Category Archives: Social Commentary

We Ain’t Got No Rhythm

In North America, that is:

Hannon and Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto began their study with knowledge that other studies had shown people in North America struggle to grasp irregular rhythms. Balkan music proves troubling, for example. So the researchers studied 50 college students, mostly from the United States and Canada, and 17 first- or second-generation Bulgarian and Macedonian immigrants. Songs with simple meters were made more complex, and complex songs were simplified.

The North Americans recognized when things got trickier, but couldn’t tell when things got simpler. The immigrants figured both out.

I have an old album by the Irish folk musician Andy Irvine, who spent a lot of time in the Balkans, and plays bouzouki, on which he plays a number of horas. I can’t imagine how in the world folks dance to them.

But I was particularly appalled a few years ago when in an elevator, I heard a version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” done in 4/4 time (it was originally written, as hinted at by the title, in 5/4–another Brubeck classic, on the same album, is Blue Rondo A La Turk, in 9/8). They had apparently dumbed it down for less sophisticated American ears. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Setting Him Up For The Fall

Sounds like Professor Minehaha is going to get his walking papers–for academic fraud.

It’s too bad. I’d actually like to see him keep his job, and continue to embarrass the University of Colorado. As someone said on Brit Hume’s panel last night, he’s a poster child for everything that’s wrong with academia.

Then again, he may survive. After all, an endorsement like this is hard to beat:

“I’ve read a fair amount of his work, and a lot of it is excellent, penetrating and of high scholarly quality,” said Noam Chomsky, linguistics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an anti-war activist.

An Overrated Skill

In my opinion, any way, is what cursive handwriting is. I knew how to do it, once upon a time, but I quit in junior high school, when I realized that I could write more legibly and quickly by printing. I understand the theory that things go faster when you don’t have to pick up the pen, but I never found that it went that much faster, and it was unreadable, often even by me.

Now comes an old-school teacher who wants to revive the skill, which is apparently dying out among the nation’s youth, because many teachers can’t do it themselves, and if they can, don’t want to take the time to teach it, or have the students practice.

In high school and college, any student without a 24/7 laptop cannot hope to keep accurate notes on a lecture course. Kate Gladstone, a handwriting specialist based in Albany, estimates that while a student needs to jot down 100 legible words a minute to follow a typical lecture, someone using print can manage only 30. “That’s fine for class,” she said, “if the class is first grade.”

Sorry, but I just don’t buy the necessity of this in a world in which keyboards cost five bucks and laptops continue to drop in price and size. Committing thoughts to paper with pen or pencil is pure drudgery for me. If I hadn’t had access to a typewriter in high school and college (this was before word processors, which would have been a godsend), it’s quite possible that I’d have flunked out, so extreme is my aversion to handwriting in any form. And in fact, I can only think of one time that my inability to write script has had any noticeable impact on my academic or professional career. In 1981, when I took the GRE, I had to write on the front of the book an honor pledge of some sort that I wouldn’t cheat. It said that it must be written, not printed. I dredged up out of memories of elementary school how the letters were formed, and carefully and laboriously dragged the pen across the page to write the words. That was the first time I’d done so since about eighth grade, and I’ve never done it since.

And I don’t buy her speed estimates. As already noted, there was little difference in speed between printing and cursive writing for me, and a huge difference in legibility.

I absolutely disagree with this statement:

Once you learn to walk, you won’t go back to crawling again.”

Perhaps not, but the analogy is poor. For me, cursive writing is stumbling along, printing is walking (painfully), and typing is running like the wind, in which my thoughts simply magically and effortlessly appear on the screen, with no intermediary between. If it be dying, I refuse to mourn the loss of handwriting, or support efforts to revive it.

[Update at 1 PM EST]

One more point. I also disagree with this:

“…you’re probably going to be taking notes for the rest of your lives. I don’t know anybody who works on a computer and doesn’t also have a pad nearby.”

This must be like Pauline Kael’s famous comment that Nixon couldn’t have won, because she didn’t know anyone who voted for him.

In fact, I work extensively on a computer, and have no physical notepads nearby, and haven’t for years. That’s what text editors (e.g., Microsoft Notepad) are for.

The Love Generation

Here’s an interesting read from Christopher Hitchens on hippies:

Eleanor Agnew’s lovely memoir of this movement of primal innocence is at once honest and hilarious. She recaptures the period with unerring skill: a period when the Apollo mission had shown us our fragile, blue planetary home from outer space, thus promoting (first) ”The Whole Earth Catalog” and (second) a mentality that despised the science and innovation necessary for the taking of that photograph in the first place.


Jack Henry Abbot, Killer

Jack Abbott did the universe a big favor and threw himself a private necktie party. Stormin’ Norman Mailer issued his usual predictable numbskullian apologia:

“His life was tragic from beginning to end,” Mr. Mailer said yesterday in a prepared statement. “I never knew a man who had a worse life.”

Don’t get out much, Norm?

Actually the tragedy was for those who had the misfortune to cross his path. And, yes, perhaps few had worse lives, but it was worse only in the sense that it was a life lived extremely badly. He wasn’t misunderstood, except by the Norman Mailers of the world–he was just a thug who could occasionally put words together. I wonder how long it will be before Mailer’s fellow sob sisters start lamenting his passing?

Anyway, if a beast exists, I’m pretty sure that Jack Abbott is now truly in the belly of it. And Mr. Mailer may not be too far, in time or morality, from joining him.