Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Even More Idol

Not sure why, but I keep winning money on my Idol bets. I won $49 last week by betting on Katie Stevens not getting the boot and $117 today by betting on Andrew Garcia staying. Could both of these wins have come at the expense of the same person? I'm only going to feel guilty about it if it's a kid or an old lady in urgent need of $166 for emergency surgery for an extraordinarily cute puppy that she rescued from a burning building while on her annual trip to help nuns save dolphins in Africa.

The weirdest thing is that both times the other person kept offering me these contracts even after I ran out of money and couldn't buy them anymore. If I had a few thousand dollars in my Intrade account, I would have won several hundred on each of these bets. I don't know when the other guy was going to stop.

About the actual competition: I'm rooting for Casey James and Lee Dewyze, in that order. The judges are being vicious to a guy named Tim Urban, who's taking all they're dishing with quiet dignity, smiling, like a real gent. So they make fun of him for that. It would be a lie to say that I'm a fan of Mr. Urban's singing, but I liked his attitude in the face of public disapproval so much that yesterday, while watching, I suddenly got off the couch, found my cell phone and just went ahead and voted for him. This has never happened before. Then I walked over to my landline phone and voted for him again. Then I wrote this post, at the end asking anyone who might accidentally stumble upon it to consider a vote for Tim Urban next Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Idoling Away

I watched another Idol show for Intrade purposes. Some impressions:

I'm extremely annoyed by Cowell's attempts to seem like a snob while gushing over every second or third Idol singer. A real snob (how do I know this? :-) not only would never praise any of these people, he would honestly dislike every bit of their singing as well.

The judges rarely pass up a chance to advise contestants to lose control during their performances, as if the stage was some kind of a giant WC. In real life nothing of any worth is achievable without laser-like focus and a ton of self-control. This applies to good music as much as to anything.

Every week that I've watched this show this year Simon has predicted that a contestant named Crystal Bowersox will win the entire thing. She's got a nice, friendly face and seems like a genuinely good person, but somebody must have told her that she's "alternative" and she seems to have really believed it. She expresses her alternativeness by trying to sing one or two verses of every song like a fat, drunken, middle-aged man, by wearing blond dread locks and a piercing on her chin, and by constantly talking about how alternative she is. I'm considering shorting her main Intrade contract. Since when has brooding, status-conscious middle class youth been a part of the Idol's core audience?

All successful Idol singers are belters, so this season a girl named Siobhan Magnus has driven this to its logical conclusion. She ends every song, regardless of its mood or genre, by shrieking at the very top of her young, healthy, freakishly capacious lungs. Everything else about her is either boring or weird, but Intrade puts her chances of winning in second place, right behind Crystal's.

I put a bit of money on a guy named Michael Lynche. He's a born smoothtalker, the judges love his singing and his Intrade contracts were selling below 7 before I started buying them. I don't think he'll win the entire competition, but he'll probably stay until the final 3 or 4, at which point his Intrade contracts would sell for at least twice the price at which I got them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tolstoy on Doctors

I'm reading War and Peace now and will probably post a review here when I finish. I don't remember how, but in childhood I managed to only read 1.5 of the novel's 4 volumes, all of which must have been required at school. If I missed the rest of the book because I was out sick, then this post would be pretty fitting.

Tolstoy didn't care the least bit about elegant prose or humor, but he wrote about a very interesting, no longer existing group of people (the Russian aristocracy) from an insider's perspective and he had a lot of wisdom. He applied this wisdom to dozens of very diverse topics in this enormous book. I made this post about Tolstoy's take on the medical profession because it completely agrees with mine.

In the third volume Natasha Rostova, one of the novel's major characters, is suffering from teenage heartbreak, but her family mistakenly believes that her condition is more serious than that.

"She could not eat or sleep, grew visibly thinner, coughed, and, as the doctors made them feel, was in danger. They could not think of anything but how to help her. Doctors came to see her singly and in consultation, talked much in French, German, and Latin, blamed one another, and prescribed a great variety of medicines for all the diseases known to them, but the simple idea never occurred to any of them that they could not know the disease Natasha was suffering from, as no disease suffered by a live man can be known, for every living person has his own peculiarities and always has his own peculiar, personal, novel, complicated disease, unknown to medicine--not a disease of the lungs, liver, skin, heart, nerves, and so on mentioned in medical books, but a disease consisting of one of the innumerable combinations of the maladies of those organs. This simple thought could not occur to the doctors (as it cannot occur to a wizard that he is unable to work his charms) because the business of their lives was to cure, and they received money for it and had spent the best years of their lives on that business. But, above all, that thought was kept out of their minds by the fact that they saw they were really useful, as in fact they were to the whole Rostov family. Their usefulness did not depend on making the patient swallow substances for the most part harmful (the harm was scarcely perceptible, as they were given in small doses), but they were useful, necessary, and indispensable because they satisfied a mental need of the invalid and of those who loved her--and that is why there are, and always will be, pseudo-healers, wise women, homeopaths, and allopaths. They satisfied that eternal human need for hope of relief, for sympathy, and that something should be done, which is felt by those who are suffering. They satisfied the need seen in its most elementary form in a child, when it wants to have a place rubbed that has been hurt. A child knocks itself and runs at once to the arms of its mother or nurse to have the aching spot rubbed or kissed, and it feels better when this is done. The child cannot believe that the strongest and wisest of its people have no remedy for its pain, and the hope of relief and the expression of its mother's sympathy while she rubs the bump comforts it. The doctors were of use to Natasha because they kissed and rubbed her bump, assuring her that it would soon pass if only the coachman went to the chemist's in the Arbat and got a powder and some pills in a pretty box of a ruble and seventy kopeks, and if she took those powders in boiled water at intervals of precisely two hours, neither more nor less.

What would Sonya and the count and countess have done, how would they have looked, if nothing had been done, if there had not been those pills to give by the clock, the warm drinks, the chicken cutlets, and all the other details of life ordered by the doctors, the carrying out of which supplied an occupation and consolation to the family circle? How would the count have borne his dearly loved daughter's illness had he not known that it was costing him a thousand rubles, and that he would not grudge thousands more to benefit her, or had he not known that if her illness continued he would not grudge yet other thousands and would take her abroad for consultations there, and had he not been able to explain the details of how Metivier and Feller had not understood the symptoms, but Frise had, and Mudrov had diagnosed them even better? What would the countess have done had she not been able sometimes to scold the invalid for not strictly obeying the doctor's orders?

"You'll never get well like that," she would say, forgetting her grief in her vexation, "if you won't obey the doctor and take your medicine at the right time! You mustn't trifle with it, you know, or it may turn to pneumonia," she would go on, deriving much comfort from the utterance of that foreign word, incomprehensible to others as well as to herself.

What would Sonya have done without the glad consciousness that she had not undressed during the first three nights, in order to be ready to carry out all the doctor's injunctions with precision, and that she still kept awake at night so as not to miss the proper time when the slightly harmful pills in the little gilt box had to be administered? Even to Natasha herself it was pleasant to see that so many sacrifices were being made for her sake, and to know that she had to take medicine at certain hours, though she declared that no medicine would cure her and that it was all nonsense. And it was even pleasant to be able to show, by disregarding the orders, that she did not believe in medical treatment and did not value her life.

...

The symptoms of Natasha's illness were that she ate little, slept little, coughed, and was always low-spirited. The doctors said that she could not get on without medical treatment, so they kept her in the stifling atmosphere of the town, and the Rostovs did not move to the country that summer of 1812.

In spite of the many pills she swallowed and the drops and powders out of the little bottles and boxes of which Madame Schoss who was fond of such things made a large collection, and in spite of being deprived of the country life to which she was accustomed, youth prevailed. Natasha's grief began to be overlaid by the impressions of daily life, it ceased to press so painfully on her heart, it gradually faded into the past, and she began to recover physically."

The average person reading this now probably thinks that that's only how medicine was like then, that progress and technology have blah blah blah...

If Tolstoy's description fit 95% of the medical practice of his day, then it would probably fit 70% of what's going on in 2010. Medicine is still and probably will always be mostly like that.

From what I've read, Tolstoy practiced what he preached, never asking or following doctors' advice and lived to the age of 82.

Being a glossophiliac, I can't resist mentioning that the native Russian word for doctor (vrach) is etymologically related to the Russian word for lying (vrat'). Faith healers were habitually called liars by their customers. When Western medicine arrived in Russia, its typical practitioner seemed like just another type of faith healer, so the word vrach was applied to him as well. It is now roughly as popular as "doctor" in Russia, but with overuse has unfortunately lost its sting.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some YouTube Links

I waste a lot of time on YouTube, so I thought I'd share a few links here.

First, some Russian clips. I don't follow modern Russian pop music closely, mostly because it's so much worse than the Soviet-era pop songs I still remember from childhood. I love this relatively recent song by a band named Любэ though. It sounds very Russian. I've always loved the open, cozy, big-hearted, melancholic, dreamy and unhurried feel that all such music has. This one, from the same band, is also good.

Going back in time, here's the waltz from the 1978 Russian movie "My Sweet and Tender Beast". I've heard it so many times, that I can't tell anymore whether I love it because it's that good or because it's just very, very familiar. Everyone in the clip is wearing old clothes and looks dignified because the movie was based on a novella by Chekhov.

Sinking even deeper into the swamps of sentimentality, I'm going to link to the only piece of music that ever made me cry. The big number 80 behind the stage in the clip means that this must have been recorded when I was 5 years old. The lyrics are mostly about the innocence of childhood. I'm sure that at the time this had no meaning for me whatsoever, but a few years ago, when I accidentally heard it for the first time in at least two decades, the lyrics and the melody hit me both at once, and with force. Half the YouTube comments under the clip are about people crying at hearing it at well, so I'm far from being alone here. I'm sure that even to younger Russians, let alone to anybody else, the visuals would look too choreographed and phony, but that's not how I look at it all. It's one of the least phony things I know of.

Moving away from Soviet-related material, here's some British guy's pretty impressive version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue.

Years ago, while reading something about Bach, I searched the file-sharing app of the moment for fugues. One of the hits was not a fugue, but this French song, which I loved, even though at the time I didn't understand any French. Now that I do, I love it even more - the lyrics are a gem. Here's another song by the same guy, from the same concert.

Next is a link to Nick Drake's "The Day Is Done". The intro to that song is my favorite bit of acoustic guitar playing ever.

This piano version of The Unforgiven probably wouldn't sound as good to those who've never heard the original Metallica track as it sounds to those who have. The work of comparing the two that your mind unconsciously performs while listening to the cover is probably pleasurable in itself, the same way that complicated jokes, which you have to think to figure out, are more pleasurable than simple ones.

Continuing with the same theme, here's a cool instrumental version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. And this is George Harrison's own alternate version. I wouldn't say it's better than the one on the album, but, boy is it good. And, finally, here's the version played at his memorial concert.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Idolicious

I can't freaking believe it! I was right about Paige Miles. She was eviscerated by Cowell and the other Idol judges, but since she was the only black girl in a field of 8, the black vote was always going to go to her in its entirety. When Simon said that this might have been "the end of the road" for Paige, he was either lying or showing a frightening level of cluelessness. God, I wish I bet more money on her. As it is, I only won $26. By the way, it was Paige who was shown coloring a hippo in a coloring book in her bio video last week.

And Kaitlyn, the pretty girl, was voted out, just as I suspected. I know at least a dozen people, mostly co-workers, who watch American Idol, and none of them are guys. Nothing attracts female envy and hostility as effectively as feminine beauty.

By the way, I did watch yesterday's show, which was devoted to the male singers. I thought that on average they sang much better than the women. This is probably because the rough, course R&B or rock-type sound that most Idol singers go for naturally suits guys better than it suits girls. A female singer would be wise to choose something more delicate.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More Idolatry

I won about $42 by betting on the Oscars on Intrade, so my total profit so far this year is about $148 on an initial investment of $950. Trying to keep the streak going, I watched a whole hour of American Idol tonight. I can't say that I liked any of the singing, but a contestant named Katelyn Epperley looked very cute, while another one named Katie Stevens seemed kind of smart. Speaking of which, my estimates of the judges' and host's IQs are: Seacrest 120, Randy 92, Ellen 130, Kara 105, Simon 125. I remember Steve Sailer commenting on lesbian humorlessness. This is probably true on average, but for some reason Ellen Degeneres is an exception.

Cowell said that tonight could be "the end of the road" for a contestant named Paige Miles. However, she's the only black girl left, and no matter what anyone says, ethnicity is the most important issue in most kinds of voting. The black vote will have nowhere to go but to Ms. Miles, so I'm guessing that she'll stay. Because of this I shorted a couple of contracts that pay out if she's booted. Or at least I think I did. I've never shorted anything before on Intrade, so this will have to serve as a test of whether or not I understand how Intrade shorting works. All I know is that it seems different from stock market shorting.

The judges were also very hard on Katelyn, the single cutest person in the room. I suspect that most of the voting audience is female, so Katelyn's good looks may actually work against her, not for her.

A woman named Lily Scott looked hideous and annoying while singing about as badly as everyone else, and yet was praised by all the judges as "unique" and "alternative". I hope to God that she doesn't end up winning the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Glossy Watches American Idol

On Sunday I'll get back the Intrade money I bet on the Oscars, which means that soon I'll have to bet it on something else. The midterm elections are still a long way off, but American Idol is sending someone home every week, and you can bet on it on Intrade, so today I watched my first American Idol show in 5 or 6 years.

They had a ladies' night, but most of the performances seemed extremely unladylike - zoo-type howling, orgasmic screeching, proud coarseness - the whole thing. The girl who sang "The Scientist" by Coldplay had a beautiful face, which made the fact that Chris Martin sounded a lot more feminine than she did while singing the original especially hilarious. I guess the general culture is a part of the problem here, but it's so much more fun to blame stupidity that I can't pass up the chance to mention the following: a 24-year old contestant said that her favorite hobby was coloring. With crayons, in coloring books. I don't remember those things ever being around when I was a kid, but for some reason hippopotamuses have long stood out in my mind as the most representative things that could be colored in them. And like clockwork, they showed that girl coloring a hippo with crayons in her bio video.

I do believe that music is one of those areas to which intelligence can be usefully applied though. Here is a good example of a very smart man singing a pop song. I guess intelligence increases one's sensitivity, one's emotional resolution, allowing one to perceive subtler and more varied shades of feeling. If you're trying to draw something in MS Paint, and you're given a hard limit of 50x50 pixels and 5 colors, you'll probably be less likely to come up with a masterpiece than if you were given 500x500 pixels and thousands of colors. I suspect that smarties sing better than idiots partly for the same reason.