July 30, 2012

Coddle that song text!: The analogous as magnanimous

Analogies are the most direct communication, and this piece is a sacrifice fly. I realize by using direct explanation to argue the supremacy of indirect communication that I am weakening my own claim — hitting a long fly out. But, as I hope the net result is a better understanding of the indirect if not greater use of it (if only on my end), this is a sacrifice fly. And just to show even the most routine out can also be an RBI — Analogies are the most direct communication for three key reasons.

But I count five...

1. The novelty of an analogy hooks people, and an idea conveyed analogously is more likely to stick.

A Technical Tony is wont to bear down on any given situation with more and more details. In this way, there are no forests but only many trees with even more branches and innumerable leaves. And it's not really helpful to label a national park on a map as "542,600 trees; 3.7 million branches; 189 million leaves."

Just an ink drawing of my ally I scribbled. It took me, like, thirty seconds.

Straw men aside, Kierkegaard is on my side. He argued that as a mind is not an undisturbed evaluator assessing information from inside a vacuum, it's necessary to, borrowing language from V, use lies to tell the truth. Just as good sentences tell the truth by referencing the latter part of the previous sentence, and then introduce a new thought at the end, Kierkegaard argued communicating indirectly "does not begin directly with the matter one wants to communicate, but begins by accepting the other man's illusion as good money."

This almost works as a sort of open sandwich method whereby the listener is greeted where he already stands then turned around to view matters from a different angle. He listens to the welcome and then just might understand the second part more as he has to process it himself.

2. Analogies don't merely scale with degree, but morph.

Whereas details are Fatburgers, available in various sizes but compositionally identical, analogies are from Jack in the Box. I could order two tacos if I were a little hungry, a sourdough breakfast sandwich if I were a little hungrier, or a Jumbo Jack with Cheese if I were famished. Each level is unique even as they differ in magnitude.

Simple conceits tend to convey more than basic facts. English comic Stewart Lee is highly metaphorical, and he explained the current coalition government as a relationship between two dogs. Whereas David Cameron was bred for power as a bloodhound for hunting foxes, his having to ally with Nick Clegg to wield that power is as if that blood hound could only catch foxes with the help of a small chihuahua. And if British politics don't do it for you, singer-songwriter Cass McCombs is indeed a lionkiller, and I would maintain that Nicki Minaj is a successful reliever who has outgrown the bullpen but doesn't yet know how to pitch for six or seven innings.

Still better than 2010 Jenks. 

Unlike clichés, parables and fables might actually incite thought. Jesus taught in parables about sowing seeds and preparing for wedding feasts to much acclaim. On the fable side, Aesop’s tortoise and the hare have been codified in cliché: "Slow and steady wins the race." If the fable itself is too weathered to be useful, here's a fable update: At rush hour in West LA, it's faster to drive from Santa Monica to LAX on Lincoln than taking the 10 to the 405.

And, of course, there are allegories which can vivify seemingly dead weight. Whether it's spiritual works like The Pilgrim’s Progress or Flatland, a Cold War allegory like Dr. Seuss's Butter Battle Book, or the solid account of a Muslim’s relationship with America post-9/11 in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, allegories make the abstract much more perspicuous. I wonder if someone could explain modern East Asian history as a conversation between three students at a UC Irvine library....

Metaphors and conceits, parables and fables, and allegories should not be confused for each other. Just as you should not expect a breakfast sandwich to suffice for supper as a cheeseburger would, it’s not helpful to think Nicki Minaj chews tobacco or Nick Clegg is used in Taco Bell advertisements.

Actually, I think this works.

3. Analogies require more thought all around.

An analogy is harder to conceive than a simple fact because it requires sufficient understanding of at least two ideas rather than one or, more likely, half of one. The string theorist who can explain the theory as the music of the universe is, by my estimation, a better scientist than his colleague who can only write in obscure and technical language.

But analogies are not received at face value. If they were, they would be reductive at best and misrepresentative at worst. The third-grader who listens to a lecture on string theory will probably absorb nothing, but if he understood strings as playing the music that generates the universe, he would actually begin to think about string theory. This would probably get the young student discussing strings beyond the lecture, clearly a much better outcome than napping through a presentation.

That all having been said, you all need to read The Little Prince and watch Pink Floyd's The Wall if you haven't already.

July 04, 2012

Happy Indie Day

This post is a tribute to the nation that was into liberty before it was cool, and then gave up on it when it became too mainstream. First, a list.

My Top Ten Favourite Things About America
1.       Jack in the Box is open 24/7/365.
2.       Walmart’s annual total revenue is greater than Saudi Arabia’s GDP.
3.       “Coke” means the same thing in every language.
4.       You can openly carry a firearm in 42 states, and only 13 of these states require you to have a permit.
5.       As long as you remain under .08 BAC, you can drink and drive in Mississippi.
6.       The McGriddle
7.       Only India and China have more people, and only Russia and Canada have more land.
8.       The best serial killers, evangelists and athletes are all Americans.
9.       Conspiracy theorists and the senile are significant voting blocs.
10.   The stars and stripes are on the Moon.

And now, new words to classic patriotic songs. First one’s a throwback, next two are cheeky, but the last one tries to be thoughtful.

My County ‘Tis of Thee (c. 1999)
My country, ’tis of thee,
Home of the Burger King,
And Taco Bell;
Land where all foods come fried,
Where Tupac and Biggie died:
Did you hear Clinton lied
About Lewinsky?

My Country ‘Tis of Thee
My country, ‘tis of thee,
Where cold hard cash is king,
But WiFi’s free;
Facebook, Apple, Android,
The terrorists annoyed:
No, we’re not unemployed!
Transformers 3.

America the Beautiful
A big mouthful of Freedom Fries,
Morphine to dull the pain,
For the stock market’s lows and highs,
And Greg’ry House’s cane!
America! America!
We drink coffee not tea,
Our highways sprawl, our trees are tall,
A Celsius degree?

The Star-Spangled Banner
O, don’t throw away the great national blight,
Yes, we might well have failed to fulfill Founders’ dreaming,
But these ’types quite bizarre prove that the people just might,
Conquer foes yet unknown, land on new worlds yet teeming!
But however we fare, whatever fortune we share,
We’ll still wield the right to pray and to swear.
May we then conspire to salvage and to save
Whencever we have come — now, how to behave?

Reagan's official presidential photograph. Thanks to Erich Deicke.