"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Antidote: A Real Christian

It's so refreshing to get news about a Christian who actually behaves like a Christian and not some Old Testament judge. This is from Friendly Atheist:

The pastor criticizes people, including Christians, who are sharing images about “the supposed violence in the caravan.” When someone posted to Rogers’ Facebook page photos depicting violence, an image search revealed they were actually from 2012. One such post has been removed, probably because of its misleading nature. Local officers Rogers has talked to say the caravan has been overwhelmingly peaceful, with no police-related conflicts.

Read the whole thing.

Today's Must-Read: Don't Believe, Part II (Update)

As a follow-up to this post from yesterday, I ran across this article this morning that points up just how malignant not only Republicans are in their messaging, but how pretty much everyone in Washington, or writing about Washington, or commenting on Washington, falls into the same traps:

In a recent New York Times interview, Ocasio-Cortez mentioned how hard it is to find affordable housing in Washington; conservative pundits alternated between laughing at this and dismissing it as spin. Judy Miller, on Fox: “I think what she’s talking about is all of the money in Washington, all of the wealth in Washington, all of the power—and a little, simple person like her from New York can’t find a place to live. It is a brilliant political line.”

The author goes on to comment on how easy it is to weaponize hypocrisy.

This one's really hard to excerpt -- read the whole thing. It's not that long, and makes some good points. (Although the author does buy into the "protest" mischaracterization of Ocasio-Cortez' demonstration at Pelosi's office.)

With thanks to commenter SoCalGal20 at Joe.My.God.

Update: Whoopi Goldberg takes down Eddie Scarry, the commentator who first criticized Ocasio-Cortez' clothes.



Friday, November 16, 2018

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Via Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, this little tidbit -- Trump's latest rationale for "illegal voters":

In an interview with conservative outlet The Daily Caller, the president claimed that “potentially illegal votes” were responsible for Republicans candidates’ losses, which he claimed resulted from voters returning to their homes or vehicles, exchanging clothes and returning to voting places.

“The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes,” Trump told the Caller.

“When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on,” he added.

As Brayton points out, it doesn't work that way: you have to prove who you are, and when you receive your ballot you're checked off on the list.

Digby has a transcript of the full interview here, if you can stomach it. It's really pretty wild.

Today's Must-Read: Don't Believe What Republicans Say You Believe

Today's "Must-Read" is a long string of tweets from John Stoehr which details one of the biggest mistakes the left has made over the last thirty years -- taking what the right says we believe as gospel. Here's the start:





It goes on, and it's worth reading the whole string. (As it happens, Ocasio-Cortez told her group of "protesters" that the message to Pelosi was that they had her back in pushing strong climate policy; Pelosi, in her turn, welcomed the support. The whole "protest" thing came from -- ready? -- a spokesperson for Paul Ryan. Yeah -- that Paul Ryan.)

The right has proven to be past masters at controlling the dialogue in this country. Of course, it helps that they've managed to intimidate our "free, independent press" so thoroughly that they'll parrot whatever the GOP talking point du jour happens to be. Oh, and don't forget their staple "analysis": "both sides do it."

Via Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo, who underscores what we're up against:

Retraining the press and progressives conditioned to accepting standard narratives may be almost as challenging as advancing climate change legislation in a company town.





Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Culture Break: Peter Maxwell Davies/Duccio Ceccanti: Two Fiddlers (Dances)

Another one I couldn't find a live performance video of. It's one of the albums that snuck into my library somehow, of music by Peter Maxwell Davies (who before this was known to me primarily as a conductor), performed by Duccio Ceccanti. It's an intriguing album -- a wide range of styles, from "adapted traditional" to out-and-out contemporary avant-garde.


Today's Must-Read: He's Come Undone

Trump's mental health has long been a subject for speculation. Now it's become a matter of national survival. Alex Morris has interviewed a number of psychologists and psychiatrists, and the outlook isn't pretty:

According to Gartner, as the pressure mounts — as it likely will with a Democratic House investigating the Trump syndicate — the situation will only continue to deteriorate. “The more desperate he is, the more aggressively and the more recklessly he’s going to lash out — and not just lash out on Twitter, but really lash out in ways that are destructive to the bones of our institutions. So, he’ll try to declare criminal investigations on his enemies or anyone who criticizes him. He’ll fire everyone involved in the Mueller investigations. He’ll fire Sessions” —which, of course, he actually did last Wednesday. “He’ll ramp up his attack on civil liberties and the rule of law. He’ll escalate his incitement to violence, whether it’s supporting white nationalists or demonizing minority populations. Things that we think, ‘Oh, he could never do that, because that would be so outrageous,’ he can and he will. There’s no restraints here. There’s nothing he won’t do. And if it’s enormously destructive, that’s not actually a negative for him, that’s a positive.”

It's bad enough that we have a lunatic in charge. It's even scarier when your realize that, according to the latest figures, 42% of us approve of his performance. And he's systematically getting rid of anyone in the administration who might be able to rein him in.

Via Digby, who has some comments of her own.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Image du Jour: Honoring the Troops

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Thanks to commenter Max_1 at Joe.My.God.

And this.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mid-Terms Post-Mortem, Again

This pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the respective parties:


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Thanks to commenter DesertSun59 at Joe.My.God.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Mid-Terms: By Any Means Necessary

I suppose I should comment on the races in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona, the three states where the Republicans are most blatantly trying to steal the elections. I don't think I really need to say anything, but, via BarkBarkWoofWoof, here's Charles P. Pierce on Florida. Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars details the ways Brian Kemp is trying to throw the Georgia election to himself. (Remember, he was secretary of state overseeing the election in which he was running for governor.) And from Joe.My.God., the Arizona race is still up for grabs, although Sinema's lead is increasing. Wait for the cries of "Fraud!" from the right.

And Digby has a wrap-up on Democrats' attempts to steal the elections from none other than Newt Gringrich.

I'm about newsed out this week, so this is what you get.

Review: Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen

You're probably wondering why it took me so long to recycle this one. You have no idea how many reviews I've got in my files.

Richard Wagner's great Ring cycle actually began as an opera about the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, whom Wagner mythologized into the Siegfried of the Germanic mythical cycle of the magical ring forged by a dwarf from gold stolen from a god (in this case, the Rhine River). (The parallel Scandinavian cycle, Volsungasaga names him Sigurd and takes its own title from his father's name, Volse -- or, in Wagner's version, "Wälse.") He began with "Siegfried's Death," which became Götterdämmerung, and then, as he realized that the audience was going to need more background, worked backward in his story outlines. He actually began composing the music in 1853, but left off in 1857 to write Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The whole cycle was completed in 1874, but not performed in its entirety until the completion of the theater built to Wagner's specifications at Bayreuth in 1876. I think perhaps the only thing more ambitious than the creation of such a cycle is the actual attempt to perform it.

Frankly, if you want a plot summary, look up the cycle or the individual operas in Wikipedia or someplace. What is most important about this cycle is that, whatever you may think of Wagner or his music, whatever you have heard from others or whatever your own experience has been, what he put into these four operas is simply everything that matters in human life on earth: trust, betrayal, honor, integrity, love, freedom, responsibility, the uses and misuses of power, all of human life in both its light and dark sides. And the music is without challenge among the most compelling and beautiful ever written.

Clemens Krauss is not a conductor of whom I had heard very much, perhaps because he died relatively young, in 1954, shortly after this Ring was taped. I picked this one for several reasons. I have Solti's recording on vinyl, which was the first complete recording to be issued, and it has always been my standard. Most of the cast is the same in this one, with some notable exceptions: Astrid Varnay, about whom I had heard good things, sings Brünnhilde, and she is an eye-opener. It's a brilliant performance, more intimate than Nilsson's later renderings and a stronger, more capable voice than that of Gwyneth Jones, who is the other Brünnhilde of whom I have strong memories. Ramon Vinay, as Siegmund, and Regina Resnick, in the days before she moved down to mezzo, as Sieglinde, are perfectly matched, and Vinay brings a dark, understated quality to his rendering that not only adds a new dimension in Act I of Walküre, but turns the end of Act II, the entire Todesverkundigung, into one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever heard, fully on par with Hans Hotter's unmatched performance of the "Leb' wohl" at the end of Solti's recording of the opera.

Hotter in this recording is at the peak of his vocal power, and it's an education to follow him through the brash, arrogant young god of Reingold through the more sober lord of heaven forced to make the right decision in Walküre, to the doomridden god at the end of the cycle who knows he no longer has any control over events. In Solti's recording (in which the role in Reingold was sung by George London) Hotter's voice was pretty much gone, but his ownership of the role was such that his acting not only carried him through but put his performance on a level seldom achieved by mortals. I'm not sure which I prefer.

Gustav Neidlinger owned the role of Alberich, the dwarf who started the whole thing, pretty much throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. He delivers all the power the role demands, and in the later operas he is chilling, dark and threatening; one has a sense that the lid is barely on a creature who has become nothing but a walking obsession. It's in the Reingold Alberich that the most marked differences appear. He is near-perfect in this recording, but in Solti's later version he has completely unhinged quality in the scene in which Wotan takes the Ring from him -- he is absolutely spitting venom, and the final line of his curse becomes a shriek. Totally scary.

The other major member of the cast who needs comment is, of course, Siegfried. Wolfgang Windgassen, who for me has always been "the" Siegfried, was an innovation when this recording was made. If you've ever heard any of the recordings of the great Heldentenor of the 1930s and 1940s, their voices are somewhat heavier, "meatier." Windgassen projects an amazingly youthful sound, energetic, clear, lighthearted, bumptious and even mischievous. Robert Levine, who wrote the very informative notes, comments that he missed a beat in the forging scene but recovered quickly -- so quickly that I can't find it when I listen.

One thing that I want to stress here, and I think this holds true of Wagner's operas in general: you can get away with singing a role in Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, even Mozart. You can't just sing it in Wagner. You have to act it: Wagner called his works "music dramas," and the emphasis is evenly divided. So, in addition to their excellent singing, these people are all consummate actors, and that's something that catches you time and time again throughout these operas.

Which leads to an observation about the recordings themselves: yes, they are live, from the 1953 Bayreuth Festival. The sound quality is pretty good, although there are some signs of age here and there. Frankly, I've got "vintage" reissues that are much worse. It seems to be the larger orchestral passages that suffer from the limited tonal range sometimes evident in early recordings.

And finally, the guiding force behind all this. Krauss seems to have taken what is best about all the other well-known conductors of Wagner and put it together in an amazing Ring. He brings all of Solti's majesty, von Karajan's febrile enegy, Levine's intelligence and Furtwängler's darkness, and adds his own intimate humanity. While I might prefer some portions, particular scenes perhaps, of other recordings because of a certain characterization or vocal quality, overall this one makes every other recording (and the couple of live performances) I've heard also-rans. The version I have is a fourteen-CD reissue with stunning Art Deco-inspired illustrations by John Martinez, the whole is very compact and beautifully designed. The booklet is also beautifully done, with a design by Modesty Marie Sablan incorporating Martinez' illustrations, Robert Levine's essay, and clear synopses of each opera by Bill Parker. You can also view a complete libretto with English translation at www.allegro-music.com/opd/ringlibretto.

PS -- this is also one of the less expensive sets available -- as of this writing, about $80 new at Amazon, and it's worth every penny.

(Orfeo d'Oro, 2010 [recorded live at Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 1953])


What's New at Green Man Review

It's that time of the week again, and we have quite an interesting mix at Green Man Review:

TCHO dark chocolate, music from smallpiper Kathryn Tickell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Korean manhwa, Peter Beagle on J.R.R Tolkien and other matters

As usual, the "other matters" are well worth checking out, so do it.

Antidote

Just imagine having a litter of Tasmanian devils to take care of:


With Tasmanian Devil numbers in the wild currently dwindling to between 15,000 and 50,000 individuals, every birth is significant. The mainland breeding program of which the Zoo is a part could play an important role in helping to re-establish healthy wild populations of the species in Tasmania if needed in future.

The Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae. It was once native to mainland Australia, but it is now found only in the wild on the island state of Tasmania, including tiny east coast Maria Island where there is a conservation project with disease-free animals.

Digby has a post on this, with more videos.

And if that doesn't satisfy your cute quotient for the day, I don't know what will.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Today's Must-Read: "By Any Means Necessary"

Tom Sullivan has a piece up at Hullabaloo that underscores what I've been saying for a while about Republicans and their disdain for American-style democracy:

When in January David Frum typed, "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy," was he writing as a prophet or a historian?

Sullivan follows up with a few examples from this week's elections. Read it.

The "Elites"

Republicans, over the past few years, have gotten a lot of mileage out of branding liberals as the "elite", especially those who have major cultural influence -- as in, Hollywood. Digby has a post on Trump talking about the "elites" at a recent rally, and one thing really struck me:

I don't know about you but many of you went to better schools than they did. We did better in the schools than they did. We have better houses, homes, boats. We do better than they do. We work harder than they do. We make more money than they do.

That's his measure: who has the most toys.

Sad.