Saturday, November 4, 2017

I finally composed something!

First off, I thought I'd mix in blogs about various topics of interest, to relieve the monotony of politics all the time.  Incidentally, this is a good plan for everyone out there: politics is about structure, and daily life is about content.  Structure is useless without content.  But remember: this does not mean that you must forget to get out and vote.

Well, I certainly have composed short pieces of music, such as the various themes I used for my radio program, in particular the little march with which I ended the show each week.  But that little march was based on a fragment I remember from when I was a kid, and, as I said, I found the original thing on YouTube, sung by the late famous Richard Tauber: Starlight Serenade.  Other things I have written are a little more original, but enough of that.

I had always wanted to write an extended piece, that is, something that is more than a few minutes long, perhaps in multiple movements.  I thought hard about what sort of thing I could write, and I decided to write a String Quartet.

For those who aren't acquainted with the genre, a String Quartet is sort of a sonata (an essentially stand-alone instrumental piece, typically in three movements) for a string quartet.  This is a group (or ensemble) consisting of two violins, a viola, and a 'cello.  Because the instruments have such similar construction, the combination sounds very homogeneous, in other words, there is little contrast in the tones of the four instruments, which is in some ways a good thing (but in others not, because sound variety does help to relieve the boredom).

I decided to write the First Movement of the string quartet first.  (I need not have; it is quite possible some people write other movements first.)  I needed the so-called first theme, which is just a tune, or even a tune-fragment.  When the first examples of this sort of First Movement was written back in the 18th Century, this first theme was called the masculine theme.  First themes are vigorous, energetic things, and, incidentally, tend to be the tune that everybody remembers as the one that represents the entire sonata, or symphony, or whatever, like The Theme of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Well, as much as I would have liked to invent a theme as memorable as that one, I realized that this was my first effort at this, and I would be lucky to write any useful theme at all.  It only must be highly recognizable, because when anyone hears it, they have to go "Aha!  I know that tune from somewhere!")  Somehow, I wrote one.  Instead of a short little tune, I wrote a whole, complete tune, with accompaniment and everything, in fact, it contained what I could have used as my first theme several times, in different instruments.  (I get into minor trouble with this departure, but, I hope, not so much trouble that a real live set of string quartet players will refuse to play the thing.)

The next thing to do is to write a second theme, which, as you might guess, would be the feminine theme.  By this time I had forgotten all about this gender stuff, and I wrote a fairly generic theme, but shorter than the first theme.  I had learned my lesson.  But then, I got carried away, and repeated this second theme at a number of different pitches, and brought things to a sort of temporary close with a few big chords.  Actually, enough big chords for the end of a movie.  I told myself: I have to re-use this bit as the ending of the whole movement; it was almost like sailing off into the Grey Havens.

What usually comes next is the development section, where the two themes are combined in various ways, creating more and more excitement, like the middle part of a novel, where the villains take over and mess up everything.  But, to my dismay, I had already developed the first theme right at the beginning, and when I was introducing the second theme, I couldn't resist putting the first theme in the bass, and so I was baffled as to what to do.

I took a deep breath, and started off with the second theme, and alternating it with another little fragment from somewhere, and at different pitches (which implies different keys), and somehow led up to: stating the first theme again.  This is correct; this is called the recapitulation section.  Both themes must be stated.

An interesting twist that the First Movement Founding Fathers had strongly indicated is that the first theme and the second theme had to be in different keys.  I had done this: the first theme was in C major, and the second in A minor.  Now for the second part of the twist of the Founding Fathers: in the recapitulation, the two tunes must be in the same key.  Now, it isn't difficult to do this, especially with short themes, and I did it.  But, what comprised my second theme was this long story that wandered all over the place!  So I was forced to modify the whole thing, to satisfy at least the letter of the law of this twist of the Founding Fathers, and it happened that this resulted in a much more complex development section (built into the recapitulation, I realize; but others have done it, so why not me?) and I realized that this twist of the FF's had a purpose, namely to give deadbeats such as myself an opportunity to redeem themselves by requiring some creativity in handling the keys of the themes.  (For those who want details: the second theme started off in A minor, and then wandered into C major.  In the recap, it starts out in C major, and found itself subsequently in E minor.  That was interesting.)

I'm still tinkering with it, but this is how it sounds at present:

String Quartet, 1. Allegro

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Clear Study of the Split among the Democrats

a writer of whom I have not heard before: Pete Davis, has an interesting article in the Guardian, one for which we should be thankful.  Democrats of all shades of blue should try to read and understand this--luckily, it is not hard to understand.  Still, I'm going to try and paraphrase some of the most interesting points for slow readers out there.  (You know I love you, but face it: you don't read very difficult prose.)

Davis's article is about the fact that the Democrats are divided into two groups: the traditional Democrats, the Party Loyalists, who mostly voted for Clinton in 2016, whom he calls the Liberals; and the rebels, the Bernie followers, who were mostly disgusted with the 'business as usual' attitude of the Party Loyalists, and who kept asking 'But what are you going to do about **?'  He calls this group the Leftists, and so the article is about the Left / Liberal Divide.

The various ways in which the two groups contrast with each other makes fascinating reading.  For instance, the Liberals are concerned with the nuts and bolts of getting the Dems back into power, and resisting the evils of the Republican agenda.  The Leftists are more concerned with the finer issues-- which remain in the periphery, because of Liberal platform control--and moving them into the center of the conversation.  The Liberals are the ones who go door to door before an election, getting out the vote.  The Leftists are often furious with the party leadership by that time, and won't have anything to do with the election.  It goes without saying that unless there is some cooperation between the two groups, elections can't be won.

But, even before reading Pete Davis's prescription for a strategy for both groups to cooperate as needed, it is interesting to read the different characterizations of the two groups, and recognize their behavior.

The Liberals, for instance, he says tend to adopt Republican rhetoric.  Remember, rhetoric is patterns of speech that have a particular intention.  If we adopt the rhetoric of Republicans, we run the risk of supporting conservative intentions, and, as the Left declares, end up being pulled to the right.  Something Davis does not mention is that Bernie Sanders brought up the issue of income inequality, something which the Liberals have abandoned as being too "socialist" for America.

Another interesting point is about the implied strategy of the two groups.  To put it simply, the Liberals are all about winning; once they have won, they feel they would have some flexibility about how to proceed, to focus on various initiatives post-election.  For the Left, he says, the ideology comes first; if they cannot win the immediate election, they're resigned to waiting until the party has come round to their way of thinking.

How the Democrats respond to these conditions, whichever group they may happen to be in, will influence how things turn out.  And the Dem response, I believe, will depend on clearly understanding what this article explains.

Homework for you!


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

D. Trump and his Sleepover with the Republican Kids

In a recent article on HuffPost, reporter S. V. Date conjectured how members of the Republican core feel about how things are going.  Two members of the party had opposite views.  (If you want more Trump disasters to relish, read the article.)

White house staffers, Ms. Huckabee Sanders, and those close to Trump state that Trump is doing what his voters wanted from him, and they feel that "America is winning."  Obviously, we're all going to disagree about what sorts of things can be considered to be signs that America is winning; to us moderates and liberals, both America and the World seem to be losing fast.

Others, including senators Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and John McCain, are disgusted.  "Win what?" said someone; saying that the party is in such sad shape that they don't know how to proceed.

This brings us to a major issue about party politics.  In times past, each party needed to win in order to put through some legislation that was intended to point the country and the government in some direction.  But now, because of voter polarization, partisanship--the enthusiasm of a person for his or her party--has gone beyond any interest in the political principles or even the programmatic elements of the party's platform.  Many in both parties are more preoccupied with winning, rather than with what to do once they have won.  The only thing that Trump has succeeded, which is a major setback for liberals and for the nation, is appoint a supreme court judge who seems to be blindly loyal to conservative principles, and has little if any empathy for the concerns of common people.

National politics must stop being all about winning; this must be recognized by both parties.  The GOP, sad to say, despite their 8 years in power, has taken on a sort of victim mentality, focused on winning at all costs.  (In contrast, supporters of Bernie Sanders, to Bernie's own disappointment, have taken the view that it should be Bernie or bust, which led to this disaster.  What can we say?  They must have lots of people whom they can blame, and I hope that gives them comfort!  Any Democrat would have done infinitely better as President than Trump, and so would have a number of Republicans, but there's no point in crying over spilled candidates.)

[Added later:]
This post about Jeff Flake has some interesting follow-up questions for Jeff Flake and Bob Corker (the two Republican senators who announced that they will not run again with Trump in the presidency). Again, they articulate rather well many of the things I have been struggling to say.  A thought that stands out strongly about the obsession with winning is: "My reelection before America."


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Are Pro-Hillary Speakers at the National Democratic Convention to Blame for Donald Trump?

First of all, for those of you who don't have the patience to read most of this post, the answer is: No.

Anyway, Sarah Silverman recently posted a video in which she sings about all that she's feeling about the current state of affairs: <>.  I was impressed; she encapsulated most of what was depressing me when I saw it.

This afternoon, I noticed a commenter had dismissed her, claiming that she had stabbed Bernie in the back at the national convention.

Listen bud (though this fellow probably doesn't read, and only watches videos; someone will have to make a video of this blog post for him.  He should love the president, who is supposedly firmly in the non-reading camp): you can only logically blame Sarah Silverman for the election of Trump if she was instrumental in sabotaging both the Democratic Candidates.  Now, let's talk about what you did.
  1. You were persuaded by Sarah Silverman, and reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton.  In this case, I will humbly accept that you had a point.
  2. You were pissed off at her, and since you hated Ms. Clinton, you voted for Trump.  Well, let this be a lesson to you; voting out of anger puts you in an unpredictably messy position, and you only have yourself to blame.  It's tough to make us believe that Sarah Silverman was at fault, if there were more than a couple of hotheads like you!  Turn from your evil ways, and vote the GOP out at the earliest opportunity.
  3. You went ahead and wrote in Bernie Sanders.  I don't know if this was allowed where you vote, and if it was, what the conventional wisdom concerning such a vote could be.  My suspicion is that it was a wasted vote, and again you have only yourself to blame.  Blame Sarah Silverman if your mental health requires it, but if possible, cast a more useful vote next time.
  4. You stayed home.  I think this is the most likely case.  We can't take you seriously.
If Sarah Silverman had persuaded more Democrats last year, we would not be in this position.  I have my doubts about how effective a president Hillary Clinton would have been, but she would probably have been far more effective than what we have now.  Of course, we would have had the GOP hyperventilating, trying to get her convicted of security breaches, and so on; this is the traditional approach of the GOP.

I have to wonder whether the GOP got a majority in the House because of Bernie Sanders boys sulking.  That would be pathetic.  At any rate, unless there is protracted and relentless sulking among the Alt-Left, there is an excellent chance that the House will go Democrat next year, and the Senate will eke out a narrow Democrat majority, and they will filibuster the daylights out of every reasonable bill that they get sent.


Friday, October 6, 2017

A Summary of Government Environmental Rules and Procedures Attacked by the Current Administration

Here is an entire article on which rules and regulations that were set up under the Obama Administration have been tossed out by the Trump Administration, which are under threat, and which are being considered to be removed.  The source is the New York Times (a newspaper that Trump deplores).  We don't notice these things until they're gone.  It is good to be aware, so that we can take steps for our protection.  I'm only commenting on those whose effect on our lives might not be obvious.  I apologize if you feel insulted.

01.  Removed stronger flood standards for new Federal funded construction projects.
This is a matter of saving money in the long term by building carefully in the short term.  Building in a flood plane plain is asking for trouble, and not always for the obvious reason.  A major building in a flood plain makes the flooding worse for homes and businesses nearby.  My wife works for the government of a nearby rural county, and businesses absolutely hate flood-related building restrictions.  It costs more money to put together a project that satisfies flood rules, and they feel as if the engineers soak them for all they're worth.  [Nasty remarks about engineers removed.  My sources said that the business, and the government agencies that are anxious for economic development to proceed at the greatest possible speed, just by themselves are enough of a force to handicap cautious best practices proceedings.  "We just don't have the time to slow down to take careful precautions for floods."  We will have even less time to rebuild after floods.]

02.  Tossed out restrictions on an insecticide that the (Obama-era) Environment Protection Agency had classified as dangerous to developing fetuses.
Scott Pruitt has said 'It needs more study.'  Normally, if it is possibly harmful, we would ban the chemical while we study it.  But conservatives, who do not like taking the life of a fetus, do not mind taking the risk that its brain development would be hurt.  Is it that wealthy folks can invest in private water filtration systems, while poor folk who live near farms and field that might use these dangerous chemicals . . . Let's not forget Flint.  Lead and Chlorpyrifos are not the same, but some of the issues are the same.

05.  Revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams.
This will raise more red flags to those of you who live in coal-mining country, such as we, than for most people.  The crap that comes out of coal mines are highly toxic.  Please do your own research; I hate the very thought of that stuff being put in streams.  The sight of water stained bright orange coming out of coal mines makes lots of people sick, and the smell makes you even sicker.  Bear in mind that the coal from these places kept people warm for centuries.  However thankful we are, it makes absolutely no sense to turn our back on safe practices that prevent poisoning the water that eventually flows into, for instance, the Chesapeake Bay.  Angry coal companies could take the position: screw the Chesapeake.  But only the Trump Administration would consider going along with them.

10.  Proposed the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic.  (The Obama Administration had refused permits to do this.)
These are loud sound blasts that map the ocean floor by tracing the sound waves that radiate from essentially a super loud air horn [which has been, I think, clamped to the ocean floor].  The loud noises [high-energy sound waves] can harm whales, fish, and turtles.  A bunch of whales with ruptured eardrums seems a small price to pay for lots of gas that we can keep burning, but each of us has to decided exactly how upset we are at this permission.

12.  Repealed an Obama-era rule regulating royalties for oil, gas and coal on government and tribal lands.
The Trumps have decided that these rules cause confusion and uncertainty. Remember that the poor gas companies have millions of lawyers. This is just another way to make sure that native tribes and the Federal Government do not get a reasonable royalty fee for the oil, gas or coal. Royalties are a percentage of the value of the material, a few cents per pound, just like musicians get a few cents each time their recordings are played (in a for-profit venue).

14, 22.  Relaxed the Environmental Review Process for Federal Infrastructure Projects.
This is worth understanding, though conservatives will probably not sympathize with it.  I only know about it because of my wife's work as a county planner.
When a large project is put forward for approval by the county, the plan must contain a chapter that says how the building project will deal with the environmental impact of the construction.  If there is a huge building with an enormous roof, how will the runoff water be dealt with without destroying the stream into which the gutters disgorge?  How will they prevent erosion with runoff from the driveways and parking lots?  If the project is to be build on top of a stream, or even an underground stream (there are such things) how will the building 'pad' be designed to disrupt the water flow as little as possible?  (I'm not an expert, so I'm winging it here.  It can only be more complicated, not less.  It is on the same lines as dealing with the flood plane.)  If the project is subsidized by the Federal Government, the rules are even stricter.  Well, the review process has been relaxed by the Trump Administration.
Not all conservatives are happy with this.  Some of them, those who have been involved with local, county and state planning in Pennsylvania, know the issues.  It does not need an actual flood for bad project design to pop into public attention.

20.  Stopped discouraging the sales of plastic water bottles in national parks!
Hmm.  Whom does this profit?  Clearly, the water bottle lobby is powerful, and has sent a lot of really, really great water Trump's way.  Or the fact that Obama set this policy in place has really got their knickers in a twist.  Fragments of plastic water bottles, over a decade or two, find their way into the oceans, and into the lungs of whales and other sea mammals.  Conservative congressmen hate aquatic mammals with a passion.  Jesus is not going to be happy with them.

The entire list has 48 items; this is only a few of them.  Not all of these are the children of Trump's own genius; some of them are the pet ideas of various congressmen and senators from the GOP.  Read the article for more, but take some tranquilizer first.  They make me mad.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dealing with Massacres

“Dealing with massacres” seems too ambitious a title for this post; it seems to imply that I’m going to give you a course of action.  No; it’s only that I have been thinking about them, and I’m reporting the most obvious conclusions I have arrived at.  Actually, there’s only one major conclusion.
A massacre such as happened in Las Vegas on the night of October 1st is ultimately an act of communication.  This man is telling us something.  Unfortunately, what he is trying to say is, at the moment, completely unknown.  Some light may be shed on it if he has left behind something, but until that happens, the whole thing is an act of communication that never succeeded.
The (missing) statement could be something like: “I hate [blank],” where blank could be almost anything: country music, or young people enjoying themselves, or the government, or people who wave the confederate flag, or people who have unprotected sex; who knows?  It is possible that a suicide note has been found, and that the law enforcement people are keeping it a secret until the public is less interested in it, and (hopefully) less likely to act on the information.  The man has been said to be mad, but everybody calls everybody mad, to make it appear that only insanity causes people to resort to violence.
Acts of communication of this magnitude are probably planned and executed by those who feel insignificant.  They probably feel that they’re neglected or disrespected, or dismissed or ignored.  We all feel that way at times, but we don’t take the trouble to acquire a score of deadly weapons, and spend all our savings on shooting a pile of innocent people.  I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that an important task we have to address is to teach our citizens how to put feelings of insignificance in perspective.
Increasingly, looking around me, I see that our society is becoming one in which only people of higher than average intelligence can function satisfactorily.  A college education enables even those of modest intellectual gifts to function to a certain degree, for a few years.  They know where to look for answers, and the point of the old adage: “It isn’t what you know, but who you know” becomes clearer: If you’re an idiot, it helps to have smart friends, who can explain things to you.  As time goes on, and most of your smart (and attentive) friends begin to die off, you’re left high and dry, and ignored, confused, and disrespected (and you begin to acquire automatic weapons).  This problem is going to get worse, and nobody is causing it intentionally; the world is getting steadily more complex, and there are all sorts of complexity.  Some of us can handle some sorts, others can’t handle much of any sort of complexity.
Education is the best tool for teaching younger people how to handle complexity.  Of course, it cannot teach them how to handle an emergency situation in progress*, but it will go a long way toward preventing our children from becoming the causes of such a situation.  The NRA, which started out as a group of hunters and gun users who were appalled at the lack of safety training of their fellow-gun-owners, ended up being a collection of frightened men manipulated by gun manufacturers, and the women who love them.  Perhaps they view those of us who do not own guns as idiots living in a fool’s paradise, but I strongly believe that, except for children, the ones most often hurt by gun violence are gun owners.  [I never finished this thought, but here goes: the NRA started out being a force for gun education, but became a club for anxious men.  Perhaps I should never have drawn the NRA into this . . .]
I hesitate to bring up this next thought, because it smacks of religiousness.  Let me cover my bona fides before I lay it on you.  We are all very angry with drug users and drug dealers.  In our minds, the entire business of drugs is accompanied by the image of a suspicious-looking foreigner lurking at a corner, waiting for someone.**  I was never shy of declaring that drugs and those who use them were despicable and senseless things that I would never associate myself with.  And, unfortunately, some individuals close to me were listening carefully.  It happened unexpectedly that I learned that members of my family had become addicts, and had been frightened off from coming to me for help and support, because of my stated anti-drug stance.
The way back from addiction is a long, long road.  I watched with horror, and admiration, as the young people involved tried to fight their way back, and failed many times, suffering horrible physical pain, and mental agony, before there appeared any promise of success.  And the fact that saved us all was that these were my people.  I could not turn my face from them.
If we can choose to understand the perpetrator of a heinous crime, it doesn’t make things better for the victims, but it makes things better for us.  Nursing hatred towards the man gets us absolutely nowhere.  Of course, nobody I know personally has actually been killed in a massacre.  You could hold that up as a fact that invalidates my idea.  But, at least those of my readers who have thus far escaped the experience of having a friend or loved one mowed down, you could start out by adopting this attitude.
When you see members of your community able to empathize with and reach out to those trying to recover from addiction, you have to strongly suspect that they have been touched personally by addiction—themselves, or members of their families, or loved ones.  Taking a long step away from the scene, one begins to understand the message of The Beatles: All you need is love.  It is almost impossible to misunderstand that sentence;  Love enables you to understand, and understanding enables you to forgive, and forgiving enables you to stop feeling the pain.
So, remember, it isn’t just Christians who own the idea of Universal Love.  Perfectly ordinary people, including atheists and agnostics, can choose love, as a principle for living in the world we have, rather than the world we want!
Well, after that, I suppose I should give up blogging; it sort of says it all!

*Any techniques for dealing with an emergency situation in progress, except for the most minor ones, is likely to be as scary as the situation itself.  Just saying.
**Or this sleazy-looking muppet on Sesame Street who tries to sell Ernie a Letter N.  "A LETTER N?"" he screams, and the panicked muppet tries furiously to shut him up.  (You had to be there.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dealing with Frustration

Something I learned late in life is how to get angry without losing my temper.  This is something we have to do daily, with the onslaught of foolishness that Donald Trump unleashes on the —now far from unsuspecting— public.  I need not list the matters that are in the news du jour— kneeling for the National Anthem, hurling invective at Korea, responding to foolish behavior from children and in-laws, being befuddled with the continual attempts of the majority in Congress and Senate to repeal the ACA (Obamacare), repatriate children of immigrants, and destroy protections for National Parks and wilderness refuges.  (Well, I listed them anyway.)
Of course, like most Americans, I sneak a peek at faceBook every day, and since most of my friends are either die hard liberals or moderate conservatives, there is a lot of hateful posts ridiculing the president and his gang.  If one of my friends cannot invent a vicious meme him- or herself, he/she finds one on the Internet and links to that.
I don't think our hate really has any good effect.  All it does is incite us to steadily worse behavior, while the president (who does not read the posts on my wall) simply ignores it.  My conservative friends ignore them.  Only my liberal friends read all this poison, and it gives them a bellyache.  We hurt no one but ourselves with all this vitriol.
Of course we can't help being angry.  But how can one actually hate someone with a cognitive disability?  In addition to cognitive disability in the White House, there is poor behavior, loose morals, lack of empathy, ignorance of history, obliviousness to the best examples of Presidents of the past, lack of being able to interpret the words of others, and so on.  We needed a leader with intelligence, tact and subtlety, and a sense of fairness, and we got . . . that.  But hating . . . him . . . is totally useless.  It's like hating a mosquito.  We certainly do, but it doesn't do the mosquito much harm.


Final Jeopardy

Final Jeopardy
"Think" by Merv Griffin

The Classical Music Archives

The Classical Music Archives
One of the oldest music file depositories on the Web


A weekly cartoon clip, for all superhero wannabes, and the gals who love them.

My Blog List