Blog to Self

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on Michael Jackson (sort of, eventually): So Long

I was travelling recently, and didn't have time before leaving to put music on my MP3 player. Actually I realized right before I had to go that I had deleted the software that my MP3 player came with (while clearing memory to defrag my hard drive), and then discovered that I couldn't use iTunes to add some recently acquired music to my MP3 player. (As a librarian specializing in music, video, and web 2.0 stuff, I should know/foresee these things, but I lose patience with it in managing my own music, so it's stayed fuzzy in my mind. All I know for sure is that it's complicated. I was using iTunes by default, even though I don't like it, because I decided not to buy the Media Monkey software that I had been using, and now I think I will, since the Yahoo Music thing I had tried before was also annoying me with some weirdness relating to DRM I think. The whole fact that this is such an issue at all gives me a headache.)

Anyway, the main point is that I took some blank discs since I knew I wanted to burn copies of the new music I had acquired recently. One was Belle and Sebastian's "Dear Catastrophe Waitress." Another was Michael Jackson's "Thriller." But mainly I wanted to burn the Belle and Sebastian. So there I am in the Detroit airport burning a disc on my laptop. I was in a little bit of a hurry since I had only just enough time before I had to board my connecting flight to burn the disc on my old laptop. Somehow when creating a play list to burn, I included some things I didn't intend along with the Belle and Sebastian. So I ended up with a disc (basically for use in my car) that opens with Simon and Garfunkel's tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright, "So Long," followed by the whole of Belle and Sebastian's "Dear Catastrophe Waitress, " capped off by Michael Jackson's "Baby Be Mine" from "Thriller."

Which brings me to the whole point of this post. When listening to the disc in the car, then, later in the week, the disc came to an end, and then replayed, with the result that immediately after the infectious Michael Jackson song, I heard Paul Simon singing "So Long":

So long, Frank Lloyd Wright
I can't believe your song is gone so soon.
I barely learned the tune

This seemed a very fitting bit of synchronous happenstance. To me the spirit of the song was touchingly appropriate to the memory of Michael Jackson in spite of the asynchronous elements. The lines above, certainly. Even "I barely learned the tune," apparently ridiculous given the familiarity of Jackson's many hits, I think is appropriate, since Jackson's public identity was so fraught with sensationalism, scandal, and an air of unreality. Who would Jackson have become if he had had a more normal childhood, or managed to grow up more fully, before being subjected to the degree of overwhelming success he achieved very early in his life? Did we really "learn the tune" of who he was?

The "talk of the town" suggests that Jackson's downfall was prescription drug-related, and it seems all too likely. The sadness this brings to me, as a partial explanation of such a tragic end, seems well expressed by this wonderful bit of songwriting.

So long
So long

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lovely Lieder, Leontyne

There was a fascinating piece on the radio about a new musical production based on Langston Hughes poem/book Ask Your Mama starring Jessye Norman. I wrote about Langston Hughes for a high school report once and in the process discovered a beautiful copy of this book in the Worcester Public Library.

I thought the radio piece was toned down a bit. The work has a lot of anger in it. A section called "Cultural Exchange" was reused as part of "The Panther and the Lash." The most memorable bits of the poem for me came out of the following, from that section:







The website for the event at Carnegie Hall tonight is pretty impressive with an elaborate flash introduction, and portrays more of the edginess of the original than the radio piece, in my (very humble) opinion.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Language of the Mid-West:

It's a regional 'deal'

I notice that there are some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) differences in speech patterns here in Kansas:
  1. On KMUW, Wichita's public radio station, when they give the temperature during the weather, they say that Wichita 'has' 56 degrees. Dodge City 'has' 39 degrees. If I remember correctly (I wanted to go online and listen to verify this but I just don't have the time), in Albany they would say that "It's 29 degrees in Albany, 26 in Saratoga," etc. (Actually when Mike Landon gave the weather I would have to stop what I was doing to marvel at how much information he gets into a "short" weather update, only to find at the end of it that the info that applied to me, about Albany precisely, completely eluded me -- I was left not knowing how many degrees Albany had, what temperature it was.
  2. The name 'Arkansas" is pronounced differently within the state of Kansas than it is outher places -- like Arkansas, and the rest of the country. Here they say "AR'-KAN-ZUS", with the emphasis on the first syllable, so it sounds like "Our Kansas." The Arkansas river [Wikimedia Commons map via Wikipedia] goes through the center of Wichita, from north to south. (There's also an Arkansas Street.) Where it starts in Colorado, it's the 'AR-KIN-SAW' river. Then it's the "Our Kansas" River when it crosses the state line. When it gets to Oklahoma, it quickly (and sheepishly?) changes back to 'AR-KIN-SAW' in plenty of time before it crosses into the state with the same name, where they definitely do not say "Our Kansas River".
  3. People use the word 'deal' here in much the same way people generally use the word 'stuff'. This is not unique, but I noticed it because of how often I hear it here. E.g.: "They got one of those social networking deals, where you can post pictures and annoy you friends with useless viral apps, and stuff."
  4. People say "Y'all" sometimes here.
OK so #3 wasn't so interesting maybe. Does this post qualify me for "bonafide nerd"? It occurs to me that the significance of #1 is that it takes less time to say "It's 34 in Chicago, 46 in St. Louis." than it does to say "Chicago has 34 degrees, St. Louis 46." Or maybe it just seems like more of a short-hand. The "has" construct does seem (to me) to be the technically more accurate or plain-speaking way to put it -- though of course neither is "wrong" I suppose. It's just, y'all talk faster back East -- Generally speaking, dontcha know.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Origins of the Religious Right

A friend writes:
The following link is quite interesting:

Both the radio segment and the book excerpt are enlightening.

The religious right coalesced not to fight Roe V. Wade but to fight IRS attempts to remove tax exempt status from reactionary schools that discriminated openly on the basis of race.

The link features an extended except from Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America by Randall Balmer. [Didn't listen to the radio segment due to technical difficulties. Arrgh.]

Thomas Merton, Diane Rehm...and Auden. again

I caught part of the 2nd half of the Diane Rehm show today and it makes me want to read some Thomas Merton -- a name I have heard many times; but I never read his books.

The segment is about a new book (and film) about Merton. Here's the link if you want to listen to it:
Morgan Atkinson: "Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton" (DeChant Hughes)
I hadn't heard of Diane Rehm while living in Albany (though I noticed that WAMC now airs it on their HD2 (digital radio) broadcast. --Gotta get me one of those. Been hearing about it on my new local public radio station, KMUW.)

I do not consider myself a Christian, but I have serious respect for anyone who finds spirituality in religion of any kind (that's an vague turn of phrase but I don't know how else to say it briefly). I was raised as a Christian, and you could say that I try to live according to what I understand to be Christian values and principles. But I have been more inspired in my search for spirituality (meaning or purpose of life, higher truth) by Buddhism, though even in that sphere I fall short of actually calling myself a Buddhist. Neither am I an atheist. I like to call myself an agnostic (the Buddha was an agnostic in regard to the Hindu God(s) of his time), but I if pressed I have been known to admit to a belief in a well, let's call it a higher power. 'God' has too much baggage for me I guess (too much baggage to carry?) But I digress.

I think I had some idea that Merton was interested in Buddhism, but I didn't know that he was --well, a contemporary of W.H. Auden's in that he was also part of an intellectual trend towards Catholicism in the 1930s. (With, I believe, a disillusionment with Communism.) Auden is, I daresay, one of my intellectual heroes. I'm not that interested in his poetry as such. I just like his mind -- the Dyer's Hand esp.* -- but I digress) So this Merton character is pretty fascinating. Apparently, before his embrace of a monastic life, he was kind of a hedonist and ladies' man.

*[1st result of a Google search for "dyer's hand auden"]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Early Chicago Memory (before the trouble started)

I laughed loudly just now when I remembered the time when I had my very first job (of very few) as a waiter. It was a fine-dining type of place way out on the northwest side of Chicago run by a young Polish couple. I had taken a year off from college. They hired me knowing I was inexperienced but trusting that I would learn quickly as I went along--being the smart, worldly young man of the world that I was. It was a pretty nice seafood restaurant, and they had some kinds of fish I had never heard of. So on my second day I had the opportunity to inform one of the regulars (very sincerely, and innocently) that the special of the day was "orange roughly."

That was a lunch shift. The first time I worked an evening (not long after that) they ran a special of all-you-can-eat crab legs, advertised in the Chicago Reader. I was the only waiter, and besides me there was only the 'matron' of the house, who tended bar, and the chef. High-jinks ensued. I couldn't tell you how many tables were going at once -- it's all a blur. Definitely in the double digits. Some customers waited 45 min (or 1 hr 1/2?) for 'refills' of the all-you-can-eat crab legs. I must have gotten more than a little panicky and excited -- OK I was freaking out. I must have gotten impatient for orders in the back. The chef, a short, stocky Mexican, shook his knife at me: "DON'T YOU EVER RAISE YOUR VOICE TO ME IN MY KITCHEN!"...

Myself, I prefer orange gently.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Feminism, Culture Wars -- and Civil Comments on Constructive Critical Commentary

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon had a great post recently which caught my attention in part because she quotes an article which refers to Thomas Frank's Whats the Matter with Kansas? (which I never read. I own One Market Under God but haven't read it either -apparently he has a new one too). Anyway, she discusses an article on that references Franks' argument about the republican strategy of using the three Gs (God, Guns, and Gays) to lure "Joe sixpack" to vote republican. (Basically the Salon article, by Gary Kamiya, is "about how McCain is reviving the culture war with Sarah Palin," by tapping into resentment of social change blamed on those elite, uppity liberals.)

Marcotte doesn't disagree with either Kamiya or Frank, except iona fine point -- namely, she wants to take a closer look at the three G's and "the tensions...underlying them":
“Guns” is a code word that has both aspects of anxious masculinity and racism in it---gun fetishists imagine themselves holed up protecting their female property from hoardes of grabby non-white men.
It gets better from there, as she explains the sexism at the root of homophobia, and how both can be seen as economic issues:
So much of the nostalgia for the mythical 50s is a belief that things were just better when women provided a disempowered, unpaid labor force.
When conservatives say that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, I suspect what they mean is that de-gendered marriage will start giving women more ideas about what marriage could look like between equals.
Get ‘em married early by making childbirth mandatory, putting women in a position where they have to marry. And make sure those marriages stay unequal by barring people from it who have a different model of marriage entirely.
...And this agenda is being underscored by Palin -- maddeningly. Worth reading the whole thing.

PS - A friend says I did good with picture blogging before (not a comment on what I'm doing recently, but I heard it that way). So here's the Arkansas River today, from my phone:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

potitics shmolotics

I have been looking again at some of the political blogs I had subscribed to via RSS (on Google Reader) for a while now, but stopped following due to information overload and the job search. One of them is a liberal feminist sort of thing called Pandagon -- an odd name that doesn't quite trip off the tongue, but memorable in its way. It's a professional blog, so the writers/owners make money from the ads on it. I really don't like the "secondary sidebar" full of ads to the left of the main content on the page. It's extremely obtrusive. Fortunately, I can 'filter' the ads by reading it on my aggregator/reader.

Anyway, a recent post called The beginning of the decline of McCain is interesting (in part, to me) because it manages to pay tribute to David Foster Wallace while linking to a This American Life broadcast (on the 2000 presidential primaries in South Carolina, featuring Wallace) as well as making me feel better about how the presidential campaign has been going lately (even more than the image/idea of Hillary as the Palinator courtesy of Ann Atlhouse). I'm a big fan of This American Life, and of the little I've read of David Foster Wallace, in re: there was an impressive "book review" of the new edition of the American Heritage Dictionary in Harper's awhile back that was rather mesmerizing.

While I'm getting into political blog territory (I wrote "bog" instead of blog, which is apt), here is another I'm really liking these days, currently with comforting graphic on the relative effects of McCain's and Obama's tax plans: A Tale of Two Graphics. This is Obsidian Wings, mostly by someone under the pseudonym 'hilzoy' who I gather is a female philosophy professor. Curious about her real identity, I tried to find it on Google just now, but couldn't. Apparently it is findable, but she prefers to remain anonymous in part because she teaches and would rather her political writing online not well, get in the way of her teaching. An admirable wish. So I leave it at that, though I discovered she guest blogs/commentates on "real" news sites like CBS News.