Monday, January 18, 2021

o to be a blogger

1. Today Kamala Harris officially resigns her Senate seat prior to taking office as VP on Wednesday. I'm anticipatory too.

2. Ben Sasse actually called Marjorie Taylor Greene "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." I thought I was the only person who still said that. Sasse is 15 years younger than I; I'm surprised he remembers those ads. Will he warn us of "Danger Will Robinson" next? I have never seen that line quoted without a common reaction of "huh?"

3. Oh, come on. I know Joe is better than the last President, but ... a halo?

4. If the last guy pardons the rioters, that will really bite. But perhaps not, since they only rioted for him, they didn't give him thousands of dollars.

5. His most notable and characteristic lies. When it's said you cannot trust a word that man says, it's meant literally.

6. But he is not the only politician to suffer mouth-diarrhea. Lip-synch parody of Andrew Cuomo.

7. Le Guin is on a stamp! And for a single representative scene from her work: Estraven and Genly on the ice. I guess that'll do. Too bad it's a 3-ounce stamp: how often does one need one of those?

8. Recovery of lost music from WW2 by a Polish composer.

9. I know it's not charitable, but I'm kind of relieved that this guy is gone.

10. Dept. of Isolating Even More: It's time to stop even masked errands. OK, I've been worried about this since last month. Oh, and cloth masks were only intended as an interim solution until they could distribute something better: that I didn't know.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

English suites and others no. 31

This is the continuation of a series I was keeping for several months a couple years ago, starting with 20 favorite suites by English composers and then going on to a few that were Celtic and then French. Now it's time to move on to other countries, and the outstanding Italian suites have to be Ottorino Respighi's three sets of Ancient Airs and Dances, ideal examples of the neoclassical penchant for retelling older music in modern instrumentation. Here you will hear pieces originally by Fabritio Caroso and Jean-Baptiste Besard and such historical names.

The Ancient Airs and Dances get played a lot, particularly on radio, but if there's one of the sets that gets overlooked it's No. 2, so that's the one you'll get here, from the LA Chamber Orchestra under Neville Marriner.

The movements are Laura soave (0:00), Danza rustica (3:51), Campanae parisienses & Aria (7:32), Bergamasca (12:41).

Friday, January 15, 2021

Janáček's Capriccio

Excuse the interruption, but I've just found a recording I've been looking for for nearly 50 years.

It's a particular performance of Leoš Janáček's Capriccio for piano (left hand) and wind/brass ensemble. This is the performance I first encountered the work in, way back then, and despite its spiky modernism I was captivated, much as I was by other Janáček works like his famous Sinfonietta.

But being unable to find a copy of this recording of the Capriccio for my own, I turned to other recordings of the work, and found they didn't have the particular blend and balance of instruments, and the ensemble and flow of this performance. Eventually I gave up.

Suddenly it occurred to me to check YouTube and I found it had recently gone up. It's single-channel mono (I'm pretty sure it was stereo when I heard it before) and scratchy, but it's the right performance at last. I don't expect anyone else to like this as I do, but here it is: Leonid Hambro, piano, with the Boston Brass Ensemble conducted by Eric Simon, in the Capriccio by Leoš Janáček:

Thursday, January 14, 2021

impeachment notes

So I was reading the Congressional Record for impeachment day (PDF), and, besides the comment from Rules Committee chairman Jim McGovern about how he started out on Capitol Hill as an intern working for Senator George McGovern - "No relation. Great last name." - I was most interested in the speeches for and against the impeachment measure and the report that enabled it. So many representatives wanted to speak that the floor manager lined them up in alphabetical order and gave them 30 seconds each, which was not usually enough time to get past denunciations of the riot.

Most of the Democrats said the same thing - they denounced the riots and said therefore we must impeach - but the Republicans had a few points. One frequently deployed argument was that yeah, the riots were terrible, but what we need now is unity and healing, not recrimination. This was effectively responded to by Mike Quigley (D-IL), who said, "Never, as a criminal defense attorney, did I say: Judge, yeah, my guy completed the armed robbery, but let's heal now. No. There was accountability. There was accountability then, there should be accountability now, and there should be impeachment now."

Brian Mast (R-FL) asked what he intended as a rhetorical question, was there any evidence that rioters had come to Washington because Trump encouraged them to do so? An article in the Washington Post answered that: Yes.

But the strangest Republican argument was an attempt to somehow delegitimize the impeachment by claiming that Democrats have something against Trump and have been trying to impeach him since he took office. The usual response to this one was to point out that Democrats, as a group, voted those early attempts at impeachment down. They said that because at heart they're timorous beasties, just like Republicans. They should have said, "Yes indeed, we have something against Trump," and then said what it was with something like this:
The millions of Americans who understood this Presidency from its first day as a national emergency, a threat to domestic and global security, can be excused for finding it curious that so many are now taking the exit ramp for the road to Damascus three years and fifty weeks later. How surprising can Trump's recent provocation be when for years he has served as an inspiration to bigots everywhere, to damaged souls plotting to mail pipe bombs to journalists and to kidnap the governor of Michigan?
This dawning of conscience is as bewitching as it is belated. The grandees of the G.O.P. always knew who Trump was - they were among the earliest to confront his most salient qualities. During the 2016 campaign, Ted Cruz called Trump "a pathological liar" and "a snivelling coward." Chris Christie described him as a "carnival barker." Mitch McConnell remarked, with poetic understatement, that Trump "doesn't know a lot about the issues." And Lindsey Graham warned, "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed." He added, "And we will deserve it." (David Remnick, New Yorker, 1/18)

it's giving me nightmares

What a strange dream. I dreamed I was attending the electoral vote count of 1825 - how I got there I don't know. All the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were there (there were a lot of them that year) and all the then-living ex-presidents. But I didn't like the way some of them were smirking at me, so I got angry and stole some of the electoral vote certificates when nobody was looking. I stuffed them down my trousers and then hid them under the turf representing California (which wasn't part of the US then, so I don't know what that was doing there) at the other end of the hall. Then I went away and waited for the next day's newspapers to come out to find out if they noticed anything was missing, while worrying how I was going to explain this to B. and how I was going to write about it on my blog.

Dreams are incomprehensible, but sometimes reality is incomprehensible also.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

from the original tape

A couple months ago, B. was cleaning out some of her stuff and handed me a couple of thin square boxes. They contained the recording of her senior recital when she was a voice student in college. It had been preserved on a pair of reel-to-reel tapes, but who has a reel-to-reel tape recorder? In over 40 years, B. had never heard herself do this. Could I see about getting these transferred?

I thought I could. I found a small local firm that does audio transfers and has a good rating, and filled out my order online for a CD transfer. It said at that point it would probably take about 4 weeks, which would make it just in time for a Christmas present. It was pretty expensive, but I knew it'd be worth it.

Then I had to label the tapes and take them to the firm's office, which was tucked away close to the morticians' office that handled my mother's funeral, about 15 miles from here, and handed them over in a proper socially distanced manner that had been outlined on the web site.

It was when I got the invoice by e-mail that I found the formal ETA was seven weeks - I guess they were busy - so without saying what it was I told B. at Christmas that the arrival of her present had been delayed.

So I got the notification a couple days early that it was ready, went and picked it up, and played it in my car's CD player on the way home and then out later, taking notes of the time stamps when the pieces started. There had been copies of the program with the tapes, but the audio people of course didn't know what would be on the tapes; they just made one CD track for each tape. Then I typed up an insert with all the program info and the time stamps, and put it in the case, wrapped up the result, and gave it to B. after dinner.

She was thrilled and listened to the whole thing. The transfer was excellent and the sound quality turned out to be good. (I had suspected noise reduction wouldn't be necessary, and am now glad I opted to omit it.) B. sang a large chunk of a Bach cantata,* song sequences by Mussorgsky (in English) and Poulenc (in French), and as a final treat a French opera aria which you may have heard: it's this one. The program was interesting to hear: I thought she did very well for a student, though this was about a decade before we met, and her voice had matured in tone quality a lot before I heard her sing. Anyway, now B. has heard herself, and we have it in a nice little accessible form.

*Well, not quite. B.'s teacher chose this piece because it's one of the two times Bach set lyrics in Italian, only it turns out he didn't. It's misattributed and is actually by G.P. Telemann. (The other one is also misattributed.) By the way, nobody has told Wikipedia about the authorship problem, but I'm sure not going to.

Monday, January 11, 2021

anniversary of the day

Ahem: "Fifty years ago — on Jan. 11, 1971 — journalist Don Hoefler started a three-part series in Electronic News about the Bay Area semiconductor industry titled 'Silicon Valley U.S.A.'" Hoefler hadn't invented the name, but this was the first time it was used in print.

It took a while to propagate. I'd already been living in Silicon Valley for a decade at the time, but it took yet another decade before I heard the name, though by then I was already well aware of its manifestations. I knew people who were early employees at Apple, for instance, because they were also science-fiction fans as I was. But though I'm electronically enhanced in a way - I'm the librarian who took away your card catalog and replaced it with a computer database, literally so in the case of a couple local colleges - I've never worked for a tech firm, though I had a narrow escape or two.

The linked article says that Silicon Valley is now so famous that people know where it is who couldn't find San Jose, the largest city in the area, on a map. I'm not so sure about that, or at least that it's always been this way. Silicon Valley was already as famous, and not nearly so tattered in reputation, in the mid 1990s as it is today, and that's when I was visiting a Brit who, on my mentioning an association with the place, hauled out an atlas and asked me to point out exactly where Silicon Valley was, anyway.

I defined it, at least then, as a concept rather than a place, but it did have a geographical location, and I identified that as the contiguous area where electronics seemed to be the principal industry: centered on the area just west/northwest of San Jose (Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino) and radiating as far NW as Redwood City, to the north to Fremont, and to the east and south through San Jose to its far-side fringes. Living as I do now in Sunnyvale directly on the Cupertino border, half a mile from both the old Apple hq and its new spaceship, I'm still right in the middle, but that doesn't mean I can get a good cellphone signal at home.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

another 48-hour Shakespeare play festival

Silicon Valley Shakespeare does this annually: giving teams each with 4 actors, a writer, and a director 48 hours to write and rehearse a 10-minute skit based on a given Shakespeare play and employing a given premise, each different for each skit, and then perform them before an audience when the 48 hours are up. I've seen these before, and they can be pretty funny.

This year, of course, they had to be done over Zoom, and all eight were performed live as we watched them, so the premises were also all pandemic-based. Rather brilliantly, most took the characters and concept of the play and translated them to a contemporary setting, so the Zoom was integral to the plot and not just to the performance; a couple even threw in references to Wednesday's coup. Strangely, two of them were about cooking competitions, and a third also mentioned food: Macbeth as a corporate virtual happy hour meeting, with Mackers trying to hide what he'd been doing over at Duncan's place, pretending that the red stuff on his hands was cranberries he'd been crushing for juice by hand. "I like it tart," he says. "You know, in Scotland we don't sweeten things, we tartan them."

That was the most groanworthy line of the evening, and Max Tachis, the writer, also earns points for creative use of the chat function, having M. and Lady M. exchanging messages about the murder plot that they don't realize aren't private and the other characters can see them.

Better still was Ross Arden Harkness's "Blow Zoom and Crack Your Cheeks," in which a modern Lear convenes his daughters (all excellently characterized) online to tell them the terms of his will, but his Zoom feed keeps freezing at critical moments, so they can't figure out what he's telling them. (Rather than actually attempting to freeze the feed, the actor playing Lear just stopped talking or moving and then cut his feed. It worked well enough.)

But the best of all was "The Scourge of Verona" by Anne Yumi Kobori, initially a comedy but which turns into a tragedy when Juliet's father murders Romeo for possession of the last roll of toilet paper in the city. The Nurse, played by a man in falsetto, was especially good, but what made this play particularly outstanding in the bunch was the author's ability to write much of her contemporary dialogue in Shakespearean verse form.

I voted for those two in the audience poll, and I guess others agreed because they won the poll. But everything was at least interesting. A good evening "out" and the most refreshing I've had in a while.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

quasigrecian thoughts

1. I rarely listen to podcasts, so the link text on a Slate advice column one, "My co-worker changed their name to something that sounds like a private part," will have to remain a mystery. What could the name be? Dick?

2. Speaking of which, the prompt identifications and arrests of Lectern Man, Viking Helmet Man, and Dick-Pointing Man are minor but gratifying follow-ups to Wednesday's disaster. May they have long spells in small locked rooms to contemplate their brief moments of glory.

3. B's reaction to the whole thing has been to dig out our recording of Sondheim's Assassins and play that as her choice of music while washing dishes.

4. I was planning on making a post out of judicious quotes from the Congressional Record by the senators in the election debate - I was most struck by Mitt Romney's "No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters, particularly when the President will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth" - but collecting an assemblage seemed beside the point now.

4a. But what I do want to draw attention to is a House speech by Chip Roy (R-TX). In opposing the challenge to the results, he said that he was taking this stand despite his profound disagreements with those who, he said, "wish to remake America into a socialist welfare state." And he embarked on a short list of his policy disagreements, which all reminded me of right-wing caricatures rather than what progressives really stand for. I suspect I know where he's getting this guff from. I lack the dedication to go after them all, but there's one I particularly want to draw attention to. Roy said, "We can't even agree that there is man and woman." And by gum, there it is, British-style TERFmania, projected from the mouth of a conservative Republican congressman in the U.S. It's the notion that the existence of trans people erases the difference between the sexes, when in fact it reinforces it - if there were no sexes, what would be the point of transitioning? - that really gives the flavor.

5. Our local paper has a transportation q-and-a column called "Mr. Roadshow," very useful for its info on road closing and repairs, driving tips, and so on, but sometimes it goes off-topic. The latest was a fierce argument over whether it's insulting to address women of age as "young lady." The defenses rather sounded like the infamous John Wilson, H.R. Haldeman's lawyer, who muttered that Senator Inouye was "a little Jap," and claimed that there was nothing wrong with saying that because he himself wouldn't mind being called "a little American."

5a. Anyway, a more agreeable digression in the Mr. Roadshow column was Mrs. Roadshow's recipe for shrimp with pasta. It looked about my speed, and we had all the staple ingredients already in stock, so I bought shrimp and made it tonight. Delicious, another addition to my repertoire.

6. Speaking of buying, the great tension-maker of our weekly grocery pickup order is the bag of kale. B. uses this to make salads for lunch, so we buy a 10-ounce bag every week. The problem is the expiration date. Kale goes bad (the technical term B. uses is "stinky") a day or two before the date marked on the bag (something it has in common with seafood, which was responsible for my bout of food poisoning a couple months ago, and nothing else), so if we get a bag that's got a week or less to go, it'll go bad before the next shopping. There's room for special comments on the order form, but these are not always seen by the pickers. What I've taken to doing is submitting a second weekly order to another store in the chain, one we ceased using regularly because their customer service is spotty, and ordering the kale again if we need it (along with anything else the first store was out of, and various items this store carries but the other doesn't). So far we've been lucky with this method.

Friday, January 8, 2021

DT agony-stes

I must say it's kind of awesome watching what seems like the entire known universe rising in revulsion against the Giant Orange Slug. For nearly five years now we've wondered what it would take to break the spell of this monster, as he committed one tone-deaf atrocity after another. But as with Nixon and the "smoking gun" tape, there turned out to be something beyond the pale, and directly inciting a seditious terrorist coup to attack the Congress for the formal proceedings of certifying the electoral vote, plus gloating afterwards as if he'd done something really nifty, turned out to be it.

Shall we have impeachment, resignation, the 25th? All kinds of previously unlikely officials, including some Republicans, are signing up for one or another pathway, falling over themselves in their eagerness to get him out before another two weeks can pass. He's been permanently banned from Twitter. A university that awarded him an honorary degree decades ago has rescinded it. The Joint Chiefs have been asked not to let him blow up the world (a similar request was made about Nixon). His enablers have been caught up in it as well: Hawley lost his book deal; Democrats have demanded that he and Cruz resign. The rioters are facing felony murder charges for the death of the cop they clocked over the head with a fire extinguisher. (That's the least of what they deserve.) And so on.

It goes on and on, and I've seen nothing like it since the final act of Watergate. Like then, we've narrowly avoided something truly awful, so the reaction is hardly disproportionate. As with Meghan McCain suddenly realizing that parental leave is a good idea after all, it took people long enough to realize the magnitude of the problem, but it's welcome once it's come.