December 24, 2013
Our Christmas tradition
Ten years ago we had just moved from Texas to Iowa, following Ethne's career path in the magazine industry; we were renting a small apartment and all our stuff was still packed up and a lot of it in storage. So I went to Walgreens and bought this tiny Christmas tree, and it's cheered up up every year since!
I've been working full time at Barnes & Noble (well, I did say I wanted to be seasonal) and I have to work today, Christmas Eve. It's been exhausting, but also rewarding in its way. More blogging soon, I promise! Now go wait for Santa!
December 9, 2013
In the papers
The Wall Street Journal does it once a week or so: they publish a silly editorial piece and then, a few days later, several letters from readers telling them why they are wrong.
Adrienne Rose Johnson is a PhD candidate in something or other; a few days ago, her college degrees helped her to understand that it's more economic to grow corn in Iowa and ship it to Alaska than to grow it in greenhouses in Anchorage. She was criticising "locavores", people who like to buy their food locally. Today the paper prints letters from readers pointing out simply that if you can buy your food locally, you get fresher, better-tasting food, and the money stays in your community. One reader observes from Arizona that when it is winter in Alaska it is also winter in Iowa. Another reader, in Indiana, claims not to be opposed to importing bananas, coffee and tea.
I would have added that Iowa is now a monoculture, which is not a good thing, and that most of the corn grown in Iowa goes 1) to feed animals which were designed by nature to eat grass, not corn, or 2) to manufacture industrial chemicals like ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup, neither of which are good or necessary. But I am not a PhD candidate.
December 9, 2013
In the papers (2)
More seriously, a disturbing piece described an injustice that took place at Auburn University. A young man was accused of forcible sodomy. He and the young woman had been living together; after the sexual incident to which she later decided to object, they resumed their relationship; then she accused him of assault (striking her in a public place); he claimed he was 15 miles away at the time. She pressed charges in 2011, two months after the the objectionable sexual incident. In 2012 a grand jury dismissed the sexual accusation for lack of evidence; the charge of assault was later dropped when the complainant did not show up.
But the young man had already been convicted by Auburn's kangaroo court, kicked out of school and forbidden under penalty of law to ever set foot on the campus again. The proceedings were exceptionally shoddy. "Imagine", writes James Taranto, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, "a courtroom with with a jury and witnesses, but no judge or lawyers."
Presiding was a librarian, who confessed himself confused. Both the accused and the complainant had lawyers present, the only people in the room with any legal training, but neither of them were allowed to say anything; there was no cross-examination. The young woman stated several times that he had locked her in his bedroom; he was not allowed to explain that he had left the room, locked the door behind him and shoved the key under the door, trying to convince her that she was safe.
The article was long, detailed, and well-written, except that Taranto described the whole business as an example of "the Obama administration's war on men." I am very disappointed in the quality of Obama's leadership, but to blame a legal travesty at an obscure university on the President of the United States is just a childish example of how much the Journal hates Obama.
ADDENDA: a few days later, a letter-writer was allowed to point out that the degree of political correctness we now see in universities was being well established long before Barack Obama became a public figure.
December 9, 2013
In the papers (3)
But in general, the lawyers are out of control. A federal judge decided that Apple was guilty of violating anti-trust laws in its e-book pricing, a decision that may very well be overturned on appeal; now a lawyer named Bromwich is demanding that a roomful of its executives be assembled on short notice to be questioned, including Jony Ive, a product designer, the Wall Street Journal writes, "who is about as involved in antitrust matters as the late Robert Bork, who earned his scholarly chops studying antitrust law, was involved in computer design." Bromwich is somehow able to bill Apple $1100 an hour.
Meanwhile, we may be in the process of selling a film option on one of our books. We are dealing with a Hollywood lawyer who is describing his contract as "heavily negotiated" after one round of discussion. Maybe he was negotiating with someone else during the two weeks it took him to get the contract to us in the first place. Ethne and I have published more than 20 books, depending how you count them, including some prize-winners, so we have signed a few contracts in our time; but this Hollywood chap, instead of negotiating, brags about his other clients. We are taking advice from a lawyer who is retained by the largest privately-owned publishing company in the USA, whose magazines are among the best-sellers in the industry, while the Hollywood fellow doesn't even know how to use the lower case on his keyboard.
Maybe we'll just forget the whole thing.
December 8, 2013
It's been a heck of a week. Ethne's Organic Gardening magazine won yet another industry award, for best article in a shelter mag, an article about a place where they do a lot of ice fishing, and where some guy has a restaurant on the ice every year.
So that evening when she got home from New York City we had lovely bottle of champagne (Pol Roger) and went out to eat at 3501, our favorite local restaurant, only a couple of miles away in Allentown. The food is always good, the prices reasonable, and we had another glass of wine which we didn't like, so they took it away and brought us something much nicer. And when we got home the phone rang and it was our son calling to tell us that he's been promoted: he's now Sergeant Clarke, which means a lot to all of us.
And we are working at making me happier, by rearranging the house. The guest room upstairs is one of our nicest rooms, perfectly shaped and with a lot of light, and we never have any guests, so I'm moving my music, computer etc up there from the basement. (There's another, smaller room that will do just fine if anyone deigns to visit us.) So on Wednesday and Thursday I carried 1,000 pounds (half a ton) of CDs in wooden boxes up two flights of stairs. Not bad for an old poop who's had abdominal surgery twice in the past couple of years. And my pal Bernie from across the street came over to help me move a couple of the heavier pieces of furniture, which was an excuse to have a few beers. After all this I sleep like a rock.
December 8, 2013
Listening to Rochberg's string quartets, three of which were recorded by the Concord String Quartet in 1979 on the occasion of the composer's birthday, I notice that in the fuga of his 4th quartet he has been inspired by one of the lovelier bits of Nicos Skalkottas's 3rd quartet. It's too good an echo to be a coincidence, in my opinion, yet not simply a quote, but the presence of the beauty lurking in the shadows, a damned good idea and a fine tribute.
December 5, 2013
December 2, 2013
A philosophy of art, and of life
December 2, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal doesn't like solar power, because that is hippy, progressive, "liberal", etc, all the things that the Wall Street Journal thinks it doesn't like. The paper is, however, in favor of utilities making all the money they possible can, because after all, utility companies have to invest a great deal more money in order to distribute electricity than homeowners who are merely installing solar panels, and investors of course deserve to be handsomely rewarded. So naturally the paper favors metering of electricity in Arizona and elsewhere in ways that would benefit power companies and inconvenience people generating their own power. It's about ideology.
Today the paper has published three very good letters at the top of its letters page pointing out how it is wrong, wrong, wrong. That, for example, solar power is generating electricity at exactly the same time as air conditioners are running full blast in places like Arizona, putting a strain on the grid at the time of peak power usage, so that everybody wins.
The Wall Street Journal is not afraid to contradict itself. It is not afraid of its own readers. It is not afraid, unlike Fox News, to keep the editorial separate from the news. That is why it is the best damned newspaper in the English language.
November 30, 2013
A piece of American history
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Ernst Kunwald, writes Bill Anderson, made a dozen sides for Columbia Records in 1917, things like the Blue Danube Waltz. Kunwald had been assistant conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic under Arthur Nikisch, and became music director at Cincinnati after Leopold Stokowski left for Philadelphia. Kunwald's achievements included the American premier of Mahler’s 3rd symphony in 1914.
On this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we ought to be grateful that we have survived as a republic despite the legacy of people like J. Edgar Hoover.
November 30, 2013
And speaking of Thanksgiving, I predict that there will be a retrenchement next year and fewer big-box stores will be open on Turkey Day. The reason so many retailers wanted Black Friday to start on Thursday was that Thanksgiving was very late this year, cutting down on the shopping-days-till-Christmas, but all they did was take the steam out of Black Friday itself. I worked at Barnes & Noble on Black Friday from 7 am, and we were busy, and I'm glad to say that most customers are pretty nice, but I don't understand the need to go out on such a busy day to buy stuff that you can mostly buy any day of the year.
I hope that herd mentality has been taken as far as it can go.
November 27, 2013
Turkey Day tomorrow
I'm happy to say that Barnes & Noble is one of the big-box chains that will NOT be open tomorrow. But our manager said he wouldn't be sure about next year. Meanwhile I was working last night, and a couple of young women looking at cookbooks were looking up Internet prices on their cellphones, and decided not to buy from me, and now this morning's paper says that B&N's books sales are down 8%. If people don't buy books from bookstores, someday soon there won't be any bookstores.
November 27, 2013
A word about manipulating nature
There are coyotes in every county in Pennsylvania, the Morning Call said the other day; feral cats are taken, and some people are up in arms. Today Tom Nelson, a biologist at the Pennsylvania Raptor & Wildlife Association, has published a letter to the paper. He is surprised that so many people know so little about the role of predators. "The predator-prey relationship is the driving force of nature and is essential for ecosystem health."
Makes a lot of sense to me. Same with bears in some parts of the country. They are scavengers; keep your garbage secure and the bears won't bother you. Some people feed feral cats, who are just coyote food if they don't get run over in the road. We should try to leave nature alone.
November 27, 2013
Health care systems
Having lived in Britain for exactly 25 years and in the USA for a total of 48 years, I am far more qualified than most Americans to pontificate on health care systems. We hear a lot from the ignorami (I know, there is no such word, but I like it) about Canadians who come to the USA for medical treatment. There are always holes in such stories and interesting details left out.
The Wall Street Journal ranted a year or two ago about a guy who came to the USA to buy a high-tech hip replacement, because the Canadian authorities wouldn't give it to him: not a word about how old he was. The expensive surgery uses teflon instead of metal, or metal instead of plastic, I forget now; it is meant to last a lifetime, for a tiny minority of patients, younger people who have been injured in accidents or who suffer from rare bone problems. If you are already well into middle age and you need a hip replacement, the standard one will outlast you, so there is no point in the expensive one.
Someone called Edward Prescott wrote about Canadian health care in a "Your View" column recently in the Morning Call (this is one of those spaces which newspapers nowadays fill with articles written by the ignorami, cheaper than paying journalists.) Today a Mr. Burke Swan of Lower Macungie Township, who has friends and relatives in Canada, writes in:
Paying attention, everyone? There's a bottom line for you.
November 27, 2013
Where's the melody?
Out to dinner with new friends recently, the wide-ranging conversation turned to music. Somebody said he liked Kenny G, and I am afraid I committed a faux pas, by rather obviously struggling not to make a face. I think Kenny G is funny.
The anti-jazz cry used to be "Where's the melody?" Jazz is about improvisation: the musician comments on the melody and expresses himself by improvising on it. Louis Armstrong is quoted as saying that if he heard a solo and didn't recognize the tune, he assumed the musican wasn't doing a very good job.
During the Swing Era, or Big Band Era, the arranger effectively wrote down improvisations for the band to play, while also leaving solo spaces for a musician to do his own inventing. A wonderful development in this area was the "swing choir" invented, I think, by Don Redman, and famously used by Tommy Dorsey on "East Of The Sun", "Marie" and (somewhat later) "Sunny Side Of The Street". In this sort of arrangement there is sometimes a vocalist singing the song straight (as Jack Leonard sang "Marie" absolutely straight, one of the biggest hits of the era; on "East Of The Sun", it's Frank Sinatra), but the band chants a paraphrase of the lyrics. My favorite example is Redman's "Exactly Like You": a trombone (probably Benny Morton) plays a lovely solo on the melody, and the vocal out-chorus goes like this:
Both the trombone solo and the band's chant are improvisations on the tune, and the effect is delightful: the guy has not only met a chick who sends him, but his mother will approve! (I know what that's like!) The record, over 75 years old, is full of innocent joy.
Of course since the bebop era and the advent of modern jazz, a lot of tunes are less easy to recognize, because they are themselves derived from improvisations: modern jazz musicians have got dozens of tunes out of George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" and Ray Nobles's "Cherokee", because they like the chords.
I am proud of myself because I often know what's going on, though I have no musical training at all. Years ago, after an appearance at the Chicago Jazz Festival, a Roscoe Mitchell band played at the Hothouse, and the first set was just the rhythm section: Matthew Shipp on piano with William Parker on bass (I think), and a drummer whose name I don't remember. Shipp started right out playing blizzards of notes at a furious tempo, yet I immediately recognized the tune as something simple, almost like a nursery rhyme: it was tantalizing, because I couldn't name it. And at the end when Shipp resolved it, it was one of Duke Ellington's deceptively simple ideas: "In A Mellotone" or "C-Jam Blues". The whole experience was exhilarating.
And I have digressed. Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, known as Kenny G, is a joke among true jazz fans because he does not appear to be improvising on anything, but just noodling. I thought I had a short entry for him in my encyclopedia, but I see I do not. He is unbelievably successful, having sold millions of albums, and to be fair, he is described as "smooth jazz", and true jazz fans will know what that means. And as another friend said over the phone recently, "You've got to hand it to a guy who makes a living playing soprano sax." And if some people enjoy his noodling, who am I to make a face?