Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas part 3: re-gifting and music

In my family we have another tradition to reduce the crass consumerism (and increase the laziness factor) of the season: re-gifting. Instead of buying each other gifts we mostly just give each other things we already own. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll get something you tried to get rid of the year before. Re-gifting at its finest!

CDs are common currency among re-gifters in my family (with a cameo this year from clementines, since we bought about a thousand by accident). Since we all like the same sorts of music, or at least there are areas of overlap, this works out pretty well. This year it gives me opportunity to launch a new blog theme: recordings I love to regift because they're the best ever!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcome back and Merry Christmas cont'd

Welcome back to Sam's Posts from the now defunct Dualing Personalities blog (my prediction came true). Eli will remain as a guest blogger.

On with Christmas-themed things while I wait for the family to come together to open presents (late start this year). Every Christmas Eve my family and I watch "It's a Wonderful Life." Widely considered one of the best movies ever made, it makes for a great holiday tradition, and it's one of my favorites; otherwise, watching it once a year for the last 20 would get a little annoying. The movie's central message never gets old and never fails to move; I mean, we can tell ourselves not to take life for granted, but it's so much more effective to see the joy on George's face when he gets his erstwhile unwanted life back.

Still, I'd say much of the movie's everlasting charm and entertainment comes from its continuous supply of quirky and hilarious moments.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

merry christmas

As a wise man once said, "Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

recession question

So we're all used to hearing about how dynamic the US economy is, and we all learn in our intro economics classes how the labor market is supposed to function more or less like a free market. Even though no one really thinks that's true, I've been wondering why the labor market is seemingly so dysfuctional.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ethical eating, part 2

So, my sister and others pretty much convinced me that animal cruelty in the meat industry is more like a good ol' collective action (or prisoner's dilemma) problem than I originally thought. With this new perspective come my revised thoughts (basically rephrasing what others have already said or pointed out to me):

Rule changes for soccer, part 3: penalty kicks and the penalty area

So, now that the advantage rule is history, we delve into the more controversial realm. I decided that instead of going in order of ease of correction I'd just wait until I see things in real games that really tick me off and write about them in the order that they arrive. [Spoiler alert for the Liverpool-Arsenal game] The next problem is the size of the penalty area and the awarding of penalties.


Not-all-that-interesting-interview with Al Gore about climate-gate. There are two important points he makes in the interview though. Here's one:

Friday, December 11, 2009

The blog may be relocating

So Eli decided to hop on the blogging bandwagon (I think everyone I know knows him, so no need for introductions). Ya know those blogs that are like, double-blogs? Well, we've got one now. Given our nearly identical interests, the thematic continuity of this blog shouldn't be disturbed. But just in case, I'll post everything here too until I can say with confidence that Eli is actually serious about joining forces. This vetting process should take no more than a few years. Meanwhile, check it out.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rule changes for soccer, part 2: the advantage rule

The advantage rule should be modified to more closely resemble the one used in hockey. This change is so glaringly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t been officially adopted yet. Currently, the advantage rule actually provides a positive incentive to foul in many instances, whereas, a priori, the laws of the game should be designed such that punishments for infringements are sufficient to overcome that incentive. These instances occur most commonly when an opponent makes a pass a sufficient distance—say 40 yards or more—from a defending player’s goal. If the defending player is close enough to the player making the pass and thinks the pass will be successful, he has a clear incentive to commit a foul. As long as his foul is not blatant enough to warrant a yellow card, the maximum punishment is a free kick far from his own goal. But, assuming the advantage is played, the benefit to fouling is to disrupt the player who just made the pass and eliminate him from attacking play, and, more generally, to get a chance to kick an opponent, annoy him, or possibly incite a retaliation, all without fear of further punishment. What should happen in this instance is to “play the advantage” for the duration of possession, and then award the original free kick once the advantage is lost, no matter how long its duration. The advantage rule as it currently stands is a detriment to attacking and encourages excessive and disruptive fouling. Why hasn’t it been changed?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rule changes for soccer? part 1

The rules of soccer, or “laws of the game,” are elegant, simple, and incredible. There are lots of ways you could set up a game where two teams kick a single ball toward opposite goals, but the way soccer is structured is a big reason it became and continues to be the “beautiful game.” The rules have served us very well over the years with only a few modifications, but they go largely unexamined. I think a few more changes might be in order.

Let's back up a little first. In soccer, there’s a perennial battle between “purists” and “realists” that takes on a distinctly moral character. I could describe it at length (more here!), but it basically boils down to this: sometimes, lots of the time, the team that plays “the best soccer” doesn't win. Purists simultaneously support those teams and want them to win while also wanting all teams to play more “attractive” soccer regardless of whether it helps their results. Realists think that winning is more important than any individual strategy and are willing to embrace a variety of tactics as means to that end.

Monday, December 7, 2009

nerd humor

Hilarious bumper sticker (courtesy of my sister)

Physics club at Yale made a t-shirt every year, but never managed to come up with anything this good.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On eating meat

Lately, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I eat meat. If you don’t share at least some of this discomfort, you either don't read enough, or have a really narrow conception of animal rights. Because unless you’re extremely scrupulous about where your meat comes from, you’re eating animals that are treated in ways you should find appalling. There’s also the questionable ethics of killing animals (e.g. pigs) whose cognitive differences with young children are largely just linguistic. I’m not trying to moralize, especially since I’m not even a vegetarian (yet?), but I’m trying to figure out when the animal rights movement will finally enter the mainstream of society or reach a tipping point. Right now its advocates repeat the kinds of things I just said, but are, on the whole, reluctant to excoriate anyone for eating meat. If enough people become vegetarians, I suspect a large portion of the population would follow relatively quickly. But how will we get to that point without a little moralizing?

When I consider the vegetarians I know, I realize I don’t even know why most of them are vegetarians. For ethical reasons, or environmental? Public/personal health? Other? Maybe they don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t blame them. No one wants antagonize family members over Thanksgiving dinner about the turkey. No one wants to be Lisa Simpson to Homer’s big BBBQ. But I suspect there are large swaths of people who—consciously or not—avoid thinking about the issue entirely, but would greatly reduce—or eliminate--their meat consumption if they encountered moderate social pressure. These people, like me, know or can be convinced that what’s going on in the meat industry is detestable, but don’t change their behavior because they don’t identify with a larger movement and don’t consider their individual actions consequential in its absence. At least that’s part of my lame excuse, the rest being covered by inconvenience, social and dietary. If people were more vocal, not just about the abuse of animals but also about their vegetarianism, I think a lot more people would join them.

A lot more people would dislike them too, people who may or may not agree on the moral question, but really don’t want to be pushed to change, and won’t do so without a lot of social pressure. Hopefully things will change politically too. Until a few minutes ago I didn't even know about Proposition 2, which passed in CA last year. So things aren't so black and white. But as noted here (about halfway down the page), it will be impossible to raise the sheer quantity of meat we consume without resorting to unsavory methods.

How much blame do I have to shoulder here as someone who claims to see a wrong in the world, but does little to correct it, even in my own behavior? [For the record, I’ve--almost entirely--stopped eating the swine-based meats, and plan to start buying the expensive, humanely raised meats, though I haven’t talked to my lovely awesome roommate about this yet. So there’s still plenty of blood on my hands.]

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Henry under investigation??


Thierry Henry, who helped France to the World Cup courtesy of an extra-time forearm trap before a pass to goal-scorer William Gallas, might be fined or suspended? This is just like the Eduardo controversy from earlier this year, and it's absurd. For some reason the footballing authorities seem to think it's reasonable to hand out retroactive punishments that are harsher than the punishments that would have been given at the time.

If the referee had caught Eduardo's dive instead of calling a penalty, Eduardo would have been booked instead of being suspended for two games (the suspension was later overturned on appeal for other reasons). If the refs had spotted Henry's handball, he would have been booked and Ireland would have had a free kick in their own penalty area. Now Henry might be punished for the referees' mistake? Unfortunately, there's just no appropriate remedy. He made a mistake. Players handle the ball all the time, with varying degrees of intention. Henry's was hardly premeditated. It's too late to punish him for it.

World Cup draw, cont...

Maybe I was a little pessimistic about the US's prospects in my post last night. Turns out Slovenia got lucky against better Russian team, as did Algeria against Egypt, to make it to the finals. But some writers seem to think our coming in second to England is a foregone conclusion (for instance here and here) I suspect they watched the Confederations Cup, but not much of CONCACAF qualifying. The US team can play reasonably well and beat good teams with a lot of luck, but they also play awfully and lose to bad teams with alarming regularity. Aside from Donovan and Dempsey, and Torres (who might never play), we're not a talented team technically. And without the injured Davies, we'll be weak up front. Bornstein is not an international caliber left back. So while we will probably be the second best team in the group, we're still gonna need some breaks.

Friday, December 4, 2009

World Cup draw

The World Cup draw happened! World Cup fever builds…

Real soccer (hereafter, football) fans (hereafter, supporters) know that the best football is played at the club level in Europe. The World Cup can be such a disappointing and, above all, odd tournament (e.g. 2002 and 2006). Because of the elimination format, it often produces a winner that isn’t really the best team (theoretically, a team could win the tournament by tying every single game).

Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the incredible awesomeness of the World Cup as an event. The whole world comes together for a mere month every four years (except for people in the USA and India) in recognition of the beautiful game. I can always hope for a great tournament in advance, right? Go USA (and Spain!!!)

It’s notoriously difficult/impossible to predict which teams will perform well, especially when I only saw a handful of qualifying games and friendlies in CONCACAF, Europe, Asia and South America, but here are my thoughts on the draw, which you can see here.

Spain and Brazil will end up on opposite sides of the draw if they both win their groups, setting up a potential dream final for the neutral observer. We all know how Spain will play (attack, attack, attack), but one can only hope Brazil decide to actually attack; it’s always a toss-up with them. They did in 2002, but in 2006 they set up defensively, and it was painful to watch.

Easy groups: A, C, F and H. We (the US) got a kind draw, but I’d be ecstatic if we made it to the knock-out stage. England, for once, should be a quality side. I haven’t seen the other two teams play, but Slovenia eliminated a very talented Russian team. Sad as it is to admit, that country of fewer than 3 million people may well be be better technically than we are.

Group G is the toughest: Ivory Coast, the most talented African nation, will probably fail to advance. But they could easily upset Brazil or Portugal.

Italy, even if they’re poor, should as usual find a way to squeak through.

Spain, without a real test in the first round, might not be ready for their knockout stage game against Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast. That would be really disappointing.

More thoughts later!

On the performance of music mostly by dead people

This fall I started a master’s program in piano performance. It’s been quite an adjustment coming from a world where I knew so few professionally-oriented musicians to one where I interact with them almost exclusively. And it’s made me realize that most people in the art-music world lazily and uncritically accept certain dogmatic ideas about how music should be performed.

For instance, musicians have a misplaced reverence for composers and their intentions. Now don’t get me wrong. I revere the great composers more than anyone. But it’s hard to go a day in music school without hearing about the importance of ever-so-closely following and respecting the immutable Score. There’s a common metaphor tossed around where the performer becomes a mere conduit between Score and audience. The metaphor comes in different forms, but the general picture is always the same: a composer takes an aural representation or image in his mind and commits it, to the best of his or her ability, to paper. The performer then is charged with the task of realizing that original representation.

This theory of performance (if I can call it that) is deeply flawed for a few reasons. First, there is the implicit claim that composers form only one representation for every piece they compose, and that it is stable over time. Secondly, even if one such representation existed, people overstate the possibility or plausibility of accurately divining it from a written document (or set of written documents, as the case may be). Thirdly, even if we could divine that one representation, people discount the possibility that composers would ever be open to improvements of their own music that they never themselves imagined or considered.

All of these are reasons to be deeply skeptical whenever a teacher tells you that the composer wanted this or that, so you should play it this or that way. They fall under the umbrella of the general objection, “how do you really know what the composer wanted, or what he would want were he still with us?”

Each of these arguments, which I’m sure would encounter no shortage of opposition, deserves its own exposition another time, but even more importantly, I think none of them is critical to my general objection, because even if we could truly know a composer’s intentions we should feel little obligation to follow them. Now I should immediately add the caveat that it often bugs me when (for example) people play Mozart andantes as adagios, or add all sorts of unnecessary dynamic inflections in Bach. But I don’t disapprove out of respect for Bach’s or Mozart’s intentions, but rather because those pieces sound awfully wrong to me the way those performers play them. Usually a composer’s own markings are a good starting reference for how to perform a piece, because (the good) composers are obviously excellent musicians and have a unique perspective on their own music. Unsurprisingly, their markings and notes, properly followed, improve their music, but are only useful as means to that end. Composers aren't infallible, and their music may sound appropriate/awesome/even better when played another way. Which is why I have no problem overriding a composer’s intuitions when mine are strong and convincing.

I don't mean to imply that everyone thinks exactly in the way that I've caricatured here. But I sense an uddercurrent of conformity, where people who seem to think more like me minimize their disagreements with others in order to not stick out too much.

I have a lot more to say about this argument: how it runs counter to the essentialist nature of human psychology; how it applies differently over time to different composers; how it gives more responsibility to performers, but is ultimately oriented toward audiences; how it applies to teaching music, how it is inspired by various performers, and how it is frustrated or denied by various teachers. Hopefully I’ll get some objections from my music friends too. Thoughts welcome!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Hi! Welcome to my new blog. In starting it, I find myself feeling extremely self-conscious. Do I really have anything useful or interesting to add to the obscene amount of information already on the internet? Am I really so conceited to think I’m not just adding one more voice to a chorus that’s already too loud and also kind of annoying?

I won’t worry too much about it yet, because if you’re reading this blog right now, you are almost certainly my mother. On the other hand, I expect to one day reach a significantly larger audience: that is, the other members of my immediate family. Can I really expect them to add me to their bloated RSS feeds?

For now I can at least hope. But luckily, this blog is really just an excuse for me to pretend I have an audience to write for. Because I realized some time after starting music school that I actually miss writing about all the awesome and interesting things in the world. And I’d hate to lose the ability to do so coherently (if I haven’t already).

So every so often I’ll write my thoughts about soccer, science, philosophy, music, or whatever else is on my mind. Especially when I have free time. But especially when I don’t, but need to procrastinate. And I’ll post links too (mostly taken from my sister’s facebook wall). I hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear what you think either way.