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Wednesday, August 19, 2009



When folks - in reflexively surrendering to what they perceive as an unchangeable circumstance or condition - lazily sigh "it it what it is," I cringe. Something toxic washes over me. The situation at hand suddenly feels just that much more hopeless and unsalvagable; any confidence hovering in the room evaporates. Department managers and rappers seem inordinately fond of the phrase, drawn to its dismissive, near-palindromic cool like lemmings to the edge of a yawning ravine. Said with an air of abject resignation, "it is what it is" stands in for "that's life" or "what will be will be" or Sopranos hands-thrown-up staple "whaddya gonna do?" Why not use one of these ancillary phrases, one wonders? Why not invent a new cliché to signal intractability? Why not say "rock meets hard place?" (Nobody ever says that. Which may be for the best.) In any event, "it is what it is" is unacceptable phraseology. and must be destroyed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

ILL MUSICAL MADELEINES: Radiohead, "Planet Telex" (c. 1998)


The apartment on Gelding Drive. S. makes hot dogs in the microwave. I try to make dinner using a black bean burger. The patty is bland, so I add barbecue sauce. This is too tangy, so I add Frosted Alphabits from S.'s collection of forty boxes of cereal. I reason he can't miss it if I only take a little from each box. I sit down at the black lacquered table and turn on the CD player. Eating takes me five minutes only, but I always start at the beginning of The Bends.

Sitting at his computer in the dining room, S. mocks the opening guitar to "Planet Telex." I counter his behavior by staging a life-size cardboard cut-out of Barbra Streisand next to his computer. Neither of us drinks normal milk. I drink soy and he drinks acidophilus with bifidobacterium.

I also keep a hammer in the refrigerator because there's enough room and I have no other place to put a hammer where I will not lose it. There's a strip mall across the street where my sister works at a health food store next to an Italian cafe. I sit down for ten minutes ... if no one speaks to me, I walk out ... if someone takes my order, I ask for a pound of angel hair with tomato cream sauce. When we leave the apartment in S.'s car, he tunes the radio to a station that plays disco ... we're out of range of the tower, but S. reconstructs the song through the fuzz. All I hear is static.

ILL BUMPER STICKER: "My Other Hatchback Is A Hyperlaureate/Hypertextural Stallion I Ride"

HT: Cecilia Rivas. Anyone got a link for a site where these are for sale? (Have you ever seen one on a car? If so, where and when?)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009



1. Take a strong position about a person, group of persons, idea, or institution that is in stark opposition to the general consensus.

2. Explain in detail why other people are wrong, and you are right. Cite examples that support your hypothesis. Name names; take no prisoners.

3. Share a personal anecdote - or several - tangentially related to whatever issue is under discussion.

4. Swear. Rather, swear in moderation. Swear for emphasis. Swear tastefully. But swear. (Do not, however, swear on your mother, your grandmother, or your grandmother's mother.)

5. Come up with cruel nicknames for people who will probably disagree with you and, hopefully, will smear your credibility in the comments sections. You will also need cruel nicknames for those persons, groups of persons, ideas, or institutions you are attacking. All of these nicknames should be pointed, funny, and bear a hint of truth. When rival bloggers give you dap or condemn you on their own blogs, readers of those blogs should be forced to stifle a guffaw and automatically feel moved to check out your original post, because you are a clever, insightful Web 2.0 intellectual. You are a cultural shaman. You are so money.

6. Proffer false empathy for those for those who will inevitably disagree with you, those who are part of the problem, and yourself, for caring so much about this issue. Then turn on a dime and whip out the chainsaw.

7. Conclude with a witty endnote that ties together all that came before and, crucially, suggests that all is not lost.

8. Repeat.

Monday, August 10, 2009

ILL MUSICAL MADELEINES: Ray Lynch, "Celestial Soda Pop" (c. 1993)


It's Christmas Day, 1993. I'm in bed with the 24-hour flu, vomiting bile into a metal E.T. trashcan. Of the presents I got, the only one I can think to enjoy is a CD by Ray Lynch--Deep Breakfast, which I listen to in its entirety. I learn in the following days that is a mistake--as soon as the first song, "Celestial Soda Pop," begins to play, my stomach turns. My mother sits next to the bed, looking for something to say to make me feel better. She picks up a one-page 'zine from the bookshelf next to me and begins to read an article about what an asshole Santa Claus is. I agree, sometimes. But the article contains some language that reminds me of the time I insisted that the "Parental Advisory" label on Blood Sugar Sex Magik was an overreaction, and she opened the CD booklet to the lyrics for "Sir Psycho Sexy" and read aloud: "There's a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen."

The next year, I am also sick on Christmas, and my right lymph node swells up to the point where I look like I no longer have a chin on that side of my face.

Friday, August 7, 2009

ILL REVISIONISM: Jess Harvell Updates Ellis' "American Psycho" for the Aughts

I mean, I could (in keeping with the formatting of this site thus far) Google for appropriate artwork, but why bother? Really, just lick - I mean, click - this link and bear witness to the efforts of a talented scribe who - in my opinion, anyway - has got a wee bit too much free time on his hands. Have a safe weekend, everybody. This is not an exit, etc.

ILL LSD SNOWCONE: Neon Indian, "Laughing Gas"


Sometime during the past week or so, as July gave way to August, summer finally decided to make an appearance in central Pennsylvania; suddenly, the air possessed a muggy heft, sweat came easier, and the constant hum of our basement dehumidifier became part of the overall domestic ambience. Lazy dips in the cheapie inflatable - and largely neglected - backyard pool became imperative; yard work, less so. And then -as if on cue - the promo for Neon Indian's Psychic Chasm materialized in my mailbox, Tex-Mex hued paper sleeve and all.

So what've we got here? A post-Ducktails, post-Ariel Pink laptop stew that burbles and warps like overbearing summer sunshine (ozone alerts, we hardly knew ye) is supposed to. The aluminum definition of what Glenn Danzig meant by "dirty black summer." Interstate traffic jams that seem to have no beginning or ending, and weeks later, all you can recall is the sensation of roasting alive in a smoldering cage of plastic, steel, and upholstery.

As titled, "Laughing Gas" suggests delirium, dementia, surreality. As experienced, it delivers those questionable goods: dosed giggles looped and cajoled, a synth hook nicked from a half-dozen 80s pop-radio staples and hiccup-ed into vertigo-disco infinity, an almost seasick rhythmic bounce, vintage boom-bap beats. Freed from the Reagan-era associations it evokes, "Gas" runs the risk of seeming inconsequential, disposable, trifling; yoked to them, it conjures the flush of near-dehydration following a day-camp marathon, four-square throw downs, "Cruel Summer" blaring from a Cyndi Lauper-wannabe counselor's ever-present boom box.

Click here for the Lefse Records site, where non-"Laughing Gas" Neon Indian songs are available for free download.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

ILL TYPE PROFILING: Evan Kasprzak Can't Lose


It's not that Evan Kasprzak can't dance; he can. If you hanker for la-de-da, tie-and-slacks, aw-shucks Gene Kelly routines, Kasprzak will, quite literally, have you eating out of the palm of his hand. On the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance, which wraps tonight, Kasprzak's solos were all about that razzle-dazzle, that sweat less flair, those mid-air heel-clicks and twirls; he was a delight to behold. Broadway will welcome him with open arms.

The problem, of course, was that So You Think You Can Dance - think of it as Dancing With The Stars with actual balls and Julliard-level competitors of whom you've never heard - prizes excellence in and domination of pretty much every last style of dance known to man: to make it to the big finale (theoretically), one must be able to demonstrate a mastery of everything from krump to the fox trot to modern to hip-hop to Bollywood to mass, synchronized routines where everyone's done up as scary, sad clowns that are actually malfunctioning dolls. (Avant-garde shit is crazy.) One must be convincing. One must, to all appearances, mean it. One must be willing, after these performances, to stand before judges who can be pretty cruel and heartless and swallow shattering critiques with nods and winning smiles and humility.

I never got the sense that Kasprzak meant his dancing, except when he was on his default-mode Fred Astaire bullshit; he has a gentle, gee-whiz (hangdog) mug that projects a gentle, gee-whiz (hangdog) kindness regardless of what he's dancing. He's consistently been a few beats or moves behind whoever's been unlucky enough to have him as a partner. He kills routines in the sense that he saps them of whatever inherent vitality or intensity they might possess. He is extreme dance kryptonite.

And yet Kasprzak is among the final four dancers. He has outlasted at least seven or eight amazingly talented contenders, including the inhumanly versatile Janette Manrara and Ade Obayomi, whose flips and pirouettes and other uncanny aerial maneuvers were nothing short of breathtaking. For this, I blame the grandmas and fourth graders of our great nation: the same people who, via telephony, relentlessly championed David Archleta and Kris Allen in the last two seasons of American Idol.

After watching last night's performance finale, I cast something like 15 votes each for Jeanine Mason and Brandon Bryant, gazelle-like stunners for whom serious dance company contracts and stardom are givens. They will still lose, of course - and lose big - because the contingent of viewers who demand that their champions be milquetoast, cuddly momma's boys is so vast that if they were to suddenly take up arms against the rest of the country, our swift, collective demise would be certain, and brutal. Heaven help us all.

ILL ESOTERICS: From Procreation to Text Generation


In 1202, Leonardo Pisano (~1170-1240, aka Fibonacci) wrote Liber Abaci, a Book of Calculations that included a math problem related to fornicating rabbits. If you start with a pair of rabbits—one male and one female—who have just been born, and assuming they reach sexual maturity after one month and have a gestation period of one month, how will this population of rabbits grow? At the start of the experiment, we have one pair. After one month, they are sexually mature, and do what bunnies that age do. A month later, the female gives birth to a litter of two—again, one male, and one female. (Okay, a few more assumptions—each time a rabbit gives birth, the litter will consist of one male and one female, both of whom survive and mate; yes, yes, incest and the gene pool and all that—but that's how you get freaks like the Easter Bunny, Bunnicula, and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.) So far, we have one pair at the beginning, still one pair after the first month, and two after two months. For the third month, the first couple has another litter, but the second couple is just reaching sexual maturity and doing the horizontal bunny hop. And so on—1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. Oh yeah, one more assumption—rabbits never die. This series of numbers, not invented or discovered by Fibonacci, but merely popularized in his math text has, over the centuries, taken on cultural proportions (The Da Vinci Code, Fibonacci trading), although the numbers themselves are quite arbitrary and reproductively unrealistic. Leonardo's lagomorphs are so reliable that the series itself is often misinterpreted as each number being the sum of the two previous numbers, an assessment of sexual maturity notwithstanding. The Shao sequence takes two whole numbers and finds the difference between them, placing that number on each side of the initial pair, and working outward; for example, given a,b: a-b, a, b, a-b; then (a-b) - a, a-b, a, b, a-b, (a-b) - b, etc. In numbers, given 2,3: 1, 2, 3, 1; then 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, etc. No matter which two whole numbers are used at the start, the series will eventually begin repeating 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0, etc., demonstrating that given a random set, if a transformation is applied consistently, order will result. Both the Fibonacci sequence and the Shao sequence involve two elements: a rule (or set of rules) and a seed. Both sequences are also examples of a Markov chain. Named for Russian mathematician Andrey Markov (1856-1922), a Markov chain is a sequence that depends only on the present state, and not on any past state. That is, by examining the present state and any applicable rules, one can produce the next state without examining the history of the sequence. I first encountered the concept in Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper: "As director of MIT's Operations Research Center, [Philip Morse] had the idea of applying OR's mathematical methods to the workings of MIT's library; out of that grew Morse's thickly mathematical treatise, Library Effectiveness (1968), which uses a technique called Markov analysis to determine whether a book of a particular age and number of previous circulations is likely to remain useful; in order to gather detailed circulation statistics, Morse wanted to computerize the library. The modern library, he felt, 'cannot now be operated as though it were a passive repository for printed material.'" There is a bit of a disconnect in this passage, because it refers to the book's previous circulation, which is an examination of the past. However, this should be read now with reference to recommendation engines, which can determine selections not only on past purchases of the user in question, but on purchases made by all users in conjunction with the current book. This collective knowledge is referred to as a corpus, and it provides the analytical basis for Markov analysis. The letter E is the most common in the English language. This fact is based on analysis of any significantly sized English-language corpus. Each letter has a relative frequency of appearance, as analyzed by Claude Shannon in his seminal paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication (pdf). This is the basis for the letter points in Scrabble—the more frequent the letter is used in English, the lower the point value. In addition, by analyzing a corpus, one can also determine how frequently a letter appears in context with other letters. By increasing the context, one can generate increasingly intelligible text. Appelicontes of Teos, attempting to reconstruct the worm-eaten works of Aristotle, aroused ire by filling in the gap based on his own scholarly judgment. Given a large enough corpus of Aristotle's work, the gaps could have at least been informed, if not written by, Aristotle himself (Basbanes, A Gentle Madness, pp. 65-66). William Henry Ireland, forging the papers, and ultimately an entire play by Shakespeare, could have proven more difficult to detect by reverse engineering some of the very techniques used to identify fraudulent works (Basbanes, A Gentle Madness, p. 66). In fact, the composer David Cope has done this, by examining the corpuses of Mozart and Bach to generate "new works" by these composers. Not bad for animal husbandry.