Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Today's Good-Time Lunch Break Reading

What do the following quantities of foodstuffs all have in common?

  • 6 lb. baked beans
  • 6 lb. 9 oz. cabbage
  • 45 conch fritters
  • 4.375 Entenmann's Pumpkin Pies
  • 1.5 gal. chili
  • 17.7 lb. cow brains
  • 1.75 lb. salted butter

The chilling answer is here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sights of the Sound

Last night there was a fireworks show over the Long Island Sound, not very far from where I live. I didn't know about this until I was getting ready for a very early bedtime; so I watched the fireworks standing on the second floor mini-deck of the house I'm living in, leaning on the rail while wearing my bathrobe. It was a decent vantage point, and they were good fireworks: shiny, variegated, and attractively noisy. The big ones really set off an echoing BOOM.

I do enjoy fireworks. This is clearly going to be the last hurrah of my living right by the Sound, since I'm moving out of the house on Saturday.

Pete, I know that you don't like fireworks, and I was wondering what goes through your head as you're watching fireworks. Is it an anti-patriotic thing, or do you not like fireworks in and of themselves?

I was also thinking back to other fireworks shows I've seen, and the strongest association I've got is the feeling of waiting for it to get dark and for fireworks to start, which is a vivid memory back to a pretty young age.

You don't get this feeling when you don't know the fireworks are coming; but then it's a sufficiently compensating novelty to be able to watch fireworks at home when you're not fully dressed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Nature is the Framework of Your Greenhouse

I decided to watch Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth tonight, so I figured why not write some more while I'm downtown. Au Bon Pain has wireless, but not real dinner food. Yogurt and croissant: temporary stopgap measures. There are veggie chicken patties at home, and bread.

This is a watchable and compelling movie, and unless you already don't like Al Gore you probably won't be put off by the political-autobiography-document element in it. (There are lots of lingering shots of Gore peering thoughtfully into his laptop.) I would recommend seeing it.

Obviously there's not a lot of really deep analysis in the film — mostly it's an elaboration of the "hockey stick" graphs for temperature & CO2 content of the atmosphere, and a relation of the various problems at hand: sea levels rising, ocean currents being interrupted, hurricanes getting worse. Gore speaks forcefully and well.

Gore's tack is an optimistic kind of urgency. He doesn't touch on the extent to which damage is already done, or changes are already inevitable. Obviously we can't radically draw down the carbon that's already in the atmosphere. Ignoring this makes sense, because it's a political film, and he needs to make a point about taking action. On the other hand, this aspect of the situation is why we're probably doomed.

(There was a series of articles in the New Yorker last year about global warming. I didn't read all of them, but I remember a strong emphasis placed on self-perpetuating changes. Gore touches on one example of this: Arctic ice cap shrinkage increases ocean absorption of heat, speeding warming further. My impression is that whatever's going on, we're basically going to have to watch it happen for a few decades at least. I need to learn more about this.)

Gore devotes a good portion of time to describing the danger of Greenland melting. Here's an article from today's LA Times about how Greenland is melting.

One of the tips displayed at the end of the film affirms that "You can work to reduce your own carbon emissions, even to zero." I'm going to go ahead & assume that they aren't talking about the breathing-related emissions here.

I think the personal action to take is to Future-Proof Your Life. Try not to have children; if you already have children, tell yourself they wouldn't have amounted to anything anyway. If in fifty years, everything has gone to hell, say to yourself, "I knew this was gonna happen." And if it hasn't gone to hell, say, "I'm too old and bitter to enjoy this."

Also, a side note: whoever is in charge of music for Oliver Stone's World Trade Center movie needs to get as far away as possible from the buttery string orchestra music used in the preview. People will, you know, probably remember that it's supposed to be sad anyway.


I don't think I mentioned that I accepted the manuscript editorial job early this week, so that's definitely what I'll be up to employment-wise for the next while.

This nicely fulfills the career goal I stated in the going-away email I circulated to colleagues upon leaving my last job — I think the phrase I used there was "a desire to work more closely with the written word." By that I mainly meant "a desire to quit my current job, which is slowly killing me," but I'm really happy, of course, that the un-cynical interpretation has actually come to pass fairly quickly.

The work itself, by all accounts, will involve a good deal of routine kind of stuff, but I think it's a good entry point for me, given my level of experience (which is to say, little experience, but proven proclivity.) And the people in the department seem great.

As a modest act of celebration, here is a copy of one of my favorite word-geek artifacts. Otherwise, I begin the new gig on July 6, so, onwards . . .


I've remarked before about hearing an extremely intricate bell tower around campus. This turns out to be a major musical landmark called the Harkness Tower: I managed to wander by it while it was playing (picture at left) sometime last weekend, and then I realized there was a whole display of information and memorabilia about it in the college library. So now I'm clued in.

I've never given too much thought to bell towers, but this one is definitely exciting. "Intricate" is a big understatement: this is a 54-bell, fully chromatic 4 1/2 octave carillon, all of them connected by cable (no electronics) to an organ-like console in the tower. The lowest bell weighs over 13,000 pounds. A campus carilloneurs society performs on it daily, at least during the school year. There's a summer concert series about to start. (More info here.)

When you stand in different parts of the courtyards near the tower, the sound echoes in at you from different directions. The low bells toll boomingly; the high bells, when playing quickly, sound surprisingly much like a pipe organ.

Meanwhile, if you stand on the New Haven green at 6 pm, you can hear the City Hall tower brusquely chime out the hour on one side, while, simultaneously, the Center Church mellifluously bells out a hymn on the other side. For about half a minute you get a nice Charles Ives style overlay. Ives, in fact, was the organist at Center Church while he attended Yale.

Who knew this was such a good town for bell towers?

Huzzah for Emulators!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Jon Stewart vs. CNN

A couple of nights ago, the guest on the Daily Show was Anderson Cooper (I'm not going to link to some YouTube clip of it either - find it out there if you want to.) who seemed to be set up for yet another "Jon Stewart hates cable news" type of interview. Cooper seemed to be doing his best to maintain a relatively high standard of discourse during the interview, but made a blunder similar to the one made by the Crossfire guy back in that interview (hosted by Crossfire, again, find the clip out there on the internet if you want a refresher (I didn't actually give myself a refresher on either of these interviews, I'm just trying to go ahead and type out what my musings were on the bus to work the next day (following the Stewart v. Cooper interview))) wherein having been accused of Stewart to pandering to the Fox News demographic with swoopy graphics and issue-ADD, Cooper shoots back "Yeah, well you use the swoopy graphics too!"

Which, as usual, seems to lead to another easy point for Stewart, in that, as he says "But we're a parody." I like for that point to be won, as it usually is, except that, upon a bit more reflection, I fear that it drastically undermines the position of the Daily Show, or perhaps more realistically just reminds the thoughtful viewer of the fact that there is no hope for subversion in the ideology-drenched hyperreality of cable television. (An aside here, as I've just made the decision to not go back and proofread or revise this posting before I post it, because anytime I let myself type something like "subversion in the ideology-drenched hyperreality" I should really probably make sure not to take myself seriously.)

That is to say, Stewarts general operating thesis is that the cable news movement has destroyed any potential for open public discourse on issues that matter (and I'm of the opinion that the agnostic stance clearly sees the difference between Gay Marriage and North Korea). And the sense of "what's the use, then?" has been building since Bush won (probably stole (search for yourself about missing votes and turned-away Democrats in Ohio in '04 (here's a start (okay, I didn't read the whole document either))) his second term in office. That is, it doesn't make a bit of fucking difference how many journalists and media pundits or whatever Stewart can pick apart, because of the limits of operating within that same sphere.

Parody is dependent on context, which is probably why it is only an aspect of satire, as opposed to any sort of fundament for subversive art. Stewart probably got Crossfire canceled, but he didn't silence the voices involved or effect in any lasting way the landscape of Middle-Minded political entertainment.

I think my point is the Angry Jon Stewart is getting to be less and less entertaining because it so tinged with the fatalist realization that it ain't gonna stop the wars, make the old young again, or lower the price of bread...

He's a Bird

Someone's on the wrong trail:

For the past three years the eight-year-old [peacock] has taken to walking from his woodland home to Brierley Service Station in the Forest of Dean, Glos, to parade his plumage to the row of diesel, unleaded and LRP pumps. . . .

Mr P is one of three peacocks reared from eggs in 1998 on a five-acre woodland clearing owned by Mrs Horsman. . . . [His] two brothers stay in the garden during the breeding season between May and August, with their attention focused on orange footballs and kittens.

Seriously, this is exactly what happens when you try to raise a family without a strong, positive male peacock role model present. It's basic moral values, people!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Irate due to Pi-rates

Q: If the worst team in Major League Baseball sweeps you in a three-game series, what does that make you?

A: The Steelers play their first regular season game on September 7th.

In the world of just-barely-large ball, the Pirates got pummeled again by Kansas City. The obvious headline over such a story would be "Royal Flush", which reminds me of a song Pete's college band, Dirty Weekend, used to sing. It also involves flushing, in that it's about a circumstance under which one's head is put in the toilet, and also aptly describes the Pirates' fortunes of late. You know the one I mean.

I find it fascinating that the team has failed to clear the very low bar that allowed me think, after they dropped six of seven in a homestand, that they were still playing relatively well. In fact it seems like there wasn't very much good baseball on either side this week in Kansas City. All I had to go on for this afternoon's game was the stripped-down running summary on the ESPN website but even from those abstract little dots and numbers it was obvious it was the sort of game that usually ends after six innings, in time to drive the players to Sweet Licks for ice cream before they have to go do their homework. Luckily America cares even less about the adventures of the Bucs and Royals than they do about their soccer team getting bumped from the World Cup, which by all accounts it does not.

Apropos nothing, as I was driving this evening I saw a car with a license plate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, which was pretty cool in that "wish I was five" kind of way. So that much of the world is happy.

Small Ball, Matrimony

It had been a long time since I'd seen a baseball game, so it was enjoyable on Saturday night to drive down to Bridgeport (city motto: Mayorally Drug-Free for Eighteen Months!) to see the Atlantic League Bluefish take on their rivals from Camden, NJ. I don't know the Camden team's name; that part of the electronic scoreboard was garbled. I went with a college friend of mine who just graduated from the law school here, and it was a good time — having beer & hot dogs, reminiscing about ballgames seen in youth, reflecting on how short many of these Bridgeport players were. Must be what's keeping them out of the major-league-affiliated minors: you get past the cleanup spot and everyone's about five-six. The game itself was a slow pitcher's duel with an exciting eighth inning, which put the Bluefish out ahead for the win — the crowd (probably about 1000?) was engaged & excitable, so it was actually a really fun time.

Beyond left field is a large warehouse; beyond right field, the Metro North tracks and then a large factory. They shot off fireworks near the shore after the win, one at a time, for about fifteen minutes.

Sunday I took aforementioned Metro North down to NYC and then the NJ Transit to a coastal spot near Monmouth, where my friend Jeremy from wind ensemble got married to his girlfriend of a few years, Rachel. Very cool wedding — snazzy but minimalistic decor, good food, and an excellent klezmer/bluegrass combo supplying the music. Jeremy joined them on clarinet for a couple of klezmer numbers during dinner, which strikes me as a very cool thing to do at one's own wedding. On the trains to & fro I joined some other wind ensemble friends; good to catch up. It'll be a shame not to see them during post-rehearsal drinks any more.

Some of us very nearly missed the actual ceremony due to a cab-catching snafu from the train station: apparently even fifteen or so NYC people going to the same wedding can overwhelm a small local cab company. Got there just in time to pop on a yarmulke & hear the vows exchanged about forty-five seconds later. Phew.

Death and His String Band

[Wednesday night, 6/21.—ed.]

Tonight’s live soundtrack: the Calder Quartet playing Beethoven’s Op. 59 no.2, preceded by Chris Rouse’s Quartet No.2 and Shostakovich’s 13th, for a small but switched-on crowd in the campus recital hall. Saw this with Stu, who’s into the modern classical thing, as well as into the beer and pizza beforehand thing. Hooray for people with similar interests!

I was wondering about the Calder name, and I think there’s something in there about moving parts being connected by artistic composition. That’s as opposed to being connected by shared emotional striving, which characterizes your traditional chamber group, and that’s not at all a negative against the Calders. They played extremely unsentimentally, with expertly modulated texture and intensity, and this unlocked a lot of power in all three pieces. It knocked the audience’s socks off, too.

At the beginning of Shostakovich 13 — my favorite quartet of his, and musically the strangest — the viola alone introduces a wandering, desolate theme, and is after a little while joined by the other strings offering a bitter accompaniment. Passing harmonies and a couple of significant cadences occur on acrid, bitter dissonances. The Calders play these dissonances without any added inflection or change in tone, which is a subtle but important effect: everything feels icy, suspended, removed.

The rest of the quartet followed in a similarly cold and ghostly reading, with the intense moments given a razor-wire sharpness. The bizarre, almost jazz-folk sounding episode in the middle — I suggest the descriptive nickname “Death and His String Band” — had a bloodless, ashen quality: a dead joke, an evil omen. All of it was gripping. The violist is the major player throughout much of this quartet: the Calders’, Jonathan Moerschel, concentrated the feeling of the piece into a strong tone and sharp-cornered phrasing.

Rouse wrote his Second Quartet (’88) with Shostakovich in mind, and it’s a great pairing with the 13th – it shares its short, curdled and dissonant melodies, while offering a contrasting, more consistently four-voiced texture. Like Shostakovich it’s obsessively death-haunted; but unlike Shostakovich that’s always expressed in raw emotion, without any of the cryptic aloofness. There are three movements: slow-fast-slow. The slow movements come in slowly breathing phrases, with short but abyssal pauses in between; the fast movement is hallucinatory, with swirling melodic shapes stopping, starting, and cascading up and down in parallel atonal chords. In the last few minutes of the piece, Rouse suddenly shifts tone into something more American-sounding, transcendental, and a bit in common with Barber’s Adagio, though much less heart-on-sleeve. It’s good to hear it in the Calders’ unsentimental style to keep it from getting over-sweet. The last minute or so reintroduces a trace of chromatic poison, leading to an ambiguous, unsettled conclusion.

The first movement of the Beethoven was the most striking: after Rouse & Shostakovich, the Calders played it as if it had been written in the same style: emphasizing sudden dynamic changes, slipping jolts of dead silence between phrases, playing with a cool and very un-romantic tone. This works, and works well; though it wouldn’t transfer to the other movements, so it was a good call for them not to go for the same effect, even if the quartet didn’t feel completely of a piece as a result. The second movement is slow, lyrical and marked con molto di sentimento; here it was austere and classical in a sculpted-in-marble kind of way. The last two movements are dancy, though off-kilter and rippled with angsty minor-key kinds of harmonies. For this they finally let go a bit and did some fiddling, shifting into a solid and earthy tone and, just as significantly, leaning towards each other and playing with more bodily motion. A perfect upshift in tempo at the coda and then the powerful concluding strokes of the piece: bam, they stick the landing, everyone cheers. Beethoven lives.

Q & A: The Brandy Alexander

[Monday night, 6/19.—ed.]

Q: What is a Brandy Alexander?
A: A Brandy Alexander is a mixed drink that, a few years ago at a bar, was suggested to you as an interesting selection by a college friend who had just completed a bartending course. Since you did not actually order a Brandy Alexander at the time, it remains an unknown drink that sounds unusual and sophisticated.

Q: Where can you obtain a Brandy Alexander?

A: Any friend’s wedding that features an open bar can supply one.

Q: How is a Brandy Alexander made?

A: First, the bartender will laugh at you a bit and ask “Really?” When you confirm your request, he will shake his head and concoct something that appears to be largely made out of cream, then slide it over to you saying “One milkshake” in a kind of bemused and disparaging tone of voice.

Q: How does one best enjoy a Brandy Alexander?

A: Traditionally it is consumed within about forty seconds and without making eye contact with anybody nearby. You may spend this time pretending to study pictures of the bride’s family. The empty glass, laced with a frothy remainder which does in fact look rather milkshake-like, may be discreetly deposited on an out-of-the-way table surface. You are then free to rejoin your dinner companions, noting that you did not in fact feel like ordering anything at the bar after all.

Q: If drinking a Brandy Alexander leaves your curiosity satisfied, are there any other drinks you should consider trying next time?
A: I would recommend sticking with gin and tonic, or possibly vodka and cranberry juice. You pretty much know what you’re getting that way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

File Under "Hopefully Not Prophetic"

An ominous moment at the end of a quiet workday: I log on to the county library's website to extend my checkout of Roger Angell's collection of baseball essays, Once More Around the Park, but the renewal fails with the following message.

Item not renewed: Patron expires before duedate

The due date is July 8th. I don't like it; I don't like it at all.

Weird Science

It's been a busy week, though I've finally found a satisficient apartment, at least through the end of August. It's a summer sublet that could extend to the full academic year, if I'm compatible with my roommates, who I haven't met yet. So, things seem to be falling into place.

In lieu of actually writing anything of substance, I'll just link to the heartwarming tale of the invisible, ubiquitous brain parasite that might be changing everyone's personality. Read the paper he links to at the end, too — more detail, highly fascinating.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kiwi Bikini

As whoever reads this probably knows, we (Dad, Mom, I) came back from our vacation down under last week. Though we did do many cool things, and saw some unique stuff, one thing in particular, as we found out a couple days after our return, was quite funny. On our last night in New Zealand we went to see an All Blacks rugby match against Ireland. It was a surpringly great game with the All Blacks taking the win, and right at the end a lady ran out onto the field wearing only a bikini and her purse. I noticed it and snapped a crappy picture, but then forgot about it until dad stumbled upon this article a couple days after we got back. Those crazy Kiwis.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Re-Stuck in Time!

This is Nate posting from the far future to point out, in re: Jack's post here, that you can manually change the date and time on your posts. I'd give you more details but there's no time, dammit, no time; this future is a dystopian madhouse and there are terrible events about which I must inform the (future) President at once...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ligeti Addendum

You should watch this video of Ligeti's Poème Symphonique for 100 Metronomes.

Unstuck in Time

Quick operational note: I will not have wireless access in the house for the next while, so some of these posts will be chronologically not-in-place. (Any, uh, historians out there reconstructing my day to day life, be particularly forewarned.) If I feel like writing something at night, the resultant post lives on my laptop till I find time to hit a coffee shop.

The wireless is not in the house because, after some deliberation, my roommates and I decided it wasn't worth paying for a half-month that would be billed after we moved out. (Okay, so, technically, there was no deliberation, and only the roommate who owns the account made the decision. But, the less I think about this, I find, the less it bothers me. I'll be okay.)

The coffee shop is just off Orange St. close to downtown, with the quizzically Teutonic name "Koffee?" Plenty pleasant; works for me. The phrase "Small Iced Coffee, Room for Milk" is becoming quite the staple of my verbal repertoire of late, by the way. Gets one through the morning at work too.


[Thursday night, 6/15.—ed.]

The hunt for the good-enough apartment begins. I call "Chas" about two hours after his craigslist posting goes up, and about an hour after that I swing on by. (Names, except for my own, will be falsified throughout this entry. Oh, on second thought, why not falsify my own name too. I shall be called "Andre Hogan.") Chas is moving out of a three-bedroom apartment he currently splits with two other guys in their twenties, "Antonio" and "Doug." It’s a good price, at a decent location.

Chas, a bit on the pudgy side, has kind of a pothead look to him. The apartment itself has some good and some bad. The floors and water pressure are good. The cleanliness is bad. (Chas has just got home a few minutes ago.) The bathroom has that kind of scuzzy dust around the edge of everything; the blinds are dirty; there’s a packet of raw chicken sitting in the sink. "Antonio is probably defrosting that," says Chas. "He likes to cook." Antonio is not home. Chas’s room features a pile of dirty clothes blocking one of the windows.

Opening what appears to be a hallway closet door leads to a second outdoor entrance, blocked off with brooms and mops. Chas stops me with some urgency as I try to open an adjacent closet-looking door. "That goes downstairs, there’s this Chinese family who lives there." Really. "Yeah, one of them’s the landlord. He doesn’t speak any English. He only bought the place like a year ago — apparently it was a real shithole when he got it." They have a separate entrance, at least.

On my way out, Doug is staggering in. Doug, according to Chas, is a private investigator. Doug looks about 25 in his polo shirt and beat-up shorts, and is clutching a nearly-full plastic bottle of Mott’s apple juice. Not really apple juice, he smiles with bloodshot eyes, half of that is 99 Bananas. "99 Apples, haha. Yeah, we party all the time. I just got back from the hookah bar, there are like five girls coming on over later. Lots of poontang around here. Hey Chas, you got any broads tonight?" Chas smiles warmly. "He’s the sober one," he says proudly.

Oh well.

Go You Phoenixes

[Tuesday night, 6/13.—ed.]

The Swarthmore College mascot vote has concluded, and the new mascot will be the Phoenix. Go You Phoenixes.

The plural of “phoenix” is apparently difficult to pin down, due to there being only one phoenix proper, mythologically speaking. According to this second-hand tip from the Winston-Salem Journal, the plural is in fact “phoenixes.” Accurate enough for me! Go You Phoenixes.

During home athletic events, a fully costumed Phoenix mascot will now be appearing on the third floor of McCabe Library, responding to questions by saying “I just really have to work on this paper right now.”

Meanwhile, the “official” school team identity will remain The Garnet. I suppose this is more cost-effective than producing new uniforms, and really it’s fine: garnet is a perfectly fine color. Kind of like crimson, except, you know, no one knows about it.

If you put the two together, you get The Garnet Phoenix, which sounds like the title of a really bad 1940s film noir.

DETECTIVE SWAGGER: [leans across desk] But tell me, lady, why are you so hot to track down this Garnet Phoenix before the police can even open the case?

DAME: [dewey-eyed] Oh, it’s not how fabulously valuable it is, Detective. Believe me. But if you could only understand how . . . how personally meaningful the Garnet Phoenix is to me . . .

SWAGGER: [lights cigarette] She was looking for the Garnet Phoenix, all right, and she wanted it bad. Looking for trouble, too, I thought. And maybe, part of me was already saying, maybe she was looking for someone to cling to during these dark nights of her life. But I didn’t know the half of it yet.

DAME: Uh . . . you’re not doing a voice over. I can hear what you’re saying.

SWAGGER: Oh. [draws on cigarette; exhales slowly] Shit.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Merry Bloomsday 2K6

Wishing you all many happy returns of the Bloomsday.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Casual Thursday

I biked to work today, and then realized upon getting to the gym (where I shower) that I'd forgotten to pack an actual pair of pants. After some deliberation, I decided that it wasn't worth going an hour and forty-five minutes out of my way to get actual pants, and to just wear the sweatpants I had with me. (Fortunately they were fairly clean. I scrubbed some of the biking-related grime off the back of them in a locker room sink, left them in the sauna while I showered, and then finished drying them with the small blow-dryer attached to the wall.)

You know that depressing feeling you get on a slow weekend when it's about 2:30 in the afternoon and you're still wearing sweatpants? It's like eight times worse at work.

I'm still wrapping my mind around living in Connecticut in earnest. I mean, beyond the obvious needing-an-apartment-in-two-weeks part of it. Like I'm going to need an actual opinion about Joe Lieberman. He's facing a mild but increasing primary election threat from a more liberal Democrat named Ned Lamont, and there's this whole ball of wax about liberal/centrist Democratic Party ideas, and the Iraq War, and compromise positions with Republican congressmen, etc. etc. Where do I stand? Who knows??

Connecticut never struck me as someplace where I might actually live. Kind of like Delaware. New Jersey I probably could have conceived of, distantly.

This does get me out of Queens County jury duty, which I'd delayed twice since January. This is positive.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ligeti Requiem

I read the news of Ligeti’s passing late Monday night, and decided to listen to his Requiem (with headphones) as I fell asleep. This is a good way to drowse off into peculiar clouds of close choral dissonance, and then wake up almost screaming ten minutes later when it gets to the movement where suddenly everyone is shouting.

I remember reading a while back that Ligeti was too ill to travel, and he hasn’t composed anything recently either, so it’s not a surprise, but it is a shame. If there was one completely irreplaceable composer out there, it was him.

What I like about Ligeti’s music is that everything feels so alive. The 2001-type pieces from the 60s sound very organic – you don’t feel like you’re following a composer’s thought process, but rather listening to something naturally change shape over time. His concertos from the 90s, my favorite pieces of his, sound more deliberately constructed, but nothing is stylized, and every bit seems to be sparked by its own inscrutable internal gadgetry. (The Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, and Hamburg Concerto for horns, are the ones I’m thinking of.)

Ligeti things that I like include: melodies that tangle along over unpredictable, distorted meters; things getting wacky and grotesque; intrusions of percussive sounds, or whistles, or ocarinas; still music that resonates with its individual dark and complex hum. Very few composers, ever, have made music that conveys this kind of life of its own.

I need to give another listen to his opera, and to get into the piano Etudes. I’m also kicking myself still for missing a bunch of Ligeti performances in New York over the last couple of years; hopefully the memorial celebrations will keep them coming for another little while.

I soundtracked my Tuesday at work with all the Ligeti I’ve got on CD. The slow movement of his Piano Concerto is my favorite elegy out of it all, I think. It’s got all the Ligeti trademarks: the charmed and waiting atmosphere, the slowly wending melodies of untraceable folk origin, the minute and a half of high winds in jarring dissonance, the party whistle that wheels up as the movement climaxes. It’s a surreal landscape, and the piano reacts to it by threading plaintive but stunted bits of song through it. It ends with a harmonica and a clarinet quietly playing a tentative fragment of melody, which doesn’t answer a thing.

No one could have written this but Ligeti, and no one will again.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ligeti is Dead, Long Live Ligeti

I couldn't find an obituary that was worth supplying a link for, although the NY Times one struck me as rather wretched.

The list of old people that are still alive grows another name smaller:


Am I missing anyone?

Monday, June 12, 2006

You Should Wear a Helmet When You Ride Me!

So Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hospitalized with head injuries this morning after a motorcycle accident in Pittsburgh. Any wire service summary can fill in the details, but I doubt it can beat the Post-Gazette's lurid bystander narratives or their depth of prior reporting on the joint subjects of Ben Roethlisberger and not wearing helmets while motorcycling.

Anyway, if Big Ben sees the light and/or has a good PR manager I'm sure he'll be appearing soon enough in elementary school auditoria across Western Pennsylvania to discuss proper helmet usage. I admit my own first reaction to the story was pretty shallow, though: something along the lines of "Yes yes, but what news of his thumbs and knees?" With luck they'll put his head back together in time for the next football season; without luck I suppose he can prematurely follow other past Steelers QBs into the netherworld of little-seen cable TV programming, such as hunting and fishing shows or The Cannonball Run. Here's hoping for the best. God knows the Pirates can't support all the region's sports-related hopes and fears, whether or not they've finally won a road series.

Not that I've Actually Read Proust

I recently composed a promotional email newsletter for work, which involved writing some tiny little bits of original copy describing recent books. One such publication is a comprehensive account of Marcel Proust's love life. In my first draft I managed to refer to this as a "remembrance of flings past," and in fact the marketing manager didn't make any comment about it when I ran the email by her for approval. But, I had to cut it later for space. Kind of a shame; I don't think I'll get the chance to make that particular joke again.

Incidentally, I found myself in one of those miniature liberal intellectual jams in writing this bit of copy, where you know you're overthinking it but can't let it go anyway. So Proust was gay: if you don't mention he was gay, does that seem like you're trying to whitewash over it? But if you go out of your way to mention he was gay, doesn't that mean you're not accepting it as a lifestyle in full equality?

The answer, of course, is that none of this matters. If I have ten words of marketing copy to spend, then I can't even fit in my little play on words, much less all this social subtext.

I feel, however, that the best way to reaffirm one's gay-supporting credentials is to laugh hilariously at Jon Stewart doing what he does best, while taking down this Republican anti-marriage amendment hypocrisy. First funny Jon, then serious Jon just tearing William Bennett a new one. As Rob Corddry puts it: Oh, the hu-man-on-manity.

Things Jack Got Today

I. Sunburned
II. Job offer

Okay, the sunburn I got yesterday, on a recreational bike ride organized by a local biking group for the Arts & Ideas Festival, which New Haven organizes every June. I should have known better, but I got my arms pretty well. Neck & face are okay. I should have checked to see how long this bike ride was going to be. It turned out to be 25 miles long, involving about 3 1/2 hours of mostly-pleasant suburban road-following. This felt good, except for the eventual sunburn. It is worth mentioning that, wishful thinking aside, you will not be sunburned less if you are going faster.

But the job offer came today, from the editorial department. So I definitely have a permanent foothold in the office, which is very much where I'd like to be. It hasn't been finalized and there's another open position I'm still planning to interview for (in the marketing department, fairly similar to what I've been doing for the last two months) so some things are yet unclear; but, for now: hooray, I will shortly be legitimately employed once again.

I am celebrating by doing my laundry and frequently applying moisturizer to my arms.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Spinach Bruises Easily?


My biggest complaint about working at a grocery store is the fact that most anecdotes, when retold away from the context of said store, are no longer funny. The incident prompting this particular post (aside from the "No post since Wednesday? I better post something..." impulse) involved me placing something on top of a man's bag of spinach at the checkout counter, whereupon he promptly warned me to be more careful with his spinach. I then dropped his bag of spinach onto the floor, and he said something to the extent of "Come on, man, at least act like you care a little bit."

Anyway, that (non-)anecdote once half-assedly typed up here, seems pretty pointless, and not really very funny. But I've got wireless internet in my apartment, dammit.

That is to say, this post acts both as a post and as an apology for its own post-ness. (and not in any sort of post-post kind of way).

Well, damn, if there's a way to make a post trail off into incoherent mumbling I'd love to use it here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Honegger: Awesome

I think you all are already aware of my longstanding fanaticism for Arthur Honegger's orchestral music. I would just like to note that his Symphonie Liturgique is, in fact, totally incredible and also a good listen while you're attached to a computer during work. Maybe just because it was raining like all holy hell today, but the ominous, bluesy tread of that third movement really touched a nerve. Ahhhh.

In about the middle of the slow movement, Honegger builds up into an agitated climax that sounds more like genuine, wailing song than any other orchestral music I know; it crests and then sublimes rapidly into a few measures of ethereal chorale for the violins waaaaaayy up high. This is amazing. And the sad, transcended quiet end of the symphony: a lonely flute twirling around a minor-key lick while ambiguously major-key orchestal harmonies drift off into some or another sunset.

I can never entirely decide that it's OK to let myself just groove along to something written in response to the terror and devastation of World War II; but between the Liturgique, the Dies Irae section of Britten's War Requiem, and Shostakovich's Seventh, I don't think I can stave off the guilty pleasure. Something about angry, fully orchestrated dissonance in a fast tempo just triggers the adrenaline & kicks me up into a happier gear.

Pre-Hump Day Omnibus Post

The end of Tuesday finds me expecting from minute to minute to hear some eggs boiling over in the kitchen -- hard-boiling some eggs being the only personal task I designated for today, other than pre-ordering a Don Hertzfeldt anthology DVD, and the one I most nearly failed to accomplish by falling asleep on the couch in front of series 2 of Red Dwarf (my germinal, Netflix-enabled survey of BBC sitcoms continuing unabated). Until the eggs are done, then, I sit in front of the computer and drink San Pellegrino out of one of the few clean drinking receptacles left in my apartment at the moment. (San Pellegrino makes a pretty good substitute for my tap water for casual drinking purposes, since it's cheap at Trader Joe's and its gas content is more predictable and palatable than that of what comes out of my kitchen faucet.) I don't typically outdo myself on Tuesdays anymore.

Last night I had a dream that contrived to have me listening to some sort of fictional middle-aged Hollywood executive, who said of her ex-lover: "Poor Richard. He told me, all I want is one arm and one leg and to walk on all twelves like a goat. Five months later he was dead." This struck me as a very peculiar quotation, once I was aware I had dreamed it, so I tried to write it down. This was a struggle, since I was in fact still asleep, and even after mustering the necessary concentration to formulate the words correctly I merely woke up and found that I had only dreamed I'd written it down. Irksome, but not as maddening as, say, dreaming in mundane detail about thoroughly brushing one's teeth for five minutes only to wake up and find one's teeth still unbrushed, as happened to me on some morning last week.

(Actual news on the subject of unusual limb counts.)

Of the unclean drinking receptacles in my home, my favorite is the steel beer stein that my friend Nic gave me at his wedding rehearsal dinner. He got all his groomsmen mugs with personalized, very obscure inside jokes engraved on them. Mine sports the following quotation and attribution:

Less talk, more work, Earth germs! -- Nelson Rockefeller
This comes from a few rounds of hangman Nic and I played on a bus trip our freshman year of college, in which I used various misattributed quotations in the hope that the misattributions would make them harder to solve. (This particular statement was actually made, more or less, by Soundwave in an episode of the old Transformers cartoon.) Anyway, I've always wanted a mug with a non sequitur on it; as I told Nic at the time, this is basically the best cup I have ever gotten from anyone.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It Has Become That Time of Evening

Later along on that same gray Sunday as before, I finished reading James Agee's A Death in the Family, while lying on a bench on the now-quiet Yale campus and listening to the impressively intricate carillon nearby (in a university tower? one of the churches?) belling out some thoughtful Bach preludes. This is a very good situation in which to read this book.

Do read this book; I'll lend it to one of you when we next meet. It's sad, but that kind of illuminated literary sad. Agee's writing is extraordinarily lyrical, especially during several nocturnal scenes, where he uses soft and poetic phrases to create a charmed and impressionistic atmosphere. Reading him is like looking at a really good painting, where you admire the composition as well as the quality of light and shadow, and also the brush strokes on the surface. Then when the time calls for it, he shifts his writing into a harder-edged, more objective style.

There's a prelude to the book called Knoxville: Summer, 1915, the last part of which you'll recognize from Samuel Barber. I've loved Barber's setting since I heard it the first time; I love it still, but it doesn't do justice to the free and gentle flowing Agee's writing, or something flowery like that.

Agee died before completing the book, and I'm curious to know more about the editorial decisions made before its publication. There's a brief note at the front of the book: most interestingly, several large sections of text (including Knoxville) weren't integrated into the book by Agee, and stand in between the three parts of the book. This actually works very nicely. The final chapter of the book maybe doesn't feel like it sums up what came before.

Also, briefly, I recommend not reading the back cover of the book or any other synopses; I usually don't & I'm glad in this case I didn't. Just let the plot of the book pace itself; it does so exquisitely.

Hapless Mound Jockeys of Tomorrow, Today

It's amateur draft time in big league baseball, so once again our beloved Pirates are raking in a whole bunch of pitchers. At the top of the list is a fellow named Brad Lincoln, hopefully no relation to nondescript former reliever Mike Lincoln. (The link doesn't lie, sir: you were actually a less desirable player than Joe Beimel.) If all goes according to the usual plan, by this time three years from now he'll be sitting out a year in triple-A due to a career-threatening injury. Drink that champagne, kid!

I think what they should do is to find someone with healthy shoulders, drug him, surgically remove his arms just above those healthy shoulders, and then reattach them to John Van Benschoten. It'll be a good investment. Sure, it leaves us with one player who doesn't have any arms; but perhaps Jim Tracy could use him in pinch-hitting situations instead of Jose Hernandez.

P.S. My wireless in the house is working again. Anyone who wants to change the slogan midweek, feel free.

"Fuck You, Have a Bad Day!"

Home from work finally. Enjoying a delightful faux-mimosa made from Cava and blood orange juice. Had an encounter with an incredibly irate customer the other day at the register - I asked him if he had waited in line (he hadn't) and when he expressed his disinterest in line-jumping and I agreed to go ahead and help him anyway (he was only buying popsicles anyway) he continued to berate me about my general ignorance and intolerance. When I told him to have a nice day, he said "Fuck you, have a bad day!" really loud so pretty much everbody in the front half of the store heard him. Startling at the time, but in retrospect, really funny (at least for someone like me, who loves swearing).

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Et Tu, Mo-Dean?

Do you know what strikes me as the height of decadence? I shall tell you what strikes me as the height of decadence. It is eating hot goat-meat tacos while watching Family Guy with the sound off and listening to the B-52s greatest hits CD that you impulse-bought from the Borders across the street from the Trader Joe's that you went to this morning. It helps, too, if you eat some Tylenol that is probably necessary because of too many beers this afternoon but that you can easily blame on the lighter fluid-infused hamburgers that you ate at about the same time. Continue to give me some of that good stuff; I like the fresh cilantro on the goat meat, and if you ever have an explicitly alien-abduction-themed dance party I have a CD you should borrow...

Staring at the Water on a Sunday

It's been a pretty lazy weekend here, which feels nice. I was planning on having a lazy Saturday anyway, so when I woke up to gray and rainy weather yesterday it was essentially good news. Had a loungeful morning, read some & took a nap after breakfast. Later in the day I drove to Milford where I had dinner with my friend Stu (who I met at the Quaker meeting house here a few weeks ago) — homemade quesadillas along with corn on the cob & Dos Equis, highly satisfying. We drove back to New Haven to see a semi-staged performance of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti at the recital hall on campus, which scratched an itch. Some very good music in there: every scene has either got a jazzy melodic hook to it, or else a well-calibrated, modest kind of poignancy that doesn't overdo it. The singers were charismatic; I like seeing young performers take on something a bit quirky.

Today I was riding my bike to the Quaker meeting (about a half hour away, substantially uphill) but had got a late start, and decided halfway there I wasn't going to make it on time. So I rode back home & watched SportsCenter for a while instead, gradually eating a grapefruit. I am no more spiritually uplifted, but I am aware of Albert Pujols's strained oblique muscle. And that they're preparing for some Indy car race in upstate New York today, which they're not planning to cancel despite the fact it's rainy and wet there too. You're all fools, I think, sucking on a quarter-grapefruit. You're all gonna get yourself killed doing that. Go slow, will you? I am lying on the couch wearing sweatpants.

I've gone to Quaker meeting I think five times here, maybe four; it's a lovely meeting house up by the Quinnipiac River, on top of a steep and nearly unbikable hill. The first time was Easter Sunday, and at the time there was an actual spiritual void it filled, and the silence was thrilling and important, and calming; and each successive time it's meant somewhat less. Quaker meeting is familiar to me from Swarthmore, where I'd gone to a couple of meetings; and it's as close to a well-fitting religion as I'm ever going to find, due to it being a kind Christianity where you just sit there without saying very much, and there's no overt belief system, or even specific God if you don't care for it. What's not to like? But, well, I'm not going to force it to be essential.

I'm reading James Agee's A Death in the Family right now, and one of the characters sums up an agnostic viewpoint that's so close to mine that it barely registered as interesting the first time I read it:

"I'm not exactly an atheist, you know. Least I don't suppose I am. Seems as unfounded to me to say there isn't a God as to say there is. You can't prove it either way. But that's it: I've got to have proof. And on anything can't be proved, be damned if I'll jump either way."

It's kind of comforting to know that if I phrased myself differently, my own ambivalent cluelessness would come across as southern folk wisdom instead.

"Could be that God has a plan for us, but seems unlikely to me. I could be at church, but can't I think this through just as clearly, more clearly even, at home? So I reckon I'll stay here on the couch till God in his wisdom visits upon us something representing a bit more proof. But quiet, they're back from commercials, now. Maybe they'll show some Pirates-Padres highlights. Wait, arena football? Hahh. Isn't anyone on this green earth gives a whit about that."

Every Now and Then I Fall Apart

Recently I finished reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse, which is partly very good and partly frustrating. He does very well by describing the fall of the ancient socities he chooses to concentrate on (Easter Island, the Greenland Norse of the Middle Ages, the Anasazi, some others) — it’s clear and vivid science writing, and he crisply sets up a framework for common occurrences between the different situations. I found the details about fieldwork fascinating: how various specialists analyze discarded food waste to determine diets & animal husbandry patterns, or count the types of pollen found in soil strata in order to chart the course of deforestation.

But he devotes the last third of the book to drawing connections to contemporary societies, and this doesn’t come off nearly as well. His writing gets soggier and his arguments don’t sound as convincing. Foremost, he pretty much drops the five-point framework which guides his discussion of the ancient collapses, which gave me the feeling that he was copping out in the face of trying to extend it coherently. There’s a chapter on contemporary China which is largely a heap of environmental-degradation statistics, capped with a fairly empty statement along the lines of “I hold out cautious hope that they’ll address this” — the difference between this and his usual systematic approach is huge and disappointing. I think the subtext is, one has to write about China if talking about the contemporary world at large, even if one doesn’t know a particular lot about it.

Meanwhile, he starts to sound less analytical and a bit like a stereotypical environmentalist, assigning too much importance to local and NGO efforts around the margins of industry without trying to put it toughly into perspective, and harping about the costs of pollution cleanup without really contextualizing them with the explosion of economic production that’s happened at the same time. He approaches the idea of globalized trade from a vaguely defined “we’re-all-connected-and-share-the-same-
problems” angle but doesn’t give enough service to the benefits of it, especially how it could (possibly?) smooth over climate change “winners and losers” (as he puts it a couple of times) vis-à-vis agricultural production. He emphasizes the concept of sustainable food production & water use, but outside of a passing statistic regarding Australia’s agriculture, doesn’t hunt down an answer to what kind of danger the globally trading world is really in on this count. (He does say, no mistake about it, that the world could not sustain its current population at anything like first world living standards, but I think there’s a different degree of concern & immediacy here.) Given that these sustainability problems are central to the possibility of collapse, the fact that he doesn’t hit this harder is kind of baffling to me.

His moral of the story is basically: Collapses have happened before, and can happen again, to us. I found it actually surprisingly disturbing just to punch through the first tissue of my own denial about this. And there’s value in his reiteration that collapses aren’t sudden cataclysms, but rather situations of increasingly marginal living environments that can then go over the edge under temporary duress, like long droughts. (It’s not his example, but think of New Orleans being so succeptible to a 40-year hurricane, and how other cities and countries might quietly acquire a similarly short period of massive threat.) But I found it frustrating that his crowning conclusions in the book aren’t especially insightful, especially since he convincingly argues how much is at stake.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Playing With Power

So how long does it really take to beat Super Mario Brothers 3? The answer is 11 minutes. Plus the best years of your life to get that good.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

My Only Odd or End du Jour

A couple hours ago I was waiting in a grocery store checkout line in my usual, numbed after-work state. I looked down at the candy bars and saw one with the perplexing name "Spun-W", with a round nut-like logo in place of the hyphen... After a moment of puzzling out just what this could mean I realized I was looking at an upside-down Mounds bar. An "aha" moment.

At least my brain functioned well enough to make me not buy the Mounds.

Odds "n" Ends

You know what's surprisingly awesome? Shooting down I-95 with the windows down, blasting Carmina Burana out of your car stereo. Best ten minutes of evening commute I've ever had. . . . Trusted sources at work tell me that the Da Vinci Code movie is not nearly as bad as the reviews say. I still don't plan to see it. I would recommend reading this 2004 Dave Barry parody of the book, however. . . . My college friend Al is spending the summer biking across the entire United States. I talked to him last Friday, when he was waiting out a snowstorm at Yellowstone National Park. This is pretty cool. If you're reading this, Al, good luck dodging all those RVs. . . . It's not like I'm any expert on Eritrean food, but the shrimp barka at Caffe Adulis in New Haven is too outstanding to put into words. . . . Some time a couple of years ago, I came up with the word "treesy" to describe pleasantly arboreal places. At the time I was only being cute about it, but now the linguistic center of my brain suggests the word to me in real conversation with some regularity. Perhaps I'll call the dictionary people. . . . There is nothing more irritating than having to share a gymnasium locker room with a bunch of yabbering, pre-pubescent swimming class attendees giggling at each other's badly told sex jokes. NONE OF YOU ARE COOL. . . . Not only are the Pirates playing well this week, but Freddy Sanchez is suddenly leading the league in batting average. Can we all agree that he's not going to be benched for Joe Randa now?