War and Tolstoy

Leo TolstoyOn this day in 1657, the German Baroque composer Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer was born. He is thought to be one of the best composers of his time. Unfortunately, very little of his work has survived. Here is Chaconne, a very impressive piece for harpsichord:

The great scientist Luigi Galvani was born in 1737. He did a lot of stuff, but he is remember for only one thing. And it is about the coolest “man” thing ever done. He took a dead frog’s legs and applied an electric spark to them. And the legs twitched. This is actually very important. It showed that there were electrical signals in the body. But at this point, we mostly know it from grammar school science fairs and this really cool scene from Frankenweenie, which unfortunately, I had to create because no one seems to agree with me about what scenes are most important in films:

Film producer and lyricist (“Singing in the Rain”) Arthur Freed was born in 1894. Novelist James Hilton was born in 1900. He wrote the novels Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Actor Cliff Robertson was born in 1923. The creator of the C programming language and one of the developers of unix, Dennis Ritchie was born in 1941. And the great singer and songwriter Otis Redding was born in 1941. He was only 26 when he died, but he still left a lot of great music. There isn’t a lot of video of him available. Here he is doing doing his own song “Respect,” which is still my favorite version:

Actor Hugh Grant is 53 today. Comedian Adam Sandler is 47. He seems to be incapable of doing anything but really stupid work now, regardless of how much talent he surrounds himself with. And actor Henry Thomas is 42.

The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest writers ever Leo Tolstoy who was born in 1828. Now obviously, I’ve never read him in Russian. But his voice comes across pretty clearly in translation. And Anna Karenina is amazingly affecting—literally a sob story for the reader. As a person, he doesn’t seem to have been so great. Paul Johnson referred to Tolstoy as “God’s elder brother.” I’m afraid that does sum him up, but Johnson (a conservative apologist for just about every atrocity ever) has little room to talk.

Happy 185th birthday Leo Tolstoy!

Rainy Days and Mondays

The CarpentersIt is in the 90s even as I write this. And what song has been going through my mind all day? The Carpenters‘ “Rainy Days and Mondays.” I don’t think much about The Carpenters. They certainly created finely crafted music with Karen Carpenter’s beautiful voice. And boy did they work with great people. On this song, we have Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine on drums. It was co-written by Paul Williams (lyrics) and Roger Nichols (music), who are not exactly underachievers.

At one point in my life, I probably would have brushed the song aside as so much sentimental nonsense. But it really is more than that. It’s got a great old AABA structure with a really strong refrain. And Jack Daugherty’s production is just perfect for the song. It builds in intensity rather than volume with some very nice background vocals during the bridge. I think it compares well to the modern “wall of sound” where no emotion is ever allowed to leak through.

Now, of course, it seems that everything The Carpenters ever did is even more bittersweet than it was at the time because of Karen Carpenter’s unfortunate end. I do wish she were alive today: old, fat, and working a cabaret stage in Las Vegas. Oh well:

My favorite of their songs is Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar.” I don’t think it is as well written as “Rainy Days and Mondays.” In particular, I don’t like the disjointed transition from the verse to the chorus. And to be fair, the original Delaney & Bonnie version deals with the transition much better and is generally a better version of the song. But I like The Carpenters‘ version because it is plays the naivete way up. This includes changing the original lyric “I can hardly wait to sleep with you again” to “I can hardly wait to be with you again.” Very Biblical!

Anyway, since you have probably heard The Carpenters version too much anyway, here is the Delaney & Bonnie version:

And it is now down into the 70s as I write this.

Will US Back Syria Deal?

Sergei LavrovMost people don’t know it, but the original phrase was, “Be careful what you wish for US Secretary of State John Kerry, you might just get it.” Okay, it wasn’t really, but it should have been! While in London, a reporter asked if the Assad government could do anything to avoid an attack. Kerry took the bait and replied, “Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week—turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.” Au contraire, you empty headed animal food trough wiper!

Within 5 hours, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put just such a proposal together and gave it to his Syrian counterpart. And Syria said that they welcomed the proposal. Lavrov said, “If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons… makes it possible to avoid strikes, then we will immediately get to work with Damascus.”

Of course, we will have to see. After all, in Kerry’s original statement there was not only the firm statement that Assad wouldn’t do it but that it can’t be done. And such statements are typical of people like Kerry. They want to go to war but they also want to seem like they are being forced to do so. The United States will likely claim that they would love to accept the deal but unfortunately, they just can’t trust that all the chemical weapons are gone. There might be one microgram somewhere. According to Reuters:

White House officials made clear their skepticism of the workability of the Russian proposal. Syria is a battleground where access for foreign experts would be dangerous. And it would be very hard to verify whether all sites had been sealed.

What’s more, the administration is working the other side. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said, “It’s important to note that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting. So it’s even more important that we don’t take the pressure off and that Congress give the president the authority he’s requested.” So maybe Russia shouldn’t broker this deal because it will send the wrong message to the Obama regime!

Even more obvious, the rebels hate the idea. A rebel commander said, “It is a trap and deceitful maneuver by the Damascus regime and will do nothing to help the situation. They have tons of weapons hidden that would be nearly impossible for international inspectors to find.” How exactly he would know that, I can’t say. But I find it particularly interesting that he said it would do nothing to help the situation. I’m sure that’s true… from his perspective. My understanding is that the rebels are losing this war and an attack by the United States may be their last best chance to win the conflict.

Meanwhile, the administration continues its bellicose rhetoric. Kerry continues to make outrageous statements that he can’t back up. He said that during is (brief) time in the DA’s office, he had successful prosecuted cases with less evidence than he has against Assad. Well, that may be. After all, poor people are convicted of all kinds of things that they didn’t do. But one would think that the case for going to war would be a little stronger. Instead, the administration just keeps pushing more deceptive intelligence. On all 5 of the Sunday talk shows, White House Chief of State Denis McDonough repeated the same line about how no one has refuted the intelligence. That’s true, but most people also don’t find it that compelling. Just like for the Iraq War, the administration is massaging the intelligence to deceive.

But this proposal by Russia could really be good. In addition to stopping a bombing campaign, it would get rid of a large stockpile of chemical weapons. That’s a win-win from my perspective. What we are going to find out is if Obama really wants to go to war or not. If the speculation is right that he simply painted himself into a corner, he will use this opportunity to get out of an attack. If he really does want war, he will find a way to kill this proposal. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say during his media blitz the next two days.

Journalism: Where Truth Does Not Matter

AmazonHave you heard about the free Amazon smart phones? On Friday, Jessica Lessin (the temporary location of a new technology news website) published a story, Amazon Wants to Offer Its Smartphone for Free. Who Will Follow? That’s not a totally ridiculous idea. Amazon doesn’t seem particularly interested in making money right now; they are only interested in crushing every other business on the planet. But it turned out that not only would other companies not follow, even Amazon won’t.

Will Oremus at Slate reports today that on Sunday, the site currently named Jessica Lessin printed a second article, Amazon: No Phone Launch “This Year” and “Would Not Be Free.” Well, that clears that up!

Oremus is very kind regarding the mix-up. And understandably so! People make mistakes. And maybe Amazon was thinking about releasing a free phone but when it went public, they pulled back. But there is something problematic about the idea of getting two stories out of a nonevent. For example, I could publish an article with the following headline:

Amazon Wants to Invest Millions in Frankly Curious

And then two days later I could publish:

Amazon: No Investment in Frankly Curious—Whatever it Is

Of course, it is necessary to have a reputation to destroy with such stunts. Certainly Jessica Lessin and the author Amir Efrati have that. But it isn’t clear that their reputations are damaged, much less destroyed. It’s because everyone pretty much agrees that journalism is little more than a game. I might not agree with that when it comes to politics and wars. But when it comes to technology reporting, it’s hard to care. It has become little more than an industry of professional cheerleaders for various corporations.

Florida Arrests All… Except for Murder

George ZimmermanGeorge Zimmerman was arrested on some domestic assault charge. Whatever. I’ve always felt he was kind of an idiot. But I was very interested in what the Lake Mary police spokesman Zach Hudson said about Zimmerman’s detention. “Anytime we have anybody suspected of doing anything, we place them in investigative detention until a complete investigation has been done.” What a difference 5 miles makes!

You see, when Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, he was in Sanford, Florida. That’s 5 whole miles away. Apparently, in Sanford, anytime they have anybody suspected of doing anything other than murder, they place them in investigative detention. What’s more, in Sanford, they do criminal background checks on the victims, not the perpetrators. But mostly, they just assume that if you killed someone, he must have had it coming.

I’m glad to see that in Lake Mary they take policing more seriously. Or do they? After all, George Zimmerman didn’t kill anyone this time. Maybe if he had stood his ground against his wife and killed her, he wouldn’t be in jail. “She was banging my head against the colander and I felt threatened!” We won’t know until George Zimmerman kills again. Check back here for updates!

New Van Gogh Sunset at Montmajour

Sunset at Montmajour - Van Gogh

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam unveiled a recently discovered Vincent Van Gogh landscape painting from 1888—two years before his death. The painting is named Sunset at Montmajour and it is entirely typical of Van Gogh’s generic landscapes. I think the discovery is really interesting, because I would never have thought that works by him would be sitting around. The Van Gogh Gallery previously provided the following answer to the question, “I [have] an original Vincent van Gogh Painting that I [found]. Do you know how much it is worth, or how I can find out?”

If it truly is an ORIGINAL Vincent van Gogh painting that you or someone else has found the price would be outlandishly high. It would be one of the greatest lost paintings ever found.

This begs the question, “Is this one of the greatest lost paintings ever found?” Personally, I’m not so sure. Bearing in mind that I’m not much of a fan of Van Gogh, I don’t much like the painting. I mean, it’s okay, but nothing to get excited about. The clouds are kind of interesting, but above all, the painting isn’t composed well. And indeed, Van Gogh wrote in a letter that the painting was a failed attempt.

But the story of its loss is really interesting. Apparently, Theo Van Gogh owned it at his death. It was sold a few times, eventually ending up in the hands of a Norwegian collector. At some point, he was told that it wasn’t a Van Gogh, but rather just a copy. So he stored it in his attic where I assume it was eventually found. The Van Gogh Museum spent the last two years researching it.

So this is all quite exciting. Too bad they didn’t discover another Modigliani. We could use a few more of his.

The Well Regulated Blind Militia

Blind FuryYesterday, the Desmoines Register published, Iowa Grants Permits for Blind Residents to Carry Guns in Public. It is a fairly long article, but there really isn’t much more information in article than there is in the headline and the subtitle that reads, “Sheriffs and advocates are divided on whether that’s a good idea.” I’m divided on the issue myself. On the one hand, these are blind people—with guns. On the other hand, are they really any more likely to be idiots than sighted people?

It seems to me that society has already decided this issue. We don’t allow the blind to drive cars—both for the public safety but also for the safety of the blind person. So if the society decides that guns should not be carried around by blind people, that seems pretty reasonable given our social norms. Then again, I’m not keen on limiting people’s rights. And it isn’t that hard to imagine cases where a gun could be used effectively by a blind person. (It would seem that a taser would be just as effective, however.)

What I find interesting in all this is that guns in general are not treated like cars. In order to use a car, one must get training and pass a driving test. No such requirements are applied to using a gun. You just leave the gun store and accidentally shoot and kill your son. I think the problem is that we don’t perceive guns as the dangerous things they are. They just sit there doing nothing until quite suddenly they explode a projectile with often tragic consequences. For example, the guy who killed his 7-year-old son in the gun store parking lot was experienced with guns. But he apparently didn’t think there was anything wrong with having a loaded 9mm handgun sitting around his autistic child.

With public carry permits, the situation is better. Most states require some kind of training. And Iowa is no exception, “but that requirement can be satisfied through an online course that does not include any hands-on instruction or a shooting test.” I think that gets to the heart of the problem. Our pathetically weak gun laws and almost nonexistent proficiency requirements are not just a fluke. They are the result of ideologues pushing for laws that make gun ownership and use as simple as possible.

From a broad social standpoint, blind people walking around with guns just doesn’t matter—there are not many of them. But what bothers me is that legislatures think it is a good idea to provide such liberal gun laws that we are even discussing whether it is a good idea for completely blind people to walk around with loaded guns. I would prefer that we be much more careful about who we allow in public with guns. An armed society is not a polite society.

Armed Society is a Polite Society