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Generally Recognized As True: May 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Christopher Heard's "Britney Spears: Little Girl Lost", and the music of Britney Spears

I've never really paid much attention to Britney Spears except when the newspapers and radio made it unavoidable.

But, I recently bought a book on her "story" because, when I saw it, it seemed like something that was worth being aware of -- the book was "Britney Spears: Little Girl Lost" by Toronto author Christopher Heard. I found it to be a sympathetic account and it gave me some appreciation for how hard she has worked to achieve her dream and how the realities of being in the spotlight could cause someone to act out the way she has in the recent past, even though I wouldn't completely absolve anyone of responsibility for how they behave. Thankfully, she seems to be on her way out of that mess.

It make me interested to follow up by listening to some of her music.

Her first three albums -- "...Baby One More Time", "Oops!... I Did It Again", and "Britney" -- are standard, catchy but straightforward pop albums, with the latter hinting at a change in direction to something a bit more sophisticated.

The next album, "In The Zone", completes that change in direction to a more mature pop sound that, personally, I don't find as catchy at first listen but is more likely to be the type that lasts and grows on you after repeated listens.

But what I was most surprised by is how the subsequent album -- "Blackout" -- has grown on me over the past few days. This is a very, very good pop/dance album that I really disliked at first and almost dismissed outright. I had certainly done that when it first came out, in the middle of her public meltdown. But, I was wrong -- it's a great album. It grew on me in the same way Mariah Carey's "Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel" did and followed a similar path from outright dislike to "let's give it a chance" to becoming something I regularly turn on to listen to. The overly-sexual lyrics are a bit annoying, but the musicality of it is impressive and, dare I say, unique.

The album that came next, and her most recent ("Circus") is also decent and blends some of her earlier pop elements with the outright dance elements of "Blackout".

I can't help notice, though, that somewhere along the way she stopped singing. She actually does her best singing in her first album, as far as I can tell. After that, it went more and more in a direction of talking forcefully over music.

Still, I think "Blackout" is her best. I don't think you can go wrong with any of the albums, really, as they all have their strong points. And, I also recommend Christopher Heard's book.

Here are a few new favourites:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brief comments on Ron Rash's "Burning Bright"

I don't quote from much fiction on my blog because, besides not reading much fiction, there also isn't much that motivates me to do it. I only remember having quoted from Ron Rash's "One Food in Eden" here, and Richard Yates's "Revolutionary Road" here. Ron Rash has motivated me yet again, now that I am reading through his collection of short stories called "Burning Bright". My memory has been refreshed about how naturally and lyrically his stories flow.

As usual -- and thankfully -- the stories are set in the Appalachian states.

In "Dead Confederates", two men find their way toward robbing some Confederate soldiers' graves for their valuable memorabilia. In raiding the second grave, they raise the awareness of the elderly graveyeard caretaker. It turns out that the old man comes from a line of Union sympathizers and, though he initially startles them with his poorly-socialized canine standby, a cocked shotgun, and the threat of a phone call to the sheriff, when it is discovered that they were after Confederate graves, his stance moderates. For a small fee, he lets the two grave robbers go about their business, though does not take his eyes off them:

The old man steps back a few feet and perches his backside on a flat-topped stone next to where we're digging. The shotgun's settled in the crook of his arm.

"You ain't needing for that shotgun to be nosed in our direction," Wesley says. "Them things can go off by accident sometimes."

The old man keeps the gun barrel where it is.

"I don't think I've heard the truth walk your lips yet," he tells Wesley. "I'll trust you better with it pointed your way."
Though I'm not yet a fan of his latest and most acclaimed novel ("Serena"), these short stories are as good as anything he's ever written.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Skeptical about the blog chattering about Chauncey Morlan and whether or not he would turn heads at the mall

Over at Rob Paterson's blog, I recently saw a reference to an article about a man who lived roughly 100 years ago named Chauncey Morlan. Chauncey Morlan's claim to fame was that he was obese -- so obese, in fact, that he appeared as a freak in circus sideshows. A photo accompanies the story, and is shown below.

There are a lot of "me too" blog posts about this (of which Rob's is one) -- all which pretty much say the same thing: that obesity is such a crisis these days because -- look! -- 100 years ago an obese man that wouldn't turn heads in the mall today was considered a circus freak back then! You can find the "me too posts" by searching for his name combined with the phrase "at the mall" -- they all talk alike.

It stuck with me because I smelled something strange about it.

So, today I went looking.

There is a page here with a number of photos of this man. The one at bottom right is the one that accompanies all of the blog posts I have seen about this man in connection with modern obesity.

The photo looks Photoshopped to me -- the border is too clean -- but let's put that aside. From the photos, it is clear to me that they have chosen the slimmest photo of this man to accompany their stories. It is true that a man who looks like the man in this photo would probably not turn heads at the mall. We might catch a glimpse and acknowledge that he had let himself go a bit, but it wouldn't arouse much curiosity.

I am wondering if the photo has been Photoshopped to make him look slimmer. What would be the motive? Well, to add a bullet point to the fanaticism over obesity; to talk about a past circus freak as being normal today by showing photo evidence of someone who was slimmer to our eyes than what people of the day actually saw. Yes, there was a fat man named Chauncey Morlan who was a circus freak because of his weight, and would not turn heads at the mall today if he looked as pictured, but is the person shown in that photo what people of the day actually saw?

From various reports around the web, this man during his adult life was anywhere from 600 lbs. to 875 lbs. in weight, suggesting that he never lost weight throughout his life and only continued to gain in weight. This could be wrong, but I haven't seen any evidence to the contrary.

While attention would not be garnered by the man in that photo, I think that most people's attention would be caught today by a 600 lb. man and certainly would be by an 875 lb. man. Why? Because they are massive. They are truly freaks of nature -- so much so that you can't remember what they look like in your memory because the proportions are so unusual. And when you get that heavy, it is almost certainly genetic and a rarity. If I stuffed myself day to night for years on end with all of the worst foods for me, I would never weigh 600 lbs.

Would a 600 lb. person turn heads at the mall? As I said, I think they would. Here is a picture of one. What about an 875 lb. person? Well, here's one of an 895 lb. woman?

And the idea that obesity is a modern thing is silly. Here are four men -- all public figures -- who lived more than 100 years ago. I have linked to Google Image searches of them:

Alessandro del Borro (17th century)
Daniel Lambert (born 1770)
Grover Cleveland (born 1837)
William Howard Taft (born 1857)

After having public figures of this size, who would be caught surprised by the man in the photo above? Not many.