Categories
Musings

Khakis vs. Chinos

(image from dappered.com)

The other day I was shopping for a new pair of pants on Amazon, Frank and Oak, and Bonobos. As I clicked through link after link, hunting for something elegant yet durable (I only buy used jeans at thrift stores, as they are so comfortably, beautifully worn), a horrible realization dawned on me: despite my pretense of being at least somewhat stylish, I hadn’t the least idea of how to differentiate between khakis and chinos.

Consequently, I decided to do a little research, emphasis on the adjective, beginning with the background of both types of pants. As I discovered, khakis and chinos are inextricably intertwined in history, running as parallel as the creases on corduroy.

According to Mr. Porter and Historical Boys’ Clothing, khakis originated when the British army transitioned from scarlet and white uniforms to the stony, dusty khaki uniform, the better to blend into mountainous, desert regions. Given its cheapness, heat tolerance, and durability, the uniforms were made from cotton. And thus the official khaki was born, the word khaki coming from the Urdu word for dust.

(from thehistorybunker.co.uk)

But what about chinos? Chino is a Spanish term for Chinese (confirmed), and once the U.S. acquired the Philippines in the Spanish-American War in the 1890s, China became a major manufacturer of trousers for American troops stationed in the eastern theater. And the name chino gradually came to refer to the tapered pants American troops would tuck into their boots.

Of course, chinos were directly descended from khakis, as they were of similar color and fabric (given that cotton’s properties rendered it useful in tropical climates). And although they were more of a military garb at that time, the World in the world wars eventually made the sight of khaki uniforms and trousers familiar to everyone. ManToMeasure posits that the G.I. Bill was responsible for spreading khakis and chinos in American universities, which then spread into the American way of life, which eventually became substantially influential around the world.

Which leads us to present day, wherein chinos and khakis are sold and classified distinctly. What happened in between?

Well, those original khakis were made from cotton twill, with criss-crossing ridges woven together. No pleat, no fancy ornamentation, merely flat-fronted or tapered pants with a few functional pockets. And chinos were khakis in all but name, originally. However, as time has gone on, ManToMeasure states that chinos are more comfortable and possess fewer pockets than khakis. There is no data in that source to back this up, so I delved into the depths of the Interwebs myself to riddle this out.

(Via sucker4clothes.com)

This is what I discovered: chinos are the slightly more fashionable brothers of khakis, nowadays. What has happened since the GI Bill in the 1940s and 1950s is that chinos, the less-familiar name, were seized upon as the segment of casual cotton pants that could be tinkered with, leading to more tailoring and color experimentation. Nowadays, khakis connote flat-front, un-creased, four-pocketed, light brown cotton pants.

Chinos, on the other hand, although very similar, are more likely to be classified as such when the pants are tapered, slim-fit, brightly colored, or in some other way distinguish themselves beyond the supposedly drab khakis. Hence they are supposedly somewhat more fashionable, according to AskMen.

So there you have it: they’re basically the same, historically speaking, and only differ as a marketing term or classification today. Of course, there are some who claim that chinos differ in the cut of the front, with less overlap between the fly and also fewer pockets on average, but those differences are piddling, and fall under my prior classification.

Categories
Musings

Alt-J’s Weird Sweetness and the Buzzwords of Job Listings

Alt-J performed in the KeyArena at Bumbershoot, a giant venue that, as the keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton put it, “may be the biggest place we’ve ever played in”. I was in the crowd, amid packed flocks of people (most of whom seemed younger than me…or else I look and feel older), during their show.

Alt-J’s genre has been described as reedy rock, or chillwave, or that eponymous label indie rock. But they are more genre-spanning and indefinable, uniting choral harmonies with somewhat atonal, arrhythmic instrumental lines, before submitting more familiar melodies. Joe Newman, the vocalist, determinedly stays high and nasal as he sings what are probably Alt-J’s defining characteristic for me personally – the lyrics.

What’s odd about them is that even though they are weird, they’re ultimately quite sweet. Breezeblocks is probably one of their biggest hits, and it captures this contrast perfectly. The music video is gorgeous, a perfect little dark story of obsession and manslaughter, that ultimately inverts your expectations of the apparently formulaic story by telling the story in reverse. The weird darkness reveals itself to be ultimately sweet. Other songs reference sharks sniffing blood in the water, and draw comparison between that and memories of a lost love.

That flip is what I think drew the crowd to Bumbershoot; just enough of a melody to make it hummable, but enough depth to lend gravitas. Sadly, however, depth doesn’t translate necessarily to a huge, packed crowd. I had the strangest vibe while in the crowd that even as they swayed to whatever recognizable bass and drum combo that occurred, there was a very real lack of connection between the music and the audience.

It wasn’t the artists; Alt-J put on a fine performance. It’s just that their music isn’t quite danceable. It doesn’t need to be, but it felt like the crowd wanted it to be. Rather an interesting disconnect, and one that I have observed more and more frequently while perusing job listings.

They have the same buzzwords across pretty much every industry: “customer obsession”, “ambition”, “compelling”, “data-driven”, “passionate”…I have to give props for Redfin for employing “tenacity”, “grit”, and “fire”.

It is similar to the standard rock that Alt-J inverts, and I think that listings could invert expectations and drum up more interest by doing something similar. Hence I propose these alterations:

“customer allurement”

“gut-rumbling hunger for rewards in this world and the next”

“data-riding”

“reasonably engaged”

 

Categories
Musings

Post-Grad/Syria/Electric Lady/LinkedIn

Given it’s a meme, rather unsure of its copyright, but most likely nonexistent

The 3rd degree contact at LinkedIn is always such a tempting target. Should I reach out through the tenuous thread of relationships to exploit opportunities? How do I do so in such a way that people feel happy to do so? This study appears somewhat relevant. In which case, I should just ask people for help in everything…

NBC News

…which leads me, very tenuously, to an interesting point that arose in a discussion of Syria last night. My father, elder brother, and I were debating as to what the proper course of action was in the whole tragic debacle. My brother opined that humanitarian refugee camps were the only suitable option, as aiding either side could result in another Afghanistan. My dad stated that there was simply a dearth of information. The fog of war obscures too much; were the rebels possibly committing war crimes also? Could the use of chemical weapons be confirmed?

The answer is, of course, that there are no good choices. There are only varieties of thorny, slippery choices, which may very well prove to be wrong in coming decades. I’m of a mind with my brother as the refugee camps being the lesser of these evils; people are desperately pleading for such help, and providing refuge is not something that can breed as much resentment as feeding supplies to one side. It really comes down to who sheds whose blood and by what means, and in that case, the refugee camps seem the best option…

Image from josepvinaixa.com

…I don’t really have a segue here, but the omnipresence of smoldering conflict in the Middle East got me to thinking about other surprisingly long-running things, and I’ve been enjoying this album heartily ever since I got wind of it.

Ms. Monae has steadily built a rather intriguing story-line of human-android society, weaving a tale of rebellion and oppression through soul and R&B while casting a futuristic veneer of electronica and dance. Her vocals are astounding, the production tightly wound, while the genre mash appeals to all of my sensibilities, but in the end, what is most intellectually intriguing is her casting of a future android as basically a civil rights leader. She envisions a dance-filled, fanciful yet serious future wherein androids as human-robot hybrids stand up for their rights.

Whether or not this will actually happen is beside the point. What’s more interesting is that she at least attempts to grapple with some of the ethical implications of intelligent human hybrid life. Ms. Monae is firmly on the side of the androids, drawing directly from the ongoing rights clashes of not only race but also gender in the past few years. That, in the end, is perhaps the album’s only intellectual weakness (although frankly in a dance electronic pop album, I hardly look for intellectual content); she is so firmly android that perhaps she misses out on the chance of hopping over the fence and looking at androids with more skeptical eyes.

Categories
Musings

The Fascinating Depths: Yeezus, Vampire Weekend, and Mad Men Season Six

The experience of looking down from a great height is intoxicating. After all, why do people climb mountains, if not to look down from a great height? (Unless they’re really into sweat and thin air.) Whether literal or figurative, depths are fascinating.

I recall submerging in Lake Chelan’s limpid green waters, ten feet down, and looking out through the cold clear waters as my heartbeat rang in my ears. I recall standing on top of a bridge, peering down at the flowing river far below, and leaping on a sudden whim, even as my breath caught in my throat. It’s a strange fascination…not exactly a death wish, but rather some odd desire to know exactly what depths we can plumb.

And of course, in Mad Men, those depths are nearly all metaphorical. Don Draper has descended to the depths of depression and depravity before, but this season most heavily underlined those themes than any prior. It opened with Don reading Dante’s Inferno on a beach, just to ram that point home. Even though Don grappled with crushing depression and alcoholism in season four, and prior seasons saw suicides and deaths, this season was even darker, not merely in its portrayal of a nation reeling in the dark late 60s, but also because the darkness pervaded every area of Don’s life.

He tried to be an attentive father and husband in season five, while balancing professional demands, and yet he wasn’t able to pull it off. Throughout the sixth season, Don failed his marriage, failed his children, failed in his work, and even failed in his latest extramarital fling. And yet, in the penultimate episodes, he had to explore the depths even further. Don had to blow work off and take his colleagues’ sacrifices and his place for granted. He had to betray his friend and canoodle with Mrs. Rosen once more in an attempt to rekindle his savoir faire, and consequently fail his daughter more grievously than ever before.

These dark depths are seductive, especially when lived vicariously. It’s no coincidence Mad Men and Breaking Bad, two of the most powerful and compelling shows on TV right now, both explore evil in a very realistic world. Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner know that building a narrative in which we are slowly, almost blindly led into seeing exactly how easy it is to do terrible things, into the depths each of us is capable of sinking to, is how to play to the intoxication of depths.

It took several listens (heck, I’m listening to it right now) for me to realize that was Yeezus‘ appeal also. It’s a different kind of depth; after all, it’s not as if Kanye is capturing his darkness. Rather, what Kanye West seems to be doing with this hasty, intriguing record is plumbing the depths of his imagination, creativity, and audience.

Why did he rush the album through production, and throw in vocals haphazardly? Some critics have guessed that the sound matters the most, or that it’s simply Kanye’s experimentation or boredom with the radio and his own public image. I think some of those are close to the truth, but what’s even more important is that the haphazard nature of the album speaks more to someone who’s rooting out the closet just to find what’s in there.

Tracks like ‘I am a God’ and ‘Blood on the Leaves’ showcase West’s self-absorption at its most self-aggrandizing, and also his deep urge to address racism…while also conflating such issues with his own past heartbreak. He then mines obscure sounds and throws it all together in Yeezus (which really is best listened to as a whole album rather than singles) in an exploration of his creative depths and those most potent, latent, rooted themes that have pervaded all his work.

Rummaging around in the depths is what also makes Vampire Weekend’s latest album, Modern Vampires of the City, intriguing. These themes are extremely religious and relationship-centric. ‘Ya Hey’ and ‘Diane Young’ focus on heavy Biblical themes and doomed relationships, tying together philosophical musings along with the fundamental realities religion grapples with. The depths may not be ego-centric and culture-heavy as those in Yeezus, but they are creative, personal, and spiritual depths all the same.

In the above link Koenig speaks of how he sees this latest album as dealing with more adult issues, which is virtually the essence of true depths. Once you’re a grown-up, the amount of damage you can inflict on not only yourself but others is astronomically greater than the flailing of even the most petulant ten-year-old. Once you’re old enough to grasp how far you can fall is precisely when the depths become most fascinating.

Another critic (the name escapes me, sadly) mused that Yeezus is Kanye’s clean-up record, his method of dealing with all the issues of previous albums, before he embarks on fatherhood. I have no idea whatsoever, but all I know is that the album sounds like someone determinedly creating a meal with whatever was left in his pantry that looked good.

But in the end, the depths are most fascinating because they are what we hope to eventually ascend from to the heights of our dreams. The sixth season concluded with Don’s realization that he simply couldn’t achieve what he wanted if he built everything on a lie (just a snippet of excellent analysis of Mad Men by Todd VanDerWerff which was invaluable to my understanding of the season). Yeezus ends with a cheery chorus and repeated assurance of “Uh-huh honey”, while Modern Vampires of the City overall packages its most disturbing lyrics in its second-catchiest tune, ‘Unbelievers’.

Plunging into the depths wouldn’t be nearly as fun if we couldn’t climb back up on the bridge, or eventually kick our way to the surface, and climb back out into the sun.

(All images are reproduced from non-licensed material, I believe. My dad’s a lawyer; I was trained to exercise due diligence.)

Categories
Musings

Random Thoughts on Humility Nowadays

The oddest of all virtues, to my mind. It exists to be unnoticed, when it is truly successful. And as for its popularity, one could look around the plethora of articles and rambles decrying the self-absorption encouraged by the advent of social media, personal gadgets, and so on (here’s an example from the Atlantic). The articles are interesting, although often quite unintentionally humorous; in fact, almost as humorous as the consequent denials. 

And one could argue that the rise of self-expression coupled with the increasing access to avenues of such self-expression, along with a comfortable cocoon of friends as your audience, could lead to self-absorption getting a free pass. But I’m not so sure. After all, it’s not as if this is anything quite so new. As I said before, humility is unpopular. It’s the least appealing of all virtues, even less so than temperance (I had to go get a Boatswain Double IPA just upon the mere contemplation of temperance). Self-absorption, whether or not it is now even more observable due to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, what have you, always has been around. We’re just seeing more of it, as before it existed only in people’s heads.

Now, lest I fall into the category of people who claim it’s all right, I think the above article has a fair point. The unprecedented increase in the ability of people to draw crowds in virtual realities has never happened before. And I’m sure my self-regard has not been damaged by the preening profile I often present on Facebook.

But is a virtual reality really that effective in establishing a narcissistic bubble that can be sustained in human interactions? The neurological synapses can be fooled by chemicals inspired by online interactions (think pornography or interactive flash games), but can consciousness, really? By this I do not mean that I think arrogance, or lack of humility, can NOT be amplified by self-absorption online. I just happen to think that a combination of that, and the opposite, which is the exposure to numerous other perspectives and opinions online (even in a close circle of friends) may make the narcissistic or even self-absorbing effects rather ambiguous.

Plus, there is already a sizable backlash in mental attitude toward online self-absorption among my peers, and even younger age groups. Having an online profile may be somewhat necessary, but immersion is the mark of the unsavvy (which, according to Google, isn’t a word, but it should be, so there it is). Self-awareness, I’d argue, is the prime characteristic inculcated by my peers’ attitudes toward online absorption in this age, along with a desire to manage personal image to not the most popular configuration, but to a reasonably appealing one.

And that self-awareness, sadly, is not humility. (It often can be, but from personal experience, I am all too aware that being self-aware does not lead to humility…just because you can see your terrible haircut does not mean you acknowledge how bad it makes you look.) It involves doing what everyone does on a daily basis – try to be someone they want to be, especially in public – but it is not the realization and acceptance of personal flaws.

Which is what humility is really all about, right? And why it’s the least popular of all virtues. It’s obscenely difficult. I have to detach myself from my actions and not only think about the mistakes I have made, or am likely to make, but accept that I will probably make some anyways. And I have to be at peace (there HAS to be a better word for “be at peace” in English than that vaguely clunky phrase, but I do not know it) with that fact. So, not easy, whatsoever.

And, hypocritically, I may go on to add it really is a sad thing that there’s not more of it. Being able to admit you were wrong, and that you are capable of making mistakes, for example, is something that is justly admired in a politician (usually after they are dead), on rare occasions. I wish that I had that option on my tests every time I take a test (actually, I have written that down, on one occasion, but it rankled greatly). If bankers and financial pundits could admit they did not know what was going on, but this was their best guess; if we could admit that we make mistakes, being human, and thus risk should be spread around as much as possible; if institutions that depend on a few human choices could willingly proclaim their ignorance and caution…well, that institution would probably go underwater, human nature being what it is.

Perhaps in this information-soaked age, it’s hard (for me, at least, especially as I’ve cultivated a reputation of knowing things – ah, those subtle, sinister effects of successful successive bar trivia nights) for those who feel they SHOULD know because the evidence of what they should know is so easily obtained, to admit they don’t. Reputations are ultra-fashionable suits: they wear very well for the season, but can become tiresome, difficult to wear, or anachronistic quite quickly.

On the other hand, reputations, when best fashioned, really are the classic black suit. They never go out of fashion, and while they may need to be taken out or in, they are about as timeless as an article of clothing can get. Humility may not always be fashionable, but it’s timeless. Even if not very appealing…because, let’s face it, other qualities are much more marketable. Strength, honesty, prudence, even temperance (in an increasingly health-conscious age)…

Well, I forgot chastity. Never mind, humility is always more appealing than that.

Categories
Musings

More to come, shortly.

Currently figuring out how to edit the CSS/HTML and add some nifty things with newfound coding skills. Hence the delay.