Rolly Polly Lyrics

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There was an ocean in the woods,
there was an ocean deep in me.
And every day I’m on the road,
and every day you’re out to sea.
And there’s a spaceship in my mind
with silver bells for the controls.
And there’s a painting on the sky
as every sun and lover knows.

You called me.
You told me you lost it.
How would I know you meant in your mind’s eye?
Did you really mean the words or were they lies?
I need some time away from you.
I need some time away from you but you beat me to it.
And I don’t mind. She don’t mind.

I’m an open kinda guy
with an open window sky.
And as the dawn she came around,
I listen to the empty sound.

I was an eskimo in my head.
I had an eskimo in my bed.
But it didn’t matter,
it didn’t matter, baby, cause you lied,
you lied to me.
And that’s the other thing I have to say,
and then you better go away.
I think you better go
cause, baby, you never had a good word for me.

And it’s like rolly polly, rolly polly, rolly polly on the line.
It’s on your mind now, you’re thinking it over but you don’t wanna say it.
And she don’t know and you don’t know
the things, the things, the things 
you knew, way back then.
You say it anyway
You say it anyway cause you don’t understand.

New days come so unexpectedly.
It’s just a ghost of love, it’s just a host of
problems I just thought of.

And I knew right then,
I knew right then it ought to matter.
It’s new but it might dissolve, it might dissolve,
it might just fade away.

You will return, on the bay,
floating light years away from home,
in your dome.
The things you oughtta say.
You don’t speak but you can’t help but cry.
You’re high.

Things that pass like headlights in the moonlight.
Things that walk and talk like the turtle doves.
They were afraid to be
close to you and me
as we were floating.

We were floating through the forest
and through the stars.
Oh, you try to tell me it’s worse
even as it’s getting so much better.
So much better.

Even so, even so, it can’t get that much better.
My throat is hoarse,
I can’t stop sleeping wrong.
I’m sleeping wrong.
On the opposite side
of your ear drum
where it hurts.

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Bill Ross

Syroco-Banjo-clock-Patti

Staying with grandparents in Utica, New York (and later Green Valley, Arizona) might seem boring to some kids. But there was never a dull moment visiting our grandparents. The days were filled with activities they carefully planned, from visits to caverns, to road trips to Niagara Falls, to horse racing at Vernon Downs (where I felt pretty cool at seven, being allowed to place real bets with real money, even if only 50 cents).

Even with all the excursions, I most remember the time I spent inside their house. Recordings of Broadway shows often played on the stereo. And there was the constant sound of clocks. Sometimes I felt I was staying in Gepetto’s workshop. Every hour was marked with the clangs of the grandfather clock, the chirp of the cuckoo and, finally, the melodic Westminster chimes from their glass-domed table clock.

Grandpa was a little like Gepetto, and the clocks were not the only devices in the house. I was fascinated by the computer in his study, with an old television for the monitor, completely out-of-date even at the time. I was most impressed by the stereo system he built from a kit in the 1950s. It had separate units for the FM and AM radios and the amplifier glowed orange when turned on.

He sent the stereo to me years later as a gift and I still have it set up in my apartment. I keep using it, even though it is gigantic, it emits annoying buzzing and popping sounds and it can become scarily hot; it’s probably a fire hazard. I keep it because I still marvel at his ability to build a machine from a bunch of screws, metal pieces and light bulbs.

Grandpa was a man of many talents and a lot of knowledge. He had an erudite demeanor and strong opinions on everything. He would decisively categorize the music my sister and I listened to as either art warranting great appreciation or as utter garbage that was completely beyond his contempt. Most of what we listened to was categorized in the utter garbage category (this from a guy who at one time seemed to play the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack on a loop). Still, I always took his opinions seriously, because they seemed to come from a studied appraisal, never a lack of interest or thought.

Though strongly opinionated, my grandfather was also known for his calm demeanor and patience. Another sound often heard in that household was grandma calling to grandpa, often something along the lines of, “Bill, get your shoes on!” Grandma constantly feared being late, which in her mind meant “less than an hour early.” She also loved to give guys a hard time, particularly those guys she loved the most. My grandfather’s response was always a good-natured chuckle, and maybe a gentle retort. He was always cool and collected which was the perfect counterpoint to grandma’s bold and vibrant personality.

These interactions are memorable to me because another sound of that household was my grandma’s nearly equally ubiquitous, “Gary, get your shoes on!” I don’t know why my grandfather and I seemed to share an inability to put our shoes on in a timely manner, or why my sister always escaped the demands, but this experience connected us in my mind. My response was never as cool as grandpa’s though; mine was usually just a slightly scared fumbling of socks and shoelaces.

I’d like to think there were similarities between grandpa and me. And not just the tendency to be told to put on shoes. Right before he died, he gave my mom an ivory elephant statue, a treasured trinket (or “tchotchke” as he and my grandma might have called it), which he had bought in India years ago. And he asked her to give it to me. My mom told me at the time she thought he had always seen a connection between us because we were both “nice guys.”

This stuck with me. I appreciated it because he was a really nice guy, and I’d like to think I am too. He was also far more than nice. He was a savvy guy with strong opinions and beliefs and measured reactions to every situation. He lived a life filled with amazing adventures, fascinating hobbies and wonderful relationships. I miss him very much.

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San Francisco

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I’ve been thinking about San Francisco a lot lately. Maybe I am just thinking about living somewhere outside of LA. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to a song by a band called Foxygen called “San Francisco.” The song owes a lot to the Zombies stylistically (and Tony Bennett lyrically) but it’s pretty catchy.

Anyway, I remembered I wrote this poem about San Francisco some years ago and I want to share it here.

Transient

They’re performing along Fisherman’s Wharf.
Tourists come from all over to see the “Bush Man.”
He’s even in the “What to Do with Kids in San Francisco” guidebook.
Crouched on a crate with a branch covering his face,
he startles unsuspecting pedestrians.
People aren’t annoyed.
Most obligingly empty their pockets
in exchange for a chuckle.
He’s one of the lucky ones.
He’s been here 25 years
and not even the man across the street,
skin suffocated by silver paint,
doing the robot dance,
can compete. There’s something special
about the simple combination
of bum and tree branch.

They’re selling things on Telegraph Avenue.
The basket lady of Berkeley just wants to talk.
She asks people where they’re from
and if they’ll sign her people book.
Many oblige, but look at their watches impatiently
as she recalls to them her time in Poland.
Surrounded by hundreds of handmade baskets,
grimy from years on slimy sidewalks,
she hasn’t sold one yet.

They’re singing in Haight-Ashbury.
These are the true hippies who never gave up their lazy lifestyle
to get rich and swell the cost of Bay Area real estate.
Signs say: “We promise to spend your money on drugs.”
Melded into the backdrop of record shops and vegan restaurants,
faces wrinkled, they’re still clothed in the tattered costumes of their youth,
running on dead energy.
As they sing, the detuned steel on their warped guitars rings abrasively,
clashing with the trolley bell.
Too confused to hear the occasional clang of coins in their coffee cups.

They’re sleeping in Union Square,
lying under the cover of newspaper blankets,
as shoppers and businessmen sidestep their mangy bodies.
They lurk in shadows
like urban monsters.
An old lady with her eye dangling from its socket
can do nothing more than
spout gibberish in a child’s voice,
waving an empty pan.

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What are metaphors?

Not so long ago, I was a philosopher.

Russell-2

I could still call myself this, but now doing so would just be downright pretentious. When I was a “philosopher” I was actively pursuing a degree in philosophy. I was reading and writing philosophy every day.

At this point in my life, calling myself a philosopher will just elicit images of me sitting on a hill meditating about how there is a mountain and then there is no mountain and then there is. Philosophers don’t really do this. Donovan did that.

Suffice to say, nowadays the name “philosopher” doesn’t describe me like it used to (for more on names see Saul Kripke’s fascinating book Naming and Necessity) . But back when I was a philosopher, I wrote  a paper which examined the basic structure of metaphor and sought to answer the question of whether metaphors are like literal comparisons.

I have not thought seriously about these issues in quite some time. But, for anyone interested, here is the introduction to my paper. If you want to read the whole thing, contact me (it’s 40some pages and potentially boring).

Metaphor, Comparison & Aesthetic Success.

Introduction

“Do you know what you two are?” said Cousin Joan. “You are little alligators. Now be still I want to read.”

Rose whispered, “Joan—“

“Sh-Sh-Sh!” said Cousin Joan.

“But, Joan,” said Rose.

“Now what?” asked Cousin Joan.

“Why are we little alligators?” asked Rose.

“You are not really little alligators,” said Cousin Joan. “But you do things like little alligators.”

“How?” asked Willy.

“You squeeze and you pinch, and I cannot read,” said Cousin Joan.[1]

This excerpt from a popular children’s reader perfectly exemplifies the most culturally pervasive view of how metaphors work.  The children are said to be alligators, but of course, as Cousin Joan feels she must explain to the rhetorically unsophisticated children, this does not mean that they are really alligators, but that they are like alligators in that they share contextually salient features —in this case, it is the bothersome fighting and biting which gators and children have in common. Or, at least, so a comparative metaphorical account would have it.

The comparative view of metaphor has been around since the time of Aristotle; in other words, probably as long as metaphors have been formally discussed. The view has the advantage that it is, perhaps, the most intuitive and obvious way of explaining this important linguistic phenomenon. It is also familiar; a version of the view is what most students learn in grade school English classes and, indeed, appears even in books written for preschoolers. But, according to most contemporary philosophers analyzing metaphor, it is also incorrect. Usually, it is said that a comparative view of metaphor over simplifies an extremely thorny linguistic phenomenon.

I disagree, and I will defend the comparative view in this paper. In fact, comparisons, whether we call them figurative or literal, are anything but simple. Donald Davidson famously said that metaphors are all trivially false, and similes are trivially true, presumably because all comparative statements are trivially true.[2] But literal comparisons are not always fitting, and neither are figurative comparisons. A metaphor works when the comparison fits. I think, as Aristotle realized, the fit comes from the close relationship between the subject and the tenor.[3]  Aristotle says in Rhetoric: “Metaphors, like epithets, must be fitting, which means that they must fairly correspond to the thing signified; failing this, their inappropriateness will be conspicuous: the want of harmony between two things is emphasized by their being placed side by side.”[4]

In this paper, I am advocating a comparative view, but I am certainly not going to pretend comparison exhausts a study of metaphor—rather, I will argue, comparison is the basic feature of metaphors, and a comparison is the metaphor’s meaning.  However, that is not to diminish the aesthetic aspects of metaphor that go beyond meaning. In presenting my argument, I will make the standard move of arguing that a metaphor has the same meaning as its corresponding simile. Such a simile may sound awkward and often vague or ambiguous, but it captures the same meaning as the original metaphor; the vagueness or ambiguity in the simile is inherent in the metaphor itself.

Further, I will argue there is no clearly defined distinction between figurative and literal comparisons. This will be possible because I am arguing that all comparison has an aesthetic element, and should be evaluated in terms of aptness, rather than truth.  All comparisons suggest that the objects being compared share either (a) properties or (b) descriptions. Literal comparisons usually highlight shared properties, metaphorical comparisons often (but not always) highlight shared descriptions. Further, I’ll try to show a comparison cannot be paraphrased, and does not reduce to any specific set of shared properties or descriptions.  Rather, a comparison, and metaphors particularly, encourages us to puzzle out for ourselves how the two objects may share properties or descriptions in a contextually relevant way.


[1]From Else Holmelund Mindarik, No Fighting, No Biting.(New York: Harper Trophy, 1978).

[2] See Donald Davidson, “What Metaphors Mean,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980).

[3] .i.e. the object to which the subject is compared.

[4] Aristotle, Rhetoric and Poetics, trans. W. Rhys Roberts and Ingram Bywater (New York: Modern Library, 1954), 1405a.. Aristotle’s view, though influential, is often hard to piece together. It is beyond the scope of my paper to offer an historical interpretation of Aristotle’s view.

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The 1980s were terrifying.

I spent much of my early youth cowering in fear (see this post on the subject). But don’t worry–no tragic event befell me at an early age. I just lived in the 1980s. And it was hard not be terrified as a child in the 1980s.

I have a theory that that the 1980s were the scariest decade of all time. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Other decades were scary, too.  The 1960s has the whole bad acid trip, Charles Manson creepiness. And the 1920s has the whole old-timey, we-can’t-cure-most-diseases-yet creepiness.

Yes, 1920s. I know. You are very, very, creepy.

But no decade can top the 1980s in pure unadulterated horror.  And it had nothing to do with the horror films of the time. Those movies never really frightened me. I mean, by the end of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy was basically just a wise cracking Jimmy Durante look-alike with a pimpin’ striped sweater.

“I’m going to haunt your dreams. I mean, a-cha-cha-cha!” 

So why were the 1980s so scary? Let’s start with a look at some of the popular children’s films of the time.

The Neverending Story (1984) seems like a good place to start. The film takes place in a magical land called Fantasia. It features a little boy, a kindly old man who owns a bookshop, a flying, furry creature called a luck dragon and a white horse. Sounds delightful, right?

As the story unfolds, we learn of a void of darkness called The Nothing which destroys everything in its path. Granted, that sounds a bit more like the backstory of a heavy metal album than the plot of a children’s flick, but it’s nothing too traumatizing, right? Right?

Oh God, what is that?

In this classic scene from the film, a young boy watches as his beloved horse drowns to death in the Swamp of Sadness. Wait. Drowns to death? Wait. The Swamp of Sadness? Come on, 80s movie writers! Did you really need to name a place the Swamp of Sadness? And then drown a god damn horse in it as a child screams in agony and terror?

Let’s take another example. Return to Oz (1985) couldn’t possibly be scary, right? I mean it was made by Disney. And it was a sequel to the beloved Judy Garland movie about a little girl, an effeminate lion and a dancin’ scarecrow.

And yet, inexplicably, the movie features a hall of talking, decapitated heads. And these things:

Perhaps one could argue the film was just more faithful to the original stories by L. Frank Baum, which could be a bit dark at times. Fair enough – but how do you explain the scene where Dorothy is given shock therapy?

That wasn’t in the original books! So why? Perhaps the writers got confused and thought they were making the Cuckoo’s Nest sequel? I hope so, because therwise the only explanation is that they were cruel, twisted human beings.

It wasn’t just movies that were scary in the 80s. Check out this commercial made–I’m convinced–by a room full of acid enthusiasts, serial killers and satan’s minions:

WTF, 80s! Even the toys were creepy back then. I’m pretty sure that Teddy Ruxpin was at any moment capable of snapping and going on a murderous rampage. And what was with the Cabbage Patch Kids?

Do you really think the cat on her outfit makes her cute? I cannot imagine being a child and sleeping in the same bed–let alone house–with that deformed monstrosity!

You know what’s even creepier than the 80s? The haunted remnants of the 80s. I am speaking of the dead malls that still litter our suburbs. You know, the malls that, even then, were kind of dark and dismal?

Why was the color scheme of those malls always feces-brown? Why were the anchor stores always depressing establishments like JC Penny, Sears or Montgomery Ward? Because it was the 80s, that’s why! Not even an Orange Julius stand could liven these places up.

Pictured: The ghost of 80s past.

In conclusion, the 80s finally ended and I eventually got some relief from all the terror. Luckily, the most alarming thing about the 90s was that “Barbie Girl” by Aqua and the Macerena were widely popular.

Oh yeah, and that people thought overalls were fashionable. That was pretty scary.

Update: I know I missed a bunch of scary 80s moments, but I couldn’t possibly mention all of them! But for good measure, I will namecheck a few more: Gremlins, the Dark Crystal, the Goonies (remember Sloth?), the part of Roger Rabbit where Christopher Lloyd turns into a devil-eyed freak, Labyrinth (featuring a baby stealing David Bowie) and Howard the Duck. Oh God, Howard the Duck!

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Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams is a book about large communities collaborating on projects which evolve and adapt with time. The strange part is that Wikinomics is a book written by two people, not a community, and it is already woefully out of date. The authors make some confusing references to 2010 (already ages ago in the tech world), due to a recent, half-hearted attempt at a revision. But the majority of the book was written in 2006 and it shows. Badly.

They talk a lot about MySpace and make no reference to the financial crisis or smart phones. And, at one point, the authors discuss the possibility that one day Apple might make a portable, pocket computer. What, like the iPhone?

I can’t blame the authors for not knowing the future (although I can blame them for the sloppy revision). But, I couldn’t help thinking, if this book were a wiki, someone would have updated it long ago. I think the problem for me is that writing a book about wikis and mass-collaboration just seems contradictory, like having a conversation about Twitter through telegraph.

I decided to put the irony behind me and just enjoy the book on its own merits. But I found myself distracted again. This book uses more jargon than a bad comp lit seminar. I couldn’t help cringing at made-up words like prosumers, b-webs and ideagoras. I just wish the authors would forget trying to coin hip-sounding lingo and stick to the point.

They could use a lesson in brevity, too. Like several other business books I have read, the authors have a couple really good points, but they hammer them over our heads until we’re numb. In a book that is in large part about efficiency, they sure waste a lot of space, presumably just so the book is thick enough to look good on a shelf.

Nonetheless, I found the main thesis compelling.  The authors make a forceful case that mass-collaboration can produce results faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. The authors encourage companies to take an open approach to innovation and, basically, put the public to work for them.

In other words, this book describes the crowdsourcing phenomenon before the term was even coined–although I bet the authors wish they had coined it!

Perhaps most worthwhile are the well-explained examples of how business have used mass collaboration and open sourcing to their benefit. I particularly like how they took examples from the tech world and elsewhere. I enjoyed reading about the enormous success of a gold mining company that made all of its geological data public and held a contest imploring the public to help them find new gold. On the tech side, I found the discussion of web APIs informative and it still seemed timely in 2012.

While they make a convincing case for companies to open source, the authors would have done well to consider the possible problems this can cause. An open approach may have helped Google, Procter & Gamble and IBM,  even these companies must defend their intellectual property. The authors do not clearly articulate when to share and when to protect innovations.

Also, I also would have like to have read more discussion on how mass-collaboration can be used outside the business world, for example, on art projects.

All in all, I would recommend this book, but mostly for the interesting examples. They convincingly illustrate how mass-collaboration can be used effectively and how it can be a profitable business decision. Many CEOs would do well to take this advice, but they should take it with a grain of salt. And maybe an aspirin–they’re going to need it after being pounded over the head with the same information over and over again.

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Oh Andy Dick!

I promised I would never name drop. But I’m a resident of Los Angeles and that’s just what we do. So I made a rule that I will only name drop completely sad, washed-up celebrities (see my entry on Carrot Top) and not celebrities that are actually relevant or respected.

So here goes. A week or so ago, while walking down the streets of West Hollywood, who did I see but Andy Dick! Yes, Andy Dick–sad, washed up drunken clown that he is.

Oh no, you protest! Andy Dick could not possibly be as sad, washed up, drunk or clownish as he is made out to be by the media! Surely that is part of his shtick! He’s probably cultivating that image for attention.

Judge for yourself.  That night, Andy Dick was barely able to stand. He had a young woman propping him up and dragging him around the street like a grotesque, broken muppet.

He looked more than drunk–he looked dead inside. His pupils were like rocks floating in bowls of milk.

Naturally, I couldn’t help but stare. And as I looked into his vacant eyes,  he came back to reality just enough to smile at me. He waved his hand in a fey movement approximating an effeminate tiger swatting its paw at a fly (did I need both the words “fey” and “effeminate” in that sentence? Yes. Yes I did). “Hello,” he said in that classic, Andy Dick voice.

And I had to chuckle. Oh, Andy Dick! He’s still got it. 

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