I’ve been listening to a lot of live Phish as of late and thought it would be interesting to see if there was truth to the adage that Phish is great live but not so great in the studio. So here is their first official album. It was released as a double album, and when it was reissued on CD some bonus material was added. Incidentally, I just found out that the album if pronounced “juhnta” and not “hoonta” because of the engineer they worked with.
The album starts with “Fee” which is a fun song (the lyrics are wonderfully weird) and they don’t play it all that much so it’s a treat to listen to. I enjoy the way the verses sound compressed and distant but the choruses are nice and full. There’s also some funny and interesting sound effects (some of which accentuate the action) throughout the song. This sound effects and noises processing has been with Phish from the beginning and they kept it up through many of their earlier, less mature albums. “You Enjoy Myself” is a live favorite so it’s fun to hear it in this version. As with a lot of their earlier records, this song sounds a little stiff, especially if you’ve heard the wild live versions. It’s not bad at all, indeed, it has a perfectionist quality to it—the time changes are perfect, the solos are flawless. Indeed, it’s quite an achievement (and in this more polished version it sounds more like Yes than their live versions ever did). Interestingly when we finally get to the lyrical section (about 5 minutes in) it’s quite a bit slower than they play live.
“Esther” sounds much more theatrical here. The music is gorgeous and there are lots of effects and backing vocals which bring a bit more menace to the song than the live version possesses. This also had a very prog rock sensibility to it. “Golgi Apparatus” has a lot more in the way of backing vocals than the live version. And “Foam” has some changes: the bass is especially loud and funky and yet the pace is so much slower than I’m used to. The odd thing is the kind of stiff way that the lead vocals enunciate everything. And the deep voice (Mike?) is quite amusing at the end of the song. “Dinner and a Movie” is a fun and silly song and this version is especially enjoyable because of the backing voices and chatter and laughter which illustrate the dinner (and presumably the movie).
“Divided Sky” has a beautiful melody and it’s nice to hear it played so pretty and simply here. But again the remarkable thing is how much slower the song is here. “David Bowie” also sounds great (there’s all kinds of weird sounds effects in the background of the (very long) soloing section—I have no idea why or what they might be). The solo sounds like it was maybe done in one take as there’s a couple spots where it’s not “right,” (whether flubs or intentional is hard to say) but it still sounds terrific. In fact a number of tracks have some little flubs which makes it seem like they either didn’t mind or tried for a more live feel.
“Fluffhead” sounds solid and like the live versions. What I never realized until I actually paid attention is that the bulk of the music (the extended jam session) is called “Fluff’s Travels.” “Flulfhead is only 3 and a half minutes, while “Fluff’s Travels” is over 11 minutes (it opens with the beginning of the guitar solo–the catchy riff that starts the lengthy jam). “Contact” is a delightfully silly song about tires and cars that I’ve always enjoyed and find myself singing often because the melody is so simple.
What’s funny is that the end of “Contact” kind of bleeds into “Union Federal” which is listed as a live song (and clocks in at over 25 minutes long). This “Union Federal” is an improvisational jam (or an Oh Kee Pah Ceremony—where the guys would get together with instruments (and other things) and jam for a time. This song is weird with many layers—and is rather typical of one of Phish’s weirder jazz –flavored improv sections (meaning that there is a lot of dissonance and noise). It’s quite jarring especially after all of the melodies and prettiness of the album proper. And I can see a lot of people not being happy about its inclusion. “Sanity” on the other hand is a fun song. In the intro, they keep claiming the song is by Jimmy Buffett. They are clearly very silly in this setting, especially at the end of the song. The final track is a live version of “Icculus” the song which is pretty much all buildup. In the intro they quote U2 “This is red rocks, this is the edge.” But the “joke” of this version is that Trey keeps postponing the name of the person who wrote the name of the Helping Friendly Book–stalling in any way he can. As the song gets louder and louder and more absurd, the guys are even more frenetic. It takes over 3 and a half minutes to get to the proper lyrics of the song. And then the song itself is about 15 seconds. Absurd nonsense. But very amusing.
So this is quite a solid debut album, and the amount of songs that they still play live shows how fond everyone is of it.
[READ: October 2, 2013] “Wrong Answer”
I didn’t hate Algebra. I rather like solving puzzles so I enjoyed solving for x. Algebra II I recall being more daunting and less fun with lots of formulae to memorize. And, unlike everything promised, I have never used any of it in my adult life (geometry and angles, sure, but not logarithms). According to this article the new United States CORE curriculum (which I know my son is dealing with already in 3rd grade) says that high school graduates must have Algebra II.
The reasons for this intensification in the studying of math are many (starting around the time of Ronald Reagan) but the current push comes from Arne Duncane, the U.S. secretary of education. He believes that “algebra is a key, maybe the key to success in college. Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn degree as those who didn’t.” Whether or not that is true, those of us who earned a degree in nonmathematical subjects certainly were not aided by this class. But Nicholson Baker explains that the reason this might be true is that for most colleges, Algebra II is a prerequisite. Ergo: if you don’t take Algebra II you can’t get into college because colleges require Algebra II. That, for those who may not have taken logic–a far more useful course than Algebra II in daily life–is called a tautological fallacy. [Indeed, I maintain that all high school students should have to take a course in logic because they would then be able to see through all of the builshit that politicians spill and claim to be logic. Like the current (as I type this) government shutdown in which Republicans are claiming they didn’t want to shut down the government when they in fact signed papers saying they were going to shut down the government).]
The real problem with Duncan’s postulate that everyone should take Algebra II (“airplane mechanics do complex measurements and work with proportions and ratios…X-ray technicians calculate time exposures to capture the cleanest possible image. Most factory workers need to understand Algebra II or even some trigonometry to operate complex manufacturing electronic equipment”) is that even if that were true (I don’t have any idea of it is or not), most people do not do those kinds of jobs. And even if they did know higher math, they would still be salesmen, graphic artists, librarians, preschool teachers, custodians and many many other jobs that in no way require math.
Baker asserts (and is supported by several mathematicians in the article) that some people simply do not get algebra. It doesn’t mean they are stupid, they just don’t get it, just as other people don’t get music or art. No amount of forcing a subject on a student is going to make him or her get it. And there is ample evidence that more Algebra makes for far more stress and far more unhappiness in high school students’ lives. It also accounts for a much higher drop out and failure rate—surely not a step towards going to college.
Baker quotes at length from a textbook called Algebra 2 Common Core. I don’t think I can put some of the formulas into this post so I’m not going to try, but suffice it to say that phrases like “the domain of f(x) is all real numbers except these for which Q(x)=0” are prevalent. But other than statements like that, he also quotes this problem:
A basketball player has made 21 out of 30 shots, an average of 70%. How many more consecutive free throws must she make to bring her up to 75%.
Baker answers that without any algebra, indeed, with just a little arithmetic and trial and error, you will quickly get you the answer of 6. But the textbook wants you to figure that out using a rational function and by making a graph.
This push for more and more math is because it is believed that we are falling behind the world. And yet, back in the “golden age” the age when America was #1 in everything, only 25% of students were taking advanced math. In 1950, when America was making Dictaphones GM was designing the Chevy V-8 engine and American missile silos held hydrogen bombs, only a quarter of high school students learned algebra.
But the point is that those who did learn it went on to do great things in the sciences. Those who didn’t would not have done so anyway.
It was later in that decade when it was seen that Russians were pouring money into higher math that Cold Warriors freaked out and demanded that our students do more. New math came along in 1958. And in 1983 (why does everything always come back to Reagan) a report called “A Nation at Risk” claimed that we were (and I love the terminology) “committing an act of unthinkable unilateral educational disarmament”) because of our lack of math rigor. Then in 1989 the report card said that all of our kids were failing math and we were even worse than we thought. Of course, we can now look back and see that all of that math-intensive education didn’t do much for Russia; however, we can worry about what the Koreans or the Germans or (name your feared oppressor) are doing with math and see that we need to keep up.
Paul E. Burke a federal statistician and former math teacher in 1989 said, “requiring unnecessary math does not create future scientists. It creates dropouts and hatred for math and for school.” In 2013, Burke said, “we should listen to the customers (the students).”
Even as far back as 1930, Arthur Dean, a former engineer and a graduate of MIT who taught math for years said:
I cannot see that algebra contributes one iota to a young person’s health or one grain of inspiration to his spirit. It is the one subject in the curriculum that has kept children from finishing high school from developing their special interests and from enjoying much of their home study work. It has caused more family rows, more tears, more heartaches and more sleepless nights than any other school subject.
So does that mean we should abolish it? Of course not. But, like with all other higher studies, it should be made an elective. Baker’s solution seems like agood place to start:
Freshmen in high school have a required math course (he offers suggestions on the history of math that kids might actually enjoy like that Cardano lost so much money and wasted so much time at the card tables that it prompted him to write the first full study of the mathematics of probability). The course should include factoring and solving simple equations. Use textbooks like The Joy of X (by Steven Strogatz) or Journey Through Genius (William Dunham). Show them what algebra has to offer, let them see “the mathematical sequoia” of higher math. Just don’t make them all climb it. Those who have a facility or better yet an interest can take all higher math classes as electives. The classes will be full of students who can excel and who are not dragged down by the math dunderheads. Teachers will enjoy the classes, students will learn more and no one will pull their hair out. And more importantly, those destined for science and technology jobs would still go on to those jobs while those with no hope of going there wouldn’t have to pretend that they might.
It sounds pretty ideal to me. I’ll end with Baker’s conclusion:
If Algebra II were an elective and colleges didn’t ubiquitouslty demand it, fewer people would learn it. But fewer people would fail it too and fewer people might drop out of high school, and the level of cheating would go down and the sum total of student misery would be substantially reduced. And those for whom the Fourier analysis is a joy and a marvel, a way of hearing celestial music, would be in classes with other students who get a similar buzz.
Baker also offers a school motto to live by:
Life’s prerequisite’s are courtesy and kindness, the times table, fractions, percentages, ratios, reading, writing, some history—the rest is gravy, really.
I can only hope that people with more influence than me read this article, talk to mathematicians and rethink CORE curricula, and No Children Left Behind and Races to the Top and stop making school a punishment.
[UPDATE: OCTOBER 22, 2013]
On a similar note, according to the Los Angeles Times, a group of authors have sent a letter to President Obama stating that too much standardized testing is causing children to lose their love of books.
“Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations,” the letter continues.
In 2003, Philip Pullman wrote:
Testing, “divorces” reading from “pleasure” and is “creating a generation of children who might be able to make the right noises when they see print, but who hate reading and feel nothing but hostility for literature.
I really hope for our students and our teachers that we can move away from standardized everything and have kids learn for the joy that an intelligent mind can bring.
I am including the whole letter and signatories here because I am hoping it is easily found. But here’s the original link
October 22, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
We the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators write to express our concern for our readers, their parents and teachers. We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your Administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.
We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.
Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations. As Michael Morpurgo, author of the Tony Award Winner War Horse, put it, “It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.”
Teachers, parents and students agree with British author Philip Pullman who said, “We are creating a generation that hates reading and feels nothing but hostility for literature.” Students spend time on test practice instead of perusing books. Too many schools devote their library budgets to test-prep materials, depriving students of access to real literature. Without this access, children also lack exposure to our country’s rich cultural range.
This year has seen a growing national wave of protest against testing overuse and abuse. As the authors and illustrators of books for children, we feel a special responsibility to advocate for change. We offer our full support for a national campaign to change the way we assess learning so that schools nurture creativity, exploration, and a love of literature from the first day of school through high school graduation.
Alma Flor Ada
Alfred B. (Fred) Bortz
Louann Mattes Brown
Dori Hillestad Butler
Valerie Scho Carey
Rene Colato Lainez
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Mary Ann Fraser
Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
Trine M. Grillo
Linda Oatman High
Anna Grossnickle Hines
Lee Bennett Hopkins
Diane M. Hower
Kathy Walden Kaplan
Amy Goldman Koss
JoAnn Vergona Krapp
Sarah Darer Littman
José Antonio López
Ann S. Manheimer
Yesenia Navarrete Hunter
Anne Marie Pace
Ellen Prager, PhD
Judith Robbins Rose
Liz Garton Scanlon
Janni Lee Simner
Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Shawn K. Stout
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
K. M. Walton
April Halprin Wayland
Suzanne Morgan Williams
Karen Romano Young
Paul O. Zelinsky