The New York Timesreported Friday on a new requirement in the Common Application, the admissions application used by 400 colleges: personal essays can't go over 500 words. Is that enough? I don't know, but if you write long and start lopping, be careful. Learn from my mistake.
Rapping is very meta. A lot of rapping is about how good you are at rapping. Or about how successful and wealthy you are—thanks to being good at rapping.
Sometimes you think rappers might be rapping about something other than rapping, like The Genius here in "Liquid Swords":
I'm on a mission that niggas say is impossible, But when I swing my swords they all choppable. I be the body dropper, the heartbeat stopper, Child educator plus head amputator.
But it's all just a metaphor for rapping. The next lines in the verse:
Cause niggas' styles are old like Mark 5 sneakers. Lyrics are weak, like clock radio speakers.
GZA amputates your head lyrically. The "s" in "swords" is merely stylistic.
When rap is completely meta, just a pure feedback loop devoid of any story or lesson, the fun lies in the rapper's creative flourishes, the ornamentation on the perpetual motion machine. There are uncountable ways to say "I'm good (at saying I'm good (at saying I'm good (at saying...)))"
But even given rap's overwhelming self-referentiality, I was struck recently when I re-listened to the R&B song "Feels Good" by Tony! Toni! Toné!.
Here are the lyrics to the rap interlude.
Mosadies the Mellow, quite a nice fellow. Met three T, hit a rhyme acapello. They had the rhythm and I had the rhyme, So then I hit it that one more time. It worked out and then they worked it in. Tony Toni Tone has done it again!
As you can see, nearly the entire rap (five of the six lines) is about the arrangement and recording of the rap. Explicitly. No fancy (s)wordplay of note. (Unless you count "it worked out" as brag-worthy braggadocio.) What I'm saying is, I think this might be the most pointless rap interlude ever.
My roommate Tracy and I started watching America's Got Talent this season because we know some people who tried out for it. (For example, ArcheDream for Humankind, who have spent years producing blacklight shows that are much more rich than the cool but gimmicky stuff put on by the Fighting Gravity frat boys who are now in the semifinals.)
One of my favorite acts on the show has been ArcAttack!, whom I saw performing a scaled-down version of their electrifying show last year at Gizmodo Galley 2009 . In any case, Sharon Osbourne, one of the judges, uttered a pretty hilarious racial slur this week. Due to their Frankenstein theme, I think she meant to call the members of ArcAttack! a group of "geeks and ghouls" or "geeks and spooks" but instead called them a group of "geeks and gooks."
"Geeks and spools" would have been more technically accurate.
I realized recently while writing about blogging protocol that spell-checkers do not recognize the word unpublish. Odd, I thought at first; it's an essential part of my vocabulary. Then: Of course it's not in dictionaries! Before the Internet, unpublishing a piece of writing made about as much sense as undropping an apple. Sure, you could cease publication (Stop the presses!), but once a book or newspaper is out there, it's out there.
I learned today that the New Oxford American Dictionary named unfriend its 2009 Word of the Year. Unpublish would have served as a less gimmicky option (although maybe gimmickry is part of the criteria for selection). Unfriend in common parlance is restricted to social networking sites. Further, as a general concept, it's not novel. Friends have become enemies for millennia.
Unpublish, on the other hand, signifies one of the largest revolutions in communication since one could publish in the first place. And it's not restricted to getting back at a Facebook acquaintance who uninvited you to her killer birthday party.
Unfortunately, Web publishing may be headed toward one of the words Oxford considered and rejected: paywall. Now there's a surefire way to unfriend your readership.
To be a journalist is to occupy one of the worst stations in life one can imagine. Picture it: Tied to a computer, sometimes on the road, occasionally forced to talk to strangers, always starting from square one on a new topic after each deadline. And you are maddeningly, incessantly indentured to the hard truth of reality, or the hard reality of truth, or some combination thereof, with the nitpicky public waiting to jump on you for any creative deviation from "fact." What a life! It's enough to drive anyone to drink, or let their hair go, or at least compete with coworkers to slip inane specimens of verbiage into front page stories. Well, we know which route(s) Malcolm Gladwell has (claimed to have) taken.
In case you missed it, read Jack Shafer's rundown on Slate. Gladwell told a tale, broadcast on NPR, about challenging a colleague at the Washington Post back in the day to rack up instances of the phrase "raises new and troubling questions" in their articles. Then they moved on to round 2 with "perverse and often baffling." It's a fun story, but Shafer did some legwork and called bullshit on most of it. Anyway, there was a flurry of attention in the blogosphere that seems to have abated.
But wait! A new contender has entered the ring! Who else but Clive Thompson? First, let me quote from a February 11 story in the Canadian paper The National Post: "Malcolm and Clive? Both went to the University of Toronto around the same time. Both are whip-smart and terrifically ambitious. [True.] ... The only difference? Clive never made it to pop culture level, and as one tittle-tattle who knows this world well tells me, 'Clive has always been a little envious of Malcolm.' [Unverified, and to be fair, Gladwell instills both envy and schadenfreude in writers from this country too.]"
So what does Dark Horse Thompson do in his latest Wired magazine column? He creates a mashup that's one part "perverse and often baffling" and one part "raises new and troubling questions." The result: "These tools raise a fascinating, and queasy, new ethical question." You can look it up, right on page 60.
Malcolm, are you listening? That's Thompson: 1, Gladwell: 0. Hop to it.
Magical thinking--typically considered an archaic mode of cognition that populates the world with animistic forces, hidden dimensions, and evocative incantations--may actually serve us well in the future as we navigate an existence increasingly mediated by digital information.
Few things annoy me more than when a writer dramatically builds up to a revelation or punchline that turns out to be already obvious. Here's an example from the Times this week:
In the drawing, a nude man and woman stand on either side of a wall. Each wears a plastic breathing mask that covers the nose and mouth; the masks are connected to air hoses that pass through the wall. The hoses attach to pouches at each other’s underarms and crotches. [OMG they're huffing each other's stank!]
It is a device that allows people — and there is no polite way to put this — [Whoa, what's he about to reveal that's even cruder than the fact that they're remotely huffing each other's stank?!] to sniff each other. Remotely.
Considering how lazy many e-daters are, and how clever many other e-daters are, it should come as no surprise that plagiarism runs rampant in the online dating world. On Friday the Wall Street Journal reported on copycat personal profiles, mentioning that in one survey 9% of respondents admitted to lifting material from someone else, and that lines from some sources appear on dozens of people's profile pages. In some cases people cop to lack of imagination, but I suspect in others people subconsciously appropriate the sentiments behind the words so as to justify their claims of authorship.