Friday, October 24, 2014

A Neat Weird Thing Happened With My Brain The Other Day

I was zesting a lime and the damned thing tore a huge chunk of flesh out of the tip of my middle finger. It was a terrible demon zester. After having also maimed my wife's thumb, we decided it would go in the trash. We made a little photo collage and posted it on Twitter. It was adorable.

Later that night, I sat at the computer to write an email, and realized "Oh hey, one of my key typing fingers is wrapped in paper towel and electrical tape, and now I can't type properly".

I'm mostly a proficient typist, making correct use of all my fingers and typing pretty fast. I don't know the number of words per minute but it's up there. I aced typing class in high school (fun side story: my 1991 class was the last to use electric typewriters before the school switched over to Mac Classics. See? Fun.) and while I make plenty of speed-related errors while typing, I'm equally quick with the backspace button.

So with one gimped finger on my right hand, I had to resort to "hunt and peck" like surly old TV detectives do, but only my right hand. My left hand still made use of all five digits. I was surprised by how quickly I adapted to my handicap, all the while retaining the left hand's typing training. That was pretty rad, but there was something even more rad:

Normally when I make mistakes, I see them on the screen and my right hand quickly jumps up to the backspace key and fixes it. But this time, every time I made a mistake, I'd see it and hit the space bar, expecting it to autocorrect, like on my smartphone. Because I'd switched my right hand to single-digit typing like I do on my phone, my brain seemed to have switched to smartphone mode, and just expected all the errors to be autocorrected. 

How cool is that? It's pretty cool, that's how cool.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lyric Comprehension 101: I Automatically Fail

I saw this brilliant video by Jonathan Mann this morning, and it drove home something that I've known for a while but couldn't quite put into words: I suck so hard at understanding what people's songs are about.

The gimmick here is that Mann let the iPhone's new autocomplete feature do the writing, and then he added the melody and music afterwards. End product: An extremely catchy song that sounds like it all makes sense unless you pay close attention to the lyrics. This speaks to the brilliance of Jonathan Mann - he has written and posted on YouTube one original song per day since 2009 - check out more here. The guy's a machine, his shit is catchy and you could spend an entire day listening to his catalogue.

What this video made me realize was that, if I didn't know the premise of the song, I would have had NO CLUE that it was intentionally nonsensical. I would have listened half-assedly to the lyrics, said "Hey, this is catchy" and moved on.  I've always known I had a hard time understanding lyrics. I've joked repeatedly that a song needs to include the lines "I have a drug addiction problem, and it is having a negative impact on my life as well as the lives of those around me" for me to recognize what the song is about. If it's not spelled out in black and white, then I have absolutely no clue what's going on.

Here's a fun game: take a look at these two passages and try to guess which one is from the Jonathan Mann video and which one is from the popular song My Body, by Young The Giant (this doesn't work if you listened to the song above and/or are familiar with My Body)

Stop the train is riding down to the station where you lived when we were school kids hey the rails are caught now and I am falling down fools in a spiral round this town of steam
The other hand is the only thing that would have to back and the best way of saying the best thing about it and it was not the only one of my life and death in morning

You, being an intelligent person who knows how words work, could probably figure it out almost instantaneously.  But me, who has tried repeatedly to understand what My Body is about, would almost certainly not be able to tell the difference. They're both random bundles of words that I can't make heads or tails of.

I do pretty ok with words. I write a lot of very lengthy blog posts, as well as the hundred or so country songs I've written over the years. I tend to write in black and white too. It's all I know. My problem is metaphor and symbolism, and interpretation thereof (did I use thereof properly? Now I'm doubting myself, because I set myself up by saying I do pretty ok with words).  I've always been terrible at that sort of thing. English class in high school was a disaster of teachers telling me Shakespeare meant this, Margaret Craven meant that. My head was swimming the entire time. I just couldn't make the connections, and would actually fight with the teacher and say "that's a load of bullshit made up by English teachers just so they could build a lesson plan". Suffice it to say, I was not a joy to teach.

SIDEBAR: One time, I was actually right, and it was glorious. We were reading Cry, The Beloved Country, a 1948 book by Alan Paton set in pre-apartheid South Africa. The phrase "Cry, the beloved country" is repeated several times throughout the book, and our English teacher, Mme Valiquette, asked in class, "Can anyone tell me what the author meant when he chose to repeat the title of the book so often throughout?" I'm sure there's some bullshit "correct" answer, but I saw through that. I put up my hand and said, "If you'd read the introduction, you'd know that the book was initially untitled, and that when the author gave copies to some friends to proof read, they independently suggested that he use "Cry, The Beloved Country" as the title, because it had been repeated so often throughout the book." Glorious. SIDEBAR OVER

As a result of me not knowing what in the hell any song is about, I very rarely pay attention to lyrics. This is funny because a) I'm a songwriter and b) I'm a music fan who has a weekly radio show in which I showcase other songwriters, whose songs I know nothing about other than "I like them".

I very often will say "So-and-so is a great songwriter" because it's the thing I'm supposed to say when someone is popular. Rarely do I ever believe this to be true, only because I don't know what I'm talking about. I'll still love a singer for their vocal styles and they way they use their voice as in instrument, as well the type of music they choose to back them up and whatever band dynamics come in to play, but in the end I usually have no idea what they're going on about.

As for my own songwriting, I've got a particular style that's mine all mine, and I just roll with it and don't try to colour outside the lines too much. I'm more about puns and clever and imaginitive rhymes, and about story telling.  There's very little metaphor or other literary devices in my songs, and where they exist they're pretty in your face.  I do some clever things that I'm quite proud of. Internal rhymes, imaginitive rhymes, clever song building, but in the end there's absolutely no question what my songs are about because I wouldn't know any other way to write them.

Another fun note: possibly as a result of my not knowing or caring what lyrics represent, I'm severely handicapped in my ability to even comprehend what words are being said. It seems like other people learn the words to songs no problem. Me, without the internet, I'm screwed. Here's an example. I like the hit song Take Me To Church by Hozier. The chorus is extremely catchy and a has nice melody with well-placed high points that are shiver-inducing

I'd been singing along to this for weeks on the radio before I finally decided to look up the lyrics to the chorus. I've underlined the parts that I was able to figure out all by myself:

Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life
I didn't even get the "Take me to church" part AND THAT'S THE TITLE OF THE SONG.

In case you're wondering, I also have a Masters degree. So I'm not completely retarded.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who Really Wins Lawsuits? Lawyers

You may or may not know my legal troubles. I won't go into details but if you're not familiar then a search engine is your friend. Here I muse about how being involved in a lawsuit is basically like being rectally penetrated with a cactus, and then somehow a lawyer gets richer because of it.
(updated below)

It should be noted that everything I'm about to say reflects my feelings after having been through a lawsuit, and don't necessarily reflect the realities of the legal profession. Some lawyers are nice. I had the pleasure of dealing with several of the nice ones.

When I first got sued, I reached out to a high-priced lawyer in Toronto for some free legal advice, which he was more than happy to provide. He looked over the particulars of the case and assured me that I was not in the wrong, and gave me a lot of background in this particular field of law.

When news of the lawsuit broke, a friend put me in touch with a lawyer friend of his, who, along with his entire legal team, helped me draft a solid Statement of Defense, which needed to be submitted by a deadline of 30 days after having been served. They all did this free of charge.

I was also contacted out of the blue by a friend of a friend of a friend (we're now actually friends so the middle men have been removed from the equation) - he's a lawyer in Toronto and he wanted to take my case for an extremely reduced rate. Without his help, I could have been ROYALLY FUCKED by legal fees, instead of being gently probed with a beginner's butt plug and a helpful dollop of lube.

All my life I've heard every variation of jokes insinuating that lawyers are sharks, the scum of the earth, etc. I have very little actual experience with lawyers, even after my legal troubles. But I can tell you one thing: regardless of their intentions, whether they're heroes trying to give the underdog a leg up or slimebags trying to corrupt the system for their own gain, the only people that truly win lawsuits are lawyers, because they get paid no matter what.

You want to recoup your legal fees when you win? Think again, sucker

Here's a little known fact: some people think "Oh I'll just take this guy to court and win, and make him pay back my legal fees too. It's risk free!".

No, it's not. One of the first things I learned was that you are rarely awarded your full legal fees when you win a case. Apparently people only recover an average of around 60% of their total costs. And guess what else: if your lawyer has offered you a reduced rate out of pity or whatever, there's a very good chance that part of the agreement is that in the event of a win, any legal fees recouped will go directly to the lawyer to make up for any fees they lost by giving you the reduced rate in the first place.

Let's say for simplicity's sake that the lawyer took your case at $200/h, which is half of their usual rate. When all was said and done, your bill was $10,000. Your lawyer's regular rates would total $20,000 but you only owe them half that. You win your case, and you successfully recover 60% ($6000) from the guy who lost. Your lawyer gets to keep that $6000, bringing their total take up to $16,000. You're still out $10,000 but hey at least you won! You get a big fat settlement!

You may have to fight for your settlement, and you may never get it all

You can't get blood from a stone, and this applies to lawsuit settlements too. You win $1,000,000 from your neighbour because his tree dropped an apple in your yard and you ate the apple and choked on it and are now permanently brain damaged because of temporary asphyxiation. Your neighbour has no money, is currently out of work, and he owns his house outright. You MIGHT get money from the house, somehow, and maybe his shitty car. But if he has no money, he just... has no money. Even if he has a job, the only money you get is from garnished wages, which won't come easily. And if he declares bankruptcy well... good luck with that.  Just because he owes it, doesn't mean you'll get it.

But I don't WANNA get SUUUUED
The really fucked up thing about this lawsuit business is that absolutely anybody can sue anybody, provided they have the cash for a lawyer. Even if the reasons are ridiculous and the lawsuit doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, they can still file it. There's no one that looks at the lawsuit in the early stages and says "This has some merit, I will allow this to proceed" or "What a load of hooey" before throwing it into their garbage can. No, this step doesn't come until UP TO A YEAR after the lawsuit has been filed and you're finally in front of a judge for the first time.

What are you doing in the meantime? Spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer to help you build your case, amassing all the evidence you could possibly need to prove to a judge that the lawsuit is invalid and should never have been filed in the first place. You're submitting forms and documents, you're meeting with the other side to share each other's evidence, you're paying a high-priced mediator to help you settle out of court. All of these things happen BEFORE someone with a law degree and a modicum of common sense can look at the lawsuit and say "I agree, this is clearly bullshit, we're throwing it out".

So no matter what happens, the minute you get sued by the fleeting whims of whatever person decides to sue you, you can just kiss goodbye your sanity and tens of thousands of dollars, EVEN IF YOU END UP SUCCESSFULLY DEFENDING YOURSELF IN THE END.

I don't have any money for a lawyer

Hey don't worry, there's legal aid! Except that it's only for actually poor people. The ones that are dirt broke, homeless, on welfare, etc. Do you have a regular job but are living paycheck to paycheck for various reasons? Good for you, you don't qualify for legal aid because you're rich enough to afford a lawyer! Even though you can't afford to fix the broken power steering pump in your car!

The legal system just assumes that everyone just... HAS... thousands of dollars sitting in a bank account. Want to hire a lawyer? Here's how it works. You send them a cheque for $5000. That's called the retainer fee. Every month, they bill you for how many hours they've worked, and deduct that amount from the $5000. Once that dries up, you send them another $5000. So basically if you want legal help, you need to already have the money in place. How many of you have $5000 just kicking around?

Oh and when you get sued, guess what: you have THIRTY DAYS to submit your Statement of Defense. You have THIRTY DAYS to drop everything, find a lawyer and somehow also find the $5000 to retain them. Good thing we're all rich millionaires with student loans and credit card debt and a disabled wife.

I'll just defend myself, how hard can it be?

Answer: very. The system is set up to be so confusing and jargon-riddled that the average person literally can't make heads or tails of what they have to do next.  You have to be able to draft a legal document in the correct format, using the correct jargon, be super familiar with previous cases of a similar nature to be able to draw upon them as precedent, and so much more.

When I was sued I provided a 6 page document to my lawyer outlining my defense strategy as I saw it. He needed this to be able to properly draft a Statement of Defense. I was pretty proud of my writing. It sounded smart, logical and sound. I truly believed that if a judge read this, he'd say "Lefty your arguments are pretty compelling, I see where you're coming from with this defense strategy". And then my lawyer took all of it and rewrote it in unrecognizable legal jargon that made my head swim when I read it. Any dreams I ever had of defending myself (bear in mind this was lawyer number two, not my final lawyer, as mentioned above) went up in smoke after reading this. There's no way I could have ever written something like that, and this realization took the wind right out of my sails. Any faith I had in myself defending... myself... was just gone. I resigned to the fact that no matter what, I was paying for a lawyer if I wanted any chance whatsoever of fighting this thing.

Maybe we can settle out of court and avoid a lengthy and costly legal battle, and not worry about wasting taxpayer money on an unnecessary trial

Hey smart idea. In fact, in Ottawa and Toronto courts, pre-trial mediation is a required step before you actually go to trial. The province's effort not to bog down the legal system with petty spats between neighbours.  Unfortunately before you get to mediation you still have to spend thousands on a lawyer because the mediation step is much later in the game, after all evidence has been amassed and presented to each other and filed in the courts. Then your lawyer drafts a mediation summary, which outlines the details of the case and explains the basic defense strategy, and sends it off to a mediator. The other side does the same thing. The mediator reads over the background, and then you all get together in the same building but different rooms, and he just bounces back and forth between rooms acting essentially as a haggler, until a dollar amount is settled on that will make the whole thing go away. Our mediator said it best: "No matter what the outcome today, nobody will walk away happy".  Harsh.

Oh hey guess what: the mediator makes THOUSANDS of dollars for his day's work. I won't tell you how much but let's just say it's more than two.

So in the end, no matter what happens, both sides end up having to hire lawyers. And no matter who wins, both lawyers get paid whatever amount they decided you were going to pay them.  And if you're lucky and you get to settle out of court, you get to make a THIRD lawyer rich as mediator.

Bottom line: don't get sued. Don't ever do anything to anyone, ever. Don't leave the house. And if you're considering suing someone, ask yourself if it's really worth the risk of not recovering your legal fees, and possibly not ever getting your settlement.

Oh and if someone sends you a letter saying "Stop doing X or we will sue you" FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST STOP DOING X, AND APOLOGIZE. It's not worth it, no matter how much you want to stand up for what you believe in. Just stop doing the thing and walk away.


Here's an example of exactly this kind of bullshit. Olivia Parsons, an Ottawa student, wrote a negative online review against CLV, a real estate rental company, and they threatened to sue if she didn't remove them. She maintains that her comments were true, but she's up against a company that has a legal team on retainer and probably paid $500 for one of them to edit a boilerplate cease and desist letter bullying her into taking down the negative comment. CLV knows full fucking well that she won't fight back because she's a student with no money for a lawyer, so she begrudgingly deletes her comments, because it's her only option.

Hey CLV: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, you little bitches.

Readers, if you want to give CLV the bird, head on over to their Facebook page and post a comment, or yell at them on Twitter like I did

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Million Dollar Plan To Sell Out In The Most Glorious Fashion

By this time next year, I'll be bathing in whatever the champagne is that they keep going on about in rap songs. I assume I'll be surrounded by bikinis and top-shelf chocolate and other signs of immense wealth.

I've had a few neat ideas in my life. Inventions and cool apps, but nothing I could ever get off the ground without way too much pressure and effort. But this one I came up with the other day, it can't possibly lose AND I already know how to do all the things involved in making it happen, which are: play guitar, and look stupid doing it.

The plan is to combine the two worst things to ever happen to music into an unholy union of shit:


It's so simple even Nickelback has already thought of it:

I know what you're thinking: hey, a country cover of Nickelback might not be too bad. NO YOU'RE WRONG. It will be the worst. The reason is, I'm not going to do the good version of country (ie the stuff my friends and I devote our lives to). No, I'm going new country. The newer the better.

My plan is simple: take Nickelback's greatest hits, play them EXACTLY as is, except add fiddle and acoustic guitars and way more plaid shirts.

It's not that far of a stretch. Us (true) country singers have bemoaned for years that new country is just pop music with a fiddle. The Divorcees said it best, in You Ain't Gettin' My Country Without a Fight:

The way new country songs are constructed these days, the overall feel, they're practically indistinguishable from jock rock or candy pop except for a smattering of fiddle or banjo and the odd reference to a truck.

For my plan the work is already half done; the songs are ready made, I don't have to do anything creative. Just hire a fiddle player, put a band together, and I'm Chad Kroeger except I always play acoustic guitar.

New country fans are stupid. They think that as soon as an acoustic guitar shows up, it's a country song. They looked at this piece of shit and said "Oh neat, Nickelback went country":

So my plan is to capitalize on the stupidity of new country fans and that of Nickelback fans, and rake in the millions. Sure there are overhead costs, namely getting the recording rights to Nickelback songs, but that's a lot easier than you'd think. I don't need their permission, I just need to pay a fee to their publisher and I get the rights. Simple as that.

So this is my plan, and don't you dare steal it because I'LL KNOW that you're ripping me off and I'll come to your shows and boo you.