Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pauline Oliveros Duet with Dog

Dear Jackson and Jasmine,

I heard this and knew that you would love it.

The performer is Pauline Oliveros, one of the grand dames of the experimental music of the 20th century. She always talks about deep listening. I think that the dog in the background was listening more deeply than anyone in this audience, although everyone seemed to be paying attention.

Apparently she likes dogs.

The performance reminded me of John Cage. I remember discovering his music when I was in college. I found a book by him at the library. It contained pieces of fur. It was designed so that the reader/performer could stroke the fur and the experience was music. . . fur music. I can't find any information about this book online. Perhaps it is out of print? If you two were here, sitting by my side, I could play fur music with you. I would stroke your heads, (music for two hands) and listen, and feel the rhythms. You might add your own vocalizations.

I heard a story about John Cage once, a myth perhaps. Once upon a time he was playing a piece for a friend but the window was open and the traffic passing by distracted the listener. That person asked if he could close the window and if Cage would play piece once again. "We can do that," Cage said, "but it would not be the same piece."

Cage wrote instructions for the work he composed entitled, Empty words. The instructions are as follows, "At this point all the doors and windows are to be opened, allowing the sounds of the morning to enter.
One reviewer recounts that he was listening to Cage perform Empty words on the radio in 1981.
"I did as he suggested in my own apartment. The bird songs mingled with his own vocalizations — inside and out, everyone was singing together." This approach to music does work. It doesn't work like Bach or Beethoven, but it does work, and in a very inner way, it may work better than the tunes of those old masters.

In 1960, John Cage, a good humored man, made an appearance on the TV show, I've Got a Secret, and performed a composition entitled Water Walk. The audience at that performance added their innovation to the opus, which as you can see was pretty unforgettable.

Bow Wow!

BRD (Nana to you)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Jude the Obscure, Sue Bridehead the Not-Feminist, Richard Phillotson the Seducer

Dear Thomas Hardy,

Well, I finally finished reading your story, Jude the Obscure. My! Thomas the Long-Winded, you really took your time telling all the details, didn't you? Occasionally, I've been paid by the word for my writing, so I know the temptation of unnecessary elongation, but apart from the checks that accompanied each volume of the serialization [Jude was published in serial form in 1894-1895 and then as a book in 1895] I think that there was really no justification for the excess. However, this is all I'm going to say on that subject.

I have thought so much about this book that I believe I could be tempted to write several letters. I would like to question Jude and Richard about a few things. Then I would really like to talk with Sue. It is she who really worries me.

I have been corresponding with a friend about your book, and especially about Sue. She has helped think through a few things.

Believe it or not, she thinks you are a fatalist. This is what she says.
Hardy is a fatalist.

(That's how I came to tell the difference between which books were his and which were George Eliot's, actually, as they were from the same era and struck me as having similar writing styles and themes: if the main character died or was otherwise totally mortified by life at the end of the book, it was Thomas Hardy; if the main character learned something and grew as an individual through her trials, coming to accept her lot in life, it was George Eliot. Eliot, for instance, teaches Silas Marner that money isn't everything, and subsequently gives him back his money; Hardy teaches the Mayor of Casterbridge that one major alcohol-induced mistake made years ago can't be escaped no matter how hard you try.)

So the fact that I love fatalism about as much, and in much the same way, as George Eliot's sense of redemption and balance, probably has a lot to do with why I feel such simpatico with Sue Bridehead.
You can see from this brief excerpt that my friend is quite fascinating. She is really my daughter's friend from college and we could attest that "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." She is both.

Were I to sit down with Jude, I would say,

"Jude, poor you. Calling yourself a seducer, when it was you who was seduced by Richard, who in the first pages of the book stated:
You know what a university is, and a university degree ? It is the necessary hall-mark of a man who wants to do anything in teaching. My scheme, or dream, is to be a university graduate, and then to be ordained. By going to live at Christminster, or near it, I shall be at headquarters, so to speak, and if my scheme is practicable at all, I consider that being on the spot will afford me a better chance of carrying it out than I should have elsewhere.
"That wink of a statement was, for you, the temptation upon which life hinged. This seduction drew you in, wooed you, and by it you were inescapably corrupted. Poor Jude. The later seductions of Arabella and Sue were nothing in comparison with this flirtation that became the obsession of your life. To be a part of Christminster, the established intellectual and spiritual center of your known world--that became the driving force you just couldn't shake. And when you did turn aside from this paramour, all other visions and decisions were askew, tainted by your illicit love for learning."

Then I'd like to talk with Richard Phillotson. "Richard, what a fool you were too. Almost as big a fool as Fawley. And though your temptation for Christminster's powers did not become obsession, they did steal your enthusiasm for learning and giving, if not your inner kindness."

But Sue, it is she who really steals the stage and plays them all. I have read a few critics who call her a feminist. She was, in fact, no such thing. A feminist believes in equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights regardless of gender. A feminist also believes in equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic responsibilities regardless of gender. But Thomas, you failed to grant Sue even a wisp of ability to take responsibility for herself. Whatever her ability in terms of thinking outside of the box, she could not live with the responsibilities that her thinking and actions demanded.

Jude always referred to her as his little Sue. She seemed to glory in that. She was glad to be on his pedestal, (and on Richard's) and glad not to take any responsibility for her power and intellect and influence. Arabella was more of a feminist than Sue. She looked out for herself. She up and went to Australia. She worked fearlessly. She even cared for Jude, if poorly, to the end of his days, the best of which Sue had used up and tossed away.

So Thomas, what is it that I'm trying to say to you? Perhaps, that for all the long-winded irritations that the plot of this book brings, it also brings unforgettable characters whose ambivalence and deep hurt make us feel deeply for them. And it makes us, especially those of us who have lived a while, remember the first blush of excitement for learning and becoming, and remember some of the disappointment in the realization that what we had meant to become, hoped to become was not all to find fruition. Ah, that's like a slap in the face with a piece of pig's hide, isn't it?

And though, I don't believe that Sue Bridehead was a feminist, I do think that you were on the cusp of becoming one, for it was you, not Sue who struggled with and in some manner broke with convention in Jude the Obscure.



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Speaking of Economics and AIG Bonuses

Dear Attorney General Andrew Cuomo,

I hear you are mad as a wet hen. Me too.

AIG has been playing, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire again. And this time 73 of the folks who helped create the worst financial crisis in modern economic history, won the big prize.

Thank you for revealing the following information about the AIG bonuses.
  • The top recipient received more than $6.4 million;
  • The top seven bonus recipients received more than $4 million each;
  • The top ten bonus recipients received a combined $42 million;
  • 22 individuals received bonuses of $2 million or more, and combined they
    received more than $72 million;
  • 73 individuals received bonuses of $1 million or more; and
  • Eleven of the individuals who received "retention" bonuses of $1 million
    or more are no longer working at AIG, including one who received $4.6
These payments were all made to individuals in the subsidiary whose performance led to losses causing the near failure of AIG. Therefore, what we are seeing is that the individuals who lost so much money that it brought the firm to the edge of bankruptcy, forcing a taxpayer bailout, are the very people who are receiving bonuses. Something smells fishy, doesn't it.

The contracts under which AIG decided to make these payments contain a provision that required most individuals' bonuses to be 100% of their 2007 bonuses. That means that last Spring when AIG identified the coming crash, they locked in bonuses for 2008 at 2007 levels knowing that their real performance would be disastrous in comparison to the year before.

I've heard that you are taking a hard look at all this. Does that mean that you, like me, think that all of this sounds, well, criminal?

Some writers from the Huffington Post suggest this solution.
The trustees need to split off the derivatives unit from the rest of the firm and separately incorporate it. This step leaves AIG's other businesses free to operate as usual. If the recipients of the bonuses refuse to waive them, then the derivatives unit should at once be thrown into bankruptcy, terminating all obligations to pay them. Right now, press reports suggest that the firm's top management waited until the last minute to inform the government of what was happening. AIG CEO Edward Liddy, accordingly, should be asked to resign at once, for the sake of public confidence and to send a clear signal that gaming the system is unacceptable.
Barney Frank seems to think some strong tactics should be used to call a halt to this too.

Well, thanks for working on this problem. I hear that President Obama has your back.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Econom-nom-nomics Part I: Bubbles, Past and Present

Dear Frank H. Fleer,

You invented bubble-gum, so I'm assuming you're an expert on bubbles. Perhaps you can shed some light on our current situation. See, our economic bubble just popped, and I don't get the rationale behind our government's actions in reinflating it.

Perhaps some background is in order. Let me explain:

So that's how we got here. The government lowered interest rates back in the early 2000s to avoid the painful process that naturally happens when a bubble bursts. The bubble reinflated (more so, really) and then popped again in 2008. And again, the government is throwing everything at the problem to try to avoid the pain: Bank Bailouts, Auto Bailouts, Mortgage Bailouts, Stimulus Plans, and Spending Plans. All of these things are designed to keep the bubble growing bigger.

But Frank, all these programs, initiatives, and efforts cost a LOT of money. And President Obama doesn't seem to mind. Here's what he's decided to spend in 2009:

Thanks Economist!Now, if that goes through, here's what our national deficit will look like, compared to the past few years:

Eek! That's a LOT of money we're spending as a nation, and all with no guarantee that any of it will work.

Indeed, I worry whether our government's reaction will lead the country to become something akin to a socialized, command economy, where the government controls all the functions of production (a la China). This, in my mind, would be a bad thing, as it reduces the incentive for innovation and achievement, and treats people and their work as cogs in the government's machine.

It puts a tough question to our country's leaders right now: Is the bottom line growth of the economy the only thing that matters, or should we be concerned about the direction our country is taking on a deeper level?

Frankly, Frank, it seems that our country right now is so wrapped up in 'fixing' this problem that it is failing to consider the consequences--short- or long-term--of the policies it is establishing. And who knows how that bubble will end up popping?