Archive for November, 2013
30 Nov 2013

A Little More Bach

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That Canon was much too short. We need a somewhat larger dose of Bach here.

How about Maria Stader (1911-1999) doing Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51, the soprano aria from Bach’s Cantata for the 15th Sunday after Trinity “et in ogni tempo” (“and at any time”), with Karl Richter and the Münchener Bach Orchester and recorded in 1959.

30 Nov 2013

Johann Sebastian Bach

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Curtis Lindsay explains what piece of music Bach is holding in his hand in the famous portrait.

This, perhaps the most famous and authentic portrait we have of J. S. Bach, was made in 1746 near the end of the composer’s life by Hausmann. Hausmann was employed as the official portrait painter of the city of Leipzig, where Bach had been living and working for more than 20 years.

Bach holds the complete, very short manuscript for a “Canon triplex a 6 voci,” that is, a triple canon for six voices. A canon is essentially a round, where the voices enter in a staggered fashion, one after the other (think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”). However, in the score, only three voices are indicated (you can see that the score contains only three staves of music). This is curious, since the “a 6” designation is clearly visible in the title. Where are the other three voices?

One might assume that Bach is holding the score away from himself, pointing it toward us, so that we can read it. But look closely at his face, at his mouth. There is a visible tension at the corners—he is suppressing a grin that wants very badly to burst forth. That is because Bach knows something we do not: the other three voices, the missing ones needed to make six parts out of three, are created by simply turning the score upside down, the way Bach would be looking at it in this picture. He grins because he can see the answer right in front of him, hidden from us in plain sight, as it were. The result of combining the written materials with their inversion—combining Bach’s view of the music and ours—is a charming, cheerful, harmonious little groove loop which to me actually sounds like Bach wryly chuckling to himself. …

Bach was an extremely expressive composer, but his musical expressivity has very little to do with the kind that we encounter in Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, or even Mozart for that matter. Virtually everything in Bach’s output is an exercise in taking established procedural rules for music-making and then bending them to his own purposes, often while consciously obscuring from us the means through which he did it, with the added vexing caveat that the stuff has to sound good and be danceable. Bach’s music is onion-like in this idea of layers: not just the actual musical layers of polyphonic imitation inherent in the music itself, but in the aesthetic and philosophical layers of thought and consideration that went into his work. There is always a sense in which Bach is consciously trying (and, in my view, invariably succeeding) at being more clever than we are, at achieving iconoclasm through synthesis and sleight-of-hand rather than a more turbulent or destructive course of action. I think that this comes across in his music, whether the listener is conscious of it or not, and it is quite off-putting for some listeners. There are times when it can become trying or tiring even for me, about as big a Bachophile as you’re likely to encounter at large in the world.

Bach is a continuous stream of process, not a punctuated string of big moments. He never gives us exactly what we want; he is continuously pushing us further back from the goalpost: there is a sense in which his music is deeply human, but also a sense in which it refuses to join us on our own ground, and I think that’s a valid, if perhaps short-sighted, criticism.

Bach is about taking modest means, in terms of materials and musical rules and procedures, and generating the greatest possible variety and scope of results from them, rather like the biological world as understood through evolutionary thinking. He is a musical MacGyver, to be honest. There is something in Bach which will tend to appeal more to those who understand music as a vocation, an interest, or an occupation (in the literal sense) than to those who value music more as catharsis, release or statement. That’s not intended to be a value judgment: it’s just the nature of the music in question, I think.

Read the whole thing.

Via Madame Scherzo.

29 Nov 2013

The Office Refrigerator as Metaphor

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King Prawn, at Ricochet, identifies by metaphor the key distinguishing characteristics of The Public Good.

Whether you work in an office, a shop, or a store, you’ve had this experience. Every break room, lunch room, and food mess has one: the community fridge. The chair I occupied in the lunch room today was right next to one of these things, and every time the door was opened I was reminded of what a perfect metaphor it is for any contrived public good. Let’s review a few of the similarities:

    Everyone uses it whether they like it or not

    No one takes responsibility for its upkeep

    Everyone claims a disproportionate amount of the good

    Individuality and property rights disappear within it (I ate a sandwich named Steve…)

    Unwanted personal items are often abandoned here

    Over time, the condition deteriorates to a completely unsanitary state

    Everyone complains about the conditions

    Everyone expects someone else to deal with the problem

    Eventually those who use it the least end up cleaning the thing out

    The smell never completely goes away

In over 20 years of gainful employment, I’ve never seen a common work refrigerator that did not fit this description perfectly. Every experience I have had with a contrived public good has been exactly the same — be it public transportation, public restrooms, or public recreational facilities. We can now expect the same in our healthcare.

29 Nov 2013

The Polish Forest Is the Final Victor

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JoeMonster.org presents a wonderful series of photographs of WWII weapons and helmets which have become part of the Polish forest.

The Polish language texts reads:

Nature versus war

Looking at these pictures we have no doubt who’s the winner. Nature destroys everything that could hinder its development, even old military equipment.

29 Nov 2013

“Python Eats Drunk Man” Photo Hoax

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Intriguing picture, currently on Push the Movement, but it has apparently been circulating on the Internet for a couple of years with a variety of attributed locations, so the “drunk man” part and the “India” part are almost certainly not true.

Urban Legends:

Depending on which version of the story you read, the overstuffed python above swallowed a drunk guy in India, an unknown woman in South Africa, an unknown man in Qujing, China, a person of unknown gender in Indonesia, or a 4-year-old child in Malaysia.

All of the above can’t be simultaneously true, obviously. The photo, which I’ve not yet been able to trace to a definitive source, has been circulating online for at least two years and more likely than not documents a python digesting a goat or a deer.

28 Nov 2013

Bane of the Liberal’s Holidays: the Racist, Sexist Uncle

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“What do you call an Italian hooker? A pastatute!”

Adam Weinstein (It figures!), at Gawker, tries to console Obama-voting-bedwetters for the holiday prospect of encountering unassimilated-American, politically-incorrect relatives. He suggests that dining with his racist, sexist uncle will make the pillow-biting liberal stronger, if it does not destroy him.

We are nervous about our racist, sexist old uncles.

“America needs Obamacare like Nancy Pelosi needs a Halloween mask!”

We wish they’d go away, letting us enjoy the undercooked poultry and over-sugared ambrosia in some semblance of utopian progressive peace.

But let me tell you why that’s a terrible idea, America. Why you need your racist, sexist old uncle.

First, your racist sexist old uncle focuses your anger on the right things. Let’s face it: As socially liberal as you are, you will always find some reason to freak the fuck out on your family at the holidays. Holidays are stressful. They cost a lot. The weather sucks. The travel is hard. And at the end of it, there is your mother, offering unconditional love and advice on how to care for her beloved grandchild, your obvious neglect of whom has caused the flu in her, and that’s okay, because Nanna has drawn an ice bath with mustard seeds, because that’s how the Amish did it, and it was good enough for them, and of course you couldn’t know that. …

If you had no racist, sexist uncle, these perils would be more immediate. The holiday conversation might border on the minutiae of domesticity — your baby is so big! The yams are so big! Would you like to see Dad’s photos of our big Cozumel cruise? This ancient pyramid with these trinket-hawking natives is so big!

All the time, there would be no acknowledgement whatsoever of the fateful role in our lives played by Obamacare, Benghazi, Trayvon Martin, FEMA camps, the Fed, and those sorority girls with their silly accusations. You might be forced to acknowledge the gaping canyon of nothingness that stands between you and the alien zephyr of life that animates these blood relations, these strange meat sticks whom society holds up as the biological and ethical raison d’être of your person-ness.

Fuck that. Your racist, sexist uncle is throwing you a lifesaver. Don’t let yourself drown in a turbid sea of Updikean suburban malaise. Seek refuge in your racist, sexist uncle’s miasma of burped-up Jameson and slutty Italian jokes, the only thing that broke his six-month catatonia after Wife No. 3 went down the shore to Brigantine and never came back.

He is a sacrificial anode, your racist sexist old uncle is. Absent his intervention, we would be pitted and wasted away by the smaller destructive forces of the holiday season.

But beyond the blessed distraction that he provides you in his grace, your racist, sexist uncle makes you a better person, engaging you in an elaborate staged mimesis of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic. For if there is no racist, sexist uncle, then there is no comparative challenge, no middling standard of ugliness, against which to prove your culturally enlightened nature. Without the counterpoint of his rusted-out V8 Firebird with the “NO FAT CHICKS” bumper sticker, your low-emissions Subaru with the “YES WE CAN” magnet is just another car in the jammed-up driveway.

“What do you call two blacks on one bike? ORGANIZED CRIME.”

Your racist, sexist uncle is the oval track, and you are the sprinter. Your racist, sexist uncle is the bench-press bar, and you are the lifter. He is the open journal, and you are the pen. You are a master of your fate, of the dictates of racial and gender politeness, only because your other family members can see the reductio ad absurdum of their bigotry in your combed-over foil across the table, sitting there stuffed in a disintegrating Bill Blass dress shirt that Wife No. 2 bought him in the now-defunct Wanamaker’s for $8.95.

You sit, a paragon of yoga-loving, organic-banana-mashing-for-the-baby virtue, proving once and for all that, no, Obama is NOT a FUCKING Kenyan, all because he allows you to profess it as he strokes his mustache, the one he calls his “pussy tickler.”

28 Nov 2013

The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving

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28 Nov 2013

A Proclamation

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As published in the Massachusetts Centinel, Wednesday, October 14, 1789

28 Nov 2013

Thanksgiving

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Mike Franc, at Human Events in 2005, identified the real reason for celebration at the first Thanksgiving.

Writing in his diary of the dire economic straits and self-destructive behavior that consumed his fellow Puritans shortly after their arrival, Governor William Bradford painted a picture of destitute settlers selling their clothes and bed coverings for food while others “became servants to the Indians,” cutting wood and fetching water in exchange for “a capful of corn.” The most desperate among them starved, with Bradford recounting how one settler, in gathering shellfish along the shore, “was so weak … he stuck fast in the mud and was found dead in the place.”

The colony’s leaders identified the source of their problem as a particularly vile form of what Bradford called “communism.” Property in Plymouth Colony, he observed, was communally owned and cultivated. This system (“taking away of property and bringing [it] into a commonwealth”) bred “confusion and discontent” and “retarded much employment that would have been to [the settlers’] benefit and comfort.”

Just how did the Pilgrims solve the problem of famine? In addition to receiving help from the local Indians in farming, they decided allow the private ownership of individual plots of land.

On the brink of extermination, the Colony’s leaders changed course and allotted a parcel of land to each settler, hoping the private ownership of farmland would encourage self-sufficiency and lead to the cultivation of more corn and other foodstuffs.

As Adam Smith would have predicted, this new system worked famously. “This had very good success,” Bradford reported, “for it made all hands very industrious.” In fact, “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been” and productivity increased. “Women,” for example, “went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.”

The famine that nearly wiped out the Pilgrims in 1623 gave way to a period of agricultural abundance that enabled the Massachusetts settlers to set down permanent roots in the New World, prosper, and play an indispensable role in the ultimate success of the American experiment.

A profoundly religious man, Bradford saw the hand of God in the Pilgrims’ economic recovery. Their success, he observed, “may well evince the vanity of that conceit…that the taking away of property… would make [men] happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.” Bradford surmised, “God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

The real story of Thanksgiving is the triumph of capitalism and individualism over collectivism and socialism, which is the summation of the story of America.

28 Nov 2013

A Modest Proposal

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Victor Davis Hanson is tired of all our national policy decisions being made by a coastal elite resident in urban bubbles of like-mindedness, far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans.

The problem is not just that the coasts determine how everyone else is to lead their lives, but that those living in our elite corridors have no idea about how life is lived just a short distance away in the interior — much less about the sometimes tragic consequences of their own therapeutic ideology on the distant, less influential majority.

In a fantasy world, I would move Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri. That transfer would not only make the capital more accessible to the American people and equalize travel requirements for our legislators, but also expose an out-of-touch government to a reality outside its Beltway.

I would transfer the United Nations to Salt Lake City, where foreign diplomats would live in a different sort of cocoon.

I would ask billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch Brothers to endow with their riches a few Midwestern or Southern universities. Perhaps we could create a new Ivy League in the nation’s center.

I would suggest to Facebook and Apple that they relocate operations to North Dakota to expose their geeky entrepreneurs to those who drive trucks and plow snow. Who knows — they might be able to afford a house, get married before 35, and have three rather than zero kids.

America is said to be divided by red and blue states, rich and poor, white and non-white, Christian and non-Christian, old and new.

I think the real divide is between those who make our decisions on the coasts and the anonymous others who live with the consequences somewhere else.

27 Nov 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

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Senator Hudak contemptuously rejects a rape victim’s observation that she might have been able to defend herself if she had been carrying her weapon.

Rather than face a recall election, Colorado Senator Evie Hudak has decided to resign. (Town Hall)

After seeing two of her Colorado colleagues recalled over anti-gun votes, Democratic State Senator Evie Hudak, will submit her resignation.

    Hudak will hold a news conference Wednesday morning at the Arvada Library.

    “By resigning I am protecting these important new laws for the good of Colorado and ensuring that we can continue looking forward,” Hudak wrote in her resignation letter in regard to her gun votes, which led to the recall effort.

    Proponents of the recall have until early next week to submit about 18,900 valid signatures to the secretary of state’s office. If enough signatures are valid, Hudak would be the third Colorado lawmaker to face a recall election this year because of her support for tougher gun laws.

Earlier this year, Colorado State Senator Angela Giron and Senate President John Morse, both from blue districts, were recalled and replaced with Republicans.

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27 Nov 2013

First Big Mistake

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Simon Winchester remembers, hilariously, his first major professional mistake.

The victim of the first big mistake I ever made was a gentleman to whom I had never been properly introduced (and whose name I still do not know) but who was possessed of three singular qualities: he was alone in a room with me, he was without his trousers, and he was very, very dead.

Some context might be useful. It was the winter of 1962. I was eighteen years old and had taken a year off before going up to Oxford University. I also had a girlfriend far away in Montreal, and in the superheated enthusiasm of my puppy love, I had promised to visit her. The fact that I then lived in London and she three thousand miles away meant that fare money had to be amassed: I had to get a job, and one that paid well enough to allow me to get away to Canada as quickly as possible.

Hat tip to Fred Lapides.

27 Nov 2013

This Time The Truth

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26 Nov 2013

New Feudalism, California-Style

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Atherton, Calfornia

Charlotte Allen
, in the Weekly Standard, gives her readers a tour of the dystopian future represented by California’s Silicon Valley where left-wing politics goes hand-in-hand with spectacular inequality. The Tech Company owner lives in Atherton or owns, as the saying goes, “his own hilltop in Portola, while the merely upper-middle-class pay $1,200,000 to live in the sort of despicable ranch house equivalent of what a mailman might own in New Jersey. But they both have Mexican illegals to mow their lawns and paint their fences.

“If you live here, you’ve made it,” David Berkey said to me as I rode shotgun in his car two months ago through the Silicon Valley’s wealth belt. The massive house toward which he was pointing belongs to Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google. With a net worth of $24 billion, Brin is Silicon Valley’s third-richest denizen and the fourteenth-richest man in America, according to Forbes. Berkey was chauffeuring me down Atherton Avenue, a wide, straight, completely tree-lined boulevard nicely bifurcating the city of Atherton (population 7,200), located 29 miles south of San Francisco, boasting no commercial real estate, and with a zip code (94027) that was recently listed by Forbes as America’s most expensive.

You couldn’t really see Brin’s house from the car, though—just a swatch of rooftop, maybe a chimney—because the point of the trees lining Atherton Avenue and nearly every other street in Atherton is to hide the dwellings behind them. Where the screens of trees happen to thin, property owners have constructed high hedges, high wooden fences, and high brick walls, so that when you look down Atherton Avenue from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west toward the commuter railroad station to the east, you see only the allée of trees—pine, palms, eucalyptus, sycamore, and juniper—shades of gray-green and brown-green shimmering placidly in the early autumn sun. “This is the Champs-Élysées of Atherton,” Berkey explained. The other thing we didn’t see from Berkey’s car is people, except for the occasional driver on the road. …

Berkey himself doesn’t live in Atherton. He can’t afford to. He’s a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and his wife, Eleanor Lacey, is general counsel at SurveyMonkey, which occupies Facebook’s old startup quarters in downtown Palo Alto. That makes them part of what is known as the “middle class” of Silicon Valley: two-career couples with family incomes in the low-to-mid six-figure-range. They and their two daughters live in neighboring Menlo Park, in what is essentially a modest 1950s tract house, the kind of flat-roofed, three-bedroom, two-bath, sliding-glass-patio-door, under-2,000-square-foot residences, pleasant but not pretentious, that were built en masse well into the 1970s as cheap starter homes, because back then it was conceivable that there could be such a thing as a cheap starter home in the valley. Berkey says his own house is currently valued at $1.2 million.

That’s par for the course. Open on any random day the Daily Post, the throwaway newspaper serving the mid-peninsula, and there will be a full-page ad for a “charming updated contemporary home” in Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Sunnyvale, with its single story, its gravel-topped roof, its living-room picture window, its teensy garden strip running alongside the jutting two-car garage that plugs into the kitchen, its pocket-size but grassy front lawn reminiscent of The Wonder Years—and its 1,216 square feet of living space—all “offered at $949,000.” That’s a bargain for the valley.

Berkey drove us out of Atherton, across El Camino Real, the peninsula’s main commercial highway, and across the railroad tracks past the tiny Atherton station, now part of California’s state-run Caltrain system and a commuter stop only on weekends. We were now in the featureless, nearly treeless, semi-industrial flatlands of Menlo Park stretching eastward to the bay. The demographic change was instant: ¡No se habla inglés! There were suddenly plenty of people on the sidewalks—and nearly every single one of them was Latino. There were suddenly plenty of commercial establishments—ramshackle, brightly painted, graffiti-adorned storefronts with hand-painted business signs mostly in Spanish: “Comida Nicaraguense,” “Restaurante Guatemalteco,” “Carnicería” (pork chops and steaks crudely painted on the walls), “Pescadería” (fish and crustaceans crudely painted on the walls), “Panadería,” “Check Cashing,” “Gonzalez Auto Sales,” “Sanchez Jewelry,” “Check Cashing,” “Arturo’s Shoe Repair,” “99¢ and Over,” “Check Cashing.”

Menlo Park is actually only about 20 percent Hispanic and is unabashedly affluent in its own right, but its Hispanic population concentrated next door to the hedgy scrim of Atherton makes for a startling study in contrasts. No one pretends that the gravel-roofed, shack-size houses in this particular neighborhood are “charming” midcentury modern gems. That would be hard to do, what with the weeds, the peeling paint, the chain-link fences, the chained-up guard dogs, and the front lawns paved over to accommodate multiple vehicles for multiple dwellers. The phrase “the other side of the tracks” has vivid meaning. “Look at the newspaper police blotters, and you’ll see that in Atherton the main reported crime is identity theft,” said Berkey. “Here, it’s break-ins.”

You can laud this underbelly barrio as vibrant immigrant culture or you can decry it as an instant-slum product of untrammeled illegal border-crossing, but it represents an important fact on the ground: These are the people who earn their livings tending to the needs of the high-tech “creative class” that has made Silicon Valley famous. I could see them on Atherton Avenue, the amanuensis class heading up from Menlo Park in their wee panel trucks and Dodge minivans and their Ford flatbeds fitted out with racks for garden tools among the Bentleys, BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses that are the standard Atherton vehicles. They tend the meticulously clipped lawns, flower beds, hedges, and trees of Atherton (Berkey said that it’s not uncommon for an Atherton sentence to begin, “My arborist .  .  . ”). They clean the houses and the swimming pools, they deliver the catering, they watch the children, and they repair the roofs, the plumbing, the balconies, and the wine cellars of the very affluent and the very busy. You might say that across-the-tracks Menlo Park, along with down-market Latino neighborhoods just like it up and down the peninsula—East Palo Alto, parts of Redwood City, the southern end of San Jose—functions as a kind of oversize servants’ wing. It’s safe to say that almost every hotel maid, restaurant busboy, cashier, janitor, retail stocker, and fast-food worker in the valley is Latino.

Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class. Silicon Valley is a tableau vivant of what many economists and professional futurologists say is the coming fate of America itself, a fate to which Americans, if they can’t embrace it as some futurologists hope, should at least resign themselves.

While I was driving with Berkey around Atherton, Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University and author of The Great Stagnation (2011), published a new book, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. There, Cowen bluntly predicted what he called “wage polarization.” The increasing ability of computers to perform ordinary tasks will inexorably transform America into an income oligarchy in which the top 15 percent of people—with skills “that are a complement to the computer”—will enjoy “cheery” labor-market prospects and soaring incomes, while the bottom 85 percent, that is to say, 267 million out of America’s 315 million people, will be lucky to find Walmart-level jobs or scrape together marginal “freelance” livings running $25-a-pop errands for their betters via TaskRabbit (say, picking up and delivering a pair of designer shoes from Nordstrom) or renting out their spare bedrooms (if they have any) to overnight lodgers via Airbnb. That is, if they’ll be working at all. “There are many other historical periods, including medieval times, where inequality is high, upward mobility is fairly low, and the social order is fairly stable, even if we as moderns find some aspects of that order objectionable,” Cowen writes in his new book.

In other words, what is coming is the “new feudalism,” a phrase coined by Chapman University urban studies professor Joel Kotkin, a prolific media presence whose New Geography website is an outlet for the trend’s most vocal critics. “It’s a weird Upstairs, Downstairs world in which there’s the gentry, and the role for everybody else is to be their servants,” Kotkin said in a telephone interview. “The agenda of the gentry is to force the working class to live in apartments for the rest of their lives and be serfs. But there’s a weird cognitive dissonance. Everyone who says people ought to be living in apartments actually lives in gigantic houses or has multiple houses.”

It’s hard to travel anywhere in the valley and not see what Kotkin is talking about.

Read the whole thing.

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