(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘sociology

“Christmas may not bring a single thing; still, it gives me a song to sing”*…

Our reviewer

At the same time, as Mahalia Jackson said, “if you want me to sing this Christmas song with feeling and the meaning, you better see if you can locate that check.”

Novelist and publisher Tariq Goddard reviews this year’s crop of seasonal songs, for example…

Kelly Clarkson and I at least meet as equals, neither of us having heard of the other, although 25 million album sales mean more people have heard of her than they have me. Her handle on Christmas is not that much more assured than mine – she knows only what the seasonal songs that use the same formulas as hers tell her, which is of course a game of diminishing returns. There is the odd nod on When Christmas Comes Around to modernity (‘Christmas Isn’t Cancelled (Just You)’), but her trite take on tradition, if heard in a public space while experiencing another of life’s seasonal setbacks, may just bring the number of shopping trips down this Yuletide. Meghan Trainor, A Very Trainor Christmas, is more evidence that reality is multi dimensional, a Christmas euphemism for, ‘Are they all fucking mad or are we?’ Meghan is a hyperbolically successful young American whose version of ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ makes Kim Wilde and Mel Smith’s version sound like Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis — which is unfortunate as her frightened and life-denying version of the track is also by far the best thing on the record.

Billy Idol‘s Happy Holidays was the record I was most looking forward to, and like the later odes of Holderlin, is a lot stranger than you might expect. Idol starts in the only way the voice behind ‘Rebel Yell’ would be expected to, bullishly, going for broke on ‘Frosty The Snowman’ like he wants him to cry more, more, more. Eschewing howling axes for triangles and bells, the song is a Carry On Christmas-style piss take with a wink to music hall, full of fruity nudge nudges and spoken asides, which – unlike the awkward office party singalong it could have been – works because Idol sounds like he is having fun. He is a Bill Sykes that plays to the gallery and not to his demons. Unfortunately by track two he is beginning to grow a little more jaded, as if it is slowly occurring to him that just because we all grow old and still need something to do, that something doesn’t actually need to be this. Still, the realisation that a whole album of this stuff is going to be overkill, does not stop his version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ from keeping Richard Harris company in the astral bar that never closes, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a risk if ever there was one, is genuinely spooky, more Fagin watching the gallows being built from his cell than a new beginning in January.

So much more at “Jingle Hell: Tariq Goddard Reviews Christmas Music,” from @theQuietus. Via always-illuminating The Browser.

* Charles Dickens

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As we hum along, we might on the other hand recall that it was on this date in 1955 that Carl Perkins recorded “Blue Suede Shoes,” at Memphis Recording Service (later known, for the record label with which it shared a building, as Sun Studios). Written by Perkins and produced by Sam Phillips, it combined elements of blues, country, and pop music– and is thus considered one of the first rockabilly records.

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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”*…

On the history and impact of a seemingly simple service…

If I was to ask you what was the most important invention of the 20th century, you might mention the car, the television, the computer, or the internet. But there’s another invention that had such a huge impact on culture and society that people would organize their lives around it, and it drove the growth of multi-billion dollar industries. Despite this, most of us wouldn’t think of it as an invention at all, as it seems to have always just been there. So here’s a brief history of one of the most important overlooked inventions of modern times: the TV schedule…

The TV schedule organized the attention of millions of people at the same time, sharing the same experience, whether it was Richard Nixon sweating in a presidential debate, Neil Armstrong stepping foot onto the moon, or finding out who shot JR. These live, synchronous events created a kind of public sphere at a scale that had never been seen before, and we’re unlikely to see again. Sports are the only TV events that get close—on the list of most-watched US TV programs of all time, the only entries from the 2000s are Superbowls.

For nearly a century, a simple list, based around the hours of the day, structured the daily habits of millions of people, shaped the careers of politicians and celebrities, and powered a multi-billion dollar advertising industry. As we spend less time watching live TV, and more time on digital platforms, that power is now passing from the TV schedule to another way of organising our attention—algorithmic streams

Entertainment, technology, and shared experiences: “The TV Schedule Edition,” from Why Is This Interesting? (@WhyInteresting), by Matt Locke (@matlock).

(Image above: source)

* Annie Dillard

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As we tune in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1980 that Magnum, P. I. premiered on CBS; consistently highly-rated and the recipient of numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and awards, it ran until 1988, and made a star of its lead, Tom Selleck.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 11, 2021 at 1:00 am

“H as in How in the World Are We Going to Escape?”*…

A treatise on the the letter “H,” on the occasion of its becoming an arbiter of class in the later 19th century…

In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913), which inspired the musical My Fair Lady, a fictional linguist describes a phonetic endemic: missed employment opportunities due to the connotations of a person’s accent. Addressing the “many thousands of men and women who have sloughed off their native dialects and acquired a new tongue”, the professor insists that “the thing has to be done scientifically, or the last state of the aspirant may be worse than the first”. Shaw’s wit shows through in the near homonym: aspirations of social mobility, in this period, often included pronunciationary emulation — the breathy aitch sounds of aspirated consonants.

Alfred Leach, who Steven Connor, in Beyond Words, calls one of the “doughiest defenders of the h”, believed that English’s aspirated aitch (or rather, haitch) signaled a direct inheritance from Classical antiquity. In the pronounced h of words like “herb” — notably lacking from American English — he heard the “spiritus asper” of Hellenism. Leach was writing in a period when linguists began reflecting on the shifting history of aspirates and the role they played in indicating status, class, and education. These traits continue into our present day. The historian of language Henry Hitchings, whose own name is uncannily reminiscent of Shaw’s Henry Higgins, argues that the pronunciation of this letter is “still a significant shibboleth”, and quotes Leach’s contemporary, Oxford scholar Henry Sweet, who called it “an almost infallible test of education and refinement”.

Why so much huffing about the letter H? Throughout the nineteenth century, this aspirated sound was on the rise. At the end of the previous century, Received Pronunciation (RP) became known as the accent of aristocracy, leading to aspirational elocution guides like Poor Letter H (1854). While words like “hotel” had once been pronounced in the French style (oh-tell), English speakers had begun to exhale audibly, as if yawning at the continued Norman influence on British tongues. Leach led the charge against “English Grammarians” who “conspired to withhold from us the means of propitiating this demon Aspirate”. In The Letter H, he ridicules those he calls “H-droppers”, speakers whose phonetic errors seem to snowball: “lost H’s have a knack of turning up in wrong places, when they return at all”. Leach is prone to hyperbole — “the early aspirative labours of a converted H-dropper give birth to monstrosities” — and sneers at Cockney speech: “Horkney hoysters, ‘amshire ‘am, and ‘am and heggs”…

More, from Hunter Dukes (@hunterdukes) in @PublicDomainRev: “Aspirated Aspirations: Alfred Leach’s The Letter H (1880)

(image above: source)

* Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), The Hostile Hospital

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As we ponder pronunciation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Coronation Street premiered in ITV in the UK. It holds the Guinness World Record for longest running soap opera.

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“Most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline. I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganise societies.”*…

For essentially the entirety of global history since the Industrial Revolution– and the advent of the modern societies shaped by it– the world’s population has been growing. That’s begun to change…

One of the big lessons from the demographic history of countries is that population explosions are temporary. For many countries the demographic transition has already ended, and as the global fertility rate has now halved we know that the world as a whole is approaching the end of rapid population growth…

As we explore at the beginning of the entry on population growth, the global population grew only very slowly up to 1700 – only 0.04% per year. In the many millennia up to that point in history very high mortality of children counteracted high fertility. The world was in the first stage of the demographic transition.

Once health improved and mortality declined things changed quickly. Particularly over the course of the 20th century: Over the last 100 years global population more than quadrupled. As we see in the chart, the rise of the global population got steeper and steeper and you have just lived through the steepest increase of that curve. This also means that your existence is a tiny part of the reason why that curve is so steep.

The 7-fold increase of the world population over the course of two centuries amplified humanity’s impact on the natural environment. To provide space, food, and resources for a large world population in a way that is sustainable into the distant future is without question one of the large, serious challenges for our generation. We should not make the mistake of underestimating the task ahead of us. Yes, I expect new generations to contribute, but for now it is upon us to provide for them. Population growth is still fast: Every year 140 million are born and 58 million die – the difference is the number of people that we add to the world population in a year: 82 million…

The annual population growth rate (that is, the percentage change in population per year) of the global population… peaked around half a century ago. Peak population growth was reached in 1968 with an annual growth of 2.1%. Since then the increase of the world population has slowed and today grows by just over 1% per year. This slowdown of population growth was not only predictable, but predicted. Just as expected by demographers (here), the world as a whole is experiencing the closing of a massive demographic transition…

We are on the way to a new balance. The big global demographic transition that the world entered more than two centuries ago is then coming to an end: This new equilibrium is different from the one in the past when it was the very high mortality that kept population growth in check. In the new balance it will be low fertility that keeps population changes small.

By 2100, the UN projects, world population will have effectively stabilized: “Future Population Growth,” from Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) and Our World in Data (@OurWorldInData). How will the economies and societies that are premised on growth adapt?

See also: “Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born.”

Christopher J.L. Murray

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As we dwell on demographics, we might send carefully calculated birthday greetings to Karl Gunnar Myrdal; he was born on this date in 1898. And economist and sociologist, he shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics (with Friedrich Hayek) for “their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena.” When his wife, Alva Myrdal, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982, they became the fourth ever married couple to have won Nobel Prizes, and the first to win independent of each other (versus a shared Nobel Prize by scientist spouses).

Myrdal is probably best known in the United States for his study of race relations, which culminated in his book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy— influential in the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision Brown v. Board of Education. In Sweden, his work and political influence were important to the establishment of the Folkhemmet and the welfare state.

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“Everyone waits in line”*…

What we can learn from studying the crowd-management approaches at Disneyland…

Who gets to do what and when at a themepark may sound like a trivial question, but I think it’s a perfect little microcosm for the distributional problems that are at the heart of all political economy – questions that the pandemic’s shortages and shocks threw into stark relief…

Stay in your lane: “The definitive answers to Disney’s pernicious queueing debates,” from Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)

The video that Cory recommends:

(image at the top: source)

* Paul Theroux

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As we bide our time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that traffic-choking crowds jammed Walt Disney World to capacity (on the day after Thanksgiving). Shortly before noon the Florida park closed its gates to additional visitors.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2021 at 1:00 am

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