From the monthly archives:

February 2012

Some questions for Elsevier

by Henry on February 21, 2012

NPR ran a good piece on the Elsevier saga before the weekend. I found one part of the broadcast particularly interesting. A director of Elsevier, Alicia Wise, makes the case for Elsevier as follows.

We have full-time scientific editors, who are mediating the peer review process, and finding editors, and finding reviewers, ensuring those reviews are returned on time. They also are tasked with ensuring that the published articles are bias free. … publishers are doing more work, they have more submissions, and we are incurring the costs of ensuring that peer review and quality control happens.

According to NPR, Wise acknowledges that Elsevier has done a poor job communicating with academics, and has been going online to engage with Elsevier’s critics. I hereby invite Dr. Wise to do so in the comments section here (we are online after all, and a reasonably visible blog) to provide specific answers to a few focused questions. Commenters should feel free to add more questions of their own, but I do ask them to maintain minimum standards of civilty so as to promote debate &c&c.

(1) Which aspect of keeping the academic publishing process ‘bias free’ drove Elsevier’s decision to take drug company money to repackage articles supporting these companies’ products in ways that explicitly suggested that these packages were real academic journals? It’s all very nice that Elsevier’s CEO has expressed his ‘regret’ that this ‘took place’ (rather in the same way that he might have expressed sorrow at an earthquake, a monsoon or a similar natural calamity beyond his control), but did he do anything to reaffirm Elsevier’s stalwart commitment to bias free research, such as e.g. firing the executives responsible?

(2) In a recent Science article on how journals put pressure on academics to cite work previously published in these journals (so as to bump up the journal’s impact factors artificially), four of the five worst journals were Elsevier publications. How does this comport with Elsevier’s purportedly ironclad commitment to quality control and elimination of bias in the peer review process? Skeptics might hypothesize that things have not improved as much as one might like after Elsevier was forced by public outrage among scientists to take action in the notorious “Journal of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals” case, in which an obscure journal managed to become the highest-impact journal in mathematics, thanks in large part to generous, indeed exuberant, levels of self-citation (which were, however, very plausibly not the product of coercion on the part of its editor, who was the co-author of many of the pieces involved).

(3) Why is it that Elsevier obliges libraries buying its products to sign non-disclosure agreements so that they can’t tell anyone what they are paying for their journal bundles without getting sued? Cynics might see this as a textbook example of a semi-monopolist doing everything it can to engage in price discrimination. But perhaps there is an entirely innocent answer.

I would be delighted to see Dr. Wise respond to the particulars of these questions (vague and generic restatements of corporate goals and policies will be greeted with rather less enthusiasm). There is much that remains unknown about Elsevier’s internal processes of decision making, and how they have brought this corporate publishing behemoth, and the academic publishing industry that it has sought so assiduously to reshape) to the state that it is now in.

James Poulos’s Illogic

by Rich Yeselson on February 20, 2012

James Poulos posted a much commented upon essay in The Daily Caller the other day, entitled, “What are Women for?”

Poulos has a kind of oracular and circuitous prose style (takes one to know one), and it’s sometimes hard to understand exactly what he’s trying to argue.  And sometimes oracular devolves into just terrible and weird writing as when he intones, “The purpose of lifting the left’s Potemkin skirts is not to score tits for tats.”  Um…I lost him between the skirts, the tits and the tats, and I don’t even want to know where he ended up.

But, allowing for his affectedness, Poulos is actually up to something at once deeply derivative and banal, yet astonishing in the residual, reactionary power he brings to it. For evidence, see this second “response to critics” essay of his.   The argument–once Poulos has dispensed with some pretty tedious “plague on the right and left (but mostly left)” throat clearing–comes down to this: he thinks that women are closer to nature because they are able to give birth, i.e they have a “privileged relationship to the natural world.” And, therefore, “what they are for”, as he argues in the second essay (which is actually the more lucid of the two) is to civilize those who “fill up the world with stuff — machines, weapons, ideologies, and so on — that often objectifies and instrumentalizes people, and often distracts us from its own sterility as regards fruitful human living.” That would be men. After all, as he says in essay one, “a civilization of men, for men, and by men is no civilization at all, a monstrously barbaric, bloody, and brutal enterprise.”

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Unequal Childhoods

by Harry on February 20, 2012

Laura (from 11d) at the Atlantic on Annette Lareau:

Jonah, did you ask your French teacher about why you got that B on that assignment? At 5:00 p.m. today, you have an orthodontist appointment. We’ll pick up Thai food on the way home and then you’ll finish your English homework. Don’t forget to put a book cover on your essay. A book cover always bumps a grade up half a point. Your dad can check your math when he gets home. Do you want tofu in your green curry or chicken? Ian, do you want noodles?

Every once in a while, you step back from yourself as a parent and say, “Dude! Did I actually just say that? I used to be cool. Did some alien take over my brain and turn me into this Mom Machine?” No crab-faced alien can be blamed for transforming me from a slacker in a black dress into what I am today. According to sociologist Annette Lareau, I’m a product of my social class.

The rest here.

This reminds me that I should long ago have alerted you all that the second edition of Unequal Childhoods was published in September. The new edition has a number of additions; including a follow up study of where the children were a decade or so later (none of the outcomes are very surprising, I’m sorry to report, but the details are fantastically interesting), and a riveting and uneasy reflection on some of the methodological and ethical issues with doing a longitudinal ethnographic study, describing the families’ reactions. Lareau gave copies of the first edition to each of the families after it was published, and, predictably, many of them read it and, equally predictably, about half were quite upset about the way they were portrayed. One family refused further contact — I was rather pleased with myself for being able to figure out, when she told me about this, which it was. In fact, the predictability of their reactions is a tribute to the first edition; the adults turn out to be the very people who were displayed to us 10 years earlier; witness Mr. Marshall’s response (cheerful disbelief when told that some of the families were upset: “It complimented everyone!”). This new chapter (14) should be required reading in all graduate level social science methods courses, and I have used it very fruitfully with undergraduates already. Interestingly, some of the families shifted their attitudes to the book over time. One middle class boy gave his father a copy of Outliers as a gift, which made the father better disposed to Lareau. One story is especially poignant, though also hopeful. Like several others, Mrs. Yanelli was annoyed at the way that her family had been portrayed feeling that it “looked down” on and was “highly critical of her family”. But her attitude changed:

Mrs Yanelli cleans the home of a Sociology professor I know slightly. One day he happened to be home when she was cleaning. She saw that he had Unequal Childhoods on his bookshelf. She told him she was in the book, and described how disappointed she and her family were with the book. Later, when I called the Yanelli’s…Mrs Yanelli told me he had “explained” the book to her , saying it was about things that were not right with society, with some people having more than others. She said that he had “made her” understand the book, and now she and her family were “fine with it”.

Things I have learnt from and about IVF

by Maria on February 18, 2012

Encouraged by Belle & Tedra’s recent posts, and just loving Jim Henley’s recent comment:

“I’d just like to say that all the ladyblogging about ladyparts and ladyissues only of interest to ladies around here lately has been awesome. I’m learning a lot from it”;

I’m going to share some observations as I near the end of my third round of IVF.
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So, what would your plan for Greece be?

by Daniel on February 16, 2012

Reading the media and blogs, it seems to me that left and right are united in the view that the Greek default is being handled appallingly, that the current attempts at a solution are childishly obviously wrong and that everything is the fault of someone, probably the Germans. My own view – that it is not at all clear what the direction of policy is, and that although I don’t agree with the troika plan, it’s recognizable as a good-faith plan made by conscientious international civil servants working under unimaginably difficult political constraints in an economic context that was irreparably broken before they got there – is, as always, unpopular.

I don’t have a solution myself – the more I end up discussing this with people, the more I am reminded of the London Business School proverb taught on some of the gnarlier case studies, which is “Not All Business Problems Have Solutions”. So, CT hivemind, what do you think the best outcome is? Below the fold, I note some talking points, aimed at preventing our commentariat from falling into some of the pitfalls and mistakes which appear to be dominating debate at present. Because the whole issue is a twisty turny maze which at times seems to consist of nothing but false moves, I am presenting it in the form of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. I would note at this stage that I could probably have presented it in a funky HTML way rather than making you scroll up and down, but I have convinced myself that this is a feature rather than a bug – the medium matches the message here, because international debt negotiations are cumbersome, inconvenient and irritating too. Also, it is probably easier than it needs to be for readers to end up at the wrong paragraph and get a confusing jumbled narrative which bears little resemblance to the decisions they thought they’d made. Again, this is a crucial part of giving you the authentic international financial diplomacy experience.

I will have another post on this in a few days (more realistically: in a week). But for the meantime, I’d be very interested if CT readers would play the game below and let me know, in comments, where they ended up. And also, if having ended up there, they were left with a strong feeling of having been bamboozled into something they didn’t really want to do.

Update: It is no longer literally impossible to reach #50 (and therefore #15 and #21). I don’t think this was a popular path, but sorry. Thanks to “M” and “Vasi” for noticing.

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Good to see that the discussion of NTT faculty is spreading far and wide in the blogosphere. OK, let’s see what people are saying. Outside the Beltway, <a href=””>James Joyner doesn’t think much</a> of the MLA recommendations for per-course wages for NTT faculty. (He also refers to me as the “newly installed” president of the MLA**, perhaps because my only-somewhat-violent usurpation of the post from former president Russell Berman was payback from NATO for my support of the Libya intervention. They told me I could take Tripoli or the MLA, and naturally, I went where the oil is.) Joyner writes:

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I think all you pretty much need to know about the alternative directions Mitt Romney’s possible presidency might take can be distilled into four words:  “Democratic party”, uttered in an interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace from December of last year, and “Democrat party” spoken just a couple of weeks ago on CNN to Soledad O’Brien as part of his already famous, “I’m not concerned about the very poor” episode.

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Rich Yeselson guestblogging

by Henry on February 13, 2012

Rich Yeselson will be writing a couple of guest-posts for us over the next couple of weeks. Formerly an organizer with Change to Win, Rich is the smartest public intellectual that you’ve probably never heard of – his work prevented him from playing a public role, but hasn’t prevented him from being a crucially important person in all sorts of less public conversations, brokering ties between the worlds of labor organizing, electoral politics and intellectual debate. First up, a take on Erving Goffman and Mitt Romney …

I’m amazed by the turns this issue has taken. I posted about it two weeks ago. My post had problems. Among other things, I slighted legal issues to focus on what I took to be really going on, motivation-wise. This was because I took the legal issues to be relatively clear-cut. Obviously, for Scalia-endorsed reasons, you can’t just give everyone the private right to nullify any public law, piecemeal. Religious liberty doesn’t mean that. But, apparently, it does? [click to continue…]

Further adventures on Intrade

by John Quiggin on February 11, 2012

As I mentioned last time I wrote about my adventures on Intrade, I’m sceptical of the claim, a special case of the (semi-strong version of the) Efficient Markets Hypothesis, that the odds in betting markets provide the best estimate of the probability of political outcomes. I managed to double my small stake betting on Newt Gingrich, and might have made more if I had not overestimated the efficiency with which the Republican electorate processes information. I sold on the news of his work for Fannie Mae, and thereby missed the peak of the market when he won South Carolina.

Having made my point and learned a bit about the practical operation of markets, I meant to cash out my winnings, but that turned out to be a complicated process, and I couldn’t resist another flutter. Rick Santorum was trading at 100-1, and while I didn’t think much of his chances, those are pretty good odds in a four-horse race, especially one with no particularly attractive candidates.

He’s now 17.9 per cent (nearly 4-1 in the old language, if I recall it correctly), so I’ve now made a pretty substantial gain. There’s a bit of a cognitive consistency problem here – I didn’t really mean to make money backing Santorum, so now I need some suggestions as to an appropriate use for the money, one which would offset any damage done by backing him when he was down where he belonged. Orientation can be US, Australian or global.



The Dog Ate My Homework

by Maria on February 9, 2012

Subtitle: Frank McNally is a Genius

This is too good to just post a link to on FB or Twitter or even that Tumblr I started with such earnest hopes for the unleashing of my strangely bounded creativity. In a column worthy of the Irish Times’ old contributor, Myles na Gopaleen, Frank McNally lists the History of Ireland in 100 Excuses.

It’s almost impossible to cherry-pick because half of the fun is the cumulative effect, and the other half is they’re so damn funny. Still and all:

1. Original sin.

3. The 800 years of oppression.

9. It was taught badly in schools.

10. The Modh Coinníollach.

25. We only did it for the crack.

72. I must have had a bad pint.

80. The money was only resting in my account.

86. The banks were throwing money at us.

90. The Welsh just seemed to want it a bit more than we did.

As they say, words to live by. My sister Eleanor suggests we use it as the rough draft of our next report to the Troika.

More about adjuncts

by Michael Bérubé on February 8, 2012

So my first month as president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) has turned out to be surprisingly eventful. After receiving my very own gavel with my name on it and being given access to the nuclear codes,** I returned home from the convention in Seattle to write the president’s <a href=”″>welcome letter</a>, the letter <a href=””>announcing the theme for the 2013 convention in Boston</a>, and my first (of four) newsletter columns (soon to be found in an MLA Newsletter near you, and of course on the MLA Web site). I then began the rigorous training regimen required for chairing the two-day meetings of the MLA Executive Council (February, May, October), which includes drinking egg-white smoothies and punching enormous hanging pieces of tofu in the MLA’s icy soy locker.

Then in mid-January, Executive Director Rosemary Feal and I decided I should attend the January 28 <a href=””>summit meeting</a> of the <a href=””>New Faculty Majority</a>, whose tweets I had been following on the Twitter machine. (I finally activated my account. Yes, I have a Twitter account. But I’m still not joining Facebook, now more than ever.) Washington, DC is one of the few places I can visit on short notice from my remote mountain lair, and the NFM is a group Rosemary and I want to work with during my presidential year and beyond — trying to get the US higher education apparatus (starting with the American Association of Colleges and Universities) to take seriously, and to ameliorate, the working conditions of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty. So attending the summit, together with MLA Director of Research David Laurence, made all kinds of sense.

I reported on the summit for <a href=””>Inside Higher Ed</a>, and then posted a longer (though not Holbonian — merely 2500 words) <a href=”″>director’s cut</a> on the MLA site. Rosemary and I then Tweeted these things to the Twitterati.

And here’s where things get interesting.

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The US News College Rankings Scam

by Henry on February 8, 2012

“Stephen Budiansky”:, via Cosma Shalizi’s Pinboard feed.

bq. Back in ancient times when I worked at esteemed weekly newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report, I always loathed the annual college rankings report. Like all cash cows, however, the college guide was a sacred cow, so I just shut up about its obvious statistical absurdities and inherent mendacity. As a lesson in the evils of our times, it is perhaps inevitable that the college guide is now the only thing left of U.S. News.

bq. A story in today’s New York Times reports that Claremont McKenna college has now been caught red handed submitting phony data to the college guide to boost its rankings. But the real scandal, as usual, is not the occasional flagrant instance of outright dishonesty but the routine corruption that is shot through the whole thing. … To increase selectivity (one of the statistics that go into U.S. News’s secret mumbo-jumbo formula to produce an overall ranking), many colleges deliberately encourage applications from students who don’t have a prayer of getting in. To increase average SAT scores, colleges offer huge scholarships to un-needy but high scoring applicants to lure them to attend their institution. (The Times story mentioned that other colleges have been offering payments to admitted students to retake the test to increase the school average.)

bq. … One of my favorite bits of absurdity was what a friend on the faculty at Case Law School told me they were doing a few years ago: because one of the U.S. News data points was the percentage of graduates employed in their field, the law school simply hired any recent graduate who could not get a job at a law firm and put him to work in the library. Their other tactic was pure genius: the law school hired as adjunct professors local alumni who already had lucrative careers (thereby increasing the faculty-student ratio, a key U.S. News statistic used in determining ranking), paid them exorbitant salaries they did not need (thereby increasing average faculty salary, another U.S. News data point), then made it understood that since they did not really need all that money they were expected to donate it all back to the school (thereby increasing the alumni giving rate, another U.S. News data point): three birds with one stone! (I gather the new Case law dean has put an end to these shenanigans.)

Worth reading the whole thing (even though Budiansky’s site has one of those annoying and anti-social ‘if you cut and paste text from my site, you will get unasked for cruft about how you ought to click on the original link added to your pasted text’ installations).

IUDs: Secretly Awesome

by Belle Waring on February 8, 2012

Having gotten music all over the blog, I am now going to cover it with human blood. Intrauterine devices, whether copper only or with a progestogen-releasing cylinder, are actually the most common form of reversible birth control in the world. Most of the users are in China, however (2/3 according to Wikipedia). In the U.S., IUDs suffered a fatal blow to their reputation when the defective Dalkon Shield was released, causing at least 7 deaths and many septic abortions. It was pulled from the market in 1974, but the damage was done; as a girl I was never even informed about IUDs as a method of birth control.

That wasn’t totally unreasonable because they are less effective for women who have never given birth vaginally, being more likely to be expelled. I think there was also a misguided consensus that you couldn’t dilate a woman’s cervix enough to insert the device unless she had previously given birth. Today, as I understand it, manufacturers produce a smaller size to solve this problem.

I was on the pill for about 10 years. I always had trouble with it, experiencing breakthrough bleeding (basically you get your period twice a month, no thank you) and other various side effects including, in my opinion, exacerbation of depression. I got switched around to more types than I can remember in an attempt to find one that was acceptable.

Here’s what’s great about the copper IUD: no hormones! The copper makes your womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg, for reasons that I think are still somewhat unknown. So, maybe an egg is fertilized, but it can’t attach itself and begin appropriating resources to build a placenta. I’m not sure whether this counts as baby-killing to the anti-abortion crowd; probably yes, even though the definition of getting pregnant involves a fertilized egg implanting itself in your uterus. Not just, you know, hanging around briefly. (Do these people really think when they go to heaven they will be vastly outnumbered by the souls of fertilized eggs who failed to implant and were washed away during menses? That’s going to be some boring conversation right there. Will those little dudes be casting down their teeny, tiny golden crowns around the glassy sea? I call bullshit; I don’t think anti-abortion people believe that at all.)

Insertion of the device does hurt. It only takes a few seconds, though, and then you don’t have to do anything about it for several years. The main reason women have the device removed it that it causes heavier bleeding during their period. My experience was that this was (dramatically!) true at first, but that my body then adjusted.

Obviously the IUD does nothing to protect you from STDs. But it’s not competing with condoms in this area, it’s competing with the pill. Pregnancy rates are lower when using IUDs than when being on the pill, probably because it’s very difficult to be a perfect pill user. Guys may think it sounds easy: you take one a day, end of story. But sometimes you forget if you’ve taken it or not; actions repeated so frequently have a tendency to blur together. Or you end up staying out super-late and crashing at your friend’s place. In theory you’re meant to add condoms to the mix at that point until you start taking a new set, but in real life people often don’t bother. Part of the appeal of the IUD is that you don’t have to do anything.

My only jealousy now is of the new pills where you only get your period 4 times a year. That would be great! Let’s face it: getting your period is a pain. There’s blood everywhere! Who needs it? It’s true that it can be the most welcome sight in all the world, when you have been sitting there thinking you might be pregnant, and wondering what the hell to do about it. And suddenly these is a cadmium red solution to all your problems. Otherwise: lame. So, ladies, IUDs are great and you should consider them.

UPDATES: One commenter notes that although we don’t know how the IUD works, it seems to work primarily by inhibiting fertilization, and only secondarily by preventing implantation. So we all win, including the little dudes with the tiny crowns. Another commenter who survived a pregnancy while his/her mother was using an IUD wants me to point out that this is a possibility, and that grave birth defects can result. This is true, and something my doctor mentioned to me. The failure rate is incredibly low, but if the IUD does fail the consequences can be very serious for the developing fetus (if not fatal before the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is more likely).

More Congas, Less Crime

by Belle Waring on February 7, 2012

Answers to Questions No One Asked Me, Part 1 of n+1 where n > or = 0
Belle, what’s go-go music? Many a time I have heard that question not asked by someone moving to the DC area, or not asked by a person who hasn’t heard about go-go and knows I went to high school in DC. I have failed to be asked this question on literally countless occasions. That’s all over now. Go-go is a distinctive sub-genre of music popular only in the DC metro area (including Baltimore). It has always been dance music (as in “Going to a Go-Go”) and has always relied on this one beat. As far as beats go it sounds a distinctly Latin one, but there’s no Latin influence on any of the rest of the music ever. Wikipedia claims that “unique to Go-Go is an instrumentation with 3 standard Congas and 2 “Junior Congas”, 8″ and 9″ wide and about half as tall as the standard Congas, a size rare outside of Go-Go. They were introduced to Rare Essence by Tyrone Williams aka Jungle Boogie in the early days when they couldn’t afford enough full sized Congas, and are ubiquitous ever since.”

Yeah OK, but Chuck Brown, with or without The Soul Searchers, is considered the “Godfather of Go-Go,” did everybody change their kit later? And do all mostly black musical sub-genres have to have someone named “Brown” be the godfather of them? And “it was because they couldn’t afford bigger congas” has urban legend written all over it. Anyway, yeah, a whole bunch of congas and bells and whatnot. The only time a white DC audience ever heard that many drum solos was when Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” concert was in town. (Before Randy Rhoads died in that tragic plane accident at Ozzy’s ranch. Who knows what magic might be flying off the fretboard of his distinctive “Flying V” right now. I’ll tell you all about my deep, deep love of “Tribute” and how I cry when I listen to “Goodbye to Romance” another time.)

Yeah, anyway, why two Rare Essence songs? OK, they’re my fave go-go band. But also I think this shows the evolution of the genre from something like funk to an intriguing version of hip-hop backed with live percussion and horns. It has continued to evolve, and is still popular in the DC metro area despite never making it anywhere else. Well, that’s not quite true, in that the music has been heavily sampled for other hip-hop songs which are then, perforce, go-go.

This is ye olde skuel, “Body Moves.” It’s special because it includes the DC slang word “sice” in the call and response at the end. “Sice” is more or less entirely equivalent to “psych,” (I’m siced for this party!) but can’t be negative (you can’t “sice someone out.”):

Back in the crack epidemic years go-go clubs were the site of lots of crime and shootings, and since the DC City Council is a bunch of morons, they decided to solve this problem by banning certain clubs from playing go-go. Ha ha pretend. NO RLY! One wonders whether, if such a club were to play, say, Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (not that it would be a good idea, mind you) whether the club would be in violation, since the main loop is a sample from Chuck Brown’s “Busting Loose.” (Notice Chuck saying “give me the bridge now,” in 1978, that’s the oldest song I know that does that.) “It’s go-go!” “But it’s just a sample. It’s as if there are invisible quotes around the go-go that make it safe!” I could imagine the liquor license board debates getting pretty metaphysical. Next up is Rare Essence’s most popular ever song. It even made it to Yo! MTV Raps, as you can see (video way worth watching).

It is a testament to how not gentrified parts of DC are that I still don’t know where the hell Montana or Minnesota Avenues is. They’re getting the shout-outs, I assume they’re in S.E., but damn, that’s a lot of not knowing shit about your hometown. Go-go’s just weird in that none of its practitioners have ever hit the big time, even though it’s more or less next to New York. Even little old Savannah, GA has had more success in this regard (Outkast). I was originally going to defend disco from its detractors in the Don Cornelius thread who complained there was only one beat and the bass could never stray, and that was bad, by showing a) the bass can walk all over the damn place, and b) no harm in having generic constraints. Do you hate Loleatta Holloway and the SalSoul Orchestra, I intended to ask? Do you hate dancing (N.B. there is a go-go break in that song, “212 North 12th St.”)? Do you hate life itself? Then I got distracted. Squirrel! What? John insisted on the title. Brought to you by Stuff White People Like.

DISTURBING UPDATE: People born on the day Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” was at #1 are old enough to comment on youtube now. I mean, I know stray dogs comment on youtube, but still. Possibly more disturbing: I have a sweet-tooth weakness for this song.

NOT PARTICULARLY DISTURBING AT ALL UPDATE: If you find the openly proffered go-go unpalatable, then listen to the more funk-like Chuck Brown track linked above. You will probably like it more. If you like funk, which you probably do, because it’s funk, and all.