Sunday, March 25, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen: The Ira Glass Sex Tape!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

night music: Pachelbel's Canon in D

You know the one. The boring one. Here's a less loathsome version of the original--usually it's played in a kind of deathmarch lockstep. Bonus points if it's an out-of-tune high school orchestra.

Maybe you can get all the way through that. I couldn't.

People have tried to spice it up over the years. For example, the University of Michigan a cappella group Amazin' Blue added lyrics, which I sang with my groups in high school and college:

That one got the groupies going, let me tell you.

My brother came home from college having discovered the music of George Winston, who actually made it interesting. Here you also get to see his freakish piano technique: I saw him perform in college with my concert-pianist girlfriend, and she twitched the entire time.

That's the version I grew up with, so I never quite understood the hate.

One guy was sort of traumatized by the experience of playing the monotonous cello line in high school, and he grew up to be a standup comedian, and he starts to illustrate why it's so popular:

And then. THEN. The Australians show up.

Yep. All our songs sound the same. But who cares?

Or, as King of the Hill put it: "It's okay if you only know three chords, as long as you play 'em in the right order."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

reading retreat

I took a couple nights last weekend at a retreat cabin in the mountains. I finally finished William F. Buckley's God and Man At Yale, and it is a slog. 60 years on, and myself having worked my way through 90s liberal arts education at the tail of political correctness, it's hard to understand what he's so exercised about. I have that problem with conservatives in general, which is why I picked this book up. I'm hoping that in reading books that matter to conservatives, I'll develop a more charitable understanding of a worldview where someone just can't decide whether to vote for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
"I just don't know, Larry. Do I vote for the guy who hates fags as much as I do, or the guy who promises to cut Medicare and use the savings to build a base on the moon?"
I finally found a couple of quotations that illustrate the thrust of the book. He spends some time establishing that there are actually some limits professors have to operate within--no Communists, for example.
In short, I maintain that sonorous pretensions notwithstanding, Yale (and my guess is most other colleges and universities) does subscribe to an orthodoxy: there are limits within which its faculty members must keep their opinions if they wish to be "tolerated."

Now these limits are very wide indeed, and they are limits prescribed by expediency, not by principle. My task becomes, then, not so much to argue that limits should be imposed, but that existing limits should be narrowed. [p. 151, his italics]
He's arguing in part for what he calls "values inculcation," which is to say that Yale professors should teach the obvious and absolute truths of Christianity and capitalism as the highest goods. You could maybe forgive this as a product of his age, except that he insists repeatedly that students must learn the methods of skepticism and free that they can come to the conclusions Buckley approves of. I thought this encapsulated the idea nicely:
There is great and decisive freedom to be found within the sense-making limits of orthodoxy. [p. 174]
Or, as Stephen Colbert put it:
Though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
I think all I've learned from this is to confirm that the supposed intellectual foundation of conservatism is a crock. Buckley was a repellent human being, and he was supposed to be the grown-up in the movement. American conservatism amounts to saying that the world was created by white capitalist Christians, and that's the way it should be. You can see this in their insane, apocalyptic continuous freakout about President Obama: one popular trope has it that "we don't know anything about him," that somehow the media gave him a pass during the election. Or that he's some kind of overprivileged affirmative-action hire. The abundant documentation and the autobiography that predates his running for office tell his history pretty clearly, but the American right can't accept the true story it tells: a successful, hard-working, self-made, intelligent black man.

I dunno. I keep hoping there's a non-loony viewpoint in there somewhere, and I guess there used to be some: I'm all in favor of making changes carefully and thoughtfully, which is something conservatives used to advocate when they needed a civilized public story while privately lamenting that women and blacks ever got the vote. Now they just lament publicly, and there's a population segment that loves it. I appreciate the honesty, in a way. Shine some sunlight on all that hatred and anger and fear. Maybe we can talk about it. Maybe some people can get a hug, and a nap and some graham crackers.

Then again, Rick Perlstein wrote a great piece for Rolling Stone about how none of this is new.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


The 7 P.M. southbound from San Mateo is the place, man. Everyone's got a problem, no one's there on purpose.

I tried to help this girl who was working something out in Spanglish with her mother on the phone, and just walked up to me and said, "Safeway, here?". We were a good couple miles from the nearest Safeway I know of, so given her English, I switched to Spanish to try and help. She wasn't a whole lot more coherent in Spanish, and my Spanish is good enough that she took the liberty of speaking way faster than I could follow, but I did gather she'd gotten off at the wrong stop and didn't think she had a valid ticket to go back south. I asked if all she needed was a ticket--from the phone conversation I overheard with her mother, it would clearly have been a well-spent $2.75--and she thanked me but said her mother was coming to get her.

Then this pair of deaf people appears, maybe a mother and adult son; maybe a little slow, it was hard to tell, but based on how they were moving and the troubles they were having. They had weekend-sized duffel bags, and the woman was crying occasionally. The guy walked over and made a noise, pointed at his ear, and typed on his phone.
"Which way San Jose?"
I told him (well, gestured) he was on the right platform. I noticed they were having some frustration with the ticket machine, so I meandered over and noticed he'd bought a ticket for Zone 2 only, instead of Zones 2-4. I opened up the notepad on my iPhone.
"San Jose?"
He nodded, and I pointed to Zone 4 on the map, then to his ticket. He spoke as best he could, but it was easy to understand.
They got tickets sorted out, asked me (via phone-typing) when the train arrived in San Jose, where it would pull up. The woman cried intermittently, the man comforted her, they settled down with a couple snack-sized bags of Bugles. I stood there helplessly, wanting to help or at least understand, wondering what their story was, with their overnight bags and strange, emotionally-laden travel plans. Were they catching a plane, or did they just need to get to San Jose? Was somebody dying or in trouble?

I typed on my phone, "Good luck." They said "Thank you" in sign language; he added his vocal approximation.

I dunno. I hope they made it through okay.

Why can't I just magically fix everything?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Huckleberry Finn

Almost done! The last stretch is pretty dull. Of necessity you get sort of inured to the word "nigger," because unless you're a Republican it's usually not possible to spend many hours in a row feeling shocked and appalled. Nonetheless, even through my adjustments, Twain manages to startle me:
"It warn't the grounding--that didn't keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head."
"Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"
"No'm. Killed a nigger."
I had a solidly liberal Northeastern upbringing, and I get loudly cranky when anyone refers to the "4,408 casualties" of the Iraq War, because of course it's the American soldiers who matter, and not the hundreds of thousands of dead brown people. I can't stomach that we place such value on our fellow citizens, and don't feel a need to at least mention the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. And I will let you know, at length, how disgraceful I think that is.

So, yeah. That's one way to get my attention.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chris the stepfather

My two brothers and I are all married with kids now, which I think is a sort of milestone for our parents. Given the generational dynamics of parenting, I have to think it's fun for them to watch us do it, to see themselves mirrored in us, and to see where we've chosen to deviate from what we learned from them. We were just visiting them last week, and I think J and I put on a good show, partly because I put a heavy emphasis on amusing myself, and I'm hilarious.

At one point J and I were talking about wind.
Chris: Oh yeah? How do you know what the wind's doing when you don't feel it or hear it?
J: Then it's not there!
Chris: Oh, look who knows so much!
J: ...Is that Chris-language for "wrong"?
He knows me so well.

Another time we were riding in the car. If J has any sort of typical Aspie-like obsessive thing, it's computer time: once he gets some, he'll jones after it in a really annoying way. So he interrupted whatever boring grown-up conversation was happening.
J: I'm going to tell a story now. Once, there was a blonde-haired boy who wanted more computer time.
I couldn't resist.
Chris: Was the blonde-haired boy being really passive-aggressive about it?
Which sadly went over his head, but I thought it was awesome.

We can take a little getting used to. I tried to get him quelled for sleeping, which is a dodgy proposition sometimes anyway, and this particular time we did things out of order: more than a neurotypical kid, J relies on a consistent order of events and gets tripped up when the order changes. (It will, for example, be a while before he's adaptable enough that we can take him on a vacation to a foreign country.)

Beyond the re-ordering, though, he was just fidgety and cranky that night, so I gave up and came upstairs to the living room to hand off the quelling to Anna.

I said, "Crabby little bastard. No idea what his problem is." My mother, a kind and gentle soul, sort of stared at me: I obviously love J very much, so those seem like harsh words. Rather than addressing the language issue, I waited for Anna to come back shortly, knowing what was coming. Sure enough, she returned, having experienced the same failure I did.
"Crabby little mofo. Oh well."