Even Cathy Berberian knows

Cathy Berberian’s “Stripsody” (Perfectly SFW! Strip as in “comic strip!”) came up in a tipsy, 3 a.m.-ish conversation in Boston but I failed to make everyone watch it so now you’re all going to suffer for that omission. And by suffer I mean “be edified and titillated.” Berberian was user-friendly modernist Luciano Berio’s wife, collaborator, and if the term isn’t too worn out, muse. Harnoncourt saw fit to record Monteverdi with her–it was a good if not operatically scaled instrument backed by formidable technique, weilded with astonishing stylistic versatility. In listening to her strange, funny recital series “Second-Hand Songs” (if you can find mp3s from what sounds like broadcasts but was probably intermediately on LP) you encounter, beyond the snap of her musical intelligence, a baroque but bewitching sense of camp. Anyway, have at:

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Just usually wrong

Language Log gleefully reported on the thing where Lisa Murkowski spouted the kind of self-serving, Orientalizing nonsense about a language nobody in the audience was likely to know that one hears from time to time in the rhetoric of politics and management and doubtless plenty of other fields. This went viral in certain geek networks, because it’s just so satisfying that the Times unfussily called bullshit.

This was filed by Geoffrey K. Pullum, author of “The Great Eskimo Snow Hoax,” in which the author exhorts readers, when they hear the one about “Eskimos have [number connoting an interest in snow that is impossible for you and me to understand, lacking their exotic simplicity] words for snow”:

Stand up and tell the speaker this: C. W. Schultz-Lorentzen’s Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) gives just two possibly relevant roots: qanik, meaning ‘snow in the air’ or ‘snowflake’, and aput, meaning ‘snow on the ground’. Then add that you would be interested to know if the speaker can cite any more.

I have always loved this. Since grad school anyway.

This morning, somewhere, I read one of the other favorite observations on language made by people who do not think very much about language, that the language usually left broadly at “Chinese”* has one word that means BOTH crisis AND opportunity. I am doubty. Now I need to find someone who is 1) a native speaker of let’s just assume Mandarin and 2) a giant geekosaur about language who is less likely to be annoyed by the question than just any old person you might ask dumb questions about their** native language.

Bad Blogger Update: Already discussed on Language Log, natch. Thanks, Minivet and Modesto Kid.

*Yes, and North American has only one word for the Sinitic languages spoken by a billion people.

**Oh yeah I did. 3rd p. sing. deliberate-ambig.

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Killing the dream

Continuing an old thread about what does and doesn’t suck about my day job…listening to people talk about their sorrows isn’t so hard.  It’s often interesting and, if it’s your job, you’re probably a good compartmentalizer.  One thing that’s sometimes a lot harder is hearing people’s unrealistic ideas about how their lives are going to get better, how they’re going to look at some imaginary moment of normalcy in the future.

At some point it became part of my spiel to ask adolescents what they want to do with their lives, even though it probably isn’t of great interest to judges or ADAs.  I think actually I used to talk to younger kids about this in other jobs where I dealt with them just because I had run out of other things to ask them.*

The answers were usually either depressingly realistic (f0r kids who didn’t finish school and will have criminal records) or, well, without any middle ground, so absurdly optimistic I’d just write them down without comment.  The most common answer in the second category was/is “basketball player.”  I don’t know a thing about sports, but I’m pretty sure I can do the math on how likely that one is to come true.  The most common answer in the first category, while I’m on it, was “something in maintenance” with other variants in food service or construction, and I should check myself about calling them “depressing” since there’s some class bullshit in that assumption.  But I do have trouble imagining a kid getting excited at the thought of a lifetime in maintenance.

Talking to people about this made me think about when I had to start being realistic, with dramatically fewer socioeconomic setbacks, about what I was going to do with my life, and how it happened.  Did these kids’ parents ever say “look, you’re good at basketball but you probably aren’t going to be [iconic famous basketball person]”?  I’m not raising kids, nor shall I ever, so I’ve never had to be the executioner.

The rough timeline of my aspirations was:

1) early childhood: astronaut (because I had a book about the moon) or chemist (with a mental picture of pouring the tube of green stuff into the tube of blue stuff and an unspecified gratifying thing happening as a result.)

2) later childhood: artist.  It is nice to think I wanted to be one, once, and thought it was an option.

3) let’s say junior high: architect, because my beloved art teacher wanted to be an architect and I was good at the simple drafting you do in Industrial Arts.  Items 2 and 3 may be of some comedic interest to people who know me and my keen visual sense.

4) college: no fucking clue.  I wanted to keep studying languages because I was good at them.  People would say to me “oh, with that and an MBA or an MLIS you can do all kinds of things.”  I would nod and try not to visibly dismiss these notions that were practical in the most derogatory sense.  I coasted along like this for a shockingly long time until I got to grad school (with no interest in giving conference papers or teaching) and found I was probably aging into a demographic where it was seemly to have a career.  So I went to

5) Social work school, which has worked out ok.  It isn’t my dream, but it lacks a lot of qualities I dread and it confers a certain automatic air of moral superiority that’s fun at cocktail parties sometimes.  Basically I feel like I’m not making the world any worse, and I’m never told “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”  Things could be worse.

I found a job that didn’t cause me to wake up tired at the age of 34.  Before then, I had temp jobs, stayed at things for a year, or even asked my folks for money.  I had a lot of soft landings most people don’t get.   I really got to ease into the not so crushing disappointment of adult professional life.

Not to speculate on the fate of dried fruit in solar heat, but what the hell is it like, I’m asking myself, to go from something unrealistic (artist, basketball player) which is what it makes perfect sense to want when we’re kids, to the worst kind of reality check; not just to the fact that we don’t all get to do what we want, but to the fact that certain circumstances cut off almost every good option?  The mind reels, or the soul does, at least.

*”Look at him–what could you say to a thing like that!  Did you go to the circus this year, what’s your favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat?”

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Elton John, must we continue this charade?

Hey here’s a clip from a…what to call it….rock opera?  I think actually I’ll do what my friend with a house full of victrolae does and call anything short of Meyerbeer “operetta.”  So here’s a clip from an operetta bound for Broadway this season, except possibly not because word on the street is it is DOOMED, DOOMED FROM THE MOMENT IT WAS CONCEIVED.

It’s designed by Julie Taymor, she of oh everything.  But like she of the Metropolitan’s headachily over-imagined Magic Floot.  So it’s fun to imagine a collection of sorta grandiose teen-emo meltdowns like this with like fanciful-verging-on-cutesy spiders cantering across cityscapes upstage.

Musicals with rock scores of course one of the main repasts we get nowadays, and though they’re a hell of a lot less galling than “jukebox musicals,” they are let us say not yet a mature genre.  Things are still being worked out.  Spring Awakening, Next to Normal…these shows had pretty good scores but fairly awful things going on textually.

But even “pretty good score” is intended as praise that is, if not faint, a little tired and hungry.  There’s a kind of energy you get with a rock score in a musical (I remember this really clearly from Rent, which I more or less accidentally saw not too long after it opened) that makes you forgive a certain amount of melodic banality.  All three operettas I have mentioned have a really great tune or two and a lot of filler.  Judging unfairly by one song, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Subtitle might be another of those.

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It will look like this, apparently

Thanks, Dan!

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Classics of A-train evangelist rhetoric

I didn’t write enough of them down because I was riding the line between annoyance and amusement but

“God does not hang out with sin.  God and the devil do not hang out together”


“When you die, you’ll say: oh snap.  That guy on the train was right.”

are two things that made me laugh.

Real posting later, I think.

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Sigh I

So Peter Orszag’s inaugural NYT column offered a nice glimpse of how unpleasant it is going to be to sit through a tax cut debate while this kitten-suffocating, locust plague of an election plays out. Oh, Orszag does a fine job of articulating a nice consensus position that looks dreamily sensible (right up until the Republicans balk, of course) and it very well may be the frontier of what’s politically possible without Democrats losing ALL of their dignity right before election day.

But the principle of the thing sucks. Now, your modern-day liberal doesn’t need too much fire breathing economic populism–indeed, it’s a wee bit vulgar in anything more than polite servings. But it is nice when one’s liberal role models acknowledge the distinctions just a bit, no?

And fiscal policy aside, that’s what this Bush tax cut expiration thing is about. As the Tax Policy Center lays out, the difference between 1) the administration’s proposal to sunset cuts for the top two brackets (and reset the estate tax, rejigger the brackets, and some other stuff), and 2) just keeping the cuts in place across the board, has relatively minor budgetary impact: only $68 billion a year in savings. But what does that $68 billion represent? 55 percent of it goes for an extra $310K apiece for the 120,000 wealthiest taxpayers in the country, the top .1 percent of earners. The next 40 percent of those savings are spread among the roughly one million taxpayers who fall between 99 and 99.9 percent of earners; they get an extra $25K a piece if the cuts are extended across the board.

I know it is hard to remember, now that we’re told the wealthy are an elite corps of John Galts standing between us and the tumbleweeds of Socialism, but time was, a lot of people in the country were pretty sick of Bush buying all his rich buddies extravagant rounds of shots while everyone else just stood around with their PBRs and productivity growth. Obama’s promise to only sunset the top end of the cuts was more than a convenient pander: it was a promise that we were going to stop living in fear of all the “class warfare” rhetoric conservatives have used to justify sending rich people their money back while complaining about children getting health insurance and shit. For a Democrat to walk back this distinction and go with the message that we’re all in the same boat–which Orszag’s plan sends–is just unseemly.

Update: Well this is positive. A final point: just to be clear, when Republicans talk about how we need to extend all the cuts in order to promote investment in the economy, we’re talking about a measly $68 billion dollar injection. And that figure is probably much higher than what the economy would actually see, given the fact that many earners at that level will just hoard the cash rather than invest it.

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