Covers

I wish more artists covered others’ songs. I got introduced the world of covers in the musicology section of my 60’s history class last year and I can’t shake the feeling there need to be more versions of the same song in the world. It really gets you thinking about the interpretative aspects of a piece’s arrangement and delivery in addition to the lyrics, and makes you pay more attention to the changes in a base line or background sounds rather than what’s being said (which is still important and necessary if you want to get the most interpretative bang for your buck).

My old professor used to say something along the lines of “music is not just poetry performed to a beat.” Every aspect of a song is eligible for scrutiny and covers are one of the best ways to realize that.

The most famous cover and its original

An odd pair

Fair division problems

NPR Planet Money Episode on fair division problems.

These problems have always interested me. Part of the reason I’m taking some economics classes to supplement my Philosophy is that I’m interested in how the systems we use to divide resources “fairly” work in the real world. When there are limited resources, who are the people that get them and do they deserve it?

I would have liked the episode to get a little into how the mathematicians that study fair division classify a particular solution as “fair,” especially since they hint that they intent to leave a rigorous explanation of the term to the Philosophers.

The main issue in the episode is how to divide the limited dock space in Santa Barbara between the wealthy and those who need it to earn a living, but I’m curious why they don’t just expand the dock. This is a bit of an econ 1 answer, but if the price of a space is $100,000 like the episode reports, shouldn’t this be a signal to the city that they can build more and people would be willing to pay? I understand municipalities aren’t in the dock construction business, and there may be environmental concerns (preserving the natural beauty of the coast, dock is already as large as it can get, etc…), but in theory we can use market forces to get the price lower rather than relying on what might seem like contrived schemes.

The episode is also worth checking out for the “rental harmony” problem. A guest speaker, Constantinos Daskalakis, gives a pretty concise summary of an ingenious potential solution.

MALONE: Costis says imagine that you’ve got an apartment with two bedrooms. One of those bedrooms is big, but it has no closet.

HERSHIPS: The other is small, but it does have that magical closet space.

DASKALAKIS: That’s right. And how do you split the rent? Maybe you know, I value a small room that has a closet, but you value more a big room that – because you like space.

HERSHIPS: I’m taking the closet.

MALONE: Yeah, I don’t need the closet. It’s fine. I wear the same jeans every day for two weeks in a row. I don’t need the closet.

DASKALAKIS: OK. Thanks for sharing (laughter).

MALONE: Yeah, you know.

DASKALAKIS: So like, yeah. So the question is, you know – who gets what? What’s the allocation? But also, how is the rent split?

MALONE: So what is the protocol here? Costis says, well, let’s say the rent is 2,000 bucks. First thing, everybody needs to figure out what percentage of the rent they think each room is worth.

DASKALAKIS: Maybe for you, two rooms are equal. But then for Kenny, big space is so much more valuable that he says, look; you know, I don’t care about the closet at all. I don’t even have clothes. OK? So what I care about is the space. So…

MALONE: I have some clothes. I just was saying that I wear the same pants. I have clothes. OK. Go ahead, though.

(LAUGHTER)

DASKALAKIS: So the protocol that we use with my roommate was – and it’s a classical one. Each of the two roommates, in a sealed envelope, writes what they consider to be the right split – what do they consider to be the right values of the two rooms.

HERSHIPS: You guys actually did this?

DASKALAKIS: We did that, yeah.

HERSHIPS: Is he also a fair division guy, your roommate?

DASKALAKIS: So he’s also a mathematician.

HERSHIPS: Just checking.

DASKALAKIS: Now, you know, we get together, and we open those envelopes.

MALONE: And when they opened those envelopes, they found out that Costis’ roommate thought the person with the big room should pay $1,400 and the person with the smaller room with the closet should pay 600 bucks. But Costis, he valued both those rooms equally. He was willing to pay $1,000 for either room.

HERSHIPS: And in case you haven’t been following along with a calculator, each roommate’s total bid for both rooms has to add up to $2,000.

DASKALAKIS: So he valued the big room more than I valued the big room.

MALONE: Yeah.

DASKALAKIS: On the other hand, I value the small room more than he values the small room. So each of us gets the room where they’re the highest bidder. However, how much do we pay? We pay the average of the two prices.

MALONE: Yeah.

DASKALAKIS: So for the big room, he said 1,400. I said a thousand. So he gets it, but he pays 1,200. So he’s happy. Right?

HERSHIPS: And Costis pays 800 for the small room, and he’s happy because he was willing to pay a thousand.

DASKALAKIS: So everybody’s happy, no?

1/25/19

My brief, uninformed pre-match analysis for the Australian final tonight: Djokovic will win. It’s a quicker court, and I expect him to attempt to rush Nadal’s forehand to open up the court. We’ll see how it goes.

Going Abroad

To anyone that reads this blog, where do you recommend I study abroad? I’m thinking Scandinavia, and my Norwegian friend told me not to go to Norway, so I can still choose between Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Besides those, where else in the world should I consider?

Decisions and Values

The Art of Decision-Making

Title is a bit misleading. I expected this to be a piece about making complex decisions with imperfect information, and it is in a sense, but the actual content of the article gets closer to a discussion of values and identity — which are of no doubt instrumental in making large decisions.

It’s just that I would have liked more elaboration on quotes like these:

A scenario-planning starter kit, Johnson writes, contains three possible futures: “You build one model where things get better, one where they get worse, and one where they get weird.

Nonetheless, I liked it. One thing that I’ve always wondered about is how our own desires and preferences (or even values) can be so foreign to us even though they are supposed to function as the guiding principles of our lives. And, even if we can articulate our most valued positions, it’s difficult to see what it actually looks like to “be altruistic” or “live authentically.”

Perhaps this is explained by one of the theories in the article that our largest decisions aren’t “decisions” per se in that we take stock of our principles and then decide to act on them, but a result of “opting.” In short, opting is when we decide to “shift our values instead of optimizing them.” For example, if one were to “opt” to go to a certain college, it means they went not because they currently valued the the defining characteristics of the institution, but grew to value what the school had to give them. Think someone who was afraid of going to a party school and not focusing enough on coursework, but then going to the party school, throwing down, and deriving a lot of value from it. The “old person’s” values are not optimized, but the “new person’s” values are, in part because they were created partially in response to the situation.

As Maggie Rogers would say in “Give a Little” (Emphasis added).

But if you give a little, get a little
Maybe we could get to know each other
Give a little, get a little, give a little
And if you give a little, get a little
Maybe we could learn to love each other
Give a little, get a little, give a little

I do disagree with Callard’s account of aspiration as it is presented in the article, though. Callard claims that we “aspire to self-transformation by trying on the values we hope one day to posses.” The author, Rothman, gives an example of a student taking a music appreciation class to illustrate the point.

Suppose that you sign up for a classical-music-appreciation class, in which your first assignment is to listen to a symphony. You put on headphones, press Play—and fall asleep. The problem is that you don’t actually want to listen to classical music; you just want to want to.

This, Rothman/Callard claims, is the first step in transformation. Perhaps I’m being nit picky, but I think characterizing this scenario as “you just want to want to” is misleading. Clearly, you want to listen to the symphony, but the reason why it’s difficult is not because you, on some level, don’t want to, but because you haven’t built up the correct “appreciative framework” for deep engagement to happen.

I can want to watch a movie, but if I don’t have practice looking for the interesting things in a film, or the correct cinematic vocabulary to identify them, I might become bored and restless even though I actually want to watch it. You can probably experience this phenomena yourself if you sit down to watch a sport you don’t know the rules of, or read a novel set in a time period that you know nothing about.

The article is also good for the “vegemite principle.”

if you’ve never tasted Vegemite, a mysterious and beloved Australian “food spread” made from brewer’s yeast, then neither a description of what it’s like (black, gooey, vegetal) nor experience with other spreads (peanut butter, marmalade, Nutella) will suffice to tell you whether you’d like it.

If you notice any errors or believe I have given uncharitable/inaccurate accounts of the ideas in the article, please let me know. General comments are also greatly appreciated.

1/19/19

I shamelessly copy this style from Tyler’s own Marginal Revolution, but I think excerpts from his conversation with Larissa MacFarquhar are worth seeing.

MACFARQUHAR: I was writing about people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger, and I discovered . . . I was talking to people about the people I was meeting, and they would say, “Well, those people surely are all mentally ill, right? Or they have some problem, or they are probably very, very censorious or judgmental.”

and

COWEN: You’ve argued that there are quite few ambitiously good characters in fiction. Is that also true for genre fiction?

MACFARQUHAR: No. I’m so glad you asked that. I think that science fiction is full of heroic characters. So are romances. This is one of the things I concluded — that the absence of unambiguously altruistic heroic characters is almost one of the things that marks highbrow fiction as such.

Of course, there are many, many exceptions, and there are heroes in higher-brow fiction. Over the past 100 years, it has become noticeable that genre fiction is filled with far more heroism than higher culture. And it’s such a noticeable pattern that it’s almost as though there is something pushing against that kind of character.

1/18/19

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/arts/music/maggie-rogers-heard-it-in-a-past-life.html

Maggie is taking off! So excited to see where this takes her, and you should give her new album a listen. At the concert she gave last night, I remember her saying half the songs were written in her bedroom in Maryland, and the other half were written in the home studios of her friends here in LA. I believe it’s easy to tell which ones are which based on how “poppy” you take each song to be.

A project I want to undertake this weekend is to get together her entire discography and include live/acoustic renditions of songs so people can see the differences between each performance. The thing I find interesting about Maggie is how her progression from folk to pop mirrors how folk also gave birth to rock. The stories aren’t exactly the same, but to see this much musical development in an artist in such a short time is exciting.

This will also give me some time to spend with the lyrics of the new songs. While it’s clear Rogers is transitioning into a bona fide pop artist, she’s a songwriter first and foremost and it’s rewarding to do the work to listen and interpret her lyrics. Consider Dog Years. There’s a tension in the lyrics I never realized until recently, and it really makes the song in my opinion.