My friend Rocky Fox recently scolded me for having “all that cooking stuff” on my blog and nothing about music. So, per request, here’s what’s shuffling in my iPod lately.
Black Joe Lewis is a large, horn-heavy soul band from Austin, Texas. Joe Lewis, the front man, could be the offspring of James Brown and Otis Redding, with a little less voice but more then enough soul to make up for it. The band behind him squeals, howls and really rocks. I think they would send the Box’s roof up and in the general direction of Tom Nevers. Get to work John.
The Avett Brothers genre could perhaps be best described as Americana music for hipsters, dabbling in alt-country, folk, bluegrass, and pop. If they didn’t do all of those things so well, it might come off as a tad bit grandiose, but it works for these guys. Judging by their Facebook Fan Page, they have a lot of momentum these days and they could taking the big step from good to well-known and good and before long be impossible to ignore. I think they’re destined to be beer commercial fodder before long.
We recently watched an old favorite movie and I want to offer it as a suggestion the next time you’re standing in front of the redbox and are not sure what to rent. Released in 1996, Big Night was directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, and starred Tucci and former Wings star Tony Shalhoub.
The film, presumably set in a small town on the New Jersey Shore in the 1950s, tells the story of two immigrant brothers from Italy who own and operate a restaurant called “Paradise.” One brother, Primo (Shalhoub), is a brilliant, perfectionist chef who chafes under their few customers’ expectations of “Americanized” Italian food. Their uncle’s offer to return to Rome to help with his restaurant is becoming more and more appealing to Primo. The other brother, Secondo (Tucci), is the restaurant’s manager, who is enamored with the possibilities presented by their new endeavor and life in America. Despite Secondo’s efforts and Primo’s magnificent food, their restaurant is failing. (VIA)
Here’s a classic scene from the movie.
Once you’ve seen the movie and you decide you want to make the Timpano Alla Big Night recipe, you can do so with the help of the similarly entertaining cookbook from Tucci’s mother, whose skills and stories no doubt influenced the movie. The book is called Cucina & Famiglia and it is available here.
An interesting article about teaching children how to argue or, more specifically, how to be persuasive instead of fighting or throwing a tantrum.
Those of you who don’t have perfect children will find this familiar: Just as I was withdrawing money in a bank lobby, my 5-year-old daughter chose to throw a temper tantrum, screaming and writhing on the floor while a couple of elderly ladies looked on in disgust. (Their children, apparently, had been perfect.) I gave Dorothy a disappointed look and said, “That argument won’t work, sweetheart. It isn’t pathetic enough.”
She blinked a couple of times and picked herself up off the floor, pouting but quiet.
“What did you say to her?” one of the women asked.
I explained that “pathetic” was a term used in rhetoric, the ancient art of argument. I had happened across the subject one rainy day in a library and become instantly obsessed. As a result Dorothy had learned almost from birth that a good persuader doesn’t merely express her own emotions; she manipulates her audience. Me, in other words.
Under my tutelage in the years that followed, Dorothy and her younger brother, George, became keenly, even alarmingly, persuasive. “Well, whatever it was,” the woman said, “it certainly worked.” Sure it did. I’ve worked hard at making my kids good at arguing. Absolutely.
The most recent issue of New York magazine featured an article by Sam Anderson called “In Defense of Distraction.” It’s a thorough study of our modern Poverty of Attention, diving in to the science of it and looking at what the problem might mean in the whole evolutionary scheme of things. This is a problem that fascinates me right now, writing more and more prescriptions for neurological performance-enhancing drugs.
He starts off the long eight-web-pages article by trying to focus in the attention the reader:
I’m going to pause here, right at the beginning of my riveting article about attention, and ask you to please get all of your precious 21st-century distractions out of your system now. Check the score of the Mets game; text your sister that pun you just thought of about her roommate’s new pet lizard; …refresh your work e-mail; …upload pictures of yourself reading this paragraph to your “me reading magazine articles” Flickr photostream; and alert the fellow citizens of whatever Twittertopia you happen to frequent that you will be suspending your digital presence for the next twenty minutes or so…Good. Now: Count your breaths. Close your eyes. Do whatever it takes to get all of your neurons lined up in one direction…Now it’s just you and me, tucked like fourteenth-century Zen masters into this sweet little nook of pure mental focus.
The ironic thing is, just reading his humorous introduction, and then trying to read through the whole article made me realize just how hard it is these days to focus and get through an article like this. Especially reading it on the computer. Several times I thought of pausing and checking Facebook, or checking a baseball score (Braves, NOT Mets). The kids interrupted me and their Wii game tempted me as well. But I made it through. Here are some of the highlights, though I suggest that–even if it is just a test to see if you yourself still have the power to ignore the distractions around you and get through a scholarly article like this–go and read it yourself.
…our attention crisis is already chewing its hyperactive way through the very foundations of Western civilization. Google is making us stupid, multitasking is draining our souls, and the “dumbest generation” is leading us into a “dark age” of bookless “power browsing.” Adopting the Internet as the hub of our work, play, and commerce has been the intellectual equivalent of adopting corn syrup as the center of our national diet, and we’ve all become mentally obese. Formerly well-rounded adults are forced to MacGyver worldviews out of telegraphic blog posts, bits of YouTube videos, and the first nine words of Times editorials. Schoolkids spread their attention across 30 different programs at once and interact with each other mainly as sweatless avatars…We are, in short, terminally distracted. And distracted, the alarmists will remind you, was once a synonym for insane.
The most advanced Buddhist monks become world-class multitaskers. Meditation might speed up their mental processes enough to handle information overload.
A quintessentially Western solution to the attention problem—one that neatly circumvents the issue of willpower—is to simply dope our brains into focus. We’ve done so, over the centuries, with substances ranging from tea to tobacco to NoDoz to Benzedrine, and these days the tradition seems to be approaching some kind of zenith with the rise of neuroenhancers: drugs designed to treat ADHD (Ritalin, Adderall), Alzheimer’s (Aricept), and narcolepsy (Provigil) that can produce, in healthy people, superhuman states of attention. A grad-school friend tells me that Adderall allowed him to squeeze his mind “like a muscle.” Joshua Foer, writing in Slate after a weeklong experiment with Adderall, said the drug made him feel like he’d “been bitten by a radioactive spider”—he beat his unbeatable brother at Ping-Pong, solved anagrams, devoured dense books. “The part of my brain that makes me curious about whether I have new e-mails in my in-box apparently shut down,” he wrote.
It’s possible that we’re evolving toward a new techno-cognitive nomadism, in which restlessness will be an advantage.
Which brings me, finally, to the next generation of attenders, the so-called “net-gen” or “digital natives,” kids who’ve grown up with the Internet and other time-slicing technologies. There’s been lots of hand-wringing about all the skills they might lack, mainly the ability to concentrate on a complex task from beginning to end, but surely they can already do things their elders can’t—like conduct 34 conversations simultaneously across six different media, or pay attention to switching between attentional targets in a way that’s been considered impossible…The neuroscientist Gary Small speculates that the human brain might be changing faster today than it has since the prehistoric discovery of tools. Research suggests we’re already picking up new skills: better peripheral vision, the ability to sift information rapidly…Kids growing up now might have an associative genius we don’t—a sense of the way ten projects all dovetail into something totally new. They might be able to engage in seeming contradictions: mindful web-surfing, mindful Twittering. Maybe, in flights of irresponsible responsibility, they’ll even manage to attain the paradoxical, Zenlike state of focused distraction.
Here’s another interesting article in The New Yorker magazine about “cosmetic neurology” and performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall.