J. S. Bach, Christmas Oratorio BWV 248

Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, Facebook friends, and tweeple!

In honor of the holiday, herewith Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium BWV248 (Christmas oratorio). The full text and translation can be found here.

Bach was a devout Lutheran all his life: at great expense, he procured a collection of theological works that, in his day, would have been the pride of many a church. (I got to see a portion of it with my own eyes, during a visit to his birth house in Eisenach, presently a museum.)

You don’t have  to sit through the whole thing :), as rewarding as that experience will be: just the opening “Rejoice!” will put you in the mood for holiday mirth.

Here is a somewhat “historically authentic” performance conducted by John Eliot Gardiner :

Those of us with absolute pitch may prefer this performance by the King’s College Choir and the Academy of St. Martin In The Fields, on modern instruments tuned to A=440 rather than Baroque chamber pitch.


PS: today is also Isaac Newton Day (born December 25, 1642 O.S.). For non-Christians, as well as for those Christians of the Eastern Communion who observe the holiday according to the Julian calendar, this can be an alternative observance 🙂


In praise of Tina S, teenage guitar goddess

The other day I stumbled onto the YouTube channel of Tina S., a teenage guitar prodigy  from Paris who is a student of French fusion jazz guitarist Renaud Louis-Servais. According to an interview, she started out at age 6 playing classical guitar in junior conservatory but switched to electric at age 13.

There are a number of “guitar girl” channels on YouTube but Tina stands out. Her playing is precise as well as versatile, seemingly in total possession (as the French would say) of her instrument and material.She generally plays with great economy of motion rather than with theatrical flourishes – for this amateur musician she is a delight to watch.

Her versions of Steve Vai’s “For the love of G-d” and Jason Becker’s “Altitudes” brought tears to my eyes.



But also this Gary Moore rendition is very moving:


At the same time, somewhat incongruously, this sweet, unassuming girl plays Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” with a controlled ferocity that does great credit to this all-time metal classic. Her recording uses the original vocal track with its bitter tale of manipulation and addiction: she plays both the lead and the rhythm parts live, with no overdubbing. (She plays only the top part of the twin-lead section at the beginning of the first solo: live, Metallica drop the rhythm part so James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett can do the leads together. It seems the incomparable John Petrucci plays both lines simultaneously in Dream Theater’s cover.)

Her currently most popular video seems to be her cover of Dragonforce’s “Nintendo Metal” hit:



At the other extreme, she even does not shy away from David Gilmour’s signature lead on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”. Despite (hopefully) being way too young to truly grasp the emotions described in the lyrics that David Gilmour so brilliantly succeeded in evoking, Tina offers a surprisingly convincing rendition.

Something tells me this young woman will go very far. I am looking forward to hearing some original material from her. Merci beaucoup et chapeau, Tina!

On proxy issues in psychology and politics

Some debates about the Omnibus bill drove home a few things. On the one side, there is a wide sense of betrayal among the conservative and libertarian base that Paul Ryan has sold out to The Worst President In History. There is also the sense that a 2,000-page bill that was passed in record time cannot but contain some fugly stuff. (Echoes of 0bamacare.)
On the other side, people that have actually read the bill and have experience in dispassionately analyzing long documents found that 0bama paid for his pet concerns (and those of the party base) by major concessions on less eye-catching issues.
I can in all sincerity say I sympathize with both sides of the argument. The fracas drove home again to me the concept of a proxy issue. This is something one sees in politics as well as during arguments within relationships.
What is a proxy issue? In short, it is a comparatively trivial issue that takes on a larger-than-life importance in a relationship or political debate, not because of its intrinsic value, but as a stand-in for a deeper issue.
How many of you remember the hoary joke about the man who got his wife a beautiful present for their anniversary, took her to a nice restaurant and a show she was sure to like, then had to sleep on the couch because he had forgotten to write her a card? That joke is really a cartoonish exaggeration of the concept of a proxy issue.
Take, for example, the issue of additional H-2b visas in the Omnibus. The numbers involved, less than 60,000 unskilled workers, are but statistical noise in a labor market the size of the US. Some of the anger created may be due to innumeracy, to be sure. But much of it is about a deeper issue: that Congress really seems to not care about the plight of US workers in a ‘jobless recovery’, or that an unholy alliance of left-wing transnational oligarchic collectivists (“tranzis”) and big business lobbyists seems hell-bent on ramming ever more immigration down our throats. Not to mention the security concerns, pooh-poohed by tranzis especially.
Another example of a proxy issue. Israel’s Law of Return offers immigration and an accelerated citizenship path to people of Jewish ancestry and their families, as well as to converts to Judaism. (Contrary to widespread belief, Israel is not unique among democracies in this regard.) The Orthodox parties on one side, and the (in Israel tiny) Reform and Conservative denominations in alliance with left-wing parties on the other side, have been engaged in a tug-of-war for decades about whether this law extends to non-Orthodox converts. Based on the amount of noise on both sides, one would think we were talking about at least tens of thousands of people each year (out of a population of eight million). In fact, the actual number of such cases is in the dozens (!). While its actual, sociological importance is therefore essentially nil, it has become a proxy for the debate “who really calls the shots here, the Chief Rabbinate or the secular Jews”?
I have noted with wry amusement older US women well past child-bearing age saying they must vote Shillary because she will protect her right to have an abortion. Muggeridge’s Law at work? Or is it not really about the abortion per se, but a proxy for the very concept that religious scruples in these matters would have any effect whatsoever on society?
This is not to be confused with single-issue voting. I know a number of stridently pro-life activists got extremely upset when they saw the Omnibus Bill does not defund Planned Parenthood. This is *not* a proxy issue: PP is too large-scale an operation to qualify as such. In this context, a proxy can instead be seen on the other side: their insistence that the extremely disgusting and indefensible practice of partial-birth abortion remain legal.
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[*] Full disclosure: numbers are quite literally my livelihood.

Rush, “Losing it” (live)

Any fiction lover and/or aspiring fiction writer can relate to the heart-breaking lyrics of Rush’s ballad about the aging Ernest Hemingway losing his faculties. Here is a snippet from the lyrics:

The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined
And streaked with tears of rage

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision
…And he stares out the kitchen door…
…Where the sun will rise no more…

The song was never part of their live set, as it has an extensive solo violin part (performed by Ben Mink on the record) and Rush historically refused to use additional stage musicians. They have no problem relying on technology (e.g., sequencers to play synthesizer lines) but always drew the line at live musicians, Geddy Lee quipping that “our audience pays to hear just the three of us”. Indeed, quite a few Rush fans point to the powerful and complex arrangements they play with just a trio as one of the things that attracts them to the band.

Since the “Clockwork Angels” album had extensive string orchestra parts, however, they started taking a small string section along, and this must have prompted the addition of the song to the live set.


How I learned to stop worrying and love the 2nd Amendment

I was asked to contribute this guest post at the Zelman Partisans site (“Jews. Guns. No compromise. No surrender.”). In it, I describe how, starting from the European pro-gun control position I grew up with, my views gradually evolved to embrace the Second Amendment.

You may read the whole thing here.


Prescriptive and descriptive writer’s advice

In my earlier post on advice to fiction writers, I drew an analogy with the difference between an algorithm (a mathematical ‘recipe that always works’) and a heuristic (a search strategy that usually works, but may not necessarily be the optimal one for the case at hand).

Another analogy can be drawn: the difference between descriptive and prescriptive language standards.

A number of the major Western languages have prescriptive standards: a centralized body serves as the final authority on how the language should be spoken and written. For instance, the Académie Française, among its other activities, also regulates correct spelling, grammar, syntax, pronunciation… of the French language. German has a Rat für Deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Spelling — note its more limited mandate), and Hebrew the Academia la-Lashon ha-Ivri (Academy of the Hebrew Tongue/Language).

In contrast, English has no prescriptive standard at all. Instead there are two competing descriptive standards: the Oxford English Dictionary (for the Queen’s English) and Merriam-Webster (for American English) are based not on how things should be written (from a theoretical-linguistic point of view) but on how the language is actually used. This is, by the way, one of the main reasons for the maddening irregularity of English in some respects — its mixed Romance-Germanic heritage is another. (English could be called the “mutt” of world languages.)

Likewise, advice to writers — be it from books, workshops, blogs,… — basically comes in two kinds: prescriptive and descriptive. “Prescriptive” advice usually derives from literary pretensions, ideological agendas, or both, and often the ones most vocal about it have little in the way of published output that anybody actually wants to read. (One subtype has been called “grey goo fiction” by the Beautiful but Evil Space Princess :))

“Descriptive” advice does something else: it analyzes the work of successful entertainment fiction authors, and tries to distill down what they actually do into guidelines. Again, one must beware of absolutism: what works for most writers may not work for you or your chosen genre.

In the days when a handful of big publishing houses ruled the roost, prescriptive standards held more sway as a book often got nowhere if the major publishers nixed it. Now that effectively independent publishing has eaten deep into their market share, at least within the US (especially for eBooks), descriptive standards will be more relevant than prescriptive ones. And even so, a book could in principle violate all the established conventions and still become a bestseller if it compels enough readers to keep reading.

There is no such thing as “the way a novel should be written”. But a lot of empirical wisdom can be obtained from what has worked for others. If one is wary of following any sort of “advice book”, one might instead reverse-engineer one’s own rules from what has worked for other books in the category one seeks to write in. Such “bulk reading to learn the rules” has its own risks, namely that of churning out warmed-over fan fiction. There is a reason I deliberately chose a genre far outside my usual reading fodder for my first long-form writing project 🙂

Algorithms, heuristics, and creative writing: some reflections

[Draft 0]

There was a heated discussion on CLFA about the merits, or lack thereof, of creative writing advice. Of course, one finds all sorts of “English Lit Ph.D.”s who of course must be having all wisdom for lease (priceless Dutch expression) — often without having published anything anybody wants to read themselves — saying one must do this, then that, and woe betide who does the other,…

At the other extreme there are those who say all  such advice is worthless, since there is no formula for success.

I do believe the truth lies somewhere between those extremes, and that many people are making a category error: mistaking heuristics (search strategies) for algorithms (recipes guaranteed a correct answer). Allow me to explain.

In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a procedural description that, if followed to the letter and applied within its stated limitations, is guaranteed to yield a correct answer. Long division is a simple algorithm we all used to learn in school. Here is another simple example. Wanna know all the primes below 100? Simple.

  1. write out the integers from 1 to 100
  2. start at 2
  3. circle the number as a prime
  4. cross off all multiples of that number
  5. find the next number not crossed out
  6. if you’re not yet at the end, go back to step 3

The numbers circled are the primes you want. Works every single time, whether it’s below 100, 500, 10000,…. The recipe is older than dirt: it’s called the Sieve of Erasthothenes.

Now there are many mathematical problems of practical importance for which no such “always works” recipe exists. Consider, for example, minimization of functions in many variables. There are all sorts of algorithms that, within certain constraints, will give you a local minimum (the bottom of a valley), but no guarantee it is the global minimum (i.e., the deepest valley). One could do the brute-force thing: just chop up space into a grid and scan all the points, but that quickly becomes computationally intractable as the number of variables goes up.

There are, however, search strategies (such as simulated annealing) that give you a good chance of locating such a global minimum, a chance which gets better the more CPU power you can apply to it. Such strategies are called heuristics.

We all apply heuristics in daily life. Consider, for example, doing business: absent rent extraction, there is no algorithm  to guarantee you make a profit, but there are sure as heck heuristics that give you a good-enough chance of doing so.

A lot of writing advice — both fiction and nonfiction — should be taken in the same spirit.  There are no magic formulas for a bestseller or even just a book that doesn’t, well, aspirate. There are, however, a variety of techniques/heuristics: some will work better for writer type X, others for writer type Y, yet others better for genre Z. Some are more universal than others, but often advice that works well for the typical writer (e.g., begin with short stories, work up your way to novellas, then attempt a novel) may for some reason not work for you personally. For example, you may have been plotting this long-arc story with lots of details in your head, and it’s just fixing to come out. Or you are a natural ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter’ so outlining won’t work for you.

Some more technical things apply nearly universally, across both fiction and nonfiction. For example, even people who can spot typos in everybody else’s writing will miss them in their own, not out of narcissism but because the brain ‘knows’ what it wrote and corrects the typos on the fly while reading. (Hence recommendations such as trading proofreading with another writer, copy-editing on paper if you wrote on the computer, having text-to-speech read the MS out to you,… or proofread only some time after you wrote, so you don’t have the text loaded in your brain anymore.)

Pat Patterson pointed me to Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer . If your sense of humor is as irreverent as Pat’s or mine, you will laugh out loud at least once every couple of minutes. (If you’re offended by salty language or risqué metaphors, prepare to be shocked at least as frequently.) In his humorous way, he however packs in a ton of useful advice and “why haven’t I thought of this?” ideas about language, characterization, plot,…  But what I like just as much about the book is that Wendig recognizes the limits of such advice — that he sees and states explicitly that every rule can and should be broken if doing so pushes the story forward. (Now if you *have* no story to tell, you have other problems.)

On a related note: do not believe those (in writing, music,…) who claim they never needed to learn anything and just let their innate talent speak. What these people really mean is that they honed their talents in ways other than formal schooling. Consider this: one of the greatest pieces of electric guitar music ever recorded, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” (his only #1 hit ever, posthumously) was recorded live in the studio the 2nd time the band played the track (well, the two other guys just laid down a foundation for Jimi to work his magic over). Does that mean it just magically appeared out of thin air? Heck no. Jimi honed his clearly immense innate talent by practicing every available waking moment until he got famous, and quite some time after. He’d reached the point where if inspiration hit him, he was completely prepared to exploit it to the max.  “Chance favors the prepared mind”, Louis Pasteur used to say about serendipitous discoveries in science. Likewise, in fiction, inspiration favors the honed pen.

Classical and classical-crossover Halloween music

Daniella Bova at the CLFA posted a compilation of scary classic rock songs suitable for Halloween.

At her suggestion, here are some of my classical and classical-crossover picks.

Hector Berlioz, “March to the Scaffold” from his Fantastic Symphony. It describes the nightmare of a man who dreams of his own execution.

Franz Liszt, “Les Funérailles” (the funeral). It was written on the occasion of Chopin’s death, hence the nod to the middle section of Chopin’s “Heroic Polonaise” about 2/3 of the way through.

Sergey Prokofiev, “Diabolic suggestion”, one of his youth works and the first to become well known.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded, under the title “The Barbarian”, a rock arrangement of Bela Bartok’s “Allegro Barbaro”. The middle piano section follows the original quite closely: the Hammond and distorted bass guitar theme bookending is was derived from the thematic material. As I wrote and explained earlier, this is to me a rare example of a rock arrangement being more powerful than the classical original.

“Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath is of course not a classical piece, but (by Geezer Butler’s own admission in an interview) the first riff was inspired by the melody of “Mars” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”. The song (and band) are named after a horror movie starring Boris Karloff that was playing in the movie theater across the street. The gang (then an indifferent blues band) decided that if people pay good money for scary movies, then they’ll pay for scary music. The next gig they played this at, the audience went bonkers and asked for two repeats: then they know they were  onto something.

And here is a piece that isn’t just creepy but truly scary: Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, written at the height of the Great Purge, the composer never knowing when the knock on the door would come.

BONUS: probably my favorite horror/thriller soundtrack: “Sorcerer” by electronica pioneers Tangerine Dream. This was the soundtrack for William Friedkin’s remake of “Wages of Fear”. Unusually, the movie was shot and edited to the soundtrack rather than the other way around.

Blood Pressure Medicine: J. S. Bach, Chaconne in D minor played on guitar

Laura Snowden was a finalist at the 2013 London International Guitar Competition. She did not win, but one of her pieces was the highlight of the whole 2.5 hour finale concert for me and my musician wife.

Below (I hope this works!) is a “tubechop” of that segment of the concert. She plays at a brisk tempo that might seem rushed on a violin (or another sustained instrument), but works wonderfully for an acoustic guitar.

Enjoy! Okay, TubeChop embed doesn’t work on wordpress.com, here is a time-stamped YouTube link to where she begins.

TubeChop link to Laura Snowden playing Bach Chaconne in D minor

And here’s an embed of the full youtube:

Theater of the absurd: silent intifada edition

There is currently a bloody wave of stabbings and other impromptu terror attacks going on in Israel. The perpetrators appear to be principally East Jerusalem Arabs with Israeli (“blue”) ID cards, who therefore have freedom of movement in Israel. As usual, the Islamofascists’ useful idiots in the West and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) ignore the suffering or blame the victim.

The Border Police (technically a branch of the IDF) is doing the L-rd’s work protecting us, and courageous bystanders to attacks have responded with whatever improvised means at hand (in one case in Ra`anana, an office worker attacked the stabber with his umbrella!).

Which makes some Americans, used to the 2nd Amendment, wonder: why no more Israelis with firearms on the street? Believe it or not, gun ownership in Israel is actually severely restricted. A detailed summary in English of Israel’s firearms legislation can be found here at the Law Library of Congress. In short, Israel is a ‘discretionary issue’ country, where one must demonstrate a need for the possession of a firearm by one’s place of residence (e.g., in the disputed territories or otherwise in the proximity of ‘Palestinians’), by one’s profession (e.g., a driver who routinely transports parties of five or more people can get a handgun license fairly easily). Other eligibility requirements include passing periodic psychological evaluations and firearm proficiency tests. Licenses are easier to obtain if one has served honorably in an IDF combat unit or in the police, especially at officer rank. As of 2012, only about 175,000 valid firearm licenses (which typically cover one firearm and a supply of 50 bullets) are in circulation in Israel (with a population of about 8 million). Twice as many licenses used to be in circulation when the population was much smaller.

IDF soldiers on active duty in combat units are allowed to bring home their service weapon (typically an assault rifle or submachine gun), since they should be available for action at a moment’s notice. IDF noncombat personnel in ‘day service’ positions (i.e., many female recruits) often travel to and from the base in uniform with no other protection than pepper spray and whatever unarmed combat skills they may have acquired on their own. This effectively makes them sitting ducks to such stabbers.

Behold the theater of the absurd: an army called the Israel Defense Forces that is effectively depriving a substantial portion of its manpower of the means to defend themselves. Had the recent stabbing attacks been attempted in my other home in the Dallas suburbs, chances are the terrorist svolochy would have been turned into sieves in short order at the hands of whatever civilians who were carrying.

The ‘logic’ behind hamstringing the IDF noncombat manpower is probably a combination of risk-averseness (in a country with mandatory service), political correctness, inventory issues, and fear firearms may fall into the wrong hands (terrorists or underworld). I dearly hope somebody has the wisdom to rethink this. A defense force that is disallowed to defend itself sounds like an… 0bamination.

The women of Renoir: models, muses, and partners

[Updated November 1, 2015 with information from Dictionary of Artists’ Models by Jill Berk Jiminez]
After all the “spin” and “strangeness” of the last days, time for a bit of charm.
While I’m primarily a words-numbers-and-music kind of guy, I do have visual arts preferences. One painter that has always had a very special place in my heart happens to be Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Renoir is usually pigeonholed as an impressionist, but in truth his work ranges from the impressionistic to the classically figurative.
This post is inspired by Sarah Hoyt’s post on PJMedia about appreciating the female form — something Renoir was one of the greatest masters in history of.  Aside from the many commissioned portraits of women and young girls he painted, below are the brief stories of his principal models, muses, and “women in his life”.
Click “more” for the whole article. “Trigger warning”: some tasteful, exquisitely artistic, female nude paintings.

Continue reading

Burning Down The Field in Order to Save It

The title pretty much sums it up. Sarah Hoyt pulls no punches. Go read the whole thing.

According To Hoyt

So, I thought I didn’t care about the result of the Hugos, because in making the establishment lose their collective sh*t at the “non approved” nominations, we’d proven our point: that there is a political color bar in SF/F; that the self-proclaimed elites of sf view what fans like as problematic and therefore view the supposed “fan” award as the toy of the glitterati; and that NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS marched in lockstep with the narrative of a tiny clique over an award that in the past has sometimes been given with hundreds of votes (after which display it’s pretty hard to claim that the left doesn’t have a death lock on the media. And btw nothing was weirder than being told by the National Media we were the ones wanting to drive people off the field, while nominee after nominee was hounded off the ballot by leftist who — since WE…

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In a place where there are no…

A brief vignette for the Sabbath:

During the long summer months, it is customary to read and study Pirkei Avot (freely: Ethical Maxims of the Fathers) following the Sabbath afternoon service.

This short tractate from the Mishnah has always been a source of inspiration to this writer. A full English translation can be found here, although I always would keep an eye on the Hebrew original.

One saying I will highlight today is at the end of Pirkei Avot 2:5: u-ba-makom she-ein bo anashim, tishtadel lihyot ish (ובמקום שאין בו אנשים תשתדל להיות איש). This statement, because of the multiple meanings of anashim, is almost as polyvalent as (l’havdil) that quintessential Southernism, “bless your heart”. I can think of at least three meanings:

  1. translating “anashim” literally as “men”:
    “and in a place/situation where there are no men, strive to be a man”. That is how the phrase is understood in modern Hebrew: in a situation where nobody has the required courage/cojones/beitzim, you should at least try to “grow a pair”.
  2. However, in Hebrew (which has no neuter gender), “anashim” can also refer to “men and women”, i.e., human beings. Or, in Yiddish, menschen (literally: human beings; idiomatically: upright, strong yet compassionate human beings). Then the quote becomes:
    “and in a place where nobody behaves like a mensch, try to be a mensch“.
    This is the reading beloved of liberal synagogues, but true to the “broken clock rule”,
  3. There is another reading that occurred to me the other day.
    When you see something that needs doing, it’s not obvious others are already doing it, and you can do something: take up your responsibility and do not assume others will do so in your place.

Shabbat shalom.

Dedicated to the speedy recovery of Sarah bat Sharon

RIP Robert Conquest, 1917-2015

Robert Conquest, the historian and Sovietologist whose “The Great Terror” and “The Harvest of Sorrow” left a lasting imprint on our understanding of the Stalin regime, passed away at the ripe old age of 98. Roger Kimball has an obituary, as do the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Telegraph, and Steven Hayward at Powerline.

The first book by Conquest I encountered was the Harvest of Sorrow, on the man-made famine in the Ukraine (a.k.a. holodomor). For somebody who still believed European left-wing pieties about the Soviet regime, it was extremely disturbing reading. Only later did its contents thoroughly sink in.

Conquest apparently had a rather cheerful personality at odds with the extreme seriousness of his historical work. He appears to also have been something of a ladies’ man, although apparently his fourth and final marriage was a very happy one. Poetry (some of it quite ribald) was an apparent outlet for his more puckish side.

He started political life as a Communist, then had a ‘Road to Damascus moment’ once he saw the “workers’ paradise” from up close and joined the staff of the IRD, a bureau inside the Foreign Office that was created (during the postwar Labour government) to counter Communist agitation. After a career in England on the seam line between academia and politics, he crossed the pond and spent the rest of his life in US academia and think tanks. He was most closely associated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

One of the more amusing quotes attributed to him was actually not his. When preparing an updated edition of his The Great Terror (drawing on newly available documents following the collapse of the Soviet Union), he was asked for a subtitle and allegedly suggested “I told you so, you f*cking fools!” Conquest himself clarified that the suggestion was actually by Kingsley Amis, who put it in Conquest’s mouth. (Hat tip: Ed Driscoll guestblogging at Instapundit.)

No obituary of Robert would be complete without Conquest’s Three Laws:

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
  2. Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.
  3. The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Argument and Offense

Verily, nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). 1,945 years ago to this day, the Second Temple was destroyed due to, it is written, “causeless hatred” (sin’at khinam). That is, the Judean rebels against Roman occupation were so preoccupied with internecine struggles and questions of “ideological purity” (sounds familiar?) that they lost their focus on fighting the joint enemy. In the aftermath, and foliowing an even bloodier failed uprising in 132-135 CE, my people were scattered all over the known world.

Even when history does not repeat itself, it rhymes. And that particular tragedy (collapse through internecine quarrels) has repeated itself over and over, in all sorts of societies and context, both as tragedy and as low comedy.
Right now, we see this happening among lovers of freedom. Rather than band together against the common enemy — statist soft totalitarianism — the circular firing squad has started between social conservatives, libertarians,…
I wrote some weeks ago about “polishing the candlesticks while the house is on fire” — this is more like “bickering about the wallpaper while the house is on fire”. First we put out the fire, then we can return to bickering.

According To Hoyt

Lately I’ve been seeing blow ups not only in all my groups on facebook, but on my private email lists, blow ups between people who granted have bloody nothing in common beyond opposing socialism.

This is perhaps to be expected.  I mean we’re living through the crazy years, the mania for eating dirt spreads to the South East, the “serious” discussion in Sci fi is “Should you even acknowledge gender”, we’re financing Iran’s quest for a bomb, Donald Trump tops (a minor, but much publicized) poll for president (with 17%) cats and dogs sleeping together.  The end of the world.

As I’ve said before I can judge the general mood of the nation by how fricking crazy the drivers are on the road.  And right now they’re pretty crazy.  And just as at other points of high tension, arguments and screaming are breaking out over the stupidest things.

I hate…

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German, English and Word Quirks

Interesting post on quirks of English vs. German vocabulary. No comment section: one additional cause for English’s greater “mongrelization”, not pointed out in the article, is there being no authoritative PREscriptive standard for English — unlike the Académie de la Langue Française, the Rat für Deutsche Rechtschreibung, or (closer to my adoptive home) the Academy for the Hebrew Language. The de facto standards for English (Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Fowler’s Modern English Usage) are primarily DEscriptive: they mostly present how English is actually spoken and written rather than how it should be.

Cat Rotator's Quarterly

It’s funny. You can be familiar with something for years before you realize some of the major differences between it and what you are used to, and the hints that gives about the thought below and behind the thing. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in  architecture and art history German this spring that I realized that English eats words whole, while Germans translate them. I’d seen it before, but not to such an extent that it hit me like a two-by-four between the eyes. Kinda like fish not realizing they are wet.

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RIP Chris Squire, Yes bassist and founding member

Chris Squire (March 4, 1948 – June 27, 2015) was the only continuous member of legendary progressive rock band Yes throughout all its many line-up changes.

A church choir singer growing up, his is one of the two backing voices in Yes’s trademark 3-part harmony vocals. But his biggest musical legacy undoubtedly is as one of a handful of innovators  responsible for taking the bass guitar out of its ‘harmonic foundation’ ghetto. In Yes (like in more modern bands like Primus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tool), the bass guitar was effectively a co-equal instrument that took on melody and especially countermelody roles.

Squire’s favorite instrument, the Rickenbacker 4001, was originally bought with an employee discount at the Boosey & Hawkes music store where he worked. Already having learned to play bass earlier, he developed his trademark technique on that 4001. The story goes that, after a bad acid trip, he was so afraid to go anywhere that he holed up in the apartment of his girlfriend for months and did (presumably almost) nothing but play bass, emerging with a unique style. Se non e vero e bene trovato. 

More prosaically, he adopted the split-amp technique pioneered by The Who’s John Entwistle, in which the treble of the instrument is sent through a lead guitar amplifier while the low end is routed to a bass amplifier, thus sacrificing neither low-end punch nor high-end clarity. Combined with the already bright sound a Rickenbacker with Rotosound strings produces, and Squire playing with a pick rather than finger style, one obtains an almost harpsichord-like sound that, from deep growls to sweet melodies high up on the G string, never fails to project.

A legion of rock bassists acknowledge his influence: whether you hear Geddy Lee of Rush or Justin Chancellor of Tool (to name just two very different musicians), you hear echoes of Chris Squire. Squire himself cited Jack Bruce (Cream), John Entwistle, and funk bassist Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone) as his primary role models.

He will be dearly missed, but the music he created with Yes contains many timeless classics. Below is posted not one of their marvelous prog epics like “Close to the Edge”, but the sensitive ballad “Onward”. After that, what I regard as Squire’s signature piece, “Heart of the Sunrise”.

Growing up, I couldn’t really hear most bands’ bass players due to the appalling bass response of my little tape recorder. Chris Squire changed all that — the brain will ‘fill in’ the missing fundamental of a tone if enough overtones are there. Thus, for the first time I acquired a sense of what this instrument can do.

Enjoy the great gig in the sky, brother.