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Brrr 🥶

Looks like winter has finally arrived. With the snow falling outside of our Spokane office (6-8 inches expected today with 3-6 more tomorrow) I can’t help but be thankful for a little snow. It could be worse… much worse. It could be 33 degrees below zero with a HIGH of -4 as the weekly forecast. Coming from someone who has lived through those dark, bone-chilling, ice-fog-filled weeks in the dead of January in Fairbanks… a little snow is pretty okay.

Downtown Fairbanks on Wednesday, January 8* — a day in which the high was expected to reach minus 37 under sunny skies (with lows dropping to minus 41) and with light winds bringing wind chills of minus 65 over the next two nights.

*Wednesday, January 8, at 12 p.m., mind you. 12 p.m.… NOON. HIGH NOON. The moment when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. Welcome to Alaska in January.

“I’m getting better! I feel fine!”

Over at The Critic, Dominic Green makes a case for the death of rock and roll—40 years ago. While I agree that The Clash’s London Calling is a truly great rock album (“magnificently vital and varied”); and that, after the breakup of the Beatles, John Lennon “made no significant music”—I point I’ve been arguing for years—I’m not entirely sure Green proves anything other than that he doesn’t like post-1980 rock.

I don’t think there’s any question that the genre as a cultural signifier of youth and rebellion and all that is dead. I mean, if Lars Ulrich going after Napster back in 2000 doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. But rock and roll is still quite alive musically. And, politics aside, that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

[barfing-face emoji]

Well, we had a pretty good run, humanity. After watching this, I’d say we as a species deserve to die in the coming hellfire.

There’s more info over at the Rokshok website—such as a three-step “How It Works” that was apparently written for morons.

I give up, folks.

Well hello there, 2020

Welcome back, folks. How were the holidays? Restful? Good. Let’s get back into the swing of things with the latest in Curated Content™ delivered straight from the bowels of helveticka world headquarters.

Preach it: Lake Superior State University’s 45th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

Can a new book make learning Greek sexy? Yes. Yes, it can.

Against minimalism.

Politico Magazine asked a group of historians to put all that happened over the past 10 years in its proper historical context—and literally write the paragraph that they think will describe the 2010s in American history books written a century from now.” The results are uneven, frustrating, maddening—and fascinating.

Wearing lipstick is now an act of…resistance? Um, okay.

Just Trying to Help…

Over at SlashFilm, Jeremy Mathai spends more than 2,500 words “investigating” the correct order in which to watch all the Star Wars movies. Before you commit to Mathai’s post, permit me to simplify things a bit:

Watch Star Wars (1977).

Watch The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Watch literally anything else that’s not part of the Star Wars universe, because everything after Empire is crap.

I just saved you 10 minutes. You’re welcome.

Miscellany

Nearly twenty-five years since the publication of the final Far Side panel, Gary Larson is back, baby. Well…sort of. The man himself explains.

The true story behind the worst video game of all time.

Aquarium Drunkard‘s “unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2019.” Bonus: their top 100 records of the decade.

Um…

For the person on your Christmas list who has everything—and I do mean everything—may I suggest a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks?

2019 in Review

It’s that wonderful time of year, when, well…pretty much anyone with an opinion is more than willing to tell you what to think about the musical, literary, and filmic output of the last twelve months.

I’d offer up my own end-of-year recommendations for books and music, but (1) I’m lazy and (2) nobody really cares what I think. So instead I’ll point you to the inimitable Ted Gioia and his Best Online Essays of 2019, along with his 100 Best Recordings of 2019. That should tide you over for a while.

While we’re at it, Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History is getting all kinds of attention. I haven’t purchased it yet myself, mostly because I’m waiting to see if someone is (ahem) thoughtful enough to wrap it up and put it under the tree for me. Or, if it’s easier, pick it up at Auntie’s and drop it off at the office. You know, in case you’re wondering what to get me this year.

[head smack]

WNYC, a public radio station in New York, has cancelled “New Sounds,” a show that’s been running for 37 years. In fact, pretty much all of its music programming will be gone by the end of the year. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, in these terrible times, news/talk is a more popular format than music.

BUT.

That’s not why I’m drawing your attention to this story. No, that would be because of a particularly cringe-inducing phrase. According to the New York Times, WYNC made the announcement to employees via an email, which said that the station will “sunset the NEW SOUNDS brand.” I’d throw up a series of barfing emojis here, but I’m an adult.

“Sunset the NEW SOUNDS brand” isn’t just equivocation. It’s a big steaming pile of bullshit. WYNC management determined that its audience wants less music and more news and talk; the station cancelled its music programming. Period. End of story. “New Sounds” isn’t a brand; it is (or rather was) a radio show. And the use of “sunset” as a verb? Come on.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but, alas, I see this stuff more and more every day: a complete hostility toward speaking in plain English. It’s like every marketing communications degree now requires a semester of Prevarication 101.

“Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” That’s how Strunk & White put it in The Elements of Style. And it’s as important in office communications as it is in writing. Give it a try some time. You’ll find that your words will be far more effective when you’re not trying so hard to be creative.

Update

Remember how, way back in July, I told you about the upcoming launch of a WSU-bred apple 22 years in the making—but that, really, the post was less about the apple itself than it was an excuse for me to take a dig at marketing hyperbole?

Well, last weekend, I had the opportunity to actually taste one. And I’ll just say this about that: While I take a pretty dim view of our ability to perfect anything on this Earth, the Cosmic Crisp™ is quite possibly mankind’s crowning achievement.

Hyperbole, schmyperbole. I paid $10 for four apples, and I’ll do it again.

And the decline of Western Civilization continues apace…

Citing “the ignorance and laziness present in modern times,” John Richards, 96, has closed the Apostrophe Protection Society. “Fewer organisations and individuals,” says Richards, “are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.”

Well… yeah. Nobody cares about the serial comma, either. Or the proper use of the phrase “begs the question.” Or that the past participle of drag is dragged, not drug.

I could go on.

And…Action!

When we started this business nearly 32 years ago, we never would have guessed that today we’d be working on such diverse project types. One in particular is videos, which range from 15-, 30-, and 60-second TV spots to long-form presentations and instructional films to documentaries and fully animated stories. At last count, our YouTube channel featured more than 70 of them.

Our services typically include creative development, script writing, planning and logistics, art direction, voiceover and music selection, and editing – always in collaboration with very talented production houses, animators, musicians, and, of course, our clients. These projects are some of the most creatively challenging and the most rewarding, which is why we finally added a separate work category just for videos.

The More You Know

According to the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service (or the person responsible for the agency’s Twitter feed, anyway), a tom turkey’s wattle changes color depending on the mood he’s in. If he’s scared, it’s blue; if he’s feeling randy, it turns bright red.

Reminds me of when I was a kid. Raised as I was on Peanuts and comic books and Saturday morning cartoons, I was convinced—up until an embarrassingly late age—that the irises of my eyes turned into hearts whenever I spied an attractive girl.

Never said I was a particularly smart kid.

RIP

John Simon, the critic who served as a model for my own foray into music criticism so many years ago, died yesterday at 94. Through his regular column in National Review, Simon introduced me to Jaroslav Hašek, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Lowell, and so much more. For that I am eternally grateful.

Alas, with the death of Simon goes the death of criticism, it would seem, as evidenced by this steaming pile, published just last week: “As wildfires rage in Australia, a record-breaking hurricane season draws to a close, and meteorologists predict that this year will go down as the second-hottest in recorded history, it’s clear that Ford v Ferrari is the wrong movie for 2019.” Or this, published a few days earlier: “[Ford v Ferrari is] a beautifully shot film that will be enjoyable for modern car buyers and enthusiasts alike—engines rev, tires squeal, stopwatches click. But what I saw is a devastating picture of the lack of diversity that permeated the industry in the 1960s.”

This, folks, is apparently what passes for criticism these days. Artistic achievement, skilled craftsmanship, commercial success…none of this matters if you’re not sufficiently woke.

Mr. Simon, you’re already missed.

Neanderthals, Barbarians, and Addicts

“I would love to know who tried it first,” writes Lee Child about opium. “I would love to know who tried anything first. Who first dug up a strange root or random tuber and thought, hey, you know what—maybe I should cook this and eat it? In particular, I would love to know how many died trying.”

Reminds me of that Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin wonders why we drink cow’s milk. “Who was the guy,” he asks Hobbes as he moves his fists up and down in a milking gesture, “who first looked at a cow and said, ‘I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ’em!’?”

Sure, it’s funny—I laughed out loud when I first read it—but it’s also kind of sobering when you realize that much of what we know today is the result of millennia of trial and error. “Our species,” continues Child, “seems to be restless and curious to a degree that seems almost unhinged.”

Read the rest of Child’s article—which is really about etymology—over at The Times Literary Supplement.

Social Media’s Good for Something. Sometimes.

Learned another word the other day—on Twitter, no less—and it’s glorious: Shambolic.

My first thought was that it was a rather clumsy way of coining an adjectival form of Shambhala. But that hardly seems necessary, and the context didn’t exactly support this conclusion anyway:

Our mainstream institutions are either in the process of being hollowed out from within by identity politics, or they have already been devoured to the core and only shambolic husks remain.

So I hied myself over to the nearest dictionary and looked it up. Turns out it’s a British colloquialism dating only to the late 20th century; a portmanteau of shamble—the “scene of disorder or devastation; a muddle, a mess” definition—and, perhaps, symbolic. The new word means “chaotic, disorderly; inept, mismanaged.”

There are times when I positively love the English language.

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