Last Train Home

The first single of the upcoming album SOB Rock by John Mayer has a bit of a strange pedigree to it. A few months ago the first segment of the song was released to widespread interest among the musical community and some people took a stab at completing the song. To be sure, these people were quite far away from what John Mayer had in mind for the song, but from the snippets at least a few aspects of the completed song were evident. The song has a strong 80’s feel to it, and some have justly compared it to Toto’s Africa and the 80’s music of Eric Clapton, and there are definitely some parallels there with Africa’s chord structure and the general guitar feel of Eric Clapton during those albums of the mid-to-late 80’s, a certain expensive sound with strong keyboards and drumming. It seems fitting that a song about nostalgia would evoke such a specific time and place within the world of music, and this feel appears to be very deliberately done, even to the point of choosing collaborators who helped make that sort of music in the first place with other bands and musicians.

One of the most fascinating aspects of “Last Train Home” for me is its structure, and the way that the song is full of elegant little touches that add elements to what is fundamentally a pretty simple pop rock song. We begin with the intro and the first verse, which were what was released earlier. After this there is a prechorus and a short first chorus. A short reprise of the intro then follows, and the second verse and prehcorus and verse mostly follow the first in terms of their sound only they add little guitar bits to add variety. After the second chorus, we are about two minutes into a three minute song, and we are already done with the main content of the piece, and John Mayer then adds another hook for the bridge that repeats, and then adds Maren Morris singing background vocals and then some solo guitar noodling as the song ends at around the three minute mark. This is an efficient three-minute pop song that does not overstay its welcome and that appears to be destined for 80’s FM radio, only it is now the 2020’s.

It is particularly knowing and telling that a song that is fundamentally about nostalgia should sound so nostalgic. John Mayer is at this point a middle-aged man who has spent the last few years demonstrating that he is not necessarily a very sympathetic character. Over the course of more than a decade now he has lost most of his audience after making some very questionable statements about his taste in women, and his dealings with people such as Jessica Simpson, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry (at least among those I have known about) has not crowned him with glory. A substantial part of Mayer’s widespread appeal was as a nice guy who would sing songs to women about how their body was a wonderland and how girls became lovers who turn into mothers and other similar sentiments, and finding out that Mayer was somewhat of an SOB did not improve his popularity. There is no denying the man’s talent, and his appreciation of classic blues and rock guitar, but sometimes the man’s character has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

When I listen to “Last Train Home,” I feel a complex set of emotions about the song and about the man who made it. Being born in the 80’s myself, and a man in middle age who certainly feels it, I understand the pull of nostalgia for an imagined past. John Mayer has long wanted to go home. From early in his career he has sung about his desire for a good home life, his longing for stability in love, and his concern about his still verdictless life. He has sung about his childhood and his desire to overcome the limitations of his own personal and family background and about his feelings that he has loved others with only half of his heart. When I listen to this song I can both relate to the song’s sentiments about longing for love and affection and feeling that one has put one’s heart where it doesn’t belong while also thinking that in the case of Mayer (and perhaps in my own case as well) that a lot of projection is going on. As Mayer thinks about the hurt that lovers past have caused him, it would do well for him to think of the pain and suffering he has inflicted on others. To the extent that we long for a simpler time and for people to love us simply and completely, it is worthwhile for us to examine ourselves and the way that we treat others. To expect devotion from others that we do not feel towards them, to demand from others communication that we cannot provide, to demand trust when we are not trustworthy, are not reasonable demands to make upon others.

For all of the skill and intention that crafted this song, one gets the feeling that the last train home departed a long time ago. There is no going back to the past. Even if it were possible to reverse time in a sense and go back to the way that things were in some way or another, we are not who we were once were. For better or worse, we have been scarred and we have been changed by the experiences we have had in a wicked and fallen and corrupt world, and must deal with the impact of those scars and that corruption on ourselves and on our character. This longing for paradise and for the best of our past is not an ignoble desire, it is merely one that is impossible to fulfill, at least by our own strength and our own wisdom. It is only in going forward as best as we can, seeking to recover the best of what has been lost, preserving the best of what we have, and striving towards the best that has not been achieved, with all the help and assistance that we can get from our Creator and God, that we may return home once again at the end to a place and situation that we have never known but where we truly and finally belong.

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Book Review: Sheet Pan Chicken

Sheet Pan Chicken, by Cathy Erway

This book was very worthwhile but not in the way that the author intends or that I necessarily would have preferred. When I am reading a cookbook like this one, my preference is to read about fun recipes of chicken that I can try or add to my own repertoire of dishes. This book did not have as much of this as I expected or wanted. What it did offer was something unexpected, and that is a look into the reasons why hipster cuisine and I tend to have such issues. The author is self-professedly a hipster author, someone who tries to sound cooler than she is by using slang that was outdated when I was growing up, and someone who borrows plenty of recipes from other authors. If one could not tell the author was interested in hipster cuisine by her love of kale and the fact that she turns a lot of dishes into far more fussy versions of what they could be, she expressly states that her interest in providing recipes is not to be true to any particular traditional foodways but rather to express the way that she thinks various cuisines should be. And judging from her fondness of pork products, her preferences and mine are far apart, and she has little to offer with regards to recipes.

This book is a relatively short one at just over 100 pages, divided into three chapters. The book begins with an attempt at a humorous introduction including how to choose one’s sheet pan and chicken as well as a discussion on chicken parts that are right for various recipes and spices. The first chapter looks at various chicken dishes that can be cooked on the fly, including spatchcook chicken, crispy chicken, chicken with various sauces and other side items, chicken salads, chicken clam bakes, various ethnic dishes, and the like. The second dish consists of recipes that take longer to cook and that the author considers to be worth the wait. These include dry-brined whole chicken, chicken rolls, pan chicken with cornell sauce (as opposed to regular bbq sauce), tumeric chicken, “deconstructed chicken-eggplant parm,” which does not sound particularly appealing, I must admit, and other such dishes. The third chapter then looks at various dishes that serve as suitable sidekicks to chicken, including quinoa, fried rice with ham and peas, tomato salad, garlicky smashed cucumbers, and kitchen sink chimichurri. The book then ends with acknowledgements and an index.

This is not to say that one could not turn these recipes into better ones by obeying biblical food laws and the like. To do so, of course, would be to understand and want food in a different way than the author provides. Rarely is an author as honest as this one is in being uninterested in traditional cooking and most interesting in feeling creative in ways where creativity is not necessarily going to be wanted or appreciated. This is not even in my top 5 best chicken cookbooks that I have ever read, although I have to say that the theme of this book is one that ought to be appealing, since I enjoy cooking on sheet pans and what it offers. This is not an entirely misconceived book. In better hands this could have been a very good book and if someone else with better taste in food wrote a book on this same subject I would read it happily. Yet if I did not exactly like this book or wish to eat or cook many of its recipes, I can say at the very least that the author did show me why it is that she and other writers like her are not ones I happen to enjoy. And if that is not the highest pleasure, it is worth at least something to know why one does not like something and to have it openly explained.

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Book Review: The Chicken Bible

The Chicken Bible, by America’s Test Kitchen

This is a fantastic book. If you like to cook (and eat) chicken, and you appreciate having a lot of recipes and options for dishes that show evidence of and provide plenty of encouragement for trial and experimentation, this is a book that deserves to be in ones library. Alas, I have to return this one to the library, but it’s well worth getting for oneself. The authors manage to perform a difficult task in both encouraging people who appreciate basic and straightforward (but not boring) recipes while also containing a lot of recipes for hipsters and those who have more daring tastes. My own tastes are fairly basic, admittedly, but I have to admit that there are a lot of dishes here that I would be very interested in trying that I have somehow not managed to try. The authors even manage to do something in their recipes and explain why the recipe works, and how it works, and what about it wouldn’t work, giving some important guidance not only to the ingredients of a dish but also preparation. This is excellent work and it deserves to be appreciated. This is a large book and a complex one, but it is one whose size is warranted and whose importance is pretty clear if you have adventurous tastes and simultaneously love eating chicken.

This book is a large one at nearly 500 pages and it consists of 500 recipes for easy chicken dishes, sometimes even including bonus recipes for foods to make alongside the chicken, which is definitely appreciated as those recipes (such as for brussels sprouts and asparagus, to give two examples) are solid themselves. The book begins with an introduction to America’s Test Kitchens as well as an introduction to the book as a whole and how to prepare chicken well. This is then followed by a variety of chapters. The book begins with a set of chapters that looks at chicken in easy dinners, salads, sandwiches and related dishes, soups, and stews/curries. These chapters give a lot of basic (and some not very basic) recipes that are useful for many circumstances. After that comes another set of chapters that deal with chicken dishes that are classic braises, simple sautes and stir-fries, roasted dishes, baked and broiled dishes, breaded and fried dishes, as well as savory pies and casseroles.

One of the more notable aspects of this book that deserves appreciation is the way that the authors provide variety through variation. This variation is done in multiple ways. For one, there are a great many cases where there are a lot of similar dishes that are cooked in slightly different ways to end up with different results. So there are quite a few chicken noodle soup recipes and chicken pot pie and fried chicken and chicken wing recipes and the like, each of them that is different depending on what someone wants. Similarly, the authors deal with variety by providing a lot of different rubs and sauces and the like to spice up dishes and make them more interesting. This is very good thinking. The variation in this book helps keep the reader aware of how one might be able to make dishes for people who have different preferences–or in the case of quite a few gluten-free recipes–have different dietary restrictions. And if not every dish in this book is something that I would appreciate for one reason or another, there are still hundreds of dishes in this book that I either have enjoyed or would definitely enjoy, and that is enough to give this book a warm recommendation.

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On The Sorrows Of The Rentier Class

One of the irritations that has to be endured in the contemporary world is frequently having to listen to clueless leftists complain about capitalism when it comes to the behavior of companies like Billboard and their anticompetitive policies towards those who do their job better when it comes to searching through music chart records. In general, there are a lot of people who like to blame all of the problems of the contemporary world on capitalism, without realizing that problems with power dynamics are inherent in our existence as human beings and that all human societies that have existed under other economic regimes have similarly shown the same struggle for power and position and the same general abuse of power. It is worthwhile at this point to discuss a basic aspect of economics that is nevertheless not well understood. There are only a few ways that people can gain money. Capitalists gain money through selling goods and services that there is a market for which is able and willing to pay them for the convenience and quality of what they offer. Laborers gain money through the wages for their labor, upon which they pay for the necessities of life as well as their wants. Rentiers gain money passively through their ownership of land and other forms of property that pay them accordingly (including pension plans and the like). To these three categories we may add the beggar class, who make a living through the generosity of others without providing useful goods, services, and labor in return.

It is important to know where people are before one can seek to understand their behavior. We might expect Billboard to be a capitalist firm that seeks to profit off of its services. But this is not the case. Billboard is a rentier, an owner of potentially lucrative chart data with 80 years or so of history that they receive fees for and are not inclined to work in order to make it more attractive to potential customers, and this attitude shapes their behavior towards others who deal with their proprietary data. By behaving more like a feudal lord concerned to reflect their exclusive ownership of trademarks and data streams than a capitalist who sees such data as a potential profit source for a group of potential customers who are passionate about that data and what it says, we can better understand them. A great many companies behave the way that they do, seeking to own territory and then defend it against all comers rather than seeing the desirability of what they have as a potential for greater income to be attained through trading and marketing. This is not to say that efforts at gaining money through trading and marketing are not occasionally irritating and bothersome (hence the existence of ad block software on my computer), but only that the behavior of people and institutions and companies makes sense best when we understand their mentality. If we expect rentiers to behave as capitalists, we will be disappointed, because their motive is not to make as much money as possible through providing goods and services that there is a clear and obvious market for but rather to preserve the value of their property as a source of passive income for which they do not have to labor to increase.

In many ways, the term rentier capitalism is a bit of an oxymoron. Rentiers and capitalists, properly understood, have very different motives and attitudes. A door-to-door salesman is a capitalist. They have a good to sell and are seeking people who are willing to pay for that good. If demand for a given good or service increases, the natural response of a capitalist is to increase their ability to serve that market through the purchase of capital goods and the hiring of labor to meet that demand. A rentier has no such profit motive or interest. This is why, for example, the DMV is so difficult to deal with. A DMV with a profit motive may be no less irritating, but it will be irritating in a different way, through efforts to profit off of goods and services to customers, rather than as a rentier actively limiting the amount of work that it has to do through long-lines and the like. A great deal of confusion exists in the contemporary world about the behavior of companies and people because we think they should behave as capitalists when in fact they are rentiers and act accordingly.

It is not as if rentiers are inherently bad people, or that they do not offer something to others. It is just that being a rentier is inherently a matter of seeking privilege and an ease of life through one’s position as an owner of (potentially lucrative) property. A great deal of the suffering and misery of ordinary people comes through their dealing with rentiers. The toxic relationship between slum landlords and angry renters in many cities where property is dear and where there are few if any motives to invest in housing stock is a classic case where the combination of malregulation and the natural motives of rentiers create disincentives to building new housing stock or spending a lot of money on maintenance. The behavior of government bureaucrats and crony capitalists is entirely understandable when we realize that they are rentiers who profit from access to power. A genuine capitalist recognizes labor as a vital input in business processes that lead to profit for themselves and others. A rentier, on the other hand, is frequently contemptuous of labor and desires to do as little of it as possible, and may even look down on those peasants who must live by their wits or the sweat of their brow.

A great deal of our own contemporary trials may be well understood when we see that rentier motivations are at the basis of them. The wide disparity that exists between the struggle of college athletes, many of whom will never make a living from their sport, and the immense money that is generated by college athletics as a whole is due to the fact that the NCAA and universities in general are rentiers, while college athletes are only laborers. The massive appeal of various multi-level marketing schemes in contemporary society and much of the suffering of the those trapped in the gig economy comes from the fact that the taxi industry as well as the temporary labor market is not a capitalist economy but a rentier one, and that the position of people who make money from the efforts of others further down in their stream is as a rentier collecting tolls and fees from the labor of others rather than someone profiting from their own labor or their own provision of goods and services to others. Where our income stream depends on position and property, we are properly speaking in some sort of feudal economy rather than a genuinely capitalist one, and we are slow to recognize this fact and respond accordingly.

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Book Review: Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now

Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, by Barry Miles

This book is about as close to an autobiography that one could expect of Paul McCartney’s life, and though it only covers the period up to the breakup of the Beatles, it is certainly a book that is necessary to account for when it comes to looking at the career of Paul McCartney. There are at least three levels of biography, and this one is an official and authorized biography that featured a lot of personal involvement on the part of McCartney. Other biographies have been given tacit permission that allowed people to talk freely with the biographer even if the subject himself did not. And still other biographies are unauthorized ones. The fact that this is an authorized biography is a bit of a double-edged sword, in that the author is beholden to write something that is favorable to its author, though one gets the feeling that the author would have done this anyway. What is a bit baffling is that this book stops so abruptly as it does when it comes to ending with the Beatles, especially given the length of this book. This is a book that could very easily be the first of a two-part set, but the volume is pretty sizable and that is likely to deter many potential readers.

This book is about 600 pages and is divided into fourteen chapters. The book begins with acknowledgements and then the author talks about the Liverpool upbringing of Paul and the other Beatles and what this means (1). This is followed by a look at the experience of the Beatles in Hamburg and the Cavern (2) as well as their move to London to go big (3). After this comes a look at the Beatles for Sales period (4) and its recording, as well as the songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney (5). The author tries to help Paul regain his indie cred as part of the avant garde scene in London in the 60’s (6) before talking about the making of more Beatles albums (7), including Sergeant Pepper (8). There is a talk about the movie-making efforts of the Beatles (9) before a chapter on the experience of the Beatles with the maharishi and how it could have gone better (10). This is then followed by a look at Apple records (11) and the recording of the White Album (12). The book then ends with a discussion of Abbey Road and Let It Be (13), Paul’s relationship with John as the Beatles broke up (14), and an afterword, bibliography, and index.

By and large this is a good book. It is not a great book, because it lacks focus and is perhaps more than a bit bloated. As is often the case with a book this size, a bit of judicious editing would have made the book far more manageable. Yet it is easy to see why more edits to this book were not made. Do you want to be the one who trims the reminisces of Paul McCartney and other people into a more reasonable length? I would not volunteer for that job, and it appears that no one else wanted to do that either. Given that fact, this book is probably as good as it could have been, and it gives a lot of details about the career of the Beatles and about some of the struggles and tensions that existed within the band. There are definitely some fascinating aspects to this book when it comes to the way that the author tries to deal with the personalities at the heart of the Beatles, with John Lennon’s fragile macho posing, with George Harrison’s frustrations at the limits the band placed on his own creative efforts, and at the financial shenanigans that divided the band towards the end.

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Book Review: Paul McCartney: The Life

Paul McCartney: The Life, by Philip Norman

By and large (and this book is large, at more than 800 pages), this is an enjoyable book to read if you are fond of the Beatles and especially Paul McCartney. This book would be more modestly and accurately titled as “a life” instead of “the life,” since the author did not wait until McCartney was no longer alive and no longer making notable and worthwhile music before writing and publishing the book, and since the author’s account is obviously not the definitive one, even if it is certainly an interesting and often insightful one. One of the more interesting aspects of this book is the history that the author had with his subject. Norman is notable in general for writing rock & roll biographies, in which he wrote a biography of John Lennon that was widely taken as being hostile and biased against McCartney. Later on, when he desired to write about McCartney, he had to deal with the negative repercussions of his previous writing and sought (and obtained) tacit permission to write about McCartney, which is an act of graciousness on the part of Macca that was repaid by the author in a generally favorable account. Whether or not it is a good thing that one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the backstory of the author’s writing, the author makes much of it.

This book is a massive one, and its scope is similarly massive, and it is no surprise that this book took a couple of years to write given the sources that were interviewed. As might be expected, much of this book focuses on the subject’s musical career, but there is a lot of discussion of personal matters. It is organized conventionally and chronologically, all of which is to be expected. The end result is easy enough to recognize and appreciate. McCartney’s childhood is explored, his friendships and his education and his musical family and ambitions. After that comes a look at his life in the Beatles and his own personal drama, then the Beatles breakup and his solo career and the start of a new band whose personnel just never seemed to gel, and then his solo career after the breakup of Wings in light of his imprisonment in Japan. The author explores the mix of popular appeal and critical stumbles with a sympathetic but generally honest approach. This approach is especially welcome when the author discusses McCartney’s late-career renaissance and his disastrous marriage with Heather Mills as well as the adulthood of his children with Linda and his relationship with them as they sought to make their own way.

There are some consistent themes that work their way through this particular life that allow one to tie together a lot of McCartney’s life and behavior together. One of them is the hardworking attitude that resulted from a high degree of insecurity that McCartney had about being respected. This insecurity led McCartney to feel that he would need to support himself after the Beatles with songwriting, thinking that his popularity would be short, led him to struggle with the personnel issues of Wings, and also likely influenced his use of pot as a way of calming down his continual ambient anxiety, all of which had serious consequences. Still, McCartney’s career is notable and successful far beyond the hopes and expectations of anyone. It is also interesting to note McCartney’s desire to be taken seriously as an artist, given his melodic gifts which long led him to be pigeonholed as a popster who wrote “silly love songs,” rather than someone who had deep and serious artistic ambitions. To the author’s credit, he not only praises the melodic gifts of McCartney but also his ambition. This is an author smart enough to write in such a way that he provides a lot of information and insight without alienating his bread and butter of musicians, and that is worthy of respect.

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Book Review: Paul McCartney: A Life

Paul McCartney: A Life, by Peter Ames Carlin

Paul McCartney is an interesting figure and this book does a good job at looking at his life in such a way that the reader who has an interest in the history of the Beatles as individuals can find a lot here to enjoy and reflect on. As a reader, this particular author’s approach strikes me as a balanced one, in that it addresses his life history and personality and approach in a way that points out some of his flaws as well as his talent and seriousness. Those who want to see Paul McCartney as more than simply the songwriter of pop tunes but as someone who had serious artistic ambitions and a somewhat ambivalent attitude when it came to money, there is a lot here to digest. There are certain consistent character flaws that the author points out, including an inability to successfully handle conflict and the moral courage to communicate unpleasant matters, and certain proclivities like saying the wrong thing in moments of stress and difficulty. All that aside, though, the author does a good job t bringing out enough of McCartney’s character that the reader is able to appreciate it for what it is, even if they might think more highly of McCartney’s pop-oriented songs than is the case by the author.

This book is almost 350 pages long and it is a bit on the short side at the beginning and end, focusing most of its attention on the time when McCartney was mot in the public eye. So, for example, we get some information on McCartney’s family and their ancestry as well as the loss that McCartney faced of his mother at the age of fourteen and how his response to this loss mirrored his response to the death of Lennon in 1980. There is a lot of discussion about how Lennon and McCartney started out, the early drama about finding a consistent drummer and to a lesser extent a bass player, their time in Hamburg and Liverpool, and then how they dealt with fame. The author, throughout, does his best to be fair to McCartney even as he points out McCartney’s dictatorial tendencies, his struggle to be faithful in his early relationships, and his miserly tendencies when it came to paying his stepmother or his bandmates in Wings, where it became a serious issue, even to the point of his divorce with Heather Mills and the financial dustup that it caused. The book ends in 2009 with the author more or less ending the biography in media res, not knowing how thing will end but assuming they will go on more or less as they have been for the last couple of decades.

If you are going to appreciate this book and enjoy it, you are likely going to care something about the subject. If you are a fan of the Beatles or of Wings or of Paul’s solo work, or of more than one of the above, it is likely that this book will provide something of interest. As someone who has read a fair amount of the Beatles and their history as a group, there is not a huge amount in this book that is entirely new, but most of it simply reinforced or at least provided a different perspective on what I had heard from others. One of the more interesting aspects of McCartney’s career, for example, is the way that he seemed to be a bit complacent in his solo career unless he had some kind of producer or some kind of external circumstances that pushed him to excel, but this is a common issue where members of groups strike out in solo work and realize that they don’t have as many people holding them accountable to do their best work all the time, as was certainly the case with the Beatles, for example. That aside, one gets the sense that McCartney’s generally stable adult life, by rock & roll standards, was at least partially dependent on a work ethic that was not harmed (thankfully) by his fondness for marijuana.

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A Modest Proposal For The Development Of DIY Charts

While there have been websites that have catered to subjective personal charts, most of these were merely charts based on favoritism and there was not the provision of a large amount of data to allow the development of charts that are based on one’s own personal understanding of rules. As someone who spends a fair bit of my free time dealing with questions of music charts and their legitimacy, it has become increasingly obvious over the past year or so that the Billboard Hot 100 as a chart is pretty broken and increasingly ripe for exploitation by artists who know enough about how charts are calculated to motivate fans (in some cases, as with BTS and Taylor Swift) to purchase songs and remixes to game the charts to get them andthen try to keep them #1 inorganically. What is to be done about this?

It is my view that it is best to deal with defective charts like the Billboard Hot 100 through encouraging competition. There are a great many views about the proper proportions that should exist between sales, radio airplay, and streams that exist. There are differences between free and paid streams and programmed streams, and even streams (user generated content on YouTube) that is not included. A great deal of data is available to the general public when it comes to knowing the statistics of songs, and it would not be a difficult task for a website to bring this data to the people and create an atmosphere where one can create one’s own headcanon charts with rules and chart mechanics that are based on one’s own internal sense of balance. The website could profit by charging a modest fee for providing the service of allowing for people to design their own charts based on how they would best interpret the data.

This is something that some of us can see coming, and it would be worthwhile to ponder just the sorts of difference that different ideas of the rules can lead to. Does one want a chart year that runs from January to December? Then do it. Does one want a chart that ignores radio? Go for it, even if that’s not how I would do it. Does one want to limit sales to one copy of one remix and disregard artists’ own website sales? Run with it. Does one want to make all streams, including user-generated content, count equally? Why not? Does one want to make points based on ratios or provide a maximum of points that sum up to 1000 if a song is #1 in all three metrics and is less than that proportionally based on how its streaming, sales, and radio match up? Sure, go ahead. Does one want to make a chart that appeals to the stans by including Tik Tok and social media presence for chart points? It’s your chart, you make the rules and see how those rules play out on a week by week basis. Do you want to talk with other like-minded people who have their own ideas about charts, and you can all see how songs stack up on a week-by-week basis, perhaps even seasonally, and then look at your own different YE lists? Count me in.

The key here is that Billboard right now does not do charts very well. Competitors like Rolling Stone are not doing well also. Other charts have wacky rules that try to avoid recurrency or limit artists to three songs on the singles chart simultaneously or add other sliders to try to lower the chart points of songs that are on the downswing. But if you want to use those rules, or other rules–I have heard of a three-week rule that discourages instant #1 debuts as well–by all means do them. Do you have particular recurrent rules that you want to see implemented, or none at all, it would be entertaining to see the response. People have different views, and instead of arguing about the legitimacy of a chart that has to make a decision about various matters, why not create a headcanon chart that takes advantage of the data that exists and then sees how things shake out in real life. How does the reality of the music chart look based one one’s own rules. This is subjective, to be sure, but subjective in a way that points out how different people see the world and how reality would shape out according to what one viewed as the right and proper way to look at things. Someone needs to go about doing this, as I suspect there is a fair amount of people who have some strong opinions and an interest in seeing how things exist according to their own rules and principles and worldview. I know I do.

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Book Review: Statistics Done Wrong

Statistics Done Wrong: A Woefully Complete Guide, by Alex Reinhart

The problem with this book, such as it is, is that it by no means a woefully complete guide. To be sure, the state of statistics abuse in contemporary society is rather woeful, and this book demonstrates that a great many people, including those who engage in data analysis as a profession, lack a fundamental understanding of the terminology and meaning of the field they work in, have a terrible understanding of statistics. The author, though, does not go the direction that one would expect, and he deserves a great deal of credit for his restraint. It would be easy to direct an awakening evidence of the terrible knowledge and mistaken use of statistics principles and practices in scientific fields into a feeling of snobbery towards those who know less than even the reader, but the author does not want to do that. What he is trying to do is more complicated, and that is revealing the sad state of statistics knowledge even in many well-respected and well-regarded places, while at the same time trying to let the reader think that things are doing better and that one need not treat anything that seeks to use data to make a recommendation as being suspect, even if things do often appear that way.

This book is a short one at a bit less than 150 pages. It begins with a preface, acknowledgements, and an introduction. This is followed by an introduction to statistical significance (1), including confidence intervals. The author then discusses statistical power and the frequency of underpowered statistics (2), something that appears not to be well recognized. After this comes a look at pseudoreplication and the importance of choosing one’s data correctly (3). The author discusses the problems of p value and base rate fallacies (4), how people are bad judges of significance (5), how people regularly double-dip in the data and engage in circular reasoning (6), and problems of continuity errors (7). There are chapters on such matters as model abuse (8), researcher freedom and its pitfalls (9), the fact that everybody makes mistakes with data (10), and ways that data are hidden in ways that hinder our ability to understand what is going on (11). The author closes with a chapter on what can be done about this (12), as well as notes and an index.

I am not sure that I ultimately buy what the author is trying to sell. It is not as if statistical knowledge is too difficult for people to attain to. The author, after all, expects the reader to understand what he is saying, at least from a conceptual level. The author, also, it appears, wishes to preserve the prestige of certain gatekeepers within the scientific community whose legitimacy would be undermined if one takes a position of extreme skepticism relating to the use of statistical inferences and reasoning. Yet the author’s discussion of the characteristic flaws of how people tend to use statistics is highly damning when it comes to large areas of the world where people try to argue based on studies. Problems like confirmation bias are something that all of us are prone to, and to the extent that we are aware of our own vulnerabilities when it comes to sound reasoning, we can also be properly skeptical of others when it comes to their own attempts to engage in such reasoning where they have a motive and plenty of opportunity to be less than honest.

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Book Review: How To Lie With Statistics

How To Lie With Statistics, by Darrel Huff

One of the more telling and unfortunate aspects of life is that those who crusade against something are usually guilty of what they are crusading against. Those who crusade against injustice are often spectacularly unjust in their own worldview and behavior towards others. To truly rage against a problem often requires a certain amount of self-loathing that can only come from suppressed self-knowledge. Such is the case here. The author rages against how one can lie with statistics, and though this book does not reveal it, the author happens to have been a part of a larger campaign to lie with statistics relating to public health and smoking. Given the ways that one can twist and deceive with statistics, it is little question that data that is often used to bolster various positions and stands can easily come into question given the poor levels of data expertise among the general population and even among others. This book is written with a tone that leads the reader to be entertained but also probably more than a little bit irritated and frustrated at the misuse that can befall us when we seek to use statistics as a way of bolstering what we want to be the case.

This book is a short one at between 100 and 150 pages and makes for an interesting read throughout. The book begins with acknowledgements and an introduction. After that the author talks about how one can construct a sample with a built-in bias, a classic way of lying with statistics (1). This is followed by a look at how one makes a well-chosen average to make the point one wants to make (2), and ignoring different insights that can come about from other means of central tendency like mode and median. The author then talks about little figures that are not there (3), as well as the way that people make much ado about what is practically nothing (4), including graphs done in such a way as to skew differences. This is followed by the gee-whiz graph, which is very common in, for example, arguments like climate change (5). After that come chapters on the one-dimensional picture (6), the semi-attached figure (7), and a look at the problem of post hoc (8). The book then ends with chapters on how to statisculate (9) and how to talk back to a bad statistic (10), which is a very necessary skill to have.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the way that it leads the reader to be skeptical about the way that data is used and misused so often in the public sphere. Given that the motivation for people to lie is so great, it is little surprise that people end up being so deceptive so often with regards to statistics. The author does provide many ways that statistics can reliably lie, and these are conditions that exist in general over a large part of contemporary society. A great many aspects of contemporary political culture deal with areas where statistics are used and misused on a regular basis. There is a lot about this book that remains relevant even though the book was published in the 1950’s. It was timely at the time and remains timely to the present day, and likely will remain so as long as people lie with statistics, which has been going on for a long time, and is not likely going to stop anytime soon. The only thing one would have preferred to see is an update by someone else on how statistics continue to be used deceptively in the contemporary period by cultural, economic, and political elites.

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