Monthly Archives: June 2018

Pablo Casals on How to Appreciate Art

Pablo CasalsMy great wish was to hear Pablo Casals. One day my desire was almost fulfilled and I met him. But ironically, it was I who had to play. It was in the home of the Von Mendelssohns, a house filled with El Grecos, Rembrandts, and Stradivaris. Francesco von Mendelssohn, the son of the banker, who was a talented cellist, telephoned and asked if he could call for me; they had a guest in the house who would like to hear me play.

“Mr. Casals,” I was introduced to a little bald man with a pipe. He said that he was pleased to meet young musicians such as Serkin and me. Rudolf Serkin, who stood stiffly next to me, seemed, like myself, to be fighting his diffidence. Rudi had played before my arrival, and Casals now wanted to hear us together. Beethoven’s D-Major Sonata was on the piano. “Why don’t you play it?” asked Casals. Both nervous and barely knowing each other, we gave a poor performance that terminated somewhere in the middle.

“Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful!” Casals applauded. Francesco brought the Schumann Cello Concerto, which Casals wanted to hear. I never played worse. Casals asked for Bach. Exasperated, I obliged with a performance matching the Beethoven and Schumann.

“Splendid! Magnifique!” said Casals embracing me.

Bewildered, I left the house. I knew how badly I had played, but why did he, the master, have to praise and embrace me? This apparent insincerity pained me more than anything else.

The greater was my shame and delight when, a few years later, I met Casals in Paris. We had dinner together and played duets for two cellos, and I palyed for him until late at night. Spurred by his great warmth, and happy, I confessed what I had thought of his praising me in Berlin. He reacted with sudden anger. He rushed to the cello. “Listen!” He played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was novel to me…it was good… and here, didn’t you attack that passage with up-bow, like this?” He demonstrated. He went through Schumann and Bach, always emphasizing all he liked that I had done. “And for the rest,” he said passionately, “leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”

–Gregor Piatigorsky
Cellist, Chapter 17

My Group — Basing Your Identity on the Edifying

Pacifica - Finding My Group

Greetings from Pacifica, California. I got a good reminder of group dynamics yesterday by finding the only one around here who I consider part of my own group.

A Poor Start to My Vacation

I got here yesterday late afternoon and I was in a rage. First, the place was way more expensive than I had thought. And by I time I got to my room I thought, “This place is a dump.” (Note: I love dumps, but I like the price to reflect it.) Then I got to the room and it was nice, but small and far from the ocean.

But okay, big deal, I wanted to do was hang out — reading books and watching videos. So I started setting up the room, only to find that it had a total of two electrical outlets that weren’t being used. I called down to the front desk and asked for a power strip. Given how expensive this place was and how unhappy I was, I figured this was the least I could expect.

White People Are Not My Group

The nice white woman at the front desk said she wasn’t sure if they had one, but if they did, they would send one up. Oh, how encouraged I felt! But I pleased that ten minutes later, there was a knock on my door.

By this point, I was already suffering with another problem and imagining the 10,000 word review of this place I was going to write and post everywhere on the internet. In fact, I was even thinking of starting a website:

WhyWhateverTheHellThisPlaceIsCalledSucks.com

The problem was that I could hook up my Blu-ray player to the television (which is very nice), but the remote control unit would not allow me to change the the input.

I’d given up and decided to connect my Blu-ray player to the computer monitor I had brought for this very reason. Make that a 12,000 word article.

A Member of My Ground!

But I answered the door and a nice young man greeted me with a power strip. I thanked him. It was the first thing that had gone right — a modest victory but a victory nonetheless.

He went on his way and I brought the power strip back to the desk. But then I remembered, “The television!”

A Tech?

I ran out into the hallway and yelled after him. I told him that I assumed he was the tech around here and he told me I was right. Thank God! One of my people! The women at the front desk were very pleasant and professional but totally useless for anything other than charging large amounts of money for tiny rooms with limited television sets.

I explained my problem: the television was modern, so it had HDMI inputs. I plugged in my Blu-ray player, but the remote control didn’t allow me to go into set-up. He understood the problem immediately and offered to get me the “real” remote control unit.

The Answer

So off he went and back I went. Ten minutes later, he was in my room with a proper unit. And together we worked on it and soon the television was displaying The Blood Trilogy. I told him not to judge. He smiled.

He explained to me that they had the simple remotes because most people are, well, idiots (my word) and with the real remote control units, guests were constantly screwing up their televisions. I immediately remembered all those phone calls I got from my parents over the years, “The television isn’t working!”

So I got it, and it made sense. It was so nice to have someone explain the situation and solve my problem as opposed to the front-desk clerk probably doesn’t even know about the issue and had no interest in trying to solve my problem. You know, like saying something like, “I don’t know, but I’ll ask our tech.”

The tech even brought an extra set of batteries. What a great guy! I tipped him exorbitantly and he went on his way.

Rolando!

His name was Rolando and he was a young Latino. English might be his second language, but he spoke perfectly, so if he is an immigrant, he came her young. Regardless, he was a man of few words.

But after he left, I was so happy. All my other complaints about this place went away (mostly). I was no longer a stranger in a strange land. Rolando was here!

And it occurred to me that he was part of my group, tribe, or whatever you want to call it. The white women at the front desk might look like me in their pasty whiteness. But Rolando and I spoke the same language, even if it hardly required speaking at all.

Race Is a Myth Most People Believe

This was a powerful moment for me. As regular readers know, I don’t believe in race — it’s a recent concept developed in the west to justify imperialism and slavery.

But most people believe in it in a big way. And now it isn’t just the obvious bigots — it’s people like Sam Harris and his followers.

But here was this guy who roughly a third of this nation would hate for no other reason than his skin color. (Don’t buy into the whole “illegal immigration” thing; these people would have no problem with immigrants if they only came from “white” countries. Not that Rolando is necessarily an immigrant. But most of these people would consider him “foreign” because he isn’t pasty white.) Yet here was a man who was part of my group.

Nothing Wrong With Being in a Group

I have no problem saying this. It doesn’t matter what it is, humans separate themselves into groups. There are too many of us to all feel a special kinship to all humans — not that we don’t (mostly) care when any other human is killed and eaten by, for example, a grizzly bear. But mostly, we all divide into our own group.

And I think that’s fine as long as there is an edifying reason for it. Looking the same is not edifying. For one thing, humans all look so much the same that basing your opinions on it is simply ridiculous.

The Basis of Groups

I can understand basing your group notions on social customs. But that’s stupid from an immigration standpoint, because second generation immigrants are fully integrated into the society. What’s more, the social differences that people get hung-up on are usually superficial.

It’s like what Sting implied during the Cold War: the Russians love their children too. (I’m not a Sting fan and I’m not even that fond of this song; I think it made a pretty obvious point, but it’s still important.)

Had Times and Good Groups

These are bad times — in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Too many people divide themselves based on the most foolish of measures. It mostly comes down to simple xenophobia: the fear of outsiders. And don’t kid yourself: this is why the Republican Party is not just in control of Washington, but of the US generally. And it’s the reason this country is being ripped apart.

Good Groups and Bad Groups

I don’t have a problem with other groups bound together by things like woodworking or needlework or whatever. I don’t feel as bound to them as I am to a kid who knows how HDMI works and can program a television to work with a random remote control unit. But I get them.

I do, however, have a problem with people whose identity is based on nothing more than fear of The Other. Groups should be bound by their interest in and love of their people, not disregard and hatred of others.

It was nice to be reminded of that here in Pacifica by a young tech — even if the room still is overpriced.

How a Vacation Gets You Coming and Going

Frank on Vacation in Mexico With Grumpy SquirrelHello all you frankly curious boys and girls! I am sorry that I haven’t been writing much recently. Part of it is Donald Trump. I’ll come back to him. But the bigger issue is that I’m going on vacation starting Friday morning and I won’t be back home until the afternoon of the first day of July.

July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August! July not August!

The problem for me is that a vacation really gets in the way of my work on the things I actually care about: this site, Psychotronic Review, practicing the most evil musical instrument in the world, and writing my experimental plays. You know: the stuff I don’t get paid to do.

The problem is that there is a tremendous amount of (paid) work that has to be done before going on vacation. I already have weeks of work backlog. But I have to get the really pressing things done. And I want to too! That’s because I’m not going to be working when I’m on vacation, and that means I won’t be making money. But even though I’m going to miss 9 days of work out of this month, I’m going to manage to make about 80 percent of my normal pay.

This, of course, is because I’ve been killing myself.

And Then There’s Trump

I’m now trying to avoid hearing anything about politics. In the past, it wasn’t so bad because I thought, “We’ll probably get rid of Trump in 2020 and this will all just be a bad memory.” Sure, I knew he was causing great suffering, but there was an end in sight. And to a large extent, that’s true. The immigration policy will go back to our normal inhumane situation instead of the near-genocide that Trump is overseeing. So on the domestic front, the election of a Democratic president in 2020 — or whenever — will be a good thing.

(And yes, I know that Trump has apparently reversed course on the family separation of asylum seekers. Does everyone know that we are signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, by which the whole process of charging asylum seekers with trespass is illegal? So the whole, “Our hands are tied” explanation was always a crock. But the reversal sure shows that all those people who were claiming that the White House was doing it because they thought it was a political winner were wrong. They were doing it because Trump is a cruel man who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. I think Elvis Costello summed him up perfectly long ago, “If it moves then you f**k it, if it doesn’t move you stab it.)

Our Long-Term International Problems

It’s on the international front that things are so depressing. After Trump is out of office, things will not reset. The world has seen that the US political system is such that it can elect a modern-day Hitler. It doesn’t matter that he got three million less votes. For one thing, that’s still a very close race when you consider just how awful Trump was — not just as a person but as a candidate. But more important, we have a non-democratic system. Hitler didn’t get 50 percent of the vote. His base was roughly that of Trump’s: 30 percent.

So I figure it will take a generation or more for us to heal these wounds. And in a certain way, they never will be. I know that Brexit hurt the UK. But the people immediately regretted it. If they had been able to vote again just a week later, it would have lost. It’s not clear that Trump would lose a year and a half later — despite the fact that other than being a monster to immigrants, he hasn’t done a thing for his straight white male racist base.

(Just a little aside: I am so looking forward to the time when these people — people like me — really do have no more power than anyone else. As a group, cis white males are such whiners about losing power and blah, blah, blah. I’ll be glad to see them have something to really complain about. Of course, if they voted liberal, their lives would be better. But as a group, we are idiots.)

Onward to Vacation

The rule for this vacation is that I get to have the kind of vacation that I most enjoy: doing nothing. I read. I watch totally awesome films. I sit in a hot tub. And apparently, I get a massage, which is the equivalent of the hot tub: except I have to drive — gurr — as many as ten miles to get it. And I have to go whale watching, which is okay, I’m just not sure how I’m going to get to the boat. I’m too tired to think about it, but I have a vague plan that relieves me of having to park in San Francisco.

It’s possible I’ll write something on the blog next week. I’m not planning to, but you never know. I can’t go a day without writing something. I’m planning on working on some plays. But I’m so tired right now, the thought is not appealing. They require a lot more work than a blog post — especially a rambling one like this. (I have Facebook posts that are better than this!)

I Need This

Generally, I’m told that I need a vacation. This is the first time I feel like I need a vacation — I certainly want it more than any one I can remember. My next vacation (which will be the last for a while) will likely not be that great because I’m going with my family. And they all have this idea that you do things on vacation. And that’s such a silly thing, because I will be doing something — my favorite thing to do: metabolize!

Today was a long day. Tomorrow will be worse. Just let me die on the beach.

American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism

American Patriotism Is Usually Just Nationalism
The “Patriot” Who Lives Near Me

I pass by this house a few times a day as I take walks to lower my cholesterol. It’s a sign of what many Americans think of as patriotism but that is really just nationalism. There are two flags there: not nation and state, but nation and local sports team.

Most People Disrespect the Flag

As I go for walks, I’m always amazed at the number of houses that have American flags hang, which are never taken down. Some of them are in tatters. But I’ve gotten used to that. What really interests me are the people who have invested in poles as you can see in the image above.

Now let me be perfectly honest here. At least the owner of this pole takes the whole flag ceremony seriously. They always take the flag(s) down at dusk. This is traditional. Unless a flag has a spotlight it should not, by tradition, fly at night. So I appreciate that they take their flag waving more seriously than the people who put yellow ribbons on the backs of their cars during the Iraq War — as if that meant anything.

Why I Don’t Like Flags: They Are Nationalistic

But I don’t like flying the flag because it strikes me as more nationalism than patriotism. It stinks of “My country, right or wrong!” (I know the original phrase continued, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” But that isn’t what people remember.)

People who care about ideals, which is the core of my patriotism, don’t wave flags, because we know how far we fall short of those ideals.

Who’s Number One? The US or the Warriors?

US and Warriors FlagsBut okay, people like to wave the flag. I wouldn’t have written this article if it hadn’t been for the second flag. It isn’t the flag of California. (It is often the awful Gadsden flag, as if this white homeowner in the suburbs is being treaded upon.) Instead, it is the flag of our local professional basketball team, the Golden State Warriors.

And that strikes me as perfect! Because they have the American flag up in the same way they have the Warrior’s flag up. Just as the roster of the Warriors is constantly changing, so is America. So I assume that if fascists took over the country, they would still be flying the flag proudly. (Actually, they’d probably be flying it more proudly — most people only hate the Nazis because of the Jews; they don’t seem to have much of a clue why fascism is bad beyond that; and if any country were primed for fascism, it is modern America.)

Nation or Sports Team: Whatever!

But this just shows that these people love their country in the same pathetic way that they love their sports teams. In the case of the American flag, it has nothing to do with what the nation stands for. It is like real estate: location, location, location. They have the Warriors’ flag because they are our local team and they have the American flag because they were born here. And that’s as far as it goes.

My friend Will recently saw a house with a Confederate battle flag proudly displayed. We couldn’t find it. But we did come upon a house that had two flag poles side by side: one had the American flag and the other the San Francisco Giants’ — our local baseball team’s — flag. (We think this might have been the same house and that baseball simply trumps their racism. Sorry: “southern pride.”)

US Flags Are Not About Patriotism

I think the American flag is up out of simple habit. They know they are supposed to do that. They are virtue signaling. What’s really in their hearts is the love of seeing the Warriors or the Giants beat teams from other places — teams they would support if they lived there.

Both flags just represent nationalism on different levels. There’s no thought behind it other than that we are the good people and they are the bad. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that got us President Trump. And it’s that kind of non-thinking that is going to turn us into an authoritarian banana republic.

The Statue of Liberty should be weeping.

What the Summit With North Korea Is Really All About

North Korea's Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump
Kim Jong-un winning the negotiations with Donald Trump.

I’ve cropped this AP picture taken by Evan Vucci and am licensing it under Fair Use because this article is about it and only it. It is a picture of Kim Jong-un doing what his father was unable to do. And he is only able to do it because the American system of government (not the people) elected Donald Trump to be its president.

After Decades, North Korea Gets Just What It Wanted

For decades, North Korea has wanted to talk to the United States alone. And all previous presidents — even the less than brilliant George W Bush — refused to do it.

There are many reasons for this. But probably the biggest is simply that you don’t want to give a third-rate despot the opportunity to look like he is on the same level as the leader of the free world.

Of course, maybe that whole “free world” business is over anyway. Trump seems far more interested in hanging out with authoritarian leaders than democratically elected leaders. Trump seems intent on destroying the carefully constructed post-WWII alliance.

If a Deal Is Reached, It Will Be Bad for the US

If anything comes out of these negotiations other than Kim Jong-un solidifying power in North Korea and looking more powerful everywhere else, it will be a bad deal for the US. Trump will go along with any deal now that he’s BFFs with Kim.

Trump actually said that he would know if Kim Jong-un was serious “within the first minute” of their meeting. Does that remind anyone else of George W Bush’s fatuous claim that he looked in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul”? (Later Bush retracted this because he said Putin had changed; this is what conservatives do; they can’t admit that they’re just stupid.)

I have heard people make apologias for Trump along the lines of, “Well, he has advisers that will make sure everything is done right.” That wasn’t a bad argument to make before the president was Donald J Trump. But anyone who makes that assertion today has to ignore the last year and a half. Trump surrounds himself with yes men and doesn’t even listen to them when they deviate the smallest amount from what he believes or wants to do.

Trump will jump at anything and the Republicans will not stop him because they got their tax cuts and they are terrified of their base voters.

Most Likely, Nothing Will Come of The Negotiations, Because This Was Never About the Negotiations

But more likely, nothing at all will come from this summit. Trump will leave Singapore and say, “I knew in the first minute he wasn’t serious!”

Regardless, this was always about Kim Jong-un getting that picture above. He out-maneuvered Trump in a way that Kim Jong-il couldn’t out-maneuver George W Bush. That is sad.

What Intelligent Person Would Make a Deal With the US Now?

And Kim Jong-un would be an idiot to make a deal with the US anyway. Look at what happened to Muammar Gaddafi! Look what happened to the Iran deal! Look at how Trump treats our longstanding friends!

Making deals with the US is dangerous. Making deals with Trump is madness. I think Kim Jong-un is a psychopath.

But he’s not a madman and certainly not an idiot. Unfortunately for the US, Trump is a madman and an idiot.

They might as well pack their bags. Kim Jong-un got what he wanted. And Trump will get nothing that he wants, except for manic tweets about how dishonest and weak Kim is. Except all the world will know that Kim played Trump for the foolish mark he is.

Afterword

Bruce Cockburn’s song “Yanqui Go Home!” is a great song, but it’s clear that Yanqui didn’t go home, he just went to several more bars:

What Did Shakespeare Mean by “Purple Testament”?

What Did Shakespeare Mean by Purple Testament?
The royal family still likes purple — a lot — they are just more subtle.

If you’ve read me at all, you know of my love-hate relationship with “That Bard” — the broccoli of theater (something you don’t like but think is good for you) — William Shakespeare, or as I like to refer to him, “My Willy.” So I was very interested in a Twilight Zone episode I was watching, which I’ve always liked, called “The Purple Testament.” It’s from Richard II one of That Bard’s better plays, “‘He is come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.” But for the first time I thought, what does that phrase mean?

So I went looking to see if it was a common phrase at the time. Indeed it was not. I guess Willy just thought it sounded good and fit into his blank verse. As with all of Shakespeare, there is so much talking. A lot of people think people spoke that way at the time. No. I’m sure an actual king would have simply said, “He’s come to start a bloody war!”

But the phrase still requires some explanation. He wrote “purple testament” and not something else. The whole line is “the purple testament of bleeding war.” I will give myself at most five minutes to come up with a more understandable line (although truly, I’d rework the line before, which is 12-syllables not 10):

“The bleeding war of his selfish hubris.”

And don’t tell me that isn’t a great line, because his line wasn’t great either. And mine has the advantage of saying what Richard actually means!

What Do The Shake-Scholars Think?

Still, there have been 400 years of Shakespearean scholars (if you include people like Jonson). So some of them must have come up with some good ideas, right? Not so much, no.

In his mid-19th century edition of The Works of William Shakespeare, Howard Staunton wrote:

Stevens believed that testament is here used in its legal sense, but Mr Whiter, in his ingenious Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare, quotes a parallel passage from the first part of the old play Jeronimo,

“There I unclasp the purple leaves of war”

and remarks, “Whatever be the direct meaning of the words in question, I am persuaded that the idea of a book with a purple covering suggested this combination to the mind of our poet.”

What Does “Purple Testament” Mean

Well, sure, Shakespeare stole from everyone — all writers did at that time. But it only provides some indication of Shakespeare’s process. It could be reaching but Jeronimo was performed in 1592 at The Rose, when Shakespeare was there.

But all this tells us is a little about the writing process. Why did the Jeronimo writer use “purple leaves”? I don’t know the play. I assume by “purple,” he is referring to autumn. Thus it indicates the lead into war — and thus death. That’s not bad.

A purple testament has no such association. Based on the context, testament doesn’t just refer to a book, it refers to the Bible. Richard is ranting on about how no one likes him but God.

So is Shakespeare implying that Richard will soon lose the favor of God? I think that’s a reasonable reading of the text.

Why Do We Always Have to Help Out Poor Willy Shakespeare?

But here’s the problem: for hundreds of years, people like me — but generally with a far higher opinion of That Bard — have been doing this: assuming that he wasn’t just pulling lines out of his ass that fit. It’s very likely that “purple testament” meant nothing to him or the actors or the theater-goers.

He probably just liked the sound of it. Also, of course, purple is a “royal” color. Queen Elizabeth I (you know, the woman who was queen when Richard III was written) forbade anyone outside the royal family from wearing it. So that was doubtless on Willy’s mind, given what a suck-up he was to royalty.

It’s a good phrase though. It sounds important. But mostly, I think it was meaningless — just five syllables when Shakespeare needed them.