Thursday, December 31, 2009

Out With The Old...

In 1680, Austrian composer/violinist Johann Heinrich Schmelzer passed from this earth at the tender age of 60, taking with him a store of violin virtuosity not exceeded even in our own time. If not for his fame in his own day (he died five years before J.S. Bach was born) and the music publisher's excellent early craft, not to mention a few of those violin virtuosi today who are willing to dig deep into the history and literature of their instruments, Schmelzer's music would have vanished, probably beyond recovery. As things actually happened, I can sit in front of the stereo and listen to a virtuoso of our own day, Andrew Manze, on a 16-year-old CD, playing on a violin that... well, I can't find the details on the CD liner, but you may be certain it dates from Schmelzer's era, and has been skillfully retrofitted to something like its original configuration. ("This violin is too damned new. Get me something older!")

If old virtuosi never do in fact die, old musical ensembles meet their end even sooner. I was in one ensemble that lasted 10 years, in the same location and with more or less the same musicians; that was in my experience an extreme rarity. Romanesca, the ensemble on the abovementioned CD, was formed in 1988, and appears based on Amazon listings to have lasted until 2005... again, a healthy lifespan for a small ensemble of musicians who have lots of work. The other CD I listened to this evening, by the Palladian Ensemble with its virtuoso recorder player (don't you dare laugh) Pamela Thorby, hung on until about 2007, if I recall. Fortunately Ms. Thorby is still among us.

But if performers' lifespans are brief and ensembles are over in an instant, one's ability to play a given work or composer is downright microscopic. The music on those two CDs is upbeat, flashy and largely very cheerful, but I found myself with tears streaming from both eyes at the first sound... because my alleged 15 minutes of fame is long behind me. I can listen to that music. I can appreciate its internals probably better than I could a decade or three ago when I was in fact performing that sort of stuff. But it is quite literally no longer in my grasp.

Not everything is tragic, though. I'll write about the upside of all of this tomorrow, when we all have a whole new year in which to explore strange new cadences, to seek out new techniques and new performers, to boldly split infinitives...

I hope your New Year is a splendid one. Keep in touch!

Good News For New Year: LWOP Up, DP Down - UPDATED

Charles Kuffner of 'Off the Kuff' tells us the good news from the Chron:
Since a new life-without-parole law took effect in 2005, Harris County — with a national reputation for pursuing capital punishment and home to the fourth-largest city in America, with a population of nearly 4 million people — has sent fewer inmates to death row than Tarrant or Bexar counties, urban counties that include Fort Worth and San Antonio, respectively. Tarrant County’s population is about 1.7 million; Bexar’s is 1.6 million, U.S. Census records show.
Bexar and Tarrant each sent eight newly convicted killers to death row in the four years since the law took effect, state prison data show. In the same period, larger Harris and Dallas counties sent six apiece, based on the Chronicle’s analysis of Texas Department of Criminal Justice death row arrivals.
Statewide, only about 50 inmates have been added to death row since the law took effect Sept. 1, 2005. In contrast, from September 2001 to September 2005 — the four years before the law was enacted — 90 were sentenced to death.
OK, calm down a minute. Put aside how you feel about the death penalty as an implement of justice in cases of truly egregious crimes. Yes, I know: you disagree with me on that one, and from my experience, very, very few people ever change their minds on the rightness or wrongness of executing convicted killers. So I'm not going to try to dissuade you from advocating executing the guilty.


There is an appearance that this has finally happened, in... where else... Texas. In this case, apparently faulty or perhaps sloppy forensic investigation of a fire led to the conviction of a man for the murder of his children. He was executed in 2004. There's not much chance of rectifying that horrifying error. Dead is dead, and because Texas is so enthusiastic about the death penalty, and because Rick Perry seldom appears actually to review clemency appeals, the State of Texas... that would be you, my friend, if you are a citizen here... have murdered someone, as surely as if you were a member of a street gang. How does that feel?

Back in the early days of the space program, some of my friends who worked for NASA, most of them engineers or programmers, kept small signs near their desks, signs that read ZERO DEFECTS. They meant it, too: think about the consequences of a serious defect in a spacecraft system. Now think about the impact of a serious defect in a murder conviction. There is no perfect solution to the problems of the fragility of spacecraft in operation. But there is a simple, straightforward solution to the risk of executing innocent people: don't execute anyone, ever. Imprison them for the rest of their born days... prisons are quite reliable in our era, society is protected, and there is no danger of executing the innocent. This is not about whether the convict deserves to be executed; that's the wrong question to ask. The right question is this: do you want the burden of even one innocent person convicted and executed in your name? I thought not.

UPDATE: for the obsessive Republicans among you who never met a taxpayer dollar you didn't pretend to want to save, please note that executions are UNBELIEVABLY expensiveoften enough running $1 million to $2 million. to see one capital trial through to execution. Can you think of better uses for this money? So can I.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Don't Tase Me, Bro

Fallenmonk brings us some excellent news about a Ninth Circuit Court ruling limiting the use of Tasers in circumstances where there is little threat and the targeted individual may be mentally ill. Here is the crux of the matter; please see Fallenmonk's excerpt from the Sacramento Bee article for more details:


In a case out of San Diego County, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized an officer who, without warning, shot an emotionally troubled man with a Taser when he was unarmed, yards away, and neither fleeing nor advancing on the officer.

Face it: in many cases, Tasers are as dangerous as conventional firearms, and often as deadly. Their use grows more widespread by the day, and more casual. It is well past time these dangerous tools are brought under some manner of uniform legal control. No one deserves to die for being mentally disturbed... but that is precisely what is happening.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On Not Screaming As Loud

Quite a few writers over the years have said that vegetarians choose to eat only plants because they don't scream as loud when they are wounded or killed. Not so, says recent research discussed in this NYT essay by Natalie Angier; plants not only effectively "scream" but have some fairly effective active "defenses" against their "predators":
Just because we humans can’t hear them doesn’t mean plants don’t howl. Some of the compounds that plants generate in response to insect mastication — their feedback, you might say — are volatile chemicals that serve as cries for help. Such airborne alarm calls have been shown to attract both large predatory insects like dragon flies, which delight in caterpillar meat, and tiny parasitic insects, which can infect a caterpillar and destroy it from within.
Enemies of the plant’s enemies are not the only ones to tune into the emergency broadcast. “Some of these cues, some of these volatiles that are released when a focal plant is damaged,” said Richard Karban of the University of California, Davis, “cause other plants of the same species, or even of another species, to likewise become more resistant to herbivores.”
Angier goes on to describe some of the various mechanisms employed by plants. Some are ingenious (I use the word in a casual sense, not meaning a product of consciousness but rather "seeming clever to a human observer"); others are quite simple. See the essay to capture the flavor (ahem) of some of the tactics. But none of them... not one that I saw listed... causes even a raised eyebrow to any vegetarian who bothered to stay awake during a decent high school biology class. It's Nature-green-in-leaf-and-branch out there; even the most elementary understanding of classic descent with modification should lead one to nod one's head at each example.

So does this influence the typical sprout-eater? Is there, after all, no moral imperative in this new information that compels one who loves conscious life to avoid eating "higher" plants as well as animals? It depends on a lot of assumptions made by the sprout-eater. For example, I do not see this defense mechanism, wonder though it may be, as being more a manifestation of anything I'd call "consciousness" than, say, your immune system... and the imperative for me not to eat you alive is implanted (ahem) in me with a firmness that simply could not move me to avoid eating a plant. (I also eat some things that are neither animal nor plant, so this question can be applied to other kingdoms.) For me, the question is not, "is it right for me to eat a living thing," but "is it right for me to eat a living thing with a degree of complexity supporting consciousness," a question with more dimensions than can be simply resolved. I'll leave that resolution as an exercise for the reader.  :-)

(H/T Bruce Schneier.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peace On Earth

... goodwill to all. I have spent some time in the past few hours attempting to copy a suitable picture of our Christmas-Lights viewing venture last night from the cell phone to the blog. Eventually I managed to convey the picture, but you don't get the picture, because the focus was less than optimal. Trust me; the light displays in Houston's upscale River Oaks neighborhood were what one would expect: at least the wealthy do some good with their money. One thing all of us observed is that the lights were well over 95 percent... um... white. But whatthehey; good will to all, including those who live on estates big enough to support whole cities inside.

Amusing note: I went searching for a bunch of 15th-century English carols, in part to introduce Stella to the whole genre. I searched Amazon for "Marvel not, Joseph," one of my favorites. Amazon's wonderful search facility delivered: an old New York Pro Musica recording (somewhere I have a copy on vinyl), a more generic recording of old English carols, and... The Adventures of Captain Marvel. "Who's your hero? Do you like Joseph?" "Marvel, not Joseph!"

We will be celebrating Christmas dinner with Stella's stepmother, who of course lost her beloved spouse of 26 (?) years last year. She has a very supportive church community, so she will be celebrating with a dozen of her closest friends, two daughters one of whom has kids, and us. I am not Christian, and she is fairly fundamentalist, but over 12 years we've gotten past most of the unease. She knows what she knows; I know what I don't know... I remember a UU bumper sticker with the text, "Honk if You're Not Sure" ... and I cede the day to her.

To all of you who are Christian believers, Merry Christmas to you. I have to admit Jesus was clearly a remarkable man, whatever his divine status. To the rest of us, Merry Christmas; now go out and shop those post-Xmas sales... you might just save our economy!

Samantha reminds Santa that her name contains his...

I'll post another picture or two when I get them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Epic Nail

The Senate healthcare reform bill passed with no votes to spare, As far as I can tell, the vote was strictly along party lines... it wasn't up on Thomas yet, so I couldn't verify that. Barack Obama must be very proud of his bipartisanship now.

According to a Census report in September, the number of uninsured Americans reached 46.3 million. According to the NYT, the newly passed Senate bill "will make coverage affordable for over 30 million Americans who do not have it." I realize the rules of arithmetic have been "rationalized" since my childhood, but how can they call the bill "universal" healthcare coverage and still omit 16.3 million Americans from coverage? I know... perhaps their universe is smaller than ours.

I know a lot of people are saying it can be fixed in reconciliation, or in future bills, or whatever. But that's like the old ironic remark sometimes made in the recording studio: "we'll fix it in the mix." Oh, yeah; that's exactly what will happen. Once again, we've been nailed, folks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Testing Email Posting

This is a test of email posting; it will soon disappear... I think I'll keep it!

Otter Times, Better Solos

I've heard student solos not worse than what this otter delivers. Hell, I've delivered solos not better than this one...

O Rahm, O Rahm Emanuel

Here we go. Again. Many are saying it, but skippy gives us a good excerpt from the WSJ:

rahm: a lot of ding dong

who needs progressives? apparently not rahm emanuel:

turn off msnbc. tune out howard dean and keith olbermann. the white house has its liberal wing in hand on health care, says white house chief of staff rahm emanuel.

“there are no liberals left to get” in the senate, emanuel said in an interview, shrugging off some noise from the likes of sen. bernie sanders (i., vt.) that a few liberals might bolt over the compromises made with conservative democrats.
As I read the WSJ clip, I have to wonder what, other than the politics of that rag's editorial board, makes Sen. Bernie Sanders's comments "noise" while Sen. Joe LIEberman's remarks are pearls of wisdom. Why is one of the Senate's two independents allowed to sway the entire Senate Democratic caucus because "we desperately need his vote on this," while the other can be "shrugged off," though his vote carries the same weight in that august body? I'd say WSJ is missing something important.

Then again, I suppose none of us liberals wants to be a bother to the president in his pursuit of "the oh-dash-it-all of hope," or something like that... we've done our service by getting him elected, and our role now is to step offstage and STFU...

Afterthought: it amused me to find several references in Amazon's reviews of The Thumpin' to Rahm's frequent use of the f-bomb toward his "enemies." Gee; I thought he was supposed to be on the same team as the Democrats.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Welcome to The Yellow Something Something, the Blogger edition! Merry NODWISH and a Happy New Year, when those holidays arrive.

A few things are here; a lot more remains to be done. Here are some guidelines:
  • To view posts through 2009 (except for the last few days), click this link to the original Yellow Doggerel Democrat. Eventually this site will become the primary site, with a link to the old site.
  • To comment on a new post, use ordinary Blogger comments on this site, not the old.
  • Pre-2010 comments are NOT over here yet; I've exported them, and I will probably import them over here, but at present, I don't know how to hook up old comments to new Blogger blog post identifiers. If you need a particular old comment, leave me a note containing the approximate date or a few words, and I'll locate it in the export .XML files... clumsy, but I hope the measure is temporary.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Work In Progress

I am busily transplanting the original YDD (YSS) to this Blogger blog in response to JS-Kit's decision suddenly to go to a paid commenting service. Please have patience, and wait until there is a post downstream of this one, to leave comments.

JS-Kit has made it as difficult as possible to export comments here w/o deleting comments on their site... can you spell "blackmail," folks? ... so it will probably be about New Year's Day before I move the whole blog here. Have I mentioned those people have a very, very optimistic business model if they think "forced enrollment" is a viable promotion strategy?

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