Posts Tagged ‘Youtube’

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Todd and Abi

Abi and Todd photo by Marcia

In case you missed this widely disseminated news report from a few days ago, a woman in Arizona woke up speaking with a British accent, though she was born in the United States and has never been to England and doesn’t have British relatives. She went to bed with a blinding headache and woke up sounding British. Previously, the woman went to bed with blinding headaches and woke up sounding Irish and Australian. She has been diagnosed by actual licensed medical doctors as having Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).

I know what you’re thinking. This is a spoof, a lampoon, a bit of silly whimsy. Yet this story was reported as fact in dozens of reputable newspapers and news outlets, several medical experts were interviewed about the woman’s condition, and these medical experts testified with straight faces that she manifested these foreign accents as the result of Foreign Accent Syndrome.

In less widely disseminated news, I have FAS. In spades. Two of our good friends, Marion and Abi, are from England. They were born in England and raised by English parents. Thus they are, in technical terms, totally English. When I’m around either one of them for more than, oh, thirty seconds, I begin to speak with a British accent. So convincing and authentic-sounding is my British accent that neither Marion nor Abi snickers when they hear me speaking in the manner of their native tongue, though they do occasionally snort.

Furthermore, my grammar becomes British when I speak with my incredibly real-seeming British accent, my sentences grow longer, and I feel eloquent and wise and…British.

I’ve had FAS since I was a wee tyke, the malady erupting, minus the headaches, hundreds of times in my long and checkered career as a human. Many years ago, I had a fling with a Serbian siren, and for the entire seven weeks we were involved, I spoke English with a Serbian accent so credible that the siren not only didn’t snicker or snort, on multiple occasions she gave me incredulous looks and said, “How do you do that? You sound exactly like my Uncle Boris.”

When I’m with Mexican people, I speak English with a Mexican accent. When I’m with French people, I speak English with a French accent. When I’m with Texans, I speak with a Texan’s drawl. When I’m with Jewish people from New York, I speak with a New York Jewish accent. I can’t help myself. I have FAS and I’m not ashamed to let the whole world know.

In seemingly unrelated news, my web site has undergone a transformation and I invite you to visit the new-look site and enjoy the goodies thereon. One new addition I think you’ll especially enjoy is on the Films page. Along with Bums At A Grave and Stripes, I am proud to present Kate Greenstreet’s videopoem The Magician, featuring my piano piece “The Magician” from my solo piano CD Ceremonies.

The Ceremonies CD and all our other CDs are available from my web site for a mere five dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping charge of six dollars, so order lots of CDs and books and cards to make that shipping charge seem like practically nothing. Or listen to “The Magician” on YouTube as often as you’d like.

Did I put “The Magician” on You Tube? No. All the tunes from my five piano CDs, and all the tunes from the two CDs I made with Marcia, So Not Jazz and When Light Is Your Garden, were posted on YouTube by CD Baby.

The individual drones from Marcia’s Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation are massively popular on YouTube. Thousands of people are hooked on her groovacious drones.

In more seemingly unrelated news, the stock market recently lost a whole bunch of value and subsequently gained back much of the value it lost. There are many theories about why the stock market went down, a favorite theory of silly people being that the Fed is going to raise interest rates. But if that were the cause of the decline, why did the market suddenly go back up? I’ll tell you why.

The stock market goes up and down based on the collective mindset of those who invest their money in the stock market, not on Fed interest rates. When the collective mindset becomes doubtful or fearful, the stock market goes down. When the collective mindset is optimistic, the stock market goes up. Since the big crash of 2008, most of the stocks, as in virtually all of them, have been bought and sold by the richest people in the world, otherwise known as the 1 per cent. Their collective mindset has been, “Everything is for us. We control the government. We get everything we want, including tax breaks and bailouts and loopholes and gobs of free money from the Fed.” Thus the stock market has gone up and up and up.

Recently, however, more and more not so wealthy people have been getting back into the market. Many of these newbies to the current historic market upswing are the same people who were ruined financially in 2008, and these newbies were also the investors most hurt by the recent downturn in the market, so much so that many of them left the market completely once again.

You see where I’m going with this? The collective mind of the 1% got adulterated by a bunch of not-so-confident investors, and the market went down. Now that those less than super-wealthy people have been chased out of the market, the collective mind is pure optimistic greed again.

As one very rich person told me long ago, “When the market crashes, the smart money is already out of there.”

Or, as was the case in 2008, when the market crashes, “We will have the government we control bail us out and make everybody else pay for our greedy gambling.” And that is what the Obama administration did. They gave trillions of dollars to the thieves who ruined the lives of millions of people and then they did nothing for those millions of regular folk who were so badly hurt by the folks who are once again stealing trillions annually from the national coffers.

By the way, I wrote all that about the stock market with an indignant British accent, which made me feel certain I knew what I was talking about. But now, writing with an apologetic Brooklyn accent, I opine, “How should I know? Do I look like a stock analyst? With these shoes? Don’t make me laugh.”

Screen Time

Monday, October 31st, 2016


News photo by Todd

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” Mark Twain

Dipping into the national news for the first time in some months, I found several articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics rescinding most of their previous suggestions that parents limit the number of hours their infants, toddlers, older children, and teens interface with media-blasting computer gizmos with screens. The pediatricians decided they were being too alarmist about how damaging computers and other television-like devices can be to the brains and psyches of infants and children and teens. Now, say the pediatricians, basing their new guidelines on no credible science, parents should feel fine about children watching as much media garbage as they want.

Never mind the myriad studies proving conclusively that bombardment by projected imagery and incessant sound severely interferes with healthy brain development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has now declared that parents need not worry about their children developing healthy brains, so long as they, the parents, encourage their zombified children to occasionally roll their shoulders, eat fruit, get some sleep, and possibly interact with other actual human beings. Possibly.

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

Also in the news: AT&T purchased Time-Warner for a measly 86 billion dollars. This makes AT&T the biggest media something-or-other in the world. Whatever happened to our anti-trust laws? Oh, that’s right. We don’t have those anymore because they were beneficial to the majority of Americans. What a silly concept. And if you already thought your media choices were largely controlled by anti-creative mega-corporations, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I am greatly misunderstood by politically correct idiots.” Brigitte Bardot

I know many people who used to think compulsive television watching was unhealthy, but now they think constantly looking at mindless junk is fine and dandy. That is, they do not consider computers, cell phones, pads, and pods to be televisions. But they are.

No, Todd, texting and playing video games and being connected to the worldwide web twenty-four hours a day is a vast improvement over life before we could carry computers with us everywhere. Life was empty and meaningless and we were all desperately lonely. Everything is so much better now that people have been rendered eternally infantile by being tethered to their phones and television-like devices from morning until night.

Remember when you didn’t know anything and couldn’t find out about anything? Now we can, you know, check on stuff constantly. Sure, most of what we access is mind-rotting junk, but there are good things, too, like Wikipedia and, um, restaurant reviews written by idiots and, um, the weather, and blogs. You have a blog, Todd. Quit complaining.

And don’t forget news and sports highlights. Plus you can read books and watch movies, and now Netflix and Amazon and YouTube and Apple and AT&T are producing hundreds and thousands of new shows, incredibly great shows, the best shows ever to go along with every show ever made since the very beginning of television.

And don’t forget YouTube has billions of videos about everything and everything that has ever been filmed, and everything.

Which is why everything is getting so much better. The environment is being saved, and we have wonderful mass transit that goes everywhere so we don’t need cars, and solar and wind and wave power is totally replacing the need to burn fossil fuels, and our educational system is better than ever, and our government has stopped spending money on war, and nuclear arsenals are being reduced and more and more people have good and meaningful jobs, and our culture is thriving. And it’s all because we can watch new shows and old shows and videos about catching flounder and group sex on our various screens from the moment we wake up until we take some sort of pill to help us sleep.

Social networks have brought us all together and made us more tolerant. We’re so much better informed, too. Racism has vanished, violence has decreased, and look at the people we elect to represent us now. Gads, talk about an improvement.

But best of all, our children are growing up so knowledgeable, so thoughtful and generous and kind. So incredibly kind. Those video games that hundreds of millions of people play constantly, those games are all about kindness and generosity and solving problems with logic and foresight and a deep understanding of the fabulous information the web provides for us with the touch of a whatever.

Thank goodness the pediatricians stopped believing those silly studies saying screen time was perilous to brain development. Look how good everything is now that our children are growing up with those screens virtually implanted in their bodies. All those great games and movies and videos of cats running into walls and people wrecking things and…

“The two most common elements in the known universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Harlan Ellison

The pediatricians have capitulated to the conquerors. In the past they tried to sound an alarm about the negative impact of screen time on the mental and physical health of children and other living things, but truth interferes with profits and the doctors have been swayed.

When I lived in Berkeley, I helped raise a boy from the day he was born until he was six-years-old. I was his nanny six hours every day. He and I did not watch television when he was with me because I didn’t have a television. He was fine with that arrangement until he turned six and was addicted to watching television for several hours a day while with his parents.

At my house, he and I contented ourselves with reading, drawing, going on walks, cooking, gardening, making music, playing ball, talking, making up games, telling stories, playing with other kids…things like that. But when I went to his house to take care of him, he screamed and cried and broke things if I didn’t let him watch television, so eventually I capitulated to his addiction and then made my escape to Mendocino.

Big Data

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2012)

“Mathematics are well and good but nature keeps dragging us around by the nose.” Albert Einstein

A wintry April day—rain, cold, our two woodstoves hard at work translating matter into energy so we may carry on in comfort. Yesterday we celebrated the idea of spring, if not the reality, with the delivery of four cords of firewood from Frank’s Firewood of Boonville, so now several days of stacking wood are upon us. I am graduating from my seventh Mendocino winter, and Frank’s fantastic firewood has kept me snug and warm through every one of them. Thank you, Frank!

Yesterday also brought an email from a friend with the subject heading Data Plague, with a link to an article from the New York Times about Big Data, a hot topic in the world of computer science and technology. Big Data is the incomprehensibly large amount of raw data piling up from all electronic activities that leave digital traces, including scientific research and social media. For instance, every minute of every day some forty-eight hours of video are uploaded to YouTube: the equivalent of eight years of content each day.

According to the Big Data article, many people in government and academia and private industry are interested in mining this rapidly growing data universe, and President Obama has earmarked 200 million dollars for his Big Data Research and Development Initiative. And just last month the National Science Foundation awarded 10 million dollars to Berkeley’s A.M.P. Expedition, which stands for “algorithms machines people,” a team of U.C. Berkeley professors and graduate students working to advance Big Data analysis.

As usual, no one asked my opinion about any of this, but here are my thoughts on the intrinsic and extrinsic value of Big Data. Once upon a time there was this emperor, see, and he wasn’t actually wearing any clothes, but because he was the emperor everyone had to pretend he was wearing clothes even though he wasn’t.

“The man ignorant of mathematics will be increasingly limited in his grasp of the main forces of civilization.” John Kemeny

Stacking firewood, one might surmise, is something like trying to make sense of Big Data. There on the driveway (in cyber space) is a huge jumble of firewood (pile of data) composed of many separate pieces of wood (bits of data). Over time, I will get all that wood neatly organized in eight or nine stacks in the woodshed, and over more time I will burn those stacks to heat our home. Meanwhile, the Big Data geeks will try to organize their ever-expanding pile of data bits (measured in petabytes, one million gigabytes, and exabytes, one billion gigabytes) and then…and then nothing.

Still more astonishing is that world of rigorous fantasy we call mathematics.” Gregory Bateson

Eight years of Youtube video uploaded every day? That’s 240 years per month! Joe points his phone camera out the bus window as we make our way through Chinatown. Okay. Cool. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Here are Margaret and Binny eating ice cream. Good. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Ralph’s three-legged cat named Popsicle is eating a mouse. Ew! Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Becky’s Great Dane Buffy rolls on something dead. Hardee har har. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. Here are millions of videos of people looking into their cameras and making silly faces. Yes! Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube. And here is Zigmund Olafson, pulling down two hundred grand a year (of taxpayers’ money) as Permanently Visiting Professor of Theoretical Cyber Whatever at U.C. Berkeley running 1700 centuries of such stuff through a super computer in the basement of ADE (Algorithms Digest Emptiness) and after nine months of data digestion and crunching and analysis discovering that…kittens and puppies are cuter than heck!

“We’ll judge our success by whether we build a new paradigm of data.” Michael Franklin, director of A.M.P. Expedition.

A new paradigm of data? Puh-leez. How about a new paradigm of excellent and affordable healthcare for everybody? How about a new paradigm of equitable taxation? How about a new paradigm of funding our parks and schools? How about a new paradigm of peaceful resolution of conflicts? How about a new paradigm of closing all the insanely dangerous nuclear power plants and insulating our homes and solarizing every viable rooftop? How about a new paradigm of generosity and love? Oh, no. What we need is a new paradigm of data. And just what might that new paradigm of data look like? We have absolutely no idea, but we’ll let you know if we think we’re successful in building that paradigm after we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars, you know, feeding digital stuff into really fast computers. Okay? Cool. Click, click. Uploaded to Youtube.

“I don’t agree with mathematics; the sum total of zeros is a frightening figure.” Stanislaw J. Lec

Of my many unhappy experiences with publishers, one of the saddest had to do with a chunk of data that followed me around like the Hound of the Baskervilles and is no doubt following me still. This chunk of data suggests that my second, third, fourth, and fifth novels did not sell many copies. Never mind that the various publishers involved did absolutely nothing to promote or distribute my books, and in most cases suspended all support for the books before they were published. No, the data says the books did not sell, which translates in corporate parlance to “Todd does not sell.”

Being reminded of this damning data every time I approached an agent or publisher, I nevertheless continued to try to interest mainstream publishers in my work for many years, with and without the services of literary agents. Of course, agents are privy to this same database, and so I was a pariah to most of them. But eight years ago, shortly before moving to Mendocino, I succeeded in interesting an agent in representing my novel Bender’s Lover, a metaphysical love story comedy thriller set in San Francisco and having to do with music, friendship, and power. I warned this agent about the damning data that was following me, but she seemed undaunted. “After all,” she said, “those sales figures are over twenty years old and this book is so good that…”

She sent copies of my tome to fourteen editors in New York, eleven declining to consider the manuscript because of the aforementioned database. Three said they would give the book a read, and lo a miracle occurred (or so we thought.) A senior editor at Viking went mad for the book, called my agent with a fat offer, and asked that we all get together for a conference call the next day, which we did. My oh my, did we have fun, a ménage á trois love fest during which we designed the cover and cast the movie and read aloud our favorite parts from Bender’s Lover; and for the next forty-eight hours I believed the curse had finally been lifted from my career and I would at last be allowed to ascend to my rightful place in the pantheon of American novelists.

This delightful editor’s last words to me were, “I don’t anticipate any problems, since I have carte blanche here, but as a formality I do have to run this by a couple people in Sales and then I’ll call you with my formal offer. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be getting this book. It’s going to be huge.”

Alas, Sales nixed the deal because the data says Todd doesn’t sell, never mind how old the data or what the data is based on. Never mind anything except the raw little numbers, which in truth are miraculous for being more than zeros.

My agent’s voice was trembling as she gave me the sorry news, and then she took a deep breath and said, “So…under the circumstances, I don’t think there’s really any point in our continuing to work together. Do you?”

Cue the howling hound!

And that is just one of many reasons I do not care much for data, big or small.