26 August 2016

Gyorgy Ligiti (looking somewhat like Klaus Kinski)
Friday at last! What a BORING week this was. Everyone is on vacation; I hate that, when I'm at work and nobody else is.

I watched Pitch Black (2000) last night, a horror/science-fiction hybrid. It was like 1979's Alien, a film I have never cared for: aliens with big teeth chew up humans. It starred Vin Diesel and the usual assortment of Hollywood mannish females (to keep feminists happy)... oh, and everyone has a potty mouth. How on earth did this get on my Netflix queue? Some time ago I saw a list of "overlooked science-fiction movies" and this must have been on it. (A few months ago, based on the same list, I saw Prometheus, a 2012 Alien prequel, another mistake.)

Clearly, I shall have to be much more discerning about what I put in my Netflix DVD queue!

Genetic genealogy is complicated! (I've been getting e-mails on the subject.) I am a "Peach" Clark, that is, my branch of my father-to-son Clark line are categorized in a "peach" branch. Stating it another way, some man surnamed Clark and known as Peach Clark (we do not know when he lived - he may be my great-great-great-great-great grandfather or something like that) is a common ancestor to a number of us who have had our YDNA classified. Chart. Another chart. I cannot pretend to fully understand this stuff... I think I'll leave that for retirement. But I do know that my inferred haplogroup is R1b1a2a1a2a (called "DF27+" for short).

Here's what we know about the people with the DF27+ YDNA mutation: They appeared about 3900 years ago.  A large number of these migrated around the western Mediterranean into Spain and Portugal, and continued erecting stelae. Some of them went by sea up to Belgium and to the British Isles.  They may be what is known today as the maritime Bell-Beaker people.

My folks!

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Gyorgy Ligeti: Atmospheres - A work entirely without melodies, this is a series of tone color blocks. Its most celebrated use was in the "infinity and beyond" freak out section towards the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). From wikipedia: "A 2006 performance of Atmosphères by the London Philharmonic was noted for its direct transition without interruption into Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which Sunday Times music critic Hugh Canning described as a "stroke of programming genius." No, no, no, no, no! If conductors want to be mix artists or dee-jays they should procure a couple of turntables and a microphone instead of a philharmonic orchestra, and cease playing fast and loose with composers' works. There is zero indication that Stravinsky would want this piece as a prelude to his. Orchestras and conductors exist to serve the composer and the work - not the other way around.

Franz Josef Haydn: Symphony #101 "The Clock" - So called because of a tick-tock figure in the slow movement. This is one of my favorite Haydn symphonies.

Neil Young's house in Redwood City, CA: "Broken Arrow Ranch." The all-seeing eyes of Google satellite imagery are upon you, Neil.

Pool tonight, maybe, and yard sales tomorrow.

Have a nice weekend...

25 August 2016

For whatever reason (one of those oddball images stuck in my head from the past), I was remembering an old sandwich shop near where we lived on Robinson Street in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles: Barkies. The place had an enormous puppy dog head on the front - there was no forgetting that for a little boy! I don't recall that we ever ate there... I just remember the business facade.

I'm still reading The Caped Crusade - Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. I have a bone to pick with it. Weldon seems to use the Adam West portrayal of Batman as a sort of social litmus test: if you strenuously objected to it, you're a nerd. If you didn't or don't, you're a "normal." I have two objections with this.

(1) C'mon... I was a kid. In late 1965 and early 1966 ABC TV ramped up the publicity for the new Batman television series, and I was excited. As a nine year-old I loved the Batman comic books and was excited to see him make the transition into live action. Like many others in my generation I was tuned in for the first broadcast episode in January 1966 - and was thoroughly disheartened to see paunchy Adam West dance the Batusi. (What the hell?!?) A normal nine year old isn't snarky enough to understand or appreciate camp, and I quickly tired of what they were doing to my Batman; it seemed cruel. Batmania and the subsequent licensing craze occasioned reprints of the oldest Batman comics in paperbacks, and I craved the mysterious 1939 and 1940 character with the dangerously long, pointed ears. THAT'S more like it! But the Adam West portrayal was just plain mean... it provided yet another reason for adults to laugh at us kids and our interests.

(2) Weldon draws a heavy line between nerd and "normal." But what he doesn't get was that simply because a kid was a fan of Batman, and was horribly disappointed with the Adam West television show, it doesn't make him a nerd. I was utterly normal. In fact, when I turned thirteen I did what normal kids did back then: I gave up reading comic books and turned to book literature. The works of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck replaced comic books in my life, and I have never turned back. And that's normal because, back then, comic books were a reading gateway. It's only emotionally stunted and immature boys who insisted upon reading comic books as men. Nerds.

Here's where Weldon and I part company: "A Batman who puts in appearance at gala fund-raisers and carries his own credit card must and should always stand shoulder to shoulder with the Batman who lurks in the grimy shadows of Gotham's warehouse district." NAY. That credit-card presenting Batman isn't Batman. There has to be a line somewhere or you do violence to the character. Batman is a literary (well... comic book) character, not a concept. If he's merely a concept, as long as you're at it why not make him a female? Or gay or wheelchair-ridden or an Australian aborigine? There has to be some defining limits.

Nowadays there are way too many Batmen (Lego Batman?) and I have simply grown tired of the character: Batman Fatigue. I don't bother with new movies. For the record, I will state that I think the best realization of the character was with the popular and influential 1992 Warner Brothers animated series. Batman makes perfect sense in that realization. Essentially, Batman is for kids and he works perfectly keeping that in mind.

One good thing about the book, however: it exposes Batman's "creator," Bob Kane, as the fraud he was.

Last night we watched a Coen Brothers movie, Hail, Caesar! (2016). Meh. I give it a C. The Coens make the most self-indulgent movies in the industry; I recall thinking this the last time I saw one. (I forget which one. 2001's The Man Who Wasn't There, probably.) They have quirky concepts they find humorous and then obtain tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to splash this up on the screen as a feature length film. My wife found this movie a lot funnier than I did.

So far I think Blood Simple - their 1984 variant film noir - is still their best film. O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) is also excellent. I will grudgingly state that I have grown to like The Big Lebowski (1998). That's about it. They are really hit or miss.

24 August 2016

"If you are going through hell - keep going." - Winston Churchill
I had a sublime dream last night: I could sit at a piano and anything I could imagine, I could play. It was absolutely wonderful. I didn't even have to think about where my fingers went. I thought of the melodies and they just sort of figured out where to go. Amazing.

Here it is only the end of August and it appears to be pumpkin spice season already. We went to Wegman's last night and there it was, as bold as brass: Kellogg's Special K Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Crunch. It seems to arrive earlier each year.

I worked in the townhouse again yesterday, doing some painting and other general stuff, including tearing down and disposing of some really ugly deteriorating shutters on either side of the front door. (We had to make sure the home owners association would allow that.) It looks much better without it.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring - For most of my life this was my all-time favorite classical music piece, but now, at long last, I think I am finally tiring of it. Oh, the Berlin Phil did a great job with it, and played with wonderful lucidity and gusto - it's just that I think I have now heard this piece too many times. Time to give it a rest. The score calls for eight horns? Wow.

Igor Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto - A jazz piece for a small ensemble I have loved since I was seventeen. Odd thing, however: since I got to know it at about the same time my interest in the American Civil War first caught fire, I cannot hear it and not think the events of 1973 and North vs. South. Weird, huh? I prefer the version I have on record to this. Simon Rattle de-emphasizes the saxophones playing a series of cool chords at the end, and that's my favorite part. It's called the "Ebony Concerto" because it features a clarinet, a black instrument. (Not, however, constructed of ebony wood.) And since it's jazz, Stravinsky could have intended a double entendre about African-American culture. Actually, I'd be surprised if he didn't.

Bela Bartok: Divertimento for Strings - I'm still getting used to this piece. I know its sound, but not the individual melodies.

Five years ago yesterday was the Virginia Earthquake. It was felt by more people than any other quake in U.S. history! It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population might have felt the earthquake, more than any other earthquake in U.S. history.

Ten years ago I wrote this in my rugby journal: "It seems that as a 50 year old I'm putting in twice as much effort for half the results I had as a 42 year old - among guys half my age." In other words, I was figuring out - if five years of chronic shoulder pain wouldn't convince me - that Fall 2006 would be my last rugby season.

23 August 2016

Yesterday I made a sturdy foam core box to house my Electronic Thruway game. It now sits under a bed awaiting attention and play from grandsons.

Yesterday I also did some painting and repairs in the townhouse. The effort now is directed to the master bathroom. More to come.

I'm enjoying Batman: The Caped Crusade. The book describes the different styles of Batmen that appeared in the comics and other media during the decades since his introduction in 1939. The first, sinister loner (the Bat-Man), the jolly 1950's guy, the ridiculous campy Adam West figure and the anti-Adam West grim loner that followed immediately after.

Any complete discussion or history of Batman has to include Fredric Wertham's 1954 The Seduction of the Innocent that examined the cozy relationship of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (millionaire and ward) and pointed out that they seemed to have had the ideal homosexual relationship. ("Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature 'Batman' and his young friend Robin.") The author of the Caped Crusade, Glen Weldon, agrees that Wertham had a point: shared a bed, sun tanning, what have I done, and so on. I recall some of this when I was a kid and thought it weird and uncomfortable, but I simply ascribed it to "old comics - things were different back then." I was also very unhappy with the campy humor the 1966 television series brought to the character. The Batusi... ugh.

I watched a documentary on the 1959 Ben-Hur and Charlton Heston's role in it - very interesting. I think Charlton Heston may be my all time favorite actor. He was a great role model for me when I was growing up and there is simply no actor today who has his presence for big, epic roles. Heston stayed married to the same woman for more than 60 years and was, by all accounts, a great father and a genuinely humble and nice guy. He was "Chuck" to powerful actors and studio heads and "Chuck" to the cameramen, stage hands and script girls. He never took himself very seriously... and he carried a placard for civil rights in the 1963 marches when it was rocking the boat with his studio to do so. (The same thing happened when he became the NRA president.) Politically his trajectory was also my own: he started out a Democrat but became a Republican. In 1972 I assumed I was a Democrat (Mom and Dad were) but we all preferred Nixon over McGovern. In 1980 I was a Reagan Democrat, and after that I gave up on the Democratic Party because they gave up on me.

No Berlin Phil last night. Instead I watched an interview of Sir Simon Rattle discussing Beethoven's symphonies. He once conducted Beethoven's 1st and 2nd symphonies, followed by the 3rd (which is much longer). He said that was a disaster and that he'd never do that again - the orchestra was pooped. Beethoven is tiring. Also, he said he once conducted Beethoven's 3rd followed by Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (a piece requiring a lot form an orchestra) - again, a disaster for the same reason. Who schedules these things? It's interesting to hear about the lives of professional concert musicians.

My daughter Julie also has a blog! It's called "Confessions of a Couch Potato" (formerly "Couch Potatoette," which I prefer). Her latest is here. I don't have the nostalgic fondness for the source material that seems to be the inspiration for Netflix' Stranger Things, 1980's movies about the para-normal, but I'll give it a a try.

That's all.

22 August 2016

On Friday. when I came home from work, I watched the 1966 Monkees pilot; it was awful. But it confirmed something that I thought I remembered: back then, sometimes, Michael Nesmith was called "Wool cap." On a lighter note, that night me, my son and my grandsons swam at the pool and grilled hot dogs. That was fun!

Yard sales on Saturday morning... VIDEO. The weather was somewhat cooler; I was able to keep the top down for most of it. I haven't watched my Blu-ray version of Ben-Hur yet.

Saturday and Sunday was a literal ton of work. A week ago I tore down most of the bricks to the ugly fireplace in the townhouse basement. Then I put the mortar in bags and disposed of them, and the bricks went through the open window into the back yard. This weekend my son and I borrowed a wheelbarrow and hauled the bricks into the back of his Honda Pilot to the dump, in two loads. The first load was 1,120 pounds and the second was 920 pounds, 2,040 pounds total - the proverbial ton of bricks! A very sweaty job. Also, we got him up a borrowed ladder to confirm that his gutter wasn't plugged.

Today is my father's 104th birthday (he died in 1983). All through the late Sixties and Seventies for his birthday we'd drive down to Del Mar for a few days so he could play the horses. At post time every day they'd play this 1941 Bing Crosby "Where the turf meets the surf" song - it's firmly embedded in my musical consciousness.

I wish he was around so we could do that again...

On September 8th the Smithsonian is doing a Star Trek 50 thing. I was tuned in that day fifty years ago to see "Mantrap"; I loved Trek as a kid.

This weekend's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Second Piano Concerto - Of the three he wrote, this is his most popular, tuneful and my favorite. It was composed under unusual circumstances. Stricken by a four year crisis of confidence, the composer sought help from a hypnotist who programmed him: "You will begin to write your concerto... You will work with great facility... The concerto will be of excellent quality." It was, and the composer dedicated the concerto to the hypnotist.

Sergei Prokofiev: Sixth Symphony. I've never heard this piece before. It's the darker and more grim twin to Prokofiev's Fifth, which I know and like. This piece is a remembrance of the dead of World War II. I like it and shall listen to it again.

I started The Caped Crusade - Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. We shall see.

A couple of interesting things:

The United States is still paying a Civil War pension benefit!

The Shelby Cobra prototype.

And another week begins. Can't we simply fast forward to the next weekend?

19 August 2016

Lemminkäinen's Mother, 1897
I watched an interesting British World War II film last night, Sea of Sand (1958) about the activities of the British Army's Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) before the pivotal battle of Al Alamein in North Africa.

It started off somewhat slow but began to capture interest, and by the conclusion I realized that I had watched a very good movie indeed. Britfilm stalwart Richard Attenborough was in the cast. The LRDG is yet another story that took place during World War II that I was unaware of. So many tales...

Yesterday a Western Suburbs player, whom I knew (but not well), died. I've been going through the thousands of old match and party photos looking for images of him to give to a friend. It was really fifteen years ago that I was in the center of rugby club matches and life? (I played from late 1998 to 2003, with a caboose season in 2006.) It now seems so long ago... That was me in the short shorts and the upper leg development? Sheesh.

How cute is my granddaughter Ruby? Very cute indeed! She's now three months old - that's when babies start to develop their personalities. Ruby's is perky, curious and sunny.

I am now reading The Searchers by Alan LeMay, the 1954 source novel for the classic John Ford movie starring John Wayne. It and Hondo are my two favorite Duke Wayne films. It was in this film that Wayne demonstrated that he could act and was more than just a Western personality. An excellent movie.

The Berlin Philharmonic concert for last night:

Maurice Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major - This was written between 1929 and 1931, and has many elements of jazz in it. Last night I realized that it is one of my very favorite piano concertos, along with Khachaturian's. The first movement starts with a whip crack (!) and the slow movement, with long phrasing, is very beautiful. "The G-major Concerto took two years of work, you know. The opening theme came to me on a train between Oxford and London. But the initial idea is nothing. The work of chiseling then began. We've gone past the days when the composer was thought of as being struck by inspiration, feverishly scribbling down his thoughts on a scrap of paper. Writing music is seventy-five percent an intellectual activity." - Ravel. I first got to like it when I was seventeen, and so listening to it these days creates a pleasant vibe.

Jean Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela - A tone poem depicting a swan coasting upon a lake in Tuonela, the Finnish realm of the dead. The mysterious sound of an English horn (which is neither English nor a horn, by the way) shares long, lyrical passages with a cello. This is another piece I've known since I was a teen, but last night I fully realized what an astonishingly unique piece it is. The strange and otherworldly harmonic language Sibelius employs for the strings seem to exist outside of his other works - indeed, outside of classical music. There is nothing quite like it. That striking image above is by Akseli Gallen-Kallelaand and depicts Lemminkäinen's mother, showing her with her slain son from the Swan of Tuonela story in the Kalavala, the Finnish epic (which I've read). What are those mysterious lines of force, I've always wondered. And the stones seem covered in blood. Are they?

I'm teaching at church this Sunday, the subject being the Sacrament. I'm not sure what I'll be able to add to that fundamental topic that everyone hasn't already heard before, but I'll try to find something. My audience is older men. I don't have to entertain them - and it certainly isn't expected - but doing so to some degree injects some enthusiasm into the proceedings! (Translation: Keeps them awake.)

The weekend! Yard sales, moving bricks and rubble around, heat, pool and je ne sais quoi.

Have a great weekend!

18 August 2016

Here, Bolingbroke - YOU take it.
I hauled away four bags and one box of heavy construction debris from the townhouse basement. Three bags are sitting in my car trunk. I have to find a place for them. When I was a kid, a possibility would have been to strew the contents upon on the front lawn of my enemies - but other than the feral cats roaming my neighborhood I no longer have enemies and haven't for decades.

Last night I watched The Hollow Crown (2012), a film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II. This is the first in a series of Shakespeare War of the Roses chronicles which I may or may not watch to completion. (I really liked the 1983/1984 Time-Life adaptations.) Benedict Cumberbatch - an actor I cannot stand - is cast as Richard III... ugh. Ben Whishaw was quite good in the role of Richard II: slight, otherworldly, fey and, unfortunately, Christlike. I'm somewhat sensitive about that because when I was taking BYU English classes (I have a major in Electrical Engineering and a minor in English Lit), a sure way to get points with the prof was by pointing out the literary existence of a Christ figure in whatever we were studying - whether it was intended or not. It got to be an eye-rolling English Lit cliche for me, actually. But the production values in this movie were excellent, interior scenes being shot in old English castles. My observation about films about the British Monarchy still stands: it's hard to make a bad movie about about an English king or queen. (David Hemmings was an awful Alfred the Great in 1969, and Derek Jarman's 1991 Edward II was pretty horrible - but that's it. So far.)

Sir Patrick Stewart, as John of Gaunt at death's door, got to utter the play's best lines:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war, 
This happy breed of men, this little world, 
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
Which serves it in the office of a wall, 
Or as a moat defensive to a house, 
Against the envy of less happier lands, 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm this England.... 

Makes me proud to be an Englishman. Wait - what?

I am enough of a pop culture lowbrow to fondly remember Basil Rathbone uttering these noble lines to Nigel Bruce after foiling the Nazis in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942).

Of course the other passage about kings and majesty in this play is also notable - uttered by Richard II on the coast of Wales:

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

I love the line about Death grinning at the pomp of kings. Can this also apply to American Presidents? Yes, indeed. Hence the universality of Shakespeare.

In addition to its other attainments, the city of Burbank, California (my hometown) is getting the World's Largest IKEA Store. From LACurbed: "...a 456,000-square-foot (that's almost 10 1/2 acres) home furnishing and Swedish meatball outpost on a 22-acre lot less than a mile away from the existing store, near San Fernando Boulevard and Providencia Avenue ... That's more than eight football fields ... it'll be the biggest Ikea in the US. Imagine how many relationships will be able to fall apart at once in there." Sure, but... will you be able to see it from space? That's what I want to know.

BTW, Burbank also has a Tesla car lot. Having sufficient income to live in Burbank goes hand-in-hand with being able to afford a Tesla.

EGAD! but the price of Swiss watches has jumped! I just got an e-mail announcing the arrival of the new Breitling Black Steel Chronoliner. A nice watch, thinks I. Hm. Rubber strap. It can't be over, say $5,000. The price in Arlington, Virginia? $8,600! Yikes... totally not worth that amount. Obviously, 2000 was the right year to buy my Breiting Colt Chrono Auto. I bet it is now worth more than I paid for it.

17 August 2016

Me and Joe Klosterman, USMC, 1978
We went to the townhouse last night to pick and sweep up fireplace rubble. I am happy to say it's now in four big paper Home Depot bags awaiting being hauled up the stairs and taken away as trash. I guess I'll do that tonight. We have a few courses of bricks left to remove, but the plan now is to wait on the advance of a masonry/fireplace expert. Later on, when the weather cools off a bit, I need to get the bricks I tossed into the back yard to the dump.

My cinematic exploration of the United States Marine Corps continues. Last night I watched Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders (1942). It was... okay, entertaining. It was more or less the standard World War II Era war film: Randolph Scott making speeches, a guy from Brooklyn getting shot, guys muttering anger at "Dirty Japs," etc.

It was interesting seeing the Marine Corps Base San Diego in the opening scenes - that's where I went to boot camp. In fact, where Randolph Scott walked among his men and made a stirring speech in front of the Base Theater would, 33 years later, be the exact place where me and Recruit Platoon 1117 would be dismissed after thirteen weeks of basic training. (14 minute point, here.) There is no mistaking those colonnaded buildings! But back then they were painted in camouflage... interesting.

I got an e-mail the other day: a Clark submitted his YDNA to Family Tree DNA for a 67 marker y-chromosome test, and there's a match with my YDNA. Among 67 markers we have a genetic distance of 1. That means that we share a common ancestor, probably within the last 250 - 300 years or so. So I quickly sent off an e-mail to inquire about what they know of their Clark family. The oldest relative is an Irish Clark born in 1735 - yep, that's the same genetic Clark family. I have Irish Clarks, too. But what about the U.S.? These Clarks wound up in Tennessee and Texas, not New Jersey. I need some evidence of Clarks in New Jersey - that's my branch. Perhaps some day...

I am now reading Hillbilly Elegy - A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. My wife bought it. She's more taken with it than I am thus far... the author grew up in a small Ohio city but his family's roots are in Appalachian Kentucky. A child with slight prospects (with a baffling family tree), he enlisted in the Marines and wound up getting a law degree from Yale. Why read about this? Because these people - alienated, disaffected whites - are the base of Donald Trump's support. So there's a political angle.

My pal Mike produced a longer and more complete version of his Burbank Veterans Book, so I have naturally posted that to Burbankia. It stands as the ultimate resource of Burbank's war dead.

That's it. The week drags on.

16 August 2016

You get shut off, DUH.
A big thunderstorm with lots of rain moved through the area last night. Here's a slo-mo video of it. Check out the lightning at the 28 second point!

I got my Electronic Thruway toy working. Here's a video showing it in action.

Over the weekend I watched the science-fiction thriller Ex Machina (2015). I think one of my kids urged me to see it. The plot (via IMDb): "A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I." It should be noted that the fellow who created this breath-taking android is a foul-mouthed and abrasive super genius Internet search engine creator and financial giant. He's also the biggest single plot hole in the movie.

SPOILERS: The pretty android protagonist who acts very much like a human turns out to be the world's first A.I. femme fatale because she lacks a programming subroutine preventing her from killing human beings. I would think this would be a no-brainer: if you are going to create a being that has the the approximate or greater physical strength than a human and can think like one (but possibly more rapidly), you'd want to make sure it couldn't kill anyone, right? This didn't occur to this genius Internet wizard? Towards the end, one of the pretty androids with whom the creator has been having sex (this film, while interesting and creative, has a very high ickiness factor), sticks a knife in his back. Stunned, he turns around and the main pretty android pulls the knife out and sticks it into his belly, finishing him off. Sexist pig! This shall not stand in the Era of Hillary!

Too bad he never read Isaac Asimov, or he'd know about the Three Laws of Robotics (1942): "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law." Oops. The film didn't have much of a payoff at the end - nothing especially clever or creative happened with the plot. The pretty android gets out into the world and becomes sort of the Mary Tyler Moore of the artificial intelligence set, in the corporate environment to interact with humans to see if anyone can detect that she is an it. Maybe fall in love. Buy cosmetics. Lunch. That sort of thing.

Last night I watched an amusing film about one of my favorite cinematic sub-genres (along with British horror anthologies, film noir and juvenile delinquency films): the U.S. Marine Corps movie. This one was The Leathernecks Have Landed (1936). It was a Republic quicky, clocking in at just over an hour. Lew Ayers was the woman-chasing protagonist, who finds a swell blonde gal from Brooklyn named "Brooklyn." The comic relief, "Tubby," is killed and Lew must take revenge. My favorite line, from Brooklyn to Tubby: "Say, they feed you pretty well in the Corps, huh?" Since the film was shot in the 1930's any action taking place is restricting to exchanging shots with some Chinese bandits. The Empire of Japan wouldn't come along until later.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2 - I used to come home from school, put this one on the record player, sit in a Stratolounger and take a nap. Despite this, I got to know and appreciate this music quite well.

Claude Debussy: The Afternoon of a Faun - I first heard it in a junior high school music appreciation class and was blown away by its sound - the orchestral sonority of it. Which, with Debussy, was the point of the whole thing. Somebody once wrote that the gentle flute passage which opens the piece whisked away the accumulated heavy baggage of Beethoven and Wagner, and so it does. A whole new aesthetic. The French do that from time to time.

Claude Debussy: Syrinx for solo flute - Only Debussy could have written it, and only Debussy for solo flute would be played to the present day.

Giovanni Gabrieli: Sacra Symphonia Canzon Septimi Toni a 8 - Sir Simon Rattle put the horn and trumpet groups all about the Philharmonie for spatial effect, as was intended back in 1597, when Gabrieli wrote this piece. I recall that in 1972 or so Columbia introduced a quadraphonic showpiece recording of this, isolating the groups around in the soundscape. I didn't buy the recording. Maybe I should have.

Seen in a Michael's craft store: Stop Hammer Time! Hahahaha!

15 August 2016

Claudio Abbado
Last night I had a dream where all of the stuff that was in my parents’ house in Burbank in about 1984 (somewhat before my mother retired and left town) was in an estate sale, and I was pathetically rooting around in desk drawers, etc. looking for personal stuff I’d recognize. The only thing I found was a little spiral bound notebook from 1977 wherein I had recorded my jogging mileage and what music I had listened to that day. What does this dream mean? Since I believe that the dreamer is his own best dream analyst, I can figure it out: It’s based upon a conversation I had in church where we discussed when we first became interested in genealogy and family history. It means nothing and I’m not telling myself anything of any importance. It’s just my subconscious replaying that conversation in its own oddball way, constructing a new scenario.

I went swimming Friday, Saturday and Sunday night; it was HOT! Last night was exactly like jumping into a bathtub of warm water. Friday night I was up until Midnight squaring away Ethan and Sarah's basement - storing things away - in order to clear floor space in order to do more work.

Yard sales Saturday morning were disappointing. SHORT VIDEO. I think the heat discouraged people.

Next I went with my son and grandson Gibson to the toy section of Target - where he got a toy as a reward - and then lunch. Very nice. Poor little Hudson wasn't feeling well and stayed with Cari. When he woke up he felt fine, however. And then we went to the townhouse basement and started tearing away at the drywall in order to expose the fireplace to see what we had. Photo sequence: What was there when my kids moved in. Ripping away awful orange drywall to expose the ugly fireplace. The ugly fireplace. Let's take these bricks down and start over. And here's the pile of rubble we were left with. Yesterday I was pitching bricks up though that open window into the back yard (where it will be carted via wheelbarrow to the front, loaded up in the car and taken to the dump) and bagging broken mortar for the trash. I made a big dent in that pile, but there's still a lot left. And then I still have a few courses of brick to remove. Big job!

On Sunday I bored out the motor mount holes in that old Electronic Thruway racetrack toy I bought on e-Bay last week, and installed the new 3V motor and re-soldered wires, etc. It works great! Now I need to find the right kind of card stock to fix the track and I'll shoot my video and share it with grandchildren. Stay tuned.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances for Soprano and Orchestra - I didn't really care for it. It didn't help that there were extended pieces for soprano and I had no idea of what she was singing (no notes or subtitles).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony #41 "Jupiter" -  I enjoyed this. A perfect piece of music. But as mighty a composer as Mozart was... I still prefer Haydn's perfect and often witty symphonies.

I also watched a documentary about Claudio Abbado's first year with the Berlin Philharmonic, taking over after Herbert von Karajan died (at about the same time the Berlin Wall fell). Karajan was an autocrat who insisted upon total artistic control... in his final years he and the orchestra struggled against one another, causing some bad blood. The Berlin Philharmonic elected Abbado, an Italian, who had far more democratic instincts. They got along splendidly and created much great music. Abbado resigned due to ill health in 2002, and the present conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, was appointed.

And another week begins...

12 August 2016

Homer (not Simpson)
Friday at last... I thought it would never get here. This has been a long and tedious week.

Last night I re-watched Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995), a movie based on another movie, La Jetee (1962). It was a nice conversion of a rather cerebral time travel short film into a mainstream time travel feature length thriller. If you have to do such a thing, I guess this is the way to do it.

The only problem I had with it was Terry Gilliam's whimsical oddball visual style popping up here and there. Back in the 70's, 80's and 90's I found it amusing, but now it's just kind of annoying and detracts from the narrative flow. (I am thinking of a scene where a team of futuristic doctors sing to the protagonist who is lying in a hospital bed. Back when I first saw this film I thought, "Ah, Terry Gilliam." Now I feel that it's just out of place and interrupts the mood.)

I saw this film back in 2002 or so... we had just taken my son to get his wisdom teeth removed, and watched this in the evening. I knew he'd wouldn't get much out of that particular viewing, lying on the couch in pain.

As I have reported before, I am really enjoying The Trojan War - A New History by Barry Strauss. He looks at the Iliad and Homer in an entirely new and enlightening way. For instance, the gods. It has disturbed many readers that, according to Homer, the Greek pantheon of gods take part in the actions around Troy - what nonsense! But Strauss points out that it's yet another example of how Homer gets it right and cites examples in contemporary Egyptian, Sumerian and Hittite chronicles and epics of how the gods are featured players. To a late Bronze Age soldier or king, it was accepted that the gods took part in human dealings of commerce and war. In other words, questions of authenticity with Homer would have come into play if there were no gods described in the narrative of the Trojan War; that would have been unusual.

Strauss also points out how countless details described in the Iliad were in fact commonplace things in the Late Bronze Age 500 years before Homer. How could Homer have known unless the bardic recited tales he had heard did not capture the era faithfully? (The most celebrated example of this is with the boar's tusk helmets Homer describes. They were non existent in Homer's day, but they appear in images and excavations from the time 500 years before Homer was born.)

No Berlin Philharmonic viewing last night - my loss.

Have a nice weekend...

11 August 2016

The Bloody Aldehyde
Another dreary work day towards the end of a dreary work week. Can I retire now?

My circa 1960 Woodhaven Metal Stamping Co. tin lithographed Electronic Thruway toy came in the mail yesterday from e-Bay - the same toy I had when I was four. That's the good news. The bad news is that, contrary to advertisement, it doesn't work. The 3V Japanese motor is shot. (This toy was fabricated in Brooklyn.) It appears that sometime in the toy's life somebody tried to affix the ring that holds the armature in place with some solder, and did a lousy job. I can't get the motor to work because I can't get the armature aligned between the magnets. I'm replacing it with a new motor I bought at Radio Shack yesterday for $4. I'm going to contact the seller and see if we can't come to agreement about a partial refund or I issue the dreaded Negative Feedback.

The toy's motive force is clever. There's a base plate of metal, a middle, loosely-mounted layer of what appears to be tan-colored card stock and then an upper toy layer of lithographed tin with a town scene printed thereupon. When turned on, the motor spins an eccentric cam, which quickly vibrates the card stock. The little cars, which have a base of a low friction material, sit on the card stock, which forms the base of a cut-out "road." As the card stock vibrates the cars scuttle along the track. When I get the thing cleaned up and working properly I'll do a video; I don't see any on youtube for these Woodhaven toys. (The company produced a similar lithographed tin train set.)

It appears that I am now at the age where I'm cleaning contacts and doing minor electrical work to repair toys to delight grandchildren. I always suspected that I'd arrive at this point at some time in my life.

My pal Mike finished arranging and uploading his Burbank Veterans Book (2013 edition), so I have linked it to Burbankia in place of the 2011 edition that was there previously.

I didn't watch any new Berlin Phil material last night - I was working on that toy.

We went to the Tyson's Corner Mall last night to return a Lego set (my wife bought the same one online that added a British double-decker bus as a part of the deal for the same price), and I stopped into Neiman-Marcus to see what new colognes and scents were available. The only one that impressed me much was Dunhill Icon, a citrus scent. It's nice, but, like most citrus based scents, it doesn't last. (Citrus molecules are very light and evaporate quickly.) A spray on my arm was only detectable within the first couple of hours. The bottle, however, was impressive: heavy, with a pleasant tactile feel. But who buys a scent for the bottle?

My favorite Fragrantica article writer, Matvey Yudov, a Russian chemist, did an article about metallic scents in perfumery. I liked this passage: "Recently, scientists of the Linkoping University in Sweden lead a comprehensive research on the smell of blood. They distinguished the key component of the smell of blood, it appeared to be trans-4,5-Epoxy-(E)-2-decenal, a "bloody aldehyde". Our sensitivity to this compound is extraordinary – it could even be sensed in the dilution of 0.07-0.3 ppt (part per trillion)."

Also, "Some people smell a metallic nuance in lavender. [I am one of these people. Lavender, to me, smells somewhat like a can of fizzy lemon-lime soda. - Wes] In a classic fougere, a cool lavender metal very often comes along with a metallic nuance of geranium, and balanced with the warmth of coumarin and balsamic materials. In fougeres of the  new generation, conceived by Davidoff Cool Water, the metallic context is enhanced by additional Dihydromyrcenol and Allyl amyl glycolate (the latter smells like a can of pineapple preserve)."

I've tried Davidoff Cool Water. I hate dihydromyrcenol! It's pungent and smells like sink cleanser on aluminum. Ugh. And it's everywhere. I am convinced that the default smell of the modern American male is dihydromyrcenol. I smell it all the time in the air in public as guys pass by.

10 August 2016

La Jetee: When the past meets the present
The Springfield grandsons are back from Hawaii! I met our son's family at a Panera last night after my wife picked them up at the airport. My grandson Gibson was running on only a couple of hours' sleep and was very grumpy. With a six hour time difference I'm guessing that everybody's internal clocks are all messed up.

Last night I watched an impressive film, La Jetee ("the Jetty" - 1962), called by critics one of the best - or the best - film about time travel, ever. I tried to watch it once before years ago, but fell asleep! It clocks in at under thirty minutes - definitely a case of where less is more - and is composed of a series of still images, except for one brief, impressive and surprising motion shot of a woman waking and opening her eyes. The film is celebrated and is very influential; it inspired other works - not the least of which was Terry Gilliam's 1995 12 Monkeys (which I need to see again). I once read the short story upon which the film is based, but the film is much better than the literary work. That doesn't happen very often.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings - Beautifully played. If the string section of the Berlin Phil isn't the world's greatest, I don't know who is. This is a profoundly sad piece of music and there are few dry eyes in the concert hall during a live playing of it. Because of its use in Platoon (1986), it's associated for many with war, especially the Vietnam War. It's hard to forget the scene with the body bags awaiting transport back to the States as this music plays. "You never are in any doubt about what this piece is about," says music historian Barbara Heyman. But what it is about, what caused this supremely sad music, is still in question. Some say it's involved with angst behind the composer's hidden homosexuality. Others note that it is incredibly simple and mathematical in construction, and is simply sad, period. I think I recall reading somewhere that the composer suggested that it could be about the end of love. Barber's famous quote about it was, "They always play that one. I wish they'd play some of my other works."

Enchanted by the Berlin strings, I next listened to Benjamin Britten's Variation on a Theme of Frank Bridge, for string orchestra. Finally! A piece by Benjamin Britten I actually like! This is a clever work, and contains many wonderful effects for strings. It's just as fun to watch the musicians play as it is to listen to. I shall listen to it again...

I concluded with Igor Stravinsky's Pulcinella. I've known the suite since I was a seventeen year old, but this was the complete music with extra numbers and parts for soprano, tenor and basso. It's Stravinsky at his most perky. When I was in high school playing chess game after chess game (I often played twelve or more games a day), I used to whistle or hum the introduction to this work. How annoying that must have been! But nobody complained. Instead, what one friend of mine did one day was whistle the whole thing back at me. I was thunderstruck; he learned it from me! Odd, though: nobody ever asked me where the melody was from. I think Stravinsky would have been amused.

9 August 2016

Nuclear Man from Superman IV. He's maaaad. And nuclear!
Organ recital: On Saturday I somehow banged my elbow against the garage attic ladder; it got swollen and very sore (I couldn't rest it on anything). The swelling has gone down somewhat but now there's a huge black and blue spot on the part of my arm around the elbow. Gee - it's like my rugby days have returned!

I thought Superman III (1984), with a terribly miscast Richard Pryor, was untoppably bad. I was wrong. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) was every bit as awful, and then some. Really, not even in comic books could Superman fly a woman (Mariel Hemingway) into space without the readers wondering, "Why isn't she dead?" but this film blows that off. Superman can rebuild the Great Wall of China by merely looking at it. And then there's the awful social consciousness aspect of it (based on an idea by Christopher Reeve): school children, upset by the arms race, demand that Superman get rid of all nuclear weapons. He obliges. Then there's Lex Luthor's evil creation Nuclear Man, with his long and effeminate nails-o-death (he scratches Superman on the neck and Supes gets a flu.) Geez. This film was more like a really bad episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers than a Superman movie; it resulted in a nineteen year hiatus for the Superman cinematic franchise.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Henri Dutilleux' L'arbre des songes ("The Tree of Dreams") - This was indeed a dreamy piece for violin and orchestra, a violin concerto that is not specifically called a violin concerto. It's in the same magical and distinctive orchestral language the composer used for his Tout un monde lontain... for cello and orchestra. It's not tonal at all, and there is little sense of a harmonic narrative as is the case with classical works done in a sonata allegro form, but it is a fascinating work to listen to nonetheless. I am becoming fond of this composer. I was wondering who the post-Stravinsky "greats" might be. Dutilleux appears to be one of them.

Robert Schumann's Symphony #3 "Rhenish" - A famous symphony which is in the standard repertoire of any good orchestra. I'm somewhat familiar with the first two movements, which are tuneful and catchy. Turns out the rest of the symphony is as well. I like it and shall be listening to it again.

I am still reading Barry Strauss' The Trojan War - A New History. He takes a novel and instructive approach to explaining how a historical Trojan War might have happened and been fought, by looking at other eastern and middle eastern Late Bronze Age cultures. Very enlightening. This, I think, is the second best book about the Trojan War.

Last night I did some more trim painting in my son's townhouse; I got the kitchen looking a lot better. I also got little flecks of white paint all over my hands.

8 August 2016

I did a little mystery toy hunt last week based on this freeze frame from some home movies taken by my mother in Christmas, 1960 (I was four). I recall that the long metal toy which appears on the top shelf was some kind of road race game with little cars.

After some online investigation I determined that it was the 482 Electronic Thruway by the Woodhaven Metal Stamping Co., Brooklyn, NY. (It turns out that the factory where it was built was only five miles away from the house where my father was born that we visited last month.) The little cars move about the track based on a vibrating motor. Better yet, there was one for sale on e-Bay and I bought it! A video is forthcoming; I notice there aren't any on these Woodhaven toys on youtube. I shall demonstrate it for the masses. And use it to amuse grandchildren.

In the process of hunting down this toy I learned about the amazing tin toys the West German Technofix Company produced in the 1950's and 1960's: The Alpine Express, Alpine Panorama, Auto Train, Super Speedway, Toboggan. What great toys! Yes, you can find them for sale on e-Bay - for hundreds of dollars.

Yard sale video. Note that I encountered a like-new 1964 Lincoln Continental and a 1967 (?) Zastava (Fiat) PZ 125. I've seen that History of Fairfax County book I got on the library shelves forever but have never read it. Now I own it.

Check out this Mickey Mouse wall art in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office where I work. I encountered it doing RFID reader tests last week. I assume that it comes from a design patent for the character, or some such thing. I found it notable because it gives a model for a top view of Mickey Mouse, which I have never seen. Note the ear angles!

We watched some movies:

Mr. Holmes (2015) - Sherlock Holmes as a ninetysomething retiree with failing memory. I found the non-linear timeline narrative of this a little off-putting. I fell asleep. My wife assures me that it was pretty good, but I wasn't impressed. Jeremy Brett still rules supreme as the definitive Sherlock Holmes for the ages to me.

Superman III (1983) - Gosh, this was awful. Really awful. I kept waiting for it to end. Who came up with the bright idea of casting Richard Pryor in a Superman film?

Superman Returns (2006) - I had seen this before and wasn't especially impressed with it then, but compared to Superman III it's like the Greatest Film Ever Made.  

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Boring and over the top (but not enjoyably so, as in the previous films). The lame-brained director decided to do some feminist consciousness raising and ruined the character. It's really the Charlize Theron Show. I fell asleep again, and didn't care. The best of the franchise - by far - is still Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the superlative 1985 installment with Tina Turner. (What - She wasn't enough of a feminist heroine?)

I am so unimpressed with modern film making. The most impressive recent film I've seen is The King's Speech, back in 2010.

And that was the weekend. Another long week looms to trudge through.

5 August 2016

We spent some time last night working at my son's townhouse; I finished painting the kitchen walls. Why? Why not? They're in Hawaii on vacation. I've never been.

I posted some articles about crime and corruption in Burbank in the early 1950's: Dyer letter, Burbank Citizen's Crime Prevention Committee report, 1953. Yes, members of the City Council and the Chief of Police were on the take back then. Life's a swindle, it's all a swindle and we don't care - we say get your share! (It certainly seems appropriate for the present Hillary Clinton candidacy.)

Oh, why not, as long as I'm linking Ute Lemper songs:

Ute Lemper's Pirate Jenny

Lotte Lenya's Pirate Jenny (1931)

Lotte Lenya's Pirate Jenny (1962)

I used to play this song for my daughters when they were little - I think it thoroughly confused them.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert:

Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals - This is a fun work; the composer constructs a suite of musical animals using individual instruments in the orchestra. The double bass is an elephant, a flute represents fish, a donkey's bray is sounded by a violin, etc. When I was a little boy there used to be a Dreyfus Fund ad showing a lion walking the streets of New York City - the music was a jazzed-up version of the Lion from this work. I have never forgotten it. So when I first heard the complete Saint-Saens piece in 1972, I immediately thought, "Hey - Dreyfus Fund!" The power of advertising.

Charles Ives, Symphony #4 - Well, this was a major cacophony! While I'm familiar with some of Ives' other works, I've never heard this one before. My wife hated it and fled the room; I stuck it out. From wikipedia: "The symphony is distinguished by its use of multi-metrics (i.e. simultaneous use of different meters) as well as temporal dyssynchronies (i.e. simultaneous use of different tempos). For example, in the second movement there is a passage (famously called the "Collapse Section") in which the orchestra divides into two groups, one playing in a slow 3/2 meter, the other in 4/4. Initially, the two groups are synchronized (with one bar of 3/2 equaling one bar of 4/4), but then the 4/4 group accelerates on top of the 3/2 group and collapses, thereafter waiting for the 3/2 group to catch up with them, at which point the orchestra resynchronizes as a single unit." Pretty academic. It's more interesting to read about than hear, actually.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony #40 - After the Ives, this was a soothing balm. This symphony is one of the only two Mozart wrote in a minor key (G minor), and is scored without a trumpet or tympani. It is far above my poor power to add or detract. I like it. How could anyone not?

I see I never included Kohner's "Hat's Off" game on my Sixties Toys page. I had it. I must add it and the Crashmobile. (Finally, a toy that encouraged a boy's inclination to destroy.) I had one of those, too.

It's going to be a hot and humid weekend, apparently - that means yard sales with the convertible top up and the A/C on!

Have a nice one.

4 August 2016

Mike's American Grill interior
The U.S. Navy Sea Chanters concert to be held last night was canceled. Drat, drat, drat! No reason was given.

Last night we dined at Mike's American Grill in Springfield and had another perfect meal. I had the hickory-smoked salmon, which is amazing. We moved into town the same year this place opened - 1987 - and there was only one occasion when I had a bum meal back in the 1990's; my ribs were overly peppered. I could have taken it back, but didn't. Otherwise, this place has served up perfect meal after perfect meal. That's amazing for 29 years, really. I think this is the best managed and most consistent restaurant I have ever eaten in.

I am now reading The Trojan War - A New History by Barry Strauss. So far it's excellent. Why is a new history of the Trojan War needed? Because, thanks to archaeology and other continuing research, scholars are coming to the conclusion that, by and large, Homer got the details of the Late Bronze Age Greece right and there might indeed have been a Trojan War after all. For many years archaeologists argued that the Troy of c. 1250 B.C., as dug up and revealed, couldn't be Homer's, because it simply wasn't large enough. And then they discovered that the city actually extended down the hill from the Hislarek mound and was surrounded by a protective ditch. Now we have something grand enough that could have been Homer's Troy.

The author compares Homer's creative license with what probably happened. From the book: "The Iliad is a championship boxing match, fought in plain view at high noon and settled by a knockout punch. The Trojan War was a thousand separate wrestling matches, fought in the dark and won by tripping the opponent. The Iliad is a story of a hero, Achilles. The Trojan War is the story of a trickster, Odysseus, and a survivor, Aeneas. The Iliad is to the Trojan War what The Longest Day is to World War II. The four days of battle in the Iliad no more sum up the Trojan War than the D-Day invasion of France sums up the Second World War. The Iliad is not the story of the whole Trojan War. far from being typical, the events of the Iliad are extraordinary." A nice insight... I'm going to enjoy this book.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic viewing and listening:

Bela Bartok, The Wooden Prince. I bought an Lp of this music in 1977, when I was in the Marines. It was a case of being attracted to the cover art! I don't think I've heard it since then. Funny... listening to it last night pulled up a memory of being in a sweaty tee-shirt, so it must have been summer when I bought and listened to the album! It's a one act, hour-long ballet scored for a gargantuan orchestra, and contains many interesting musical effects and passages. It's in the Bartok manner of his opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle - some passages sound very much the same. The plot? It's beyond silly. From wikipedia: "A prince falls in love with a princess, but is stopped from reaching her by a fairy who makes a forest and a stream rise against him. To attract the princess' attention, the prince hangs his cloak on a staff and fixes a crown and locks of his hair to it. The princess catches sight of this "wooden prince" and comes to dance with it. The fairy brings the wooden prince to life and..." Why continue? Utter nonsense.

Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin ("The Tomb of Couperin"). That title takes some explaining... it's an homage to the end of an era of Couperin, in other words, the French Baroque. The orchestrated work - originally for piano - is in four short movements, and each movement is dedicated to somebody Ravel knew who died in World War I. It's all very light, charming and airy - until the middle section of the minuet, when it suddenly becomes pensive, emotional and the music heads toward despair - memories of the war intruding upon Ravel? Before things get too sad, however, the original theme returns and the dance ends. I find this section very striking and emotionally powerful.

Richard Wagner, Tannhauser overture. Filmed in the late 1970's and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who never opens his eyes to look at his orchestra while conducting. Everyone is aligned properly for the camera angles and there are no expressions on anyone's faces. Nobody looks at anyone else. It's a technically masterful performance of the work, but oddly, emotionally cold. Late in von Karajan's career the Berlin Philharmonic began to rebel against his dictatorial manner; you can see a bit of that here.

Today I'm wearing a sample of Le Labo Labdanum 18. As I sprayed this one on the adjective that came to mind was "yummy." That's the vanilla, which is quite prominent. It goes through a phase when it becomes soft and powdery, but every now and then I'd catch something else - the skank element, which, in this, is quite subtle. I couldn't call this animalic... Labdanum is described as a "deep, powerful, leathery and ambery note." I don't detect any leathery note... if I do it's a soft, powdery leather. This is an interesting and nuanced scent of obvious quality - I like it!

3 August 2016

Signpost up ahead...
There have been, let's see, five pair of eyes checking and proof-reading the Lost Burbank manuscript multiple times, but nevertheless yesterday I got an e-mail query from an editor/proofreader at The History Press: "Did you mean 'tube' here? You have 'tub.'" ARRRRGGGHH! It never ends!

I did a final edit and sent it in to them a couple of months ago, and yesterday Mike and I sent them the authorization to publish forms. So they are now incorporating all my changes; I have to trust that they'll make them all. Also, Mike found a much nicer copy of our 1981 Johnny Carson poster and sent them a photo of that to use.

We got a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog in the mail the other day. This is the catalog that begins every description of catalog items with the phrase "This is the (item) that (does what it does)... Very annoying. It's as if there could possibly be no other item quite like it. I must admit, however, I like this fortune telling machine (item NM-88855); a replica of the one that possessed William Shatner in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "Nick of Time." But $300? No. I'm not that big a fan.

Despite my burnout with the American Civil War, I am reading a Scholastic book for kids entitled Soldier's Heart, by Gary Paulsen, mainly because I found the cover attractive and that it's about a young man who enlisted in the 1st Minnesota, the reenactment version of which I was in from 1984-1985. From the foreword (about PTSD): "...but in those days there was no scientific knowledge of mental disorders and no effort was made to help the men who were damaged. Some men came through combat unscathed. Most did not. These men were somehow different from other men. They were said to have soldier's heart." Huh? By whom? I've been reading about the American Civil War on and off since 1973 and have never come across that phrase.

Last night's Berlin Philharmonic concert viewing:

(1) Haydn's 100th Symphony "Military" - This was one of Haydn's "London" symphonies, so called because he presented them there for an adoring audience. They are as perfect as any symphony can be said to be. They start slow and solemn, then the mood quickly brightens to the familiar Papa Haydn we know and love. There's a false ending in the first movement of this one - one of Haydn's little tricks with his audience - and the title comes from the bass drum, triangle, bugle and and rat-tat-tat in the slow movement. It must have seemed like an elephant charging into a boudoir at the time.

(2) Bela Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin Suite - A short ballet with a plot that got Bartok into trouble due to its moral ambiguity: Some thugs in the big city get a gal to dance seductively to allure men, whom they mug and rob. But then a strange Chinese nobleman - a mandarin - appears, who becomes infatuated with the girl. They stab the lustful mandarin but he cannot be killed. Eerily, he glows in the dark. Finally the girl, figuring out what's what, accepts his embrace, and his wounds open up and he bleeds to death. Wow! It's full of great Bartokian effects, dissonances and tonalities...a wonderful piece. I first got a recording of it in 1973, a Columbia SQ Quadraphonic Lp. Despite the fact that my receiver had an advanced SQ decoder (I believe it was called "front to back wave matching" circuitry), I tried in vain to detect a real surround sound. That had to wait until digital bit streams in the 1980s and 1990s.

(3) Anton Webern's Six Pieces for Orchestra - Webern believed in extreme spareness and compression, and so this piece runs only about 13 minutes. (Webern's complete works can be fitted onto only six CDs.) There are no real melodies per se, just sonority and effects. You'd be hard pressed to whistle any of this walking out of the Philharmonie. His style, austere and academic, never really caught on, and audiences are just as confused now as they were in 1913 when this piece was premiered. When it ended the applause at first was halting - "Is it over?" - which I found amusing. Berlin audiences are usually so knowledgeable...

So, what have I learned from last night's concert? I have wasted my life. I don't want to be an engineer. I want to be an instrumentalist with the Berlin Philharmonic. If I had it to do all over again, I would take up an instrument at age six and practice like mad, so that I could get in.

We may or may not go to a U.S. Navy Sea Chanters performance tonight; they're always good. 

The week drags on...

2 August 2016

Me and Cari, The Smoke House in Burbank, CA, Sept. 2006
August is dreary, that's all there is to it. Ever since I gave up active Civil War reenacting (the Cedar Mountain and Second Bull Run events were always held in August) and rugby (15's season began in August), this month has been dreary. Sweat, work, go home, sweat, work, go home, repeat ad infinitum.

Yesterday I mentioned the Memory game I played with my grandson Gibson last Friday. For me, there are two memory aspects involved with this game: (1) actually playing it and remembering where the little designs match, and (2) trying to remember the designs on the various Memory games I'm familiar with. So while trying to recall the set I had when I was a kid and the set my son had as a kid - I mixed them up in my mind! The set my son had was made up of photographic images, and was a Spanish set made by a company called Diset available in the 1980s. We still have it somewhere, I'm sure. It's in a tub in the garage attic, I suppose. I'm not going up there until it gets cooler! But I'd like to get it down for the kids.

The other set was the one I had as a kid: a 1966 Milton Bradley game. Oddly enough I don't recall all of the designs, just some of them. The one I recall best is the mysterious owl in the window, bottom row third from left. That one really appealed to me for some reason. I also liked the mosaic goldfish in the middle. As you can see, there are some pairs that are more or less the same (dot and diamond patterns) meant to cause some interesting confusion.

Hey... I'd like to design a set of my own, using symbols and images which are iconic or interesting for me. Hmmmm. Maybe obtain square wooden pieces from a hobby store and then glue photographic images onto them. A personalized memory game. Perhaps this is a retirement activity...

The other day I was sitting in a chair in my living room, looking around at the decor and realizing that, while I was very content and happy with it - the various colors, designs and decorations - it may be growing out of date. And I suddenly understood why the homes of older people are sometimes like stepping into a time machine. It's comfortable.

When I lived in Provo, Utah in the 1980's we had occasion (I forget why) to step into the home of an older woman. The interior looked like a set from a 1930's film, down to the bare light bulb hanging from a cord in the middle of the room! And last year I was in the home of a couple which was done up in the very familiar High 1970's Style (complete with console stereo) - but I'm sure it was perfectly comfortable and familiar to the couple, who saw no reason to redecorate. So this presents me with a dilemma: to redecorate or risk seeming to appear old-fashioned. Our interiors are all traditional, which is more or less always in style. The main issue is upholstery, drapes and wall colors.

But what's in right now is whites, blacks and grays - the Restoration Hardware look - which I find depressing, like an Edward Gorey illustration. Ugh. There's a RH store in the local regional mall, and every time I pass it by I wonder who on earth would want to live in such gloomy rooms. (Have you ever seen the blog where the woman makes fun of Restoration Hardware rooms?)

Last night's Berlin Phil concert was Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony (the "Pathétique") and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. The first piece I got to know as a teenager in 1972 from a Columbia Masterworks record with attractive cover art. A very tuneful piece. The Rachmaninoff I got to know in 1986 from a library CD when me, my wife and little son lived in Laurel, Maryland. I therefore associate the music with those happy days.

What's with the photo of me and my wife above? My friend Mike sent it to me yesterday. Taken ten years ago... It doesn't seem like ten years ago.

1 August 2016

I finally have permission and can announce it here: I'm getting another grandson! Hooray! My son and his wife - the ones who live here in town - are expecting their third boy in mid December. Needless to say, we're thrilled! He doesn't have a name yet. Gibson, Hudson and...? (A friend suggested Samson.)

My son and his family left Saturday morning for a vacation in California and then Hawaii (!), so we had them over for dinner on Friday. I reached a milestone that night. 

Some years ago I bought a memory game with especially appealing olde-tymey tile designs in a toy store. (You know, the time-honored game where there are pairs of matching images on tiles. You mix them up and put them in rows face down, then find matching images based upon remembering their locations.) I used to play this game as a kid, and played it with my kids, and always looked forward to the day when I could also play this with a grandchild. That day arrived Friday with Gibson! For a four year old, he's quite good at it. I won the first game and we tied the second.   

Later that night, after the kids left, I listened to my yard sale recording of the light opera Der Mond ("the Moon"), by Carl Orff. I liked it! You can tell it's by Carl Orff; a lot of the instrumental music sounds somewhat like his famous Carmina Burana. You can watch an old television broadcast of the entire thing on youtube

Yes, we did yard sales on Saturday morning. Here's the video. We also ran errands on Saturday. 

Saturday night I watched nearly an hour and a half of the Berlin Phil performing the St. Luke Passion by Krzysztof Penderecki. (A "Passion" in classical music depicts the events leading up to and including the crucifixion. Bach wrote a celebrated one.) Nobody but nobody sounds like Penderecki! This piece features a mixed choir who whispers, whistles and laughs - accompanied by an orchestra that makes frequent atonal shrieks and loud brass chords. It's a very modernist work, sung in Latin. It also features a boys' choir and a narrator, baritone, soprano and bass. I enjoyed the performance!

Penderecki is called Poland's greatest living composer, but I'll go further. I think he is presently the greatest living composer in the world. (If not he, then who?) 

Interestingly, Penderecki gave up avant-garde methods of composition in the 1970s, recognizing it as a sort of musical dead end. From wikipedia: "Penderecki explained this shift by stating that he had come to feel that the experimentation of the avant-garde had gone too far from the expressive, non-formal qualities of Western music: 'The avant-garde gave one an illusion of universalism. The musical world of Stockhausen, Nono, Boulez and Cage was for us, the young – hemmed in by the aesthetics of socialist realism, then the official canon in our country – a liberation...I was quick to realise however, that this novelty, this experimentation and formal speculation, is more destructive than constructive; I realised the Utopian quality of its Promethean tone'. Penderecki concluded that he was 'saved from the avant-garde snare of formalism by a return to tradition.'" What's really fascinating is that the Soviet authorities once publicly castigated and humiliated Shostakovitch, Khachaturian and Prokofiev for "formalist" tendencies - leading music critics across the world to wonder what the heck "formalism" was. I'm surprised Penderecki used the term... 

On Sunday my wife and I went through the food storage closet and threw away provisions we figured is too old to be any good; a couple of bags of nitrogen-sealed food dated from 1981! We also went through stored boxes and wrapping paper, etc. I got rid of our old white gas-fueled lantern... since the advent of the high output LED, campers use those. Besides, I wasn't a fan of storing a gallon of the fuel. The closet is now nicely squared away and you can actually walk into it again. We freed up some shelf space for more emergency food storage.   

Last night before going to bed I listened to the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic perform Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, aka as the Tallis Fantasia, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I once heard the National Symphony Orchestra do it live in the Kennedy Center and it was gorgeous, but I simply wasn't prepared for the strings of the Berlin Philharmonic performing it. Words fail me: it's impossibly gorgeous, transcendental music making, containing wave after wave of incredible string tone. I had goose pimples on my arms through almost the entire piece. It is just not possible for violins, violas, celli and basses to be played any better or sound more amazing than this. It's expected that Sir Simon Rattle, being an Englishman, would have a natural affinity for this piece, but he and the Berliners really outdid themselves on this one. This performance is authoritative and definitive. 

Vaughan Williams called for the strings to be separated into three groups, to emulate an organ with stops: (1) A quartet, seated in front, (2) a smaller ensemble of about nine instruments, arrayed in back, and (3) the complete string orchestra, positioned as usual. Rattle does this with the Berliners. Sometimes the melodic lines are carried by the complete strings with the smaller ensemble echoing the lines, sometimes the melodies are carried by the quartet. It's... just amazing, that's all. I am rarely as moved by a piece of concert music as I was by this. 

I may be alone in this, but what do I hear in this music? A thousand years of English religious feeling... understated and not at all showy, but deep and sincere nonetheless. If you stand in St. Paul's in London and reflect that there has been a Christian cathedral or a place of worship there for nearly a thousand years - and there almost certainly will be for another thousand years - you get the same sorts of feelings that you do from listening to this piece.

Well, sort of.   

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