A view of the world from my own unique perspective

Archive for the ‘Ruminations’ Category

Do You Think Life is Unfair? Blame The Matthew Effect!

If you’ve ever spent time looking after young children, then you know that they seem to have an innate sense of fairness. If they are playing in a group, then it’s only a matter of time before someone shouts “Hey – that’s not fair!“. As we grow older, and despite our collective efforts at creating a kind, just and egalitarian society, we are still falling short of our goal. So what’s happening?

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Fairness vs. Equality

First, let’s compare fairness with equality. They are not the same thing, and one should not be confused with the other.

Occupy Wall Street

The fall of 2011 saw the emergence of the Occupy Movement, characterized by protests in major cities across North America and around the world. Hundreds of protesters in their 20s were marching against social and economic inequality. The message I gleaned from this movement was that the marchers were bitter because people in their 50s and 60s – who have spent 30+ years working full-time and saving prudently – have more money than they do, and are generally living more comfortably. For some inexplicable reason, they feel that they – fresh out of university (or even high school) – should be doing as well financially as someone who has been in the workforce for two or three decades. There is certainly a financial disparity between these two generations of workers, but it’s not unfair.

As a personal example, I attended a local university, and used public transit to get to class, as did many of my fellow students (who weren’t living in residence). There were some who were able to borrow their parents’ car from time to time, but there were also a few who had their own car. How could an 18-year-old afford a car? Most of us had only a part-time, retail job that paid minimum wage, and whatever e earned went toward tuition. As you’ve already guessed by now, they had rich parents who bought them their own car so that they wouldn’t have to take the bus to university.

There will always be inequality in just about every aspect of your life. In fact, this inequality, manifested as the material rewards for years of hard work, can even be motivational… but that’s a topic for another blog post.

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The Motivational Myth of the Meritocracy

Luck Quote

Growing up, particularly in the age of social media, we are inundated promises of a meritocracy – a society where power is held by individuals who possess talent and a strong work ethic, and one in which gender, race and wealth are unimportant. Advancement in a meritocracy is based on continual effort and hard work, rather than business connections or family ties. Naturally, this appeals to everyone; unfettered upward mobility is one of the tenets of the American Dream. However, as we grow into adulthood, we begin to see an increasing number of examples that suggest that this is not always the case.

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The Matthew Effect

To turn $100 into $110 is work. To turn $100 million into $110 million is inevitable.” – Edgar Bronfman Sr.

The term The Matthew Effect was coined in 1968 by a sociologist named Robert K. Merton. It originates from the Bible, in Matthew 25:29 “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (English Standard Version).

Merton originally connected it to academic work, arguing that well-known researchers will often receive more credit for their work than lesser-known ones. If a prize is awarded, it will go to the most eminent scientist on a team, even if the bulk of the work was done by others. However, The Matthew Effect extends far beyond academia.

Admittedly, the argument that “those who have will receive even more” does, at first, seem counter-intuitive. Most of us donate to one or more charities, and our money goes to those who need it most. We would never donate to people who are extremely well-off. Or would we? In practice, though, that’s exactly what we do, and to some extent, that’s how our society is structured.

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Societal Structure

Take a look around you, and you’ll see many examples of how society reinforces The Matthew Effect, and ensures that those who already have, continue to receive more, while ensuring that those who don’t are punished.

Payday Loan Companies: If your financial circumstances prevent you from opening a bank account, or if your credit score prevents you from qualifying for a loan, you may be forced to use the services of a payday loan company. They provide short-term loans to people living paycheque-to-paycheque, but they also charge exorbitant interest rates. TV commentator John Oliver broadcast a segment on payday loan companies and how they take advantage of those who can least afford it.

Minimum Balance Service Charges: Banks are notorious for this. If you open an account and deposit a modest amount of money, then you’ll have to pay a monthly service fee. However, if you reach a certain minimum balance, then that fee is usually waived.

Bank Service Fees

Here is a typical example. I’ve pixellated the information that identifies this bank, but it doesn’t really matter – most banks will waive service charges and monthly fees if your balance is high enough.

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GIC Rates v2a

GIC Rates: It’s no secret that the more money you deposit, the more interest you will earn. People who can afford to buy a $1 million GIC will earn an annual rate of 1.35% instead of 0.90%, which is a 50% greater return.

The Oscar Swag Bag: Actors and actresses who are nominated for an Academy Award receive a bag of goodies worth (as of 2018) $100,000. These people are all millionaires; an Academy Award alone (or even just a nomination) will increase their future earning power substantially. They, of all people, don’t need an additional $100,000 in gifts.

Deceptive Dollar Stores: You wouldn’t think that dollar stores would be a poor value for poor people, but according to this article, they are. The author did some comparative shopping and found that many dollar store items cost more (by quantity) than regular store items, which in turn cost more than bulk purchases at Costco. If you can afford an Costco’s $60 annual membership, then you will be rewarded with lower prices, which, depending on your shopping habits, will usually more than make up for the fee.

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We Promote This Voluntarily

I saw the first example of The Matthew Effect in one of my sociology classes, during a unit on social stratification. Our professor recounted a social experiment in which two men in a large city asked strangers on the street for bus fare, so that they could get home. One was wearing a suit and tie, and the other was dressed more casually. To no one’s surprise, the well-dressed man collected almost twice as much money as the other man, during the same amount of time. One stranger offered gave the well-dressed man some extra change so that he might buy a newspaper to read on the bus.

Bus Fare Experiment

More recently, in Sweden, a similar social experiment was conducted. A man tried to board a public bus, told the driver that he had forgotten his wallet, and asked if he could be allowed to ride for free. He first wore a tuxedo, and tried again while wearing shabby clothes. While he was dressed in a tuxedo, he was always allowed to ride for free; while wearing the shabby clothes, he was turned down by the bus driver each time.

The Matthew Effect also applies to respect. A while ago, I read an article on a similar subject, and the writer quoted someone who had an intuitive grasp of this concept. “When you go out wearing a T-shirt, people call you ‘buddy’; when you wear a (collared) polo shirt, people call you ‘sir’.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ José Bautista earned US$18 million in 2017. However, in this article, he brags that he hasn’t paid for food since his famous 2015 post-season bat flip. Whenever he goes to a restaurant, people always offer to pay for his meal. Why are we buying food for a man who earns $1.5 million each month?

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The Chasm Widens

This is why the rich are getting richer and and the poor are getting poorer. It’s a part of our society, but it’s also our complicit behaviour that is widening the chasm. Sadly, the egalitarian society we envisioned while we were growing up is still a distant blip on the horizon.

Ball On Hill

I like to visualize The Matthew Effect like this: you are a ball placed on a hill. The x-axis represents your wealth, or perceived wealth. If you can position yourself past the crest of that hill, then you will continue to be propelled forward with increasing speed. However, if you can’t make it that far, then society will push you in the opposite direction, and keep you down. However, before you abandon all hope, Coleman Cox’s vision of a meritocracy is built in to this model: the harder you work, the more luck you will have. Make sure that you work diligently enough to move yourself past that centre point. Once you can accomplish this, then people everywhere (without even realizing why) will go out of their way to make your life a little more pleasant.

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The Porch

One of the longstanding criticisms of social media is that there seems to be a dearth of critical thinking, both in the posts and and in the comments. I agree, and after wasting many hours browsing my Facebook news feed, I now understand why.

At the risk of sounding polarizing, I’ve noticed that most posts fall into one of two categories: they either appeal to our intellect, or to our emotions. Unfortunately, it’s not a 50/50 split – the vast majority of what I see is designed to elicit an emotional response, rather than convey information. Whether it’s tugging at our heartstrings, appealing to our nurturing instincts, or evoking a sense of nostalgia, when we are emotionally engaged, our critical thinking skills seem to fade away.

Here is a recent post from my Facebook news feed:

Front Porch

This is a lovely photo, with a heartfelt sentiment. For those of us of a certain age, it’s obvious that this photo takes a direct aim at our collective sense of nostalgia. In a society where everyone is staring incessantly at their phone, and few of us even know the names of our neighbours, who wouldn’t long for a return to a simpler time, free of these modern, inward-looking distractions? Neighbours walking down the street would see you sitting on your porch, and then stop by to chat, while you offer them a glass of lemonade. This is also a magnificent porch, large enough for a family and a few neighbours, in a serene, pastoral setting. This photo, to me, symbolizes Norman Rockwell’s America – a happier, stress-free time, when people understood the importance of forging relationships. However, before you are tempted to like or share this photo, let’s examine it with a critical eye.

First, let’s look at the obvious errors in the description. This isn’t a front porch, it’s a backyard porch. A front porch would have a walkway adjacent to it. In order to see your neighbours, it should be also visible from the road. This porch looks like it’s in someone’s backyard. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend walking onto someone’s property and suddenly appearing unannounced at their back porch… in fact, in some states, this might even get you shot!

Next, let’s examine the statement itself, which employs a Field Of Dreams sentiment “If you build it, they will come“. It’s a lovely intention, but building more porches will not change society. In fact, a little research will uncover the events that led to changes in residential architecture and the disappearance of porches.

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The Gradual Disappearance of the Front Porch

Cars: According to Renee Kahn, author of the book Preserving Porches, cars are to blame for the demise of front porches “The front porch was no longer an idyllic setting where one could relax and commune with nature” for the “exhaust fumes and the noise of a steady stream of cars and trucks had rendered it inhospitable and unhealthy.

Air Conditioning: Danielle Keperling, in an article entitled Historic Porches: Their Evolution, History and Significance, suggests that the air conditioner was a catalyst of their decline, especially in the southern states, since one no longer needed to go outdoors in order to stay cool on a sweltering day.

Vintage Radio

Radio: The front porch used to be the focal point of the evening’s entertainment for many families. After the radio became commonplace, family members could entertain themselves indoors, listening to a wide variety of radio programmes.

Vintage Television-720

Television: The increasing popularity of television sealed the demise of the front porch, by shifting the entertainment indoors. According to the book Swinging in Place: Porch Life in Southern Culture, Americans watch about 1,000 hours of television each year, and combined with air conditioning, the family’s evening entertainment is now firmly entrenched in the living room.

These technologies eventually influenced the architecture. After the entertainment moved indoors, people no longer needed a a house with a front porch, and fewer home builders were including them. Technology not only moved the family indoors, but also changed the way we interact from person-person to person-machine. House designs were merely a response to this technological and social change.

Home Theatre-720

Even if we could resurrect the front porch, it won’t change anything. In addition to television and radio, we now have DVDs, home theatres, video games and computers to keep us indoors and interacting with machines instead of people. During the past two generations, our neighbourhood networking has also deteriorated to the point where many of us aren’t well-acquainted (or in some cases, don’t even know) the people on our street, or even our our next-door neighbours. This makes serendipitous foot traffic highly unlikely.

The porch photo is still a lovely sentiment, but it’s just not going to happen. Technology has changed moved our entertainment indoors, changed the way we interact with our neighbours and ultimately, influenced house design. Unless we can rid ourselves of these distractions and spend more time interacting with people face-to-face, then the front porch will remain a wistful memory.

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Did the Dinosaurs Die From Boredom?

On the surface, this sounds like a ridiculous title. Everyone knows that the dinosaurs were wiped out in a mass extinction event about 65 million years ago. An asteroid hit the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula, and the debris displaced by the impact caused an extended global winter. The dinosaurs, being cold-blooded, were unable to maintain their body temperature as the Earth started cooling, and they eventually died.

Asteroid Impact Location v2

So, what’s boredom got to do with anything? As you know, this is The Bob Angle, so naturally there has to be another way of looking at it…

A few years ago, I was watching the movie Men In Black. Toward the end of the movie, there is a CGI scene in which the camera zooms out from Battery Park in Manhattan, into orbit, past our solar system, beyond the Milky Way … until it reaches the edge of the universe itself. Then it keeps zooming out until it is revealed that our universe is actually contained within a marble-like object, which is resting on the ground of a world from a higher plane of existence.

I found this sequence fascinating because it reminded me of Stephen Hawking’s concept of multiverses – multiple universes. Hawking speculated that ours isn’t the only universe; there might be hundreds or thousands of other universes, each formed by their own Big Bang, and each governed by different laws of physics.

Marble Universe

This scene also proposes the notion of life on a higher plane of existence. Instead of a singular, managerial God, an entire society of superior beings may exist on some unreachable, god-like realm. In fact, our entire universe may be nothing more than a sophisticated physics experiment to the creatures who inhabit this plane. Naturally, every one of these creatures would be considered a god to us mere mortals.

If our snow-globe universe is a classroom experiment, then it’s possible that we are being observed by several of these god-like creatures, or perhaps an entire room full of them. That thought alone should make you want to be on your best behaviour – if Humankind destroys itself in a nuclear war (after evolving from single-celled organisms) the superior being in charge of our celestial marble may receive a lower grade for this science project.

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The Game of Life

No, I’m not talking about the board game that you probably played during your childhood; this is a more esoteric life simulation that’s also known as cellular automata. If you took computer science in university, then you will undoubtedly be familiar with it.

The concept was developed in the 1940s by John von Neumann and Stanislaw Ulam, and was turned into a simulation by John Conway during the 1970s. Calling it a game is a bit of a misnomer, since there is no continual user interaction. It’s essentially a simulation. It can also be run within a browser, if you’d like to give it a try.

You begin with a blank grid. Each square, or cell, represent a life form. You add one or more lifeforms by highlighting some of the sells. Each cell has eight neighbouring cells. Whether a particular cell survives to the next generation depends on the following set of rules:

Automata Grid

  • 0-1 Neighbours: The cell dies from underpopulation (or loneliness).
  • 2-3 Neighbours: The cell survives until the next generation.
  • 4-8 Neighbours: The cell dies from overcrowding.
  • A dead cell with three neighbours will come to life in the next generation.

Cell NeighboursIt seems absurdly simple, but this simulation can generate some surprisingly complex behaviour. Cellular automata are used in encryption, random number generation, and the arrangement of processing elements in CPUs. If you’d like to take a deep dive into this topic, M. Mitchell Waldrop’s book, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos is an excellent place to start. Waldrop elaborates on research into complex systems, done at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. Systems with just a few simple rules can generate complex, even unpredictable behaviour, and even act as if they’re intelligent.

In the Game of Life, the initial configuration of cells is called the seed. Seeds can evolve into stable, complex or chaotic patterns. However, many will becomes static patterns and others will simply oscillate forever.

Automata oscillator

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The Dinosaur / Cellular Automata Connection

Dinosaurs reigned the Earth from 225 – 65 million years ago, a period lasting 160 million years. During this time, they were in perfect harmony with nature, having established an ecological equilibrium. In fact, one might argue that the dinosaurs were better stewards of the planet than we are, despite our larger brains and lofty perch at the top of the evolutionary ladder.

Dinosaur Illustration 1

What the Game of Life is to us – a simplistic model of evolution – is probably what our universe is to these superior beings. It’s just a dark snow globe, or perhaps a novelty item sold in their museum gift shops. It might be a science experiment or a game: generate an initial seed value by adjusting the laws of physics (and other parameters), and then sit back and watch the universe unfold – see if life develops, or how advanced the civilizations will become before they destroy their environment or themselves. On a god-like plane of existence, this might actually be amusing!

Once the simulation began, and the primordial ooze coalesced into stars and planets, circumstances on Earth were interesting as it slowly took shape and developed. Life began, and started to evolve, growing increasingly complex.

Now consider the reign of the dinosaurs. They have evolved into a stable configuration, and remained that way for 160 million years. After this ecological equilibrium was established, things plateaued, evolution-wise. If I were a superior being, I would quickly become bored. Life on Earth would be much like watching a static or oscillating cellular automata pattern… dull as ditch water. Ar this point, I could throw out my snow globe universe, or being the resourceful being that I am, I could find a way to hack it… just a little.

This is what I think might have happened. The owner of our universe-in-a-marble decided to make an infinitesimal change to a tiny sliver of our universe – just enough to disrupt the equilibrium on a single planet. Our universe owner either created a new asteroid by breaking apart a large object, or nudged an existing asteroid so that its orbit would collide with Earth. The impact wouldn’t be forceful enough to destroy the planet or all life on it, but enough to cause a global extinction event and leave a few survivors who will take evolution in a new direction. In fact, the BBC reported that the asteroid hit the Earth in just the right spot to accomplish this.

Another article speculates that our sun had a sister star that hurled a few meteors in our direction every 27 million years. One of them hit the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. There are countless ways in which one can hack the universe.

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Could This Happen To Us?

In a word: no. We homo sapiens are just too darn interesting. We’ve settled all over the planet. We’ve drawn and redrawn political boundaries as empires rose and fell. We’re constantly inventing new things and are now extending our reach past the planet itself.

If that weren’t enough, we’re already the architects of our own demise. For over a century, we’ve been extracting raw materials from the ground, processing them, and then feeding them back to the planet in an indigestible (plastic), or even poisonous configuration (spent nuclear fuel rods) – a perverse form of reverse dialysis on a planetary scale.

Will we smarten up in time to stop the ecological damage we’ve caused to our planet, or will be perish as a result of our own stupidity? Even to a superior being, that’s some pretty decent cliffhanger material!

Even if we do manage to save ourselves, we still won’t be out of the proverbial woods. Achieving a net zero carbon footprint sounds like an admirable goal, but let’s not rest on our laurels for too long. After 160 million years of living in harmony with the planet, the watchers may once again decide to stir things up…

Asteroid Earth

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A Single, Detached Home in Manhattan?

A couple of years ago, I visited my brother and his family at their condo in midtown Manhattan. If you haven’t been to Manhattan, the density – while predictable – is nevertheless something to behold. Naturally, when you run out of land, you then start building up, and since Manhattan is an island, that land boundary was reached a long time ago. Look down any major street in downtown or midtown, and you’ll see one 50-storey building after another, both residential and commercial, almost as far as you can see. Cars and taxis fill the streets, the subways are crowded, even the sidewalks (which are extraordinarily wide) are crowded with people. As a child, I heard many television references to the dark alleys of New York City. When I was there, I didn’t notice any – the buildings were pressed right up against each other. Any alleyway would now be seen as prime real estate.

Manhattan Slyline

One evening, I asked my brother and his wife “Are there any single, detached homes in Manhattan? I’m sure there must have been a few just after WWII, but what about now? Could I find – somewhere in Manhattan – a typical suburban home – a detached, single-family house with a driveway, a garage, a front yard and a back yard? Of course, a white picket fence would be icing on the cake…

Manhattan Map v2

They didn’t think that there were any, given that the typical suburban home is one of the less efficient ways to house people on a given plot of land. In a city where a parking spot costs more than many people make per hour, a single family house with a front and back yard seemed unlikely.

Manhattan Parking Rates

Once I returned home, I decided to do a little online searching.

I started with Google Maps, switched to the satellite view, and started scanning Manhattan Island. This building, located in Inwood Hill Park near the north-west end of the island, seemed promising, although based in its shape, it looked more like a church than a private residence. As it turns out, this is the Payson Building, named after George Shipman Payson (1845-1923). It’s now a research centre with a small museum that’s open to the public.

Payson Building

Then I found the Dyckman Farmhouse, billed as the city’s only remaining Dutch colonial farmhouse. It was built around 1764, and is now a museum.

Dyckman Farmhouse

Next, there was the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a stately home on a sprawling piece of land. Built in 1765, it has the distinction of being the oldest house in Manhattan. It, too, is a museum.

Morris-Jumel Mansion

After searching the web, I found an article that mentioned the Schinasi Mansion, located in the Upper West Side. It is described as Manhattan’s last freestanding mansion. However, after getting a close look at it from Google’s Street View, it’s not exactly the suburban home I had envisioned. For one thing, it has 18 rooms and spans 12,000 square feet, and includes a library, pool room and several great rooms. It also lacks a yard.

351 Riverside Drive

Finally, I found it. Nestled at the northern tip of the island was not just one, but a cluster of houses that, from the street, resemble a typical middle-class neighbourhood in any medium-size town. Here is the Google Street View, so you can see for yourself.

Single Detached Houses in Manhattan 1-1000

Single Detached Houses in Manhattan 2-1000

There is it, a driveway, a garage, a front yard, and (from what I could gather from the satellite view), a modest back yard. Considering that many people living a few kilometres south are paying over $20/hr for a parking spot, having one’s own garage seems like a luxury!

While Manhattan real estate agents are promoting multi-million dollar condos in midtown, no one can offer what these houses have. Just imagine that listing “Single, detached, single family Manhattan home, with your own driveway and private garage, on a quiet, tree-lined street. Escape the hustle and bustle of the city in your very own backyard.

Personally, I think this discovery is immensely satisfying – it’s the last little bit of suburbia on Manhattan Island. I wonder how long this quaint little neighbourhood will last?

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Do Creationists Make Better Novelists?

Fountain Pen 1.1

Last week, I was having lunch with a coworker, “Ray”, who is a science fiction author. I asked him for some writing tips to help me to craft better blog posts, and he told me that one of the secrets is proper preparation. When he plots his novels, he always writes the last chapter first.

That seemed counter-intuitive to me, so I asked him to elaborate. He explained “Write the last chapter first, and then explain how you got there. If you don’t do this, then you are no longer in control – you no longer write the story; the story writes itself.” That, of course, would eventually lead to this disconcerting moment:

I Should Have Plotted That Book

This was an interesting approach, and it got me thinking “Do Creationists make better novelists?” If these two things seem hopelessly disparate, then allow me to connect the dots.

Very few people still believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible these days, so – ironically enough – Creationists have evolved. They are now repackaging their idea and marketing it as Intelligent Design Theory. They hope that calling their idea a theory will actually elevate it to that stratum. We know better. What they are proposing (in my opinion) lies somewhere between a hypothesis and a whimsical notion. Even if we are generous and accept it as a hypothesis, it’s still not remotely close to qualifying as a theory. What’s the difference, you may ask?

Hypothesis

  • An untestable idea that cannot currently be falsified.
  • An assumption, proposed so that it can be tested. It is the starting point for additional study.
  • Based on projection.
  • Based on limited data.

Theory

  • An idea that has been well-tested, and substantiated by data.
  • An explanation that has been obtained through the scientific method, and confirmed through observation and experimentation.
  • Based on evidence, verification and repeated testing.
  • Based on a wide range of data, and tested under varying conditions.

A theory follows the scientific method. It begins with a hypothesis, which is then modified and refined (as often as needed) by repeated observations, measurements and data collection. The data is then analyzed and a conclusion is drawn.

Scientific Method

If someone claims that Intelligent Design is a theory, then it’s the only theory that begins with a conclusion. Its adherents then scurry about, in a frenzy of confirmation bias, desperately searching for any observations that bolster this immutable conclusion.

The ending of Intelligent Design has already been written first, and now they are trying to document how to get there. Otherwise, independent observations may make the hypothesis write itself, and who knows where it might lead? It may meander in a completely different direction, and that would be clearly unacceptable.

Coincidentally, this is exactly how my colleague Ray plots his novels. So, would modern-day Creationists make better novelists? Personally, I’m inclined to believe that they would. Creationists do have more experience than evolutionists, in the construction of elaborate fictional stories. They also – like many novelists – require of their audiences, the suspension of disbelief. Besides, it was a group of Creationists who collaborated on the all-time best-selling fictionalized work…

Bible, Side View

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Percussive Mimicry

From time to time, pop and rock bands need to include a specific, non-musical sound in their songs – generally something that will complement the lyrics. While they could simply ask their audio engineer to overlay a sound effect in the studio, many bands will often call upon their drummers to use their drum kit, or any other instruments as well as objects they may have – castanets, bells or even wooden blocks – in a creative way in order to mimic that sound.

Over the past few months, I’ve been listening for examples of this creative use of percussion instruments. The more I heard, the more impressed I became with versatility of the modern drummer. This is what I’ve compiled so far – I’ll be adding to this list as I discover more examples of percussive mimicry. If I’ve missed anything noteworthy, please let me know in the comments.

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Band: Bananarama
Song: Shy Boy
Effect: Heartbeat
Lyrics: “I never missed a heartbeat [SFX], sitting in the back seat.”
MM:SS: 00:25

Shy Boy AC-2

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Band: The Beatles
Song: Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Effect: A hammer being struck on someone’s head.
Lyrics: “Bang [SFX] Bang [SFX] Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head”
MM:SS: 00:48
Comments: I couldn’t find the original Abbey Road version of this song on YouTube. This was the closest-sounding version I could find.

BAR AC-2

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Band: The Beatles
Song: A Day In The Life
Effect: A car crash.
Lyrics: “He blew his mind out in a car [SFX], he didn’t notice that the lights had changed.”
MM:SS: 00:44
Comments: A drum fill mimics a car crash, or (as I interpret it) a car rolling over several times, before coming to a stop with its freshly-deceased occupant inside.

BSP AC-2

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Band: Doug & the Slugs
Song: Too Bad
Effect: Gunshot.
Lyrics: “A 45… goodbye! [SFX] I used with no hesitation.”
MM:SS: 02:32
Comments: In the official video, Doug Bennett is despondent over a failed relationship and shoots himself in the head. As he crumples to the ground, his love interest merely rolls her eyes. Miraculously, Doug survives with just a little bit of stage blood on his forehead.

Too Bad AC-2

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Band: Duran Duran
Song: Is There Something I Should Know?
Effect: Jungle drums.
Lyrics: “People stare and cross the road from me, and jungle drums [SFX] they all clear the way for me. Can you read my mind, can you see in the snow?”
MM:SS: 01:52
Comments: I wasn’t sure if I should even include this example, because it’s essentially a drum imitating another type of drum. Yes, this mimicry is a bit of a stretch…

Duran AC-2

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Band: Huey Lewis & The News
Song: The Heart Of Rock & Roll
Effect: Heartbeat.
MM:SS: 00:02

Sports AC-2

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Band: The Knack
Song: Your Number Or Your Name
Effect: Subway train wheels.
Lyrics: “Caught a glimpse in the subway, but you weren’t going my way. You were lost in the rumble of the train [SFX].”
MM:SS: 00:57

Knack AC-2

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Band: Paper Lace
Song: The Night Chicago Died
Effect: Clock ticking.
Lyrics: “And there was no sound at all, but the clock up on the wall [SFX].”
MM:SS: 02:24

Paper Lace AC-2

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Band: Rough Trade
Song: High School Confidential
Effect: High heels against the hard floor of a high school hallway.
Lyrics: “You can hear, her stilettos click [SFX]. I want her so much, I feel sick.”
MM:SS: 00:45

Rough Trade AC-2

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Band: Styx
Song: Don’t Sit On the Plexiglass Toilet
Effect: The sharp staccato sound of a toilet seat smacking against the base of a toilet.
Lyrics: “A boy of five stands close to the toilet, holds the lid up with one hand. Won’t let go the lid for fear that, on his banana it will land [SFX].”
MM:SS: 00:21
Comments: This is a hidden track from their 1973 album, The Serpent Is Rising. It received some airplay during the 1980s, on the Dr. Demento Show.

Styx TSIR AC-2

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Band: Tony Orlando & Dawn
Song: Knock Three Times
Effect: A hard object hitting a pipe – presumably the pipes beneath the kitchen sink.
Lyrics: “Oh my sweetness [SFX – foot stomping] means you’ll meet me in the hallway. Twice on the pipes [SFX] means you ain’t gonna show.”
MM:SS: 00:50

Tony Orlando AC-2

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Artist: Trini Lopez
Song: If I Had A Hammer
Effect: Bell.
Lyrics: “If I had a bell [SFX], I’d ring it in the morning…”
MM:SS: 00:57

Trini Lopex AC-2

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Unintended Lyrical Inspiration: Lenny Kravitz

This post is one in a sporadic series in which I analyze pop song lyrics from a my own unique perspective, and discover inspiration where the musician never intended any. Today I’m going to examine a song by Lenny Kravitz called Always On The Run.

This song – a collaboration between Lenny Kravitz and Saul Hudson (who wrote the music) – opens with a guitar riff that’s reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, followed by lyrics that that consist of well-intentioned maternal advice. Here is a line from the first verse (at 0:52 in the video) that in my opinion, rises above the rest: 

“My mama said, ‘You can be big or small.‘ “

If your reaction to this line is indifference, then I agree that it may not sound particularly meaningful or even important. The first few times that I heard this song, this admonition didn’t do anything for me either. 

So what are we supposed to get out of it? On the surface, this line, when spoken by a parent to a child or teenager, probably means “You can achieve whatever you like in life. You are limited only by your talent and ambition. However, you can also decide to do as little as possible and coast your entire life, without striving to develop your character or a solid work ethic. The choice is yours.”

I’d like to add an additional interpretation: “Once you decide to leave the nest, you are essentially on your own. If you lack ambition and decide to coast though life, no one (other than your immediate family) is going to care if you don’t accomplish anything.”

You’re probably thinking “Come on, that’s just common sense. Everyone knows that they have to make their own mark on the world, and no one is going to care if they are not reaching your potential.” That’s what I thought too, until a decade ago, when society started to change. This change was the emergence of the helicopter parent, and the deleterious effects that their over-nurturing was having on their children.

Garden Hose

When I was a child, we didn’t have helicopter parents, and in hindsight, my friends and I had a fair amount of freedom:

  • There were no cell phones, so we could be playing with the neighbour’s kids all day long, and our parents weren’t the least bit worried.

  • I rode my bicycle up and down my street, and on the road, since our street didn’t have any sidewalks.

  • Starting in Grade 5, I walked to school and back, by myself. This was a 20-25-minute walk, each way.

  • We played road hockey, and if a car was coming someone would simply yell “Car!” and we all stepped aside. I didn’t see this as inherently dangerous.

  • I remember a field trip in Grade 6 that involved orienteering. After a lesson on how to use a compass and read a map, we were sent into the woods (in small groups) to find various markers on trees, and then make our way back to the starting point.

Parents At Job Interviews

Today, many parents not only drive their teenagers to high school, they rarely let their kids out of their sight. While you could argue that this is merely an enhanced form of parental nurturing, I call it coddling, and it doesn’t end when the children grow up and become adults. Some parents are even accompanying their adult children to job interviews, which I think is just bizarre.

What emerges from this overbearing style of parenting, is a set of unrealistic expectations from others and from society. Witness bridezillas and promposals

Helicopter Parents, Pool

If the constant, smothering attention weren’t annoying enough, some helicopter parents believe that their child can do no wrong and often blame or even harass teachers because their child is performing poorly in class.

Imagine growing up surrounded by people who give you participation trophies so that you will never experience disappointment, and who bend over backwards to ensure that you never have to exert yourself. This, to me, is similar to growing up with Secret Service protection. You will eventually feel invincible and believe that no harm will come to you, no matter what decisions you make.

That’s why I believe that many of these kids will enter the workforce with a skewed sense of entitlement. Not all, obviously, but a greater percentage than the previous generation.

That’s why Lenny Kravitz’s song lyrics have acquired a renewed relevance. Once you strike out on your own, it will be up to you to make a name for yourself, which requires paying your dues and working harder than everyone you know. If you don’t succeed, no one will care.

While society owes you nothing, this doesn’t mean that people will be mean to you. In fact, people will likely be kind and sympathetic. For example, if you are at a fast food restaurant and the cashier is a man in his mid-30s or mid-40s, you obviously aren’t going to make fun of him. On the contrary, you may think:

  • He enjoys what he does for a living – so who are we to judge?
  • Maybe this is all he’s capable of doing. We mustn’t criticize.
  • Maybe he needs to work two jobs to support his family or for an unexpected expense.

However, you’re not going to wonder whether this middle-aged McDonald’s cashier is achieving his version of fulfillment or self-actualization in his life. That’s his problem.

Lenny Kravitz GH

“My mama said, ‘You can be big or small.‘ “

If you’re a young adult about to enter the workforce, memorize this line. Better yet, make it your mantra. I hope that you will become an ambitious and accomplished person, and that you’ll make your own positive mark on the world. On the other hand, if you decide to take the path of least resistance in life, no one will care. Your well-meaning helicopter parents created an artificial environment for you, which unfortunately bears no resemblance to the real world that you are about to enter. Lenny Kravitz may not have thought about it in this way, but he has just given you a valuable life lesson.

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