Random Walkipedia

Ever take a random walk around in Wikipedia? Just pick a topic at random and follow the linked pages to whatever tangent pops up? I’ll admit it won’t be a featured stunt in Jackass 3, but it’s a fun little internet diversion if you’ve got a lunch hour to kill. Or if you’re holding a sleeping newborn baby, can’t reach the remote, can’t read a book without waking the kid, and discover that Wikipedia is the only website you can load on your primitive cell phone’s browser, as is the case with me. And thus is how I started my quest (a quest that shall be known in perpetuity as one that didn’t wake up the kid1), a quest to take a random walk through Wikipedia and see where it takes me.

The topics below all come from from actual links among articles in Wikipedia (as of 2008). Being Wikipedia, the content might all be BS, but it’s fun to cruise around to see where links take you. Think of it as sort of a Six Degrees of Useless Trivia. Or a less mentally-taxing ripoff of James Burke’s Connections, whichever.

 

Let’s start, for no good reason, with…

Cringe-worthy celebrities from Cincinnati. I think it was sometime after the Pete Rose scandal when I made a mental tally of celebrities from (or connected to) Cincinnati, and realized that the roster includes a staggering percentage of complete duds. Put the list together, and you’ve got yourself a new “celebreality” show on VH1. You’ve got Pete Rose of course, the best baseball player ever to bet on the game. Then there’s racist chain-smoker Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds for a while. Carmen Electra was born and raised here. Larry Flynt started Hustler magazine in the area. Marilyn Manson hails from Canton, across the state. Hell, Jerry Springer was the mayor. But getting back to the Reds…

Pete Rose: Manager, Player, and Bookie for the Cincinnati Reds. Back in the mid to late ’80′s, Pete Rose came back to Cincinnati after years in exile in Philadelphia to become a “player / manager”. Now that is impressive, in this day and age — let’s see Tommy Lasorda do that! He’d drop his colostomy bag at second base. Amazingly the Reds finished second in the division for four straight years under Rose’s tenure, then dropped to 5th in 1989 thanks to the betting scandal. They then rebounded in 1990 under Lou Piniella to win the world series, beating the Ogre-riffic Oakland A’s in four straight. Looking at the roster from that team brought me to a little-known but interesting fellow named Kent Tekulve

Kent Tekulve: The coolest name in baseball. Tekulve! Let that sink in. TEKULVE! That would be a great one-word name for a musical, based on the life of one durable, dependable pitcher. Kent Tekulve was briefly on the Reds roster in the late ’80′s and was known for his unusual delivery. He was a sidearm pitcher, a type of throw where you whip your arm around the side rather than throw overhand. Kent’s sidearm style was so low that he was halfway down to underhand, a style known as “submarine delivery“. Some submarine pitchers drop their arm angle so low that their knuckles graze the mound along the way. Kent was also out on that mound a LOT — he led the majors in number of appearances in four different seasons, and shares the record of most 90-plus appearance seasons in a career with Mike Marshall, who also happens to be one of the very few major leaguers to go on to earn a PhD. Man, other teams must have been sick of these two, dragging their knuckles on the mound, flinging the ball in from practically 3rd base, tacking their PhD’s up on the dugout wall… You don’t see sidearm or submarine pitching much these days, a notable exception being Matt Miller of the Cleveland Indians. And when I say “notable”, I mean of course that he shares a name with…

Matisyahu: The coolest name in traditional Jewish reggae. If you still listen to pop radio and haven’t converted over to boring NPR like me (a certified Old Fart), you may have caught a couple songs by Matisyahu, born Matthew Miller, an observant Hasidic Jew reggae / dub / rock artist. The novelty of this is stunning enough (Weird Al couldn’t think that up), but even more stunning is that he pulls it off, having garnered critical acclaim and several top 40 hits. I have no idea whether he pitches sidearm or traditional overhand. But he has been known to perform with Kenny Muhammad, a muslim hip-hop artist and beatboxer extraordinaire. Though anyone who can beatbox for a living probably doesn’t appreciate being called “extraordinaire”. But this guy apparently did a performance backed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, so I’m not going to dent his street cred much more. But speaking of mouth percussion techniques…

Vocal Percussion. If you’ve heard the Fatboys, you’ve heard beatboxing, the technique of drum mimicry that started as cutting-edge on-the-streets urban artistic expression thirty years ago, and now can be seen practiced by Donny Osmond in antihistamine commercials2. Despite the ludicrous spectacle when amateurs perform it, beatboxing done well is pretty mind-blowing, and has roots as a technique in earlier traditions like scat singing in jazz. More interestingly, it may be related (according to whoever wrote the wiki article) with puirt a beul, a traditional a capella vocal style from Scotland. Really? A folk singing style from 19th century Scotland is an ancestor of Doug E. Fresh? Well, if you say so, Mr. Pedia!!!! One of these days, I gotta hear what this sounds like. And one good place to hear puirt a beul, to this day, is…

Cape Breton Island, Canada’s Bermuda. An island next to Nova Scotia, named (or so Wikipedia posits) for Brittany, that part of France that sticks out at about ten o’clock.  Cape Breton happened to be one of several Canadian destinations for loyalists, colonial Americans who sided with the British during the American Revolution.  (This reminds me of one of the great “never thought of that!” stories in American History, the list of U.S. presidents predating George Washington, who served their terms during the Articles of Confederation period before the Constitution was ratified — for the full stoyr, head to Useless Information, the very first and still best at telling these kinds of stories).   But back to Cape Breton. Once the din of Cape Brettoners puirt-a-beuling dies down, you’ll be able to take your fingers out of your ears and notice the strong influence of Highland Scots on this little island, who arrived in droves3 after being kicked out of their land by the British. And speaking of being oppressed by the British, Brittany is one of six Celtic Nations, regions of northwest Europe considered to be the Celtic homeland, which also includes Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. You probably could have named three of the six, vaguely heard of the two small ones, but are surprised (shocked, even) to hear that a significant chunk of France considers itself Celtic. Get ahold of yourself. Yes, Brittany (or Bretagne, in French) is very proud of its connection to the Celtic culture, and can boast that it combines the best of both cultures (specifically, Irish beer and French crepes — the handmade, fresh crepes with lemon and butter. Holy cripes man, those are good.)  Speaking of the Isle of Man (where they speak in the Manx language when they speak about the Isle of Man, or any other subject), three famous natives from this British island semi-autonomous nation happen to be…

The Bee Gees.  Yeah, I said it.  The Bee Gees.   You’ve heard of this obscure art-rock band, haven’t you?  The Bee Gees probably enjoy the honor of being the most overexposed, overplayed musicians in pop music history.  It didn’t help that they were buoyed up by the most overexposed, overplayed musical style in history, namely disco.  For many who lived through it, this must have seemed like a perfect storm of pure atrocity (like, say, a perfectly-timed vomit at the top of a violent roller coaster), but I defy you to prove how these guys weren’t one of the greatest pop bands of all time.  At one point, there were five songs in the top ten written by the Bee Gees.  In 1977, they had six number-one singles.  Proof of the crap-tacular tastes of the times, you might think?  Hell no, I argue, my blood beginning to boil at how genuinely great music (Earth Wind and Fire, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Chic) were sucked down the culture toilet during the disco backlash of the late 70′s.  The backlash was deserved, after atrocities like Disco Duck, or the Village People‘s song “Ready for the 80′s” (spoiler alert:  they weren’t).4  But what was it replaced with?  Bob SegerChristopher CrossSeals and Freaking Crofts?  Summer breeze, my ass.  Sorry.  Let’s get back on track by   mentioning the interesting and mostly-forgotten tale of the Bee Gees early success, a good decade earlier than their 70′s peak — the Bee Gees originally were contemporaries of the Beatles, and in fact their first single (with the catchy name “New York Mining Disaster 1941“) was mistaken for a new Beatles single in 1967 since it had a completely blank label with no band name.  Yes, the Bee Gees were on the downward slope of a hell of a career, or so it seemed, when they switched their sound from British Invasion pop to Falsetto Invasion disco.  My favorite of their songs, Jive Talkin’, was also released with a blank label, and hit number one in August of 1975.  That year, Captain and Tenille’s abomination “Love Will Keep Us Together” won the grammy for record of the year.  I was surprised to learn, however, that they have a couple molecules of street cred between them, thanks to Tenille’s backing vocals on Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Captain’s early start playing keyboards for the Beach Boys.  Speaking of the Beach Boys, they share a home state with another great band, known as…

The Eels, a band that rocks, in all parallel universes.  This band, really a single talented guy named Mark Oliver Everett, is a criticaly-adored but commercialy ignored band that doesn’t have much in common with the Beach Boys, aside from loads of pop music talent.  The reason I bring them up (and the reason I deployed the horribly weak segue using the Beach Boys) is the amazing connection of the band to modern Quantum Mechanics.   Mark is the son of no other than Hugh Everett, one of the most famous physicists from the postwar generation and creator of a truly original (and possibly correct) interpretations of Quantum physics.  And I don’t mean to denigrate by saying “possibly correct”, since just staying in the running as a viable theory is a tremendous accomplishment.  Everett’s theory is one of the more cool-named theories in science…

The Many Worlds Hypothesis, seems to have gained the lead lately among many competing ideas on how to understand the foundations of quantum mechanics — in part, because of major problems with all the other theories.  It’s an absolutely preposterous idea, and yet it has fewer problems with it than even the consensus understanding buit up by the Big Shots of Quantum Mechanics, like Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and the rest (a school of thought named the Copenhagen Interpretation).  And I’m going to give this theory less wordage than I devoted to the Bee Gees…  The story of father-physicist and son-rockstar is actually a bit more tragic than the flippant treatment I’m giving it — suffice it to say that father was a bit of a character (apparently to the point of insisting that after his death and cremation he be sent out with the trash).   A criminally-inadequate summary of Everett’s theory would say that at each quantum-level event, the entire universe splits into two parallel universes, each containing one of the possible outcomes of the event.  Whereas in the Copenhagen interpretation, only one possible outcome occurs, which one happens is entirely random, and the universe you see around you is the only one we’ve got.  By the way, in case you’re wondering, ideas about how human consciousness is intertwined in quantum mechanics via the act of observation, are laughed at by mainstream physicists (and also by another article at this website, I’ve got a theory and I’m crazy).  These Quantum Mysticism pseudoscientific ideas are some of the coolest, imaginative, tempting, but completely wrong, ideas I’ve ever come across.5  Puncturing the bubble of hoopla surrounding Quantum Mechanics led, perahps inevitably, to…

The Sokal Affair, or when a physicist took off the earrings and said “No you di’int!”   After clouds of pseudo-scientific mysticism began forming around Quantum Mechanics through the ’80s and ’90s, a physicist did the nerd equivalent of taking off the earrings before the scrap, and totally cold-cocked postmodern quantum mysticism with his flip-flop.  He brewed up a fancy-sounding but completely nonsensical article on Quantum Mechanics and left-wing politics called “Transgressing the Boundaries:  Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”, submitted it to the journal Social Text, who (none the wiser) published the article as a serious statement on postmodern philosophy.  Alan Sokal, the author, was naturally elated to demonstrate how complete nonsense, with suitable sprinklings of expert-sounding physics jargon, could be taken as a serious contribution to philosophy.  The publishers of the journal pointed out, reasonably enough, that this journal is not peer-reviewed and leaves publication veracity to the honor of the submitter.  Sokal made a good point, but he took some steam out of the demonstration by revealing the hoax almost immediately, rather than letting it percolate for a while.  For real fun, you should wait a couple years for the research community to digest, react to, and embarass themselves over, your “groundbreaking paper”.  Kind of like the Report from Iron Mountain, a hoax from 1967 purporting to be a government panel study that concluded that war is good for the world economy (not revealed to be fake until 5 years later).

By the way, hermeneutics is an absolute sleeper of a great word to drop at parties to sound smart, a real dark horse word that you should start hearing more often in the coming years, after people stop being impressed by “The Tipping Point”.   I read the wikipedia entry on the definition of hermeneutics, and I don’t understand a single damn word.  Seems like a good place to stop this tour of wikipedia.  Now would be the time to sum up our journey with some heretofore unseen common theme, but I don’t think it could be done with the current technology on this planet.  In the meantime, as we wait for that era of technological advancement to arrive, we’ll keep you updated if we ever hear of Kent Tekulve puirt a beul’ing in time to a Chic song.  Though, I suppose, somewhere in another parallel world, he’s doing that right now…

 

 

Okay.  I concede that “Islands in the Stream”, sung by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but written by the Bee Gees, is terrible.

 

Footnotes

1. Speaking of, I still don’t know whose kid this is.

2. Not really. But wouldn’t that be cool?

3. A type of Scottish boat. Essentially a sailboat with tartan sails and poop decks full of Scotch eggs.

4.  Don’t get us wrong, their earlier work is much better — we even saw them live, and they still rock.  Speaking of the Village People, do you think they ever sat around the studio, dumbfounded that mainstream america never got their thinly-veiled gay camp iconography?  Never mind “Y.M.C.A”, what about “Fire Island”, “San Francisco”, “Macho Man”, “Key West”, or “Hot Cop”?   There must have been a behind the scenes bet when they released the song “Sodom and Gomorrah” (true song, I swear), and the loser must have felt pretty dumb a few years later when Wham / George Michael came along, and we still didn’t get it.   We raise our index finger pointed at the disco ball in the corner in heartfelt disco salute to you guys…

5.  Well, maybe not the most tempting-but-wrong idea.  That honor would go to the county fair last year, when I ate a chicken breast sandwich that used a Krispy Kreme doughnut as a bun.  And it was jelly-filled.  So tempting, and so so wrong…

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