PRATIE PLACE

Monday, January 31, 2005

Omar G. was my hero on a winter's night

I am not on the cutting edge. I didn't have a TV, and then, when I did, I forgot to watch it. So I missed everything.

A couple years ago my son rigged up a dvd player at our exercise machine and now, thanks to Netflix, I'm catching up on the last decade's rotten tv shows as I work up a sweat.

At first I mined out one vein at a time. However, after watching a couple seasons straight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I was at the edge of insanity and decided alternation would be better over the long haul.

On my series' rotation: Smallville. It's too bad there's nobody else learning for the first time, as I am, that the most handsome kid on earth, also with super powers, can't get a date and is such a wuusss. And moons endlessly over the detestable Lana. Blech! Blech!

Having a low tolerance for suspense - it's way too much when people in movies go through other peoples' drawers! Let alone crab monsters and things! - I like to read ahead in books and now, thanks to the internet, I can also peek ahead in tv series. I found the recaps (but for me they are precaps) written by Omar L. Gallaga, Smallville Guru, at Television Without Pity.

I recommend to you, as an example, his recap of Tornado, which made me laugh out loud even though I was miserably lonely in an empty dark house listening to crinkly ice falling and expecting the power poles to come crashing down any minute. What I love best is that Omar seems to DETEST this show, yet comments on it minutely and with never-flagging relish. Random excerpts from the FOURTEEN PAGE recap of the 42-minute show!!!!:
Opening credits. Isn't it enough that we have to hear Remy Zero again later in the episode? Can't we skip the song this week? Oh, wait. I can! I hit the fast-forward button. ... Chloe walks up, looking all serious. "They're closing the LuthorCorp plant," she tells Clark. Clark looks shocked. He looks to the right. No, Clark. The plant isn't down the hall.

Bo [Clark's father was a Duke of Hazzard] gets fightin' mad. He says that, as much as he would like Lex out of their lives, he wouldn't wish the plant closing on anyone. "I know, Dad," Clark says gently. Next door, Michael Moore is interviewing a woman who sells rabbits as pets or meat. Clark is sad. He says that Lex loved the town and had big plans. A production of Angels in America! A St. Patrick's Day parade! A sushi bar with little boats that float around the restaurant! "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," Bo says. It is the most deadly and forbidden of platitudes Bo has just uttered. Yoda warned him not to use it unless it's an emergency and it looks like Bo just broke the glass and set off the alarm. Clark looks stricken. "Damn. That's some good platituding right there," he thinks, reluctantly.

The dialogue isn't exactly Gilmore Girls, is it? That show's dialogue crackles. This one's dialogue sits at the bottom of a bowl of soggy cereal turning the milk the muddy brown of Cocoa Puffs. Jocko asks if he's usually boring. Well, shit, yeah. Why do you think they're writing you out of the show?
OK, now about this awful Lana. I know I'm years too late, but couldn't they have reverse-engineered her out of the show with green kryptonite or something, so nobody ever even remembered she had ever been there? (Otherwise they all would have spent a whole season mega-mooning over her and that would have been just as bad.) Two other possibilities come to mind. On Univision's telenovela "Mujer de Madera" the main actress must have asked for a raise in the middle of the season. So they fired her and - wow - her character was suddenly in a terrible accident and spent weeks in the hospital wrapped in bandages and had to have massive plastic surgery. And when the bandages came off - wow - she was like, another person! (Still blonde, though.) Or, there was the classic "Bewitched" solution - just switch to a new actor, keep calling him Darrin, and hope nobody notices.

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Fielding's Advice to Bloggers #1

Advice from the incomparable Tom Jones, my favorite book, by Henry Fielding. The excellent SAT word, eleemosynary, means "charitable," and Fielding's use of it here is in Wikipedia.

"An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. In the former case, it is well known that the entertainer provides what fare he pleases; and though this should be very indifferent, and utterly disagreeable to the taste of his company, they must not find any fault; nay, on the contrary, good breeding forces them outwardly to approve and to commend whatever is set before them. Now the contrary of this happens to the master of an ordinary. Men who pay for what they eat will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and whimsical these may prove; and if everything is not agreeable to their taste, will challenge a right to censure, to abuse, and to d—n their dinner without control.

"To prevent, therefore, giving offence to their customers by any such disappointment, it hath been usual with the honest and well-meaning host to provide a bill of fare which all persons may peruse at their first entrance into the house; and having thence acquainted themselves with the entertainment which they may expect, may either stay and regale with what is provided for them, or may depart to some other ordinary better accommodated to their taste."

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Things We Know Don't Work (#1)

I looked this up for The Fat Guy who was just ranting about it. From Fit to be tied? It's tough finding the right laces by Jeff Bailey (The Wall Street Journal):
It's time to acknowledge it: The nation can't keep its shoes tied. Shoemakers all over have been switching from flat laces, which stay tied but look twisted, to round ones that look cool but come undone. Making matters worse, cotton is now being supplanted by polyester and other slippery synthetics.

"We never worried about the lace not staying tied," concedes Joel Singer, chief of research and development at Etonic, in Chicopee, Mass.

Steven W. Keating, president of Mitchellace Inc., a Portsmouth, Ohio, lace maker, chimes in: "It's strictly economics. Polyester is a lot cheaper than cotton."

... in the New York Marathon, Kenyan John Kagwe had the laces on his Nike Air Streak Vengeance running-shoes come untied three times. Twice, he stopped to retie, and then went into a sprint to catch up to the leaders. The third time, he just kept running, with one lace flapping, and he won the race.

"Did we screw up?" Kirk Richardson, running-shoe chief at the Beaverton, Ore., sneaker giant, asks himself. "Yes, we did." Nike Inc. decided to give Mr. Kagwe, who is paid to wear the brand, the extra $10,000 he was to receive if he broke the record.

Nike says the new round laces can be tugged harder, especially through the company's increasingly weird eyelets.

... "I'm sick and tired of hearing about it," says Angel Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Rockport Co.
Send me ideas of other things you know don't work and we can brood about them together.

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What, and leave show business?

This is what the most veteran member of our band says when confronted with a situation that surprises even him (his seedy past included playing in a South Indian Carnatic Orchestra, a Ukrainian Bandura Orchestra, and also with Linda Ronstadt).

We try to protect ourselves with this mantra: Either a good gig, or good money, but not neither. This keeps us from playing at the openings of shopping malls, for instance.

We did a unexpectedly lovely wedding at the Celebrity Goat Farm in Pittsboro (to your right, an actual Celebrity Goatlet, picture by Gerry). They didn't tell us whether this was a celebrity farm for ordinary goats, or an ordinary farm for celebrity goats. Anyway, I would direct you to their website, but they don't have one. Too bad, cause they sell great (and very expensive) goat cheese and also hats that say "Celebrity Goat Farm" and you would be the only one on your block to own one. The guy that owns the farm and the 60 goats has a nice B&B there (except there's that smell of 60 goats) and is a GREAT cook and puts on weddings.

We mostly do non-mainstream weddings, specializing in "More-or-less Traditional Music from the Northern Hemisphere and the Previous Millennium" as we do. (When we started it was the Current Millennium, but then Y2K happened and we had to order new business cards.) That means if somebody Scottish is marrying somebody Jewish, they can Google "Scottish Jewish Wedding" and our band will pop up on the screen.

So this was a Polish Russian wedding but they wanted medieval music for the prelude. Just our kind of gig. When we got there the bride and groom were sweeping the floor and setting up chairs but they soon disappeared and changed into their lovely garb. They had made their own outfits, sort of SCA-esque with flowing sleeves and wreaths, and the bridegroom had sewn himself a green velour Russian sort of tunic. It was a Unitarian Universalist ceremony, candles and stuff. A Unitarian minister once told me Unitarians don't consider themselves Christians since they don't believe in God, I hadn't known that.

Afterwards we played oboreks and mazurkas and waltzes and everybody danced, young and old, mostly dances they were making up on the spot, and the food was absolutely wonderful. For once, instead of lurking in the back we sat at the banquet table with the bride and groom and their parents and got treated like royalty. At a goat farm. Isn't life good?

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Dying for beauty

In today's Raleigh News & Observer: a N.C. State student slathered herself with a popular lidocaine and tetracaine cream, got in her car, had seizures, fell into a coma, and died on her way to Premier Body of Raleigh for a laser hair removal appointment. The cream, called 10/10 Laser Gel Plus, is used in many spas in the area. Because it is compounded by pharmacists, it requires no FDA approval.

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Janet's great 90s things - and drachenfutter

The Art of Getting By recently had a fun series on Great Things About I Love The 90's and here is just one:
"Caller ID freed up a lot of people from friendships and family members they no longer wanted to deal with. With the technology we have today, I want an emotional Caller ID. I want to know what mood they're in. If it's my wife and she's angry? I'll pass." (Greg Fitzsimmons)
And by the way, that guy should lay in some serious Drachenfutter (dragon fodder), which is (from Christopher J. Moore's In Other Words):
"the offering German husbands make to their wives - breathing raging fire at the cave entrance - when they've stayed out late or they have otherwise engaged in some kind of inappropriate behavior. A nice box of chocolates, or some flowers, perhaps to mask the beer fumes."

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About Mango Chan

I just won this award! Hehehe. Thanks to the new Mango Chan site. If you'd like to be chosen next time, these are the strict criteria:
  • You must have a blog that is updated regularly
  • Your blog must be interesting
  • Your blog must hold more than 30 seconds of my attention

Who was Mango Chan? He was an emperor of Cathay (China) as told in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, published 1371. By the way, the author claimed to have seen the couple on our left. Don't complain there is no sex in my blog. His veracity is impugned at The Museum of Hoaxes:
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville described the travels of an English knight who left England around 1322 and journeyed throughout Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Persia, and Turkey. The stories that Mandeville returned with were fantastic, by any measure. He told of islands whose inhabitants had the bodies of humans but the heads of dogs, of a tribe whose only source of nourishment was the smell of apples, of a people the size of pygmies whose mouths were so small that they had to suck all their food through reeds, and of a race of one-eyed giants who ate only raw fish and raw meat. All of this fantasy was interwoven with other geographical descriptions that were perfectly accurate.

The authorship of Mandeville's Travels remains unknown. Historians cannot decide whether the author was French or English, though they agree that the book was originally composed in French. The character of Mandeville, as already indicated, was almost certainly fictitious.
So what? The pictures are cute.

I've read people don't like long posts, so I've excerpted the story of Mango Chan from the whole thing at romanization.com.) Warning - more sex!
Ye shall understand, that all the world was destroyed by Noah's flood, save only Noah and his wife and his children. Noah had three sons, Shem, Cham, and Japhet. This Cham was he that saw his father's privy members naked when he slept, and scorned them, and shewed them with his finger to his brethren in scorning wise. And therefore he was cursed of God. And Japhet turned his face away and covered them.

... this Cham, for his cruelty, took the greater and the best part, toward the east, that is clept Asia, and Shem took Africa, and Japhet took Europe. ... the fiends of hell came many times and lay with the women of [Cham's descendants] and engendered on them diverse folk, as monsters and folk disfigured, some without heads, some with great ears, some with one eye, some giants, some with horses' feet, and many other diverse shape against kind.

[One of the nicer Chams dreamt an angel said he, Changuys, would be emperor so naturally] ... he went to seven lineages, and told them how the white knight had said. And they scorned him, and said that he was a fool. And so he departed from them all ashamed. And the night ensuing, this white knight came to the seven lineages, and commanded them on God's behalf immortal, that they should make this Changuys their emperor. [More genealogy...]

And after him Mango Chan that was a good Christian man and baptized, and gave letters of perpetual peace to all Christian men, and sent his brother Halaon with great multitude of folk for to win the Holy Land and for to put it into Christian men's hands, and for to destroy Mahomet's law, and for to take the Caliph of Bagdad that was emperor and lord of all the Saracens.
OK, that's getting uncomfortably political even if it was 1371, so I'll stop there and if you want the rest of the racy stuff, buy the book at Amazon.com (it's available).

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Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Decalogue of Canons

In keeping with my inability to keep up with the times, here is an 1825 "top ten" list sent by Thomas Jefferson to a young relative who probably paid no attention at all. I found it in an antique store on a cross-stitched sampler.

  1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.

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"Macho"

I enjoyed reading this essay by Rose Del Castillo Guilbault about "macho" in the U.S. and in Mexico. Excerpts:
... That an insensitive, insanely jealous, hard-drinking, violent Latin male is referred to as macho makes Hispanics cringe.

"Es muy macho," the women in my family nod approvingly, describing a man they respect. But in the United States, when women say, "He's so macho," it's with disdain.

The Hispanic macho is manly, responsible, hardworking, a man in charge, a patriarch. A man who expresses strength through silence. What the Yiddish language would call a mensch.

The American macho is a chauvinist, a brute, uncouth, selfish, loud, abrasive, capable of inflicting pain, and sexually promiscuous. Quintessential macho models in this country are Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Charles Bronson...

If the Hispanic ideal of macho were translated to American screen roles, they might be Jimmy Stewart, Sean Connery, and Laurence Olivier. ...
Thoughts?

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Friday, January 28, 2005

"A wet, brown hell broke loose..."

I told you I'm hopelessly behind the times. My daughter, Melina, just alerted me to Boston's Molasses Disaster of January 15, 1919 during which a storage tank holding 2,300,000 gallons (14,000 tons) of molasses exploded. A huge wave of molasses, 15 feet high, proceeding at about 35 miles an hour, wiped out everything that stood in its way and killed 21 people. One section of the tank flew into a steel support of the El, which collapsed, almost taking with it an oncoming train. Another large piece of storage tank shrapnel knocked over a fire station.

According to Edwards Park's article (Smithsonian Nov 1983), downtown Boston was utterly flooded and for decades afterwards smelled like molasses.

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Duke Power squashes my solar energy proposal

North Carolina supposedly encourages alternative energy. We're supposedly working towards "net metering" (here's a similar program in Washington State) and interconnectivity. But Duke Power, our Goliath, isn't cooperating.

In August 2004 David Wilson, a solar engineer from the western part of the state, designed a solar system for me, which we submitted for inclusion in Duke Power's Rider PV, its Photovoltaic System Pilot Program which "is available at the company’s option for up to 25 residential and nonresidential customers." (Read more specious drivel from Duke Power here.)

On Nov. 15, Duke's Dwight W. Moore wrote:
I have forwarded your information to Distribution Standards and to Metering services. They will review the information and confirm compliance with the PV rider. Someone will contact you to schedule a meeting at the PV site to inspect the delivery in detail.
The Duke Power guys walked around in the woods and took pictures of the power pole that services my home! And a mere two months later Dwight wrote that our setup meets the requirements! However:
At this time I cannot approve your application submitted to participate in the Rider PV (NC) program. The Insurance information you submitted was not acceptable.
I called my insurance agent and she said Duke's insurance demands are so stringent and outlandish that State Farm can't satisfy them at any cost. Duke demanded, for instance, that the policy cover injury to any line worker on any connected line anywhere. This is not required by programs in other states. So there IS no insurance I, a residential customer, can get, at any price, that will satisfy the requirements of this program.

This disingenuous "pilot program" has been in place for a few years now. I asked Dwight how many installations had actually been approved and he said, kind of sheepishly, only two: a commercial installation in Greensboro and the NCSU Solar House in Raleigh. So this so-called residential program has no residential participation. I should have known ...

What do you think could be done about this?

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Bradda Iz on NPR this morning

Behind the NPR report this morning on the death of the Hawaii-based marines in Iraq, you could hear the sweet and heartbreaking "Over the Rainbow" by Iz, Hawaii's most famous musician in recent memory. Iz was also our era's most famous (perhaps only) famous player of the ukulele and there are good links (including, perhaps, free sound clips, though they didn't work for me) at Ukulele heroes (follow the link for "Bradda Iz").

I learned about Iz late - I'm always behind, that's why our band plays music of the previous millennium, just can't keep up - when a bride-to-be asked our band to learn his "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" medley for her wedding. Bandmate Beth had the album (see above) and bandmate Ken made a bunch of calls till he found somebody who could lend him a baritone ukulele for the occasion. Iz died so young and so loved; there was such tenderness and sorrow in his voice, which will no doubt be heard 24/7 in Hawaii for those Marines, who also died so young and so loved.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Live365

Very popular recently around here is internet radio. I guess I should have figured there would be a station for gay a cappella music from Irkutsk. My son favors techno music from India. I like the rembetika stations, Mariachi.com and "La Epoca de Oro," and the Bosnian station.

Bosnian music is soulful and ornamented like a fractal. I attended a vocal master class by a Bosnian once; when he was asked to slow down so the twists and turns could be heard, he redoubled their number.

Recently I met a Bosnian gypsy accordion player in a little seaside town north of Dublin. He was busking and his wife in her headscarf was squatting on the sidewalk in the cold, while their beautiful daughter was dancing around and shining her radiant smile into the faces of the passersby. I was leaving the next day so I gave them my considerable stash of Euros. The wife tried to explain what had happened to them before they left home. She kept holding her crossed wrists out to me, hands palms up.

Gypsies and their music: make an effort to see the dialog-free award winning movie Latcho Drom. (Unfortunately not on dvd yet, but worth dusting off the VCR.)

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Esprit de l'Escalier

NPR featured a book by Christopher J. Moore, In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World. One untranslatable phrase was esprit de l'escalier: "A witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs [as you dejectedly exit the artistes' salon]." Is blogging an antidote? You think of the perfect retort - as you're shuffling home - then share it with us. You can be the hero! You can pretend you remembered in time to have caused a respectful hush to fall over those jaded jerks upstairs!

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The Navy looks like a Lot of Fun

I think the Navy has figured out how to market itself to today's youth...








scuba diving for the Navy

Sandboarding for the Navy

Beautiful woman gives lei to Navy man

Biking under palm trees for the navy

Surfing for the Navy
These from a recruiting brochure my son (a high school senior) got in the mail yesterday. Dang, I wonder if they'd take me?

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tyler Thompson Sings Chinese Opera

Tyler Thompson is an African American 4th grader who sings and loves Chinese opera. He lives in an African-American neighborhood, but attends public school in Chinatown. Tyler was in first grade when, hearing his "angelic voice," his music teacher began teaching him Mandarin folk songs.

He learned so well and was so enthusiastic she cast him in the school's Chinese opera production; as one of the leads, he must combine mime, song, and acrobatics. Tyler doesn't speak Chinese so he learns by rote from tapes. He must have a great ear, because his Mandarin accent is supposedly "impeccable."

Since the Wall Street Journal article, Tyler has become a media darling; he says he likes the publicity and that when he grows up he wants to be "the same as I am now -- a Chinese opera singer." Onstage, he gets a "tickly feeling" in his stomach.

Tyler's neighborhood friends, Walter, Je'lon and Marcus, think his singing is weird. "But as long as I'm supporting them in what they wanna do, they support me in what I wanna do," he says.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Other mores...

Did you enjoy hearing Ukraine's Julia Tymoshenko call her political opponent a cockroach this morning on NPR?

Yesterday we read that Aztecs held their misbehaving children over hot fires full of chile peppers as a punishment. My son said, "I would rather have my allowance held back, but that's just me."

Around here a lot of people don't want to pay to have old refrigerators and ranges hauled away, so they leave them in the woods. However, their recycling impulses are strong, so they use them for target practice (else why are they full of bullet holes?) - in preparation for any appearance of big cubical albino deer.

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Monday, January 24, 2005

Golden Books That Never Made It

OK, I want the whole set. On ZeNeece's World:

"Little Golden Books That Never Made It" which include:

  • 02) The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
  • 07) Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
  • 17) Strangers Have the Best Candy

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Tubas and fiddles escape from the mission


This picture is behind glass at the mission in Santa Barbara and shows a monk conducting a huge band of native Californians (there are a lot more cropped out of the picture).

From the history of Mariachi:
"Although the indigenous tribes of Mexico made music with flutes, drums and whistles, there is no clear link between the indigenous music and the mariachi. The instruments originally used by the mariachi were those introduced by the Spaniards - violins, guitars, vihuelas, harps, etc. These instruments were intended to be used during masses but the criollos (Mexicans of Spanish descent) began using them to make popular music as well, much to the chagrin of the priests, since they were used to accompany some of the more scandalous, satirical or anticlerical couplets of the times."
From Dirty Linen:
The Tohono O’odham have been playing their traditional music for over 200 years, ever since the missionaries recruited the Native Americans of southeast Arizona (near Tucson) to play for their Catholic masses. Later they learned the Spaniards’ social dance music so the Spaniards could hold dances. As other musicians passed through, the Tohono O’odham picked up mazurkas, chotis, two-steps, and polkas as the style transformed into what is now know as "chicken scratch."
In New Mexico I heard some wonderfully wacky mazurkas and schottisches played by descendants of the "Mission Indians" as they were once called. Or if you want to hear a truly great contemporary Mexican brass band, guaranteed to get you grinning on the darkest day, try "Banda El Recodo."

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A curmudgeon's fine aphorism

From Sounds & Fury:
Sutor, ne supra crepidam
freely: Cobbler, stick to your last.
literally: Cobbler, judge not above the sandal.
It made my day. Not that I plan to stop judging above the sandal. Not that I can make a sandal, even.

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I get dusted via listserv

Music directors know not to bootleg published arrangements. We buy one copy of a given piece, $2-$2.50 a pop, for each member of the group, plus a few copies for dunderheads who lose their music, you know who you are.

My question to the choral music listserv was: after we own music, can we tweak it? May we simplify something if it's too hard? Must we really force our sopranos out to screech out high A at the rousing conclusion?

Publishers and composers on the list insisted nothing be changed -- on fear of hellfire or lawsuit -- or choral music police storming the synagogue -- and huffed about the perfection of their publications as-is. Conductors on the list pointed out that most of us work with cheerful unpaid volunteers of varying ability and that we all do the best we can.

The nay-sayers shoot themselves in the foot. There's plenty of music in the public domain which we can arrange/abuse to our hearts' content. And then xerox for 6 cents a pop.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Egotists on NPR

A quarter-inch of ice here in the Raleigh-Durham area stranded 3,000 kids, closed the roads, and left us, activities cancelled, with too much time to listen to NPR.

The longer these on-air "personalities" have their gigs, the more they talk and the less their interviewees talk. The personalities clearly feel they deserve the tongue-in-cheek industry designation: Talent. Do you notice that when editing they leave their own witticisms on tape, and that their insightful musings consume more and more of the interviews? Their questions are often several sentences long, and in fact can only be identified as questions (rather than pontifications) by their eventual question marks. The mostly mute interviewees only get to say: "absolutely!" as in: "yes, brilliant commentator, your analysis is so perfect, I myself can not possibly have anything to add!".

What is with this word "commentator"? This is not a word.

Have you noticed the interviewer usually says: "Interviewee, I am wondering why you made this choice?" The question COULD have been: "Interviewee, why did you make this choice?" From the interviewer's point of view, though, his/her own state of wonderment merits inclusion. After all, the more often the interviewer is the subject of the sentence, the better.

When I first heard the Ira Glass interviews on NPR, his voice was never heard. He was like an on-air Studs Terkel - he put his subjects at ease and asked them good questions, then edited the responses into wonderful stories in which he did not intrude at all. Now he has his own show and is a "personality" and spends an awful lot of the time talking about himself.

There was a lovely, non-egotistical guy on NPR but they fired him. Why fire Bob Edwards, who was one of the less obtrusive and more humble and pleasant people they had? Why not fire Scott Simon instead, or LeeAnn Hanson, both of whom think they are just the most amusing people on air? They laugh uproariously at their own jokes.

How about Garrison Keillor? He is a wonderful storyteller but one of the worst singers ever. The more voice lessons he's gotten, the worse he sings. And the more he sings. Hasn't anyone ever had the nerve to tell him how awful it is? Well, it's his show. The price of admission, for real singers, is that they have to do duets with him. What a Faustian bargain! If Garrison weren't so obviously taken with himself it would be kitschy fun.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Take That, You Vegan

I was happy to hear from AJ (of All Your Blogs Are Belong to Us). He praised "Supersize Me," which I, too, saw recently on dvd.

My opinion: the protagonist started his project not to prove a point to America, but because he was sick of the ultra-correct macrobiotic food provided by his perfect Vegan chef of a girlfriend. I think he was giddy with delight at the prospect of having a justifiable reason to eat greasy hot animal matter. I think he was thinking "Take That, You Politically Correct Vegan! I Will Show You What A Man Eats." True, he got sick showing her, but sometimes sacrifice is required.

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Evil Institutes

Institute for Hospital Dieticians


When my son was in the hospital, he was presented with unspeakable meals. After 7-1/2 hours of brain surgery there were many days of nothing but intravenous fluid and then jello.

But then, the absolutely first meal they gave him, a pediatric brain surgery patient who had spent days on jello, was: a big ugly tough Salisbury steak with gravy on it! And a cup of COFFEE! (It said "pediatric" on the delivery slip so it wasn't a mistake.)

We fantasized about the evil institute that would graduate the dieticians who plan such appalling meals at hospitals.

We imagined a brick schoolbuilding of the 1950s, with a Stepford-Wife Betty Crocker in a starched white apron at the door, with a Mary Tyler Moore smile, welcoming new students into her black-and-white-linoleum-tiled kitchen, teaching them how to make Salisbury steaks.

How could anybody be TAUGHT to make food so bad? One time they brought my son's roommate, a tiny skinny pale boy with sparrow wrists, a giant half chicken. He wasn't even strong enough to take the lid off the plate, let alone deal with this half chicken. His parents were not around. So I cut off little pieces that he could manage.

What about the kids who are alone and don't have somebody else's worried mother to cut up their food for them?

Sorry, but I could not find images online that are as awful as the food served in the hospital. I wish I'd had a camera with me back during those many visits, but there were other things on my mind than chronicling what my son saw when he took the lid off these plates.

To tell the truth, after the first meal, the unveilings were simply for amusement, because I packed in all his food from the outside world.

Institute for Middle-School Chorus Teachers

The Institute where idealistic young musicians go to become Chorus Teachers turns them into vapid martinets. It teaches them to try squeezing lusty young people into angel corsets. It praises high wispy voices and pretentious little budding sopranos. Most of all, it teaches them how best to torture middle-school boys.

In concert my son stood, furious and mortified among his furious and mortified friends, forced to do little dance steps and wave little hand gestures in the air while singing "This Land is Your Land." Can you imagine thinking a 12-year-old boy could enjoy waving his hands in the air to bland, dippy arrangements poisoned to the very core by ersatz sentiment?

The problem is, nobody at these institutes is willing to acknowledge the true heart and soul of a 12-year-old. They try to draw out the kids' inner Disney; this engenders hatred in all but those who actually have an inner Disney.

Imagine, teaching teachers how to make boys hate music and shun chorus, generation upon generation.

Not one of the boys forced to do a rotation through Ms. McCarthy's class has ever sung since. At the moment I'm trying to rehabilitate my own son by teaching him "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, but I'm cursing the waste of all those great voices. Choral directors pray for tenors and basses - I know because I am one - but most would-be tenors and basses won't join a chorus under any circumstances. They remember being forced to wave their hands in the air in those awful middle-school choruses.

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Stalin World Theme Park

During the gala opening of theme park Stalin World in Lithuania, thousands of invited guests were greeted at the gate by an actor dressed as Stalin; a Lenin look-a-like, complete with a goatee and cap, sat fishing by a nearby pond. Guests were invited to drink shots of vodka and eat cold borscht soup from tin bowls, while loud speakers blared old communist hymns. Nearby, red Soviet propaganda posters read: "There’s No Happier Youth in the World Than Soviet Youth!"

"It combines the charms of a Disneyland with the worst of the Soviet gulag prison camp," creater Malinauskas told assembled journalists.


There is a great selection of Soviet posters to be viewed at Sovok of the Week including this one in which a modern little girl doing homework chides her, uh, unfashionable mother: "Hey Mom, if you were literate you could help me."


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Word lab #1

"The Word Lab" by Nicholas Lemann was published in The New Yorker 16 October, 2000. Here's an excerpt:
You could be forgiven for supposing that somewhere in the country (a refitted underground missile silo on the Great Plains?) each party maintains a secret Word Lab. There purposeful young people in gray uniforms sit in front of computer screens, trying out different linguistic combinations. When a magic grouping of words is achieved, bells ring, lights flash, the purposeful young people give each other high fives, and then a directive goes out to all the party's thousands of candidates: it's not "affirmative action" anymore; it's "preferences."
So we were brainstorming for a few minutes.

How about a hog lagoon?


My son proposed elixirs, the disgusting gag-inducing pharmaceutical concoctions he had to force down his throat for months.

Or how about cookie? Coined to make the idea of having companies insert their spying software on our computers seem wholesome.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Amor Real, and Juan Alvarez the earlier

I'm a mentor in a program sponsored by the school system here. So it's my pleasure to hang out with a 9-year-old Latina whose family came here from Toluca, Mexico when she was a baby.

She speaks perfect English, but her parents don't, so Univision plays all the time at their house and "Amor Real" is her favorite show. Now she's got me hooked on it.

Set in 19th century Mexico, it's the first telenovela with hoopskirts (and almost without cleavage)! Amid the usual plots of betrayal, revenge, etc. there is a historical subplot about Juan Alvarez.

Although she's too young to care much about history, my mentee and I looked him up here. He was quite a character and I hope he'll interest you, too. Please note this is NOT the Juan Alvarez of the recent train disaster. Some excerpts from his history:
Son of a Spaniard and an Acapulco Afro-Mexican ... [Alvarez was] credited with starting the "Reform" of the mid 19th Century. ... became the first president ... brought the fabled Indigenous leader Benito Juarez into the national limelight ...

Alvarez was a fiery orator for equality. A speech to his Afro-Mexican and Afro-Filipino troops on the Acapulco coast in 1820 displayed his passion, and helps explain the reason for the determination of dark skinned Mexico in that fight for independence. Alvarez said:

"Beloved comrades and sons of the people... we may wonder why we continue on toward a distant dream, asking ourselves if perhaps we have not had enough after the long ten years of a bloody and destructive war?

"We fight to gain our rights. To manifest to ourselves that we can't be bought off or seduced by the Spaniards, those egotistical, avaricious robbers, despots, and seducers without comparison.

"We stand today as mortal enemies of all CRIOLISMO (hegemony of White Mexican CREOLES who aped European power and culture). They have long tried to cover us with shame, to herd us as if we were four legged beasts,... to speak of us as if we were stupid animals... and now they solicit our extermination... We say to the Creoles that we want our freedom."
His part in the 1810 war began his rise to fame and leadership in the liberal reform movement. A battle wound in that same war made him a paraplegic. Alvarez, who never walked again, thereafter conducted much of his business on horse back!

Although barely educated, he was an avid reader of history and politics, and his correspondence and writings were influential and well-regarded. From his 1845 treatise on Indian rights:
"If, in place of the rich hacienda owners persecuting the Indigenous and treating them like slaves; if, in place of taking what little they own, stripping them of their tiny plots of land that the nation had given them, or that they had obtained from Spain, so that they could eke out their miserable existence; if in place of devising legal infractions under which they can be thrown in prison, in order to compel their families to leave their homes, (we instead) offered them protection and accepted their petitions of grievance, the republic would find that before a half a century it had many men thoroughly useful and productive, who generated wealth in a wide area of industry and agriculture.

"The Indians amounted to very little during the colony, but they would be something soon, if we offered them the opportunity; and they would be much more after the system of education had reached out to them and erased the negative impressions of their race."
You can see my recap of the telenovela "Amor Real" here. And if you watch Univision, you know that the struggle against criolismo in Mexico is by no means over. Manuel Fuentes Guerra, the millionaire bastard half-Indian (mestizo) hero of "Amor Real," is the FIRST non-white I have EVER seen in ANY Univision show who was not a servant, an ignorant and superstitious peasant, or the butt of a joke.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Today's rehearsal is with my world music band, Mappamundi. We are getting ready for a show in Craven County, for an "older" audience (guess that means older than us). We'll do favorites for each of us: mariachi and klezmer for me, Russian and Polish for Beth, swing for Jim, musettes and tangos for David, Greek and "Love Potion #9" for Ken. But we all like all of them or we wouldn't do them - after all, we make so little money doing this, it's gotta be for love.

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What is a Pratie?

I named this blog after a band I used to be in (left) about 20 years ago. We did music from the British Isles. Pratie is the Gaelic word for potato. Bands are like marriages. They don't always work out. Recently though I've been playing again with the one who looks like he used to throw the discus (he did).

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Pushing cinder blocks up hill

I'm director of a Jewish Chorale, a job both exhausting and exhilarating. We meet only twice a month, and it is an amateur group, so I've given up trying to find published Jewish chorale works that might suit us - now I find traditional songs and harmonize them myself with this particular group in mind (I know what our altos, tenors, etc. can and cannot do, what notes they might complain about, what rhythms would not be worth the trouble to propose...). Often I feel so tired in anticipation of our two hours together, but it chastens me to realize that some drive a very long way to come to rehearsal, so what have I got to kvetch about? One man recently had a sudden severe heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery and he didn't miss one rehearsal! For now, his wife drives him -- even though she herself just had cornea surgery and also spent a week in the hospital with a different ailment. Look what my singers go through to share these hours! I love the songs and when my arrangements sound wonderful, I cackle with glee. I'm lucky to have this work.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Oyb men est nit keyn beyner...

I read Yiddish only haltingly, but what a great language.
One of my favorite sayings:

Oyb men est nit keyn beyner, tuen nit vey di tseyner.
That means:
If you don't eat bones, your teeth won't hurt.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

"Next Blog"

I'm new, so I keep mashing the "next blog" button.

  • Why black blogs with feeble tiny white letters?
  • Why write "I am so boring. I have nothing to say."?
  • How can so many people think they are zany?
  • Why menace us with your malfunctioning java scripts?
  • The word "awesome" should be banned immediately.


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Book Club

Furious at deer herds trampling and chomping my trees and flowers, two years ago I built a deer fence around my property. Now, at the end of the driveway one has to get out of the car to open and close the gate, so "going beyond the deer fence" seems like a big deal and has become sort of a joke. Here behind the deer fence, gradually my life has become quiet and lonely, hence this morning's exploratory expedition to "Books and Bagels" bookclub. I hadn't read the book. The people were mostly older than me and quite a few of them "held forth" at length. (Have you noticed that people who like to hold the floor raise their voices or wave their hands commandingly in front of them to prevent others from speaking?) However, since I mostly went just to be in the presence of fellow human beings, I enjoyed it anyway, especially a discussion of choices. The book involved shadkhns (people who arrange marriages) in Israel's orthodox community, and many of the speakers were resolutely opposed. I dunno. Considering choices made by myself and others, I don't think a lot of us chose/choose that well for ourselves. Maybe matchmakers do as well or better.

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Chicken Boy

This is the body of Chicken Boy, somewhere in Los Angeles. A couple years ago three members of my band played some gigs on the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl (we are way too minor-league to play INSIDE it!) and Bloom's sister took us around visiting. She had the body of Chicken Boy in her back yard at the time. Well, it filled up the entire back yard. The head of Chicken Boy was in the Chicken Boy museum. You can read about him here.

DVDs that are "good for the trainer"

We have an elliptical trainer in a little unheated studio across the driveway from the house. My son has a great little setup there with a tv and a dvd player, so it's quite tolerable to go down there every day. In the hot summer, we run a huge fan. In the winter, I put socks over the cold handles and wear layers of shirts and throw them on the floor one by one as the workout proceeds.

Netflix feeds the daily need for dvds. Hour-long tv shows are best - without commercials, they are about 42 minutes long (showing how much of your hour you spend waiting for people to finish buying things, shouting about things, selling things, or - if you watch Univision - worrying about fungus between their toes). It also reminds me that a 2x4 board is really only 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2.

Since I hadn't watched much tv for years, I missed the pop favorites and now enjoy watching them in chronological no-episodes-missed order. Loud shows with uncomplicated dialogue are best:


  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Angel
  • West Wing (OK, not loud enough, and they talk fast, but I love it)
  • ER (best value for the money, eight hour-long episodes on one DVD)
  • MI-5 (a little too stressful, but well-paced for panting)
  • Six Feet Under (maybe my very favorite)

I liked the first couple disks of that Ozzy Osbourne show, but that was enough; I love the mandolin intro on "Arrested Development" and the cracks, but the characters are just too annoying.

No good for the trainer: quiet thoughtful movies, just forget it. The worst two: "Lost in Translation" and a Russian movie about medieval icon painters which was so slow it made me think my watch had stopped.

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New enthusiasm: mariachi music

I've been singing music in languages other than English since 1972 (starting with Russian and other Slavic languages) but it wasn't until last year I started getting interested in Latin American music. First the tango, then some waltzes, and finally really old mariachi music. Learn about the rhythms of the "son" at Laura Sobrino's site. The bass lines are very cool - most of the time, the bass does not play on the downbeat. It's good for our band, because we don't have a percussionist - not many Latin rhythms work really well without percussion, but mariachi does. My favorite song at the moment is Zaizar's "El Cofrecito." I love how Mexican songs can be about the most (supposedly) devastating sadness, yet they sound at the same time so very cheerful. This is the opposite of Yiddish songs, which often sound heart-rendingly sad when they are really about successful love ventures or good food.
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