Happy Birthday Vivaldi

Antonio VivaldiSorry for being gone all day, but I had to do some paying work and since then, I have been feeling rather ill. In fact, I still do. But I thought I would do a quick birthday post. On this day in 1678, Antonio Vivaldi was born. I have always loved his work. This started when I was rather young and playing the flute. His Concerto in D was one of the first real pieces I ever learned. You don’t hear it played very often because, I think, because it is so easy to play.

Here we have 9-year-old Emma Resmini (she is now 12) playing the first two movements of of the piece. It is a strange version of it: ornamented in what I think of as inappropriate ways, but what do I know? I’m an old man. The performance of it is wonderfully confident. And Resmini has a beautiful tone. It is a bit sloppy in the Cantabile, but I’m not complaining: I never played it nearly as well, much less at 9.

I have no doubt that Resmini will one day become a world class flutist (She may already have!), but she isn’t quite there yet in this performance. For a perfect performance of the Concerto in D, listen to Czech flutist Jiri Valek. Regardless, happy birthday to Vivaldi!

Afterword

When it comes to Baroque, I still prefer daddy Bach. But one thing Vivaldi understood that Bach never did was that the flute is not the same as a violin. In general, flutists cannot play while they breathe. See for example, that great torture piece, Partita for Flute Solo.

Interesting and Stupid on Real Time

Justin BiebroI just watched the 15 February episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. There were two notable parts of the show. The first was George Zimmerman’s brother Robert. (Not Bob Dylan!) The amazing thing about the interview is just how good he is a public spokesman and apologist. Maher even notes this during the interview. Of course, it isn’t all good. He makes some comments that are at least questionable.

Jonathan Capehart takes Zimmerman to task on one issue in particular: his statement that, “‘Stand your ground’ is not a factor in this defense.” As Capehart explains in some detail, before George Zimmerman even goes to trial for second degree murder, he will have a “Stand Your Ground” hearing. And if it is found that he did “stand his ground,” he will never even be tried for murder.

So it’s all good for Robert to go around and tell stories of the mixed race Zimmerman household and that his brother really was beaten up by the time the police got there. And I can even understand why he’s lying about “stand your ground”: he doesn’t want his brother to be sacrificed as a result of the unpopularity of the law. But it will all turn out very bad if George Zimmerman does allude not just conviction but even trial. And as Capehart has long argued: that is a very real possibility.

Also on the show was Jamie Weinstein, senior editor at Tucker Carlson’s insipid The Daily Caller. And he played the good little libertarian well on the show. But he bugged the hell out of me. How is it that all of the public libertarians spend all their time on Republican talking points? At one moment he argued that Obama had vilified the rich by claiming that they ought to pay a bit more of their pocket change in taxes. Jon Meacham countered him on this—truly surprised that anyone would seriously make that argument. Then Weinstein tried to claim that he wasn’t making that argument. (It was only one of many!) He looks like a teenager and he has the intellectual sophistication of one. I don’t know why Maher brings people like him on his show; he must just be that desperate for conservatives. It’s pathetic.

During Overtime, Weinstein showed that he was a fake libertarian by claiming that he was for cannabis legalization. This to me is the ultimate test as to whether someone really has a principled libertarian ideology: are they in favor of legalizing heroin. If they aren’t, then they really aren’t for freedom. If they don’t think people should be able to legally buy and sell heroin, then their ideology descends into good old fashioned conservatism: the rich should have rights and the poor should stand in line.

Watching Real Time is always a mixed blessing. On the one side, Maher is very funny and some of the guests are great. On the other, he always has idiot conservatives on and he doesn’t know enough to counter them on their bullshit. This is even more true with libertarians because Maher has strong tendencies in that way. In fact, I would argue that he is more a libertarian than someone like Jamie Weinstein, because a real libertarian would admit that the Democrats are much closer to libertarian ideology than the Republicans, who are proto-fascist.

Afterword

One more thing. During New Rules, Maher said, “After Michael Jackson turned white and now this: other races must give some their their pop stars to the black community. Starting with Justin Biebbro.” That’s the photo above.

Paint-By-Numbers Religion

Paint By Numbers RenoirYou know I have a love-hate relationship with Sam Harris. Well, in the following short video, he makes an excellent argument. While debating innumerate William Lane Craig, he asks the audience to imagine that Islam is true. He is speaking primarily to Christians. If Islam is true, and the Koran is the literal word of God and you don’t believe it, then you are going to hell. What kind of god would do that? What kind of god would make Dr. Craig go to hell, just because he happened to be born in a Christian country?

Harris brings this up to show that pretty much all of Craig’s arguments come down to special pleading. (It is interesting that from Craig’s standpoint, he has won all the debates against Harris, Carrier, and Price; to me, although I don’t think any of them were that great, he was without exception terrible; he lost all the debates.) In fact, Harris even brings up the concept of compassion. This is very interesting knowing Harris. He really has a soft spot for Tibetan Buddhism, which I totally understand. And this, I think gets to the heart of Harris’ argument in a broader context.

There aren’t any strong arguments against something like Tibetan Buddhism. The problem with the Abrahamic religions is that they say: do these things that God told you and get into heaven. In other words, they are dogmatic systems. And thus, they are not spiritual systems. They are the paint-by-numbers approach to religious insight. If there really is only one way to salvation, then God is evil. What’s more: we can’t have been made in his image. Moral thinking like that found in the Bible is anathema to us. If a man had two sons from different women, would we say the man was moral to spoil one of the boys and torture the other? Of course not! Yet that is exactly what the (for example) Christian God does to billions of people who made the mistake of not being born in the right place.

More thoughtful Christians are fond of telling me that they have given up trying to understand God. They just know that he has a plan and that it is all good and all makes sense. But if that’s the case: why all the stupid laws? Why is the basis of the Christian religion the ludicrous idea that all anyone has to do is believe in Jesus and all their sins will be washed away? This is childish nonsense. Remember in Peter Pan when Tinkerbell dies and we all have to say we believe in fairies and this brings her back to life? Does that sound familiar?

If God has a plan for us, surely it must be a little more personal and inscrutable than following a few culturally specific laws and believing in a demigod. The universe is a great contradiction. It allows for all kinds of thinking. But that just isn’t allowed when we limit ourselves to accept cutting edge spiritual thinking from the Iron Age. Why fill in numbered sections on a canvas when we can create our own Renoirs?