Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Sleeper Albums

Sometimes a record just fails to win you over on the first, or second or third listen.  How many listens do you give it before accepting that you just won’t like it?  And once you reach that conclusion, do you sell it back to the store or keep it, in hopes that, at some point in the future, you’re able to appreciate it?  Here, I offer a list of albums that took a long time to take.

The Kinks “Lola vs. the Powerman & the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1”

Why I bought it: I bought this album because I heard Yo La Tengo cover a song called “Top of the Pops” off this record.  I didn’t particularly care for the song, but I figured that if Yo La Tengo liked it, I probably could eventually too.  I only gave this album one or two cursory listens before putting it back on the shelf, where it sat for years before I came back around to truly discovering it.

Why it took so long:  I think that, when I bought this album, I was very infatuated with the Kinks as the “You really got me” mod, edgy 60’s pop band.  I had no room in my musical vocabulary for a folksy, ironic Kinks of the 70s.  Maybe I just had too big a gap in my Kinks discography.

Why I tried it again: I had a vague notion that I was missing out on vital music with my limited view of the Kinks as a mod band, and “Something Else by the Kinks” eventually became my bridge.  This album still echos of “You really got me” but gives glimpses of the Kinks to come.  It took a few more album purchases (“Face to Face”, “Village Green Preservation Society”, “Arthur”) for me to finally return to “Lola.”  Once I really began to love Lola I couldn’t understand how I missed it the first time.  Music is just like that sometimes I guess.

Superchunk “No Pocky for Kitty”

Why I bought it: One of my friends whom I worked with at Fingerprints told me it was one of his favorite albums.  He seemed to have really good taste in music, so when I saw this I bought it.  I was in college at the time and had a lot of expendable income.

Why it took so long: I listened to this album for about a week before deciding so decisively that I disliked it that I actually sold it back to the store I had bought it from.  I’m not sure what I disliked so much.  It was more noisy and aggressive than anything I had learned to like at that point (I was still just a couple years out of a heavy hip-hop phase, maybe that’s a factor) and Mac’s (the singer) voice seemed strange and out of place.  Maybe it was a little too close to pop-punk, a genre that I was firmly set against ever enjoying.

Why I tried again: For one, when I sold the album back, the clerk at the store (where I also worked- this was in Colorado) seemed really surprised, and told me this was one of the first punk albums that he really dug.  That planted the seed I guess.  Then some other friends told me how much they loved Superchunk and I told them about my experience.  They recommended “Foolish” and, though it took a while, that album got me over the hump.  When I finally got back around to buying “No Pocky” a second time (and feeling very lame doing so) I was a Superchunk fan, and I instantly loved this album on the second go-around.  As a side note, I almost never sell music back to the music store now, in part because of this experience.

George Harrison “All Things Must Pass”

Why I bought it: My brother Dan bought this album for me for Christmas one year.

Why it took so long: I don’t think I had much interest in it from the start.  George Harrison seemed like a relatively minor part of the Beatles to me, and I wasn’t terribly interested in any other Beatles solo material at the time anyway.  Beyond that, it was three records (six sides), and as such just seemed like way too much work to get into.  I think I listened to a couple of the sides once or twice before putting it on my shelf, figuring that it at least beefed up the appearance of my record collection.

Why I tried again: In a word, family.  No, not to appease my brother, who I’m sure is quite unconcerned about it, but my wife and kids, who keep me on a rather narrow range in terms of what will be tolerated in the house.  This limitation has caused me to reexamine most everything in my record collection that is relatively mellow (relegating all of my punk rock to my classroom where I foist it upon my students).  I pulled this out one day figuring it would be a safe bet for the family, and was really surprised to find that I love this record.  I still haven’t listened to the final two sides more than once or twice, but there are great songs littered all over the first four sides.

U2 “October”

Why I bought it: I think I’ve mentioned this elsewhere on this blog, but this is actually the first album I ever bought.  I was probably about 9 years old and Joshua Tree was huge, and I knew that U2 was somewhat of a Christian band.  So, I bought this on cassette at Wherehouse.  I chose this particular album because I didn’t know anything about music, and I was confused by the fact that I had more than one choice in buying a U2 tape.  I had no idea which album had all the songs on the radio.  So I chose this one because I thought the guys looked cool on the cover (can you blame me?).

Why it took so long: October is decidedly U2’s least accessible album (well, maybe second-most next to Zooropia).  Being 9 years old didn’t help in this regard.  I remember listening to it thinking ‘What’s the big deal with this band?’ and ‘This doesn’t sound very Christian’ (my nine-year-old mind was rather ill-suited for gleaning nuance).  I gave up on this tape pretty quickly and, as I recall, just went back to listening to the radio and/or my brother Dan’s new wave tapes.

Why I tried again:  In junior high I heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on KROQ and absolutely adored that song.  A friend of mine loaned me “Under a Blood Red Sky” on cassette and this started my U2 infatuation.  In high school I listened to Joshua Tree for the first time (of course, I knew some of the hits at that point, but had never really listened to the album all the way through) and before long I wanted to own every album in the U2 catalog. I bought “October” on vinyl, but it still didn’t take.  What finally did it was when my friend Matt Clatterbuck referred to it as a great album and specifically said that “Scarlet” was a particularly beautiful song, and that the drums sounded like nails going into Jesus’ hands.  I went home that night and listened to that song and finally understood the genius of “October.”

There are others, but I’m sure that most readers will only indulge so many of these personal tales before losing interest.  So I turn it over to you: which albums/bands/songs took a long time for you to appreciate?


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I’m sure many of you have been tracking the WikiLeaks controversy of releasing military documents that many claim endangers soldiers on the field in the middle east.  There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, How WikiLeaks Keeps It’s Funding Secret, which as the titles states is about the lack of openness in where WikiLeaks gets their funding.

I find this very interesting.  Coming on the heels of my post about privacy, I want to be sure to state that I think people that donate money should be allowed anonymity if they please.  It just seems entirely contrary to the nature of the website and their stated goals to be so secretive:

WikiLeaks is a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public. Since July 2007, we have worked across the globe to obtain, publish and defend such materials, and, also, to fight in the legal and political spheres for the broader principles on which our work is based: the integrity of our common historical record and the rights of all peoples to create new history.

What if a journalist wanted to know if a donor was perhaps someone who could benefit from the illegal release of someones information?  I guess the fundamental difference is that they are not a government, and in their minds governments are the only ones with secrets that need to be outed.

I actually support anything that can help a whistle-blower… I think that is an important protection to have to help get needed information to the public.  But blowing the whistle on your company for dumping chemical waste is not illegal.  Releasing classified documents is.  Ironically, I think the existence and exposure of a site like WikiLeaks can actually lead to a mentality of more secrecy and more restriction as entities go to greater lengths to make sure that information that legally should be protected – is!

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Sorry for the disturbing lack of posts here at CAI.  Ironically when our writers are off for the summer (Pete) they write less than they do when they are working – our lucky children.  Kidding, Pete.

For myself, I can only claim grad school and an about to be one year old for my limited postings.  So for your temporary amusement – until our next post arrives – I offer you the chance to visit another site I’m proud to be a part of and which has recently undergone some drastic changes.  Formerly Among the Thugs is now… Yanks Call It Soccer.  Enjoy.

The Thugs are all now cleaned and scrubbed.

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Just read this report about a town in New York using Google Earth to locate homes with pools that may not be licensed:

A town on New York’s Long Island is using Google Earth to find backyard pools that don’t have the proper permits.  The town of Riverhead has used the satellite image service to find about 250 pools whose owners never filled out the required paperwork.  Violators were told to get the permits or face hefty fines. So far about $75,000 in fees has been collected.

This also reminds me of how agencies are using GPS software to track their vehicle fleet, and are finding either gross misuse that is a firing offense, or are seeing dramatic reductions in waste:

Islip saved nearly 14,000 gallons of gas over a three-month period from the previous year after GPS devices were installed. Nolan said that shows that employees know they are being watched and are no longer using Islip’s 614 official vehicles for personal business.

I find this very funny, partly because of the “privacy concerns” that immediately get brought up.  But the fact is, that the behavior is wrong and people are being caught doing something illegal, or against regulation, and yet they will sue and complain about privacy concerns.  I definitely am not in favor of my life being tracked and detailed… but I also tend to think that if I am doing something wrong that is my fault, not the person who found me out.  So while I would like to have small and limited government, I’ve also never had a problem with wire-tapping or vehicle searches and such – because, if you’ve got nothing to hide then what’s the problem?  The CIA or whoever can listen to as many of my cellphone conversations as they like… they just might be bored is all.

I’m not trying to come across as perfect here by any means.  If my work computer were monitored, or my daily schedule recorded there would certainly be mismanagement or misuse revealed… or lots and lots of fantasy football at least.  But that again is my issue I would have to worry about.  I certainly don’t wish to create laws where a private company or government agency isn’t able to keep their employees or citizens accountable.

That said… I would much rather that the pool regulations didn’t exist in the first place.

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When computers run the world

they will terminate our service for not paying the $0.00 we owe!

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If you missed the discussion going on at Mike’s post on vouchers and making a profitable school, then I encourage you to check it out.  Part of that discussion made this article at the WSJ stand out even more to me.  Danone, or Dannon as it’s known in the states, is very active in selling yogurt and water to the poor in Africa.  But this is not philanthropy…it is business:

Mr. Riboud began to see he was missing out on the huge untapped market of products for the poor. In 2004 in Indonesia, Danone’s local managers presented Mr. Riboud with a pyramid diagram showing that out of the country’s population of 240 million, just the 20 million at the tip of the pyramid could afford Danone’s food.

So he decided to develop a cheap, on-the-go drinkable yogurt for poor consumers and children. “Why shouldn’t I be doing business with them, too?” Mr. Riboud recalls thinking.

The first such yogurt debuted in Indonesia at the end of 2004, selling at 10 cents for a 70-gram plastic bottle. The yogurt was an instant hit with lower-income consumers and children in particular, selling 10 million bottles in its first three months on the market. It is still one of Danone’s most popular products in Indonesia, where the average per-capita income is about $11 a day.

Two-and-a-half years later, Danone teamed up with Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his microcredit program that lends money to poor entrepreneurs. Mr. Riboud and Mr. Yunus, having met over lunch, set up a joint venture called Grameen Danone Foods Ltd.

The idea was to sell an affordable seven-cent yogurt product called Shokti Doi—which means “strong yogurt.” Fortified with vitamins and minerals, it was to be sold through local women who would peddle it door to door on commission.

For the 54-year old Danone boss, who eschews ties and gets around by scooter, the Shokti Doi initiative was something of a personal mission. His father Antoine, who preceded him as chief executive, had instilled in him an interest in ventures that had a chance to both make money and give a lift to the poor—the “double project”, as he called it.

Within a year, though, Grameen Danone hit a wall: Milk prices soared, factory openings were delayed, and the saleswomen couldn’t earn a living selling yogurt alone. Today, a significant portion of sales of Shokti Doi come from urban stores, not rural villages as planned.

Danone stresses that none of its low-income consumer efforts are charity. “Danone is not an NGO,” Mr. Riboud says. “Learning to make a nutritious product that can be sold for eight cents without a loss helps us when we put in place a volume strategy, even in mature markets.” [emphasis added]

I think this last line is key.  Not only are they seeking a profit, but foresee that the efficiencies they learn in trying to reach such a poor market will ultimately help them in the more affluent markets.  Certainly Danone may not be indicative of all business… but it does represent the ability for private enterprise to make a profit, and reach the needy.

Danone says its emerging-market bottled-water business is already more lucrative than its water operations in developed markets, which includes the pricey Evian brand. The company strives for “satisfactory and durable profits, but not to maximize profits,” says Danone deputy general manager Emmanuel Faber.

Maybe some forward thinking companies like Danone would be the ones to spring up if education reform allowed competition through vouchers?  The article, as quoted above, mentions Muhammad Yunus – who I wrote about in this post a year ago.  It’s people like these that can re-frame the vision society has of the free market and capitalism.

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Just a few things popping through my mind last couple of days.

  • Been seeing a lot of UAW workers striking on Cherry Ave. near my house.  Can’t help but see it as bad form to be striking while so many are without jobs and hungry for work.
  • The other day on my way home there was a major backlog on the 405 North.  When I finally reached the problem I discovered (as is not uncommon) that the issue was on the other side of the freeway where two firetrucks and paramedics were working on something… no problem on the northbound.  And I thought that maybe this phenomenon could be analogous of the difference between theory and practice.  In theory the northbound side should have been flowing as smooth as normal, but in practice the rubber-neckers had created a domino effect that slowed things to a stop.  Need to remember that whenever I (or an idealist from the other side) propose some fix for the woes of our society.
  • Also seen on the freeway… a truck covered in Oregon stickers, U of O, Ducks, etc. but with California plates.  If you love Oregon so much, why are you here?  I always hate it when people are proudly celebrating some other location, rather than the one they are in.  Either keep it to yourself, or move back.
  • Finally… forgot to update you on a Chelsea-related post.  We did win the Premier League title, AND then went on to win the FA Cup for the so called domestic double.  Thanks for all your best wishes, I know you were all rooting for them as well.

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