Sunday, May 31, 2015

Awe-inspired

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. — John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States

HUMAN BEINGS are unique in the ability to experience awe, or so a recent body of research seems to indicate, and it appears as though it's good for us individually and collectively.


I get it. I know the peace I feel when I am awed. 


Outdoors is where I find it. Clouds, trees, sky, streams, mountains, desert, wildlife, birds, flowers, meeting a deer up close in the woods, having a beaver cross my path on a lake or listening to a hawk's call pierce the air high above me. That's when the noise in my head and turmoil in my heart stop, and I find stillness and balance.


Below the article, at the end of the post are some views and places I've found awe-inspiring.


Why Do We Experience Awe?

By Paul Piff

May 22, 2015

HERE’S a curious fact about goose bumps. In many nonhuman mammals, goose bumps — that physiological reaction in which the muscles surrounding hair follicles contract — occur when individuals, along with other members of their species, face a threat. We humans, by contrast, can get goose bumps when we experience awe, that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.


Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner, argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.


Now, recent research of ours, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, provides strong empirical support for this claim. We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.


For example, in one study we asked more than 1,500 individuals across the United States a series of questions to assess how much awe, among other emotions, they experienced on a regular basis. In an ostensibly unrelated part of the study, we gave each person 10 lottery tickets that would be entered in his (or her) name for a cash prize drawing. We told each person that the tickets were his to keep, but that if he wanted to, he could share a portion of them with another unidentified individual in the study who had not received any tickets.


We found that participants who reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger. They gave approximately 40 percent more of their tickets away than did participants who were awe-deprived.


Some of this research was conducted on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, which has a spectacular grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees, some with heights exceeding 200 feet — a potent source of everyday awe for anyone who walks by. So we took participants there and had them either look up into the trees or look at the facade of a nearby science building, for one minute. Then, a minor “accident” occurred (actually a planned part of the experiment): A person stumbled and dropped a handful of pens. Participants who had spent the minute looking up at the tall trees — not long, but long enough, we found, to be filled with awe — picked up more pens to help the other person.


In other experiments, we evoked feelings of awe in the lab, for example by having participants recall and write about a past experience of awe or watch a five-minute video of sublime scenes of nature. Participants experiencing awe, more so than those participants experiencing emotions like pride or amusement, cooperated more, shared more resources and sacrificed more for others — all of which are behaviors necessary for our collective life.


In still other studies, we have sought to understand why awe arouses altruism of different kinds. One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger. Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another. In the great balancing act of our social lives, between the gratification of self-interest and a concern for others, fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.


You could make the case that our culture today is awe-deprived. Adults spend more and more time working and commuting and less time outdoors and with other people. Camping trips, picnics and midnight skies are forgone in favor of working weekends and late at night. Attendance at arts events — live music, theater, museums and galleries — has dropped over the years. This goes for children, too: Arts and music programs in schools are being dismantled in lieu of programs better suited to standardized testing; time outdoors and for novel, unbounded exploration are sacrificed for résumé-building activities.


We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others — the teenage punk who gives up his seat on public transportation, the young child who explores the world in a state of wonder, the person who presses on against all odds.


All of us will be better off for it.























Friday, May 29, 2015

On the radio

“Basically, radio hasn't changed over the years. Despite all the technical improvements, it still boils down to a man or a woman and a microphone, playing music, sharing stories, talking about issues — communicating with an audience.” — Casey Kasem, American disc jockey, music historian, radio celebrity, voice actor and actor

WELL bless my soul, I was interviewed on the radio for 20 minutes. I know! Who would want to listen to me for that long?!?! 

Actually, I'm kinda hoping that you will. It was for Helen's Pajama Party

And could you do me a favor? Email my radio interviewer and host, Kim Chase, and tell her thanks for having me on her show. She's seriously the bomb. What a dynamo.

Here's her email: kim.chase@cumulus.com

The interview will air on these stations:

  • Nash FM 97.3     5:30 AM  Saturday, May 30
  • 98.3 The Torch     7:00 AM  Sunday, May 31
  • 95 KGGO     5:00 AM  Sunday, May 31
  • 92.5 Nash Icon     5:00 AM  Sunday, May 31
  • AM 1700 The Champ     5:00 AM  Sunday, May 31   

But in case you don't live within range, you can click on the below link to listen.

Kelly and Kim On The Radio


Thursday, May 28, 2015

The US finally starts catching up (with me)

“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.” — William E. Gladstone, British politician who served as Prime Minister for 13-1/2 years

I KNEW I was on the right side of history! And the country I live in is finally beginning to catch up with me — although I must say, Iowa, my state of residence, is certainly dragging it's feet. From The New York Times.




The Rise of Social Liberalism and G.O.P. Resistance

By Charles M. Blow
May 28, 2015

There is a fascinating phenomenon taking shape in America: As the country becomes less religious, it is also becoming more socially liberal.

It makes sense that these two variables should closely track each other, but the sheer scale and speed of the change is astonishing.

After a Pew Research Center report earlier this month found that “the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing,” this week Gallup released a report that found that “more Americans now rate themselves as socially liberal than at any point in Gallup’s 16-year trend, and for the first time, as many say they are liberal on social issues as say they are conservative.”

Gallup has tested the moral acceptability of 19 variables since the early 2000s.

And, as Gallup found this week:

“The upward progression in the percentage of Americans seeing these issues as morally acceptable has varied from year to year, but the overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors. In fact, the moral acceptability ratings for 10 of the issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.”

Acceptance of gay or lesbian relations is up 23 percentage points over that time. Having a baby outside of marriage is up 16 points. Premarital sex is up 15 points. Divorce and research using stem cells obtained from human embryos are both up 12 points.

At the same time, the death penalty is down three points (within the four-point margin of error) and medical testing on animals is down nine points.

We as a country may still be engaged in a vigorous debate about the proper size and function of government, and about which parties and candidates could best steer America in the right direction, but one thing is less and less debatable: We are rapidly becoming a more socially liberal country.

This change poses a particular challenge for the Republican Party and its national aspirations, not so much at the congressional seats, many of which are safe, but for presidential candidates.

Part of the issue, as the likely candidate Jeb Bush put it last year, is that for a Republican to become president, he or she would have to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general” election.

It was a catchy phrase and everyone understood what he was saying: Don’t allow the Republican debates and primaries to drag you so far right that you will never be able to recover in the general election. But the problem is that there is no way to compete in the general without first winning the primaries securing the nomination.

And so, Republicans are now involved in another election season that feels like the movie “Groundhog Day”: trying to out-conservative one another to be in the good graces of Republican primary voters, who in many states can be disproportionately religious and socially conservative.

Take Iowa, for instance, whose February caucuses will be the first contests of the 2016 presidential cycle. As the Public Religion Research Institute pointed out earlier this month:

“Iowa Republicans are notably more socially conservative than Republicans nationally. Compared to Republicans overall, Iowa Republicans are more likely to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage (64 percent vs. 58 percent, respectively), and are more likely to say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases (68 percent vs. 58 percent, respectively). The social conservatism evident among Iowa Republicans is based in part on the large presence of white evangelical Protestants. More than four in ten (42 percent) Iowa Republicans are white evangelical Protestant.”

How do you win Iowa, or at least survive it? Some candidates may not focus their attentions there at all. They may skip it, as John McCain did in 2000, and instead focus on the slightly more moderate Republican primary voters in New Hampshire to deliver their first strong showing shortly after the Iowa caucuses.

For example, a March poll conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston found that more likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters are pro-choice than pro-life on abortion and more favor same-sex marriage than oppose it.

But New Hampshire is somewhat anomalous. It is the most conservative state in a very liberal northeast. Nationally, only 27 percent of Republicans are pro-choice, while 67 percent are pro-life, and nationally only 37 percent of Republicans support same-sex marriage, according to polls by Gallup in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, New Hampshire is the second most nonreligious state in the country — nonreligious being defined by Gallup as people “saying religion is not an important part of their daily lives and that they seldom or never attend religious services” — second only to Vermont. The nonreligious population of New Hampshire is 51 percent; for Vermont, it’s 56 percent.

But Iowa and New Hampshire would be only the first two of a 50-state slog through a Republican electorate that is not necessarily where the rest of the country is — or is going — on religiosity and social liberalism.

There is only so much skipping one can do. At some point, the candidates must face the most conservative voters and one voice must emerge.

This process has not been kind or general-election-friendly for the Republican candidates in the last couple of cycles. But there is no indication that most Republicans — either candidates or voters — have drawn the necessary lessons from those defeats.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The best US states for women

“As you can still see with the results now, when you look at policy and basic socio-economic indicators, trends are different for women and men, and the differences haven’t really diminished very much.” — Ariane Hegewisch, Institute for Women’s Policy Research

TODAY'S POST is courtesy of Paul's cousin-in-law, Roxy, who came across this Washington Post article. Roxy and Chuck live in Minnesota and, I'm guessing, are feeling pretty proud of their state right about now. 

The article shines a spotlight on the inequity women still face. Discrimination is unfortunately a pervasive reality women encounter all our lives.

Here's a micro-example: I serve on a scholarship committee for a venerable organization. Another member who's been on the committee longer than my four years has kept statistics on the winners, including gender. 

The committee team members who interview individual applicants are diligent in their efforts to select the best applicant based on the criteria of need, academic achievement, community engagement and the likelihood of completing a degree. Personally, I've been so focused on (and celebratory of) the outstanding quality of the winners that I hadn't taken notice of the gender distribution.

This particular committee member, however, has been in a state of perpetual alarm because for the last several years, the number of young women recipients has exceeded the number of young male recipients. This year, for example, the ratio was five girls to one boy; last year the results were similar. And when I say that he's been alarmed by this preponderance of young women, I mean that he's been almost apoplectic. 

Here's how I feel about that: get over it. 

Now that women, in this case, young women on a level playing field with their male counterparts, are excelling, he thinks it necessary and appropriate to lament that men are being left out?! Talk to me in several centuries. 

I wonder what degree of distress and consternation he feels or has felt about the years and years of severe inequity women have endured — when opportunities for education and career were so heavily in favor of men that having a young woman go to law school or medical school, ascend to any elective office of consequence or be selected for a judgeship was such an uncommon occurrence as to be remarkable. It hasn't been that long ago.

Sexism remains rampant. The study below by Institute for Women’s Policy Research as written about by The Washington Post confirms it.

The best states for women in America, in 11 maps and charts

By Niraj Chokshi 
May 20, 2015

Minnesota is the best state for women in America.

That’s according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit that on Wednesday published the final two reports in a sprawling seven-part series exploring how women are faring in the states. The “Status of Women in the States” series, an update on a set of reports from 2004, represents an ambitious attempt to quantify gender inequality in the states—and provide fodder for the national discussion.

“The way politics are structured in the U.S., if you want to make an impact it helps if you have the data,” says Ariane Hegewisch, study director at IWPR. “So the purpose was to pull the data down to the state level at least to help people concerned about addressing gender issues to make their case.”

Each state and the District of Columbia received grades on seven broad topics, derived from dozens of metrics and touching on virtually all aspects of the public and private lives of women, from employment and earnings to economic opportunity to violence and safety to reproductive rights to health to political participation.

In the end, Hegewisch says, the report found inequities remain.

“As you can still see with the results now, when you look at policy and basic socio-economic indicators, trends are different for women and men and the differences haven’t really diminished very much,” she said. Even among women, racial inequality persists, she added.

In the end, Minnesota rose to the top, along with a handful of states in New England and the West Coast. The states that scored lowest were in the South, with Mississippi and Alabama tying for the title of worst state for women.
The dozen best states were chosen because each appeared in the top 10 in at least one of the seven IWPR reports and none appeared below the midpoint of all states on any of the reports. The six “worst” states were chosen because each qualified in the bottom 10 of at least one report and fell below the midpoint of all states in each report.




Here’s a look at how the states stack up, in each report:

1. The best state for political participation: New Hampshire




Though one of the last, IWPR’s report on political participation is perhaps the most important: a more engaged female electorate means better representation of women’s interests across the spectrum.

After analyzing how women fared in four areas — voter registration and turnout, representation in elected office and institutional resources — IWPR concluded that women in New Hampshire are most politically engaged, earning the state a top score of a B+. New England, the Midwest and the West Coast dominate the rankings, with three states in each region placing among the top 10 overall. Seven of the worst states for women’s political participation are in the South.

There’s good and bad news in the report: political representation has generally improved for women, but they have a long way to go before achieving equality.

A decade ago, women accounted for fewer than 1 in 7 members of Congress. Today, they account for nearly 1 in 5. But, at the rate of progress women have seen since 1960, IWPR estimates that women won’t achieve equal representation in Congress for another 102 years.

Women have yet to achieve 50 percent representation in any state legislature and while six states have female governors, only 36 of the 2,300 governors have ever been women.




2. New York: the best state for women’s work-family balance




The other report released on Wednesday is new to the series: this one tracks how well states allow for a healthy split between work and family life, largely by looking at policies that facilitate such a balance.

“There has been really increased awareness of these issues, of the need to explicitly address the barriers,” Hegewisch says.

In their analysis, New York rose to the top. While it had the highest score, it, California and the District of Columbia each earned Bs. Indiana, Montana and Utah scored lowest, each earning an F. That conclusion is based on four indicators: policies on paid leave, dependent and elder care and child care, as well as the share of parents in the workforce with young children at home.

The report also identified big differences by race. Just 51 percent of working Hispanic women have access to paid sick days, for example, compared to 65 percent of working white or Asian women.




3. Oregon, the best state for reproductive rights




Oregon scored higher than any other in terms of reproductive rights, though it, six other states and the District of Columbia earned A-minuses. Ten states earned Bs, 20 earned Cs, 9 received Ds and four — South Dakota, which ranked last, Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho — flunked on IWPR’s scorecard.

The grades were based on a number of variables, including: access to, funding for and political support for abortion; sex education; and whether a state imposed any of a variety of abortion restrictions.

Reproductive rights advanced since 2004 in some ways and retreated in others. Generally, access to infertility treatments has broadened, as has access to abortion providers. (Just barely, though: the share of women living in a county with at least one abortion provider grew in 24 states, but shrank in 22.)

Meanwhile, more states added abortion waiting periods—including Tennessee this week—while the share of pro-choice public officials shrank in more states than it grew.




4. The best state for women to rise above poverty? Maryland




Women fighting to move out of poverty are better off in Maryland than their their peers in any other state, according to IWPR’s analysis of poverty and economic opportunity. The report looked at the share of women who: live above the poverty line; own a business; have health insurance; and earned a bachelor’s degree, we noted when that report was released:

Those four factors were chosen years ago in an effort to “pinpoint how well women are doing in this area,” says Cynthia Hess, the study’s lead author. When combined, the four factors in the report paint a composite picture of social and economic autonomy for women across the states, with women in Maryland beating Massachusetts by a nose.

The variables were chosen years ago by a committee of mostly academic experts assembled by IWPR to identify representative and consistent indicators. Since 2004, the situation for women in the states has improved on two counts and backtracked on two others, we reported:

The share of women with a bachelor’s degree rose 6.9 points to 29.7 percent and the share owning a business grew from 26 to 28.8 percent. At the same time, the share of women living above poverty shrank from 87.9 percent to 85.4 percent and the share of those with health insurance shrank from 82.3 percent to 81.5 percent, though the latest 2013 data omits the impact of Obamacare.

5. Violence and safety

The report on violence and safety is the only one in the series for which IWPR did not calculate a composite score, because state-level data on the relevant issues is limited.

The report focuses on a slew of topics, however, including prevalence of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual assault, stalking, harassment, teen dating violence, gun violence and human trafficking.

As in the other reports, the analysis of violence and safety identified large variation by ethnicity and race. More than half of Native American and multiracial women report experiencing intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime, compared to just 15 percent of Asian women, for example. Similar trends hold for psychological aggression.




The continued prevalence of such violence, along with a number of other factors, underscores the need for further research, the authors of the IWPR report argue:

At a basic level, this requires improving data collection in the area of violence and abuse by ensuring that survey data are available with sufficiently large samples to allow for analysis at the state level and by race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and other contextual factors. Having improved data will allow researchers to pinpoint the needs of various populations and will help advocates, policymakers, and others to strengthen effective institutional, political, and community responses.

6. On health and well-being, women in Minnesota are best off




After looking at a number of variables related to physical and mental health, Minnesota emerged as the top state for women’s health and well-being. The report sheds light on a number of troubling health trends, including a 50-state rise in chlamydia, declining mental health, increased suicide and dramatic racial disparities, as The Post’s Danielle Paquette reported earlier this month:

While certain indicators have generally improved in recent years — national mortality rates from heart disease and breast cancer have dipped, for example — several others show a need for prompt attention, said Cynthia Hess, study director at IWPR.

“Health isn’t something that exists in a vacuum,” said Hess, who used data from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s] Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey. “It’s connected to economic security, access to affordable health care, housing quality, access to healthy food and racism.”

The South once again hosted the poorest-performing states, while the best were in the Western, Northeastern or Midwestern U.S.

Only 10 states and D.C. improved their scores from 2004 to 2015, while Alabama and Tennessee saw the biggest losses. Generally, rates of heart disease, lung cancer mortality, female breast cancer mortality and incidence of AIDS improved. But, at the same time, the diabetes rate, incidence of chalmydia, number of poor mental health days per month and suicide mortality rates worsened.

7. Maryland, the best state for employment and earnings




The first report in the series examined how women fared in each state’s labor force, relying on a series of data to arrive at its conclusion: that women in Maryland are best off when it comes to employment and earnings.

Maryland and Massachusetts each earned a B+ on IWPR’s scorecard (The District of Columbia earned an A), though women are far from equal in either state. In Maryland, women earn 87.4 cents for every dollar earned by men, who are also 1.9 times more likely to work in high-paying Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) jobs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Here's what would have happened

“There were so many rounds fired from bad-guy weapons here, it is amazing that innocent civilians were not injured.” — Sergeant Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department spokesman

UNLESS you've been in a cave or on a 10-day, no-cell-service vacation, you've watched or read about the biker gang shootout in Waco, TX that took place May 17. Nine people were killed, 18 were injured, and 170 gang members were arrested.

Paul pointed out a conspicuous, racist reality: take exactly the same circumstance with the same statistics, but change one detail: make the participants black or Mexican or Muslim. Imagine the pandemonium that would have erupted. Police contingents would have been called in replete with body armor and militarized vehicles, civilians would have taken up arms or at least checked their ammo supply as continuous-news-feed fear mongering escalated the hysteria.

But hey, these were white guys!!!




And because they are, what took place is seen as a localized incident created by individual law-breaking people, not some wave of terror sweeping the country.

Friend Karl Schilling passed on this video which perfectly makes Paul's point.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Another one bites the dust

 “If you feed them, if you feed the children, three square meals a day during the school year, how can you expect them to feed themselves in the summer? Wanton little waifs and serfs dependent on the State. Pure and simple.” – Rush Limbaugh, 2011

IF YOU read Hey Look on even a semi-regular basis, you know I can't stand that hateful, bigoted bloviator — Rush Limbaugh. I'll be frank with you, though. If I were writing for ratings, I wouldn't keep gnawing away at him as I do because my posts about him are not my most popular.

Perhaps you're just sick of hearing about him. I hope it's not that you don't care. Seriously y'all, he's bad for our collective, national mental health; we need to put him out of business.

And on that note, I have this happy bit of news to share: Boston radio affiliate WRKO has dropped him!! Can I get a woot woot?!?




Below is a May 19, 2015 article from Media Matters. Read it with relish. Better yet, go to StopRush.net. There you'll find a list of his advertisers. (Personally, I always go directly to the national advertisers.) Pick three and call or email them. Contact information is supplied. Heck, I'd be happy if you just do one!

Boston's WRKO Dropping Rush Limbaugh's Show From Its Lineup

By Angelo Carusone
May 19, 2015

Rush Limbaugh's Boston radio affiliate WRKO has announced it is dropping Limbaugh's talk show from its lineup. Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere, confirmed the news in a statement, which reads in part: "We were unable to reach agreeable terms for The Rush Limbaugh Show to continue on WRKO. A final broadcast date will be announced in the near future."

WRKO has now become the second major radio station in recent weeks to drop Limbaugh's program. Limbaugh's longtime Indianapolis affiliate WIBC severed ties with him in April. WIBC's parent company noted that Limbaugh's absence could actually improve its advertiser prospects.

The commercial viability of Rush Limbaugh's show has suffered since 2012, when advertisers began fleeing the program in the wake of Limbaugh's prolonged attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the millions of dollars in advertising revenue stations who carry Limbaugh's show lose, as well as the industry-wide damage resulting from Limbaugh's toxicity to advertisers. Notably, according to the report, the exodus of national advertisers has played a significant part in reducing talk radio advertising rates to about half of what it costs to run ads on music stations, even though the two formats have "comparable audience metrics."

WRKO dropping Limbaugh from its lineup is just the latest reminder that Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.

Advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a big effect.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bad bowling

“Don't lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.” — Ralph Marston, writer and publisher of The Daily Motivator

OH, just put a sock in it, Ralph.

Paul and I are terrible bowlers. I mean really and truly, completely awful. I say that with assurance and relief.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a good bowler or aspiring to be one.

It's just that I find it joyous to totally suck at something and not feel even the tiniest bit bad about it. This whole constantly trying to get good at things that I'm not and get better at things I am is exhausting!! 

Do you get the idea that I might suffer from extreme performance anxiety? I do. That's what comes from being raised by two grandmothers for whom achievement and appearances were everything.

Paul and I are planning to have a bad-bowling party in celebration of how really bad we are at it. Some of you who are reading this have already been spoken to (you know who you are) and will be invited. I can't wait.

In the meantime, here's a vintage video that's amazing. Really, it's just priceless, not to mention unbelievable. Enjoy!


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not such a blurry line after all

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity or incentive for improvement.” — William Pollard, Quaker writer and minister

IN RETROSPECT, the title of the song Robin Thicke and Pharrel Williams "wrote" was prophetic. There were some blurry lines, but on March 10 a US District Court jury clarified them by ruling that Blurred Lines plagiarized Marvin Gaye's 1977 hit, Got to Give It Up, and awarding his heirs $7.3 million.

I'm doing a little Gaye happy dance.

For starters, I'm a huge Marvin Gaye fan. The man was blissfully talented, creating hits that included I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Can I Get a Witness and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). Tragically, he was shot to death by his father in 1984 at age 44.


The sublime Mr. Marvin Gaye

Just as important to me, however, is how much I loathe Thicke and William's malignantly misogynistic version. You can look it up on You Tube if you want, if it still exists out there. I hope it doesn't.

Instead I enthusiastically share a brilliant send-up of Blurred Lines created by three female law students I wrote about in a September 15, 2013 post. Watch it instead.

The reaction to the verdict by some has been apoplectic; the LA Times ran a subhead that read, "How the 'Blurred Lines' case could have chilling effect on creativity."

Personally, I think Pharrel and Robin deserved a spanking. I liked Pharrel's I'm Happy. In fact I wrote a blog post celebrating the song, but then I started listening to some of his other work, and frankly, what I've heard of it sounds repetitious.

As to why that might be the case, another quote from the LA Times sheds some light on Pharrel's "process." 

"Alone in a Burbank studio, Pharrell Williams started by 'surfing around' for a drumbeat…Once he got a 'groove' going, he later recalled, he let it speak to him. When he found a melody 'that sticks and shimmers,' it told him what the song should be about, and he started scratching down lyrics. In all, it took less than an hour, Williams testified this month."

I'm guessing that the reason it took him "less than an hour" (Paul said, "That's not composing music, that's tinkering.") and the reason it "stuck and shimmered" was because he'd heard it before. I'm not saying he intentionally copied Marvin Gaye's song, but maybe it sounded so right because it had already been so. Musical geniuses capable of instant brilliance exist to be sure, but I don't think that's what we're talking about here with Mr. Williams or Mr. ThickeThey had a catchy tune . . . which they borrowed.

It's possible to give a nod to someone else's past work and influence without purloining it. Jazz musicians do it all the time when they insert a couple of bars into a solo quoting a famous tune, but it's a brief reference that honors, not rips off, another musician, but I'll admit I'm biased. I'm married to a professionally trained musician, and I hang out with a bunch of them. They've invested in attending music school and put years into learning the mechanics as well as the art of building a tune. 

It's ironic that this case was indeed about blurred lines — the line that divides being influenced by and stealing. It can be a blurry line, but at some point it's crossed, and repercussions are due. 

Perhaps instead of having a "chilling effect" on musical creativity, this ruling will serve stimulate it. If so, it will be welcome because what's happening now in pop music is pretty awful, creatively speaking.

Paul found the below two pieces of evidence. The first talks about the wretchedness of lyrics; the second is a video demonstrating the sameness of popular country tunes. Below both of these, is a New York Times article about the recent jury finding in favor of Marvin Gaye's heirs. 

From the blog Seat Smart:

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis
By Andrew Powell-Morse
May 18, 2015

Popular music lyrics are dumb. No really, I’m not just saying that. As easy as it is to mock the quality of lyrics today, there’s some real science behind looking at how dumb they truly are.

How exactly did I go about this?

I turned to the Readability Score. It uses writing analysis tools like the Flesch-Kincaid grade index and many others to create an average of the US reading level of a piece of text. I plugged in song lyrics (punctuation added by me, since most songs lack it altogether) and out of the machine popped out average grade level, word count, and other very interesting metrics.

All told, I analyzed 225 songs in 4 different datasets, resulting in 2,000+ individual data points. How’d I choose them? If they spent at least a few weeks (3+) at #1 on the Billboard charts for Pop, Country, Rock, and R&B/Hip-Hop for any given year, they made the list.

While the results are certainly enlightening, it’s important to note that this data doesn’t touch on the meaning of a song, the metaphors, how the words connect with the artist’s personal story, etc. to create deeper meaning. These numbers are fun and interesting, so just enjoy them.

What did the data tell us?



So much for lyrics. How 'bout the melodies? From Sir Mashalot.





‘Blurred Lines’ Infringed on Marvin Gaye Copyright, Jury Rules

By Ben Sisario and Noah Smith
March 10, 2015

For the last year and a half, the music industry has been gripped by a lawsuit over whether Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” was merely reminiscent of a song by Marvin Gaye, or had crossed the line into plagiarism.

A federal jury in Los Angeles on Tuesday agreed that “Blurred Lines” had gone too far, and copied elements of Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” without permission. The jury found that Mr. Thicke, with Pharrell Williams, who shares a songwriting credit on the track, had committed copyright infringement, and it awarded more than $7.3 million to Mr. Gaye’s family.

Nona and Frankie Gaye, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, are to receive $4 million in damages plus about $3.3 million of the profits earned by Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams. The decision is believed to be one of the largest damages awards in a music copyright case. In one of the few comparable cases, in 1994, Michael Bolton and Sony were ordered to pay $5.4 million for infringing on a 1960s song by the soul group the Isley Brothers.

Since the “Blurred Lines” suit was filed in August 2013, while the song was still No. 1, the case has prompted debate in music and copyright circles about the difference between plagiarism and homage, as well as what impact the verdict would have on how musicians create work in the future.

Mr. Thicke’s lawyers had argued that the similarity between the songs — both are upbeat dance tunes featuring lots of partylike atmospherics — was slight, and had more to do with the evocation of an era and a feeling than the mimicking of specific musical themes that are protected by copyright.

But speaking to reporters after the verdict was announced, Richard S. Busch, a lawyer for the Gaye family, portrayed the ruling as a refutation of that view.

“Throughout this case they made comments about how this was about a groove, and how this was about an era,” Mr. Busch said. “It wasn’t. It was about the copyright of ‘Got to Give It Up.’ It was about copyright infringement.”

Neither Mr. Thicke nor Mr. Williams was in court on Tuesday. But in a joint statement, they said that “we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward.”

Howard E. King, a lawyer for Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams, said that his clients were considering their legal options but he declined to be more specific. (Noting the fame and fortune of Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams, however, Mr. King — a wry voice inside and outside of the court — said that the verdict “is not going to bankrupt my clients.”)

The jury decided that while “Blurred Lines” infringed on the copyright of “Got to Give It Up,” Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams had not done so willfully. Clifford Harris Jr., better known as T. I., who contributed a rap in the song, was found not liable. According to an accounting statement read in court and attested to by both sides, “Blurred Lines” has earned more than $16 million in profit.

The case was unusual not only for its large damages award but for the fact that it reached the level of a jury verdict at all. Music executives and legal experts said that while accusations of plagiarism — and accompanying demands for credit and royalties — are common in the music industry, it is rare for a case to progress so far.

“Music infringement claims tend to be settled early on, with financially successful defendants doling out basically extorted payoffs to potential plaintiffs rather than facing expensive, protracted and embarrassing litigation,” said Charles Cronin, a lecturer at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California, who specializes in music copyright.

The eight jurors in the case were instructed by the judge, John A. Kronstadt of United States District Court, to compare “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” only on the basis of their “sheet music” versions — meaning their fundamental chords, melodies and lyrics, and not the sounds of their commercial recordings.

That led to several days of esoteric analysis by musicologists for both sides, whose testimony was often vociferously objected to by the lawyers. The disputes involved passages as short as four notes, as well as mash-ups pairing the bass line of one song with the vocals from the other.

Yet the case also had plenty of star power and revelations about some of the more unseemly practices of the music business. As part of his testimony, Mr. Thicke performed a piano medley of “Blurred Lines” and tracks by U2, Michael Jackson and the Beatles in an effort to show how easily one song could be shown to sound like another.

He also said that he had been high on drugs and alcohol throughout the recording and promotion of “Blurred Lines,” and that while he claimed a songwriting credit on the track, it was Mr. Williams who had created most of it.

“The biggest hit of my career was written by somebody else, and I was jealous and wanted credit,” Mr. Thicke testified.

As news of the ruling spread Tuesday afternoon, some legal experts expressed worry about the precedent it set. Lawrence Iser, an intellectual property lawyer in Los Angeles who was not involved in the case, called it “a bad result.”

“It will cause people who want to want to evoke the past to perhaps refrain from doing so,” Mr. Iser said. “Rather than helping to progress the arts, it is a step backward.”

For the family of Marvin Gaye — who died in 1984 — the jury’s verdict was welcome. In one of the twists of the often complicated case, Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams sued first, seeking a declaration from a judge to protect them against infringement claims that they said had been made privately by the Gaye family. Nona and Frankie Gaye quickly countersued.

When the verdict was read on Tuesday, members of the Gaye family — who were present at court throughout the trial — exulted and shed tears of joy.

“I’m really grateful,” said Janis Gaye, Marvin’s former wife and the mother of Nona and Frankie Gaye. “I hope people understand that this means Marvin deserves credit for what he did back in 1977.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to build a better mattress

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” ― Anthony Burgess, English writer, composer and author of A Clockwork Orange

I'VE BEEN lobbying for a new mattress for about a year. Paul had been waking up too many mornings with an aching back, and although we've loved the memory foam mattress we've had for years, it was plainly time to replace it.

On the one hand I was looking forward to having a brand new mattress, and on the other, I was dreading shopping for one. We both agreed that we wanted our new mattress to again be memory foam, but from there what?

I started out thinking I wanted a Tempur-Pedic, but they're pricey, and neither one of us were keen on spending $3000 or more for one. After conducting a bit of research, I considered a BedInABox brand mattress, at about 1/3 third the cost of a Tempur-Pedic, but I changed my mind when I realized they squish their mattresses to fit in a 20"x20"x48" shipping box. Somehow, that didn't seem like a good thing to do to a mattress.

Then I came across Loom & Leaf and liked what I read. It was the same price as BedInABox which was a plus, but in addition I liked that it wouldn't be swished to ship, the cotton portion of the mattress is organic, the foam is planted-based, and the mattress is made entirely in the USA. I read reviews and comparisons, and felt like Loom & Leaf was a good choice.


This isn't our bed. The new mattress inspired me to redecorate, so our whole bedroom is 
torn up. The carpet has been replaced, and now I'm deep into repainting the woodwork. 
I'll show you a picture when I'm done!

Two things I didn't realize when I ordered it: 1) I got one of the first ones made; the parent company, Saatva, had only been manufacturing Loom & Leaf mattresses for a month 2) just how good a mattress and deal we were getting.

In case you might need to shop for a new mattress, I'm sharing two articles about the company; it's actually an interesting story.

The first piece about the parent company appeared in Fortune Magazine, the second article about Loom & Leaf appeared on Huffington Post.

This mattress company's profits are nothing to snooze at

By Brittany Shoot
October 22, 2014 

Anyone who has tried it lately can probably attest that mattress shopping isn’t exactly a bed of roses. Bed-in-a-box foam mattress e-tailers like Casper and Tuft and Needle have rightly earned rave reviews for cutting both cost and hassle. But comparing foam against traditional innerspring coil mattresses is misleading. It’s the exact sort of comparison that further obfuscates an already maddening decision between a dozen bone-white rectangles that all look and seem very much the same.

In the recent tradition of a transparency-forward, online-only retail, there’s another contender rousing the rest of the industry from its fitful slumber: Saatva, which delivers its dual innerspring coil mattress direct to customers’ doors, at a starting price of $899.

With the minimal overhead of e-commerce and despite the slow buying cycle associated with huge durable goods like mattresses, the company, which launched three years ago, has been profitable since its third month. Saatva’s revenue numbers demonstrate its industry stronghold: 300% growth year over year with projected revenue of $25 million this year and $45 million for 2015.

It’s hard to understand how one direct-to-consumer mattress company could boast such staggering figures against multi-billion-dollar industry giants like Sealy and Serta. That is, unless you’ve encountered the confusing mattress-buying process punctuated by mystifying markups and obtuse labeling. Head to a mattress outlet, and you might find a one model that seems like a good fit. But try comparison shopping at a department store, and you’ll find what appears to be the exact same mattress listed under another name and sometimes bearing a different price tag. You want simplicity? Dream on.

It’s almost easier to chase monsters out from under the bed than evaluate your options. Do you know what a gel mattress is? Does the endorsement of conservative radio hosts impact your opinion about Select Comfort’s Sleep Number adjustable air mattress? Would you sleep on a camouflage-patterned Duck Dynasty bed? Even attempting to assess the toxicity of manufacturing materials, flame-retardant chemicals, and off-gassing is the stuff of vivid nightmares.

The Serta, Simmons, and Tempur-Pedic troika have long held an oligopoly in the mattress manufacturer-retailer space. If you think one name is missing from that list, it’s Sealy, which Tempur-Pedic TPX 1.04% acquired in 2012 for $242 million. Major brick-and-mortar retailers have also been tossing and turning. Last month, Mattress Firm, one of the biggest Sealy and Serta retailers, acquired West Coast rival Sleep Train for $425 million cash and stock. Mattress Firm’s public filing in 2008, the last reliable data on the subject, showed that 84% of mattress sales take place in furniture or department stores, or in specialty sleep retailers, which at the time accounted for 42% of sales.

Saatva cofounder and chief marketing officer Ricky Joshi notes that his company has basically been in stealth mode, relying on word-of-mouth recommendations and stellar online ratings that highlight the company’s commitment to customer service. Raving reviewers on Google, PriceGrabber, and mattress review sites like Goodbed.com are largely responsible for skyrocketing sales.

Since a steel coil innerspring mattress doesn’t roll up and fit tidily into a cardboard shipping box, the company built out a robust nationwide distribution chain, served by 10 factories and 31 distribution centers. Saatva also removes a customer’s old mattress. Boxed mattress sellers tend to put the onus of removing the old mattress on the customer, an annoying pitfall and one that can add to the final cost of a new bed.

Even factoring in shipping, Saatva can keep prices lower than competitors by not blowing the budget on advertising and instead leveraging those glowing reviews. Joshi points out that mattress giants often spend more money on marketing than the actual product. A look back at Mattress Firm’s 2011 IPO prospectus, for example, shows that the company spent only $180 million on product compared to $230 million on retail, advertising, and administration in the same period.

The company also saves by manufacturing in the U.S. Offering an American-made product was also a priority from the beginning. “There are a lot of question marks from overseas manufacturers,” Joshi says. Importing from overseas is a hassle, and not particularly economical. Besides, what’s more appealing to middle America than durable domestic goods? “It’s nice to be cool in San Francisco and New York City, but we also sell in Dallas, Chicago, and Columbus, Ohio.”

It’s hard to say what kind of fierce competition it would take to wake up the legacy mattress giants. And it’s worth wondering: can an e-commerce company like Saatva permanently disrupt the luxury mattress industry? Maybe we should sleep on it.

Loom & Leaf Co-Founder Interviewed on Huffington Post

By Leo Welder

Loom & Leaf Co-Founder Ricky Joshi discusses how the luxury mattress company is taking on mattress giant Tempur-Pedic.

“Tempur-Pedic is the best selling mattress brand in the United States. Loom and Leaf in many ways pushes the technology, luxury, and environmental boundaries beyond the big players, and can do this much more affordably.”

Snapshot of the Interview: