Author Archive for



09
Apr
14

nickel creek

Nickel Creek4

A few days ago I wrote a bit about the Clemens Initiative, and then gave in again to procrastination. Pursuing new tunes was supposed to provide new motivation to overcoming my writing hump, but instead became a diversion… at least for a day or two. So here’s another attempt to move on.

There are three things which contribute to parricides having one of the lowest recidivism rates among former inmates.

First, statistics tell us that once the abusive parent is out of the picture, more than 90% of parricides will never go on to commit another crime of any kind. This is not attributable to the rehabilitative qualities of our prisons but, rather, to the fact that parricides are not common criminals, but a niche subset all to themselves.

Second, strength of character is the decisive factor in my determination of whether or not to take on a young person. This work got started for me when I received a letter from Derek King in which he was absolutely honest with me about having committed the murder of his father. Since then, the first step in deciding whether to back a young person is receipt of a letter describing his/her story. Often times, such a letter is the first time a young person retells their story since the parricide event. These letters are very revealing and are the primary basis upon which I decide whether to make an investment in their futures.

Third is the unstinting and unconditional support of each young person, regardless of innocence or guilt. Whatever a young person says he/she needs to level the playing field and provide a genuine second chance, we will attempt to meet their needs over the course of their entire life. This includes the provision of skilled legal representation during the defense or appeal of the crime; in the absence of other financial support, a monthly stipend during their incarceration; books and tuition assistance to help them pursue their individual interests, skills, and goals; help in securing health care, adequate housing, transportation, and a good job in the prison-to-freedom transition; etc. In addition to these standard ways of supporting youth, we are committed to supporting their particular plans. Austin Eversole is currently engaged in getting the prison to reopen its woodworking shop and building cabinetry and furniture for internal and external clients. David McCullough, an artist, sells paintings and drawings on the outside. We will assist them however we can.

This commitment to individualized support is a tall order, and the unknowns of the future provide unlimited opportunities for promises not being kept or expectations not being met. For this reason, the parricide’s inheritance to a piece of Estrella Vista is the first thing provided. If all else fails, parricides are at least provided with the hope of a permanent home whenever they are eventually released.

The thing that initially so interested me about supporting a cluster of parricides is to encourage the idea of parricides supporting other parricides. I have Lone Heron–a 40-something parricide, author of Inherited Rage, and someone who is making it in the real world–corresponding with two of the four inmates at Clemens. It has been invaluable tracking her progress. The differences between life experiences among the correspondents have proved to be a real challenge for Lone Heron, and I hesitate to ask her to take additional correspondents into her circle. Yet she may find it refreshing to talk with people who have an older perspective. They have learned more.

I am gratified and impressed by Lone Heron’s dedication to this task. It shows the grit of her commitment to helping other people who have gone through similar events. It takes one’s acceptance of the past to a whole new level.

These developments within the Clemens Initiative are time-consuming and take their own twists and turns. Sometimes this leads to periods of quiet, like now, when new music takes center stage. Last weekend I discovered a band called Nickel Creek.

Nickel Creek (formerly known as The Nickel Creek Band) is an American progressive acoustic music trio consisting of Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (fiddle) and Sean Watkins (guitar). Formed in 1989 in Southern California when Sean Watkins and Chris Thile had mandolin lessons with the same music instructor, they released six albums between 1993 and 2006. The band broke out in 2000 with a platinum-selling self-titled album produced by Alison Krauss, earning a number of Grammy and CMA nominations.

Their fourth album won a 2003 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Following a fifth studio album and a compilation album, the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the conclusion of their 2007 Farewell (For Now) Tour.Following numerous solo projects from the band members, Nickel Creek reformed in 2014 with announcement of a new album, A Dotted Line, and subsequent tour.

Nickel Creek Tx Road Sign

Just when I was beginning to view new music as the high-point of an otherwise eventless day, the film about Paul Henry Gingerich has aired again on the UK’s Channel 4, and in the last hour, over 3,000 people have found some of the posts I have written about him, Colt, and the crime. I have to go now and answer some emails from the Brits.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Nickel Creek performing “Destination

08
Apr
14

bye bye baby

andy hardy

Andy Hardy

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whitey marsh

Whitey Marsh

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dan troop 2

Dan Troop

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Huck Finn

Huck Finn

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joseph yule jr

Joseph Yule, Jr.

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Mr. Yunioshi

Mr. Yunioshi

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bill

Bill

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1920-2014

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Janis Joplin performing “Bye Bye Baby”

07
Apr
14

marmalade

citrus 1

I’m avoiding writing again, and instead familiarizing myself with old music that I haven’t known of before. Case in point: The Marmalade.

The Marmalade was a Scottish pop rock group from the east end of Glasgow, originally formed in 1961 as the Gaylords, and then later billed as Dean Ford and the Gaylords. In 1966 they changed the group name to The Marmalade. The most successful period for the band, in terms of UK chart success, was between 1968 and 1972.

marmalade

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It rained very briefly last night… about five raindrops fell on my roof. I wish this event had been an inspiration for today’s selection. My pond needs filling.

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citrus 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Marmalade performing “I See The Rain”

06
Apr
14

the war on drugs

Smoking Youth 2

No, this post is not about America’s failed policy of prohibition, but about a band I have just discovered while putting off writing you a post about my latest experiment in parricide support, underway for some time now, here in Texas.

Yes, Texas.

I know I have been reluctant, until meeting Austin Eversole, to take on any Texas cases because I had wanted the extra insulation from lawsuits and physical threats this “rule” would provide. But I have discovered a cluster of parricides serving time in a prison, Clemens Unit, in the greater Houston area, and my interest in the possibilities of such a situation overcame any feelings of queasiness I previously felt about taking on Texas cases.

Besides Austin Eversole (aged 21 and serving a 40-year sentence), are: David Childress (aged 24 and serving a 40-year sentence), Travis Tyler (aged 35 and serving a 99-year sentence), and David McCullough (aged 32 and serving a 40-year sentence). All in one place. All parricides. Each one with a different story. But all thrown away by society.

In most cases, we are the first to express an interest in helping them in any way since their sentences began.

Texas, at any rate, is experiencing some changes which may well affect the rest of America, and I want us to be a part of those changes.

First of all, Texas is changing from a “Red” state to a “Purple” state in its politics. Second, it is experiencing an apparent economic “boom” in its growth. Third, its burgeoning minority population is questioning the “cowboy justice” mentality which has dominated Texas culture up until now.

Hell yes, I want us involved in that action.

We have not been invited into the prison by the state, but by the inmates. The inmates have agreed to our basic plan of action, if not the particulars. They are still trying to get their heads around the enormity of our commitment to them; they do not yet know what they should be asking for. There is no “grand plan” or “program.” It is an inductive process that unfolds gradually, opportunistically, the future lying hidden around the next curve.

The only things we know for sure is that we will help them to win shorter sentences at the parole board, that we will offer a place to live and work after prison (a permanent anchor in their lives), that we will support each of these young men in their goal of tapping their innate talents and abilities in forging worthwhile, rewarding lives for themselves. We will publicize their stories in the media as a means for building public support for them. What happens to them in the prison will brought to the attention of the public. If there are legal reasons for the appeals of their sentences, we will pursue those.

But we don’t know how these objectives will be achieved, only what they are. We are aware that making progress towards these objectives will depend on getting along with the state authorities every step of the way.

It’s hard to write about such prospective activity without blowing smoke up your ass (to put it crudely). This is more a matter of adopting a realistic position than selling a vision. Our first site visit to Clemens won’t happen for 60 days as part of a filming project being undertaken by an international news network. We are still working out the permissions of state and facility officials, so there is a lot that can still fall out of bed. So far, everything looks good, but experience shows that it pays to be skeptical.

But I digress. This post is about a band which is new to me. A sound I’m pretty excited about.

The War on Drugs is an American indie rock band from Philadelphia PA, formed in 2005. The band consists of Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar), David Hartley (bass, guitar), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, guitar), and Patrick Berkery (drums). Founded by close collaborators Granduciel and Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs released their debut studio album, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008. Vile departed shortly after its release to focus on his solo career. The band’s second studio album Slave Ambient was released in 2011 to critical acclaim and extensive touring. A third album, Lost in the Dream, was released in March 2014.

I like the following selection because of its energy level. Having enough energy to meet the growing expectations of me has recently been quite a challenge. Lately I have been turning into a grumpy old man, and find myself easily aggravated by any contacts with people on the outside. I think it is because I find it so difficult to deal with people and things outside the predictable norms of my daily routine.

Maybe if I keep listening to music like this, I will be motivated to write more about my Clemens Initiative.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The War On Drugs performing “Red Eyes”

 

 

05
Apr
14

out

This is a development that seems to have taken “political correctness” a step too far. I don’t agree with Eich’s views, but I do believe he has a right to hold his opinions as long as they do not interfere with the way he runs a public company. Tyranny is a real possibility on both ends of the political spectrum and every step in between.

I have chosen this article for re-publication, not only because its views reflect my own, but because it came from a magazine once led by a famously-gay publisher.

We should all feel we can privately hold unpopular views without fear of losing our jobs or worse.

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Mozilla’s Brendan Eich: Persecutor Or Persecuted?

by Susan Adams, Forbes
April 4, 2014

brendan eichThe ousting of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla seems to be a first in the history of American corporations. After just two weeks in the top job, Eich stepped down as chief of the company that makes the popular Firefox web browser. Though CEOs have taken heat for their positions on controversial issues—Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has said the investment bank lost at least one major client because he holds the opposite view from Eich, in favor of gay marriage—none have ever resigned their posts as a result of public protest.

Eich was apparently pushed out by the board.  Yesterday executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker put up a blog post that said, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.”

Eich’s departure came shortly after employees at Mozilla brought to light the fact that back in 2008, he had donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a California law that banned same-sex marriage (courts have since struck down the measure). That news made its way across Twitter and the popular dating site, OkCupid, which posted a letter saying “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples.” It went on, “We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.” Though Eich apologized for causing “pain” and insisted he could separate his personal views from the way he ran the company, that didn’t wash with the board.

Since the Eich news broke yesterday, there has been a flood of opinion both for and against his move. Among those in favor: Sam Biddle, a writer at the online publication Valley Wag, who wrote, “Good for Mozilla, good for OkCupid, and good for everyone, really. Now let’s do racism next!” In the San Jose Mercury News, Michelle Quinn wrote, “[I]n this era of transparency, he didn’t do enough to save his job. He failed to realize that these days, the CEO of a tech company is more like a politician than a business executive.”

On the other side, the sharpest critic of Eich’s ouster is Andrew Sullivan, the popular writer of the Daily Dish blog who is openly gay and an early supporter of gay marriage. “The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society,” he wrote. “If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out.” On Twitter, many agreed with Sullivan. “The mob got their man,” wrote Matt Galligan, CEO of news startup Circa. “While I disagree with his beliefs @BrendanEich gave us JavaScript and helped build Mozilla & Netscape. Just $1,000 to Prop 8 now his legacy.”  The news even prompted Michael Barbaro, a reporter at The New York Times, where news writers are supposed to keep their personal opinions to themselves, to tweet, “This is giant news, and makes me wonder, is opposition to gay marriage now a boardroom crime?”

The answer to that question seems to be yes. I talked to two crisis communications consultants who said that the not-so-new reality in Silicon Valley is that if executives want to hold the top job, they can’t oppose gay rights. Paul Argenti, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who is also a corporate communications consultant and the author of the textbook, Corporate Communications, regrets Eich’s firing. “We should respect the privacy of people to believe and do whatever they want,” he says. “Otherwise who is going to become a leader?” But, he adds, “If you have designs on being the CEO, you have to realize your private life is not as private as you think.” Though Argenti believes that Mozilla should have protected Eich’s right to hold private political views that conflicted with popular opinion, “he made a bad decision by not realizing this could happen.”

Eric Dezenhall, who runs a crisis communications firm in Washington DC, agrees with Argenti and goes a step further. “There is a very specific narrative today on certain issues and if you step an inch out of bounds, you’re going to get fouled or worse,” he says. “He stepped on one of the three great land mines: gay rights, race and the environment. You don’t have to have made flagrantly terrible statements to get into trouble now.” Though most people view corporate America as being right wing, contends Dezenhall, over the last three decades, companies have increasingly made public statements that show their progressive stripes.

There are exceptions: Chief operating officer Dan Cathy of fast food chain Chick-fil-A has made millions in donations to anti-LGBT organizations and has spoken out strongly against gay marriage. But the company is closely held and based in Atlanta, rather than Silicon Valley and Cathy has kept his job. DIY chain Hobby Lobby is in the news now for opposing a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires company health insurance to cover contraception. But like Chick-fil-A, the company is based far from Silicon Valley, in Oklahoma City and its position isn’t held by a lone executive.

Though I am a strong supporter of gay rights and marriage equality and I thought Proposition 8 was a travesty, my first reaction to the Eich news was the same as Andrew Sullivan’s: If Eich wanted privately to support that bill, but didn’t discriminate against gay employees or advocate the company quit providing benefits to domestic partners, then he shouldn’t be fired for his views. But the news of the past day underlines the points made by Argenti and Dezenhall: We live in a time when it’s nearly impossible to keep private views private and as Quinn says, corporate leaders must realize that they are now subject to the same scrutiny as politicians, especially on radioactive issues like gay marriage.

A piece in today’s Wall Street Journal points out another practical reason that Eich’s private views could have presented a problem for Mozilla: the company is hoping to renew a major contract with Google, a company that strongly supports gay rights. The Journal talked to a Mozilla insider who said the deal might have been put in jeopardy by Eich’s leadership.

One more irony in the controversy: Mozilla, which grew out of Netscape, is made up of a nonprofit foundation and its taxpaying subsidiary. The organization develops open-source, free software relying on its own employees and a community of third-party developers. You would think that such an open, transparent set-up would invite tolerance of private beliefs that may run against what has become the mainstream. But that is obviously not the case.

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Susan Adams is a staff writer for Forbes.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Gayle Barnett performing “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine

 

04
Apr
14

change the world

change the world

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Ten Years After performing “I’d Love to Change the World”

03
Apr
14

underdog

The song “Teenage Dirtbag” (as performed by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain) came up in conversation during my recent visit with the Diary reader who stopped by, and ever since then it has been running through my head. On review, even though I have known about this performance for years, I realize I have not shared it with you until now.

It was originally released in July 2000 as the lead single from the alternative rock group Wheatus, and included on the soundtrack of the movie Loser.

The single was massively successful in Australia, spending four weeks at number 1 and becoming the second-highest selling single of the year. It also reached number 2 in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Nearly 11 years after its initial release, in March 2011, the song returned to the UK Singles Chart at number 43 and climbed to number 35 the following week. The song was ranked number 69 on the Top 100 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time countdown by British music channel “The Hits”. In June 2013, Triple J ranked the song as number 82 on their “Twenty years of Triple J’s hottest 100″.

What accounts for the enduring popularity of the song?

It has to do, of course, with our eternal sympathy for the underdog in a fight. It also has to do with the memory (of those of us who were not captains of the high school football team or a member of the cheerleading squad) of having been on the “outs” with our peers. The recognition of the effects of bullying, in recent years, has also reinforced the song’s popularity.

I don’t know if I am overly emotional, but the story presented in the song never fails to bring a tear to my eye. And it wasn’t until years later when I’d grown up that I realized I’d been weird in high school.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Wheatus performing the original version of “Teenage Dirtbag”

 

02
Apr
14

freedom of choice

choice 2

One of the stories I was fond of telling was of the time that Derek King, upon his release from the Florida prison system, was initially paralyzed by the breath of choice in toothpastes he confronted in the first Wal-Mart he visited. I used to tell that story to illustrate the effects of the prison system’s practice of proscribing normal behavior and controlling every action in an inmate’s life. Inmates are told when to do things and how to do them. Not good training when personal initiative is the only way to survive on the outside.

Now it turns out that I’ve discovered I have been wrong, at least to a degree. This paralysis is a condition that, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz, affects all of us. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us all not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

In his 2005 TED talk (which takes about 20 minutes), Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: why is it that societies of great abundance—where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before—are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression?

Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: he makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz says; it is exhausting to the human psyche. Whether we’re buying a pair of jeans, ordering a cup of coffee, selecting a long-distance carrier, applying to college, choosing a doctor, or setting up a 401(k), everyday decisions—both big and small—have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming abundance of choice with which we are presented.

We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and perpetual stress. And, in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression.

Things were better is the “good old days” of limited choice because there was always a chance you would be pleasantly surprised by what you’d get. With today’s marketing of 285 varieties of cookies at the typical grocery store, 230 soups, 175 salad dressings, 40 toothpastes, and 6.5 million choices of stereo components at the consumer electronics store, your expectation is to get it right—to get it perfect—every time. But things are rarely perfect. “The secret of happiness,” says Schwartz, “is low expectations.”

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz explains at what point choice—the hallmark of individual freedom and self-determination that we so cherish—becomes detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being. He shows how the dramatic explosion in choice—from the mundane to the profound challenges of balancing career, family, and individual needs—has paradoxically become a problem instead of a solution.

In The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz makes the counterintuitive case that eliminating choices can greatly reduce the stress, anxiety, and busyness of our lives. We would be better off if we:

  1. Voluntarily constrained our freedom of choice.
  2. Sought “good enough” instead of “the best.”
  3. Lowered our expectations about decision’s results.
  4. Made nonreversible decisions.
  5. Paid less attention to what others around us do.

In the final chapter, he offers eleven practical steps on how to limit choices to a manageable number, have the discipline to focus on the important ones and ignore the rest, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make:

  1. Choose when to choose.
  2. Be a chooser, not a picker.
  3. Satisfice more; maximize less.
  4. Consider the opportunity costs of opportunity costs.
  5. Make your decisions nonreversible.
  6. Adopt an “attitude of gratitude.”
  7. Regret less.
  8. Anticipate adaptation.
  9. Control expectations.
  10. Curtail social comparisons.
  11. Learn to love constraints.

I have chosen to dramatically limit my available choices by living alone at Estrella Vista. It has worked for me. I have never been happier.

choice 1

My secret to happiness: Be satisfied with what you’re going to get anyway.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to A Perfect Circle performing “Freedom of Choice”

01
Apr
14

murder, suicide & impulsivity

lifeboat 2

The other night, I heard an interview of Jennifer Michael Hecht, a poet, philosopher, historian, and commentator. She is the author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, published by Yale University Press.

She said something about suicide which reminded me of something a man told me about the urge to kill his abusive father: that the only reason he didn’t do it was because he was mindful of the pain it would cause his mother and other members of his family. This thought gave him the strength to endure years of further suffering for their sakes, and to determine an alternative means of dealing with a situation which he had thought was beyond his control—but as it turned out, was not.

In her book, Hecht focuses on two themes.

The first is the harm that suicide does to those who are left behind. We don’t fully comprehend what we mean to others. If we find ourselves in the “bubble” of depression, we can’t see out of it, and focus only on ourselves. We become transfixed to the exclusion of all other ideas on the “right” of personal autonomy, oblivious to how our death will affect others. “Suicides happen in clusters,” she says, with one person’s suicide influencing others. Hecht argues that “when a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community.” If a parent commits suicide, his or her children are three times as likely to do so at some point in their lives. People in the act of committing suicide may feel isolated, but, in fact, they are deeply connected to those around them. We must hold suicide up to the clarifying light of communal values. As Hecht put it, if you want your niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.

Hecht’s second theme is that you owe it to your future self to live. People—but young people, especially—tend to think that things will stay exactly as they are now. They fail to realize that everything is constantly changing, and that this moment could just as well be the lowest point possible and that things will improve. We cannot know what surprises life may bring. Life offers endless possibilities for change. We must foster values of perseverance and courage, of bearing witness to the night side of being human and waiting for the sun. Life isn’t too hard to bear—only, as Hecht poignantly puts it, “almost too hard to bear.”

It seems to me that everything Hecht says about suicide can be said about parricide. Both are impulsive, egocentric acts. I do not suggest this parallel to freight the act of parricide with more moral approbation; I am only suggesting that egocentrism and impulsivity are characteristics to which the juvenile brain is developmentally prone.

In the absence of courage and communitarianism being fostered in our young people as countervailing values to their natural instincts, we can look forward to a further degradation of the respect for life in the general society… our own lives and those of the people around us.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Mashburn Brothers performing “Take Me in a Lifeboat

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Note: Maybe at first glance, you thought my choice of at today’s photograph was my way of setting you up for an April Fool’s prank. It wasn’t. The subject of this post was “as serious as a heart attack,” as they say.

Yet I don’t want this day to slip by without acknowledging this special day. The 100 Greatest April Fool’s Hoaxes are listed at the website for The Museum of Hoaxes, and is well worth a visit for several good laughs.

migrantmomOne of my favorites: #31. In 2005 Popular Photography ran an article titled “Can these photos be saved?” about how to remove unsightly wrinkles from photographic subjects. They chose, as an example of a photo that “needed to be saved,” Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photo taken in 1936 during the Great Depression. Lange’s photo is one of the most widely admired in the world. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe it as the Mona Lisa of photographs, and the Migrant Mother’s stoic expression is what makes the image great.

Nevertheless, the editors of Popular Photography erased her wrinkles, softened her gaze, and removed her kids, transforming her from an iconic symbol of endurance into a smooth-faced, worry-free soccer mom. Their readers were horrified, not realizing the article was a spoof on the way magazines routinely touch-up celebrity images to remove blemishes and wrinkles. Hundreds wrote in expressing outrage at the defacement of such a classic image. To which the editors replied, “Look at the date it was published!”

 

31
Mar
14

earworms 2

head 2

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “Earworms,” a short essay about how catchy tunes become stuck in your head and won’t go away. According to research, it happens to 90% of us at least once a week.

Now imagine that the distant tune in the back of your head suddenly becomes very real. A real singer. Real drums. Real guitar. Strings. Full volume. These are called musical hallucinations and some people suffer from them on a daily basis.

In the years since I wrote that piece, I have heard public radio and others cover this topic (usually from a scientific perspective), most recently in The New Yorker and last week on RadioLab. Here is a segment of the radio show that runs about 20 minutes:

Listen to the rebroadcast of RadioLab’s April 21, 2008 segment on “Earworms”

Nothing ever happened as a result of publishing that post except that a friend called and scolded me for it, saying that I’d implanted something in his head that was like a virus. He must have thought the Groove of the Day was especially nefarious. But I warned everybody. I said, “Listen at Your Own Risk.”

I have found the subject of earworms of continuing interest. I once did a long drive in the West, and as an experiment, the radio and sound system were “Off” the whole time. Yet my head was filled with music continually. Full symphonic sound when I wanted it. Full voices when I wanted that. Whole scores. And “Off” when I wanted no more. I liked it. I was amazed.

But there are some people for whom earworms are a problem. They cannot turn off the song or lower the volume. They are afflicted.

Last year, researchers at Western Washington University claimed that the best way to stop the phenomenon is by solving some tricky anagrams. This can force the intrusive music out of your working memory, they say, allowing it to be replaced with other more amenable thoughts. For those unwilling to carry around a book of anagrams, a good novel may also do the trick.

“The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,” said Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University who conducted the research. “If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head.

“Something we can do automatically like driving or walking means you are not using all of your cognitive resource, so there is plenty of space left for that internal jukebox to start playing.”

Surveys by scientists have revealed a wide variety of songs tend to end up as earworms with three-quarters of people reporting unique songs not experienced by others. The most common tend to be popular songs that are in the charts or are particularly well-known.

The Western Washington team found that Lady Gaga was the most common artist to get stuck in people’s heads, with four of her catchy songs being the most likely to become earworms: “Alejandro”, “Bad Romance”, “Just Dance”, and “Paparazzi”.

None of them do anything for me. For my money, any Burt Bacharach song will do, but the following song meets the requirements above all others to qualify it for this dubious honor.

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Earworm of the Day

Listen to Dionne Warwick performing “Don’t Make Me Over”




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