Wednesday, May 04, 2016

So, I can control the weather?

Free will, cheap trick

Book Look

A few weeks ago, during the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' death, I read Quixote--not Don Quixote, but Quixote, by Amherst professor of Latino Culture Ilan Stavans.  He looks at the origins of the novel and its influence around the world.

Don Quixote is one of the first and still one of the best novels, Spain's greatest contribution to world literature.  Cervantes is, in his way, the Shakespeare of Spanish (and the two were contemporaries who died around the same time).  Stavans shows the oversized influence of the novel--first on Spain, then on the Latin world in general, and on the rest of the world.

I haven't read the novel in many years, but I remember it well. It's a profound comic masterpiece, with the courtly Don Quixote and the earthy Sancho Panza making their way through the world as best they can.  There are actually two volumes--the first was so popular that Cervantes came out with a sequel ten years later, one of those rare sequels that may be superior to the original (which is seriously marred by Cervantes interpolating lengthy stories which have nothing to do with the central plot or characters).  And though it may seem to be about the Don losing touch with reality, while squire Sancho sees life as it is, by the end we discover that they have changed positions--not unlike the reader, who's entered into a topsy-turvy world and fallen in love with it.

The book has been read in numerous ways--as a parody of chivalry, as about the soul of Spain, as a parable of the class system, as a book about books (books features prominently in the novel--Quixote is originally driven mad by his books, and in the sequel he's aware he's a character who's been written about in a book), as a descent into madness, as a story about the meaning of reality, and so on.  And the book is deep enough to support these readings.

No wonder, then, that it's explicitly influenced so many great writers--Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Twain and Kafka, to name a few.  Indeed, it's not hard to see a touch of the Don in characters such as Emma Bovary, Prince Myshkin, Captain Ahab and Huck Finn. Stavans also goes into some detail about Jorge Luis Borges famous story "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," which tells the tale of a modern French author who decides to write the same novel as Cervantes--not copy it, but write it on his own, word for word.  And when he's done, and the two works are laid side by side, though the text is exactly the same, the meaning is quite different, coming from different people, places and times.

The novel's influence is far wider than just the world of literature, inspiring painters, sculptors, composers* and other artists.  Then there are statesman, such as our Founding Fathers, who wrote about the book in their letters.  When it comes down to it, the United States can be seen as a Quixotic undertaking--imagine attempting to create a country where all its people can try to carve out the best lives for themselves as they see fit?

Stavans' book isn't without flaws. Even though it's a relatively short work, there's a fair amount of repetition.  And he sometimes makes questionable assertions.  For instance, he says Don Quixote is the only character in literature whose name has become an adjective--what about Panglossian, Pecksniffian, Pickwickian and Procrustean, and that's just the letter P.  He also states the most famous recording of "The Impossible Dream," from the musical from Man Of La Mancha (I would guess more people in the past 50 years have come to the character through this show than the novel) is by Frank Sinatra.  Really?  I don't think it's considered one of Sinatra's classics, while the original cast album starring Richard Kiley went gold, and the only version of the song to chart in the top 40 was from Jack Jones.

But these are minor quibbles.  Don Quixote has a power few others have, and deserves a celebration such as Quixote.

*When I was a teen I wrote some guitar music called "The Don Quixote Suite"--it had nothing to do with Don Quixote and, for that matter, wasn't a suite.  I just liked the sound of the title.  But then, I've always been tilting at windmills.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

How about register as a Democrat, give them all your money, and quit writing anything for publication?

Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?

Stormy Weather

This week's Game Of Thrones is entitled "Home." Not quite sure why. Sure, Theon says he's going home, and Bran mentions he was home, but it's still pretty generic--every episode of this show is about people either in their ancestral home, or who want to get back there.  The title would have fit better for this week's Silicon Valley, where people are worried about how they fit into their new space, and where a lead character explains as long as his skeleton is in his body, he knows he's home. A better title would be "Stormy Weather" since we cut from place to place and everywhere we go it's overcast.  But it's just a title.  What matters is the show, and it was pretty good.

We start with Bran (remember him?) and the Three-Eyed Raven (who's a guy, not a raven), underground, touching roots, but attached to the whole world and its history.  The Raven takes Bran to Winterfell, back when his dad and Uncle Benjen and Aunt Lyanna were children.  We even see a young, talking Hodor (named Wylis then). This bodes well for the show--the Bran plot threatened to be dull training, but now we can see anything anywhere, and we'll no doubt learn the answers to a lot of mysteries, especially Jon Snow's birth.

The Raven takes him back to the present, though Bran would like to stay longer.  You can look, but don't get too involved.  Meera is still around, and stir crazy.  Based on how grown up Bran is, they've been there a while.  She wonders what's the point of hanging around in a cave while he has visions (what does she do?--no friends, nothing to read, etc.), but then one of the Children Of The Forest explains he'll need her when he eventually leaves (going where?).

Back at Castle Black it's night and Aliser Thorne is tired of waiting for Davos to open the door.  Davos and his gang get ready to fight as Thorne's man starts to knock down the wall, and then, just in time, Dolorous Edd comes back with the Wildlings.  It's not much of a fight--they outnumber the paltry Night's Watch forces and have a giant, who slams a guy against a wall who shot an arrow at him. (Of all the magic in the show, I like the giants the least.  Dragons, witches, White Walkers, sure, whatever, but giants make no sense to me.) The men in Black lay down their arms.  Good thing Thorne pointlessly waited all day to knock the door down, giving Edd plenty of time to get reinforcements.

At King's Landing, a no-name guy salaciously mocks Cersei.  That's what happens when you go on the Walk Of Shame.  But soon after, that guy has his head slammed against a wall by Robert Strong, aka Frank n Mountain, who doesn't take well to cheap jokes about the Queen.  So the guy goes from no name to no head.  This show is filled by big guys killing little guys by slamming them against a wall.

The Queen, around this time, hopes to attend Myrcella's funeral, but Tommen won't let her (and she isn't ready to let Robert Strong take on the King's Guard).  Myrcella lies in state in the Sept, with Tommen and Jaime watching (it's actually nice not to have overbearing Tywin or Cersei around to tell Tommen what to do). Tommen is conflicted.  He thinks his mom probably killed Trystane (Jaime knows better), but he loves her and wants both her and wife Margaery to be free from the Faith Militant. He's the King, but can't seem to get anything done.

The High Sparrow walks in and lets Tommen know that no one can see Maggie until she confesses. Jaime convinces Tommy to go to mom while the men talk.  Jaime--who has done enough awful things that he should be in a dungeon like his sister was--could kill the Sparrow right here, with just his left hand.  But there are a bunch of other fanatics nearby, and Jaime couldn't kill them all.  This is how, the High Sparrow explains, a bunch of humble people can take over an empire.  I'm aware of the battles between Church and Crown in real history, but come on--doesn't the King have huge armies that could wipe out these guys--at least keep them out of town?  Maybe we'll find out this season.

In Cersei's chambers Tommen apologizes for all he's done--keeping her there and failing to rescue her earlier.  He promises to be tougher.  Boy, he came to the right place.

In Meereen, Tyrion, Varys, Missandei and Grey Worm hang out in the pyramid, discussing strategy (as they should have in the first episode, rather than walking around the dangerous city).  The fleet is burned and Slaver's Bay--except for Meereen--is back in the hands of slavers.  But what about the dragons? Tyrion knows (or so he's read) they don't do well in captivity.  He asks Missandei if they ever harmed her.  Nope. That's because they're smart, and know their friends.  I figured the Imp was going to send her down to the dungeon, but for some reason, he, with Varys, goes there.  Tyrion walks right up to the dragons and takes off their chains.  They leave him alone.  I guess they do know their friends--it could have been another giant smashing a little guy against a wall.

In Braavos, the Waif shows up on the street and gives Arya her daily beating.  Then Jaqen shows up offering her anything if she'll mention her name, but Arya insists she is no one. (She wants to be one of the faceless, but she's Arya, an important person from a major family who's got plenty to do.  I don't want her to be no one.)  Jaqen has her follow him--presumably to a nice place to sleep in the House of Black and White.  Her beggar days are over.  Pretty soon, one assumes, she'll be a killing machine.

At Winterfell, Roose talks about the implications of Sansa's escape.  Lord Karstark, son of the dead traitor beheaded by Robb, is there, siding with the Boltons.  Ramsay wants tough tactics, of course, such as taking Castle Black and killing the Lord Commander (they don't know he's dead) to get her back.  Roose considers this foolhardy.  Just then the master comes in and notes Lady Walda has given birth to a son.  Ramsay comes up to his dad, congratulates him, then stabs him dead.  This was pretty shocking. We knew there was tension, but I didn't think this was issue was going to be resolved so soon.  Especially considering Roose, who's been with us almost from the start, is, after Littlefinger, the wiliest character.  Next, Ramsay sends for Lady Walda and son, and sets the dogs on them at the kennel--those critters have been eating pretty well this season.  So now there's no one to control Ramsay.  He's King Joffrey, only more ruthless and sadistic.  Will he remember his dad, before he killed him, warned him if he acts like a mad dog he'll be taken out as a mad dog.  No, he won't.

In the nearby woods, Sansa and company set up camp as well as possible.  Brienne explains that she saw Arya, but the girl got away.  Soon after, we discover (anyway, I didn't know) that Sansa is aware Theon didn't kill Bran and Rickon.  So not too long ago she figured all her siblings were dead, except for Jon Snow (the one who actually was dead).  She seems to have forgiven Theon--it's touching how he's become a figure of pathos--and he'd see her to Castle Black (is that really the place to go, considering they must know Ramsay is expecting that move?), except he'd be executed by Snow the moment he got there.  He has other things to attend to, so he's going back home, to Pyke (or is it Winterfell where he has unfinished business?), where we haven't been in a while.

And we're back in the Iron Islands, where sister Yara and dad Balon are having a talk. (I just realized Yara and Arya have the same letters) We haven't seen Yara in a while, and Balon in even longer.  They don't seem to be getting along, discussing (Yara Yara Yara) her failed mission to get back Theon and other problems.  Balon demands she obey and then walks out.  As he's crossing the shaky bridge connecting towers, he meets his long-lost brother Euron, though the way the guy acts it's more like he's a ghost.  Spectre or not, he throws Balon down to the rocky shores--we haven't seen the king in years, then two scenes and he's out.  Tough gig for the actor.  Still, about time--the others from the War of Five Kings are dead, and, besides, the Red Woman did some blood-magic that was supposed to kill him.

Now that he's dead, the Islands will have a Kingsmoot to pick a new leader. Yara hopes to be the first woman to handle the job--and why not?--this show delights in powerful women.  Or will Theon ride in?  Or Euron in the flesh make his case?  More important, who cares?  Maybe the Iron Islands figure big in the books, but not in the TV show.  Now there's a whole plot about them? Maybe it'll work out as everyone converges toward King's Landing, and fights White Walkers, but let's hope they get moving--otherwise, it'll just be just a cold, wet Dorne.

At Castle Black, Davos comes into the Red Woman's room.  Former opponents, both are now at loose ends now with Stannis gone.  But they seem ready to rally around Snow.  Melisandre, however, is defeated--humility becomes her, actually.  She's more interesting than usual.  He asks if she can help bring people back from the dead.  She hasn't done it, but has seen the handiwork of Thoros, so she knows about it.  That's good enough--let's give it a shot.  Hey, how much harder is this than giving birth to a shadow baby?

So she goes into the room with Snow laid out on a table, while Davos, Tormund and others watch.  She washes him, cuts some hair, speaks a little Valyrian and hopes for the best.  Nothing.  Everyone files out.  Then Jon Snow gasps.  End of episode.

This is supposed to be a big moment, but I think everyone was expecting it.  Roose's death was far more shocking.  Let's put it this way--the show could either have this ceremony to no effect and everyone would be more annoyed than ever, or have Jon Snow wake up with the promise of more fun in future episodes.  Not much of a choice.  And, okay, Jon Snow was dead, as the producers promised, but he isn't any more.

A good episode.  A fair amount of death--one of the Night's Watch traitors, No-Name Guy, Roose Bolton, Lady Walda and her baby boy, Balon Greyjoy--am I missing anyone?  At the same time, one dead guy comes back.  No Dany (the biggest story line they dropped), no Daario and Jorah, no Margaery, no Olenna, no Sand Snakes (some of whom may be in King's Landing) and still no Samwell, Bronn or Littlefinger.  But plenty to talk about.

Monday, May 02, 2016

One true thing

"I've been endorsed by over 70 newspapers. Wish it mattered."

(Isn't it "more than"?)

And universities will begin correcting for Democrats

That's nice. What about bias toward spelling, grammar and the ability to tell a story?

(Ah, what am I saying. They corrected that last long ago.)

Hart To Hart

You get the feeling Lorenz Hart didn't have many happy birthdays.  His troubled life ended at the age of 48 in 1943.  But while he was alive, he was half of the best songwriting team the Great American Songbook had.  So happy birthday, Larry.

Not only don't they recognize the tune--the can't tell Larry Hart from Oscar Hammerstein.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

What's the spot price of morphine, anyway?

Free To Be You And Me

Donald Trump has been out in California and he's gotten a lot of protest, sometimes violent. But even after that I wasn't prepared for the reaction of the West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath.  Here's a letter she sent to Trump:
To Donald J Trump & staff –
I am compelled to state for the record how deeply disturbed I am by the Trump presidential campaign. The hate speech and implicit calls to violence coming from your campaign are beyond the pale and have no place in any community in our country.
The people of West Hollywood have seen the devastation and destruction that hatred and hate speech can bring. We are home to Jewish immigrants who escaped Nazi occupation in Soviet Russia, to LGBTQ people of all ages including survivors of the AIDS crisis, and to many other diverse constituencies, of which we are most proud. We know firsthand how charged language can incite dangerous activity that puts our residents and neighborhoods at risk — and at great cost. While we must always make room for free speech and reasonable — even passionate — debate, your reckless rhetoric is wrong at every level.
With the primary making its way to California, as West Hollywood's mayor, I want to make very clear that your campaign of violence and intimidation is not welcome in our city. I demand that you renounce calls to violence and consider the role you play in shaping public discourse, specifically with the words you choose and the behavior you exhibit and encourage.
We do not have to agree or like one another, but as Americans and political figures in the public eye, we share a responsibility to lead by example. I take that responsibility very seriously, and I ask that you do the same.
Lindsey P. Horvath
Mayor, City of West Hollywood
Regardless of what you think of Trump, Horvath has outed herself as an intolerant thug with contempt for basic American freedoms, and a politician who panders to the lowest instincts in her constituents.  Shameful.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Who will they get to read it?

Bloomberg . . . was forming a 10-person team to lead a study on how to use more automation in writing and reporting [and] called the robot-generated copy “smart automated content (SAC).”

If they can just find robots to pay for it, they'll be all set.

Part 2

Following yesterday's birthday blowout, we now have musical offerings from people born on April 29th after 1940.

Klaus Voorman

Duane Allen

Tammi Terrell

Tommy James

Michelle Pfeiffer

Carnie Wilson

Uma Thurman

Friday, April 29, 2016

What units would that be in?

"One minute of arduous exercise was comparable in its physiological effects to 45 minutes of gentler sweating."


"If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”

So, if I have sex twice, that's as good as three-quarters of an hour workout time. I'm in. I suppose it all depends on the meaning of "arduous." Next time I'll take a survey and find out what my partners think. (Now let's see, population N = P(1|0) . . .)

That guy stinks!

(I though Voldemort was the Dark Lord?)

Today Is The Day

Today is my birthday, but I share it with many others.  So today, and tomorrow, I will offer you various pieces of music from my co-birthdayites.  First, people born before 1940.

Duke Ellington

Donald Mills

Celeste Holm

Big Jay McNeely

Lonnie Donnegan

Rod McKuen

Zubin Mehta

April Stevens

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Speaking of Columbo

I'm seeing Jack Cassidy as Tim Cook.

The (Secret) Word Is Out

Time for celebration: our friend Matthew Coniam will have his book That's Me, Groucho released a little latter this year--you can order it now.  His previous book, The Annotated Marx Brothers, is one of the best yet written about the team, and this is a follow-up.

That's Me Groucho promises to focus on Julius Marx, the most famous and successful of the brothers, in his solo career.  There are already a fair amount of books looking at Groucho's life--including some from Groucho himself--but Matthew has shown, through diligent research and deep insight, that there's still plenty more to discuss.

Groucho started performing in Vaudeville before his brothers were a team.  After they stopped making movies, he continued to work in all aspects of show biz.  He made solo films, but, more important, was a huge hit in radio and television as the emcee on You Bet Your Life.  This wasn't like any other game show--it was just an excuse for Groucho to talk to people and crack jokes.  A simple enough formula that few could have made work.  And for a generation, this was the Groucho that people knew best.

The book will also (as far as I can tell) look into his private life.  Groucho had a public persona--one which he himself tried to maintain--but how much do we really know about him?  Over the years, certain stories get repeated and beliefs solidify, but Coniam--as he showed in his other book--was able to think things through and question conventional views.  I assume he'll do the same with solo Groucho.

I admit Groucho alone isn't nearly as entertaining as the best of his work with his brothers, but then, what is?  He still had something, even to the end, and anything that adds to knowledge of life is worth checking out.

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