September 2006

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Don't Buy This Album 

"Weird Al" Yankovic has a new album coming out (Straight Outta Lynwood) on the 26th. He's ironically promoting it by making a featured single: Don't Download This Song available for downloading.

Another place you shouldn't download it from is his myspace site where you can also see and hear another great new single "White & Nerdy", as well as "You're Pitiful" which won't be on the album and "Hardware Store" which was from his Poodle Hat album, as well as getting access to his blog.

I've been a huge Al fan for a really long time. He's incredibly clever, and talented.

I don't listen to very much new music these days. Sometimes, I only find out about recent songs from an Al parody.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the new album and suggest you all check it out as well.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Root Root Root 

I was inspired by this glowing post by Julian Sanchez to read Chuck Klosterman IV.

So far, it's a lot of fun. Klosterman is a really good writer, and he's both thoughtful and funny. I've only been reading the book for a short while. I skipped most of the first part (Things That Are True) with pop-culture profiles, and jumped into the second part (Things That Might Be True) that has more opinions and speculations (kind of like blog posts). I suspect that the writing is so good that I'll probably go back and read the entire first section, too, even though I'm not currently fascinated by the people profiled nor am I in the target demographic.

One of the opinion articles struck a familiar chord with me. He was writing about the Olympics and described the strangeness of being expected to root for athletes based on geography. Klosterman's writing is so much better than my ability to paraphrase it, I'm going to do some fair-use transcribing:

The only thing the Olympics ever do is reinforce my dislike for a particular kind of American sports fan: people who like the home team simply because the home team is, in fact, the home team.
This is when I started to realize that the Olympics are designed for people who want to care about something without considering why.
In order to enjoy the Olympics, you can't think critically about anything. You just have to root for America (or whatever country you're from) and assume that your feelings are inherently correct. It's the same kind of antilogic you need to employ whenever you attend a political convention or a church service or movies directed by Steven Spielberg. When Savannah, Georgia, power lifter Cheryl Ann Haworth tries to clean-and-jerk the equivalent of a white rhino, we (as Americans) are obligated to pray for her success, despite the fact that we know nothing about her or any of her foes.
This is what I can't stand about the Olympics, and it's also what I can't stand about certain sports enthusiasts: I hate the idea that rooting for a team without any justification somehow proves that you are a traditional, loyal, and "a true fan." All it proves is that you're ridiculous, and that you don't really consider the factors that drive your emotions, and that you probably care more about geography and the color of a uniform than you do about any given sport.

This is how I've always felt about blind support for the home team. I understand that there's a tradition there, and that many people enjoy the shared experience of being in a united crowd.

Not me.

I've always been uncomfortable with the mob mentality that I encounter at large sporting events. Mobs are stupid (and sometimes dangerous). It's the kind of behavior one finds in over-zealous nationalism, and I'd prefer it if people tried not to cultivate a taste for it.

So, I prefer thinking for myself and choosing whom to root for.

If you'd like to enjoy watching a game, and you can't think of a reason to root for one team over the other, but you think that such a preference would make the game more interesting...May I suggest: gambling?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sentimental Irrationality 

Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels, who normally has little patience for the irrationality of religious belief, has been denying the irrationality of attaching sentimental value to objects (here, here, and here).

I agree that it's not exactly the same thing. Religious belief is actually claiming that certain facts about reality are true, while sentimental attachment (or repugnance) to objects is more of a feeling than a statement of fact.

However, they both can affect behavior. One could risk injury or death trying to salvage a sentimental object when a physically identical object is easy to acquire. Wouldn't that be irrational? If so, couldn't we justly consider the idea that causes someone to make such a choice irrational?

I think that ideas are very important. And, I understand that symbols are very useful and important, too.

But the symbol and the idea it represents are different things! Damage to the symbol is not damage to the idea. Thinking that it is actually does remind me of the same sort of magical thinking that one finds in religious belief. It's the kind of thinking that causes people to support an anti-flag-burning amendment to the constitution [update: and censorship].

I know that it's very common (and usually harmless) to value (or disvalue) certain objects because of their associations. It's such a common and reliable phenomenon that it's rational to invest in various collectibles, knowing that other people will value the items much more than physically identical facsimiles. Such things actually are more valuable because of what you can trade them for; not because of anything intrinsically superior about them.

Being common doesn't make something rational. It makes it less likely to be criticized, but not necessarily less deserving of criticism.

You could say that it's not a big deal, and we should ignore the apparent irrationality because people find it comforting and pleasant. But, I often hear the exact same thing about religious belief.

I'm not condemning anybody for their irrationalities (large or small). I'm just trying to honestly evaluate whether sentimental attachment belongs in that category.

UPDATE: My son reminded me of Penn Jillette's observation that this sort of over-identification of a symbol with the thing it represents is Voodoo. That's the sort of thinking I'm talking about. And, Damn! I wish I'd thought of that yesterday when I wrote this post.