May 14, 2015
More on regulations
There was a column in the Wall Street Journal this week about how tough graduates are going to have it in 2015, which was mostly an excuse to bash the usual suspects, such as the teachers' union. But one paragraph caught my eye:
Presumably you have to have a license to be an emergency medical technician, while you can probably help Grandma choose a color for her living room walls without a license, but then you will not be a licensed interior designer. But the basic point holds: the number of vocations requiring or offering certificates or licenses has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and why should an interior designer be licensed at all?
And that reminded me of the front page of last weekend's Review section. It galls me to have to agree with Charles Murray about anything; he was the co-author of a nasty book called The Bell Curve in 1996, which purported to show that Jews and Asians have higher IQs than I do, and that African-Americans are not as smart as I am. The bell curve was a sort of graph of IQ tests with minuscule differences in it, easily explained by the fact that the families of Asian kids demand that they do well in school, while black kids are far more subject to peer pressure and don't want to "act white", and all of course without admitting that the "Intelligence Quotient" might not be best measured by a micrometer.
[My poor brother loved the bell curve nonsense. I wrote to him that I would give ten points off my IQ to be able to play the piano like Fats Waller, but he didn't get it, and wrote back telling me what Fats Waller would be doing if he were alive today, racist nonsense which I can't repeat in a family blog, and which anyway was comparing yesterday to today, nothing about anybody's IQ. But my brother was an increasingly unhappy man, a fact which I cannot blame on Charles Murray.]
But Murray's piece in last weekend's WSJ was an excerpt from his latest book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission:
In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations was over 175,000 pages. A huge number of these regulations, maybe a majority, are "stupid, pointless or tyrannical", often preventing people from doing their jobs according to their own judgement. The vast majority are not spelled out in legislation; regulatory agencies are allowed by Congress to make them up, and when you run afoul of these regs, the said agencies are the judges and the juries, and there is no appeal. Many of them "could be written only by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands, such as ones that mandate a certain sort of latch for a bakery's flour bins, or the proper way to describe flower bulbs to customers".
I am reminded of something I read in England many years ago. Suppose your wife makes really good jam, and everybody raves about it at the church bazaar, so you decide to market it to grocery stores and on the Internet. It would take a team of lawyers weeks to tell you what is required in the printing of the label that goes on the jar, just for a start. This is because England is a country that dates its laws, its unwritten constitution, back to 1066, almost a thousand years, and there are laws on the books that have never been repealed and which are forgotten and not obeyed because they are irrelevant.
And sure enough, Murray's solution to the problem of over-zealous regulations is civil disobedience. Ignore them.
In other words, points out Murray, the regulatory agencies are like the Wizard of Oz, the voice booming when it is directed at you or me, but when the curtain is swept aside, revealed as impotent. There's more: he proposes insurance against the regulatory agencies ("People don't build tornado-proof houses; they buy house insurance") and a legal foundation, and occupational defense funds.
Governments, local, state and federal, are going to make libertarians of us all.
May 9, 2015
Colorado is more England than England
If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes...
Is this the end of the world? Is the weather as screwy everywhere else as it is in Colorado? It's been raining for ten days or so now; wish I could send some of it to California. I worked four hours this morning at B&N, came home and took a nap while the sun was shining (I should have taken the opportunity to do a little yard work), and when I awoke it was raining yet again, harder than ever, complete with hailstones. And hearing the thunder I remember that at 6000 feet I am closer to the gods playing bowls!
May 8, 2015
More music in the Springs
Went to the Mezzanine last night, a remarkable venue downtown; it costs only $10 to get in, and whatever you spend there goes to benefit the local Conservatory of Music. Last night was a CD release party: Angelina Gadeliya was playing her new album, Schnittke and his Ghosts. I had never heard any solo piano music by the late Soviet composer before, nor Webern's Op. 27 Variations for Piano. She also played an adagio by Mozart and a Skryabin sonata. She's a wonderful musician, and a lot of my friends were there; plus Angelina's husband had laid on a table full of eats, and there were some families there with children, so a good time was had by all.
And along the way there was a real surprise for me. There was a question and answer session, and she was interesting on the subject of recording, and that the editing process is harder work than the recording: you might have half a dozen takes of a phrase for the producer to choose from (and that reminds me of a Klemperer story, for another time). I asked her about the fact that on her CD it says "Volume 8": what's on the other seven? It turns out to be a series called Music of Tribute, which includes everything from Haydn to, er, Schnittke, played by half a dozen different pianists. And she mentioned the name of Heiner Stadler.
I buttonholed her later -- a delightful person to talk to -- and sure enough, her producer, and the label boss at Labor Records, is the same pianist, arranger and composer who released several legendary albums of "free jazz" back in the late 1960s and '70s. I've got a couple of them on the old Tomato label (recommended to me by Max Harrison) but I never knew anything more about Stadler. Labor Records issues everything from Louisiana Red to Eric Salzman's The Nude Paper Sermon. The label's website has a sort of strap line:
Stadler has a Facebook page, a Wikipedia entry... This calls for a new entry in the Encyclopedia.
You just never know what you're going to run into in Colorado Springs.
May 5, 2015
View from the back yard
We've had two old trees taken out and others pruned, and our view of Pikes Peak has improved.
May 5, 2015
View from the driveway
Here's the moon over Colorado Springs, after our first salon: a perfect end to a perfect day.
May 5, 2015
A good point
The WSJ today has a review by Edward Rothstein of the current exhibit, "Life at the Limits: Stories of Amazing Species", at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. There's a frog that can be frozen solid in the ice, and survive; there are creatures with green blood, and with transparent blood; and creatures which can survive in any temperatures from just over absolute zero to 300 degrees fahrenheit; and much more.
And Rothstein writes, "wonder should be central". Yes. Forget liberal and conservative, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, and wonder at the astonishing ingenuity of nature and the eternal mystery of the Universe we live in.
May 5, 2015
Good news from Nessa Records
Press release from Nessa:
I remember Fred, and the Velvet. What a magical place.
April 30, 2015
Getting old 1
I've got a Colorado driver's license. They made me take my glasses off for the picture -- they don't even do that for a passport photo -- and I look like I've got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
I went to a dermatologist and he told me that my skin doesn't like the sun, and prescribed a tube of ointment. (I paid $10 for it because I have insurance; the retail price is supposed to be $300. Smells like a scam to me.) So I've been putting this stuff on my old map twice a day for ten days and now I look like an extra from The Living Dead.
I'm telling everybody that I saw an ad in the back of a comic book that said "Look 30 years younger in two weeks!"
April 30, 2015
Getting old 2
As soon as we signed up for Medicare last December we found out why you have to have supplemental insurance when Ethne went to get her prescriptions filled: Walgreen's wanted several hundred bucks. Johnny Sobott in Denver told me that he and Dottie had been with Kaiser Permanente for years and liked it, but meanwhile we'd signed up with Humana. They immediately told me that I would be penalised $10 a month for some reason; I talked to them on the phone and didn't like the response I was getting, so we switched ro Kaiser after all. Then it turned out that the problem is with Medicare, not the supplemental insurance. There's some bureaucrat somewhere who can't read.
When we went to the Social Security Administration's office in Colorado Springs on December 12, Ethne started taking her social security and we both enrolled in Medicare. We brought with us a document for each of us from each of four different employers (a total of eight documents) proving that we had both had "creditable coverage" since long before either of us was eligible for any bennies, and the Social Security office saw no problem. (Some of the dopes who work in departments of human resources at the various employers don't know what they're doing, so acquiring this set of documents required quite a bit of correspondence and a few phone calls.) So why is Medicare telling Humana and now Kaiser that I did not have "creditable coverage"? And since we've both had exactly the same coverage since 1998, why should I be penalised and not Ethne? The correspondence continues.
Meanwhile, a week or two before the medical coverage from Ethne's last employer ran out at the end of January, she found a lady doctor she liked. So I tried to go to her in February, and they would not accept me because I was on Medicare. I could probably go to Ethne's doctor now that we have supplemental insurance, but I wouldn't want to. I've got hooked up with Peak Vista, who have made an industry out of looking after poor people and old poops like me. The waiting room looks like Doctors Without Borders, my nurse practitioner, Janey Switzer, is a jolly gal who knows her stuff, and I'm very happy. I had no trouble getting a referral to a dermatologist (I wanted to go to one in Pennsylvania but I would have had to wait months, so I gave up in disgust), and I've had my blood tested two years after my surgery, and my PSA is still zero. So I'm in good shape for an old fella.
April 30, 2015
Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) is perhaps most famous because Tom Lehrer wrote a song about her, though she was something of a New York celebrity in the early 1960s, appearing at least twice on the Jack Paar show. She was the lover and/or wife of some of the century's greatest artists, including composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, painter and playwright Oscar Kokoschka, architect Walter Gropius, and novelist and playwright Franz Werfel.
Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler, by Oliver Hilmes, will be published in English in a week or so. It was a best-seller in Germany, the first biography of her, using a trove of previously unpublished material, and promises to give us a life and times, putting her in her context of fin de siècle Vienna. She has always been controversial: was she an egoist, a harlot, a groupie, an unreliable memoirist? Was she both malevolent and a muse? All these men certainly loved her.
Werfel's best-known novel was The Song Of Bernadette, because it was made into a movie, but his most important work is The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel based on the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks in 1915, republished in English a couple of years ago. Alma refused to marry him for some years, but meanwhile she encouraged and helped him in his career; she travelled with him when he was researching that book, and she helped him to become a successful playwright as well as a novelist.
Sooo...What about Alma? She was beautiful and sexy, or so the men thought; she was bright, and she was an artist. She was a composer until Mahler told her to stop, saying that there was only room for one composer in the family. And I am reading Melvin Konner's Women After All, which I wrote about here recently, in which the professor of anthropology postulates that in all the ways that matter, women are superior to men, and that male supremacy is coming to an end. He writes in his introduction,
Yes, we need a good book about Alma. I'm looking forward to it.
April 30, 2015
Music in the Springs
Our social and musical life has improved immensely in our new surroundings. On Sunday afternoon ten days ago I attended a concert by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, conducted by its music director Josep Caballé-Domenich. The guest soloist was Johannes Moser on the cello, and my companion was Carlton Gamer, Emeritus Professor of Music at Colorado College. Ethne was out of town, which was a shame because she adores the cello; Elaine Freed, Carlton's special friend, author of excellent books about natural preservation, was also away.
The first half of the program consisted of the slow movement from Tchaikovsky's first string quartet, the famous Andante cantabile, arranged for cello and string orchestra, and his Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra. They were played very well, very smoothly; parts of the Rococo Variations are light-hearted, and Moser used some body language with a straight face which the audience found amusing. At the interval, Carlton told me why he thought Moser really was very good: not only is his cello a fine instrument, but he gets a beautiful tone from it on every part of his bow, from one end to the other, and his pianissimos were special: very soft yet you could hear them in the back row. I could tell he was good, but it was nice to have someone so knowledgeable to tell me why I liked it.
After the interval came Brahms' first symphony, one of my favorite pieces since I was a kid. I had been looking forward to hearing it live since we arrived here in October, when I first saw the orchestra's schedule. I own at least 20 different recordings of the piece. Unfortunately, in the event on Sunday afternoon I was disappointed. The music was jerked around like taffy, transitional passages quietened and slowed so that the conductor could make a splash when the big noise came back.
Carlton was too diplomatic to say whether he agreed with me, but he adores Brahms; we went to Shuga's for a bite to eat after the concert, and he talked about how good Brahms is at his transitional passages: when he wants to bring back an idea, he can sneak it in any number of ways, so that even if you are half waiting for it, you don't know where it's going to come from. Exactly why the symphonies should not be played like carnival music, it seems to me. There had been a tremolo passage in the violins in the first movement that I could not hear very well, because the hall is designed to be a multi-purpose hall, not particularly good for anything, whereas, we agreed, Orchestra Hall in Chicago is perfect for a symphony ortchestra, but no good for chamber music. Anyway, it was a splendid afternoon of musical fellowship.
Then night after last we went to Packard Hall to hear Colorado College's Grace Smith at the piano with the excellent Bion Tsang (from UT Austin) on cello. We sat almost in the front row, and Carlton and Elaine were right behind us. Bion Tsang led off with a Bach cello suite (BWV 1009); then they played a Boccherini sonata, a delightful set by Manuel de Falla called Suite Populaire Espagnole, and, after the interval, Beethoven's cello sonata Op. 69. 'Estrellita', by the Mexican composer Manuel Maria Ponce, was a lovely encore. Ethne was beside herself with pleasure at the cello playing practically in our laps; we were fascinated by Tsang's left hand: I would rather be able to do that than climb the highest mountain.
And tonight we go to hear a potpourri of fandangos and klezmer at the Mezzanine, a venue where you can eat and drink; there will be clarinettists, and Ofer Ben-Amots, who succeeded Carlton as chairman of the music department, will play piano. And on Sunday afternoon May 3 there will be a program of dance music (de Falla, Kodaly and I don't know what all) by the Chamber Orchestra of Colorado Springs, followed by a sort of open house in Drakestone Drive, our first. The good times are here at last, not before time.
April 30, 2015
Our new abode
Landscaping has begun at our mid-century moderne in Colorado Springs (prounded mow-dairne, I guess). There's a stack of firewood on the lawn that I have to saw up.
April 27, 2015
Be careful not to arrest anybody we've ever heard of
We had a friend who was a day trader for a while. We actually invested $1000 with him. He promptly lost it. He is still a friend, but no longer a day trader.
Another day trader, however, a certain Mavinder Sarao in suburban London, was very much better at it. He has made a lot of money over many years, because he can trade "very very fast". He bought and sold mostly futures contracts, and sometimes bought big orders which he immediately canceled, which some call "spoofing". He wrote in an email to Britain's Financial Conduct Authority:
Now he is charged by the American authorities with contributing to the "flash crash" in 2010, when a trillion dollars of value was erased from the markets before they bounced back almost immediately. He was arrested a few days ago and was in jail pending bail of $7.5 million. The "flash crash" in fact was caused not by any trader or traders but by too much reliance on technology by the markets, which suddenly could not cope. Sarao's lawyer said that he would fight extradition to the USA.
Was anything Sarao did illegal when he did it? He was very, very good at what he was doing, at home alone at his computer, as opposed to rapid-fire trading from high-frequency companies with rooms full of technology, which he thinks ought to be banned. Meanwhile the Wall Street and big bank bigshots who caused the economy to collapse back in 2008 are still walking around collecting their bonuses, in no danger whatever of being arrested.
UPDATE: The news on April 30 is that Sarao is still in jail, unable to raise $7.5 million for bail. For day trading.
April 27, 2015
A good book
We've just finished reading Donna Leon's By Its Cover, her latest mystery to come out in paperback. She has a new one in hardback called Falling In Love, which I must take out of the library.
Leon is originally from New York. She has written around 20 books about Commissario Guido Brunetti, a cop in Venice. Sometimes the bad guy gets caught, sometimes he doesn't, and sometimes there isn't any bad guy after all. The books are about Brunetti, his colleagues, his family, about Venice and about Italy. And Leon is a very good novelist. Nearly every paragraph has its revealing felicities. Brunetti is on his way to a library where somebody has been stealing rare books; a motorboat is being driven by Foa, the Questura's faithful pilot.
If you've ever been to Venice and seen one of those cruise ships dwarf the city, you will know exactly what Leon is writing about. The Venetians hate them; why are they allowed to come so close? There are reasons for the incompetence of the authorities. The decision-making is divided up among so many committees and agencies so that no one expects them to come to a decision, so that they can keep busy hiring their wives and children as consultants, and "picking up small gifts that fall from the table of the companies that own the ships?"
Each Leon novel is like living for a few days in that incomparably beautiful city, as well as a cracking good mystery.
April 27, 2015
The Wall Street Journal
A couple of weeks ago Peggy Noonan wrote about an off-Broadway play called Hamilton, about Alexander Hamilton, a great American whose face is on our ten-dollar bill, and whose end was tragic. Having recently read Joseph Ellis's wonderful book Founding Brothers, I was moved by what Noonan was writing. Then I realized that the play is a musical. And that what the 18th-century characters are given to sing is...rap. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Dan Neil recently wrote about attending a stock car race. An honest-to-god stock car race, a family outing on a dirt track with fried baloney sandwiches for sale, no plastic NASCAR clothes in sight. I didn't know there were still such things; it was somewhere down south, but I was reminded of my aunt and uncle taking me to a stock car race over 60 years ago, in New Jersey. I went to the WSJ website to look for Neil's piece yesterday but couldn't find a way to search for something a few weeks old.
Looking at the WSJ's monthly magazine, which is nothing but expensive fashion photography, I found myself wondering why the models all seem to be mouth-breathers. Is this related to their anorexia? I refer of course to the women; the boys merely look surly, spivs that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
The paper continues to cover the saga of the lawyer Michael Bromwich, who has been authorized by federal judges to screw Apple out of millions of dollars. He is a monitor, following a federal court ruling that making books available on an iPad is somehow price-fixing (next thing you know they'll come to arrest my wife for reading them). The ruling is probably nonsense and in any case is being appealed, but meanwhile Bromwich gets to poke his nose into everything at Apple, and they have to pay for it. Sometimes when I am reading the news I think I must have been abducted by aliens.