Archive for January, 2005

NYT winners

The New York Times published several articles recently that I enjoyed.

There was this editorial about Hillary Rodham Clinton and abortion. What are Senator Clinton’s deeply held beliefs? I can fathom her sincerity only concerning her desire to wield power. The same goes for most public figures. I fail to see her as particularly good or bad in moral or ideological terms. Her ambition seems to be the pivot for both her fans and her detractors. Her comments function as both an attempt to gain political ground by making herself appear moderate, which she largely seems to be, and an echo of President Clinton’s position. These political motives behind her speech are easy to see.

The second and more important question is how abortion numbers might be reduced. I appreciate the call to lower the numbers. The legality of abortion is a secondary issue. The primary issues are minimizing death and burden. It troubles me that the lines drawn in this cultural divide are legal. The day after the presidential election, my friends talked about the Democrats‘ position. It isolates voters who otherwise sympathize with the party. The CDC issues reports about abortion. The yearly rate is about 1.5% of women in their reproductive years, accounting for approximately 240-250 per 1000 live births. Those numbers, to my mind, are big. As I blogged previously, public understanding of family planning options is unconscionably poor. I agree with Senator Clinton’s call to “people of good faith” to seek moves for reducing abortion numbers.

As a user of MythTV, I was happy to see it profiled in this article on personal video recorders and file sharing. Despite the “Steal This Program” title, MythTV is not for stealing television. It is a recorder similar to TiVo. I struggled to make my MythTV machine work. Gathering all the software MythTV requires was challenging. Using an AMD 64 based computer made it harder. I bought the computer excited about having a 64 bit processor. Unfortunately, it has led mainly to extra hassles with software. My working MythTV box, however, is terrific. I record everything that might be good. When I decide to watch television, I have my pick. The move toward consumer choice in scheduling is growing. I hope that innovative products appear to match, but draconian legal moves to smack us back into the company line appear equally likely at this point.

Finally, there is a profile of Alexander Shulgin, a researcher of psychedelic substances. Boing Boing predictably jumped on this one, too. My prudish perspective involves great skepticism about the wonders of the mind waiting for pharmaceutical release. I am also suspicious of talk therapy and its so-called breakthroughs. The possibility that psychotropic medications can help people is real, however. Further research is merited.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2005 in General

Eyes on the Screen part two

Soon after I blogged about Eyes on the Screen, the torrent links disappeared at the request of Blackside lawyers. A post at Boing Boing points to an alternate source. I still would like to host a screening, but playing the files is proving to be a challenge. My frustration with obtaining working applications successfully ported to or portable to Athlon 64 grows.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2005 in General

Open Brazil

NPR‘s Morning Edition had a story about the Brazilian government‘s move to Open Source software. I blogged about Larry Lessig‘s visit earlier. Lessig was in Brazil with John Perry Barlow to promote open source and innovative laws for creative works. Check out Lessig’s recent entry about it. Barlow’s blog also has a short mention of their trip. Follow the discussion discussion over at /.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2005 in General

Last January 2005 weekend

Friday night brought good food and good music with Rebecca. I had a calzone at Vito’s. It was fantastic. I stopped several times to savor. I was transported back to my favorite Long Island pizza place, Rosa’s. I loved stopping there late at night. Waking up thirsty from all the salt and fat was a twisted pleasure.

After dinner, we saw the Rebirth Brass Band at the Bistro. It was my third time seeing them, and they have been fun every time. A New Orleans version of “All Blues” was an appropriate treat. The whole experience readied me for the Mardi Gras season. Although the web site promised that we would be allowed to stay as space permitted, the announcer told the audience that we would have to buy tickets at full price to stay. We decided to leave.

After a brief detour to buy earplugs, it was off to see Diesel Island at Frederick’s. The place is almost always too loud for me, meaning that I am too old. I am too old, but I go anyway. Members of several STL bands play together in the band. A friend told me last weekend that they ought to be good. They were. They played classic country and American rock interspersed with funny stories, including one or two about John Mellencamp. Something happened to Fred. He was having mobility problems. I never found out why.

This weekend was also the best sports weekend in a long time. The hardest of my hardcore frisbee friends played Saturday. Snow covered the field. The temperature was barely above freezing. The ground was muddy. Defense was consequently sloppy. It was nevertheless fun, and I am happy that we got to play. I found myself out of breath too easily. Soccer once a week is insufficient. Fortunately, we will play twice this week. The game tonight was good. I got to score, my first criterion for rating games, and everyone got to play the whole time, my second. Teams were mysteriously lopsided, but I never care about it too much.

I spent nearly 14 hours sleeping from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. Why is beyond me although I did have a headache, rare for me, Saturday before going to bed. The good of the weekend far exceeds these negatives.

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Michael M. on January 30th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Brazil

My interest in Brazilian popular music has grown lately. I have found some great CDs at the library. My interest started with Tom Jobim and Bebel Gilberto. I have noticed an increasing popular interest in Brazil.

A Boing Boing post directed me to Larry Lessig‘s account of a concert that included Gilberto Gil discussing the Brazilian government’s promotion of open software and performing. It is exciting to see advocating for free software and creative freedom at such a high level. In light of the movie and the recent military government, the irony is rich.

Another Boing Boing post leads to a terrific archive of Brazilian popular music. I used downTHEMall and Firefox to grab them.

The New York Times has an article about sumo in Brazil. I learned that Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside Japan. Now Brazil is exporting sumo wrestlers to Japan.

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Michael M. on January 29th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Eyes on the Screen

Eyes on the Screen is a campaign by Downhill Battle to distribute Eyes on the Prize and to coordinate screenings on February 8. Eyes on the Prize is a documentary series about the American Civil Rights movement that first aired on PBS in 1987.

Boing Boing has a post on the effort. A second post points to coverage at Wired. According to an older story, it is illegal to sell or broadcast Eyes on the Prize. The Boston Globe has a similar story about the copyright madness.

I might host a viewing. Contact me if you would like to watch. It might move to a friend’s slightly larger place if interest is sufficient.

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Michael M. on January 27th 2005 in General, Movies

Personal events of late January

The weekend brought some fun outings. Elysium at Seven was an exhibition of art by graduate students at a downtown loft. There were several fine works. Some friends and I tried to interpret the painting that later won the audience prize. Then Rebecca tracked down its creator. I wandered back to my friends at exactly the wrong moment to act as representative interpreter. He confirmed our ideas and told us more of his intents. The situation was a little awkward, but fun.

One of my high school friends works for Black Dog Records. I remembered a little too late that he was at Frederick’s, and I missed Cary‘s show. We still got to talk for a good while. I met Fred, too. He is a funny guy.

The bad consequence is that I putting my phone on silent and going to bed late led me to oversleep. I almost missed bruch at Eau Bistro at the Chase. Thanks to a friend who called my home number, too, I made it there a little late.

It was a weekend of forgetfulness.

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Michael M. on January 26th 2005 in General, Live, Music, Recorded

Rumble in Morningside Heights

This article presents the controversy at Columbia stemming from alleged intimidation of Jewish students by pro-Palestinian faculty. Calling it a “very unclear quarrel” is not severe enough. Discussing this article led me and a friend to consult Google. There are more parties involved than I can grasp. They hurl mixes of insults, lies, criticisms, complaints and accusations that I cannot parse. This conflict, new to me, has raged for years.

Columbia has a department called Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. Some people think that several of its faculty are unfair, mean, wrong or otherwise bad regarding Israel. Joseph Massad, above his publication listing, has “Statement in Response to the Intimidation of Columbia University” about “a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel.” I started off my inquiry thinking that the professors were the alleged intimidators. The accusations, often nearly identical, have flown both ways.

A documentary movie, Columbia Unbecoming, features students recounting incidents that left them intimidated or unhappy. A group called the David Project made it. A blurb at the David Project refers to the “dominant paradigm about the Middle East conflict.” I do not see any clear dominance of ideas in the conflict.

Another story, this one from New York Magazine, has both good and bad parts. I appreciate the comments of Richard Bulliet.

“We’ve had advocacy in the classroom for a long time,” he says. “But in the areas where it’s most visible, like black studies and women’s studies, the point of view tends to coincide with the outlook of the Columbia community—no one feels you have to give the slaveholder’s or male-chauvinist pig’s point of view.” He pauses for emphasis. “But here,” he concludes, “we have an area where no consensus exists. And that’s the problem.”

“Because at least when I was in the military, we had specific rules about how you can fire and who you can fire upon. The military in Israel is mostly very ethical.”

The quote immediately above belongs to Tomy Schoenfeld. Joseph Massad allegedly ask Tomy Schoenfeld how many Palestinians he had killed while serving in the Israeli military. I felt bad when reading such equivocation in “mostly very ethical.” How different is it from “often quite,” “sometimes completely” or “rarely not?” Schoenfeld, to his credit, balances these words with relfection on the difficulties and mistakes of the military.

I cannot decide whom to believe. I have worked on this post over a few days. Every research inquiry turns new leaves. The result is a pile of leaves, gathered, yet still disordered. I know what I find frustrating. With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day lingering in my mind, I see very few of these people who care for the opponents or the climate they create. I have found no evidence that either side views the other as valuable, redeemable people whose own consciences can lead them to better lives. Instead, one professor quoted in the NYT article said, “This is blood sport for me, and I love it.” There is the word I will turn to later, but hardly used this sick way.

I remember the biggest campus controversy of my time. The Thresher published Rice Women Are Like on the Backpage. The Backpage was the humor section, often rough and blue. This particular one was tasteless, wrong and bad for sure. The community reaction eventually was, too. Some of the more enterprising students convened an open forum to discuss the climate for women at Rice. There were definitely some nasty trends in campus culture. I got nothing against fairness or justice, and I went. The most common sentiments were that the authors needed punishment and the Backpage needed oversight. One male student offered a lone voice to say that just as his parents tried to correct and guide him when he had done wrong, we should help the wrongdoers. I never knew him, but eight years later, I appreciate his contributions that night. The meeting immediately returned to its previous course as if he had not spoken. I was a misfit who observed without doing anything although I should have. The calls by educated students at a competitive university for censorship and limits on the press trouble me. The night’s prevailing opinion of fellow students as villains needing punishment does worse. The students who wrote that Backpage did something wrong and hurtful. Very few of their fellow collegians wanted to reach toward them. Leading fellow students to become compassionate people would negate the need for censorship, lessen the likelihood of such columns and improve the environment for everyone. In every way that Rice was bad for women, it was bad for everyone. Every act to help the columnists would have improved Rice. Fairness and justice are collective properties. I, as I was prone to do, felt sad and kept to myself.

I have avoided writing about it because I feel silly and simple doing so, but the absence of love fuels all these flames. Just as a parent regretfully, yet lovingly punishes a child, Rice women needed to greet the ugly sexism. Upset students at Columbia must search for avenues to lead the professors to more thoughtful scholarship. Every effort to have the professors silenced or terminated worsens the world. Professors need to draw back from their championship of Palestinians at moments of whitest heat to consider how threatened their Jewish students might feel. King wrote eloquently about the communality of justice in Stride Toward Freedom, a favorite of mine. We cannot hate our enemies and commit ourselves to liberty. “The Negro must love the white man, because the white man needs his love to remove his tensions, insecurities, and fears.”

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Michael M. on January 23rd 2005 in General

Women’s studies

I started a post linking to coverage of Lawrence Summers comments at a conference on women in science. The articles just keep coming. Google News is better suited to do the job than I. I had planned it as a continuation of my Educated coupling post.

Seeing a woman in science is intriguing. Her presence immediately signifies intelligence, curiosity, rigor, diligence and the fortitude to buck societal trends. I would be happy to give up the last one.

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Michael M. on January 20th 2005 in General

Mississippi racial holidays

Boing Boing had criticism for the Mississippi holiday Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee. Many bloggers covered this peculiar institution.

People at home used to say that Parklane Academy coincidentally had that Monday off for Lee’s birthday while the public schools were off for King’s. Parklane today calls it the Lee/King student holiday.

I found the proclamation and the related state code. The code reveals that Jefferson Davis’ birthday is also a state holiday falling on the same date as Memorial Day and that there is a separate Confederate Memorial Day. Jefferson Davis, among other things, is the only president from Mississippi. The separate Confederate Memorial Day is too bad. Columbus, Mississippi has a claim on the first Memorial Day, once called Confederate Decoration Day. The ladies of Columbus laid flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Friendship Cemetery as an act of commemoration and reconciliation. I led tours as part of Tales from the Crypt for speech class and counted the military graves for history class there in high school.

I wonder how old the Lee holiday is. It predates the King holiday, but I do not know by how much. It certainly carries multiple meanings as analyzed by Joseph Crespino and others. I see that Lee serves as a symbol for some hateful people and that Lee was a great man. Saint Louis owes a debt to his engineering. I put to myself the question that Lee faced when asked to fight against Virginia, and I understand his choice. Lee was a great man, but his cult often follows ugly motives.

I love Mississippi deeply. I cannot condone its wrongs, but it never feels good to have arrows hurled at the motherland. Mississippi is the blackest state in the nation, and the problems never sink far below the surface. I wish everyone would reflect on the experience of loving something flawed and broken.

Arkansas, Alabama and possibly other states pull the same stunt. Texas and Georgia have separate holidays for Confederates and/or Lee. If a scapegoat is required, though, why not choose the best?

On a nominally related point, Lee King was the host of Black Gold, a locally produced show similar to Soul Train that aired on WLBT when I was growing up. Lee King was to Black Gold as Don Cornelius was to Soul Train. The show came on television between cartoons and sports on Saturdays. My family used to watch it. With a touch of formal thought disorder, it all makes sense.

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Michael M. on January 19th 2005 in General

Other weekend happenings

Besides CVB, I found some other fun ways to spend the weekend. I saw Keyhole in action at a party Friday. It is an amazing combination of aerial and satellite photography with other geographic information systems. I attended a wedding of friends Saturday. The reception at the Sheldon was good fun. I wish the newlyweds the best. After months of consideration, I got an iPod. The Contour Design Showcase I got with it broke within a few minutes. I hope the replacement is less flimsy. The website indicates that the 4G and photo cases are different, yet the packaging for the case I bought does not. The packaging is probably old. Other highlights included Bandana’s Bar-B-Q with my sister, who also went to the concert, and the local Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Lecture by Freeman Hrabowski, III, “Reflections on America’s Academic Achievement Gap.” I do not know what to make of the gap.

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Michael M. on January 18th 2005 in General

Camper Van Beethoven

I saw Camper Van Beethoven Sunday night at Blueberry Hill. It was a great show. The earlier concert only bolstered my anticipation of this one.

The band seemed much more comfortable and jocular on stage this time than the last. David Lowery obviously had watched The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog recently. Their opening jokes centered on Triumph. I have the DVD. It is hilarious. Lowery led the audience interaction with each member freely interjecting funny comments.

I learned the stories behind several songs. In explaining the appearances of cryptography in his songs, Lowery said that he has a math degree. I majored in math. Even though I was in high school when CVB disbanded, my attraction to goofball nerdy entertainment had set. The geek synchronicity struck me. I heard audience muttering over cryptologists, cryptographers and cryptanalysts because Lowery was lumping them in his introduction of “All Her Favorite Fruit.” It was special to participate in such an audience that cares about cryptography. I thought, “Cryptographer is to cryptologist as biographer is to biologist.”

There were more stories. Lowery also explained that “Eye of Fatima” is based on a true story of a cowboy friend of the band. He did not explain “Tania,” but that song is clearly about Patty Hearst. With a few lyrics changes, “Sweethearts” was transformed from a song about Ronald Reagan to one about George W. Bush. Lowery seemed delighted when telling how he freaked out David Byrne at a wedding reception by telling him that they had played together on a flying saucer. He then explained that a former Camper member once recruited the band from northern California to Los Angeles for a show with the Talking Heads. It turned out that the guy was simply delusional.

Other parts were good and similar to my expectations. “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and “Interstellar Overdrive” each closed a set. It seems very strange that two of their biggest songs are covers. There was also plenty of instrumental ska/folk/rock/Eastern European/Middle Eastern/country numbers. Only four members are touring although more recorded on New Roman Times. David Lowery and Jonathan Segal had laptops on stage. They successfully played along with recorded parts while making Ashlee Simpson jokes.

I got a t-shirt.

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Michael M. on January 17th 2005 in General, Live, Music

Educated coupling

Two recent New York Times columns addressed marriage and family within career focused lives, favorite discussion topics among my friends. The column by David Brooks centers around when women should begin families. Maureen Dowd chose inequities in intelligence and education between husbands and wives for her column. Both brought some concerning thoughts to my mind.

David Brooks dedicates no space to how men might want to arrange their careers. This fact tells me more than anything else he wrote. Time out for child rearing evidently has minimal effects on mens’ careers in his mind. The failure of many mothers and fathers to share the responsibilities evenly underlies the inequity, yet it receives no mention. There are a few obvious responsibilities that rest solely with mothers, such as the pregnancy itself and nursing for mothers inclined to do so. Are these necessities career enders? My mother took an extended leave of several months for her first child, me, but she was back at work before I can remember. She took much less leave subsequently. I wanted my mother around more when I was a child. Now I am glad that she resisted the selfish whining of children. We did not know any better. She did.

Maureen Dowd points out a trend that seems unfortunately accurate anecdotally. Many men choose less intelligent, less ambitious, less successful women for their wives. I find myself in a different position. If I ever marry, I want a partner whose talents and ambitions are comparable and complementary. In terms of life experience, someone of similar age would be preferable, too. I am an odd person, though, both in what I want and have to offer. I am not macho; I am small and unimposing. Whatever charm I possess is peculiar. I tend to pursue somewhat eccentric interests of my own in addition to being quiet and shy. What do such striving women desire in men? Is marriage so important? How much of the gap is the result of choices against marriage by intelligent women? I found mostly boring letters to the editor followed the next day by more mostly boring letters to the editor. Responses largely consisted of personal responses to general trends. They were neither amusing nor insightful. Some were predictable chomps onto the hook Dowd baited. I suppose I have nothing much better to offer here.

I wonder whether I was imprinted differently. My parents are both intelligent. My father is more talented in some intellectual areas; my mother in others. When they met, they had identical degrees from comparable universities. My father ended up getting a professional degree later while my mother earned a graduate degree. I think each one has made more money than the other at times. My parents seem so conservative, though. They are not crusaders. They are just good, bright people who work. I, too, want the opportunity to do good, pursue fairness and take joy when I can.

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Michael M. on January 17th 2005 in General

Frankenfood

The New York Times had an article about genetic engineering of crops that amounts to an editorial. Why do Europeans appear to care so much while Americans’ concerns are rare and few? It helps reinforce my old view that Europeans are slightly better educated, but every bit as stupid as we are. Here is an example of America’s biggest, slightly lefty newspaper mocking fears of genetic engineering. The results of surveys of Americans were predictably ridiculous. Many people think that regular tomatoes do not have genes or that genes in tomatoes are likely to change their own, yet opposition to deregulation is high. Opinion pollsters are questionably better than the fools they dredge up, though.

Within the discussion of genetic engineering, I am most interested in our attitudes toward food. The views about foods being healthful or harmful are bad enough. I am more concerned with the mistaken idea that our food was destined for us when many of our most popular foods are products of extensive human intervention. The nutrition our food provides is largely the result of that hard work. Rice and wheat, staples of the world, come from grasses. Wild varieties have such puny amounts of food that I marvel at how people figured out that they might be good to eat and turned them into staples. Corn is a similar example. Fruits and berries often function to attract the attention of animals, but many of our vegetable crops come from organisms that must have had tiny nutritional values when they first were domesticated. Perhaps a clearer case, the muscles of livestock faciliate animals’ carrying out their own lives. Predation takes advantage; domestication moreso. Where do our ideas of food originate? Many of our staples are results of care by our ancestors to transform organisms with little nutritional value into bountiful harvests. Judging from surviving wild varieties, they were poor food when our efforts began thousands of years ago. Much of what we consider food would not exist without the sculpting of human hands. We should avoid recklessness in further development of food sources. Genetic engineering is simply another step in our long work to turn other organisms into better food for ourselves.

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Michael M. on January 17th 2005 in General

Camper Van Beethoven at Blueberry Hill January 16

Camper Van Beethoven will play Sunday night at Blueberry Hill. I already bought tickets online for my sister and me. Their career, the first one, ended about the time I began paying more attention to popular music. “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a cover, received a little MTV play soon after my family got MTV. Key Lime Pie was a treat that led me to seek more of their music. They were silly and playful while drawing widely for styles and inspirations. I never expected to see them in concert. It was my good fortune to hear about the reunion and the first Blueberry Hill concert at the end of October just in time to go. Now they are sweeping back through Saint Louis again. They put out a new album, New Roman Times. I still have not listened to all of it, but I like the few songs I have heard. The last show was good fun with many of my old favorites played. I hope for another entertaining evening.

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Michael M. on January 11th 2005 in General, Live, Music

MSMS threatened

My high school, the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, is being threatened by the legislature in the wake of Mississippi budget shortfalls. The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s paper of register, had a story at the beginning of the year. The news upsets me.

I wrote two legislators mentioned in the article, Johnny Stringer and John Reeves. I encourage everyone with MSMS ties to write these legislators and his or her hometown legislators. Mr. Reeves commented, “Somebody pays, and it’s the taxpayer.” The attitude underlying such a comment worries me.

MSMS was a wonderful educational and social experience. My hometown schools were fine for small town public schools, but I was unchallenged and bored. MSMS offered so much that I wanted. There were mathematics and science classes that would have come later or never at home. I had better opportunities in areas across the secondary curriculum. The social side was wonderful, too. A shy person, it let me flourish. I will remember it fondly for as long as I can remember anything. I just hope my recollections are of a place that still is rather than one that once was.

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Michael M. on January 11th 2005 in General

Animatronic monkey

This story at Boing Boing features a new animatronic monkey head. It is from Wow Wee, the same company that makes the Robosapien. It looks cool and realistic in the photographs.

The story comes via Monkeys in the News, apparently a blog dedicated to covering monkeys in the news. The original story is at PC Magazine. I want to watch the video, but I am not registered at the site.

The implications of this news on the conflict between monkey and robot, formerly thought to be eternal when covered in a previous entry, are unknown.

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Michael M. on January 10th 2005 in General

Mississippi book banning

The Daily Show reported that a Mississippi library system chose to ban America (The Book). I found the wire story. The Jackson-George Regional Library System is the offender. Robert Willits, quoted in the story, is the director of the system. George County is a bizarre place that cannot surprise me, but I think Jackson County is mostly a decent place. As a Mississippian and a person, I am embarrassed.

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Michael M. on January 10th 2005 in General

Amazon in French

“Concerto pour une voix” is one of those musical pieces floating in the cloud of familiar music, but hard to identify. I probably have heard it dozens of times without knowing its title, who performed it or who composed it. Wyclef used in in “Apocalypse” on Carnival. I found out last year that a French musician named Saint-Preux released it in 1969 or 1970. Amazon.com never has it in stock. It occurred to me to check Amazon.fr, and there is was. I think I ordered it. It probably is a remake, not the original. The problem is my ignorance of French. I clicked the buttons based on how they looked. A little Babel Fish confirmed that I had successfully ordered. Shipping costs are approximately the same as the cost of the CD, and I do not know how much a Euro is worth, especially with a credit card purchase. I ought to receive it 19 janv. 2005 – 24 janv. 2005, whenever that is.

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Michael M. on January 10th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Language race

I enjoyed the essay “You Talkin’ to Me?” in The New York Times. It provides a quick overview of prescriptive and descriptive grammarians, and it mentions the PBS documentary Do You Speak American? that aired this past week. I have not watched the show yet, but I have it on my computer for viewing soon.

Why is it, as MacNeil and Cran report, that when people are asked to identify regions of the country that speak “bad or unacceptable English,” 9 out of 10 choose the South and New York City? The one, I’m guessing, because its accents are akin to black speech (or perhaps because of prejudices that date back to the Civil War), the other because it’s long been seen as an unclean den of ethnic babble.

Americans decide the duo dearest to me are dens of decadent diction. I, too, think that the prejudice toward Southern speech is tightly tied to racism against African-Americans. A few people have told me that my English is not good when I know that my subjects matched the predicates and that my speech was easily intelligible. I met a little of that attitude in college. I also realized then that I sounded slightly blacker than nearly all of my non-black classmates. The strangest part to me was realizing how many ears cannot make sense of African-American English. I am white. I do not understand every bit of every overhead conversation among African-Americans. I came to realize that my white college friends often understood almost nothing, though. It is a repeating and trite theme for white Southerners who leave. Knowing better, I will blog anyway. I grew up in a world with distinctions of black and white, falling distinctly on the white side. Then I came to find tiny ways that black culture influenced me when journeying through a new world with far fewer African-Americans.

Willie Morris wrote about it, but I forgot where. It appears in Sophie’s Choice, too. White people far away miss the lyrical cadences and Africanized culture of home. We turn to the African-American enclaves that most American cities of any size have. I spent one of my favorite days in New York running around with a friend from home. We spent most of the day at Cooper-Hewitt and went looking for supper in Harlem. My friend had somewhere in mind, probably Sylvia’s in retrospect, but we ended up the only white people somewhere else, a wonderful tiny place with a glowing sign that advertised “Shrimps.” We were the first people to arrive, and we could not tell whether it was open. There were some children coloring and doing homework at some of the tables. The woman working assured us that they were open and took the covers of the buffet table dishes. We had some good food and sweet iced tea. A few more groups came in and seemed a little suspicious of us. I forgot how, but the tension eventually broke, and we had a fine time talking and kidding with them.

I wrote a friend from high school about it, and he wrote back with harsh criticism for the comfortable white kids slumming to experience a little home flavor. He was right. We went there for our own enjoyment, to draw it from the people we met. At the same time, our pleasure was simple. We had a good time without taking from the people we met, and they had fun, too. As is often true when trying to understand Southern culture, many slightly conflicting views are correct. In Saint Louis, I find myself occasionally traveling to the most Southern parts of the city made Southern by the influence of African-Americans who arrived here seeking better lives than they expected down home. I seem to appear to most people I encounter on those little trips as just another white guy. I suppose I am. The trips tend to be solitary. I have trouble convincing my friends to accompany me. I blame their reluctance more on their apathy than their prejudices. They do not feel the cultural urges. My deep abiding love for Popeyes and my failures to pique the culinary curiosity of any friends is linked.

I hope to have a few friends over to watch Do You Speak American? one evening soon. My condominium is finally presentable. With MythTV, I hope to implement the pausing plan I blogged previously if my friends do not tire too quickly.

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Michael M. on January 9th 2005 in General

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.