The holidays loom. It's once again time for my wife and I to scan letters for the worst Christmas letter (needless details about junior's potty-training regimen, expansive prose about Dad's importance and influence at work, etc.), and advertisers begin ads with the mind-numbing phrase, "This holiday season..." One season I counted hearing this over sixty times.
According to the news I hear, This Holiday Season is going to be grim due to the recession. Certainly, we don't have any plans Chez Brigham to spend megabucks between now and 12/25. So perhaps advertisers might go for the honest and direct approach and begin ads with, "This holiday season... WE BEG YOU to show up in our stores. Please, please, please. It's your patriotic duty as Americans. Buy an iPod, defeat the terrorists, keep us in business..." or something along those lines.
Perhaps a listening of Tom Lehrer's heart-warming "A Christmas Carol" is in order.
I learned something interesting yesterday: Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller once owned property and a pool up Country Club Dr. in Burbank where my friends and I used to cruise around at night. Ah, Burbank, my home town, where a surprise (or an Armenian gangsta) is found around every corner.
I am now reading "Lincoln's Spymaster - Thomas Haines Dudley and the Liverpool Network" by David Hepburn Milton, a tale of how an industrious Quaker and his spy network kept Washington D.C. informed about Reb plans to build an armada in Great Britain. Nice book, interesting stuff, quick read.
I watched an interesting documentary last night, Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (2008) about the eradication of creationism (or any mention or suggestion thereof), in the halls of American centers of higher education. My personal observation is that an adherence to Darwinism or Environmentalism is like a religion without the prayers and tax exemptions; Stein doesn't make this point but it's not far from the message of the documentary.
I always get a kick out of phrases about scientific consensus. All scientists will never concur. If they do, they aren't really being scientists. Science, unless I greatly misread what I've read, is about skepticism and constant questioning. Questions constantly arise, and no theory answers all questions. Anyway, Stein's documentary is about how some scientists and educators attempt to shut down dissent, which, I would think, automatically qualifies one to have the scientist title changed to that of ideologue.
But what do I know? I'm Brigham the Creationist. I also have the unfashionable belief that JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone.
I mentioned that I am once again volunteering as a Scout leader; last night we had a troop meeting. In general, eleven year-olds are fun to be around. While there may be a certain amount of boyish lying or unconvincing evasions of the truth (Mark Twain once said that boys lie as naturally as they breathe), what's entirely missing is the practiced and nuanced show of competence, self-assurance, masculinity, nobility, proactiveness or whatever else is called for that we adults display on an almost constant basis. The business meeting is high performance art in this way - sometimes I fail to recognize myself in those. While teenagers and eleven year-olds may often be brusque and rude (a friend calls them "squirrely"), at least you generally always know where you stand with them - there's no sense of artificial bonhomie.
When I was in high school I wanted to become a high school history teacher. Perhaps that's what I should have stuck with.
I'm watching a rare film noir I haven't seen: "The Bribe," from 1949. It's rather slow. Ava Gardner, as always, is great to look at, but the one who is really riveting in this is Charles Laughton (pictured above). Like Edward G. Robinson, he's an actor you just can't take your eyes off of. His reading of his lines is subtle... he has a lot of fun emphasizing the words in his lines and highlighting them with interesting facial expressions - he's a delight to watch. (I discovered he's gay - his wife Elsa Lanchester said so in her autobiography. She ought to know if anyone does, I guess.)
I have always admired good character acting. If I were an actor, I think I would prize a meaty character role any day over being the leading man. But I think this is why British productions generally surpass American ones; they tend to be ensemble productions with characters rather than star-driven vehicles of glamor and unreality.
That's all for today - I'm all talked out (for now). Have a great Thanksgiving! Don't forget to Count your blessings/Name them one by one/Count your many blessings/See what God has done.
The first is Marshall Arisman - his website is here. I own a CD of George Crumb's "A Haunted Landscape," a fascinating and mystic modern work that I mentally connect with the Sayler's Creek battlefield. (!) I once heard it performed by the National Symphony Orchestra. Anyway, the original Lp cover featured what looked like a deer running across a bleak and dark landscape, except that it might be more appropriate to say that the deer was composed of deer parts forming a suggestion of a deer. It is somewhat unsettling - which is a perfect description for Arisman's style. Years later I saw the cover of a Time magazine featuring articles on violent crime, recognized the artist ("Hey, that's by the guy who did the Haunted Landscape cover!") and did a mental note to look him up some day.
I tried to watch Federico Fellini's "Juliet of the Spirits" (1965) last night, but couldn't. Way, way too free-form and nonsensical. I couldn't sit through his "8 1/2" (1963), either. Too bad as I really like "La Strada" (1954). I guess I prefer the earlier Fellini.
One last thing - most good Civil War reenactment activities involve a running joke or some other reenacting "thing" that doesn't translate well to office talk the following week. But I'll try.
On the way up to Gettysburg on Saturday my pards and I discussed the necessity for a limited edition historical art print of the unfortunate Jennie Wade, a Gettysburg resident who was killed while baking a loaf of bread. (I mentioned that there's an odd little statue near her home that is lit at night in such a way to suggest that the loaf of bread she's holding at breast-level doesn't quite look like a loaf of bread.) We needed a name for the art, and Don came up with "Bad Dough Rising." I nearly wet myself with laughter. "Bad Dough Rising..." isn't that great? No? Well, never mind, then.
Von Karajan is a controversial character; some people absolutely refuse to buy or listen to his recordings, just as some artists refused to perform with him when he was alive. Why? Nazi Party membership. So... I warn you about this before listening to the mp3 in the same way manufacturers now warn about peanuts in food.
One thing von Karajan gets right, however, is tempo. My videotape Beethoven prof says an occasional mistake is to play this movement too slow, since it sounds like a funeral march. Beethoven's tempo indications are, however, a march at a decent walking pace, which is what von Karajan gives it. Sort of like the pitter-patter of jackboots on the road to Paris.
Oh, yeah, remember that CD playing length/Beethoven's 9th urban legend I mentioned? Von Karajan plays into that as well (from wikipedia): "Karajan played an important role in the development of the original compact disc digital audio format. He championed this new consumer playback technology, lent his prestige to it, and appeared at the first press conference announcing the format. The maximum playing time of CD prototypes was sixty minutes, but the final specification enlarged the disc size and extended the capacity to seventy-four minutes. There is a story that this was due to Karajan's insistence that the format have sufficient capacity to contain Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a single disc. Snopes says the truth of the story is undetermined. Kees Immink, a Philips research engineer and fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, denies the Beethoven connection."
I finished 24 hours of the Beethoven symphony lectures, an excellent use of my time. I have always know that Beethoven was great - now I have a glimpse of exactly why this is. The prof has done some other videotaped lectures; I'll watch those as well later.
Saturday's Gettysburg Remembrance Day parade was cool, literally and colloquially. It was in the thirties, with gusts of wind; definitely greatcoat weather. All sorts of things and people to see there... poodles wearing Reb flags, a Revy War guy aimlessly walking about, a 1880's gunfighter, World War II guys, Abe Lincolns, Jeff Davis - all sorts of stuff. The whole town is like a Civil War Theme Park. And the new Visitor's Center is wonderful - a vast improvement over the old one. The cyclorama, now in a new setting, was especially interesting. Absolutely recommended. Here are some photos from the parade:
Lunch at Mickey D's. As this parade was very well attended this year, every eatery in town was packed. McDonald's was no exception.
Formation before the parade. We fell in with the 4th U.S., who wore their Regulars uniforms (dark blue pants, Hardee hats, brass scales on shoulders). We certainly looked like the poorer cousins.
Chris. On a halt. Lugging the Nikon D100 out of my haversack was a major pain. A little point and shoot in my sack coat pocket works a whole lot better. Too bad MINE WAS RIPPED OFF BY THE TSA.
On a halt. This gives you an idea of the numbers showing up for this parade. There were lots of companies in front of us and a bunch behind. And... there were a ton of Rebs behind them. BIG turnout this year.
Chris, me and Don. After the parade we found a monument - any monument - to pose next to. Sadly, the fellow taking the photo didn't understand composition or he would have gotten the statue more in the shot. Oh, well - that happens whenever I hand somebody a camera.
Color bearers. After the parade we halted in a field and just sort of stood around while commanders gave one another short, "Gee, I'm thrilled to be here" speeches.
Black eye guy. I was amused to see this guy. Isn't he a little too old to be fighting? This shot is a visual confirmation of what I thought when I got back into reenacting: the average age of the reenactor went up.
As you can see, we had a good time.
Finally, an assertion in Jay Winik's "April 1865": "...logistics have always been half the battle." The source for this? In the notes section: "Jay Winik briefing to Defense Secretary Les Aspin, 1992." That's right, he's quoting himself in his notes!
Today I am at a high school ethics conference as a favor to a reader of this blog. More about that later.
As the passage above suggests, I am now on the Beethoven's 9th "Choral Symphony" lectures... it would be hard to overstate the importance and influence of this particular symphony. It is one of the great works of Western Civilization, like the Iliad, Hamlet, or the Mona Lisa. It is certainly the greatest symphony ever written - arguably the greatest piece of music ever written.
It is so monumental a work it is frequently played to put special occasions over the top. For instance, in 1990, to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein and the Bavarian Radio Symphony played a public concert of it, except that Bernstein substituted freiheit (freedom) for freude (joy) in the choral "Ode to Joy" part - a pardonable bit of conceit.
The last time I saw it performed (by the NSO) was with my wife at Wolf Trap... a colossal thunderstorm blew in, and Beethoven's monumental chords and tympani strokes were accompanied by thunder and lightning; I thought it was incredibly appropriate. The wind-driven rain soaked the people sitting on the grass and the sides of the open theater. I'm sure Beethoven would have laughed had he seen it.
The Ninth is Beethoven at his most expansive and optimistic. What does he want to impart in this symphony? Joy - for all humanity, nothing less. (Makes me think of a Book of Mormon passage, "...men are, that they might have joy.") Beethoven wants us all to rejoice and to triumph over our individual challenges. A remarkable testament from a composer who was profoundly deaf. There is a sad little story about Beethoven conducting a performance of this work: at the conclusion, a musician had to turn him around to face the wildly cheering audience he could not hear, and he wept.
Did you know there was a "Curse of the Ninth?" You can read about it here.
And finally, there's a well-known urban legend about Beethoven's 9th and the Compact Disk, from wikipedia: "Philips, the company that had started the work on the new audio format, originally planned for a CD to have a diameter of 11.5 cm, while Sony planned a 10 cm diameter needed for one hour of music. However, according to a Philips website, Norio Ohga insisted in 1979 that the CD be able to contain a complete performance of the Ninth Symphony: 'The longest known performance lasted 74 minutes. This was a mono recording made during the Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 and conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. This therefore became the playing time of a CD. A diameter of 12 centimeters was required for this playing time.' However, Kees Immink, Philips' chief engineer, who developed the CD, denies this, claiming that the increase was motivated by technical considerations, and that even after the increase in size, the Furtwängler recording was not able to fit onto the earliest CDs."
My principal goals in listening to the Beethoven's Ninth lecture is to more fully appreciate the slow movement, which is the only un-hummable part, and to understand why Beethoven stuck a funny little Turkish march 2/3rds of the way into the final movement.
My pard Don mentioned that he always knew he had good taste because he liked Beethoven; I responded that Beethoven is sort of like the IBM of the classical world - nobody was ever criticized for liking Beethoven too much. But, Gentle Reader, perhaps you're getting burned out with all my Beethoven entries. I promise to wrap it up soon - I'm almost done with the lectures.
Despair is the very opposite of Beethoven's joyous symphony, of course, and that was the subject of a documentary I saw last night; one of the most unforgettable I have ever seen: "The Bridge" (2006), about suicide - specifically suicide by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge, near San Francisco, California. Jim Emerson's review (four stars) on the Roger Ebert site is here.
The title sequence is amazing. You know what the documentary is about, so when the telephoto lens scans various pedestrians there is anxiety over which among them might be one to jump to his or her death. (The music becomes ominous, tipping you off.) Him? No, not him - he's with his family. Her? No, she's on a cell phone. The teen? No, he's with other teens. Finally, a rather chubby, middle-aged guy wearing a baseball cap casually moves over to the ledge - then climbs over the railing and jumps. The camera tracks him flailing in the air as well as it can - he is traveling about 75 miles an hour by the time he hits the water - but no body is seen coming up from the water. He is dead. A shot of the bridge emerges from San Francisco Bay's legendary fog, then the title, "The Bridge." I have never seen the like.
I was at first greatly shocked by this sequence. A middle-aged guy (perhaps my age!) wearing a baseball cap... But as I thought about it I could imagine the many things - family issues, work issues, health concerns - that could have led to this sequence. I have always maintained that aging isn't for sissies; the older I become, the more certain I am that this is the case. While it takes a certain degree of courage for a young man to face an enemy in battle, it also takes a certain degree of courage - faith, even - for an older man to continue living.
I once read a 2003 New Yorker article about suicides, "Jumpers." (It inspired the documentary.) The most memorable thing in it was the "final" thought of a man who survived. "On the bridge, (Ken) Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. 'I still see my hands coming off the railing,' he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, 'I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.'"
Those are words to remember: Everything you think is unfixable is totally fixable.
I shall end on an up note! You have GOT to see this: "From the people who claim that '300' is a true story comes the tale of our nation's birth" - Robot Chicken's "300" parody, here. I love the polar bear and Betsy Ross writhing in the flag.
Have a great weekend! For me, Gettysburg beckons for me and my pards.
You can read the wikipedia article about the Battle of Thermopylae here, but I'm here to tell you that it wasn't just 300 Spartans, who get all the publicity and glory. According to Herodotus, our primary source, there were also 700 Thespians (no, not actors - soldiers from the city-state of Thespiae) and 400 Thebans who fought, held and were killed to a man alongside the Spartans. You just never hear about them - and in the 1962 film "The 300 Spartans" they aren't even shown.
In 1997 the Greek government put up a monument to the Thespians. Cool. So, will the 400 Thebans ever get a monument?
And that "upwards of a million Persians" figure? Closer to 200,000 to 400,000 according to modern scholars taking into account the necessary logistics involved in moving men around (in other words, food and water).
So now, when friends tell you how great "300" was, you can be a smart-aleck and reply, "You mean '1,400,' don't you?"
By the way... for thousands of years, Sparta was admired and respected for the quality of its military system, which was considered not only notable in its time, but a standard for military excellence throughout the ages. But look here: Thebans and Thespians fought nobly and died at Thermopylae as well. They didn't have the extreme Spartan society. Doesn't that perhaps say something about the lack of necessity of the Spartan's militant social system, which was geared to produce warriors?
I once heard a taped lecture about Sparta and the Spartans, and the prof described the whole point of the Spartan military system as purposely being so fearsome, so well-known and so intimidating that the Spartans wouldn't have to take part in battles - that their reputation would suffice to convince enemies that taking them on was a bad, bad idea.
Now, I wouldn't call Sparta the Swiss Army or the Iranian Republican Guard of their day, but...
Their reputation didn't seem to faze the Athenians, however, who freely contended with Sparta. Athens had a social system in many ways the exact opposite of the Spartans' - open, free and, above all, intellectual. (Quick, name a play written by a Spartan.) Of the Athenians it was said, "They never rested and never allowed their enemies any rest." And while, yes, it is true that the Spartans beat the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War, it took them 27 years and they eventually only did it with the help of the Persians.
So isn't a military system adopted by a free and unmilitary people just as good as a military system run by professionals and specialists? I suspect classical scholars have been arguing this one for a very long time.
I'm now at Beethoven's 8th in the videotape lectures... and yes, there's another personal story. When I was a senior in high school I had a couple of friends who were girls (not girlfriends) who did well academically. As I recall they graduated with honors. I didn't... all I cared about was maintaining a "B" average so my car insurance would be less expensive and avoiding an "F" in math (I got a "D-").
Anyway, I heard that they and other good students were selected to go on a field trip to the Music Hall in downtown L.A. to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearse, yes, Beethoven's 8th. Zubin Metha was the conductor - a favorite of mine. I begged and begged the music teacher to get me a pass so I could go as well, and finally got permission because he knew I really liked classical music. Thing was, however, that while in the Music Center my friends ignored me all day; I got the distinct impression they thought I shouldn't been allowed to go and were holding it against me. I suppose my presence removed the exclusivity of the thing. Awkward.
The prof points out that the 8th was Beethoven's solace after ditching - or being ditched by, it isn't clear - his mysterious "Immortal Beloved" (concerning whom there is much scholarly detective work - to no consensus). One would therefore expect a sad work, but no, this is a happy, buoyant symphony. It's like Beethoven decided, "The heck with women. I can write music the likes of which nobody has ever heard. I'll do that instead." And he did.
I generally avoid films from the 1930's, but there are two genres I can wholeheartedly recommend: the Warner Brothers gangster film and the Busby Berkeley musical. The other night I watched "Footlight Parade," a Berkeley musical from 1933. It moves at a fast clip, with James Cagney firing out snappy 1930's patter and moving like a cat. Best of all are the absolutely bizarre and over-the-top musical sequences, for which Berkeley is famous: "Honeymoon Hotel" (some pre-Hays Code sexual innuendo there), "By a Waterfall" (simulated nudity) and the outstanding "Shanghai Lil" (drug abuse is briefly depicted). You can view Shanghai Lil on the indispensable youtube. Great stuff!
Back to Jay Winik's "April, 1865" - we're at the point where, after the surrender at Appomattox, Robert E. Lee is being introduced to Grant's staff: "As he shook hands with Grant's military secretary, Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian, Lee stared for a moment at Parker's dark features and finally said, 'I am glad to see one real American here.' If this account is true, Parker responded to the general, 'We are all Americans.'"
HUH? I have never read this in any account of Appomattox. According to sources, Lee stared at Parker for a moment but said nothing. What's the source for the (PC-sounding) conversational exchange? All Winik has in his notes are, "Though it has taken on mythic proportions, there is some debate as to whether this exchange ever actually happened." And for reasons like that, this is an inferior book of history.
I bought an Lp of it when I was seventeen, in early 1974. I had the themes bouncing around in my head when I had to deal with death for the first time in my young life. This was the passing of Mary DeTolla, the mother of my dreamy gal pal Angela. Mary was a wonderfully indulgent mom who used to make popcorn for Angela and I to throw at the television screen when we watched the roller derby races. She liked me a lot and I would do simple handy-man type things for her in the apartment where she and Angela lived. She also cooked a mean plate of spaghetti. She was a lovely, great-hearted person.
In February 1974 Mary died of cancer; I was one of the pall-bearers at her funeral. Angela's father was Italian, and there were consequently some Italians from the Pennsylvania branch of the family present at the funeral. A fellow pallbearer, an old man - I forget his relationship to Angela and Mary - wept loudly and openly, as Italian men often do. I recall one point at which we embraced and just cried our eyes out, me at seventeen, and this old man. I learned something unexpected, however, that I suspect Mediterraneans have always known: Loud and open grief in such circumstances is good for the soul. As always, the astonishing Greeks have a name for it - catharsis ("cleansing" or "purification").
Anyway, all during the funeral I kept hearing the stately and sad second movement to Beethoven's Seventh in my head, and I can't hear it today without thinking of Mary. The decades pass, and I now know many more people who have died - five in this year alone. This is a somber characteristic of aging. But Mary was the first.
The prof mentioned that the second movement to Beethoven's Seventh was instantly popular. In fact, during the very first performance of the symphony the audience insisted upon the replay of the movement right there and then, before the third movement could be played. It remains a favorite with me, despite the sad connotation.
Yesterday my pard Chris sent me an e-mail asking, "Hey Wes, what's a Fibonacci number sequence?" Ha! I am well-equipped to answer! I replied with a little article I wrote for a rugby club e-mailing back in 2002 or so:
Brigham's Cultural Corner - Bonacci's boy
The greatest European mathematician of the middle ages was Leonardo of Pisa, who called himself "Fibonacci", which is short for "filius Bonacci" (son of Bonacci). He was born in 1175. In addition to introducing the modern system of numbers (plus zero) to Europe, he also developed a math problem about rabbit breeding that led to the number sequence which bears his name. Here it is: 0, 1, 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2=5, 5+3=8, 8+5=13 - in other words, start with 0 and 1 and then add the latest two numbers to get the next one. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, 21... This is called a Fibonacci number sequence, which an engineering professor of mine once called "Good for nothing." Shows what little he knew.
1) The numbers of male honeybee ancestors is a Fibonacci sequence. 2) The number of pairs of rabbits breeding in ideal circumstances is a Fibonacci sequence. 3) If we take the ratio of two successive numbers in Fibonacci's series and we divide each by the number before it we eventually arrive at phi (1.61), the "golden mean." Why? Nobody knows. 4) On many flowers, the number of petals is a Fibonacci number. 5) Pine cones and pineapples have spirals derived from Fibonacci numbers. 6) Many plants have leaves arranged on stems so that each gets a good share of the sunlight and catches the most rain to channel down to the roots as it runs down the leaf to the stem. Guess what number sequence describes this arrangement? 7) Seed heads are optimally packed on flowers according to the Fibonacci sequence.
Most important of all, in rugby, the number sequence 1,2,3,5,8,13,21 describes the front row, the right lock, the eightman, a center and the substitute (Rover will tell you that 21 is the number of the "Club Man"). Throwing out the number 13 because it's unlucky, the Fibonacci sequence describes the only players you should drink with.
* * *
Back in 2002 we didn't have youtube - now we do. The best pictorial description of the interesting Fibonacci number sequence (as represented by the golden mean) I'm aware of is in a 1959 Disney featurette, "Donald in MathMagic Land." Well worth your while, it also explains musical scales, the surprising mathematical properties of the pentagram, the golden rectangle, and how to use geometry to set up three cushion billiard shots. Narration by the ubiquitous Paul Frees, a 1950's and 1960's Disney stalwart.
The wikipedia article is here - it relates the Fibonacci number sequence to the golden mean. (One dictates the other.)
More oddities from Jay Winik's "April 1865": (About U.S. Grant) "He was crisp in demeanor and crisp in spirit, speaking in blunt, lean sentences, barking out incontrovertible orders in his soft musical voice..." It's nice that Winik finally admits that Grant had a soft voice (see my prior entries), but how does one go about "barking" out orders in one?
"In the hundreds of war photographs of Grant..." Hundreds? I doubt it. I've been reading books about Grant since I was a teenager, and have seen perhaps thirty different photos of him taken during the war. I'm sure there are some I haven't seen reproduced, but he was fighting, not posing.
My wife, a free-lance editor, spotted this one during a casual glance at a page: "Five other Union generals had already seen their fates and their futures destroyed - McClellan's twice - by the fierce general in gray confronting them." How is it possible to destroy something twice?
And so on... doesn't Harper Collins employ editors? I notice that there are big name reviewers for this book on the dust jacket: James M. McPherson, Douglas Brinkley... have they actually read this book or simply had their staff give a thumbs up or thumbs down on it, I wonder?
It wasn't bad. I suppose casting Elizabeth Taylor as Helen, the Queen of Beauty, wasn't too much of a reach back then. Who would I suggest as a cinematic Helen, Queen of Beauty? Ava Gardner? Sherilyn Fenn? Gene Tierney? Grace Kelly? I'd have to think about that one. But it's fodder for a future blog entry.
The best adaption of the Faust story I've seen, however, is the 1926 silent German production by F.W. Murnau, based on Goethe's play. Emil Jannings, an undervalued actor, is a superb Mephisto.
How I miss those two delightful little girls! My life darkened when they grew up and moved away.
The professor pointed out that Beethoven set the celebrated thunderstorm in movement four in the evening, not during the day as animated by Disney. Also, he pointed out that Beethoven cleverly used the same sequence of notes for the brook in the first movement, the patter of raindrops in movement 4 and the rainbow in movment 5. I wasn't aware of this. As I wrote before, I am learning a lot by watching these lectures.
Jay Winik, in that Civil War book I'm now reading ("April 1865"), claims U.S. Grant "bellowed" something to his men. He did no such thing, nor did he "confidently boom" anything, either (see 11/14 entry). Once again, Grant was famously soft-spoken. Did Winik read any Grant biographies? Winik's scholarship is shaky. I'm beginning to wonder what I can believe in this book.
From my desk calendar: Fan language. Geez, what male would bother trying to remember all this? I can well imagine some 19th C. guy saying, "Lose the fan. Just TELL me what it is you want to say!"
I added a bunch of old photos to my Burbank website in the past few weeks... the only one non-Burbankers might find interesting is the tractor test for airplane wings.
A reenactor I know tells me that the upcoming Obama Inaugural Parade will include Civil War reenactors. (Of course… what’s a social occasion without Civil War reenactors?) When I asked if this would include Confederates, he suggested not. While unifying the Blue and the Red might be a priority for the new administration, unifying the Blue and the Gray is not.
I wanted to march in the 1985 Reagan Inaugural Parade. However, the guy in charge of the unit I was in at the time screwed up the police check paperwork and I couldn’t go, which, as it turned out wasn’t a big deal. Because of record freezing cold temperatures and high winds it was canceled.
Logistics are a major hassle, as you can imagine. Guys with muskets marching by the President of the United States… beaucoup security issues and paperwork, inspections, etc. there! The reenactors involved were in something very like a lock-up situation at some local base and were tremendously disappointed when they were told it was off. An entire day was wasted in some cold metal building drilling and playing cards...
Last week I mentioned Henry Mancini; I meant to get this to you: The Sounds of Hatari (12.7 MB, mp3 format). Hatari! was a 1962 Howard Hawks film starring John Wayne which Mancini scored. Based on the incidental music which I have always liked - Dad had the Lp - I once tried to watch it. The film is incredibly lame and boring, but this piece is fun. It's a musical depiction of a rhino hunt. We had a huge Sears console stereo that Dad used to use to blast this throughout the house at high volume, waking me up on Saturday mornings. (Later, he used a recording of the 1812 Overture.) He liked the African drumming which increases in pace through the piece... so do I.
You will note that Mancini uses an African thumb piano in the score, more than a decade before Earth, Wind and Fire became celebrated for using one. You will also note the groovy constant left to right and back again stereo imaging, a feature of the early stereo age. And finally, there's the characteristic Mancini scoring for brass and what I think are piano strings strummed with a pick, unforgettable.
There's one other really bad film I can think of that has an excellent musical score: "Somewhere in Time" (1980) - score by the always outstanding John Barry (he of the slinky sax in "Body Heat"). Once again, I rented the film based on an appreciation of one part of the score, only to be greatly disappointed.
But I confess I also rented it because it had a time travel premise I was naturally interested in, being a reenactor. In it, the protagonist, played by Christopher Reeve, dresses himself up in clothing appropriate to 1912 and mentally hypnotises himself - the point being to search for Jane Seymour (who wouldn't?). Barry's music for this somewhat ridiculous sequence is wonderful. He falls back into the present time when he accidentally pulls a modern coin out of his pocket and realizes that it was all a trick of self-hypnotism. Yes, pretty flimsy, I agree.
This reminded me of a funny and subtle incident during a reenactment. My pard Don once had his Civil War brogans re-soled using modern soles, which had "Biltmore - Since 1888" embossed thereupon. He took some criticism from the somewhat stuffy unit leader for this, and speculated that if some dedicated reenactor were to notice imprints of his soles upon the dirt, that their flawless first person Civil War characterization might collapse, as in "Somewhere in Time."
Don's solution was unforgettable: He took a pocket knife and made one of the eights into a three so the embossed print might read "Biltmore - Since 1838." Problem solved for the Civil War!
This gives you an idea of the very odd little subcurrents of thought we reenactors get into...
Back to John Barry. I mentioned his music for the superlative neo-noir "Body Heat" (1981 - essentially a retelling of 1944's "Double Indemnity"). Here's his theme for that. A saxophone has never sounded as slinky, seductive or as sensuous as this.
And I have never written a more alliterative sentence.
I'm gathering up digital recordings of Beethoven's symphonies from the Alexandria library system. I was reading the liner notes from one of these... watching Beethoven "help" conduct one of his works would have been something to see.
Getting Tuesday off for Veteran' Day was nice, but it sure made this week seem to pass by more slowly.
I have never liked this time of the year, when the days grow very short. You get up to go to work while the sun is rising and come home while it's setting - that's depressing. You poke around the house, notice the clock, and it's only, say 6:30 PM. But it looks like 9 PM. And the days are, more often than not, gray and dismal. And no yard sales.
Some reenactors have a name for this time of the year: Cranky Season. (Okay, full disclosure: I coined the phrase. But others have used it.) The battle reenactment events are all past for the year, not to return until March or April. Guys who like living in 19th C. tents are having to do challenging things like interact with their families and live 21st century lives. The musket sits in the closet, waiting. Everyone gets a little cranky.
Did I say the events are all over? Not quite. In a week I do the traditional end of the season event with my pards Chris and Don: Gettysburg Remembrance Day. It's basically a last gasp/end of season kind of thing - a parade in town, followed by a speech. Then reenactors break up to mope around the battlefield, usually gravitating to the monuments of the units they reenact for a wreath-laying ceremony. At night everyone hangs out at the bar in the Holiday Inn, exchanging stories - as if there were big differences between the black powder smoke at Bentonville in March and the black powder smoke at Cedar Creek in October. The unit minors manage to find beer and get drunk, then do things like throw up in the hotel sinks. Good times.
The rugby season ends around this time of the year, too. Oh, sure, there may be a Thanksgiving or Christmas Sevens tournament, but pretty much everyone recognizes it's over and throws in the towel. The club members find beer and get drunk, then do things like throw up in sinks (or on the floor of the bar's men's room). The forwards start putting on their winter weight. Good times.
As I mentioned yesterday, I'm reading Jay Winik's "April 1865." I'm a little suspicious of Winik's scholarship. For instance, about the Spotsylvania battle he writes, "Yet Grant felt that a spot the men called 'The Mule Shoe' could be penetrated with a larger force - splitting the weak seam of Lee's army in two. 'A brigade today,' Grant boomed confidently. 'We'll try a corps tomorrow.'" I have read enough biographies of Ulysses S. Grant to realize that he never "confidently boomed" anything. He was soft-spoken and undramatic to the point of being laconic.
"There is a word in Old English which belongs wholly to that civilization - "dustsceawung," meaning contemplation of dust. It is a true image of the Anglo-Saxon mind, or at least an echo of that consciousness which considered transience and loss to be part of the human estate; it was a world in which life was uncertain and the principal Deity was fate or destiny or "wyrd." - Peter Ackroyd, in "Albion - The Origins of the English Imagination."
Clearly, Ackroyd gives a fatalist interpretation to the old word, and it's no doubt valid. The ancient Anglo-Saxons were fascinated with the temporary nature of life. Beowulf - the Old English national epic (despite the fact that it takes place elsewhere) - is filled with observations about life's transient nature. The only hope expressed in that work is a warrior's hope for a good reputation after death. There is very little of what we would call Christian sentiments about the afterlife in Beowulf.
And while the ancient Greeks acknowledged an afterlife in their epic works, it was a very pallid existence. Odysseus visit to his mother Anticlea in Hades was a thoroughly depressing experience. Clearly, to the Greeks, what was enjoyable about life was to be had here, in this world.
Have you ever read "Iron John," by Robert Bly? It's one of those men's movement books that were in vogue back in the early Nineties; this one had a mythopoetic angle, and examined masculinity in terms of folklore. (Iron John is a character in a Grimm's story and an archetype elsewhere.) In it, Bly states that a stage in male development is playing in cinders (dust, cinders - no big diff) - the developing hero then abandons this stage for a heroic quest of some kind. This might be a different interpretation of dustsceawung - an acceptance that a heroic quest might very well lead to death. Achilles' mother pointed this out to him in the Iliad.
But I think of our quote's dustsceawung rather in terms of a fascination with history. Staring at dust, to me, causes me to think about the past - not necessarily death. In fact, the past, to me, is not emblematic of death at all. It's a part of life. Specifically, most of the time, my life.
Example: Recently, I've been pondering the reenactments of the past I've done twenty years ago in my past - an odd sort of circular thinking. It gets even stranger when you consider that one might reenact reenacting - that is, once again meet the folks that one met twenty years ago (like Larry Sangi), reenacting the past.
We can have some fun with terminology:
1. Enactors: The men who fought the American Civil War (1861-1865).
2. Reenactors: The men who reenact the enactors.
3. Preenactors: Men who act out what the future may look like, e.g. Trekkies. Or, in another sense, guys like me who determine when I'm going to take a hit in a battle reenactment. I'm preenacting my "death."
This tortured terminology is making my head hurt.
Watched the prof dissect Beethoven's 5th, first movement, last night - it was one of his best lectures. You know this piece: Da-da-da-dahhhh/Da-da-da-dahhhhhh. (If you lived during the Seventies you might even recall the disco version.) The story was that Beethoven was inspired by the sound of his landlord's knock upon his door, demanding the rent. That's what my father told me, anyway. The prof pointed out that Beethoven himself simply said it came from a bird call. This wasn't adequate for musicologists in the 19th century, however, who came up with "the Hand of Fate." That sounded better and more promotional, and has been called this ever since.The prof also mentioned that the night it was premiered it was part of a four hour mid-December program of very challenging works (Beethoven himself conducting and playing the piano). One listener wrote, "There we sat, cold, from 6:30 until 10:30; we learned it's possible to have too much of a good thing."
Finally, I'm now reading "April, 1865 - The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik. More some other time.
I watched a truly horrible historical production yesterday. "Alfred the Great" (1969), starring David Hemmings. Gosh, did it suck. But, as I'm interested in Anglo-Saxon history I felt obligated to watch it, with all of its egregious historical errors and liberties. Alfred's wife Ealhswith taking up with his Viking enemy? I don't think so; that one somehow escaped the notice of his chroniclers. And at one point Alfred is shown milling about a square stone Norman keep - the type that wouldn't be seen in England for another 200 years. Sheesh.
As I recall, there were a number of interesting historical movie and television productions in 1969 and 1970 - they were in fashion: "Waterloo" (1970), "Cromwell" (1970), "Anne of the Thousand Days" (1969), "Ivanhoe" (1970) and "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" (1970).
Perhaps the grubby early 1970's aesthetic (males were long-haired and bearded) somehow led to an interest in the past. I don't know, I can't account for it. But "Alfred the Great" is certainly the least of these productions.
I also finished "Where Does The Weirdness Go? - Why Quantum Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think" by David Lindley, an ultimately disappointing book. It seemed to repeat itself a lot and gave me little insight into or clarification on the EPR paradox. I give up.
My right-wing New Hampshire cousin Ronbo - who is not at all happy about the turn of political events recently - sent me a link to this website of the U.S. military firing missiles in spectacular photographic style. Two more: Here, and here. The way I figure, if we're going to spent billions of dollars on defense, we ought to get some great photos out of it!
But these images touch on the fact that, despite whatever you think about combat and war, there is simply nothing that comes close in terms of awesome spectacle. I have read this sentiment a number of times in various soldier diaries. Feeding a hungry child, rebuilding a home or inoculating Third World citizens against diseases are all the stuff of noble charity. But there's something fascinating about watching stuff get blown up, and young men line up for the opportunity. (I did.)
Some interesting quotes I have gathered over the years about war:
"War is an initiation into the power of life and death. Women touch that power on the moment of birth, men at the edge of death." - William Broyles
"War is to man what motherhood is to women." - Benito Mussolini
"Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier." - Samuel Johnson
"In war, as in prostitution, amateurs are often better than professionals." - Napoleon
"No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace: in peace children bury their fathers, while in war fathers bury their children." - Herodotus
"As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." - Oscar Wilde
"Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the one thing that stops women from laughing at them." - John Fowles
I'm back in Scouts again. On Sunday I was released as a Sunday School teacher - I had the sixteen year olds for the last three years - and was called to be the assistant scoutmaster for the eleven-year old scouts. I can do that. I spent about 8 years, total, in scouting before and during the time my son was growing up and, the great majority of the time, I enjoyed it.
The Lenhok'sin Trail, 1998
Camp Goshen, Marriott area, 1997
Camp Goshen, Marriott area, 1996
Camporee at New Market battlefield, 1996
(Yes, Chris, that last one is the overlook. The trees have grown in twelve years.)
My scout shirt even still fits (sort of). Tonight I meet my scouts and the other adult leaders and they meet me.
(Did I mention that my son Ethan is an Eagle Scout? Yes he is. Got a Heroism award, too. I'm proud of that boy.)
Over the weekend I dropped my Nikon and broke my 28-55mm Nikkor general use lens - drat. It'll be about $80 to replace it, I think. BUT... I was given several hundreds of dollars worth of pro/semi-pro lighting equipment on Sunday so I'm ahead of the game.
My Beethoven lectures are now on the 4th symphony in B Flat major, which I have never been very fond of. (The prof says it's under-played and under-appreciated.) I think three hours of lecture is a bit excessive for that one.
The other day I came into possession of a CD entitled "Martinis With Mancini" - Henry Mancini, that is, composer of 1960's television and movie themes (shown above). As my Dad liked his stuff I am well acquainted with his sound.
His highly idiosyncratic orchestral style may be sampled on the following selection, "Mr. Lucky Goes Latin." (Dad had the album when I was a kid.) There was a major vogue in the late Fifties and Early Sixties for the Hammond organ tone heard here. But a trend is a trend and, after a while, I suppose people would rather jab themselves in the ears with icepicks rather than be subjected to that Hammond organ tone again.
(Well, perhaps not. Check out this youtube video - things get positively Frankensteinian at the one minute mark. Noooo... not the upper keyboard!)
I've covered this before in a blog a while back, but back in the early Sixties record companies tried to outdo one another in a sort of my-organ-is-mightier-than-your contest. (Moody organ. Big organ. Bigger organ. Mightiest organ.) Very odd, phallic and amusing.
Mr. Lucky was a television show that premiered in 1959 - I well remember the title sequence as a kid, which fascinated me for some reason. It featured an animation of a stylized one-eyed cat in an alley. Can't find it on youtube...bummer.
And now I think I'll go back to puttering around the house.
Last Friday I mentioned the Desi Arnaz/Yma Sumac song "Babalu." After I posted the blog I thought, "Hey. What on earth are they singing?" A translation for the Spanish lyrics is here. Now we both know.
Want to watch a good cartoon? I rented a collection of 1930's cartoons last week, and stumbled across this one which I had never seen before: "To Spring" (1936), in truly mind-blowing Technicolor. IT'S TIME FOR SPRING, I SAY. Insistent dwarf.
You all know who Ansel Adams was, right? (Pictured above.) He was a world famous photographer, who specialized in stunning black and white photography of the American West. Last week I stumbled across some photos he took in my home town (Burbank, California) in 1941 for a Fortune magazine shoot. My hastily-assembled article for my Burbankia website is here. I like the last shots of the guy kissing his wife good bye as he goes off to work.
I used to work at the Lockheed B-1 plant from April 1979 to February 1980; my Dad, who worked there, got me the job. Actually, I have working there to thank for going to college! I mention "pneumonia alley" on the Adams page - this was a long indoor corridor between buildings that the cold winter wind used to howl through, hence the name. I used to drive through it to and from places in a little Cushman cart when I was a maintenance worker. The place always struck me as being a bit other-worldly, sort of like a theme park ride, or a scene you'd see in a cartoon (like the underground scenes with the gnomes which open "To Spring" above). As you drove down it, you could look left and right and see guys fabricating metal parts on heavy presses, welding, pushing carts, etc. Very blue collar, very industrial.
One of the moments of realization that I didn't have a lifetime career at Lockheed involved a nasty task I had to do near pneumonia alley. I was assigned to clean the interior of some metal ductwork - why they chose the biggest guy on the crew to do this, I don't know. I must have annoyed my foreman somehow. The equipment creating the heat had been shut off so I could wiggle down about a hundred feet of passage perhaps three feet square, wiping off the walls. I recall that it was dreadfully hot and close inside, I'm guessing over 100 degrees. An OSHA no-no, to be sure. When I crawled out the other side I was drenched in sweat.
The other Lockheed maintenance task that strongly suggested college might be a good option was scrubbing down a numerically-controlled milling machine with MEK, methyl-ethyl-ketone, a powerful industrial solvent. When I was done the fumes had my head spinning, and I could feel brain cells dying by the millions. (Another OSHA no-no.)
In fact, now that I think about it I have a long list of bad memories of Lockheed, like the time someone had phoned in a bomb threat and we maintenance guys were deployed to start emptying waste paper baskets! To his credit, when our Union rep learned about this he stopped us and complained to management. And there was also the time I was in rubber hip-waders, standing knee-deep in a tub of industrial waste and solvents scrubbing down a machine that used to spray sheets of aluminium.
The other night in my Beethoven videotaped lectures the prof discussed the famous funeral march which forms the second movement of the third symphony - and oddly enough I have a Lockheed memory of this as well. The first time I heard it was in a beer bar surrounded by Lockheed workers; I was sixteen. I was the short order cook at a place my mother worked, and the television was on, showing the Summer 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
This was the one where some Palestinian terrorists had shot and killed some Israeli athletes, the "Munich Massacre." A memorial service was held and televised, and during it some German orchestra - The Berlin Philharmonic, perhaps? - played the funeral march in the stadium. As I was flipping burgers I thought that it was the moving music I had ever heard, and took a mental note to buy an album of Beethoven's Third.
I did, and some time soon after, as my pal Mike and I finished dissecting our frog in our biology class, we buried it somewhere on campus as I hummed the funeral march - so I had gotten to know the piece pretty thoroughly by then. I had drawn a Confederate battle flag on a piece of paper to drape over the frog, as I'm sure he must have been a Reb.
This is news to me. I always thought "Yma Sumac" was one of those hokey Hollywood made-up names, you know, "I'm a sumac (poisonous, dangerous female)," but no.
Longtime readers will know of my interest in Sumac, who was famous for her exceptionally wide-ranging (five octaves!) voice. Here she is, singing the old Latin American stand-by, "Babalu" (primarily known as a Desi Arnaz number). I'm sure she's now trilling and growling in heaven...
Yesterday I mentioned the historical nature of the Wednesday papers; this morning outside the Metro station a guy was selling special reprints of the Washington Post for $1.50 each. The Post endorses Obama, he wins, history is made, and special edition papers are sold. Very tidy. Will the op-ed writers for the Post classify this as another example of capitalism gone amok?
In my videotaped lectures we are now starting to analyze the epic Third Symphony of Beethoven, and last night I learned a new word: Hemiola. Sounds medical. I've listened to and read about classical music almost constantly since I was sixteen, and this is the first I've encountered it! Anyway, according to wikipedia, it's a metrical pattern in which two bars in simple triple time (3/2 or 3/4 for example) are articulated as if they were three bars in simple duple time (2/2 or 2/4). It's far easier to understand hearing it than reading about it, and to modern ears it sounds like syncopation, but suffice to say that there's a notable passage of it in the first movement of Beethoven's Third.
The most interesting thing I'm learning about Beethoven is that he composed using very, very simple building blocks (often based on 1-3-5 triads) and deceptively simple and boring little melodies, which, when run through keys and orchestrated, sound exciting and forceful. Perhaps that's the key to his accessibility... a Beethoven symphony is relatively easy to remember and like. In fact, even as I write this I have his melodies bouncing around in my head. But analyzing it is another matter - all sorts of fascinating, complex details become apparent.
At one point the prof mentions, "People always ask me, did Beethoven compose like this (interrelationships of themes) intentionally? We don't know." One thing I'm fairly certain of, however, is that he composed far differently than did, say, Paul McCartney.
I suspect that McCartney writes a melody like I might write a sentence - just dash one off. No real analysis, no desire to build it up with complex interrelationships. If it sounds good, it is good. Consequently, the basis for McCartney's - and Beatles' - music is modal, or in other words people composing songs by singing them, not sitting at a piano and staring at the note intervals on black and white keys. It's why folk music, music composed by non-musicians and peasants, is usually modal.
Beethoven's music is strongly derived from major-minor key music theory, and modal music (popular in ancient times and during the Middle Ages) wouldn't make a comeback until Debussy in the late 19th century.
And it's interesting, in art, how important a good beginning can be. Beethoven's Third begins with two sudden and loud E flat major chords, as if to say, THIS is the tonality of this piece - listen to this. The first word in Beowulf is LISTEN! (HWÆT!) The first word in Homer's Iliad is the ancient Greek menis, or fury, rage or wrath - which characterizes the entire rest of the long poem. Perhaps this getting down to it right away is characteristic of works intended to be heroic, as all three of these examples most assuredly are.
And... and... this stuff is fascinating to me, that's all. Once again, I am greatly enjoying these Beethoven lectures.
Reading "Where Does The Weirdness Go? - Why Quantum Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think" by David Lindley is not quite providing me with the answers or illumination I was hoping for. I'm about half-way through; perhaps the first half is background and the second half is clarification.
But it did posit a baffling twist on the EPR Paradox (see Oct 30 and 31 entries): Electrons can have an up-down or right-left "spin." But quantum mechanics says that an electron can only have an up OR down OR right OR left spin, and pairs MUST be opposite to conserve spin. So... what happens if you measure left-right spin on one of the pair and up-down on the other half of the pair? The waveform collapses, resulting in conflicting realities? Even worse, is reality relative to the frame in which you're measuring it? Ouch.
The author hasn't gotten to the implications of actual, measured results yet... can't wait for that.
Have a great weekend!
Man charged in Gettysburg shooting. He's a Reb. (Did you guess it?)
(Note: The author of "The Once and Future King" is T.H. White; the coiner of the term "Camelot" for the Kennedy Administration is Theodore H. White. They are not the same person!)
My question to him was about where one grasps a halberd pole. I can see clutching it at the bottom for maximum leverage and impact, but it appears unwieldy to swing in a crowd. So where does one grasp a halberd? "My basic hold is about 1.5 ft. from the bottom and 2ft. below the head (on my 6 ft. pole arm). In that mode I get good leverage and fair reach. When I’m going for a thrust or a shield grab with the back spike, I’ll shift and grip much further towards the butt spike and about half way up the shaft. The hold and use also varies depending on whether you’re in the open on in a more constricted environment. Sometimes I go "two thumbs up" (both hands gripping the shaft so that my thumbs would point towards the head)—think a pick-axe type swing. Other times I use a mixed grip for speed, or even a "reverse" hold with the blade pointing down (good for defensive use)."
So now you know. And that's one of the neat things about reenacting history - when you read a book you read a book and imagine how it was. When you reenact, you get a much more physical sense of how it was. For instance, when I come across a passage about footsore Yanks marching down a dusty Virginia road on a sweltering July day, I don't have to imagine what it was like - I know. And I know what it looks like, too.
The SCA people nearly had me, that is, I nearly got interested in medieval reenacting. I recall reading about it in a Sunday feature in a L.A. Herald Examiner in 1971 when I lived in Burbank. As I was deeply, deeply interested in English medieval history at the time, it appealed to me. But nothing came of it, and in 1973 I discovered the Civil War. When I got into college, some SCA guys did a fighting demo and show on campus, and I was interested and was considering it. But then, about a week later, I saw some guys trot through campus dressed as Rebs and Yanks and so I started talking to them. The rest is (reenacted) history and Jonah Begone was born.
My first "impression" was a Reb, thanks in large part to the fact that my first event was a BYU Association of Southern Students (yes, "A.S.S." - neo-Confederates can't seem to avoid silliness anywhere, not even at BYU) Cotillion. I borrowed a bunch of stuff from guys about my size who did Reb, and attended with my wife, who borrowed a hoop-skirted dress.
Gentle Reader, I normally don't show people the following photograph of me because it is so ridiculously over-the-top , but here it is: Me at my first event in 1983, as a Reb. The boots are from World War I, the coat is from the 14th Tennessee's First Sergeant, the pants are my wool-poly Sunday dress pants, the Navy Colt is from a friend, the shirt from Land's End and the belligerent and utterly clueless expression on my face is from the Twilight Zone. My wife Cari is dressed like people expect ladies from the South looked (but didn't), but she at least looks cute and appealing.
The following year, for the next Cotillion, I ditched the Reb stuff and got myself a proper Federal private impression, and annoyed the various Confederates present - which launched my career doing the same thing for the last twenty years.
Okay, here's one for you. The other day I was watching some weird old 1930's cartoons. (I like weird old 1930's cartoons.) In one, a Krazy Kat cartoon from 1931 entitled "Bars and Stripes," a bunch of anthropomorphic musical instruments declare war on their player (Krazy Kat), form an army and attack him using notes. One of the notes smashes into a keg of beer the Kat has in his house (!) and four of the instruments - a trumpet, bassoon, clarinet and trombone - lap up the beer. Predictably, they get drunk, and just as predictably, they play an off-key rendition of "How Dry I Am."
I then wondered about this cliched old tune. Turns out the name of the song is actually "The Near Future" ("Dry" meaning no alcohol, looking ahead to the near future of Prohibition) and was composed in 1919 by none other than Irving Berlin. Article here. Prohibition began in 1920.
However, Berlin apparently based the song on a far older church hymn entitled "Oh Happy Day." You can read about that one here (and play it here), but suffice to say that the melody dates from 1704!
Check out today's Wondermark cartoon. Pretty funny, and I can relate. We came home one day and had no less than eight robocalls on the answering machine.
Somebody mentioned yesterday that a remake of "Two Thousand Maniacs!" was produced in 2005: "2001 Maniacs." (Viewers have posted to the IMDb chat page that, "...the original was better.") To my mind this is like dropping a thousand pound bag of dung on your desk with another thousand pound bag of dung already sitting there. Just how much dung does anyone need?
Those Beethoven lectures I'm listening to are great! I finished four hours thus far. In addition to commenting upon the music, Prof. Greenberg reads letters written by Beethoven, letters written about him, etc. Were he to be alive and in some community nowadays, Beethoven would be considered either an exceedingly unpleasant and grumpy old sociopath or a prime candidate for extended therapy. And yet, he wrote what is frequently considered to be the most glorious body of music of the entire Western culture. Amazing.
A cell phone ghost story, of sorts.
Interested in knowing how men die in Civil War battles? Well, Civil War reenactors are, which is why I posted the "How Men Die in Battle" section from Frank Wilkeson's memoirs onto my reenacting website. In all my reading on the Civil War I have never read text like this anywhere else - it is unique.
I am now reading "The Art of War in the Middle Ages" by C.W.C. Oman; it's okay. First printed in the 19th C., it's one of those books that assumes that the readers know Greek and therefore doesn't transliterate the names in that language for various elements of the 7th C. Byzantine Army. Annoying. I am now in the section where the fearsome 16th C. Swiss Confederacy is hacking apart all enemies with their halberds - Yahhhh-hoooo! (2000 Swiss Maniacs.) It reminds me of another book, Halbritter's Arms Through the Ages - a farce.
Swiss Army - a name that sells countless penknives and watches. But come on. I mean, nowadays does anyone tremble at the thought of angry Swiss faces? No, of course not - they're politically neutral. Swiss bankers will gladly accept your money or Jewish Holocaust money, it's all the same to them. They sort of remind me of Tom Lehrer's description of Werner Von Braun: "Don't say that he's hypocritical/Say rather that he's apolitical/'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?/That's not my department,' says Wernher von Braun."
Whenever I think of the Swiss I cannot help but think of Orson Welles' immortal line of dialogue in the excellent 1949 film noir The Third Man:
Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
And as long as I'm dissing the Swiss I might as well include the fearsome Swiss Guard, depicted here in all their might and finery. I don't know what enemies the Vatican faces, but as long as they plan to attack using pikes, the Swiss Guard stands ready for the fray!
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