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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Silly Live Music List

The "meme" of the moment in the parts of blogdom prone to such things is to list the bands you've seen live. There's a compare-and-contrast element, too, but I've seen it on so many LiveJournals that I'm not going to try to pick a list to compare to. And, contrary to what some people might think, I'm not really hipster enough to have seen a large number of bands live, so the overlap with other people's lists is really pretty low.

Instead, here's a rough chronological list of bands I've seen in concert, and when, plus whatever random comments I can recall.

Why so few (barely over one a year since 1988), given how much time I obviously spend listening to and thinking about pop music? Well, I grew up and went to college out in the sticks, which didn't provide a lot of options. And then I spent six years in a city with a very good music scene, but living on a grad student stipend that didn't really allow for much in the way of concert-going. Since I've had actual paying jobs, I've been back in places where there weren't a lot of options-- the shows we saw in New Haven were about the only ones I was interested in while I was there. And the Albany area isn't exactly a musical hotbed, either (though part of the problem here is that I'm not very well informed about what's going on).

Anyway, that's the list, with the exception of a few free shows here and there featuring no-name bands. And believe me, if I'd seen enough shows to justify editing some of these out, I would've...

Posted at 9:41 PM | link | follow-ups | 8 comments

Get Over Yourself

For whatever reason, the New York Times web site isn't part of my morning reading, so I would've missed the stupendously silly "man date" article, had it not been drawn to my attention by Crooked Timber and Matt Yglesias. For those who haven't read, or don't want to read the whole article, here are the defining paragraphs:

Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous.

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman. Dining together across a table without the aid of a television is a man date; eating at a bar is not. Taking a walk in the park together is a man date; going for a jog is not. Attending the movie "Friday Night Lights" is a man date, but going to see the Jets play is definitely not.

Unlike Kieran Healy (in comments at CT), I don't think this is an example of "a style journalist Making Shit Up"-- I find it all too believable, and immediately thought of a few people who would worry about this sort of thing. But unlike Matt and Eszter, I don't think you can really draw conclusions about the nature of society in general from this pseudo-phenomenon. If there's any conclusion to be drawn, it's about an extremely limited subset of people.

It's really no surprise to me that two of the people cited as an example of the awkwardness of the "man date" attended my alma mater, because if you think about it, concern about the issue requires a special combination of self-absorption and over-analysis. In order to find the "man date" awkward, you need to first assume that everybody in the immediate vicinity is looking at you, and then think way too much about what conclusions they might be drawing from your behavior. That's a combination that you find a lot at elite academic institutions, and in fact, all of the examples cited involve highly educated individuals (grad students, lawyers, I-bankers), mostly from highly-regarded schools.

I've gone to dinner or to the movies with one other male friend probably dozens of times. I couldn't begin to estimate the number, because I've never found it awkward or even particularly noteworthy. And the reason for that is simple-- as long as I don't make a spectacle of myself, I don't think anybody cares what I do.

This is not, I should point out, an attempt to claim some sort of iconoclastic lack of personal vanity. When I go out in public, I generally dress pretty conservatively, and avoid doing things that would draw attention to myself. I don't usually dance (not while sober), because I tend to suspect that I look silly doing so, and that makes me feel awkward. I don't like being in crowds because I'm a large guy, and I'm always worried about bumping into people, or just getting in their way, and again, that makes me feel awkward.

I'm not claiming that I don't care what other people think of me (I do), or that I think social norms ought to be disregarded (I don't)-- I'm saying that within some wide band of fairly conventional and inoffensive behavior, I don't think anybody pays any attention to what I do, or draws any conclusions about me based on what I do in public places.

I base this mostly on the fact that I really don't much care what anybody else does, within reason. If somebody in a restaurant that I'm in is doing something unusual, I'll probably watch them, and if I'm particularly bored, I might listen to a bit of their conversation, but that's about it. I'm there to have dinner, and talk to whoever I'm with (or read, if I'm alone), not to speculate about the lifestyles of total strangers. I really don't care what they do, as long as it's not disruptive, and I assume that they take the same attitude toward me.

Concern about the awkwardness of the "man date" is in a sense the flip side of another annoying trend among highly educated people, namely the tendency to try to read deep meaning into idle chatter. A huge percentage of what near-strangers say to one another is almost completely meaningless-- the answer to "What's that supposed to mean?" (usually asked of someone else, after the fact) is almost always "Not a damn thing." Conversation with hotel clerks and cab drivers is 90% filler-- if you're doing close reading of their comments looking for hints as to what they think of you, your politics, or your pets, you're wasting your time. And in the same way that it's a waste of time looking for coded messages in the pointless babble of strangers, it's a waste of time worrying about what hidden signals your behavior is sending to them-- they're not listening, and they don't care.

So while I do believe that there are people out there who fret about the awkwardness of the "man date," I also believe it's all in their heads-- nobody's really drawing conclusions about them based on their dinner companions, save for other obsessive Seinfeld types.

Posted at 7:19 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Zero to Evil in 6.5 Seconds

I was watching the deeply silly edutainment event Supervolcano on the Discovery Channel the other night, and it made me notice something about the current politics of fiction. There's a scene in the movie where the Director of Homeland Security more or less orders the heroic geologist to make a strong statement that everything will be fine, and no super-eruption will occur. Of course, the super-eruption does occur, with disatrous results.

I realized while watching this that probably the biggest benefit of the Homeland Security law has been for fiction writers, who have been conveniently provided with new villains. One of my airplane reads for the Chicago trip was G.M. Ford's Red Tide, which includes bumbling Homeland Security agents who nearly precipitate a catastrophe by narrowly focussing on Middle Easterners, and missing the real bioterrorist threat. One of those Wen Spencer Ukiah Oregon books also had a slightly crazy Homeland Security agent as a threat to the characters.

This has to be some sort of a record for a new Federal agency. It hasn't even been three years since the agency was created, and they're already bumbling incompetents endangering everyone around them in every fictional portrayal I've seen. It's particularly striking, given that the stated purpose of the agency is to make us all (feel) safer.

(Though I suppose this could be a function of what I read-- for all I know, there's a wildly popular right-wing agitprop series featuring a wholesome Christian Homeland Security agent battling evil Muslims and Democrats. Available wherever Left Behind books are sold.)

(Airport Security Update: The screeners in O'Hare let me go through the metal detector with my sneakers on. That's a data point against the theory that it's a big airport/ small airport thing. I don't think there's any pattern, unless it's an "asshole/ non-asshole" split among TSA screeners.)

Posted at 8:32 AM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

Monday, April 11, 2005

Comments, We Get Comments

I'm busy trying to spend money that I don't have yet, so the next installment of the black-body/ photon story will have to wait a little while. I do want to draw attention to a couple of things that have been posted recently in comments, though.

First, the surnameless Robert corrects some ahistorical elements of the textbook account of Max Planck's discovery, and recommends a very nice Physics World piece on Planck's role in the birth of quantum mechanics. It doesn't really change the main point that I was making, but I've noted the correction, and will try not to screw up the history when I lecture about it.

The other item I want to note (and please note that I'm not suggesting any equivalence between these two comments) is new comment on an old post, taking exception to some snarky remarks I made about the Quantum Aether Dynamics Institute. He writes:

The fact is that PhD physicists are giving the Aether Physics Model a serious review. It is completely mathematically based and is derived from the same empirical data as the Standard Model.

I think that in this particular case you have thrown out the bathwater with the baby, so to speak. This is a way of saying that prejudice with the intent of weeding out undesirables sometimes results in tossing out something useful. As it turns out, the Aether Physics Model presents the only mathematically correct Unified Force Theory in existence.

(It's worth noting, by the way, that the commenter in question, David Thomson is the co-author of a book on Aether Physics.)

He's right, of course, that I haven't carefully reviewed all that the Quantum Aether Dynamics Institute has to offer. Life is just too short.

For all I know, they might have a serious point to make. The problem is, the packaging shows every sign of kookery, starting with the statement that "PhD physicists are giving the Aether Physics Model a serious review," which is impressive in inverse proportion to the number of PhD physicists one knows. And then there's the summary of Chapter 1 provided on the web page for their book, which includes:

In the Aether Physics Model, constants are used in place of variables. This gives real meaning to each equation.

I really don't see any way to turn that into a statement that would make me interested in reading even the summary of Chapter 2, let alone the rest of the book.

Posted at 4:22 PM | link | follow-ups | 10 comments

Sunday, April 10, 2005


I'm back from Chicago, which was useful and fun, but tiring. And it's much too nice a day to spend indoors blogging, so I've been doing yard work, and will shortly be running out to the store to buy something to grill.

But just in case you're wholly dependent on the Internets for amusement, here's a link to help you set up your own Papal selection office pool. I think Cardinal Ratzinger got screwed with a six seed, and I've got him beating Duke in the semifinals, but you can make up your own mind...

Posted at 3:43 PM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

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