Memorial Day   (2016May30)


Monday, May 30, 2016                                            11:50 AM

Last night PBS aired the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC—and all weekend long there have been war movies on TV—I just watched one of my favorites on TCM—“Sergeant York” (1941). An uncredited portion of the soundtrack contains “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” (by James Milton Black, 1892) sung in church at the beginning of the picture. Afterwards at the piano, I guess I mixed it up in my mind with (“Give Me That”) “Old-Time Religion”, another traditional gospel song from 1873.

ELD 064My dad is in this picture somewhere–he served in Korea after boot camp, and made it home safe.

Anyhow, I decided to improvise on that, since the soundtrack of the movie had those themes woven into the music. I began by trying to pick out the tune, but if you can get past that, I think it turned out alright in the end. I’m remembering the fallen today—have a safe and happy Memorial Day, everybody.

The Weather—and Joseph Henry (2016May27)


Friday, May 27, 2016                                               9:21 AM

Yesterday was very warm—up in the eighties—and last night everyone turned on their air conditioning to go to bed (at least that’s how I figure it) and the power went out. Whatever the actual cause, though, we did have candles and cell phones from 9:30 PM until just before midnight. Once I got over being upset about it, I had a lovely time lying in the dark with the cross-breeze coming through the window—quiet, until the neighbors revved up their generators (I keep meaning to get us one).

There’s so little quiet in modern life—I miss it. That’s one of the great things about parks and trails and such—they don’t just preserve the wildlife, they preserve the quiet, too. Here on the Eastern Seaboard it’s become impossible to find total silence. My older brother moved to upstate New York for some years, back in the eighties—way out in the woods, far from any town—and a good ways from his nearest neighbors. But all he heard all summer long was chain-saws—and he was building a house himself, which was hardly silent. Even completely undeveloped places still have planes flying overhead or highways heard in the distance.

What is sometimes referred to as the Bos-Wash Megalopolis may not be the center of civilization, but it’s certainly in the top three concentrations of civilized development—and silence is not the only thing it has lost. It’s lost its darkness as well—New Yorkers who travel to the high desert out west, or down south to the Caribbean, will find themselves dazzled by the star-crowded sky enjoyed when the ambient city street-light isn’t washing out all but the brightest heavenly bodies.

Our water disappeared too—well, the clean water. It’s hard to imagine all the factory waste and sewage needed to make the Ohio River flammable—and even the mighty Hudson, despite Herculean efforts to clean it up, is hardly a crystal stream. Even the Great Lakes (and they don’t call them ‘great’ for nothing)—can you imagine how much crap we had to dump to pollute all five? It strains the imagination.

Diversity is another victim of civilization—this part of New York State once boasted bears, wolves, wildcats—and carrier pigeons so numerous as to block out the sun when a flock flew overhead. Not that I’d want to meet a bear or a pack of wolves in my front yard—but that’s what’s supposed to be here—that and so much more.

On the occasion of Joseph Henry’s death, he was memorialized at Princeton, where he had held a professorship prior to heading up the Smithsonian Institution in DC. I provide a link to the full article, but I wanted to show you some of my favorite quotes from this eulogy for my favorite historical figure:

https://books.google.com/books?id=Dk4tAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA139&num=19&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 21

‘Memorial Discourse by Rev. Samuel B. Dod–delivered in the College Chapel, Princeton’

‘As a student of science he was ardent and enthusiastic in his love for the chosen pursuit of his life. He did not dally with it as a pastime, nor prosecute it with the greed of gain, nor pursue it with the ambition of making himself famous among men.’

‘He was characterized by great reverence in the pursuit of truth. Singularly modest as to his own powers and attainments, he never suffered the advancement of his own opinions to warp his judgment or govern his investigations; he held the progress of truth dearer than the success of a theory. And nothing moved his gentle nature to greater indignation than the pretensions of the charlatan or bigot in science.’

‘He says, when put on trial for his character as a man of science and a man of honor, “My life has been principally devoted to science and my investigations in different branches of physics have given me some reputation in the line of original discovery. I have sought however no patent for inventions and solicited no remuneration for my labors, but have freely given their results to the world; expecting only in return to enjoy the consciousness of having added by my investigations to the sum of human knowledge. The only reward I ever expected was the consciousness of advancing science, the pleasure of discovering new truths, and the scientfic reputation to which these labors would entitle me.” And verily I say unto you, he hath his reward.’

‘As an investigator, Professor Henry was characterized by great patience and thoroughness in his work of observation, and by broad, well-considered, and far-reaching generalizations. He distrusted the so-called “brilliant generalizations” with which those favor us who love speculation rather than study. He never took anything for granted, never despised the details of his work, but carefully established, step by step, those data on which he based his conclusions. In 1849 he says, “Since my removal to Princeton I have made several thousand original investigations on electricity, magnetism, and electro-magnetism, bearing on practical applications of electricity, brief minutes of which fill several hundred folio pages. They have cost me years of labor and much expense.”

A letter from Joseph Henry is appended by the Rev. Dod to this memorial discourse, in which Henry describes the outline of his work inventing the telegraph many years before Morse. Robert Morse, using tech developed for him by an associate of Henry’s, filed a patent for his ‘invention’, the telegraph—without having ever studied electricity. This is, to me, doubly devilish due to the prior instance, in which Michael Faraday and Henry discovered the principle of electro-magnetic induction almost simultaneously, with Henry, if anything, getting there first, but never given any share of credit.

Henry describes his legal fracas with Morse, explaining that he never wished to profit from his invention, and thus never applied for a patent, preferring to maintain the dignity of science. As he writes, “In this perhaps I was too fastidious.”—talk about an understatement. To end the discussion, he says, “To Mr. Morse however great credit is due for his alphabet, and for his great perseverance in bringing the telegraph into practical use.” To which we modern readers of this note may insert the implied ‘asshole’.

It is interesting to note in the story of early industrial-era science the concomitant birth of legal scrambles for credit which evolved into today’s battles over ownership of intellectual property. The Constitution mentions intellectual property in Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Then there was the Patent Act of 1790, followed by the Patent Act of 1793 (between which only 55 patents were granted). But by the Patent Act of 1836, 10,000 patents had been granted. The Patent Act of 1836 was remarkable in creating the first Patent Office. It is no accident that all this legal and legislative activity coincided with the development of steam power and electro-magnetic technology. New inventions have always been looked back upon fondly for their elevation of the human condition—but there wasn’t a one of them that wasn’t also an immediate cash cow—and thus a bone of contention as well.

That Henry failed to perceive this is an example of the old dichotomy—a man with exceptional scientific insight rarely displays the same insight into human nature. There can be little doubt that Henry was a good man—but he was at a loss in dealing with lesser men.

It always seemed to me that the human brain confronts each of its child owners at some point, asking them if they want to observe what’s really happen in the universe, or if they want to observe the ritualized dance of what society perceives as happening—you can’t have both. But maybe that’s just me.

Higglety-Pigglety   (2016May25)


Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               12:21 PM

Pete’s late—looks like no jam today. And I just got my microphone working! Oh, well. Oh, wait—maybe he comes at one, instead of noon? I can’t remember—maybe he does. Damn this swiss-cheese brain of mine.

Well, Jessy is expecting—which is great. Spencer is working on historical fiction for gamers (I’m not really sure—something like that) and he asked me for some medieval music examples recently, for research—he’s started up gardening and mowing, now that spring has sprung—which is also great. And Claire—well, as usual, Claire is unbelievable—life-drawing classes almost every day, a watercolor painting-tutorial day at the Botanical Gardens recently, and a drawing class in Katonah once a week. (She’s really becoming a phenomenally able graphic-artist). And that’s all beside the daily (at least) trips to the gym—and her ongoing work on her resume for her dream-job. Plus, she takes care of me, Spencer, and the house (with her other hand—ha ha).

So, let’s see—Claire was a prize pianist and music student in her youth, raised two toddlers as a young adult, got her Bachelor’s in computers and worked for an online-encyclopedia company during her programmer phase, then took care of her dying husband so well that the bastard never died, then went for her Master’s in occupational therapy, got in shape with pilates, yoga, and the gym, started drawing lessons—and is about to get a new job in her new OT career, at the same time as becoming a new grandmother. Lazy—that’s Claire—she’ll be sixty in a couple of years—and what will she have to show for it? Some people.

I used to have a life—boy, those were the days—but that was so long ago I can hardly remember what it was like. Okay, it’s one-twenty now—even if Pete was coming at one, he’s late now—looks like no jam today. Guess it’s time to go watch TV. Damn. Well, there were new movies on the menu yesterday—I hope one of them is worth watching.

Son of a bitch—Pete’s here!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               6:20 PM

Okay, Pete came—we had a great session—then he had to go home—and I had a cheeseburger—now I’m just editing the video—and writing a blog about the political news of today.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               8:41 PM

Okay, the best thing in the new movie listings is Zoolander II—hardly inspiring, although I’ll probably watch it. Ben Stiller really makes me laugh—when he isn’t making me puke—I think his masterpiece, “There’s Something About Mary”, redefined the boundaries of good taste in a comedy film—and it’s something of a genre these days. I can take that stuff, up to a point, but my gross-out limit is a very low bar.

I’ve gotten my rough cuts of the jam session edited—three improvs and a medley of eight Burton Lane tunes. The first improv sounded to Pete like calypso music, but I thought it sounded more like I was having a fit, so I call it ‘Calypsis’.

The other two improvs came out real nice—me in my best voice, I felt. You decide. One, “Either Way”, is three minutes, the other, “Twilight of the Gourds”, is a minute and a half—but still, all told we got about 32 minutes of video for the day—not too shabby.

Let’s talk about our Burton Lane songbook-covers video—first and foremost, none of this is Pete’s fault—he just puts up with my eccentricities. And, yes, this is some pretty sloppy piano-playing. But there are some moments of interest—and we did have fun joking around. If it were just me, I’d probably have second thoughts about posting this—but with Pete there, it’s still pretty entertaining, most of it. So, listen, don’t listen—either way, you’re right.

Thursday, May 26, 2016                                          11:38 AM

Afterword:

Last night I had my choice—sleepless, or sleep with nightmares. I finally got a few hours of shut-eye, but now that I’m up, my back is killing me. Which all goes to show that I had more excitement and fun yesterday than this old carcass is prepared to deal with. That’s a bad thing, kinda—but it’s also a pretty good thing, if you think about it. It’s not like I don’t get occasional nightmares and backaches—without having any excuse at all—and a good day is a good day, regardless of tomorrow.

While We’re Young (2016May25)


Wednesday, May 25, 2016                                               6:20 PM

I saw a couple of things on the news that I’d like to discuss.

Hillary got spanked today by the State Department—but like the Supreme Court Justice non-hearings and the Benghazi blame-a-thon, the whole e-mail-server debacle could have been handled far more swiftly if competent people had had any hand in it. There was no earthly reason for all this stuff ‘just happening’ to pop up right when her presidential campaign rounds the home stretch. But the GOP has always been more concerned with the timing of their accusations than with their probity. Now, onto whether she actually did anything wrong.

Here we get a display of ingenuousness you won’t see every day—according to the State Department, Hillary did, in fact, do wrong. That she did exactly what her predecessors did is hidden in the back pages—or, as the State Department likes to put it: ‘If she’d asked us, we would have told her no.’ The implication that Hillary Clinton has to ask the State Department to do its job doesn’t seem like a weird idea to them—though it does to me.

Plus this whole business is about new tech. It reminds me of when I was a young programmer—I coded computers for almost two decades, but when I tried to get a new job, I wasn’t qualified because I didn’t have one of those new IT degrees. The fact that there were no such majors, or degree programs, until the nineties didn’t signify for anyone but me, I guess.

To accuse Hillary Clinton, who’s even older, of high crimes because she didn’t use new tech right—well, that’s something only the GOP would think to do. Emails are not mentioned in the Constitution—they didn’t even exist until a decade or so ago. Pretending that there are hard-and-fast rules about them, that only Hillary Clinton is guilty of a faulty ‘tech launch’—that’s pretty effing precious, don’tcha think?

But I’m not too worried about Hillary—her opponent is still laughable. It is only Trump’s supporters who are scary—the man himself is a joke. The idea that there are enough stupid people in this country to elect him is terrifying—but he still makes me laugh. He’s like a first-grader that managed to steal a grown-man suit, and is fooling everyone.

But back to the GOP—words fail, ya know? GOP officials in eleven states are suing President Obama’s administration over the new transgender bathroom-law issue, saying it’s a ‘social experiment’—like that’s a bad thing, by definition. I guess they forget that America was the original social experiment.

I’ve listened closely to their arguments for opposing transgender bathroom rights (wondering how anyone could seriously object without exposing their bigotry) and their main tactic is a subtle bias in the use of the word gender, as if that word still has two, and only two, meanings. Well, that and the usual BS about how they need a century or two to wrap their heads around any new idea. (‘While we’re young, people!’—as my dad used to say.)

Their insistence on repeating things like ‘one gender or the other’, or ‘boys and girls’—it’s just their way of insinuating that all this new gender-identity stuff is airy-fairy foolishness. In today’s political climate, they hesitate to say that, plainly and aloud (as if we don’t know how they feel) but they strain themselves mightily trying to say it without actually saying it. NC Governor McCrory practically injures himself with such contortions—he’d be hilarious if he wasn’t so revoltingly forked-tongued.

President Obama’s election should have put an end to excessively bigoted comments in the media—but it didn’t. The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage should have done the same—and it didn’t. I don’t just resent the ugliness of such people—I resent that they drag us all backwards. Racism has been ruled on, repeatedly. Gay rights have been ruled on, also repeatedly. It’s fucking over. Get on the bus, or stay home—don’t parade your idiocy around like it’s a political platform. We grown-ups have got shit to do.

TV Day   (2016May24)


Tuesday, May 24, 2016                                            2:42 PM

As a retired citizen, I enjoy the luxury of the occasional TV-day. Today was a pip—partly cloudy with showers—and check out Turner Classic Movies’ line-up for today:

6:15 AM  musical      Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

Synopsis: Fictionalized biography of George Gershwin and his fight to bring serious music to Broadway.

Rhapsody in Blue is a story that is as enchanting as the music of it’s central character, the legendary George Gershwin. Robert Alda plays the talented composer in this moving… More

D: Irving Rapper. Robert Alda, Joan Leslie, Alexis Smith, Oscar Levant, Charles Coburn, Julie Bishop, Albert Basserman, Morris Carnovsky, Herbert Rudley, Rosemary DeCamp, Paul Whiteman, Hazel Scott. Hollywood biography of George Gershwin is largely pulp fiction, but comes off better than most other composer biopics, capturing Gershwin’s enthusiasm for his work, and some of his inner conflicts. Highlight is virtually complete performance of title work.

 

8:45 AM  drama        Song Without End (1960)

Synopsis: Musical genius Franz Liszt betrays his lover to court a married princess.

A music-filled bio drama examining the stormy life and career of renowned Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, whose scandalous love affair… More

Dir: Charles Vidor Cast:  Dirk Bogarde , Capucine , Genevieve Page .

 

11:00 AM         drama        Song of Love (1947)

Synopsis: True story of Clara Schumann’s battle to save husband Robert’s health and resist the romantic overtures of Johannes Brahms.

The intertwined lives of the three musical legends form a Song of Love a sumptuously produced and skillfully played biopic set to 11 musical pieces that include Schumann’s Arabeske… More

D: Clarence Brown. Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Robert Walker, Henry Daniell, Leo G. Carroll, Gigi Perreau, Tala Birell, Henry Stephenson. Classy production but slow-moving story of Clara Schuman (Hepburn), her composer husband (Henreid) and good friend Brahms (Walker).

 

1:00 PM  musical      Till The Clouds Roll By (1946)

Synopsis: True story of composer Jerome Kern’s rise to the top on Broadway and in Hollywood.

D: Richard Whorf. Robert Walker, Van Heflin, Lucille Bremer, Dorothy Patrick, many guest stars including Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, Tony Martin, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, June Allyson, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Virginia O’Brien. Soggy biography of songwriter Jerome Kern uplifted by song numbers featuring some high-powered MGM talent. Highlights include Lansbury’s “How D’Ya Like to Spoon With Me,” Lena’s “Why Was I Born?,” Judy’s “Look for the Silver Lining,” and mini-production of Show Boat.

 

3:30 PM  musical      Song to Remember, A (1945)      (70th Anniversary)

Synopsis: The famed composer Chopin sacrifices everything, even love, for his native Poland.

Cornel Wilde plays Frederic Chopin in this richly detailed bio-pic which highlights the famous composer’s relationship with the unconventional author George Sand (Merle Oberon)…. More

D: Charles Vidor. Cornel Wilde, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Stephen Bekassy, Nina Foch, George Coulouris, Sig Arno. Colorful but superficial biography of Chopin (Wilde) with exaggerated Muni as his mentor, lovely Oberon as George Sand; good music, frail plot.

 

5:30 PM  musical      Great Waltz, The (1972)

Synopsis: Musical biography of Johann Strauss, the man known as “The Waltz King.

Dir: Andrew L. Stone Cast:  Horst Buchholz , Mary Costa , Rossano Brazzi

 

Not that I watched all of it—and some of these films are already familiar to me from frequent viewings—it’s just nice to know that I can retire to the TV at any time of the day and watch a nice old classic. TCM has plenty of days when they focus on different themes that I love less—so I enjoy it when they serve up a heaping helping of schmaltz—preferably with lots of music. Katherine Hepburn emoting her way through Clara Schumann’s ‘life’—can you beat that for schmaltz? “Song Of Love” is also notable for perhaps being the film with the most actors spending the most time pretending to play virtuoso piano.

I get diminishing returns from TCM these days—partly from becoming over-familiar with certain classics, and partly from TCM broadening its repertoire to include a lot of movies that have historical, even artistic merit—but are still pale shadows of whichever classic film they are a descendant of. I use to watch any movie TCM put on, if I hadn’t seen it before—but sometimes they get into a theme like ‘noir’, which I can only take so much of. And the ‘silents’, while majestic, some of them, take a certain mood to appreciate—and I’m rarely in that mood at midnight.

TCM is the ultimate example of how one movie can be watched repeatedly, like eating comfort food—it doesn’t entertain so much as soothe the soul. Examples (for me) include: “I Remember Mama”, “Dark Victory”, “Casablanca”, and “Random Harvest”. I could list others all day. Other movies I like to catch at ‘the good part’, but I rarely sit through all of.

As I watch the new movies that appear on my On Demand menu, I’m struck by how a new movie, by and large, doesn’t call for a second viewing. In fact, I often have trouble remembering if I’ve watched some new movies—the experience was that unremarkable, even after paying for the privilege. But a really good movie—that’s something else again—it’s a mystery. A mystery that I’m sure Hollywood would love to solve. I bet it’s something that the crew and lesser players could tell them—it’s probably something to do with the interaction of the players. But then again, a good story is essential—like I say—it’s a mystery.

Monopoly   (2016May23)


Monday, May 23, 2016                                            11:32 AM

What is improvement? If we get too extreme in bodybuilding, we become muscle-bound, unable to move about as easily as someone who doesn’t exercise. We often comment that there is a thin line between genius and madness—and the competition to be the ‘smartest’ puts college students at risk of nervous breakdowns and suicides, as well as brilliant careers. Business executives who perform at their peak can easily succumb to ‘burn-out’ in the same way.

Success and wealth for a parent rarely translates into success for their children—being raised wealthy robs them of the struggles that tempered their parents’ steel. More lottery winners go broke or have life crises than the rare few who survive being made instantly rich.

Extremes are dangerous—even little extremes can be unsettling. If I have a pile of books I’m looking forward to reading, I get confused about which book to read first. I think they call that ‘rich people’s problems’. Not that I’m in the one-percent—but I am, like most Americans, fabulously wealthy compared to any third-world citizen. And the existence of ‘rich people’s problems’ itself is proof that ‘improving’ one’s lot in life can be more accurately described as acquiring different problems.

But I don’t wish to oversimplify—one of ‘rich people’s problems’ is that other people are poor. This makes Charity an exercise in which rich people, with ‘rich people’s problems’, try to help people with poverty problems. Notice how charity never consists of simply handing poor people money. It’s an ‘if you teach a man to fish’ thing—rich people don’t see redistribution as a solution. They want to enable the poor to join them in a competition the rich have already won—it’s like lending money to the loser when you’re winning in Monopoly—you want to keep the game going.

And Monopoly is a good illustration of modern capitalism—most Monopoly games reach that point where all the potential plans have been played out and purchased, where one player has almost everything and the rest are a dice-throw away from bankruptcy. That’s why many Monopoly games don’t reach the finish—the end becomes a foregone conclusion long before. Monopoly, at the start, is full of possibilities—end-game Monopoly is more an on-rushing train. Likewise, American Capitalism started out as a world of possibilities and is now in a straight-jacket of previous purchases. Just as the second amendment made sense for muskets, but became madness for automatic assault weapons—success is a one-time thing.

America has trouble with success—our early financial success was based on the use of slaves—our early wealth of natural resources trained us to become despoilers of nature—our early adoption of public education made us think we were smarter than everybody else—and our invention of the atom bomb made us think we were in charge of the whole world. Every time Americans win we learn a false lesson from it.

Basing everything on money rather than birth seemed like a freeing sort of approach—you could, through personal effort, rise. Your future had potential that went undreamed-of in a class-based society. That image persists, even now, when all the years of effort by others has gelled into a rigged game. Wealth once again comes almost entirely through inheritance—and opportunities for the common man have become as rare as in the time of kings and serfs. Capitalism is no longer the handmaiden of Freedom—and it has become something darker.

A fragile web of distribution keeps food on supermarket shelves, gas in the stove, oil in the heater, water from the tap, sewage down the toilet, and electricity to the phone-chargers. Disruption of the system is dangerous to us all—destroying the establishment would mean a return to primitivism. The infrastructure of capitalism holds us hostage—it makes us need it. And the need to earn a wage holds us prisoner—which makes us need employers. The rich have more power over the rest of us than kings or pharaohs could ever imagine—yet we call this society a free one. Like children of an abusive father, we have no place else to go.

Changing capitalism won’t be easy—we can’t rebel against it—if we attack it we only hurt ourselves. A subtle, drawn-out political process is the only possible escape. Yet see how easily we are diverted and entertained by our politics—that’s not an accident. If people took politics seriously, we’d be talking about change in a pragmatic way, instead of shouting buzzwords at each other—we might enact some changes—and that is the only real threat the one-percent are facing. I wish we knew that as well as they do.

Weekend Fun   (2016May22)


Saturday, May 21, 2016                                           6:58 PM

What a day—what a day.

Ah.

Sunday, May 22, 2016                                              12:23 PM

Yes, I know—it’s cheap and silly and stupid—but sometimes I just get desperate for a new sound. I thought, ‘maybe I could turn on the dishwasher or some other appliance—maybe a car engine idling—I don’t know—Oh wait—I know, I’ll play that ocean waves CD at a really high volume, so I sound like I’m playing piano on the beach.’  Yeah, right—no way it’ll sound like a cheap stereo playing ocean waves in another room. Hey, we do what we can—we work with the tools we have. And speaking of which—yes, I’m singing show tunes with a voice that sounds more like a torture victim’s than a vocalist’s—but I like the song, so deal with it.

 

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