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.