Sunday, November 30, 2014

Yes, this is that desperate e-mail about Data Assignment #8...

So begins an email from a student. I try to be sympathetic. Especially because the wording reminds me of one of the great funny but heartbreaking scenes in Magnolia... one of so many...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

P.D. James, RIP

Collectively, her books have given me as much reading pleasure as any author's. And never a guilty pleasure. Quite simply, the best.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who knew?

That Elizabeth Bishop wrote a poem about lichens? Well, not really– it's entitled "The Shampoo"– but has there ever been a more lovely, or apt, description?
The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday--I suspect many other Americans feel the same way. Sure, it is built on a myth (i.e., lie) of pilgrim-native camaraderie that kind of glosses over that whole genocide thing. Still, it is a holiday with its heart in the right place. As nation-creation myths go, it is an admirable one.

We have developed our own little traditions for Thanksgiving... inviting members of our adopted west coast "family" to join us for the meal is an essential aspect, and I always read a poem, sometimes to the groans of the assembled guests. This Thanksgiving story of Korean immigrants in Hibbing, MN, is heartwarming, and features the roast turkey. But I am here to tell you that turkey is not essential. Last year in my house it was paella, and this year lasagne. Next year, perhaps, in honor of my Korean friend, bibimbap? I'll leave him in charge of the kimchi.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Henry Coe State Park

You seek solitude? California's second largest state park, Henry Coe is only an hour's drive from the heart of Silicon Valley, but on a Monday in November, you might as well be in the Trinity wilderness or the middle of the Mojave. It's not a spectacular landscape, but spectacular is not why you are here. As you tramp up and down the folded ridges, you picture a California before the settlers, before even the internet. The tree-sized manzanitas, with their voluptuous whorls and knots; a mint blossom that has no idea what month it is; a varied thrush alighting in a black oak, its leaves muted gold. Before the settlers, these Eurasian grasses would all have been forbs and native bunch grasses, like the patch of blue-green California fescue that has somehow reclaimed the top of Middle Ridge. You will return.

A little Schubert for y'all

Played by my son's band.
Schubert: Symphony no 9 in C major, D 944 "Great"
NEC Philharmonia, cond. Hugh Wolff, 6 November, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 49

When the composition achieves perfection, does it follow that any performance of it must fall short? I reckon not.


First-person headline firsts

When was the first time the venerable NY Times referred to the article's reporter in the first person in a headline? Perhaps in columns it's been happening a while. In this case, a worthwhile development.

David Carr: "Calling Out Bill Cosby’s Media Enablers, Including Myself"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Open access... for some!

Am I wrong in finding some irony in the news that Bill Gates, Windows/ MS Office IP multi-billionaire, is insisting on nearly the most open of open access for research funded by the Gates Foundation? Anyway, good on you, Bill and Melinda. Why not provide a similar CC license for Word and Excel while you're at it?

Thursday, November 20, 2014


My Dad is a plastics expert, among other things. But that's not the only reason I love this scene, from a movie that must rank among the great creations of American popular culture. RIP Mr. Nichols...

You go, Barry!

I like his strategy of piling up ambitious executive actions on climate, immigration, and... use your imagination! Daring the Republicans to sue his ass, or run on it in 2016. If the American people don't like it, they've always got Rick Perry or Chris Christie or Sarah Palin... bring it on!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wish I'd-a been there

Kenny G blowing... no, not that Kenny G, THE Kenny G...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 47

From the very first guitar riff, Nevermind announces itself as rock for the ages. Bombastic, somehow indelibly of its time, it remains as fresh, hard, painful, and lovely as ever. Not to mention the all-time classic album cover.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Night Fever

What are the words to this song? I do so enjoy the Bee Gees, but damned if I have any idea what they are singing about. I could look up the lyrics on-line, but that would take all the fun out of it, don't you think?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

So, let me get this straight...

... we should be worried about the U.S.-China climate plan because it may not require China to do enough, and because it may be too ambitious for China to achieve...?
Still, many questions surround China’s plans, which President Xi Jinping announced in Beijing alongside President Obama after months of negotiations. In essence, experts asked, do the pledges go far enough, and how will China achieve them?
Realism and skepticism are warranted, of course. But I can already hear the GOP and carbon lobby talking points. There is a natural progression of arguments from the people who would prefer to do nothing about climate change: from denial of warming, to denial that humans are causing it, to it's happening but it's too costly to do anything about it, to we could do something at reasonable cost but the Chinese won't, so why bother? The next step, logically, is to claim that whatever China agrees to do will fail regardless. Sigh.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pulgas Ridge

Dry as a bone. But the slanting afternoon light works wonders on the thickets of poison oak canes, blue oak bark... the rat nests and orb webs.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

You know you're getting old when...

... this makes you titter like a guilty high-schooler...
“I think people underestimate cannabis,” Mr. Browne said. “You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and say, ‘I’ll have the wine.’ So why would you assume people would do that for cannabis? In the same way that pinot grigio and pinot noir may sound similar but are completely different, names like Lemon OG and Lemon Skunk are very different strains with very different flavor components and completely different highs.”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adolphe Sax probably never imagined this...

... but he surely knew he was onto something good when he stuck a vibrating reed onto the end of a conical brass tube. Here is jazz in later Coltrane take no prisoners mode. But whereas Trane's sound had a clean, cold-steel edge to it no matter how "out" he went, David S. Ware's almost always retained a fat Ben Webster warmth. Perhaps the greatest of the post-Coltrane sax players... gone way too soon. With his first solo, Matthew Shipp almost steals the show. Almost... until Ware channels some alien heavy-metal version of "Angel Eyes" starting around 28:00.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Still celebrating Mr. Sax's birthday...

Cooling things down a little after yesterday's Parker speed-fest...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sax!

Your strange creation, in the hands of its greatest master...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tom Magliozzi, RIP

Truly there are two kinds of people (at least NPR people): those who love Car Talk and those who hate it. Count me among the former. It always puts me in a good mood. Tom's ridiculous but sincere snorting guffaw was a big part of it. Their love of science and wonder at the mysteries of the human heart and the aging, ailing automobile. The puns.

Postscript: A degree in economics, among other things, from MIT. That ain't shabby.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Little worlds

Our pitiful rain showers last week were enough to refresh some lovely, tiny things.


I quite enjoyed it. Our auteur Iñárritu drops you right into his little New York theatrical alternate universe, and from that moment on you barely have a moment to stop running and catch your breath, struggling to keep pace with the maladjusted non-superhero, played superbly by Michael Keaton. In fact, the movie suffers somewhat from its hyperactivity... enticing plot twists are introduced, then never to be heard from again. What seems at first to be an ensemble is in the end a supporting cast for Keaton. But that's OK... you can't take your eyes off it... nor your ears: The soundtrack, by Antonio Sanchez, is worth the price of admission.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Move along, nothing to see here...

"U.N. Panel Warns of Dire Effects From Lack of Action Over Global Warming"
Thank goodness the GOP will be taking over the government soon and we can finally get something done about climate change... such as accelerating it...