October 2007

2007 10 31

Posted by in: Odds and ends

In a NYT piece about Mukasey, Scott Shane writes:

If Mr. Mukasey’s nomination reaches the Senate floor, moderate Democrats appear likely to join Republicans to produce a majority for confirmation.

Silly Mr. Shane! Democrats who vote to confirm nominees who lie to congress about torture aren’t moderates. They’re extremists who don’t care about whether the United States enforces its own laws and lives up to its international obligations. There’s nothing about reporting the news that obliges Mr. Shane to abuse the English language in this way.

Comments Off

2007 10 31

Two quick points about Mukasey:

First, the Senate must vote against confirmation. A vote to confirm a liar who is clearly unwilling to enforce the country’s laws and international commitments guarantees more of the same rotten behaviour that got the U.S. in the trouble it’s in today. No deal the Democrats cut now and no private assurances that they’re given will change that.

Second, you just know that some Democrats will want to back down on this because they’re afraid of the way the issue will be framed: that they’re weak on national security. Let me just point out that there is nothing weaker than constantly fretting about the perception of weakness. Republicans will try to frame the issue this way no matter what, so the way to respond is not to capitulate again and again and again, but rather to loudly insist on reframing the issue. How about: “We’ll confirm the first candidate Bush nominates who is actually willing to enforce U.S. law.” How about: “Mukasey is clearly lying, and experience has taught us that we can’t have a proper working relationship with an A.G. who lies to Congress.” Let Bush nominate someone else. I’m sure that person might be worse than Mukasey. Reject that person too. Make clear that candidates for A.G. will be rejected – every fucking last one of them – until Bush proposes someone willing to enforce the laws of the country. That’s how you win a fight and reframe an issue.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 10 26
You’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself

Posted by in: Poetry, Political issues

I’m going through one of those phases in which I’m so angry and bewildered by politics that I find it difficult to write much about it. Anyway, I’ve come across a poem by Bertolt Brecht twice in the last few months, and thought it worth sharing. I believe it was the last poem Brecht ever wrote.

And I Always Thought

And I always thought: the very simplest words
must be enough. When I say what things are like
everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.
Surely you see that.

Und ich dachte immer

Und ich dachte immer, die allereinfachsten Worte
Müssen genügen. Wenn ich sage, was ist
Muß jedem das Herz zerfleischt sein.
Daß du untergehst, wenn du dich nicht wehrst.
Das wirst du doch einsehn.

I don’t know much about Brecht at all, and I’m not one for interpreting poetry. But for what it’s worth, I notice that most of the poem is in the past tense. [UPDATE: Or rather, the first verb (thought/dachte) is in the past tense. The following three lines are in the present, but I originally described them as in the past since they describe what he thought. Thanks, DC.] I imagine that matters. Perhaps Brecht means to suggest that he once thought this, but now isn’t sure. Because, of course, not everyone’s heart has been torn to shreds when he’s said what things are like. In that case, perhaps the final line of the poem suggests a certain impatience with people, a sense of incredulity at their failure to respond properly to a clear statement of the ways things are, and perhaps a hope that they will respond at some point. ((I notice that in the German the last line of the poem is in the future tense, whereas the English translation renders the line in the present tense. My German really sucks, so it’s entirely possible that the future tense is idiomatic here for a thought that an English speaker would put into the present tense. But I’m not sure.)) And I don’t think that Brecht immodestly implies in the second and third line that everyone’s hearts must be torn to shreds as a result of some magnificent eloquence on his part. After all, the way things are can be stated in the simplest language: just that you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself.

And you will, you know. You will.

Howls of outrage (8)

2007 10 20
Star Wars, a trumpet, and disco: What could possibly go wrong?

Posted by in: Odds and ends

Howls of outrage (5)

2007 10 14
E-String mp3

Posted by in: Music

In her show this week, Yoon performed a new song for the first time with the E-String band (she performed it once before in August with a different band). It’s a bit rough, but I’m posting it here because a) in spite of the roughness, I just love it, and if I have to hum it all day you should too; and b) Yoon is thinking of making a video of the song, and I’m curious if anyone out there has any bright ideas for a video. We have some filmmaker friends who don’t mind spending a few hours helping us out, but the budget for the video needs to be nearly exactly $0.00, and it can’t be filmed in more than one location. Yoon has some ideas already, but if you can think of something better, she’ll probably be happy to take it. By the way, it’s intended to be a sort of pop song, not a jazz tune, which is why it doesn’t sound like jazz even though it’s played by improvising musicians. Oh, also, the words are sort of impressionistic and suggestive, so there’s a lot of room for leeway on a video; and not being able to hear them all shouldn’t stop you from suggesting ideas if you have them.

The video won’t be set to this version of the song (which is just a low-quality live recording), but this mp3 gives a reasonable sense of the song. (Actually, she’s recording a version of it now at the home studio of a friend of a friend.)

I’ve written before about Yoon’s performances, but I thought I would say something quick about how her band approaches a song like this. First, there is a recognizable tune which has a particular form, and which the musicians to a certain extent follow. The rest—the arrangement, the changes in mood and intensity, all that stuff—is improvised. So, for example, in this version towards the end of the song the band gets quieter and quieter until the guitarist, Thomas Morgan, is the only one playing. They played it this way the other night because that’s the way they all happened to feel it should sound as they were playing. Watching them play live was fun because you could see them all, without any rehearsal or direction, deciding that this was the right way to end the song this time around. They might record it this way too, since it did sound awfully pretty, but even if they do, I would be surprised if they could be induced to play the song this way a third time, since by then they would have moved on to exploring a different way of presenting the music. So, it’s a kind of music that values spontaneity over polish. There’s nothing wrong with polish, but it just isn’t that kind of music. Anyway, it’s one reason I find their live shows endlessly entertaining; it’s always impossible to tell what’s coming next.

The E-String Band is Yoon Sun Choi on vocals and toy piano, Jacob Sacks on melodica, Khabu Doug Young on ukulele, Thomas Morgan on guitar, and Vinnie Sperrazza on cymbal and laptop. Each of the musicians is playing a sort of secondary instrument: Yoon doesn’t usually play toy piano, Jacob is a pianist, Khabu is better known for guitar, Thomas typically plays bass, and Vinnie usually has a full drum set.

The song is released under a Creative Commons license that allows you to share the file with friends.

Here it is.

Comments Off

2007 10 13
You can make it if you try

Posted by in: Music

The other day at the gym I was approaching the end of an hour of cardio and feeling awfully weary. It was a low-energy day, and I would be misleading the reader if I pretended that my heart was really into my workout. In short, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. But then! My mp3 player served up a most funkalicious offering, and a voice spoke to me, and it said: You can make it if you try (mp3, for a limited time – UPDATE: Gone!). And then the transformative Power of Funk made me new again, removed my aches and pains, revived my flagging spirits, and enlarged my consciousness. I must have looked like a perfect ass bopping around on the cross-trainer and mouthing all the words, but the Power of Funk also removed my self-consciousness, so it could hardly be helped.

This entire album will blow your mind.

Comments Off

2007 10 12
Papelbon is more secure than I am.

Posted by in: Baseball, Odds and ends, Videos

Oh my goofy-ass Red Sox, you never fail to entertain. Here’s Red Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon dancing an energetic Irish dance, possibly in his boxer briefs, before an adoring crowd at Fenway. Watch til the end when others come out to get in on the act.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 10 08
Gig this Thursday

Posted by in: Music

Will you be able to forgive yourself if you miss this?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Yoon Sun Choi and The E-String Band

Yoon Sun Choi – voice and toy piano
Jacob Sacks – melodica
Thomas Morgan – guitar
Khabu Doug Young – ukulele
Vinnie Sperrazza – percussion

S P A C E Gallery
207A Front Street (South Street Seaport)
A/C to Broadway Nassau, 2/3 4/5 to Fulton


Comments Off

2007 10 08
Stand up comedy night at Explananda

Posted by in: Anecdotal

A while ago:

Me: So, the other day I was going through some old computer files, and I found these jottings I had forgotten about.

Mysterious A: Oh yeah, what were they about?

Me: Oh, just jokes and stuff that had popped into my head that I thought I might use some time. For example, I found this one line that I thought would sort of go well as a line in a stand up comedy routine.

Mysterious A: Oh geez. What was it?

Me: OK, it was something like this: “Yeah, my wife and I decided to get married when we found out that she was regnant.”

Mysterious A: [Stares at me blankly.]

Me: Get it? Get it? Regnant, not pregnant.

Mysterious A: Regnant. What the fuck is “regnant”?

Me: “Regnant” means ruling or reigning. I’m not really comfortable with making that sort of joke and at Yoon’s expense, but I find the pun irresistible.

Mysterious A: Regnant? Regnant? Chris, that’s the worst stand up line I have ever heard in my life. Regnant. No one knows what “regnant” means. No one.

Me: It sounds almost like “pregnant,” which is why a lot of people used to get married, but it turns out to be “regnant.” Isn’t that funny?

Mysterious A: No, of course it isn’t funny. Regnant. I can’t believe you.

Me: You’re not being very supportive about this, you know.

Getting a rise out of Mysterious A (who is, I should say, a very supportive friend when the topic isn’t the word “regnant”), is always a treat, so I was pretty pleased with this conversation. A little later:

Me: So, I had a sort of stand up line I was proud of, but Mysterious A thought it was really stupid.

Nick: Heh. OK, what was it?

Me: “Yeah, my wife and I decided to get married when we found out that she was regnant.”

Nick: Regnant? What the hell does that mean?

Me: It’s from “regno,” which is like practically the first Latin verb anyone learns. Didn’t you take Latin for about 10 years?

Nick: Oh yeah. Heh.

Me: I guess it’s not funny then?

Nick: Not really.


Me: Hey, can I blog that conversation about that stand up comedy line you hated?

Mysterious A: Sure. God, regnant. Regnant. I still think about that sometimes. I stop and I think about it. I stop and I think that that is the worst stand up line I have ever heard. I still think about that, you know. Regnant. What are you thinking?

Me: You know, “After that battle the British were regnant in the Mediterranean for the next 200 years.”

Mysterious A: No. No one was ever regnant anywhere.

Me: I still think I’m funny.

Howls of outrage (29)

2007 10 06
Google Books: Still working out the kinks

Posted by in: Books, Google

I’ve found Google Books very helpful on occasion, but I’ve also noticed that they’re really struggling with quality control. Indeed, I think the first thing I ever looked up on Google Books had a crucial page missing, and was therefore useless to me. Some people write thoughtful articles about the problem. Me, I just take screenshots:


Update: For example, as of this writing, Google’s treatment of the Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca is a fucking disgrace. A free fucking disgrace, but still.

Howls of outrage (9)

2007 10 06
Secret gets out

Posted by in: Jazz, Music

I’m not crazy about big band jazz, and especially not keen on contemporary big band jazz. OK, I admit I hate most of it. I’ve seen Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society twice now, though, and am happy to make an exception for it. I especially liked the show I saw this Thursday, which was great fun. But don’t take my word for it: You can listen to the whole thing on his site. Phobos and Ferromagnetic, the first two pieces, in particular were really crackling with energy. Yoon and I both noticed that the musicians were smiling a lot more than musicians on a big band gig usually smile, so I think everyone was having fun. Give it a listen. If I had to guess I would say that his two biggest influences are Radiohead and old James Bond movie soundtracks.

Comments Off

2007 10 04
Operation Mockery

Posted by in: Language

I love that a current Canadian military operation in Afghanistan is code named Operation Honest Soldier. That’s a bit lighter on the testosterone than most of the recent U.S. operations. There’s a very long list of the latter, but you can always make more if you’re so inclined. Anyway, I think we’re all doing better than the Belgians, who, according to Wikipedia, named an investigation into Islamic terrorists “Operation Asparagus.” If I were less busy I would try to come up with a joke here about funny smelling pee.

Comments Off