The Son Joseph Haydn Never Had

Joseph HaydnSince we already celebrated Cesar Chavez, this day can only go to one man (even though it is a rather good day for birthdays): Joseph Haydn. He is one of the greatest composers ever. He has been called “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet.” But it would probably be most accurate to call him father of chamber music, since he was the guy who really made it the center of classic music.

In some ways, he is a greater composer than Mozart, because Haydn for so important in defining the Classical style. I listen to more Mozart because he came later and effectively perfected the form. But what is really interesting about all this is that Haydn and Mozart were friends. But because they were separated by a generation (Haydn was 24 years older), there was no rivalry. They seem to have admired each other unreservedly.

I think that the younger composer saw in Haydn a father. Mozart’s own father was not very nice to him. He didn’t approve of Mozart’s career choice and he blamed him for the death of Mozart’s mother — who simply died on a trip with the composer; Mozart certainly wasn’t culpable. So Haydn was the good father that Mozart never had. In fact, Haydn told Mozart’s father, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name; he has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.” In typical form, the compliment was never passed on to Mozart, although I’m sure that Haydn must have said something similar to the greatest composer known to him.

As for Mozart’s feelings toward the older composer, it is clear that he idealized him. Mozart discouraged him him from taking a trip to England out of fear for his health. (It is ironic that Haydn not only survived the trip, but lived almost two decades beyond while Mozart died the next year.) There is also this very telling incident from Franz Xaver Niemetschek:

At a private party a new work of Joseph Haydn was being performed. Besides Mozart there were a number of other musicians present, among them a certain man who was never known to praise anyone but himself. He was standing next to Mozart and found fault with one thing after another. For a while Mozart listened patiently; when he could bear it no longer and the fault-finder once more conceitedly declared: “I would not have done that,” Mozart retorted: “Neither would I but do you know why? Because neither of us could have thought of anything so appropriate.”

That’s incredibly sweet, especially coming from Mozart who was not a man inclined to underestimate himself. I think that Mozart was the child that Haydn never had. Or I’m just being sentimental, which would not be the first time. Regardless, they had a great friendship based in mutual admiration.

Since Haydn and Mozart sometimes played string quartets together and the younger composer was very much influenced by Haydn’s work in this area, here is the Houston based Meridian Ensemble String Quartet doing String Quartet Opus 77, Number 2:

Happy birthday Joseph Haydn!

GOTV Is Key to Democratic Success

Get Out the VoteEd Kilgore often annoys me because of his New Democratic outlook on politics. Just the same, he is a keen observer who posts 12 articles a day. So he is required reading if you want to know what’s going on in partisan politics. But what bugs me most about him is what I see as cynical defeatism. He is very much part of crowd that argues we have to move to the center to get those mythical swing voters. But today, we are of one mind, How to Get Marginal Voters to the Polls.

The biggest challenge facing Democrats this year is the falloff of base voter participation in midterm elections. There are two approaches to fixing this. The first is the “inspire” approach. The idea is that if the Democrats rally around an exciting issue like increased funding for Social Security, the base will come running to the polls. The second is the “nuts and bolts” approach to getting out the vote (GOTV). The idea here is simply to knock on doors and provide drivers to get people to the polls.

Although I do think it is important to inspire Democratic voters, this is more about the party’s long term prospects and my desire to have actual liberal policy instead of the usual “not quite as bad as the Republicans” policy that so often defines the Democrats. When it comes to winning elections, I don’t think the Democratic Party should much worry about policy at all. As I say all the time: our policy ideas are popular, so if a lot of people vote, we win. It’s as simple as that.

As Kilgore points out, it isn’t as though we can’t do both. But if I had to pick just one, it would be enhanced GOTV efforts. Kilgore has his own reasons for favoring this. But I think it is as simple as the fact that the reason that Democratic voters don’t show up in midterms is that their lives are more scattered and it is harder to make time to vote. It isn’t that they aren’t interested in voting. And if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years from small time organizing, it is that a simple phone call makes a huge amount of difference. Knowing that even one actual human being cares that they show up makes people much more likely to do so.

So the news that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is going to spend nine times as much on its GOTV efforts than it did in 2010 is huge. All you have to do is look at turnout patterns over the last few elections and you will see it all. The Democrats lost in 2010, but not because the people turned against them. They lost because the people who liked them in 2008 didn’t show up in large enough numbers in 2010. And if the Democrats lose this year, it will be for the same reason.

My understanding is that the Democratic Party as a whole is going to be focused on trying to overcome the base voter turnout. Just the fact that they are trying to address the problem is cheering news. Too often in the past, it has seemed that the Democratic establishment has just sat on its hands grumbling that the voters weren’t showing up. The Koch brothers can spend their millions on blanket advertising. What else can they do? Their policies aren’t popular and the people who like them already vote in high numbers. The Democrats are the party of the people (or as close as we are going to get in our two party system). Leave the wholesale politics to the Republicans. We can win with retail politics.

Great Deals on Black Pets!

Black CatI have only been the primary caregiver to two cats: Pulitzer and Deadline. They were both black cats with small amounts of white. That’s probably just a fluke, because I’m not a racist when it comes to cats. I judge them on the content of their personalities not the color of their fur. But apparently, I am in the minority. According to Alissa Scheller at The Huffington Post, white cats are almost three times as likely to get adopted as black cats.

This seems especially strange to me, because totally black cats are probably the most beautiful of all. In fact, according to the article, one Nevada shelter started a campaign to “Adopt your own mini-panther.” And all of their black cats were quickly adopted. There’s no surprise to that. Black cats do seem especially sleek and dexterous, even if it is just an optical illusion. But I would think people would pick up on that without having to be told.

It is true that some people are superstitious about black cats. In fact, some shelters will not allow black cats to be adopted around Halloween for fear that they will be mistreated. But only 13% of Americans are superstitious about black cats—not nearly enough to explain the discontinuity. What’s more, in England, it is considered to be good luck to give a bride a black cat. In Scotland, seeing a black cat indicates that you are going to get some money. And doubtless, some percentage of Americas would want to have a black cat because of its association with witchcraft. So I doubt any of mythology about black cats really has much to do with the adoption rates.

The same thing happens to dogs. Although if you look at the research, it is far less pronounced an effect than it is for cats. So it is interesting that this behavior is known as “Black Dog Syndrome.” As my sister would note, this is just another example of our cultural bias against cats. But I’ll leave that issue to another time. When it comes to dogs, it seems the problem is to some extent just outright racism: people think black dogs are more aggressive. It’s just terrible.

I think that people may assume that black cats and dogs are less emotional. It is true that it is harder to determine the details of their faces. It is also possible that black animals at shelters don’t stand out in their little cages. If they are less likely to be noticed, they are less likely to be adopted.

All black animals (Including rats!) are adorable and deserve our love. So if you are planning on adopting a pet, you really should look for a black one. This isn’t just something you should do out of altruism. The fact that black animals stay at shelters longer means that you are likely to get a better pet that is black. The syndrome also affects other darker colored animals, so check them out too. You’ll be glad you did.


Also: go to a no-kill shelter. Most shelters do little but kill animals.

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

Cesar ChavezHere is California today, it is Cesar Chavez Day. And it also happens to be his birthday, which is tidy. But just like Martin Luther King Jr, we celebrate the mythic Chavez rather than the man. And that’s just fine. But the man deserves to be remembered. He was a curious fellow. For example, he was a vegan and he seems to have been against the notion of money. Although I don’t agree with him on either issue, I greatly respect the beliefs and I think it speaks well of any many to have principled beliefs that counter the social norms.

His life story is also right out of The Grapes of Wrath, too. His father lost the family farm during the Great Depression. He cleared 80 acres of land in exchange for the deed to the farm. But the deal was broken so the family moved to California and became migrant workers. Chavez quit school after the 7th grade to work in the fields. Other than two years in the Navy, he was a farm worker for ten years before getting into organizing. The rest, as they say, is literally history.

Some people find it ironic that Chavez and Dolores Huerta and their organization were very much for restricting immigration. But this is to misunderstand what the United Farm Workers (UFW) was doing. Unions are not like churches, going around trying to make the world a better place. Unions exist to represent their workers and balance the power of management. Then as today, the business community tacitly encourages illegal immigration. They want an over-supply of labor so they can pay as little as possible. Immigrants (Especially undocumented!) are in effect scabs that undermine the bargaining power of unions.

The following video is remarkable. Chavez is talking about how boycotts work. But at the beginning, he says an amazingly insightful thing: that voting doesn’t help the poor. That’s interesting because recent political science research finds that the opinions of the poor (and to a large extent the middle class too) simply have no effect on how politicians vote. Just the same, Chavez was big on getting the poor to vote. He’s just making a point that if you want to make change happen, the best way is to make the rich suffer by depriving them of money. That is the most direct way to make positive change.

I’m very pleased that today in Cesar Chavez Day in California. I wish it were a national holiday. We have a holiday for one of our richest presidents who kept slaves. We have a holiday celebrating our independence that kept slavery in existence. We have a holiday celebrating how native people kept early settlers from starving so those settlers could go on to wage a genocide against the native people. Even though Martin Luther King Jr was deeply concerned about workers’ rights, that’s not why we celebrate him. May Day is long gone and most Americans don’t seem to know the difference between Labor Day and Memorial Day. We could use a holiday that celebrates the workers’ struggle in an unambiguous way. Cesar Chavez Day should be a bigger deal. And in another decade, it probably will be.

Pretend Wonk Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0Jonathan Chait caught something important buried in a long (pay-walled) report in Congressional Quarterly, You’ll Never Guess What Just Happened to Paul Ryan’s Promise to Tackle Poverty. It seems that Ryan’s new budget will contain policy proposals that he supposedly researched in his 204-page poverty report. Chait is one of the most insightful writers when it comes to Ryan, and he concludes that the problem is just that Ryan (along with his Republicans colleagues) has irreconcilable contradictions.

I am not inclined to be so nice. To me, Ryan’s poverty report was no kind of honest look at the research on poverty. It was an effort at propaganda. He went through all the research with no intention but to show that poverty programs don’t work and to argue that the best thing for the poor is to abandon them. Chait even mentioned this, saying that “it used selective, one-sided methods to indict the safety net.” There was no way that when Ryan started work on his report that he was going to find that safety net programs work.

The whole thing reminds me of those cargo cult tribes. After World War II, the people built replicas of airplanes and other things associated with war activity to bring back the cargo. Understandably, they were confused about correlation and causation. We get the same thing from Paul Ryan. Serious people study issues and write reports. He wants to be seen as serious so he goes through the motions of doing serious work.

Cargo CultImage via Atlas Obscura

That’s the thing about all of Paul Ryan’s supposed “wonkery.” Long ago, he decided that his budgets and reports didn’t need to add up or make sense. It is just the idea that he has a plan that impresses the reporters. And indeed, his budgets are not only cruel to the poor, they would be catastrophic for the economy. But they were applauded in the media. And it’s the same thing with his poverty report. The media treated it as though Ryan were seriously looking at the issue of poverty rather than simply justifying his hostility toward poor people.

So it is not so much that Ryan’s commitments to military spending and tax cuts trump poverty elimination. Rather, Ryan’s current interest in poverty is only for the purpose of coming up with justification for cutting it. So his new budget does deal with poverty. As Chait noted, “At least two thirds of the cuts in last year’s Ryan plan come from programs for poor people.” From Paul Ryan’s perspective, that is a poverty program! Because what the poor really need is a kick in the butt, not a helping hand. And that goes double for those freeloading kids.