Wednesday, May 29, 2013

rite of spring remix

Listening to The Rite Of Spring as a kid, I was always galvanized. My parents had the Bernstein / New York Philharmonic version from the late 60s. I obsessively read the liner notes and listened. The music was always a gust of fresh air. In about ninth grade, I realized that the heavy string motif of "Spring Rounds" would make a really cool riff for a slow rock groove. This means, among other things, that I've had this in my head for the better part of 30 years, and that Stravinsky really did kick off the 20th century with this piece of music.

Stravinsky was so forward-looking. He really understood how dancers move, and how to whip a dance piece up into a frenzy. What interested me was that as I got going I ended up not chopping up and sampling too much: his groovy ideas are all right there, in 1913! And still so up-to-date that there are sections of it that you'd believe are the latest action movie soundtrack.

So much of the music people heard on May 29th, 1913, sounds old to our ears; either baffling and foreign or precious and antique. Then there's the Rite. I like to think it will always sound brand-new.

The video version is below, followed by an all-in-one mp3. (If you can't see it, you can always go to youtube and look up my username, barryhowardbrake.)

Here's the 26-minute music file. If you can't see it, just click here.

  • 0:00 Dances Of The Young Girls
  • 4:36 Augurs Of Spring
  • 8:45 Spring Rounds 1
  • 13:01 Spring Rounds 2
  • 14:20 The Exalted Sacrifice - Intro
  • 16:44 Spring Rounds 3
  • 19:50 Naming And Honoring Of The Chosen One / Sacrificial Dance

Monday, May 27, 2013

memorial day

This day, originally called Decoration Day, was started after the War Between the States, to commemorate both Union and Confederate dead. Today, we commemorate all those who fought and died in war.

No recriminations, no ranking of "good" and "bad" wars, no critique of the policies those soldiers were executing: it was never intended that way (couldn't have been, at the beginning), and shouldn't be that way. On other days, we vow to hold our leaders responsible for the decisions they make in sending soldiers to war; on other days, we discuss the ins and outs, and ifs, of previous wars.

But today, it is enough to gather the dead soldiers and remember them, and the families they left behind, the careers they left empty, the songs left unwritten.

Friday, May 24, 2013

riot of spring

On May 29th, 1913, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring premiered. It was so controversial that the audience started a riot. Was the riot mainly about the pigeon-toed faux-primitive dance, as some now think? Might be more complicated than that, because contemporary accounts mention the music too. Listening with a historical squint, it's easy to imagine that those sounds would go down easy in 1913, especially for a ballet-going crowd. The next time it was performed was in a symphony concert, and people were much more receptive — but then again that was years later, and right during a time when people were opening their ears to new sounds anyway.

Either way, many people mark that date as the beginning of the twentieth century in music — and many mark it as the first real event of the century, period. (What was the last event of the 19th? The Titanic? I'd suggest the Christmas Truce of 1914. In the music world, there's only one answer: Puccini's 1922 marvel Turandot.)

The piece still sounds fresh to this day. Other 20th-century masterpieces sound very ... 20th-century; but Rite sounds like it could be a current movie soundtrack.

For some time now, I've been seeing the hundredth anniversary of that premiere coming up on the calendar. Gotta do something, right? I asked some friends in a round-table sort of way, and the usual suggestions came up: flashmob? concert? a concert of new music for the new century? (Presumably, we'd be free to hiss!)

Well, the time has come, and the recently-named Stravinsky Uproar Society has decided on a party.

You're invited to the incredibly beautiful and cool environs of the Silo on Austin Highway, to pay tribute by dressing as far up as you want to — ball gown, suit, black tie, white tie, cocktail dress, little black dress — or full Diaghilev Russian Primitive Tribal. Or T-shirt and jeans.

There'll be fun and prizes galore: San Antonio crooner Ken Slavin is giving away copies of his two most recent CDs, "I'll Take Romance" and "The Song Is You," so you can calm down after all the rioting with some of the best jazz around.

And, from our friends at Texas Public Radio, a new CD of Stravinsky's great work — Leonard Bernstein's electrifying New York Philharmonic recording, newly remastered and just released.

There'll be other neat things and door prizes yet to be announced. Not to mention the ultimate party contest: a Dance-Yourself-To-Death-Off. The Silo's great bar drinks are on offer at great prices, and they're even concocting a drink special (the Riotini?). Loads of fun, amazing sights and sounds, and friends who love great music and good times.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

how to really use facebook

Meghan McBride Kelly has an article on WSJ entitled "Aristotle Wouldn't Friend You On Facebook."

Once again, an article about Facebook that does not at all reflect the way I use it, or the way many people I know use it. She writes:
If we were to ask ourselves whether all of our Facebook friends were those we loved, we'd certainly answer that they're not. These days, we devote equal if not more time to tracking the people we have had very limited human interaction with than to those whom we truly love.
Who's we? Not me. I friend people on Facebook when I actually know them and want to keep up with them on some level: maybe just birthdays and maybe day-to-day sharing of deep stuff. The statuses I see are sometimes prayers of joy or gratitude, or sharing of frustrations, or celebration of a holiday, or anguished pleas for prayer for oneself or someone else. This is in marked contrast to Ms Kelly:
I'd venture to guess that at least 90% of Facebook friendships are those of utility. Knowing this instinctively, we increasingly use Facebook as a vehicle for self-promotion rather than as a means to stay connected to those whom we love. Instead of sharing our lives, we compare and contrast them, based on carefully calculated posts, always striving to put our best face forward.
Ah, sample bias. Generally when there's an article about the Facebook experience that doesn't have heavy figures and statistics of actual use, what it's really about is that person's Facebook experience. And that person is a journalist. I've seen it over and over with people I know who are writers and PR people and folks in other professions where networking is of utmost importance: they often load up their friends list with friendships of utility, sometimes with two or three thousand people or more, and then complain that it's all frivolous.

Well, sure, the baseball trophy of the kid of some person you met at the rodeo in 2009 isn't important... to you. But it's important to that person's real friends — just like your best friend's kid's baseball trophy is worth knowing about.

This is a perfect example of a case in which the very limitations and features of the journalistic profession actually get in the way of the journalist's picture of what's really going on.
One thing's for sure, my generation's friendships are less personal than my parents' or grandparents' generation. Since we can rely on Facebook to manage our friendships, it's easy to neglect more human forms of communication. Why visit a person, write a letter, deliver a card, or even pick up the phone when we can simply click a "like" button?
Notice the language: "manage our friendships." Does Facebook really manage your friendships? Or do you manage them, using Facebook as one tool among many? Notice also the interesting array of choices. She doesn't include the possibility of an insightful comment or a heartfelt private message. I don't think a letter sent by mail is less personal than a letter sent by Facebook, and though in a phone call you can hear the person's voice and inflections, in a chat you can take a moment to respond without being awkward. And by the way people in earlier generations fell out of touch with people they considered dear and would have rejoiced at the possibility of a conversation, a clever joke shared, a glimpse of children and grandchildren. Come on, folks.

This is a boilerplate article that has been written over and over in response to trains, cars, newspapers, phones, planes, fax machines, computers, television, radio, ... and will be written again in the age of brainsticks and iGloves.

Sure, some people use Facebook in a shallow way. But how about an insightful article, just once — just ONCE! — that talks about ways that you can minimize that kind of experience and maximize the kind of experience that Catherine and I and millions of others have of a useful tool that helps deepen friendships with people far and near?

Knowing that the internet is the internet, once I formed that question, I knew that there had to be just such an article. If there is one, though, it's buried deep: try searching for "how to get the most out of facebook" and you'll be inundated with advice for friendships of utility. It's all marketing tips, ways to use social media for business, for connections, for use in every way except socially. That's natural, because they're written by marketing gurus who get money for giving marketing advice. You don't get money for being a marketing guru if the top result for "how to get the most out of facebook" is something about keeping in touch with your friends and family.

So, I've decided to write the article myself.

It's in two sections. The first is for people who haven't started a Facebook account or are reluctant to start one; the second is for people already using Facebook but frustrated that their experience is more like the one described in that article.

How to start — and why

If you're one of the many people who don't use Facebook at all, you might have stayed away based on the impression that it's all frivolous, or that it's impersonal, or that it sucks your time away from real life. Let's hit those.

Frivolity: Your definition of it may be different from mine, but, as I mentioned above, sharing recipes and talking about your kid's baseball game and chewing over the news of the day is actually an important part of life when it's done with people you care about. It's the mayonnaise of a friendship. It may not be the meat, but that's OK. Those things sit alongside prayer requests and Aristotle and discussing a cross-country move or career change as part of life. You're of course welcome to only talk about what you consider big important things, and you can do it on Facebook just as well as you can do it in person. In fact, I've found that comments threads (that is, the string of comments that people attach to someone's posted thoughts) can be a great forum for discussing the important things, whether the existence of God or the coming election. For one thing, everyone's forced to put their thoughts in writing, which can have a good effect; for another, you can't interrupt or be interrupted, so you get your whole thought in; also, you can refer to exactly what someone (or you) said without relying on faulty memory.

Impersonality: Whatever the newest technology is, it's considered impersonal for a while, until it feels more natural. Writing itself is impersonal compared to speaking. Telephones are impersonal compared to face-to-face communication. But each tool has its advantages too, that humans can use to be more personal with each other. If you're worried that the modern world keeps people disconnected, there's no better salve than Facebook used rightly: to share shareable parts of your life with people you might not ever get to see. It's especially great for dispersed families, and super-especially great for older members of those families.

Time-sucking: Well, I can't help you there. If other things in your life suck your time away, then probably Facebook will too. And if you have good discipline to get everything in in the rest of your life, then Facebook won't be different. Like a lot of people, I find that I check it every now and then just about every day, right around the times of day that you might have an over-the-fence conversation or a coffee break. If you need to, though, you can always set a time limit. If you follow the simple rules below about how to do Facebook to begin with, though, you probably won't need to.


Getting started
If you want to dip your toe into Facebook, give it a shot. Just go to, and follow the directions.
  • Give your real name — it's OK. It's no more dangerous than being in the phone book. 
  • If you're a married woman, give your name as First Maiden Last. That way, old friends can recognize you and people can tell the difference between Jane Jones Smith and Jane Snodgrass Smith.
  • You don't have to give your actual birth year, and people I know give their birthday a day off, just in case. That's because hackers can sometimes use your birthdate to help them get your private info.
  • When given the chance, set your privacy settings mostly to "friends only." That way, only people you have approved to be on your friends list can see the things you post. Later on, you can adjust it. (I make a lot of my stuff public, because I only post stuff that I don't mind being public, and because it's easier for friends to find me using the various search tools.)
  • Put in a photo of yourself. Doesn't have to be art. Doesn't have to be permanent — you can change it any time. But it should show your face. That's how people recognize you, and can tell one John Smith from another.
Now you're on. At this point you can post thoughts and pictures and news and whatever you want. But first you need some friends on your friends list. 

Facebook prompts you to find friends using your email address list, which is nice and fast and spiffy, but I don't recommend it, because there are people on that list that you don't want on your Facebook friends list. This is key. Because ready? Pay attention.
  • You don't have to friend everyone. (That's right. "Friend" is now a verb. Nice!) I have real-life friends who aren't Facebook friends. I have lots of acquaintances, and people I only know through being married to Catherine, and people I go to church with, who aren't Facebook friends. I don't have any Facebook friends whom I don't know as actual friends outside Facebook. Go thou and do likewise. 
  • Again I say: don't just friend someone you meet at a party or convention or in your church group. They'll send you friend requests, and you simply don't have to accept. You can either do nothing, so they languish in the "unanswered" category, or you can actively decline, and then it gives you the choice to possibly leave it open for later or make it so they can't find you on Facebook. Those acquaintances and professional connections can be handled elsewhere, like LinkedIn. Facebook is best for real friends. Forget what the marketing gurus say; their advice only applies to some. While it's true that Facebook can be used for networking or for organizations to help connect people to them, it's best to create a separate profile for it. (For good advice from someone with a superb grasp of social media, go to Nils Smith.) As a person, though, your experience will be better if you remember: Facebook is best for real friends.
  • Now. How to get in touch with people you do want? Simple. Think of them, and type their names into the search box in that blue strip up top. If the person has a common name, several results will show up, and you can choose based on the photo and the other information (city, school) that it sometimes gives. Later on, it'll become easier and easier because one John Smith will have 58 mutual friends with you, and the others won't. 
  • You'll see the opportunity to "send a friend request." Just click on it, and you're done. The other person sees it, and accepts (or doesn't). Whenever someone does, you get to see all that person's info, including all their friends. If someone's on there that you know and want to friend, lather-rinse-repeat.
  • This becomes easier and easier too, as your friends list more resembles your real circles of friends. You see people, people see you, and you all get connected.
  • You might want to think first about exactly what kind of experience you want to have: if no one from your office is on your list, then you can vent freely about office frustrations, and they won't see it. If they are, you can tweak an individual post so they can't see it. Maybe you want only family. Several people I know keep up with their other friends other ways, but use Facebook for family: cousins, kids, grandkids — pictures, news, support in hard times, celebration in good times — it's a great way for them to stay close with family all over the country. Or maybe you're like me. I have it all: work friends, old school friends, church friends, Catherine's friends, all selectively chosen based on whom I really want to keep up with.
Now for some tips about how and what to post. You're given the chance to just post something about what you're thinking — and, unlike Twitter, there's no limit, so you can do a paragraph or more. You can also post pictures, videos, and links to websites and blogs and news articles, as well as things other friends have posted that you can "share."
  • Keep it varied. Everyone on Facebook has an irritating single-issue Facebook friend. In real life, they're three-dimensional people with flaws and complexities, but on Facebook all they can do is post anti-corporate rants, or Tea Party slogans, or pop-culture jokes, or All Things Yoga. Phhht. Don't do it. Keep it varied. 
  • Facebook is public. If you really don't want something out there, don't put it on Facebook. Decide on the privacy settings you're comfortable with (talk it over with your spouse), and go with it, but remember the ultimate privacy setting: don't post what you don't want out there.
  • Be real. It's good to celebrate your victories, and keep things positive. But it's also good to share frustrations and problems, or ask for support in hard times.
  • Politics and religion are fine. Convincing is rare. I don't shrink away from expressing my opinion, but I think you should always do it politely and without personal attack, and with the realization that very few people have ever switched religions or political parties based on Facebook discussions. If someone attacks you, brush it off. If someone doesn't understand something you said, assume you miscommunicated it and clarify.
  • You can hide anyone anytime. That is, you can still keep someone on your friends list and keep up with them, but if you get tired of their posts you can use the little sign that appears at the top right margin of a post to hide it or hide all x-type posts from a friend, or all posts from a friend. This is especially good for your All-Veganism-All-The-Time friend.
  • Post your own stuff more than others'. We want to hear what's going on with you. It's great to share news articles or funny pictures or political bumper-stickers or religious quotes — but, really, make those the minority and make your own thoughts and pictures and news the majority.
  • Do not EVER repost warnings about Facebook privacy, internet fraud, or secret political misdeeds. They are always wrong. If you feel that you must repost, then follow this rule: DON'T. If you still must break even that rule, please learn how to effectively look these things up on mythbusting sites like Snopes before you say anything.
  • Revisit your settings. Every so often, just check through the account settings and privacy settings, and make sure everything's the way you want it to be.

How to start over: getting the most out of Facebook

I have several friends who have expressed frustration about the experience they're already having on Facebook. The main reason, every single time, boils down to how they use it.

Can't see a way out? I'm here to help.

If you hate Facebook it's usually for one of two reasons:
  • You've friended people who aren't your friends.
  • You've gotten into unhealthy ways of communicating with them.
I know it's hard to extricate yourself from a Facebook friendship you don't want to be in. But you have to do it. It's time for a winnowing. Here's the key: People don't know you're defriending them. They may notice after a while that they don't see your posts, but Facebook never notifies someone that they've been defriended. Here's the other key: keep it small — smaller than you think. After all, you got into this by promiscuous friending, so err on the side of caution this time. Here's the step-by-step:
  1. If you're a public person like a musician or minister, consider making a "page" first, and then inviting everyone to get onto it — many of your "friends" aren't bosom buddies at all but people you keep in contact with as you do your thing. It's the more appropriate use of Facebook. Then your friends list on your personal profile can be more satisfying to you. Now do it again: give everyone several chances, over a couple of weeks, to see your public page and like and join in.
  2. Go to your profile page by clicking on your name on the top right. Then click on "Activity Log" (probably to the top right on your picture) where you'll see on the left menu a list that has Photos, Likes, Comments, and more.... Friends is probably in the "more," so click on it and find it.
  3. At the top of your page you'll see something like "Who can see your Friends list?" If it lists "Public," change it to "Friends only." This also saves hurt feelings. [Facebook changes formats often, so these actual steps may be different, but you can click around and find this feature.]
  4. Now go to the main Facebook page — your News Feed. On the left menu, go to Friends, and click "More" as it appears to the right.
  5. Select "See All Friends." For each friend listed, the box that says "Friends" opens up a range of choices, including "unfriend." [Facebook changes formats often, so these actual steps may be different, but you can click around and find this feature.] 
  6. Do it. Do it! Just go through and get rid of 'em all. Leave only family and your very best friends. 
  7. Do it in a separate tab or window, and leave it open — this way you don't have to do it all at once. Some folks have two or three thousand friends (yikes!), so just let it be a multi-step process.
  8. Do not announce that you're doing this; do not make mention of it in a post.
  9. Soon you'll have a friends list of about 20 people. Ahhhhhhh. Relax. It's just us now. Nice, right? If you have more than that, like 50 or 60, don't worry: your right number is in there somewhere, and at least it's way down from 3000. These are the people you actually care about.
  10. When you get a note from someone wondering why you defriended them, say this:
    Yeah, I just got overwhelmed by the whole thing, and I'm limiting Facebook use to just a very few people, mainly family. Of course, we're still friends where it counts: Real Life!!
    Again, that minimizes hurt feelings. But you may still get pressure from someone. Just resist it. You don't have to keep responding and answering.
  11. You'll also get friend requests galore, just like we all do. You can either let them languish (I've got about 20 people in limbo), or you can actively decline; Facebook will give you the choice to possibly leave it open for later or block them so they can't find you and bother you on Facebook ever again. Only accept if you really know the person in real life. Would you each recognize the other on the street?
  12. Do not use Facebook to make friends. Use it to keep up with the friends you have.
  13. If someone you don't know messages you privately and asks about why you didn't accept a friendship request.... first of all, this is a big breach of etiquette to begin with. How rude to put you on the spot like that by asking for an explanation!! But just answer with this:
    You seem like just my kind of person, but unfortunately I have a hard and fast rule: I only friend people on Facebook that I actually know in real life. Sorry! Hope you understand.
    That should take care of it, but if it doesn't, remember you don't have to keep answering and responding. You could even block them.
  14. If it's someone you do know but only as a casual acquaintance, then come up with the same type of answer. It'll become second nature. 
If you really stick to this policy, it will make your whole experience much less stressful.

Nonetheless, you may still have some frustrations that stem from how you're communicating with the people you've kept. Here are some simple rules of thumb to check yourself against:
  • Vary your topics of conversation. Don't be the person who can't stop talking about pork futures.
  • Don't criticize other commenters. If they're mistaken about something, gently correct them on a factual basis. If you disagree, then gently disagree, but don't make it a personal criticism of them.
  • Politics and religion are fine. Convincing is rare. I said this above and it bears repeating: no need to shrink away from expressing your opinion, but do it civilly, and with the realization that very few people have ever switched religions or political parties based on Facebook discussions. If someone attacks you, brush it off. If someone doesn't understand something you said, assume you miscommunicated it and clarify. (Phrases that crop up often in mature users' comments: "I didn't quite say that right: what I meant was...."; "Actually, that was my attempt at a joke! Sorry it didn't come across."; "Hm. I don't think I quite understand you; you seem to be saying....")
  • Compliment often. Everyone loves to hear good stuff about them (good stuff that's actually true), and complimenting is one of the roles of a friend — the one we most often neglect.
  • If someone's on a bad streak, hide their posts for a while. This especially applies during political seasons.
  • Share bad news, but don't gripe. One of the great uses of Facebook is that it's a way to get support from the people who love you. They want to know if you lost your job or a friend died or you're feeling sick, so they can gather round. But the other side is that these things can turn into nothing but a constant stream of griping — and everyone recognizes it but you if you're not careful. The variety rule usually handles it well.
And enjoy one of the great modern tools of communication. Facebook really is a marvel. Again and again, they do it right. It's an easy and free way to re-create the experience of the post office and barbershop and downtown market of earlier times, and in some ways an improvement on those experiences. It can be, in a very real way, a little piece of heaven.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Tom Tomorrow's comic This Modern World has been doing its snarky, hilarious takedowns of power for a generation now. He skewers the Obama administration as gleefully as he did the Bush administration — and, unfortunately, there's much to skewer.

A recent recurring character is Droney, the unmanned plane that explains our current outrageous approach both to warfare against our enemies and to the freedom of speech and thought and movement of our own citizens.

Click on the pictures to get full size.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

puppy dog jig pre-release

This Saturday morning at 10am, in the beautiful Landa Gardens, is the pre-release concert and party for Owen Duggan's new album Puppy Dog Jig, which I co-produced and played on.

Owen's first CD, An Elephant Never Forgets, which I also co-produced, has won numerous awards including a Top Ten International Hit designation from IAIRA, a gold medal from NAPPA and a silver medal from the Parents' Choice Foundation.

You'll also hear my voice and piano work on it, as well as familiar bass and drum work by my fellow Jazz Protagonists, Greg and Darren, not to mention an enviable ensemble of San Antonio Symphony players, country fiddlers, penny-whistlers, and dobro-ists. Then there's the redoubtable Bill King tripping along on piccolo and flute, and playing the Branford Marsalis role on soprano sax for a reggae-inflected song about our fragile Earth. And, for dessert, one of the best trumpet players in the country, Ed Sherry, turns in an unforgettable performance for the bedtime jazz number "Pajama Time."

Puppy Dog Jig features original songs with lyrics and music by Owen, as well as collaborations between Owen and bestselling children's authors Lorijo Metz and Sandra Boynton, Texas music legend Lyle Lovett, and folk star Marty Cooper (who wrote "The Biplane Evermore" and the hit "Little Play Soldiers" for The Kingston Trio as well as "A Little Bit Country" for Donny and Marie), and a beautiful setting of a Rudyard Kipling song from The Jungle Book.

Whether or not you get to come to the release, Puppy Dog Jig is something to look for for any kid you know.

Here's all the info.

Monday, May 13, 2013

can't talk about this without that, part 3: gerrymandering

It's inevitable that when you discuss an issue you're probably leaving out some vastly important factor. Counting everything that really counts is so hard, you're bound to miss something. But sometimes it's glaring: no discussion of a piece of music can be complete without at least acknowledging the elements of rhythm, harmony, and melody. (I'm lookin' at you, Rolling Stone.) Sometimes you just have to say you can't talk about this without that.

Politics, for instance. The airwaves are crowded with complaints about our polarized political landscape, this increasingly crazy guy-in-the-middle-gets-shot-from-both-sides situation, in which each party seems to put forward the most caricatured version of itself for the voter to choose between. That is, when those airwaves aren't crowded out with political spokespeople speaking of their opponents as enemies of the state.

Certainly, the Southern Strategy is part of it; certainly, the 24-hour news cycle is part of it. But how is it that, in all of those complaints, all those analyses, all the handwringing about our toxically polarized culture, gerrymandering is hardly mentioned?

We think of ourselves as a nation of voters that, district by district, state by state, choose political candidates, all the while lamenting that there aren't better choices. But that's just not the case: because of gerrymandering, it is our politicians who choose their voters. No other way to put it. It's the truth.

All across the nation, district by district, state by state, voting areas are referred to as R or D, as if each election is a foregone conclusion. It pretty much is. Republicans blame Democrats when Democrats are in power, and Democrats blame Republicans when Republicans are in power, but as long as things keep going the way they are the finger-pointing doesn't matter, mainly because the Republicans are right and the Democrats are right: the party in power, whichever one is in power at the time, is to blame. They do it, again and again. It's like the Protestants and Catholics in Reformation Europe: everyone sees how horrible it is to be the group that gets beheaded, and then they get in power and behead.

Here's the result: In your district, it's likely that several candidates for several offices, often including Congressional seats, are running, for all practical purposes, unopposed. The real battle, then, is in the primary, where the true believers in a party insist that the candidate conform to an ever-increasing standard of purity. This is how a Democratic candidate who's a little to the left of John Kennedy can be called a spineless sellout and vilified by prominent Democrats; it's how a Republican candidate who's fairly far to the right of Ronald Reagan can be called a RINO — a Republican In Name Only. And, because this is the lay of the land, the people making those criticisms and calling those names own the conversation.

California has taken action by passing an anti-gerrymandering rule and appointing an independent panel to draw the district lines. Who knows whether that will work, or what unintended effects will come of it. But it's something. Meanwhile, there's the rest of the country, which, with increasingly powerful computerized tools of population analysis, is being creatively sliced into bluer and redder areas.

Wouldn't you love to be in a place where a candidate had to appeal to the largest possible votership? Where the margins of a party stayed on the margins? Where not only candidates but public officials once they've been elected felt that they had to answer to more than just their base? You can be in such a place, but not until we make gerrymandering a thing of the past. Other countries have people other than the party in power in the moment drawing the lines; we can too.

Meanwhile, every time you hear a political discussion in which the Red-Blue divide is mentioned, but gerrymandering is not, mention it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

a conversates

The family is driving to a party, when Greta says something cute.

Catherine: Greta, that was so cute! It was totes cute.
Barry: It was totes adorbs.
Catherine: It was crazy totes adorbs.
Barry: Do you think that when I talk like that it's money?
Catherine: Way money.
Barry: What! The Bitters Rd exit is closed off?
Catherine: That's totes irritates.
Barry: People who say "totes irritates" are crazy money.
Catherine: Cray-money.
Barry: It's totes cray-muns.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

can't talk about this without that, part 2: food and smoking

It's inevitable that when you discuss an issue you're probably leaving out some vastly important factor. Counting everything that really counts is so hard, you're bound to miss something. But sometimes it's glaring: no discussion of a piece of music can be complete without at least acknowledging the elements of rhythm, harmony, and melody. (I'm lookin' at you, Rolling Stone.) Sometimes you just have to say you can't talk about this without that.

Food, for instance: specifically, the much-repeated opinion that food in mid-century America was at an unimaginative low. Frozen meals that resembled field rations more than real food, Spam, gelatin monstrosities, a drastic reduction in varieties of fruits and vegetables and coffee and beer, a thousand yellow-and-brown casseroles.

How is it that so few of these opinions make any mention of the fact that the air in mid-century America was uniquely smoky? Smoking, which famously blunts the taste buds, reached a peak just as stuff for the taste buds reached that low.

What was life like in the Fifties and Sixties? I'm amazed to think about it: every public place you went smelled like smoke. Offices, restaurants, hotel lobbies, even schools — everywhere you went, there was cigarette smoke. Time-travelers from 1860 and from 2060 alike would be struck by the smokiness of 1960. Whether you were a smoker or not, your closet was full of clothes that reeked of smoke. (Catherine and I got a taste of this in Beijing, where public places were often filled with cigarette smoke. After only a couple of weeks, Catherine gave up on the possibility of clothes that didn't reek, and from then on out ventured to many more places there than she would have here.)

Then, several factors began operating, and within a couple of generations smoking was not only illegal in most public places in most American cities, but, far more importantly, it was also looked-down-on when done in most public places. If you light up in a restaurant, you'll get a waiter or manager rushing up to you to politely explain that it's not allowed, but not before you've gotten several glares and pointed coughs and perhaps even sharp comments from surrounding people. It's truly been a change of minds and hearts and not just a change of law.

Right during that time, from the Nineties to the Aughts, there was a flowering of taste in food. Suddenly, the field rations and Spam and gelatin monstrosities seemed awful and out-of-date, and we had twenty different kinds of apples and twenty different kinds of coffee and an untold variety of beer.

Hm. Now that I'm writing it down, that thesis might be a bit strained. After all, other innovations and changes happened in our economy and culture. But, surely, the blunting and return of the average (even non-smoking) person's taste buds has been a factor in all of it. And I've been unable to find any mention of it anywhere!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

can't talk about this without that, part 1: money and anti-semitism

It's inevitable that when you discuss an issue you're probably leaving out some vastly important factor. Counting everything that really counts is so hard, you're bound to miss something. But sometimes it's glaring: no discussion of a piece of music can be complete without at least acknowledging the elements of rhythm, harmony, and melody. (I'm lookin' at you, Rolling Stone.) Sometimes you just have to say you can't talk about this without that.

Anti-Semitism, for instance. We all know the sordid history of anti-Semitism, and especially of European anti-Semitism, especially since the Middle Ages. But I'm always amazed that so many can speak of the issue without ever mentioning Deuteronomy 23:19-20, and our differing interpretations of it.

Here it is:
Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
Back in the old days, you not only had to follow the rules of the state (England, Prussia, Italy), or be punished, but you also had to follow the laws of the church or face excommunication and be barred from the sacraments, which included marriage and burial. So there was state law and also canon law. State law didn't forbid usury, but canon law did.

The Church interpreted the laws of Moses to mean that no Christian could charge anyone interest. Meanwhile, Jews had their own canon law, which stated that you could charge interest, just not to a fellow Jew.

You can see the giant gaping loophole here. Jews could charge Christians interest on capital, but not other Jews, and Christians couldn't charge it at all. Think about the financial and social implications of that set of circumstances, just as capitalism was emerging. (As an aside, think about the irony of many people today seemingly wishing to simply plug the laws of Moses into modern America, while simultaneously claiming to be great defenders of capitalism, an economic system that's explicitly curtailed by the laws of Moses.)

So, when you hear people saying Jews control the world economy, and caricaturing them as greedy, and at the same time stingy, and somehow profiting from the misery of others, and so on, this is where it all comes from — it's based in the actual situation of Jews becoming very powerful bankers in the period before and during the Reformation. Much modern anti-Semitism and distrust of Jews in Europe — into the 20th century and still today — is residue from that situation. Not something you hear talked about a lot. And yet no discussion of anti-Semitism is complete without it.