Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for March 2009

On Music

So I realized, while probing my iTunes library for something to listen to, that while I have an iPod touch and iTunes and a rather large amount of hard drive space (343 GB as it stands), I have nothing good to listen to. My music collection consists mainly of soundtracks from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean, mixed in with some incredibly tacky crap I somehow managed to pick up from various places (Cotton Eye Joe has a dance mix?). Those of you who have seen this mediocre collection of mp3s know what I’m talking about. And, living on the Internet as I do, I recently picked up on the fact that the SXSW music festival is currently going on right now in Texas.

Leaving aside my intense dislike of Texas, we come to the fact that I am sitting here completely unaware of any good music to speak of, and there, two time zones and half a country away, some of the best artists in whatever the hell genres SXSW deals in are congregating. Obviously, there is a disconnect here. However, since unfortunately I can manage to scrounge up neither the time nor the money to sit my ass down in Austin and – how do the kids say it? “Rock out”? – I am forced to remain here in my room, idly wishing that math quizzes would just disappear. And so, I trolled the internet. Perhaps there is a live stream of the performances somewhere? But lo, I found something even better. A torrent containing music from all the artists who are at SXSW. Cool. So, a download later, I’m sitting in front of my computer, faced with 1251 songs from artists who I know nothing about. Or have even heard of.

So here lies my dilemma: How do I become “musically savvy,” as the case may be? I really really really don’t want to be pushed into only listening to the stuff that comes over the radio, because that stuff is crap and I’m getting bored with it. I know this is sort of like asking the blind asking the blind for directions, but hey, who else do I have to turn to?

I could, on the other hand, turn to this site, which gives six-word reviews of all the songs in the torrent. But I want more than one opinion. So I implore you all, download this torrent and give some of it a listen. Hopefully you find some gems, some diamonds in the rough. I know I did.

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Written by Sri

March 19, 2009 at 8:21 PM

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On AP Exams

Yay. It’s mid-March. You know what that means? If you’re a conscientious student, that means that you would have just gotten started studying for your AP exams. I know that most of you lot are a) not at all conscientious and b) don’t really give a shit about the AP exams, knowing that you’ll do fine regardless of whether or not you study, but I, being the newly good student that I am, and also faced with a crippling fear that I may get a 2 on the AP Chem exam and thus be forced to ostracize myself in shame, have gotten a head start on it. And by “head start”, I mean “made a schedule and intend to get right down to it… tomorrow.”

But then, I’m taking six AP exams. Which may surprise some of you. I know it surprised me. I wasn’t even going to bother with the AP Chem exam, knowing I’d get a solid 2 and be forced to cancel my grade in shame, but my father, operating under the delusion that I am halfway good at chemistry (I’m not), decided that I would be taking the full six exams available to me anyway. Well, that’s his money he’s giving to the AP, not mine. I’d never be able to afford it. Which brings me to another point. Why, exactly, are the tests so costly? I mean, it’s not like they need the money that much, right?

According to their tax form 990 (available to the public due to the College Board’s tax-exempt status), last year the College Board took in a whopping $468.5 million on “program service revenue” (test/service fees), and they collected an additional $16.4 million in grants and membership dues. As far as expenditures, about $5.7 million is spent on various services (legal, accounting), and about $398.8 million is spent on actual programs and services. The remaining surplus is spent on employees ($68.8 million) and directors and executives ($6.7 million). The College Board made a net profit of $23 million over the last year, which is equal to 5% of the money spent on tests. Similar profits were made over the last few years.

That mind-bogglingly huge number up there representing the revenue of the College Board includes not only AP tests, but also the SAT and SAT IIs. Even so, an SAT costs $45, while an AP test costs $86. Really? Twice as much for about the same amount of paper and ink? WTF, College Board?

Somebody needs to pull those guys into line. They’re getting alarmingly swollen heads due to their monopoly on the American mass-testing market. Where’s the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when you need it? Oh right, useless because technically the College Board is a “non-profit”. Non-profit my ass. You probably call that $23 million “net donations” or something to avoid paying taxes, don’t you College Board? I bet you do. You make me sick, College Board. Sick. And your president Gaston Caperton exemplifies that. He looks like a dick. A dick with too much money. Learn to smile properly, you dick president, and stop extorting America’s youth!

P.S. That answer sheet up there looks exactly like what they gave me at the SAT prep place I went to, down to the style of the X. Interesting, no? No? Well, it is for me. So there. Ha.

Note: This impotent protest brought to you by the Association for Standardized Boredom. Remember, if you’re bored, post on your blog about your puny rage and it will all become better.

Written by Sri

March 13, 2009 at 7:02 PM

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On Melting Pots

So hey! I found something out this morning. Pennsylvania’s part of the United States! I mean, like, WHOA! Where did that come from? Shouldn’t somebody have, like, told us, the people, that Pennsylvania’s a frigging state? Like, WTF, man! That’s so not cool. It’s like… keeping people out of the loop. How can they be tubular when they are, like, totally out of the loop, dude?

Anyway, so that means that Pennsylvania is part of the great American melting pot. You know, that thing where everybody gets together, has kids, and eventually nobody knows whether your grandmother was 1/16 Pacific Islander or 1/8, and now you’re just “American” like everybody else? Yeah. So I was thinking about it, and guess what? I don’t like the word “melting pot” anymore. I think of it as a “lumping pot” now. Because everybody’s in really big, catch-all ethnic groups now instead of really fine-grained ones. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them ethnic groups. Let’s call them “races.”

OK, OK, look. If you are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Singapore…-ese, or Burmese or whatever else them slanty-eyed people decided to call themselves over the ages, then you are, upon entry to the United States, and for the duration of your stay, “Asian.” Yes, that’s right. Not Chinese or Japanese or Korean, simply “Asian.” So say goodbye to your cultural hangups and rivalries, because nobody here gives a shit. Say goodbye to your cultural heritage, language, customs, and all that, because nobody here gives a shit.

Even more galling, these same thoughtless Americans try to group me (ME!) in with these people. I don’t even look anything like them. I have brown skin. I’m Indian, dammit, not “Asian.” I am from a completely different ethnic group. I am from South India, which puts me in a position of significantly differing genetic heritage from the Oriental population. I share, according to Wikipedia and this article here,15-30% genetic similarity with European populations (the “white” bit of the American melting pot), ~10% similarity with Han Chinese, and assorted other populations mixed in for good luck. This means that I am the result of tens of thousands of years of genetic mixing. This, in turn, means that a population of white people interbred into my population, a population of North Indians interbred in, and some Oriental peoples too (is that term still in vogue?). Of course, this is all on top of the original Dravidian population that all those guys interbred into. In fact, my children have a 25% chance of inheriting green eyes from me. In related news, green eyes are recessive to brown. Suck on that, American “melting pot.” I just single-handedly DESTROYED you. Not with the eyes thing. With the percentage of genetic overlap. The American population is just getting started on that whole business. Maybe in another 500 years the world will have a true “American” ethnic group, but until then it’s just a political classification.

So now, if we re-examine the whole “American melting pot” thing, we will see that it is, for the most part, fundamentally flawed. There is no such thing as “White.” There is Irish, English, Slavic, Russian, Italian, Greek, Gaelic, Germanic, etc. There is no such thing as “Asian.” There is Han Chinese, Yamato, Indian, etc. There is no such thing as “Hispanic.” There is Colombian, Mexican, Argentinean, Brazilian, etc. The terms “Latino” and “Latina” also are subject to same invalidity. The only term in the entire “melting pot” vocabulary could be said to be “Black.” This term is only valid because there has been a significant amount of ethnic mixing, both initially between the different African tribes and later with all sorts of other races present in the US, perhaps enough to differentiate the African American population from the American population. The rest of you, though, have no excuse. If you need an umbrella term, fine. But do NOT be an ass and try to brand everybody as Hispanic just because they have a Spanish accent. Do NOT try to brand everybody from the continent of Asia as Asian. Do not brand everybody who is melanin-challenged as white and assume they are European, because while the chances are high that they are European, skin color ranges for ALL ethnic groups start with white and end with black. No matter which one you’re from.

To conclude: stop trying to call me Asian. kthxbye.

Written by Sri

March 9, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Posted in Musings

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The Beginning of an Era

Beatrice Hawkins was shuffling her way home through the streets of New York City when she saw a flash of light in an alleyway. Probably just some hobo lighting up, but you could never be too careful. She quickened her pace. Suddenly, a gun barrel was in her face and there was an extremely large man in an NYU sweatshirt ripping her handbag from her grasp. He ran away, but before he had taken ten steps a very large and very black lion came out of nowhere, assaulted the man, slashed his hand off with a huge paw, and chased him away.

Beatrice went over to the severed hand, still clutching her bag, and shakily retrieved it from its grasp. She made two notes: Find a better way to get home from Bernie’s, and boy, would she have a great story to tell the girls on bingo night!

——

Walter Chung, of Gary, Indiana, was raking the leaves in his backyard in preparation for his niece’s birthday party when he saw a flash of golden light apparently coming from his elm tree. He watched the light coalesce into a young man, very young, about 17 or so, looking around with great interest. The boy glanced at a handheld GPS unit for a second, noted something (the GPS coordinates?) in a red-spined spiral notebook, and then disappearing by turning back into golden light and sort of… diffusing away. Walter was inclined to think that this was Jesus, except Jesus didn’t need a GPS. Did he?

——

Far, far away, in the blackness surrounding the Centauri system, a human floated, oblivious to everyone and everything, not that it was aware that there was anyone or anything around to be oblivious to. It was energetically flailing its upper appendages like it was swimming, except that this was deep space and there was nothing to push off of. It soon gave this up as a bad job and just floated for a while, staring at the double star with what appeared to be interest, though it was hard to be sure. It noted something down in a red-spined spiral notebook that was floating a bit to its left, and then let it go again. Curiously, it then started flapping the notebook behind itself like a fan. This, when it failed to give more than the slightest bit of velocity, was also given up. The human then closed its eyes and promptly disappeared in a ripple of space. Seriously. The area right around where it had been was rippling.

The comm-probe recording all this from a few hundred klicks away up the ecliptic, afforded with a bit of sentience due to its mission parameters, did not know what to make of this. Sure, it had been observing the humans from here for quite some time, but this was the first it had ever seen up close. It dutifully packed up the video and sent it off.

The comm-probe turned its sensors and hyperwave recorders back on the Sol system and kept on recording.

Written by Sri

March 5, 2009 at 11:46 AM

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On Language

Languages. We all speak one. Perhaps more than one. Perhaps several. Whatever you say of it, there is one language, it would seem, that is about to win the language battles (if you will excuse my crude metaphor for a process that is several centuries old and is very nearly at its apex, as it were). Of course, I’m talking about English. The most spoken language in the world, it is the new lingua franca (a phrase that comes from the French for, well, the French language. It was first coined in the period of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who made French the language of diplomacy and trade in Europe), replacing French, which in turn replaced Latin, which was the first-ever lingua franca. Why? Because it was the language of the world’s first multicultural empire that was united under one ruling civilization. In essence, Rome was the first colonizer. Previous empires had always shared a common language (cf. Ancient Greece, the various Indian empires). Rome was unique in that it was not content in just having its local territories under its control. It wanted more. And that is what made it unique. And whatever Rome was, Latin was as well.

But what Latin really was has been grossly misrepresented by the scholars of our time. During the time of the Roman Empire, there were two Latins, so to speak: the Classical Latin that was used in formal writing and speeches and such things, and the sermo vulgaris, common speech. This was what developed into the various Romance languages, had accents and dialects within it that marked as a true spoken language.

Remember that Classical Latin was, for the most part, standardized throughout the Empire. However, that did not mean that the most highly cultured people spoke it. No. Even Cicero did not, as has been seen in some of his personal correspondence. In fact, there have been some letters found that mock Classical Latin for its overly formal manner. Which I think is hilarious. There have also been some records of the sermo vulgaris found through the Appendix Probi, a record made by one incensed Probus who wished to make clear that the Latin the rabble spoke was not, shall we say, the Latin that should be spoken.

There is another interesting aspect to Latin: its diminutives. Those of you in Latin 4 will know what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, let me take the word “misella” as an example. It’s a diminutive, in that it carries the connotations and meaning of the English phrase, “poor little girl.” It can be used either sarcastically or not, in all the various places the English phrase could be used. Every language has its own little differentiating aspect. In German, it is nouns and verbs that can be endlessly (or so it seems) strung together to express various concepts. In English, it is that the language itself relies heavily on accented syllables to derive meaning.

For example, let’s look at the sentence “John had not stolen that money.”

John had not stolen that money. (…Someone else had.)

John had not stolen that money. (Someone said he had. or …Not at that time, but later he did.)

John had not stolen that money. (…he got it some other way.)

And so on, and so forth. You can see how interesting that is. Think about how many times you rely on vocal stresses to give your sentences appropriate meaning and context in your daily interactions. It’s rather a high number, no?

Now think about all the vast numbers of people learning English. Or at least trying to. They would never be able to pick up on the stressing and intonation that we native speakers are accustomed to rely on in our speech without significant effort and perhaps not even after extended learning. At least, not the way that languages are taught today. A focus on grammar and syntax is not what people use when they speak. They go more on whether it “sounds” right. And what tells them that? A gut instinct that is inherent in every person’s faculties. Now tell me. If you went up to a Roman and asked if they knew what the perfect passive participle of the the deponent verb “adipiscor” was, do you think they would know? Definitely not. If you went up to somebody on the street right now and asked them what the perfect passive participle of the word “swim” was, do you think they would know? Definitely not. You just sort of use those types of constructions in your daily speech without mention.

And that is what is so wrong with the state of language education. Teaching someone the words and grammar of a language only teaches them the words and grammar of a language. Not the language itself. People do not learn languages as babies by being formulaically taught the words and grammar of whatever language it is they need to know. They are taught words, spoken to in phrases and sentences. Language immersion. Not grammar and rote. We are not teaching our kids a language in class. They are being made to memorize words. No wonder nobody ever takes AP Language exams. People, we have an amazing resource here in forcibly exposing children to another language for 43 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Let’s at least make sure that we do something with them.

 

 

So, that’s the premise for my synthesis paper. What do you think?

Written by Sri

March 1, 2009 at 1:46 PM

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