A time for updates

My life has really been rather hectic these last few weeks, between work and the show I'm doing (going very well, by the way), various social activities and the like, and this side programming project of mine (which is taking longer than I thought it would, and now it's all moving from PHP using MySQL to Ruby using Postgres). It's all interesting in its own way, but I feel harried and I'm really not getting enough sleep.

Hey, on that note maybe this is as good a time as any to give a random update on things I've written about before, just in case anyone was wondering about them:

There, tied up some loose ends. That feels better. Now get off my lawn, paparazzi! (Said while holding on to bathrobe with one hand, shaking newspaper with the other.)


Peyroux @ Barbes

Tonight I saw the wonderful French singer Madeleine Peyroux at Barbes, my favorite music spot in Park Slope, backed by Jenny Scheinman on violin and Matt Munisteri on guitar, each of them a fairly famous musician in their own right. She sings like Billie Holiday, and she does a cover of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars" that makes it sound like the song was written in the 40's. Stereogum had a copy of it here but it looks like he's taken it down since. Oh, I see you can hear a sample of it on her site, along with the rest of her new album.

This reminds me that I also wanted to write about shows I've seen with Jean Grae, Low, Pedro the Lion, and Kings of Convenience in the recent past. I'll try to get to these at some point... never enough time! I definitely want to write about Kings of Convenience because those Norwegians know how to put on a good show.



No time to write. Tired, going to sleep.


Great Person revisited

Margaret Sanger: feminist birth-control hero or eugenicist proto-Nazi? That's the question I had after reading this site, which I found via Dawn Eden. The site clearly has a political agenda to push, but the facts laid out seem accurate and match up with the little bit of additional online reading I've done since. Basically, in her advocacy for legalizing birth control she seems to have been motivated by two goals: to increase women's sexual freedom, and to "improve" America's genetic stock by reducing the birthrate for certain races, the poor, and the handicapped. Which of these two gets more prominence depends on which article you read, and specifically seems to depend on the author's view of abortion (though, interestingly enough, it doesn't look like Sanger ever talked about abortion). But her less-palatable views can never be completely ignored: even Gloria Steinem, in a glowing Time Magazine profile, is forced to acknowledge that Sanger's "use of eugenics language probably helped justify sterilization abuse."

The evidence seems pretty damning, including professional associations with those who openly praised Hitler's promotion of eugenics in the 30's, and various writings of hers, including "A Plan For Peace", in which she advocated that Congress take a fairly hands-on approach to population control, including "to give certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization." It's not obvious that she's talking about races, but regardless it's a shocking statement.

Which is not to say that I'd draw larger political conclusions from this: I have no problems separating the message and the messenger. But it seems pretty clear that she should be dropped as an icon.

UPDATE: In comments, Zelda links to a site with the full text of Sanger's book "The Pivot of Civilization". Skimming through it reveals that Sanger was indeed calling for campaigns of sterilization and segregation of the "feeble-minded", whatever that means. It seems clear that "birth control" as a phrase started out life with two meanings; the modern one of women being able to control reproduction, and a very Orwellian one of state control of the gene pool.


The wires in the walls are humming

We've seen musicals based on Abba and the rest, but what would musicals for Belle and Sebastian and The Flaming Lips look like? Parabasis has the treatments. Setting the Belle and Sebastian one at a librarian convention is interesting, but wouldn't it really have to be set at some sort of boarding school?

With this post, Candy Girl reveals herself as a modern-day Holly Golightly. I mean, to be elegantly sad requires a certain savoir faire.

Stereogum links to a bunch of recently-released legal MP3 downloads by your indie faves.

Cathy got married?

Mark Steyn on the latest U.N. insanity: "systemic UN child sex in at least 50 per cent of their missions? The transnational morality set can barely stifle their yawns. If you're going to rape prepubescent girls, make sure you're wearing a blue helmet."

Unfortunately, the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party, the Iraq the Model bloggers' party, didn't win any seats in the election. But they seem to be taking it well.


What's he up to these days?

I'm playing bass guitar in a production of this show; I got back earlier tonight from our second performance. It's a musical written in the 80's, from the people who went on to create "Ragtime" and, um, "Seussical" (to be fair, that one's probably no longer on their resumes). It's fun so far, and the music has a lot of that 7/4 show tune energy. Also the cast is very good, and I feel like my sightreading skills are definitely improving - we had three rehearsals before playing, but I'm holding my own.

The plot is kind of strange and involves a dead man being carried around in a wheelchair, which is probably why the show is obscure. Though, then again, I would have said the same thing about a show featuring a bunch of cats jumping up and down. So what do I know about the vagaries of the American viewing public!

As a possibly-interesting side note, so far all my musical theater gigs have come about through a production of "Chess" I did about two years ago; I've gotten one gig each through each of the three keyboard players, and now this one through the drummer. If I can get one through the guitarist I can complete the series. Anyway, the theater world is all about contacts for me.

I think if I do another of these it'll probably be because there's something innovative about it, like it's an opera or I'm playing the flugelhorn or something. Unfortunately just moving on to larger audiences is not really an option because there's a strict audience limit on off-off-Broadway theaters, and to be in the next level up (off-Broadway) requires you to be in a union. Which I'm probably not going to do.


Lost in New York

Here's a fun little thought experiment: you are told you're supposed to meet someone in New York City on a particular day. You don't know who they are and you have no way to contact them, but you'll able to recognize them once you see them (maybe you'll both be holding flowers or something). Also, you're not told where you should meet them, or when (besides the day). And you don't know if they live in New York City. Possibly you don't, either.

The question is: where, and at what time, would you show up for the meeting?

I read about this thought experiment in the highly-recommended The Wisdom of Crowds; it was devised by a professor named Thomas Schelling to point out the wide variety of cultural knowledge we all share that enables society to function smoothly.

Feel free to leave your answer in the comments. If you're planning to make an attempt at it, of course you should come up with your answer before reading what other people have said; no cheating!

In all the dust and glass

I just discovered today that The Clientele lyrics are finally available online, since August '04 apparently.Anybody who knows the band (they're one of my all-time favorites) knows their lyrics are often impossible to understand, a combination of singer Alasdair Maclean's British accent, slurred delivery and some vocal effects (I'm told he gets that warm, crackly sound by singing through a guitar amp). I know there's a demand for their lyrics because I put the words, or rather my best guess at the words, to one of their songs in a post a few months ago and I've gotten a bunch of search queries for it. Unfortunately the lyrics show up in pop-up windows which means they're un-Googleable, which is too bad.

So, as a service here's another set of lyrics, this one actually correct:
What goes up must come down
you and I were hanging round
do you know what I mean?
the sky is blue, your eyes are green
Wednesday morning DSS
and then into the dream

Me, Pete and Valerie we live in Finsbury Park
rainy days and nightingales
the secret evening's ours
And when we go out there's no light or dark but stars

You and I slip away
darling there's no more to say
and the gas fire glows
the sky is dark, the house is cold
Wednesday morning DSS
and then into the dream

Me, Pete and Valerie we quietly slip away
rainy days, rainy days, oh such a rainy day
and when we go out
there's no light or dark but stars

I saw with my open eyes
singing birds sweet
sold in the shops for the people to eat
sold in the shops of Stupidity Street
I saw in a vision
the worm in the wheat
nothing was there for the people to eat
nothing for sale in Stupidity Street

The Clientele, "What Goes Up"

Um, DSS, what? I tried putting together the lyrics to this one before and I got it so wrong. Though that last verse, which really feels like a different song on the record, doesn't make any more sense to me in reality than in my attempt. I guess he had had some bad dream.

These lyrics were I believe put together by Alasdair's wife, who by a staggering coincidence not only went to my college but was the same year as me. Though we only met later, at a Clientele show. It turned out we did know some people in common. Because, you know, that's how hip I am.

UPDATE, WELL AFTER THE FACT: As a commenter explains, "DSS" stands for the now-defunct British "Department of Social Security" (it's since been renamed). Also, the last bit quotes the Ralph Hodgson poem "Stupidity Street". So, basically, the song is about some bloke living on the dole who spends his days in a bleary haze with his friends. Also, he lives in Finsbury Park, an area sadly best known to the world for its terrorist connections, but evidently a nice place to live. So there you have it.


Rand take two

I think my previous post on Ayn Rand was a bit too wishy-washy and didn't give enough credit to the enormous influence she had on the libertarian movement. She added an extremely strong ethical argument to what before was just a pragmatic argument. As her secretary Robert Hessen said: "There were lots of defenses of capitalism versus socialism when Atlas came out in the 1950s, but they were mostly 'bathtub economics' -- you know, capitalism is superior because it is more efficient and it makes bigger and better bathtubs than the Soviet system. She provided a moral defense that had an electrifying effect on people who had never heard capitalism defended in other than technological terms."

To redeem myself, let me offer some quotes straight from the source.

From "The Virtue of Selfishness":
No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as the right to enslave.

From "Atlas Shrugged":
"Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to be the tool by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of men. Blood, whips and guns — or dollars. Take your choice — there is no other."

From a 1964 Playboy interview:
PLAYBOY: What about force in foreign policy? You have said that any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany during World War II...

RAND: Certainly.

PLAYBOY: ...And that any free nation today has the moral right - though not the duty - to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba, or any other "slave pen." Correct?

RAND: Correct. A dictatorship - a country that violates the rights of its own citizens - is an outlaw and can claim no rights.

This last quote is interesting because it separates her from the reflexive anti-war views, which I consider short-sighted, of the modern Libertarian Party that claims to speak in her name. With language like that, today she might be called a neo-conservative, maybe in more ways than one.


Thud on top, I ate the chocodile

Sucks that I just found out that Mike Doughty, aka M. Doughty, formerly of Soul Coughing, has a blog. Of course he'd be the type who would! Sucks because it turns out that just a week ago he had a post selling a bunch of his guitars, including the ones he played on "Ruby Vroom" and "El Oso". And for reasonable prices, because he didn't count on them being collector's items. Now they're all taken. I definitely would have wanted one. You know, given that they were being sold.

If you don't know Soul Coughing, their big hits were "Super Bon Bon" and "Circles", and it consisted of Doughty singing and rapping beautiful wordscapes over a funk- and sample-friendly background. They were one of the best things to happen to 1996. Also they had an Israeli drummer, Yuval Gabay.

Looking out the window

Gosh, slowing down the blogging is proving harder than I thought...

Soy ice cream eaten on King of Queens! And not even as part of a joke. This is what mainstreaming looks like, my friends. (For the record, I'm not a vegan, though I am vegetarian and I'm a fan of cutting down on all animal products).

I’m still fascinated by the tale of cellmates former New York State Senator Guy Velella and rapper Shyne. The latest is they're now good friends: “"[Shyne] thinks Guy is cool. They have worked out a TV schedule — Shyne watches videos at 6 p.m. and Guy gets to watch 'Jeopardy' at 7.”

Tim Blair finds the first evidence of formerly anti-war journalists changing their minds as a result of the election. A good sign.

I’m not usually into cat-blogging, but Karol has some priceless photos.

Europe suffers from below-replacement birth levels, but Ivan Lenin has the solution! I think a Swedish politician had a similar idea.


Happy birthday

Happy birthday to Ayn Rand, who would have been 100 years old today.

Cathy Young at Reason has an essay on the Russian-Jewish icon that points out both her greatness and the literary and personal flaws that came from her unyielding philosophy. I've only read "Atlas Shrugged", and it definitely comes off as a product of its time (the mid-50's): the heroes are strong, stoic men and no-nonsense women, and weakness and domesticity are frowned upon. In that it reminds me of other 50's culture like Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled detective novels, film noir, superhero comic books and sci-fi like "The Stars My Destiination". Again and again, there's the emphasis on individual strength overcoming obstacles and destroying whatever gets in its path.

Still, as pulpy as her fiction can come off today, the libertarian philosophies expressed are often valid or at least thought-provoking, and they certainly made a strong impression on this reader at a young age.

So, has everyone else read their Rand?


More on the election

I thought Iraq's path to democracy was assured since the day of the invasion in April '03 and I haven't really wavered since. But Sunday's election made it all real. Somewhere between 60% and 70% of eligible Iraqi citizens showed up to vote for an assembly, and the insurgency's wild threats to kill anyone who voted turned out to be basically hollow. The fact that the success could have been predicted in advance doesn't prevent it from being what it was, which is nothing short of a real-life miracle. The quotes from Iraqis are so full of emotion - in the linked article a man says "I remembered my brother, whom Saddam executed. I felt a power inside myself, and there was a voice telling me, 'This should not happen to my son or to any Iraqi. I have to prevent this dictatorship from returning to Iraq,' " - that you realize what a tremendous shift occurred. This is the biggest single step toward a free Iraq: we know now that elections are possible, the infrastructure is there to support it, and the people are ready to take part. At the same time it exposes the short-sightedness of those who have said that Iraqis (and by extension the Arab world) are either culturally incapable of democracy, or are having democracy unfairly imposed on them because they "never asked" for it (whatever it means for a people without the freedom of speech to "ask" for anything). And it exposes the fraud of those around the world who have called America an imperial occupier.

We'll have to see what the election results actually are - who knows, maybe everyone was dancing in the streets because they were excited they'd soon have a theocracy on their hands - but my prediction is the assembly created will be just as colorful and pluralistic as that of any established democracy.

I have to admit, besides happiness and relief at the turnout, I feel a certain amount of pride. The war and military presence that made this possible were done in my name and paid for with my tax money. Sure, it's nothing compared to the effort of those who are serving, but it's nice to feel involved.

Jessica has some good links, thoughts, and a picture.

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