 U.S. Men’s Basketball team — lots of talent, lots of ability, not a lot of cohesion.

The Bad Thrown-Together Jam Band

Monsters of Folk — To be fair, I don’t like Bright Eyes that much, but somehow this album just sounds like an extended jam session without a clear direction. If you didn’t know who the members were, you’d think it was just another generic folk-rock album that they sell at Starbucks.

Audioslave — I have a number of Audioslave songs on my computer. Not gonna lie. But their waste of talent was truly a sight to behold. Cornell’s voice and Morello’s guitar just never found a groove together. They sound like they’re in two different bands.

Bad Company — I’m not sure if they really count as a supergroup, but just wanted to make sure it was clear that they are in this category.

 

Anyways, what say you? Are there any decent supergroups you can think of that meet the above criteria? (I’ve never listened to much ELP, so can’t say about them)

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This is about as useless as useless bullshit comes, but one thing I do to pass time every now and then is play Microsoft’s hearts game. The computer intelligence is so awful that I find that I can predict my opponent’s behavior fairly well and thus shoot the moon much more frequently than I have any business doing. In fact, I basically try to shoot the moon every single hand, no matter how unlikely it seems. A few times I’ve actually managed a perfect game, which is when you shoot the moon four straight times, including the ever-challenging 4th round when you aren’t allowed to exchange any cards. I’m guessing I’ve done it about five times. Anyway, I decided to grab a screenshot this time.

My understanding is that newer editions of Windows (Vista and 7) have a revamped version of hearts with much more challenging opponents.

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U.N. Representative: So, Mr. Evil…
Dr. Evil: It’s Dr. Evil, I didn’t spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called “mister,” thank you very much.

The most annoying thing about “Dr.” Michele Bachmann is not that she is lying by calling herself “Dr.” Whatever, as fibs go in politics, this is relatively small potatoes.

No, the real annoying thing is people insisting on calling themselves “Dr.” and insisting that others refer to them as “Dr.” Particularly in a social context, why insist on the title “Dr.”? It strikes me as exactly the wrong kind of message to send to anyone: “Ooh, I have a doctorate or doctorate-level education; ergo, I speak with authority.”

Sure, when it comes to medicine, or in the particular field of doctoral study, by all means refer to oneself as “Dr.” For those interested in academic regalia, there’s a long history of the particular title and its usage. Rep. Bachmann is not wrong to refer to herself as “Dr.” Certainly the word “doctor” appears in a juris doctor degree.

But this kind of pinheaded behavior is exactly the kind of thing that gives “elite” a bad name. It implies that years of study (in a subject that may only be tangential to the topic at hand) is worth the awe and deference of total strangers. A doctor should have additional authority in her area of expertise, for sure (except maybe chiropractic). But otherwise, the “Dr.” Bachmanns of the world are practicing the elitism they claim to dislike so much.

Along with “Dr. Laura” and her ilk, the “Dr.”-flaunters need to lay off the titles and let their expertise speak for itself.

Maybe the problem is that doing so would reveal what they really are:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjDw3azfZWI#t=31m08s

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I’ve long thought that the ability of spoilers to ruin movies and novels is overstated. Don’t get me wrong, someone who watches The Sixth Sense for the first time deserves the surprise that that Bruce Willis was dead, so you shouldn’t be an ass about it and tell anyone about to watch Citizen Kane for the first time that Rosebud was his sled. But I tend to like intentional spoilers. Shakespeare wrote this in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Likewise, in the very first episode of How I met Your Mother, we learn that Ted does not marry Robin. Nevertheless, the whole first season is dedicated to his pursuit of her, and the entire second season is about their relationship, which ends in the season 2 finale. Does knowing that Romeo and Juliet die, or that Robin and Ted don’t end up together, ruin these experiences? I say that the advanced knowledge makes them better. It’s that much more agonizing and tragic when you see the multiple opportunities that could have prevented R&J’s demise. Likewise, there is a certain poignancy to watching the early stages of a doomed relationship.

That’s just my view of course, and there’s a difference between stories in which the author intended for you to learn the ending first vs. those in which they did not. However, now SCIENCE comes along to back me up. In today’s issue of Science that just posted, I see the following summary of an article published in Psychological Science:

Story spoilers “ruin” the ending of a tale and leave people with a bad taste in their mouth—right? Wrong, say psychologist Nicholas Christenfeld and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego. The team assessed how readers responded to having the ending spoiled for a variety of short stories in three genres of literature, including mysteries, ironic-twist tales (such as Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” and Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”), and literary classics (such as Stephen Crane’s “A Dark-Brown Dog”).

The team asked more than 800 test subjects to read three different tales within a genre—each with a different “spoiler” condition. For one piece, the readers learned the ending of the story right at the beginning; in a second, the spoiler was threaded into the tale; and in the last, the reader remained unspoiled throughout. After each reading, subjects were asked to rate their enjoyment of the story on a scale of 1 to 10.

To the researchers’ surprise, spoilers didn’t lessen readers’ enjoyment, but significantly increased it, they report in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. “Lots of people find this counterintuitive,” Christenfeld says, but “one’s sense that the critical thing about reading is getting to the end and discovering what happens is wrong.”

The results may help explain why many people still enjoy books, movies, and shows the second or third time around. And the results may also call into question how much people like surprises: Engagement champagne and birthday cake might taste even sweeter if they were spoiled.

It’s very interesting to me that they deliberately picked stories in which the ending is supposed to be a surprise, and yet those who heard the spoiler first reported more enjoyment.

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I love Nicole Kidman’s Australian accent, and Ryan Gosling calling someone a “cheesehead.”

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I currently think Rick Perry is the most likely person to win the GOP presidential nomination. And when I think of Perry, the first thing I think of is Cameron Todd Willingham. And I will admit to being hopeful that if only we could explain what happened to people, they would be repelled by Perry’s role in the matter. But after being more honest with myself, I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. People just don’t care about the death penalty that much, don’t want to learn about its injustices, and when they do hear about them, are likely to say things like “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” or even “it takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

Thankfully, TNC has some sobering yet nonetheless encouraging words:

I don’t much care that the Willingham case won’t deep-six Rick Perry. That kind of cynical utilitarianism has never been my bad [sic? I think he might mean “bag”]. Frederick Douglass couldn’t stop Jim Crow or achieve universal suffrage either. But we live in Douglass’s America, not Bobby Lee’s.

In this long battle, in this longer war for a more informed citizenry, and thus a more responsible political class, Willingham should not be forgotten. Activists, agitators, writers and thinkers who measure their efforts by presidential cycles should take up another business. This is no place for fast food intellectuals.

This will be a long, difficult battle. And unlike the one for marriage equality, which I consider destined for success for simple demographic reasons, there is no guarantee of success at any point during my lifetime. But it’s a battle I will never shy away from. It’s time for me to make another donation to the Innocence Project. I suggest you consider doing the same.

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